Vessels of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force

Vessels of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force

JMSDF Destroyers JS INAZUMA (DD 105)and JS SUZUTSUKI (DD117)) commanded by Rear Admiral Tatsuya Fukuda, Commander Escort Flotilla 4, sail in the Pacific for Indo Southeast Asia Deployment 2018 (ISEAD18) in August 2018 while conducting Replenishment At Sea (RAS) training. [Japan Ministry of Defense]

Vessels of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF), 2018-2019
(adapted from Wikipedia, and Jane’s Defense: Sea Module)

Type Class Name

Displacement (tonnes)

Attack submarine S�ryū-class  JS S�ryū

 JS Unryū

 JS Hakuryū

 JS Kenryū

 JS Zuiryū

 JS Kokuryū

 JS Jinryū

 JS Sekiryū

 JS Seiryū

 JS Sh�ryū

 JS Ōryū


Additional subs building to be commissioned.
Oyashio-class  JS Uzushio

 JS Makishio

 JS Isoshio

 JS Narushio

 JS Kuroshio

 JS Takashio

 JS Yaeshio

 JS Setoshio

 JS Mochishio


2 of 11 built converted to training ships.
Helicopter destroyer Izumo-class  JS Izumo 

 JS Kaga


(or Helicopter carrier)
Hyūga-class  JS Hyūga

 JS Ise


Guided missile destroyer (Aegis) Maya-class  JS Maya


JS Maya is expected to be in commission by March 2020.
Atago-class  JS Atago

 JS Ashigara


Kong�-class  JS Kong�

 JS Kirishima

 JS My�k�

 JS Ch�kai


Guided missile destroyer Hatakaze-class  JS Hatakaze

 JS Shimakaze


Destroyer Asahi-class  JS Asahi


First Asahi-class destroyer, JS Shiranui, is expected to be in commissioned by March 2019.
Akizuki-class  JS Akizuki

 JS Teruzuki

 JS Suzutsuki

 JS Fuyuzuki


Takanami-class  JS Takanami

 JS Onami

 JS Makinami

 JS Sazanami

 JS Suzunami


Murasame-class  JS Murasame

 JS Harusame

 JS Yudachi

 JS Kirisame

 JS Inazuma

 JS Samidare

 JS Ikazuchi

 JS Akebono

 JS Ariake


Small destroyer Asagiri-class  JS Asagiri

 JS Yamagiri

 JS Yūgiri

 JS Amagiri

 JS Hamagiri

 JS Setogiri

 JS Sawagiri

 JS Umigiri


Hatsuyuki-class  JS Matsuyuki

 JS Asayuki


Destroyer escort Abukuma-class  JS Abukuma

 JS Jintsu

 JS Oyodo

 JS Sendai

 JS Chikuma

 JS Tone


 (or corvette)
Minesweeper Uraga-class  JS Uraga

 JS Bungo


Categorized as Mine-countermeasures support ship.
Awaji-class  JS Awaji

 JS Hirado


JMSDF commissions second Awaji-class minesweeper
Enoshima-class  JS Enoshima

 JS Chichijima

 JS Hatsushima


Hirashima-class  JS Hirashima

 JS Yakushima

 JS Takashima


Sugashima-class  JS Sugashima

 JS Notojima

 JS Tsunoshima

 JS Naoshima

 JS Toyoshima

 JS Ukushima

 JS Izushima

 JS Aishima

 JS Aoshima

 JS Miyajima

 JS Shishijima

 JS Kuroshima


Uwajima-class  JS Nagashima


Minesweeper controller Ieshima-class  JS Kumejima

 JS Yugeshima


Reconverted Uwajima-class minesweeper.
Landing ship tank Ōsumi-class  JS Ōsumi

 JS Shimokita

 JS Kunisaki


The Japanese MoD is planning to perform a major refit on the Osumi-class to improve their amphibious capabilities.
Utility landing craft LCU-2001-class  JS LC No.1

 JS LC No.2


Landing craft mechanized YL-09-class  JS YL-11

 JS YL-12

 JS YL-13

 JS YL-14

 JS YL-15

 JS YL-16

 JS YL-17


Patrol boat Hayabusa-class  JS Hayabusa

 JS Wakataka

 JS Otaka

 JS Kumataka

 JS Umitaka

 JS Shiritaka


Cadet training ship Kashima-class  JS Kashima


Training vessel Shimayuki-class  JS Shimayuki

 JS Setoyuki

 JS Yamayuki


Reconverted Hatsuyuki-class destroyers.
Training submarine Oyashio-class  JS Oyashio

 JS Michishio


Reconverted Oyashio-class submarines.
Training support ship Kurobe-class  JS Kurobe (ATS-4202)
Tenryu-class  JS Tenryu (ATS-4203)
Replenishment oiler Mashu-class  JS Mashu

 JS Omi


Towada-class  JS Hamana

 JS Tokiwa

 JS Towada


Training support ship Hiuchi-class  JS Hiuchi

 JS Suo

 JS Amakusa

 JS Genkai

 JS Enshu


Cable laying ship ATC Muroto
Submarine rescue vessel  


 JS Chiyoda


JMSDF commissions new submarine rescue ship
 JS Chihaya


Oceanographic research ship AGS Shonan

AGS Nichinan

AGS Futami

Ocean surveillance ship Hibiki-class  JS Hibiki

 JS Harima

JMSDF orders third, more advanced, Hibiki-class ship.
Experiment ship ASE Asuka
Ice breaker AGB Shirase


Yacht ASY Hashidate
Japan’s Grand Strategy and Military Forces (IV)

Japan’s Grand Strategy and Military Forces (IV)

Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) Helicopter Destroyer JS Izumo. [Japan Ministry of Defense}

In my previous post, I took a look at the roots of the extremely close level of integration between the U.S. Navy (USN) and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). This post will look at new Japanese naval technology development efforts that compliment USN capabilities, which in turn further the common strategic interests of both countries.

