WASHINGTON: What homemade roadside bombs could do to Army and Marine ground vehicles was the ugly surprise of the last decade. What sophisticated long-range missiles could do to Navy aircraft carriers could be the ugly surprise of the next. “I think it would almost follow like the night to the day,” Rep. Randy Forbes told me in a recent interview. “The last decade… we asked a disproportionate sacrifice from the Army and Marine Corps,” he went on. “The next decade’s going to be the decade of seapower and projection forces, [and] some of those ugly surprises we see bits and pieces of already.”

As chairman of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee, Forbes wants to refocus fellow legislators, the Pentagon, and, for that matter, the media from a narrow debate over the troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program to a wider look at all the capabilities that a carrier can support. That includes not just traditional manned fighters like the F-35, but also unmanned drones like the X-47B and the future UCLASS (Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System), electronic warfare aircraft like the EA-18G Growler, and even cyber attacks.

The Navy’s top admiral seems to appreciate Forbes’s approach. The congressman is trying “to look at the whole package together,” and that’s helpful, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said after a recent Senate hearing. “He’s saying, ‘we’ve got to think about all of this, are you?’ And I was telling him, ‘yeah.'”

The Navy is committed — albeit without great enthusiasm — to its variant of the Joint Strike Fighter for decades to come. But the sea service looks at the aircraft in context of what the Navy and Air Force are calling “AirSea Battle.” The prospective adversary, of which China is the archetype, would field an “anti-access/area denial” network, a layered defense of long-range sensors and missiles, potentially backed by manned aircraft and cyberattacks. In this fight, the F-35C provides stealthy manned strike against ground targets and air-to-air defense against enemy aircraft, as well as some cyber and electronic warfare capabilities, to complement the older and unstealthy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. What those two manned fighters don’t bring to the carrier air wing’s table, however, is range. And as land-based missiles proliferate, both aircraft carriers and aerial refueling tankers will have to distance themselves ever further from the enemy.

It’s not just the Chinese,” Forbes told me. North Korea, Iran, and Syria are putting in place some sophisticated anti-aircraft and anti-ship systems, he argued. Even the Lebanese militia group, Hezbollah, managed to cripple an Israeli corvette with a Chinese-built cruise missile in the 2006 war. (Admittedly, the corvette had turned its anti-missile defenses off). “The next decade is going to see a lot of countries with these weapons,” he said. “We should at least have a discussion and a debate about the assumptions we’ve always made that our carriers can operate pretty much wherever they wanted to.”

That presents a problem for the short-ranged fighters that the US spends most of its aircraft budget on. “F-18, F-35 are great platforms,” Forbes said, but studies from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments predict that if future Navy carriers rely on those two aircraft alone, Forbes said, “we can only cover about a third of Iran and we can’t even get to China’s shore.”

“This is certainly not just an issue for the Navy,” said CSBA’s Mark Gunzinger, who’s written several studies on the subject. “It’s important for the Air Force to invest in new penetrating and long-range standoff,” i.e. bombers and long-range missiles. “It’s all about being prepared to operate in these higher-threat environments, which may early on in the conflict require increased range, increased persistence, increased survivability.”

Forbes was so struck by Gunzinger and company’s analysis that he had an aide hand out CSBA slides (the same ones in this article) at a recent hearing, otherwise dominated by the impacts of the sequester, where he asked Greenert about the range problem.

“The carrier air wing, Mr. Forbes, in my mind, is balanced,” the admiral answered. “We need range, we need payload, we need electronic warfare capability…and we need stealth.”

“Remember he had the range rings?” Greenert replied when I got to ask him about Forbes’s question, one week later. “You’ve got to get there and you’ve got to get back, so are you going to tank or do you have enough range [without mid-air refueling]? Two, you’ve got to get in wherever you’re going, [so] are you going to jam everybody or do you need to come in undetected — stealth or jamming?”

In both the hearing and their subsequent responses to my questions, both Greenert and Forbes emphasized the importance of the UCLASS, the carrier-launched armed drone. “You’re going to have some mix of the UCLASS to be able to deliver the range that you need,” Forbes told me.

The UCLASS is still more of an idea than an aircraft, and the Navy has repeatedly postponed issuing a formal request for proposals; Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) now says to expect an RFP for “preliminary design” in May. But a proto-prototype, the X-47B UCAS (Unmanned Combat Air System) will soon start test flights off an actual aircraft carrier, the first unmanned aircraft ever to do so. “When that happens, people will say ‘wow,'” Greenert said. “There’ll be a lot of pictures, and I think that will start a discussion.”

Even adding drones to the carrier air wing, though, does not complete the needed mix of capabilities. As both the US military and its adversaries become increasingly reliant on computerized sensors and wireless networks, some of the most dangerous things flying through the air may not be aircraft at all, but electrons.

Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments
WASHINGTON: What homemade roadside bombs could do to Army and Marine ground vehicles was the ugly surprise of the last decade. What sophisticated long-range missiles could do to Navy aircraft carriers could be the ugly surprise of the next. "I think it would almost follow like the night to the day," Rep. Randy Forbes told me in a recent interview. "The last decade… we asked a disproportionate sacrifice from the Army and Marine Corps," he went on. "The next decade’s going to be the decade of seapower and projection forces, [and] some of those ugly surprises we see bits and pieces of already."