While officially classed as a helicopter destroyer (per the doctrinal focus on anti-submarine warfare (ASW)), Izumo-class ships are aircraft carriers in many respects, not least by the image they project to other countries in the region. In March 2018, Japanese Defense Secretary Onodera announced that a study was underway to determine if the Izumo-class could embark F-35B fighters. This would give the JMSDF a similar capability to the U.S. Marine Corps’ (USMC) Amphibious Assault Ships or the Royal Navy’s (RN) new Queen Elizabeth class carrier, (65,000 tons empty). At only 27,000 tons fully loaded, the Izumo class is roughly half the size of U.S.S. America (44,971 tons, fully loaded).

The ability to generate air sorties at sea is a key capability that drives the acquisition of aircraft carriers. Generating stealth fighter sorties at sea gives a potent strike capability, which could conceivably be used to strike at North Korean missile launch facilities, for example. This contingency plan alone was enough to draw a diplomatic warning from Beijing.  Undeterred, the Japanese Defense Ministry just announced plans for F-35Bs to be purchased, as well as hypersonic missile capabilities.

Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) Soryu-class submarine Hakuryu (SS-503) arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for a scheduled port visit. (U.S. Navy/Cmdr. Christy Hagen/Released)

Another example of Japanese maritime power projection capability is the Soryu class submarine, who some have claimed is the “best submarine in the world� (Mizokami-san does good work at Japan Security Watch). Carrying up to 30 “fish,� the Soryu class’s Type 89 torpedo is a formidable weapon, not least of which is its maximum speed of 70 knots, which is faster than the U.S. Mk48 ADCAP torpedo’s 55 knots.

Starting this October, these subs will feature lithium-ion batteries, which can store about double the energy of a lead-acid battery for the same volume, and also offers a weight advantage. This enhances the Soryu’s power projection effectiveness, as the Japanese Ministry of Defense has recently announced deployments to the contested South China Sea.

While these are hailed as a first, it is more likely this was the initial announcement of such deployments, which probably have been ongoing for some time. There is a certain logic to parsing how these information releases are worded:

Demonstrating freedom of navigation, a Japanese submarine for the first time conducted drills in the South China Sea where China is constructing military facilities, according to Japanese government sources. The Defense Ministry secretly dispatched the Kuroshio, a Maritime Self-Defense Force submarine, which conducted anti-submarine drills on Sept. 13 with three MSDF destroyers that were on a long-term mission around Southeast Asia, they said. The ministry had conducted anti-submarine drills only in sea areas around Japan, they added. [emphasis added]

This says nothing about being the first deployment, only the first anti-submarine warfare (ASW) drill.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has been awarded a contract by the Japanese MoD to build the first two of four ships of a new class of multirole frigate (seen here in computer-generated imagery) for the JMSDF. {Source: MHI]

In accordance with its 2018 National Defense Program Guidelines, Japan is also planning a new type of multi-role frigate. The JMSDF has announced plans “to introduce a new type of destroyer with minesweeping capabilities, with the aim of increasing the number of such vessels to 22 in the 2030s, sources said. In light of the intensifying activities of the Chinese Navy in the East China Sea, including around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, the government aims to improve warning and surveillance capabilities.�

According to Jane’s,

[T]his new frigate class, which is intended to carry out surveillance missions in waters surrounding the Japanese archipelago, will be equipped with enhanced multirole capabilities, including the ability to conduct anti-mine warfare operations, which until now have been performed by the JMSDF’s ocean-going minesweepers. Armament on the frigates, each of which will be capable of embarking one helicopter as well as unmanned surface and underwater vehicles, is expected to include the navalized version of the Type-03 (also known as the ‘Chū-SAM Kai’) medium-range surface-to-air missile, a 5-inch (127 mm)/62-calibre gun, a vertical launch system, canister-launched anti-ship missiles, and a SeaRAM close-in weapon system.

From this, we can see that this weapon system is intended to keep the military balance in place in the home waters, more so than a power projection mission. The purpose for these capabilities becomes more clear when considering the investments by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in mine warfare. “Today, the evidence continues to mount that the employment of sea mines remains a core tenet of Chinese naval war-fighting doctrine.Andrew Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College has written a great white paper on the topic, entiled “Chinese Mine Warfare: A PLA Navy ‘Assassin’ s Mace’ Capability.”  More to follow on this in later posts!

Japan’s Grand Strategy and Military Forces (III)

Japan’s Grand Strategy and Military Forces (III)

[John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab]

In my previous post, I looked at the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) basic strategic missions of defending Japan from maritime invasion and securing the sea lines of communication (SLOC). This post will examine the basis for JMSDF’s approach to those tasks.

In 2011, JMSDF Vice Admiral (Ret.) Yoji Koda published an excellent article in the Naval War College Review, entitled “A New Carrier Race?.� Two passages therefrom are particular relevant and illuminating:

In 1952, … the Japan Maritime Guard (JMG) was established as a rudimentary defense organization for the nation. The leaders of the JMG were determined that the organization would be a navy, not a reinforced coast guard. Most were combat-experienced officers (captains and below) of the former Imperial Japanese Navy, and they had clear understanding of the difference between a coast guard–type law-enforcement force and a navy. Two years later, the JMG was transformed into the JMSDF, and with leaders whose dream to build a force that had a true naval function was stronger than ever. However, they also knew the difficulty of rebuilding a real navy, in light of strict constraints imposed by the new, postwar constitution. Nonetheless, the JMSDF has built its forces and trained its sailors vigorously, with this goal in view, and it is today one of the world’s truly capable maritime forces in both quality and size.

This continuity with the World War II-era Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) is evident in several practices. The JMSDF generally re-uses IJN names of for new vessels, as well as its naval ensign, the Kyokujitsu-ki or “Rising Sunâ€� flag. This flag is seen by some in South Korea and other countries as symbolic of Japan’s wartime militarism. In October 2018, the JMSDF declined an invitation to attend a naval review held by the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) at Jeju island, due to a request that only national flags be flown at the event. This type of disagreement may have a material impact on the ability of the JMSDF and the ROKN, both allies of the United States, to jointly operate effectively.

Koda continued:

Since the founding of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) and within it the JMSDF, in 1954…the bases of Japan’s national security and defense are the capability of the JSDF and the Japanese-U.S. alliance… Thus the operational concept of the JSDF with respect to the U.S. armed forces has been one of complementary mission-sharing, in which U.S. forces concentrate on offensive operations, while the JSDF maximizes its capability for defensive operations. In other words, the two forces form what is known as a “spear and shield� relationship… [T]he JMSDF ensures that Japan can receive American reinforcements from across the Pacific Ocean, guarantees the safety of U.S. naval forces operating around Japan, and enables U.S. carrier strike groups (CSGs) to concentrate on strike operations against enemy naval forces and land targets…[so] the JMSDF has set antisubmarine warfare as its main task…ASW was made the main pillar of JMSDF missions. Even in the present security environment, twenty years after the end of the Cold War and the threat of invasion from the Soviet Union, two factors are unchanged—the Japanese-U.S. alliance and Japan’s dependence on imported natural resources. Therefore the protection of SLOCs has continued to be a main mission of the JMSDF.

It is difficult to overstate the degree to which the USN and JMSDF are integrated. The US Navy’s Seventh Fleet is headquartered in Yokosuka, Japan, where the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, a Nimitz-class super carrier, is stationed. Historically, this position was filled by the U.S.S. George Washington, which is currently back in Virginia undergoing refueling and overhaul. According to the Stars and Stripes, she may return to Japan with a new air wing, incorporating the MQ-25A Stingray aerial refueling drones.

According to the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA), the USN has the following ships based in Japan:

  • Yokosuka (south of Tokyo, in eastern Japan)
    • One CVN (nuclear aircraft carrier), U.S.S. Ronald Reagan
    • One AGC (amphibious command ship), U.S.S. Blue Ridge
    • Three CG (guided missile cruisers)
    • Seven DDG (guided missile destroyers)
  • Sasebo (north of Nagasaki, in the southern island of Kyuushu)
    • One LHD (amphibious assault ship, multi-purpose), U.S.S. Bon Home Richard
    • One LPD (amphibious transport dock), U.S.S. Greenway
    • Two LSD (dock landing ship)
    • Four MCM (mine counter measure ship)

One example of this close integration is the JS Maya, a Guided Missile Destroyer (DDG), launched on 30 July 2018. The ship is currently outfitting and is expected to be commissioned in 2020. A notable feature is the Collective Engagement Capability (CEC) (see graphic above). CEC is a “revolutionary approach to air defense,� according to John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (which is involved in the development), “it allows combat systems to share unfiltered sensor measurements data associated with tracks with rapid timing and precision to enable the [USN-JMSDF] battlegroup units to operate as one.�

Zhang Junshe, a senior research fellow at the China’s People’s Liberation Army Naval Military Studies Research Institute, expressed concern in Chinese Global Times about this capability for “potentially targeting China and threatening other countries… CEC will strengthen intelligence data sharing with the US…strengthen their [US and Japan] military alliance. From the US perspective, it can better control Japan… ‘Once absolute security is realized by Japan and the US, they could attack other countries without scruples, which will certainly destabilize other regions.’â€�

Japan’s Grand Strategy and Military Forces (II)

Japan’s Grand Strategy and Military Forces (II)

Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) ships and the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group conduct Annual Exercise 2016. [U.S. Navy]

In my first post on Japan’s grand strategy, I examined its “free and open� Indo-Pacific policy and briefly reviewed its armed forces—nominally “self-defense forces (SDF)�—as well as the legal reasons for this euphemism, and the Japanese government’s plans to clarify this constitutional conundrum.

The next several posts in this series will focus on a general overview of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), why this branch is considered primary (or dominant), some history in terms of how it came to be, the current missions, defense concepts, current capabilities and how they have been envisioned, how they are deployed, and a look ahead about options under consideration.

According to an excellent article in the Naval War College Review by Toshi Yoshihara, “the Japanese often describe their key national characteristic in nautical terms, with the familiar notion that ‘Japan is a small island nation lacking resource endowments and is thus highly dependent upon seaborne commerce for its well-being.’�

A few key facts, according to Jane’s Defense: Sea Module:

  • Japan has the world’s seventh-largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
  • Japan operates a large commercial fishing fleet of about 200,000 vessels.
  • 90% of Japan’s oil is shipped from the Middle East.
  • 60% of Japan’s food is imported by sea.

The JMSDF is therefore tasked with the fundamental naval missions of defending Japan from maritime invasion and securing the sea lines of communication (SLOC). A recent article in the Japan News, spelled out why SLOC protection is vital for Japan:

[T]he South China Sea is a key sea-lane for Japan. If it became necessary to take a detour around the South China Sea, the additional time and fuel costs are estimated to be 1½ days and $120,000 for travel via the Sunda Strait, and three days and $240,000 for travel via the Lombok Strait. Both of these straits can be perilous, with strong tidal currents, sunken ships and shoals. If either were to see a large increase in marine traffic, chaos is predicted to ensue.

We can see this concern clearly in the recent JMSDF exercise deployment through the South China Sea, the straits of Sunda and Malacca, and onwards to India.

[The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun)]

For Indo Southeast Asia Deployment 2018 (ISEAD18) from 26 August to 30 October 2018, JMSDF vessels JS Kaga (DDH 184), JS Inazuma (DD105), JS Suzutsuki (DD117), stopped at Subic Bay, Philippines; Jakarta, Indonesia; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Visakhapatnam, India; and Changi, Singapore. The exercise included naval various exercises with port call countries, as well as the British and U.S. navies. This activity yielded important agreements, such as the maritime surveillance pact between Japan and India to share information on Chinese ship locations.