As chairman of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee, Forbes wants to refocus fellow legislators, the Pentagon, and, for that matter, the media from a narrow debate over the troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program to a wider look at all the capabilities that a carrier can support. That includes not just traditional manned fighters like the F-35, but also unmanned drones like the X-47B and the future UCLASS (Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System), electronic warfare aircraft like the EA-18G Growler, and even cyber attacks.

The Navy’s top admiral seems to appreciate Forbes’s approach. The congressman is trying "to look at the whole package together," and that’s helpful, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said after a recent Senate hearing. "He’s saying, ‘we’ve got to think about all of this, are you?’ And I was telling him, ‘yeah.’"

The Navy is committed — albeit without great enthusiasm — to its variant of the Joint Strike Fighter for decades to come. But the sea service looks at the aircraft in context of what the Navy and Air Force are calling "AirSea Battle." The prospective adversary, of which China is the archetype, would field an "anti-access/area denial" network, a layered defense of long-range sensors and missiles, potentially backed by manned aircraft and cyberattacks. In this fight, the F-35C provides stealthy manned strike against ground targets and air-to-air defense against enemy aircraft, as well as some cyber and electronic warfare capabilities, to complement the older and unstealthy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. What those two manned fighters don’t bring to the carrier air wing’s table, however, is range. And as land-based missiles proliferate, both aircraft carriers and aerial refueling tankers will have to distance themselves ever further from the enemy.

"It’s not just the Chinese," Forbes told me. North Korea, Iran, and Syria are putting in place some sophisticated anti-aircraft and anti-ship systems, he argued. Even the Lebanese militia group, Hezbollah, managed to cripple an Israeli corvette with a Chinese-built cruise missile in the 2006 war. (Admittedly, the corvette had turned its anti-missile defenses off). "The next decade is going to see a lot of countries with these weapons," he said. "We should at least have a discussion and a debate about the assumptions we’ve always made that our carriers can operate pretty much wherever they wanted to."

That presents a problem for the short-ranged fighters that the US spends most of its aircraft budget on. "F-18, F-35 are great platforms," Forbes said, but studies from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments predict that if future Navy carriers rely on those two aircraft alone, Forbes said, "we can only cover about a third of Iran and we can’t even get to China’s shore."

"This is certainly not just an issue for the Navy," said CSBA’s Mark Gunzinger, who’s written several studies on the subject. "It’s important for the Air Force to invest in new penetrating and long-range standoff," i.e. bombers and long-range missiles. "It’s all about being prepared to operate in these higher-threat environments, which may early on in the conflict require increased range, increased persistence, increased survivability."

Forbes was so struck by Gunzinger and company’s analysis that he had an aide hand out CSBA slides (the same ones in this article) at a recent hearing, otherwise dominated by the impacts of the sequester, where he asked Greenert about the range problem.

"The carrier air wing, Mr. Forbes, in my mind, is balanced," the admiral answered. "We need range, we need payload, we need electronic warfare capability…and we need stealth."

"Remember he had the range rings?" Greenert replied when I got to ask him about Forbes’s question, one week later. "You’ve got to get there and you’ve got to get back, so are you going to tank or do you have enough range [without mid-air refueling]? Two, you’ve got to get in wherever you’re going, [so] are you going to jam everybody or do you need to come in undetected — stealth or jamming?"

In both the hearing and their subsequent responses to my questions, both Greenert and Forbes emphasized the importance of the UCLASS, the carrier-launched armed drone. "You’re going to have some mix of the UCLASS to be able to deliver the range that you need," Forbes told me.

The UCLASS is still more of an idea than an aircraft, and the Navy has repeatedly postponed issuing a formal request for proposals; Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) now says to expect an RFP for "preliminary design" in May. But a proto-prototype, the X-47B UCAS (Unmanned Combat Air System) will soon start test flights off an actual aircraft carrier, the first unmanned aircraft ever to do so. "When that happens, people will say ‘wow,’" Greenert said. "There’ll be a lot of pictures, and I think that will start a discussion."

Even adding drones to the carrier air wing, though, does not complete the needed mix of capabilities. As both the US military and its adversaries become increasingly reliant on computerized sensors and wireless networks, some of the most dangerous things flying through the air may not be aircraft at all, but electrons.

Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments
 Jamming, Cyber, and the Great Convergence

The third leg of the future carrier aircraft trifecta, alongside manned fighters and armed drones, is electronic and cyber warfare to cripple enemy radars, radios, and networks. "Electronic attack is huge," said Greenert, who’s written extensively on the subject (including for this website), in testimony before Forbes and his HASC colleagues. "[It’s] a major, major part of the air wing of the future, air warfare of the future, [all] warfare of the future, including cyber."

"The electromagnetic spectrum, to me, is somewhere that we have fallen behind," said Greenert. The US chose to under-invest in jamming in the 1990s "because we had no equal in that arena, and we were unchallenged. Well, we’re challenged today."