Japan’s Grand Strategy and Military Forces (I)

Japan’s Grand Strategy and Military Forces (I)

[Source: Consulate-General of Japan, Sydney]

This is the first in a series of Orders of Battle (OOB) posts, which will cover Japan, the neighboring and regional powers in East Asia, as well as the major global players, with a specific viewpoint on their military forces in East Asia and the Greater Indo-Pacific. The idea is to provide a catalog of forces and capabilities, but also to provide some analysis of how those forces are linked to the nation’s strategy.

The geographic term “Indo-Pacific� is a relatively new one, and referred to by name in the grand strategy as detailed by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in April 2017. It also aligns with the strategy and terminology used by US Defense Secretary James Mattis at the Shangri-La conference in June 2018. Dr. Michael J. Green has a good primer on the evolution of Japan’s grand strategy, along with a workable definition of the term:

What is “grand strategy�? It is the integration of all instruments of national power to shape a more favorable external environment for peace and prosperity. These comprehensive instruments of power are diplomatic, informational, military and economic. Successful grand strategies are most important in peacetime, since war may be considered the failure of strategy.

Nonetheless, the seminal speech by Vice President Pence regarding China policy on 4 October 2018, had an articulation of Chinese grand strategy: “Beijing is employing a whole-of-government approach, using political, economic, and military tools, as well as propaganda, to advance its influence and benefit its interests in the United States.� The concept of grand strategy is not new; Thucydides is often credited with the first discussion of this concept in History of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE). It is fundamentally about the projection of power in all its forms.

With the Focus on the Indo-Pacific Strategy, What About the Home Islands? 

[Source: Japanese Ministry of Defense (MOD) ]

The East Asian region has some long simmering conflicts, legacies from past wars, such as World War II (or Great Pacific War) (1937-1945), the Korean War (1950-1953), and the Chinese Civil War (1921-1947). These conflicts led to static and stable borders, across which a “military balance� is often referred to, and publications from think tanks often refer to this, for example the Institute for International and Strategic Studies (IISS) offers a publication with this title. The points emphasized by IISS in the 2018 edition are “new arms orders and deliveries graphics and essays on Chinese and Russian air-launched weapons, artificial intelligence and defence, and Russian strategic-force modernisation.�

So, the Japanese military has two challenges, maintain the balance of power at home, that is playing defense, with neighbors who are changing and deploying new capabilities that have a material effect on this balance. And, as seen above Japan is working to build an offense as part of the new grand strategy, and military forces play a role.

Given the size and capability of the Japanese military forces, it is possible to project power  at great distances from the Japanese home waters. Yet, as a legacy from the Great Pacific War, the Japanese do not technically have armed forces. The constitution, imposed by Americans, officially renounces war as a sovereign right of the nation.

In July 2014, the constitution was officially �re-interpreted� to allow collective self-defense. The meaning was that if the American military was under attack, for example in Guam, nearby Japanese military units could not legally engage with the forces attacking the Americans, even though they are allied nations, and conduct numerous training exercises together, that is, they train to fight together. This caused significant policy debate in Japan.

More recently, as was an item of debate in the national election in September 2018, the legal status of the SDF is viewed as requiring clarification, with some saying they are altogether illegal. “It’s time to tackle a constitutional revision,” Abe said in a victory speech.

The original defense plan was for the American military to defend Japan. The practical realities of the Cold War and the Soviet threat to Japan ended up creating what are technically “self-defense forces� (SDF) in three branches:

  • Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces (JGSDF)
  • Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces (JGSDF)
  • Japan Air Self-Defense Forces (JASDF)

In the next post, these forces will be cataloged, with specific capabilities linked to Japanese strategy. As a quick preview, the map below illustrates the early warning radar sites, airborne early warning aircraft, and fighter-interceptor aircraft, charged with the mission to maintain a balance of power in the air, as Russian and Chinese air forces challenge the sovereignty of Japanese airspace. With the Russians, this is an old dance from the Cold War, but recently the Chinese have gotten into this game as well.

[Source: J-Wings magazine, December 2018]

Really the End of Stealth?

Really the End of Stealth?

This blog reported in July that the end of stealth might be near.  Further evidence comes with Aviation Week’s interview with Fred Kennedy, the lead of the Tactical Technology Office (TTO) at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) reveals key elements of the debates within the US defense community, specifically about stealth.

“We have been doubling down on the miracle of stealth for forty years. … There are diminishing returns to using the same tactic.  I don’t think there is a lot of advantage to going further into this particular tactic of stealth.�  Rather, DARPA suggests what they call “un-deterable air presence. … You’re going to see me coming, since I won’t be stealthy, and you’re going to shoot at me, but you’re not going to hit anything.  An example is hypersonics.�

Meanwhile, Air Force Chief of Staff General Dave Goldfein is looking at the network approach, sometimes called combat cloud.  �When you look at — through the lens of the network — and you look at air superiority as a mission, as a family-of-systems approach, you can see why you don’t hear me talking a lot about a replacement, A for B.�

This indicates that several programs which are underway to consider building new stealth aircraft might be facing an uphill battle to convince the Air Force, DARPA and Department of Defense (DoD):

  • Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD)
  • Penetrating Counter Air (PCA)
  • F/A-XX

So, does this mean that stealth is near its end? A few key facts illustrate otherwise:

  1. Significant investment in new stealthy platforms, worldwide.
    1. US F-117 – in service from 1983 to 2008
    2. US B-2 – in service since 1997
    3. US F-22 – in service 2005-Dec, first combat 2014-Sep
    4. F-35 Program – first combat by Israeli Air Force, 2018-May
    5. US B-21 Program – expected to enter service by 2025
    6. British Tempest – concept announced 2018-July
    7. Franco-German Future Combat Air System (FCAS)
    8. Japanese X-2 Shinshin – costly, but may proceed with partners
    9. Korean & Indonesian KF-X – expected by 2032
    10. Turkish & British TF-X – first flight by 2023 ?
    11. Chinese J-20 – in serial production since 2017-Oct
    12. Chinese J-31 – improved version, first flight 2016-Dec
    13. Chinese H-20 – strategic stealth bomber, planned for 2025
    14. Russian Su-57 – in service, combat evaluation in Syria
    15. Russian PAK DA Program – bomber planned for 2025-2030
  2. Research projects by DARPA that leverage existing stealthy platforms.
    1. Gremlins – semi-disposable, air launch and recovery UAVs
    2. Software – System of Systems approach (SoSITE)
  3. Evidence that stealth capabilities by potential adversaries are overstated.
    1. India Air Force claims Su-30MKI tracked Chinese J-20
    2. Russia cancels mass production of Su-57

Clearly then, stealth is a capability that is here to stay, and many new aircraft with incorporate it into their design. The point that DARPA’s Kennedy makes is that potential adversaries know this tactic, and they are investing in ways to counter it.  Stealth is no longer a source of technological surprise, it is mainstream.  It was original and likely the source of significant surprise in 1983!