The Air Force retired its last dedicated jamming aircraft over a decade ago, preferring to rely on stealth and on jamming pods for non-stealthy planes. The Navy and Marines, however, retained their seventies-vintage EA-6B Prowlers, which handle jamming for all the services. The Navy — but not the Marines — is now buying a new dedicated electronic attack plane, the EA-18G Growler, to replace the geriatric Prowler.

"It’s out of Schlitz," Gen. James Amos, the Marine Corps Commandant, said of the Prowler in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee. In the near term, as Prowlers retire, the Marines are adding ground-based electronic warfare systems to help fill the gap, he said, "but I think the real replacement for us is the F-35B." The Marines will develop an electronic warfare pod to augment their F-35s, Amos said, but even without such additional equipment — just using the plane’s standard built-in systems — an F-35B "has about, probably, 85 percent" of the capability of the latest Prowler.

The problem with that plan is that the Marines retire their last Prowler in 2019, while the F-35B squadrons are still building up.

"As we look forward to the F-35 coming into the inventory, there are a lot of capabilities we’ll be able to leverage… to offset the sundowning of the Prowlers," said Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Tryon, Amos’s deputy commandant for plans, policies, and operations, at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Symposium earlier this month.

"To be honest with you, I’m not as comfortable" with that approach, said Adm. William Gortney, who heads the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command, minutes later at the same event. "Controlling the [electromagnetic] spectrum is something we haven’t looked hard enough at in the last decade of war," he said. "The question is, are we going to have enough capacity." With the Prowlers going away and the F-35s still coming in, the Navy’s Growler squadrons will have to carry almost the entire burden of aerial jamming, not just for the Navy, but for all the armed services.

Such electronic warfare systems are only becoming more important as cyberspace becomes a battleground. The classic hacker operates over the Internet, but electronic warfare transmissions that once simply jammed an enemy’s radars and radios can now be used to insert viruses into his networks — including closed military systems that aren’t accessible online. Conversely, good old-fashioned jamming can defeat a wireless network just as effectively as a virus can, simply by disrupting transmissions between one node and the next.

"There is great convergence between the [electromagnetic] spectrum and the cyber world at the moment. That offers great opportunities," said Vice Adm. Michael Rogers, the cryptologist who heads the Navy’s Fleet Cyber Command, at the Sea-Air-Space conference. "As a SIGINT [signals intelligence] guy… I just lick my lips."

The military must not focus on cyber warfare in isolation, added Rear Adm. Michael Hewitt of the inter-service Joint Staff, but instead have "more of an integrated fires discussion, understanding how cyberspace can be an enabler." If you want to shut down an enemy network, you can hack it, jam it or just blow it up, Hewitt explained to me after the Sea-Air-Space panel. The real power lies in the synergy of different techniques. "It doesn’t always have to be a cyber solution to a cyber problem," he said. "We’re starting to grow out of that."

The Navy needs a culture change, however, to fully realize this potential. The service still emphasizes "kinetic" solutions — i.e. destroying stuff — over electronic or cyber options, said Adm. Greenert at Sea-Air-Space. "If you’re going to study the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile and employ it on a ship, it’s a 40-week school" for young sailors, he said. For the standard shipborne electronic warfare system, the SLQ-32, "it’s a two-week school."

The service also needs to sharpen its Cold War skills in hiding its radio and radar transmissions, what the military calls "emissions control" or EMCON. "The kids have got to understand the significance of it, because we haven’t looked at this for a generation," Greenert told the conference. Meanwhile the number of electronic systems that emit a signal the enemy can track has grown exponentially. That makes warships vulnerable, even the vaunted aircraft carriers.

During one recent exercise aboard the USS Nimitz, Greenert said, "it took over an hour to get everything turned off." Shutting down big emitters like the radar was one thing, but all sorts of smaller, unexpected signals kept showing up, "wi-fi’s, computers, you name it." Over and over, Greenert recalled, officers would say, "What the hell is that? Turn it off."

After that ordeal, however, the Nimitz crew kept working at shutting down all those tell-tale emissions, Greenert said, "and they got it down to about three minutes."

That’s good news for the Navy’s number-one asset, the carrier force. "Carriers are going to be a very, very important part of our strategic makeup for a long time to come," said Forbes. "Therefore we have to make sure we are guaranteeing their survivability to the largest degree possible, and we have to make sure they have the offensive capabilities to do what we need to do" — whether those capabilities are carried by manned aircraft, unmanned ones, or electrons.

Today, for example, carriers all deploy with a standard air wing, but that may not be adequate in the future. "It may very well be we have to look regionally and say we need different mixes in different portions of the world," Forbes went on. A task force sailing to a low-threat region might make do with more Super Hornets, for example. One facing sophisticated anti-aircraft defenses might need more stealthy F-35Cs and radar-jamming EA-18Gs. One up against long-range anti-ship missiles might rely mainly on equally long-ranged UCLASS drones. And against the most sophisticated threats, the Navy might hold the carriers back and rely on missiles and drones launched from submarines.

"I don’t think we can afford NOT to have the carriers," Rep. Forbes told me. "I think they’re still going to be vitally important to us. [The issue is] how we make them survivable."

Comments

  • Kurt Plummer

    Ho boy…

    1. JSF is, in concept, a good idea gone wrong. It
    was so largely because of the STOVL modifier to what was an overall
    straightforward (say ‘Phantoms Phorever!’) airframe design. One of the
    big things that was missed in the JAST/JSF workups however was the power
    inherent in a simple system called JPALS which provided sub-17cm
    scatter margins on a heaving deck with far better reliability than the
    extant ACLS systems. This Differential GPS + TV system has since been
    expanded to ‘AAR’ or Automatic Air to Air Refueling with the result that
    drone simulant aircraft can make upwards of a 10ft play for a snaking
    hose drogue basket and -get the hookup- about 95% of the time. Both of
    these factors are FAR better than what any manned platform naval aviator
    can match. Which means that you don’t have to have split service
    inventories (Phantom! Phantom! PHANTOM!) as essentially independent
    airforces to have varied capability to bring the war to the Pacific Rim
    or go deep into Asia again (we are not out of there by a long margin
    either…). If you condense your forces you don’t have to pay for 800
    F-16 replacements and 450 F/A-18C/D replacements. You can go for 900
    which swing from landbasing to sea basing on an A2DA + Combat Radius ‘as
    needed’ basis. This allows you to recapitalize the inventories in
    Gen-6 while retaining force quality as well.

    2. It always
    strikes me how backwards we put the emphasis on trades in aircraft
    design. A fighter hauls around at least 10,000lbs of afterburner, APG
    and 9G rated structural margin, _for nothing_. Because you actually fly
    that mission about 70% but you fight it for about 10%. The rest of the
    sortie (about 90% of the mission is spent in pure airliner mode at Mach
    .65 and 40,000ft, just trying the stretch your gas.

    Compareably, a cruise missile, SAM or whatever is designed for the 90%
    of it’s mission where it is literally doing nothing but autopilot along
    in eat-the-miles mode. And suffers incredibly at the target terminal
    area endpoint as a result. The best way to protect a high value target
    from a BGM-109 is to layer in depth a modified form of AHM which pops up
    and blows up, based on proximity flyby. Sure, you’re going to splatter
    collaterals all over your city or troops but if that 1.5 billion dollar
    centrifuge cascade enrichment plant is saved, you can afford the 250
    grande needed to buy off the dead’s life insurance. Similarly, a SAM
    missile is optimized, not to hit an evading target (one shot roll of the
    dice hit or miss-ile) but to transit the 20-30 miles between the
    radar/launcher and the target before the latter can move out of the WEZ
    for either physical or tracking reasons. If you wanted to kill a
    fighter or a UAV, /properly/ you would employ a recce or target drone
    capability which would put your missile 200nm downrange and give it the
    same kind of deep energy reserves as a manned jet in the form of turbine
    propulsion and liquid fuel. Jets coming into a target area off the
    tanker are HEAVY with gas. And thus very low performing. A formation
    of utterly fearless drones which cost little more than the AMRAAM you
    would use to shoot them down with would be able to make pass after pass
    with a 200lb warhead until the fighter pilot ran out of airspeed,
    altitude, ideas and -luck-. Boom. Even if we are too stupid to wrap
    our heads around this concept (generic, endurant, low COO, bomb trucks,
    performance emphasis on penetrating ordnance), you can bet that someone
    will pick up on it, simply as acknowledgement of how VERY GOOD the U.S.
    tactical aviation forces are. Too good to ever play catch-up with.

    3. This is China-

    http://www.xphomestation.com/xp-china-map.jpg

    Note
    that if I am going to hostage China to the cats paw actions of her
    defacto client states in Pakistan, Taiwan or North Korea, forcing her to
    control them ‘or else'; I am NOT going to play thimblerig shell games
    with DF-21D on the coast. To easy to hide, too many decoys, too long a
    reach from too wide a section of coastline. This didn’t work when we
    were playing Wombat Hunt with Saddam’s Al Abbas in 1991 it _will not
    work_ on second-attempt when the enemy has hybrid SA-10/Patriot
    technology to shoot back at our airpower with.

    What I would do to
    chain the dragon is hostage her factory complexes. And to do that does
    indeed require strategic depth of range. But it doesn’t have to come
    from the United States as a Mach 25, half million pound, hideously
    expensive repeat of the NASP/Orient Express as TAV. Rather, you can put
    a jet on deck in numbers similar to those of the old A-6 Intruder
    heavy/all weather attack squadrons. And simply plusup the performance
    by using simple technologies to take the carrier so far out into the
    blue void that it cannot easily be found.

    When I say
    ‘simple’ I mean existing. An F414 engine to get a 65-80,000lb airframe
    with XTV-2 technologies off the deck and up to about 40,000ft. A pair
    of THAAD or SM-6 solid booster motors buried in the deep wing trailing
    edges to take the airframe up to Mach 4 and 100K (Starship One level
    stuff) and then an X-51 Scramjet on the same inlet path as the blocked
    off turbine to continue on to Mach 12 and 200,000ft are all possible in a
    -sub- strategic scale which, even if it is instantly reverse engineered
    and copied, doesn’t threaten CONUS as the USAF Falcon will.