Greetings from Japan /日本�ら今日��

Greetings from Japan /日本�ら今日��

Image Credit: Japan Ministry of Defense

This blogger has now relocated to the land of the rising sun, for professional and personal reasons. Note the location of the Ministry of Defense in the focused circle in the image above.

As a student of Japanese language, politics, economics, history culture and martial arts, I’m now enjoying being in close proximity to many places that I’ve studied, and are symbolic of the Japanese nation.

For example, my “monthly apartment” is close to Kudanshita station (ä¹�段下駅). This is right across the street from Yasukuni Shrine, which is rather famous, given that other nations such as China and Korea are somewhat critical and skeptical about Japanese nationalism. For example, this statement by the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Yasukuni Shrine, located in Tokyo, Japan, is dedicated to over 2,466,000 Japanese soldiers and servicemen who died fighting on behalf of the Emperor of Japan in the last 150 years. It also houses one of the few Japanese war museums dedicated to World War II. The shrine is at the center of an international controversy by honoring war criminals convicted by a post World War II court including 14 ‘Class A’ war criminals. Japanese politicians, including prime ministers and cabinet members have paid visits to Yasukuni Shrine in recent years which caused criticism and protests from China, Korea, and Taiwan.

Image credit: Geoffrey Clark, Yasukuni Shrine at night

I’m planning a new series of blog posts, of the following topics:

  • East Asian military forces, Orders of Battle (OOB) – in Japan, military forces have been at the center of politics as a key item of debate during the run up to the election on 9/20 for Prime Minister; Shinzo Abe won a third term, securing his position through to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The question was about how (no longer if) to amend the post-war constitution to specify the legal status of the armed forces of Japan, euphemistically called the “Self Defense Forces” today. Abe now has enough political capital to move forward with some changes, although language is still being debated.
  • East Asian Geography – as an archipelago, Japan sits in a seemingly precarious position, close to Russia, China, the Koreas and Taiwan. Given the legacy of the Pacific War, as well as the modern economy, Japan has various ties to these countries, as well as territorial disputes. The recent discussions with Russia on a possible peace treaty to formally end the Pacific War has been in the news, and it involves islands in dispute. The implications of these types of territorial change of hands have big implications on military balance. The military implications of some of these issues will be examined in more depth through a commercial wargame.
  • Air Combat in General – On the utility of stealth, the possible outcomes of the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program in the US, the statements by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on stealth and the Third Offset Strategy, to the advance of drones, there is much to talk about!
Air Combat And Technology

Air Combat And Technology

Any model of air combat needs to address the effect of weapons on the opposing forces.  In the Dupuy Air Combat Model (DACM), this was rifled bullets fired from machine guns, as well as small caliber cannon in the 20-30 millimeter (mm) class.  Such was the state of air combat in World War II.  This page is an excellent, in-depth analysis of the fighter guns and cannon.  Of course, technology has effects beyond firepower.  One of the most notable technologies to go into active use during World War II was radar, contributing to the effectiveness of the Royal Air Force (RAF), successfully holding off the Wehrmacht’s Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain.

Since that time, driven by “great power competition”, technology continues to advance the art of warfare in the air.  This happened in several notable stages during the Cold War, and was on display in subsequent contemporary conflicts when client or proxy states fought on behalf of the great powers.  Examples include well-known conflicts, such as the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, but also the conflicts between the Arabs and Israelis.  In the Korean War, archives now illustrate than Russian pilots secretly flew alongside North Korean and Chinese pilots against the allied forces.

Stages in technology are often characterized by generation.  Many of the features that are associated with the generations are driven by the Cold War arms race, and the back and forth development cycles and innovation cycles by the aircraft designers.  This was evident in comments by Aviation Week’s Bill Sweetman, remarking that the Jas-39 Grippen is actually a sixth generation fighter, based upon the alternative focus on maintainability, operability from short runways / austere airbases (or roadways!), the focus on cost reduction, but most importantly, software: “The reason that the JAS 39E may earn a Gen 6 tag is that it has been designed with these issues in mind. Software comes first: The new hardware runs Mission System 21 software, the latest roughly biennial release in the series that started with the JAS 39A/B.”

Upon close inspection of the DACM parameters, we can observe a few important data elements and metadata definitions: avionics (aka software & hardware), and sensor performance.  Those two are about data and information.  A concise method to assign values to these parameters is needed.  The U.S. Air Force (USAF) Air Combat Command (ACC) has used the generation of fighters as a proxy for this in the past, at least at a notional level:

[Source: 5th Generation Fighters, Lt Gen Hawk Carlisle, USAF ACC]

The Fleet Series game that has been reviewed in previous posts has a different method.  The Air-to-Air Combat Resolution Table does not seem to resonate well, as the damage effects are imposed against either one side or the other.  This does not jive with the stated concerns of the USAF, which has been worried about an exchange in which both Red and Blue forces are destroyed or eliminated in a mutual fashion, with a more or less one-for-one exchange ratio.

The Beyond Visual Range (BVR) version, named Long Range Air-to-Air (LRAA) combat in Asian Fleet, is a better model of this, in which each side rolls a die to determine the effect of long range missiles, and each side may take losses on non-stealthy units, as the stealthy units are immune to damage at BVR.

One important factor that the Fleet Series combat process does resolve is a solid determination of which side “holds” the airspace, and this is capable of using other support aircraft, such as AWACS, tankers, reconnaissance, etc.  Part of this determination is the relative morale of the opposing forces.  These effects have been clearly evident in air campaigns such as the strategic bombing campaign on Germany and Japan in the latter portion of World War II.

Dealing with this conundrum, I decided to relax by watching some dogfight videos on YouTube, Dogfights Greatest Air Battles, and this was rather entertaining, it included a series of engagements in aerial combat, taken from the exploits of American aces over the course of major wars:

  1. Eddie Rickenbacker, flying a Spad 13 in World War I,
  2. Clarence Emil “Bud” Anderson, flying a P-51B “Old Crow” in European skies during World War II, flying 67 missions in P-51Ds, 35 missions in F-80s and 121 missions in F-86s. He wrote “No Guts, No Glory,” a how to manual with lots of graphics of named maneuvers like the “Scissors.”
  3. Frederick Corbin “Boots” Blesse, flying a F-86 Sabre in “MiG Alley” in North Korea close to the Chinese border,
  4. Several engagements and interviews of aces from the Vietnam War:
    1. Steve Ritchie, who said “Surprise is a key element.” Previously discussed.
    2. Robin Olds – a triple ace in both WWII (P-38 and P-51) and Vietnam (F-4), and the mastermind of Operation Bolo, a fantastic application of deception.
    3. Randy “Duke” Cunningham and William P “Irish” Discol, flying an F-4 Phantom, “Showtime 100”, and up against North Vietnamese MiG-17s.

An interesting paraphrase by Cunningham of Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron’s statement: “When he sees the enemy, he attacks and kills, everything else is rubbish.”  What Richthofen said (according to, was “The duty of the fighter pilot is to patrol his area of the sky, and shoot down any enemy fighters in that area. Anything else is rubbish.” Richtofen would not let members of his Staffel strafe troops in the trenches.

The list above is a great reference, and it got me to consider an alternative form of generation, including the earlier wars, and the experiences gained in those wars.  Indeed, we can press on in time to include the combat performance of the US and Allied militaries in the first Gulf War, 1990, as previously discussed.

There was a reference to the principles of aerial combat, such as the Dicta Boelcke:

  1. Secure the benefits of aerial combat (speed, altitude, numerical superiority, position) before attacking. Always attack from the sun.
  2. If you start the attack, bring it to an end.
  3. Fire the machine gun up close and only if you are sure to target your opponent.
  4. Do not lose sight of the enemy.
  5. In any form of attack, an approach to the opponent from behind is required.
  6. If the enemy attacks you in a dive, do not try to dodge the attack, but turn to the attacker.
  7. If you are above the enemy lines, always keep your own retreat in mind.
  8. For squadrons: In principle attack only in groups of four to six. If the fight breaks up in noisy single battles, make sure that not many comrades pounce on an opponent.

Appendix A – my own attempt to classify the generations of jet aircraft, in an attempt to rationalize the numerous schemes … until I decided that it was a fool’s errand:

  • Generation Zero:
    • World War II, 1948 Arab Israeli conflict
    • Blue: Spitfire, P-51 Mustang,
    • Red: Bf-109, FW-190, Mitsubishi Zero/George
    • Propeller engines, machine guns & cannons
  • First Generation:
    • Korean War, China & Taiwan conflicts
    • Blue: F-86 Sabre,
    • Red: MiG-15, Me-262?
    • Jet engines, swept wings, machine guns & cannons, early air-to-air missiles
  • Second Generation –
    • 1967 and Cuban Missile Crisis
    • Blue: F-100, F-102, F-104, F-5, F-8
    • Grey: Mirage III, Mirage F1
    • Red: MiG-19, MiG-21
    • Multi-mach speeds, improved air-to-air missiles, but largely within-visual range (WVR), early radar warning receivers (RWR), early countermeasures.
  • Third Generation:
    • 1973 Arab Israeli Wars, Vietnam War
    • Blue: F-4 Phantom, F-111 Ardvark, F-106?
    • Grey: Mirage III
    • Red: MiG-23, MiG-25, Su-15
    • Look-down/Shoot-down capability, radar-guided missiles, Beyond Visual Range (BVR), Identification Friend or Foe (IFF), all-aspect infrared missiles.
  • Fourth Generation:
    • 1980’s Cold War, 1990 Gulf War, 1982 Lebanon, 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War
    • Blue: F-15 Eagle, F-16 Viper, F-14 Tomcat, F/A-18 Hornet
    • Grey: Mirage 2000
    • Red: MiG-29, MiG-31, Su-27/30
  • Fourth Plus Generation:
    • 2003 Gulf War, 2011 Libiya
    • Blue: F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, F-15 improved (F-15E, F-15I, F-15SG, F-15SK…)
    • Grey: Eurofighter Typhoon, Rafale
    • Red: Su-35S
  • Fifth Generation:
    • Marketing term used by aircraft producers
    • Blue: Adanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) = F-22 Raptor, Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) = F-35 Lightening II
    • Grey: Grippen?
    • Red: PAK-FA Su-57, J-20
  • Sixth Generation – the current frontier
    • Blue: Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, UAS ?
    • Red: ?
    • Grey: Two seat, Twin tail “drone-herder”?
Assessing The Assessments Of The Military Balance In The China Seas

Assessing The Assessments Of The Military Balance In The China Seas

“If we maintain our faith in God, love of freedom, and superior global airpower, the future [of the US] looks good.” — U.S. Air Force General Curtis E. LeMay (Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, 1948-1957)

Curt LeMay was involved in the formation of RAND Corporation after World War II. RAND created several models to measure the dynamics of the US-China military balance over time. Since 1996, this has been computed for two scenarios, differing by range from mainland China: one over Taiwan and the other over the Spratly Islands. The results of the model results for selected years can be seen in the graphic below.