    Rather,
    using simple kinetic strike weapons as Rods From God, you can pass over
    the length of China and land in Afghanistan or Qatar in about an hour
    and a half. Refuel and turn around to repeat the process coming the
    other way. Each time smashing an interior factory complex from half a
    timezone of skip-bombing slant range away. Beyond all conventional air
    defenses.

    Such is how you envision Global Strike in the
    post SIOP era. And it is also how you justify retiring half your
    carriers, buying just 1-2 of the new Reagans and still maintain global
    coverage with six decks. Two in rotation turn and training before
    deployment, two in deep maintenance as SLEP and two at sea as a combined
    battle group.

    There is a massive difference between
    theater optimized strategic warfare and intercontinental strategic
    warfare. But if we can fly a wing based X-47B off a big deck under FBW,
    there is no reason we cannot launch and recover an RA-5 sized lifting
    body the same way.

    Leave the UCLASS replacement for the
    Hornet and the mix of F-35/F/A-18 tactical assets for places like
    Afghanistan or Libya where the threat is so backwards that it doesn’t
    really matter what asset you have dropping LGB or IAM because there effectively
    is no IADS worthy of the name in the entire country.

  • CharleyA

    An F-35B does not provide 85% of the capability of a Prowler – that’s just more USMC marketing, designed to promote the F-35B as a do-it-all platform – performing traditional tactical fighter roles from small deck carriers and austere bases, while adding new BMD, EA, AEW and C5ISR capabilities. Sound too good to be true? It probably is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1258344131 Zbigniew M. Mazurak

    Excellent article. It’s great to see that at least some members of Congress – specifically, the chairman of a key House subcommittee – are taking the CSBA’s analysis and advice to heart. I only wish DOD officials would.

    Adm. Greenert is wrong. The carrier wing as it stands today is NOT balanced. It is totally dependent on very short-ranged aircraft like the Bug and the Super Bug, the latter of which can’t fly further than 400 nmi. Even the F-35C will have a combat radius of no more than some 600 nmi. With that CR, as Chairman Forbes has said, the Navy can cover only 1/3 of Iran and can’t even get to China’s shore. Forget about bombing Tehran, Arak, Qom, Natanz, etc. if the CAW is to rely on these aircraft.

    But even the A-5 and A-6 advertised by Kurt Plummer below would fail to do the job, bc the A-6’s maximum range was some 800-870 nmi. So you can cover about 2/3 of Iran, but you can barely get to China’s shore. And even then, the Chinese can push a USN carrier further from their shores by using sea- and air-launched ASHCMs such as the Moskit, the Sizzler, and the YJ family – most of which are supersonic and thus leave the defender little time to prepare defenses.

    One Moskit ASHCM is sufficient to sink a carrier – and China has at least 500 of them. The USN bought one Moskit from Russia for tests during the 1990s and fired it at the ex-America (CVA-66) in 2005. It broke the ship’s back and sunk it. And remember, China has 500 such missiles – and the aircraft to launch them from.

    The only solution is for the Navy to quickly develop, and field in large numbers, long-range UCAVs such as the UCLASS and the F/A-XX, and for the USAF to quickly develop, and field in large numbers, the Next Gen Bomber and (together w/the Navy) CPGS weapons. These will be launched from bases in the US and will not require in-theater basing or vulnerable surface warships. The NGB, like the B-2, will be able to fly in from the US, deliver its munitions, and come home safely. THAT is the right future course for the US military. The NGB should, and probably will, have a sufficient CR to strike targets deeply inside China from bases well outside the range of China’s MRBMs and long-ranged LACMs.

    In short, the US military needs to rapidly shift the bulk of its force structure, budget, and attention away from short-range and towards long-range strike platforms, including the NGB, CPGS weapons, cruise missiles, naval drones, and longer-ranged EW aircraft.

    • Kurt Plummer

      What I said was that a replacement PGS concept which employed a Mach 10-12 instead of Mach 20 airframe (i.e. half the too-aggressive technical spec of the Falcon) could do to Chinese industry what we did to Iraq in 1991: hostage economics to foreign policy decision making by displaying a willingness to ‘bomb the baby milk factory’ equivalents which makes China wealthy. I further said that such an airframe could be brought aboard in a manageable A-5 deckspot and affordable A-6 squadron (10 planes) count, rather than trying to replace the F/A-18C 20 aircraft super squadrons as total airwing numbers.

      UCAVs as level-1, subsonic, and non maneuvering (F-117) level VLO platforms cannot be the solution anymore. They have been outmoded by the progress of longwave radar tech and the absence of suitable SEAD/EA/OCA rollback to support their assured penetration. Hence, even an increase to 1,100nm and 2hrs on-station which was the original X-45/UCAS program spec is not going to do much because the escort platforms are all massively shorter legged and less reliably penetrable in their own right.