The capabilities listed in the RAND study are interesting, notable in that the air superiority category, rough parity exists as of 2017. Also, the ability to attack air bases has given an advantage to the Chinese forces.

Investigating the methodology used does not yield any precise quantitative modeling examples, as would be expected in a rigorous academic effort, although there is some mention of statistics, simulation and historical examples.

The analysis presented here necessarily simplifies a great number of conflict characteristics. The emphasis throughout is on developing and assessing metrics in each area that provide a sense of the level of difficulty faced by each side in achieving its objectives. Apart from practical limitations, selectivity is driven largely by the desire to make the work transparent and replicable. Moreover, given the complexities and uncertainties in modern warfare, one could make the case that it is better to capture a handful of important dynamics than to present the illusion of comprehensiveness and precision. All that said, the analysis is grounded in recognized conclusions from a variety of historical sources on modern warfare, from the air war over Korea and Vietnam to the naval conflict in the Falklands and SAM hunting in Kosovo and Iraq. [Emphasis added].

We coded most of the scorecards (nine out of ten) using a five-color stoplight scheme to denote major or minor U.S. advantage, a competitive situation, or major or minor Chinese advantage. Advantage, in this case, means that one side is able to achieve its primary objectives in an operationally relevant time frame while the other side would have trouble in doing so. [Footnote] For example, even if the U.S. military could clear the skies of Chinese escort fighters with minimal friendly losses, the air superiority scorecard could be coded as “Chinese advantage� if the United States cannot prevail while the invasion hangs in the balance. If U.S. forces cannot move on to focus on destroying attacking strike and bomber aircraft, they cannot contribute to the larger mission of protecting Taiwan.

All of the dynamic modeling methodology (which involved a mix of statistical analysis, Monte Carlo simulation, and modified Lanchester equations) is publicly available and widely used by specialists at U.S. and foreign civilian and military universities.” [Emphasis added].

As TDI has contended before, the problem with using Lanchester’s equations is that, despite numerous efforts, no one has been able to demonstrate that they accurately represent real-world combat. So, even with statistics and simulation, how good are the results if they have relied on factors or force ratios with no relation to actual combat?

What about new capabilities?

As previously posted, the Kratos Mako Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV), marketed as the “unmanned wingman,” has recently been cleared for export by the U.S. State Department. This vehicle is specifically oriented towards air-to-air combat, is stated to have unparalleled maneuverability, as it need not abide by limits imposed by human physiology. The Mako “offers fighter-like performance and is designed to function as a wingman to manned aircraft, as a force multiplier in contested airspace, or to be deployed independently or in groups of UASs. It is capable of carrying both weapons and sensor systems.” In addition, the Mako has the capability to be launched independently of a runway, as illustrated below. The price for these vehicles is three million each, dropping to two million each for an order of at least 100 units. Assuming a cost of $95 million for an F-35A, we can imagine a hypothetical combat scenario pitting two F-35As up against 100 of these Mako UCAVs in a drone swarm; a great example of the famous phrase, quantity has a quality all its own.

A battery of Kratos Aerial Target drone ready for take off. One of the advantages of the low-cost Kratos drones are their ability to get into the air quickly. [Kratos Defense]

How to evaluate the effects of these possible UCAV drone swarms?

In building up towards the analysis of all of these capabilities in the full theater, campaign level conflict, some supplemental wargaming may be useful. One game that takes a good shot at modeling these dynamics is Asian Fleet.  This is a part of the venerable Fleet Series, published by Victory Games, designed by Joseph Balkoski to model modern (that is Cold War) naval combat. This game system has been extended in recent years, originally by Command Magazine Japan, and then later by Technical Term Gaming Company.

Screenshot of Asian Fleet module by Bryan Taylor []

More to follow on how this game transpires!

Artificial Intelligence (AI) And Warfare

Artificial Intelligence (AI) And Warfare

Arnold Schwarzenegger and friend. [Image Credit Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/File]

Humans are a competitive lot. With machines making so much rapid progress (see Moore’s Law), the singularity approaches—see the discussion between Michio Kaku and Ray Kurzweil, two prominent futurologists. This is the “hypothesis that the invention of artificial super intelligence (ASI) will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization.” (Wikipedia). This was also referred to as general artificial intelligence (GAI) by The Economist, and previously discussed in this blog.

We humans also exhibit a tendency to anthropomorphize, or to endow any observed object with human qualities. The image above illustrates Arnold Schwarzenegger sizing up his robotic doppelgänger. This is further evidenced by statements made about the ability of military networks to spontaneously become self-aware:

The idea behind the Terminator films – specifically, that a Skynet-style military network becomes self-aware, sees humans as the enemy, and attacks – isn’t too far-fetched, one of the nation’s top military officers said this week. Nor is that kind of autonomy the stuff of the distant future. ‘We’re a decade or so away from that capability,’ said Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

This exhibits a fundamental fear, and I believe a misconception, about the capabilities of these technologies. This is exemplified by Jay Tuck’s TED talk, “Artificial Intelligence: it will kill us.” His examples of AI in use today include airline and hotel revenue management, aircraft autopilot, and medical imaging. He also holds up the MQ-9 Reaper’s Argus (aka Gorgon Stare) imaging systems, as well as the X-47B Pegasus, previously discussed, as an example of modern AI, and the pinnacle in capability. Among several claims, he states that the X-47B has an optical stealth capability, which is inaccurate:

[X-47B], a descendant of an earlier killer drone with its roots in the late 1990s, is possibly the least stealthy of the competitors, owing to Northrop’s decision to build the drone big, thick and tough. Those qualities help it survive forceful carrier landings, but also make it a big target for enemy radars. Navy Capt. Jamie Engdahl, manager of the drone test program, described it as ‘low-observable relevant,’ a careful choice of words copping to the X-47B’s relative lack of stealth. (Emphasis added).