      Indeed, even the F-35 is not and -never was- going to operate alone but depends on the EA-18 which is itself a sub-400nm airframe with all the drag of the ALQ-99 + HARM underwing. Both of which systems can be outranged _vs. the Weasel_ by HOJing S-300PMU2/S-400.

      The difference between 1,100nm and 400nm is being at the edge of DF-21D (and Moskit and Granit and and and) as ‘coastal defense’ ROTHR detection boundaries with no penetration to hostage inland targets. Vs. being Heart Of Envelope forced to engage every threat on a short reaction window basis of shooting at the arrows not the archer as they leave TELs which may be 100nm inland and covered by masses of DCA intercept besides.

      Add to this the clearly go-slow process by which the USN is taking it’s own sweet time in carrier certifying the X-47B (and refused to bring the X-47A aboard at all, even for touch and go), and you have a massive problem with the service politics as much as combat support missions of a shift to ‘cruise missile with landing gear’ unmanneds.

      Regardless of their union-rules beliefs about UCAVs, the USN and USAF need to realize that the days of tactical and strategic range separations as unique aircraft fleet inventories are _done_.

      On the edge of national bankruptcy, we cannot afford four airforces on a budgetary level locked for decades to come in sequestration level rotations of service funding.

      Hence we cannot afford to /think/ in terms of radial distances as ‘there and back’ engagement limits. Rather, we need to envision total-force structures that exploit things like JPALS and AAR to bring nominally land based assets to sea and use carriers as staging devices to get airpower into A2DA denied theaters, rapidly, without putting the CVNs at risk as **Mobile Transit Bases**.

      For assets in-theater the ability to think of missions in ‘legs’ rather than radials is similar to the notion of Operation Frantic/Titanic shuttle missions to Russia which were essential in shutting down the Nazi nuclear industry sheltering in Czech and Polish deep areas.

      If you can get up to mid range hypersonics of Mach 8+, you can -coast- for most of the mission (think F-104 which takes 200nm and 80% of it’s fuel to reach Mach 2 but can then run for 500 miles more…) and an hours flight lets you service half a continent worth of deep industrial base that makes the difference between an industrial nation and a stone age agrarian society.

      Thanks to a creeping-constant of progress that was BMDI for the last few decades, we have the ability to defend against this level of threat. Other nations do not and should not be allowed to focus solely on the littorals because of it.

      UCAVs true functionality lies in providing jet speed transit and boarding rates in the 4-of-5 LIC/SSC mini wars where there essentially _is no_ air defense. They give you an MQ-1/MQ-9B level of endurant overhead CAS response without the fragility of a sailplane design point.

      But they are not the answer to the future of strike warfare. Because the mission, as the designated ‘Near Peer’ threat bar, has gotten deeper than ANY tactical subsonic cruise platform can manage.

      Period.

  • plusnine

    So the Navy is just trolling with that first slide right? Or did that really get distributed in a meeting? Were the staffers snickering in the back, hoping the words “Shaikh Isa” and “Al Dhafra” never came up?

    When you have giant allied air bases in UAE and Bahrain and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan on the other side — all with US planes currently stationed there. What does a Navy tanker refueling map showing that silliness even mean?

    This is total BS. Put that tanker over central Saudi Arabia or Western Afghanistan — both permissible areas for us and the “OMG we need new hardware” panic goes away.

    It seems like straight intellectual dishonesty to act like that’s how we would refuel in a real fight with Iran when we have so many more options in place.

    EDIT: How did I leave out Turkey?!!? All four sides are covered in land bases and friendly airspace for tankers to fly in, making that silly graphic even more silly.

  • PolicyWonk

    “F-18, F-35 are great platforms,” Forbes said…”

    =================================
    The F-18 is a great platform, but the F-35 and its flight envelope/requirements has been shrinking since they started flying it. As an airframe it remains unproven in every aspect, except in the dubious area of costs, where it has easily exceeded the wildest of all expectations.

    To bank so much on this severely overpriced and currently underperforming airframe seems ludicrous.

    • Kurt Plummer

      Re: Hornet being a ‘good airplane’.

      Actually, it’s not. Particularly given the pioneering efforts to which the USN went with systems like VTAS and AIM-95 AGILE as the SS-2D concept of a 60` boresight, helmet cued HOBS weapon, in the 1970s (we beat the Russians to the AA-11 Archer by a decade); the F/A-18 is in fact a triumph of angles maneuver (as zero pitch limiter carefree handling) over energy maneuver (as profile drag rise and thrust loading Ps curves) common sense. The missile solves for weathercocking by bigger motor and better autopilot calculation of when to expend the delta vee as heading change, not the parent airframe.

      Indeed, the nature of the LWF/ACF as optimized ‘dogfighter’ selection of the YF-16 over the YF-17 as a USAF fill force to the hi-tier F-15 with the resultant ‘losers choice’ as a A-7/F-4 replacement was made solely based upon the Viper’s ‘selective virtue’ of lower dragrise vs. the Cobra’s acknowledged twin engine reliablity as operational attrition advantage.

      And it was made because the F-16 was and remains, first and foremost, a bomber. Whereas the Israelis went 550nm to Osirak and back, half at under 250ft, the F/A-18A/C is lucky to do 300nm with an optimized medium level profile.

      Part of this is inherent to the weight of navalization features and the incredibly bad decision to fit a twin engined strike fighter with only 10,000lbs of internal fuel (the F-4 had 13,000) which virtually mandated high drag carriage of three 330 gallon tanks. But the sad fact is that the straight wing with large LEX, even area ruled to cut down on the vortices which all but tore the verticals off is never going to be an efficient transonic aerodynamic solution.

      Something that the F/A-18E, with it’s desire for three stations per wing and 14,400lbs internal fuel, in fact worsened as they now had so much mass on the jet that they had to add another 125 square feet of wing area to retain bring back and this in turn mandated a return to the large saber-LEX of th YF-17 as well as the fold-plenum to cure recurrent wingdrop (that’s right, the wing dogteeth of the F/A-18A prototypes caused the same spanwise lift-dam which starved the outerpanels of lift at high alpha and made the jet lose positive directional control, which is why the production birds didn’t have them).

      Altogether these features adding so much drag that the aircraft actually lost envelope points as a function of both altitude, acceleration and pitch pointing/recovery and roll rates.

      Given the Classic Hornet was never any good above about 15,000ft and modern BVR as well as transit cruise takes place above 35,000ft is _not_ a good thing.

      And it showed, in the lengths to which the USN lied, cheated and fraudulently altered KPPs to get the Super Hornet through OPEVAL. The original contract failure to achieve the rangepoint promise by McBoeing as vaguely ‘superior to Tomcat’ (Grumman promised 550nm with similar eapons loads and fuel), the KPP minimum was in fact reset to first 390nm and then 350nm. The Super Bug achieved 363nm, which is the radius point that dictates where the F-35C fails in turn because it depends on the Super Hornet as escort.

      In this, I actually believe the CVTOL Lightning will perform adequately in up and away. All that wetted area means it will -never- be a ‘fighter’ in the truest sense of supersprint boosting AAM poles beyond 20nm as the BVR predominant determinator of the mission role acceptable performance.

      But it doesn’t need to be with systems like the AIM-120D and Meteor providing magnum cartridge NEZ for the same rifle.

      Where the F-35C will excel is in it’s 20,000lbs of gas, 670 square feet of wing area and single engine abiity to do the 90% of the mission above 40,000ft as base:target transit cruise.

      This will take it -at least- 200nm farther than the dragged up EA-18G can go with all those heavy weight SEAD munitions (HARM is 810lbs and 13ft long with a 3ft wingspan) and giant ALQ-99 pods.

      And since intelligent students of the subject have long since realized that Stealth has never been about going without paying the support mission price so much as granting them persistent dwell times while remaining ERPs:RCS threshold effective from standoff (look at the number of times EA-3 and EB/RB-66s were jumped by MiGs in SEA, forcing them offstation and jeopardizing raids) in an era of 200km S-300/400 class SAMs are normal and hypereffective.

      The reality then becomes that the compromise in the Hornets has had a substantially longer cursed-reach than their actual combat radius ability to project power, even in support of other, superior, USAF platforms as Big War MRC force doctrines.

      In the case of the F-35C, at least a part of this can be attributed to two stovepiping factors of ‘populist thinking’ vs. conservative mistrust of industry:

      1. F-35 as F-117 with Burner.

      JAST/JSF only really got off the ground in 1994. Less than three full years since the F-117 made a name for itself doing stuff like this-

      http://www.kingsacademy.com/mhodges/03_The-World-since-1900/14_The-Bush-Clinton-90s/pictures/GBD-404_1991_infrared-bombing-image.jpg

      http://www.airforcemag.com/SiteCollectionImages/Magazine%20Article%20Images/2010/march%202010/mismatch05.jpg

      Which surely became became an instantly obsolescent tactic as Schwarzkopf began bragging about dropping multistory civilian structures as ‘Air Defense Centers’.

      2. Capabilities Overreach.

      Compare this to the ATA-12 whose requirement for the internal carriage of up to 24 Mk.82 bombs and 2 AAMs was utterly absurd in an aircraft expected to have carrier launch and recovery power margins on the strength of two F412 class engine cores with less than 24,000lbs total thrust.

      After the failure of the Avenger II and the barely averted (by prevarication) disaster of the A(F)X-18E as a ‘modified’ Hornet, it is no wonder that the USN were walking a very narrow line with their requirements for the F-35 as emphasizing a hi-lo mission split with the F-22 (as the program security) by little more than bomb bay ‘deep vs. wide’ carriage of Hammer class precision munitions.

      ‘If you can do what the F-117 does, we won’t ask for more…’

      Which is of course /incredibly/ stupid because iraq was defended with essentially the same levels of technology as North Vietnam had been (MR SAM in the SA-2/3 category) whereas, even with LO, the ability of ballistic IAM/PGM to be brought within 10-15nm of a post-2000 threat in the S-300/400 class was virtually non-existent.

      Yet such is -precisely- the kind of Day 1/Raid 1 door kicker mission that the F-117, the F-35 and indeed any VLO force is intended to achieve.

      Validating the higher platform cost and monumental MMH:FH maintenance effort to sustain things like coatings by speed with which a reduced IADS allows a much larger number of followon, flow-in, legacy systems to stage operations largely unchallenged, on Day 3.

      In this, the F-22 is a vastly superior aircraft because it can mix a BRU-61 4 or 8 GBU-53 and a residual 2 count of AIM-120 class missile carriage boxes in that shallow X ‘wide’ weapons bay and still retain two internal carriage SRM as boot knife backup (useful when the AMRAAM becomes the basis for a followon ARM).

      To get there with the F-35C and ‘deep’ internal carriage means accepting a 2+2 loadout and a huge force count of expensive airplanes.

      Or.

      Moving to external weapons carriage with concommitant performance and signature penalties even if done in the most logical form of an EWP encapsulate, like that of the Super Hornet International offering.

      Because shot count allows you to exploit all the gas you are carrying and thus leverage a smaller exposed force with less tanking into proper Combat Persistence while enjoying a ‘Stealth Benefit’ inherent to natively smaller munitions in the 30 vice 70nm powered IAM (four AIM-120 per pod) category before turning to the guided glidebomb (also X4 but with a 5 minute vs. 30 second flyout) for cleanup of the residual threats (TELS and transfer vehicles), once you have warhead detonation confirmation of the SHARK (Silent Hard Kill) impacts on the battery control radars.

      Taken together and assuming you don’t have a total compromise of RCS with an EWP wing mounting, you can put 8+8 glide and powered IAM shots or 4 + 16 as missile vs. glide weapons into a threat distributed IADS complex and really do some damage.

      Such an ability to redundantly engage the (actively emitting) shooter elements of the air defense system leading to a permanent degradation of it’s effectiveness rather than an iffy five rings temporary paralyzation of the control nodes (which are increasingly dispersed and bunkered or mobile to the point of invisibility) speeds up the rate at which you can bring in the followon forces.

      Vs. the S-300/400/MEADS however; even getting to a 25nm standoff launch point in a LO platform is not assured so you need to also consider an NGJ pod on the centerline to help the APG-81 deal with below-X band surveillance and acquisition radar threats of the Billboard and Tombstone varieties.

      Yet counterbalancing this is the admitted potential for real game changer netcentric ops of your own, as SEAD/DEAD operations summon multishot UCAVs and retargetable Tactical Tomahawks while avoiding the worst of the tanker/AWACS bottle neck constantly sending in another new platform to play SCAR for.

      With all of these system however; what you don’t have is a low drag platform.

      Which is why your 700nm F-35C radius is suddenly down to 500nm (still a good 100nm more than the F/A-18E/F and 200nm more than the F/A-18C are comfortable with) and you are faced with the same deckload diversity issues as bedeviled the Navy in the wake of SEA with too many type-specific logistics tails and too much variance in applicable vs. optimized combat power for your big deck itself to remain safe.

      In this, the F-35 suffers from its own design flaw decisions. But it is also a victim of the Super Hornet and Hornet attempts to go-cheap, go-short, go-slow as an inheritance of Yankee Station learned bad habits vs. the same risk vs. employabilty thresholds (that we face with heavy anti-carrier weapons today) as were faced when the Carrier was purely a nuclear delivery mission system in the 1950s. The F-4, A-6 and even A-4 were products of that era and so their payload:range performance in Vietnam was not as heavily effected as that of the tactical dogfighter Hornet was in the 1970s.

      Range dictates survivability. Even as deckload numbers dominates sortie the rate utility of same. And it is a part of The Carrier Myth that you can have both with a ‘mix’ of airframes whose missions somehow reinforce rather than subtract from each other.

      With only forty airframes on deck (down from the 90 of the Roosevelt airwing era), each with upwards of 200nm of effective radius differential and NO DEDICATED TANKERS to offset this, neither assumption is true.

  • John Knowles

    Interesting article. I’m surprised that no one has commented on the fact that electrons do not “fly through the air.” Electrons travel in wires or in closed circuits. Photons travel through the EMS. Also, are the electromagnetic spectrum and the “Cyber World” really converging as Vice Admiral Rogers asserts? Isn’t that impossible for a natural physical environment like the EM environment to converge with another environment, like Cyberspace? These assertions ignore some basic physics.

  • http://www.facebook.com/charles.lilly.319 Charles Lilly

    F35,F45,F55,F65,F75 what the hell difference does it make, the aerospace Industry has some Congress people and Senators who want their manufacturing business in their State. The US just did build some F22’s, already retired F117’s, F14’s,F15’s,F16’s some of the best Tank Killers in the World the A10, on the other hand the US is still flying C130’s, B52’s, old KC135’s, 707 look down radar planes, Trainers of every make and Model. So when does this BIG MONSTER stop growing? I think that the NAVY is enough Fire Power to stop any strike on American soil (that is unless the EMP Satellites are destroyed) If the NAVY has a particle beam laser that can cut through a satellite moving at 50 miles per second, what do our other Nations have in their pockets>