Such questions limit the veracity of these claims. I believe that this is little more than modern fear mongering, playing on ignorance. But, Mr. Tuck is not alone. From the forefront of technology, Elon Musk is often held up as an example of commercial success in the field of AI, and he recently addressed the national governors association meeting on this topic, specifically in the need for regulation in the commercial sphere.

On the artificial intelligence [AI] front, I have exposure to the most cutting edge AI, and I think people should be really concerned about it. … AI is a rare case, I think we should be proactive in terms of regulation, rather that reactive about it. Because by the time we are reactive about it, its too late. … AI is a fundamental risk to human civilization, in a way that car crashes, airplane crashes, faulty drugs or bad food were not. … In space, we get regulated by the FAA. But you know, if you ask the average person, ‘Do you want to get rid of the FAA? Do you want to take a chance on manufacturers not cutting corners on aircraft because profits were down that quarter? Hell no, that sounds terrible.’ Because robots will be able to do everything better than us, and I mean all of us. … We have companies that are racing to build AI, they have to race otherwise they are going to be made uncompetitive. … When the regulators are convinced it is safe they we can go, but otherwise, slow down.  [Emphasis added]

Mr. Musk also hinted at American exceptionalism: “America is the distillation of the human spirit of exploration.â€� Indeed, the link between military technology and commercial applications is an ongoing virtuous cycle. But, the kind of regulation that exists in the commercial sphere from within the national, subnational, and local governments of humankind do not apply so easily in the field of warfare, where no single authority exists. Any agreements to limit technology are a consensus-based agreement, such as a treaty.

The husky was mistakenly classified as wolf, because the classifier learned to use snow as feature. [Machine Master blog]

In a recent TEDx talk, Peter Haas describes his work in AI, and some of challenges that exist within the state of the art of this technology. As illustrated above, when asked to distinguish between a wolf and a dog, the machine classified the Husky in the above photo as a wolf. The humans developing the AI system did not know why this happened, so they asked the AI system to show the regions of the image that were used to make this decision, and the result is depicted on the right side of the image. The fact that this dog was photographed with snow in the background is a form of bias – are fact that snow exists in a photo does not yield any conclusive proof that any particular animal is a dog or a wolf.

Right now there are people – doctors, judges, accountants – who are getting information from an AI system and treating it like it was information from a trusted colleague. It is this trust that bothers me. Not because of how often AI gets it wrong; AI researchers pride themselves on the accuracy of results. It is how badly it gets it wrong when it makes a mistake that has me worried. These systems do not fail gracefully.

AI systems clearly have drawbacks, but they also have significant advantages, such as in the curation of shared model of the battlefield.

In a paper for the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, Mary Cummings of Duke University says that an autonomous system perceives the world through its sensors and reconstructs it to give its computer ‘brain’ a model of the world which it can use to make decisions. The key to effective autonomous systems is ‘the fidelity of the world model and the timeliness of its updates.‘ [Emphasis added]

Perhaps AI systems might best be employed in the cyber domain, where their advantages are naturally “at home?â€� Mr. Haas noted that machines at the current time have a tough time doing simple tasks, like opening a door. As was covered in this blog, former Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work noted this same problem, and thus called for man-machine teaming as one of the key areas of pursuit within the Third Offset Strategy.

Just as the previous blog post illustrates, “the quality of military men is what wins wars and preserves nations.” Let’s remember Paul Van Ripper’s performance in Millennium Challenge 2002:

Red, commanded by retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Paul K. Van Riper, adopted an asymmetric strategy, in particular, using old methods to evade Blue’s sophisticated electronic surveillance network. Van Riper used motorcycle messengers to transmit orders to front-line troops and World-War-II-style light signals to launch airplanes without radio communications. Red received an ultimatum from Blue, essentially a surrender document, demanding a response within 24 hours. Thus warned of Blue’s approach, Red used a fleet of small boats to determine the position of Blue’s fleet by the second day of the exercise. In a preemptive strike, Red launched a massive salvo of cruise missiles that overwhelmed the Blue forces’ electronic sensors and destroyed sixteen warships.

We should learn lessons on the over reliance on technology. AI systems are incredibly fickle, but which offer incredible capabilities. We should question and inspect results by such systems. They do not exhibit emotions, they are not self-aware, they do not spontaneously ask questions unless specifically programmed to do so. We should recognize their significant limitations and use them in conjunction with humans who will retain command decisions for the foreseeable future.

Drones And The U.S. Navy

Drones And The U.S. Navy

An X-47 Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) drone lands on the USS Theodore Roosevelt during a test in 2014. [Breaking Defense]

Preamble & Warning (P&W): Please forgive me, this is an acronym heavy post.

In May 2013, the U.S. Navy (USN) reached milestones by having a “drone,” or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) land and take-off from an aircraft carrier. This was a significant achievement in aviation, and heralded an era of combat UAVs (UCAV) being integrated into carrier air wings (CVW). This vehicle, the X-47B, was built by Northrup Grumman, under the concept of a carrier-based stealthy strike vehicle.

Ultimately, after almost three years, their decision was announced:

On 1 February 2016, after many delays over whether the [Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike] UCLASS would specialize in strike or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles, it was reported that a significant portion of the UCLASS effort would be directed to produce a Super Hornet-sized carrier-based aerial refueling tanker as the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS), with ‘a little ISR’ and some capabilities for communications relay, and strike capabilities put off to a future version of the aircraft. In July 2016, it was officially named ‘MQ-25A Stingray’.

The USN, who had just proven that they can add a stealthy UCAV to carrier flight deck operations, decided to put this new capability on the shelf, and instead refocus the efforts of the aerospace defense industry on a brand new requirement, namely …

For mission tanking, the threshold requirement is offloading 14,000 lb. of fuel to aviation assets at 500 nm from the ship, thereby greatly extending the range of the carrier air wing, including the Lockheed Martin F-35C and Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet. The UAV must also be able to integrate with the Nimitz-class carriers, being able to safely launch and recover and not take up more space than is allocated for storage, maintenance and repairs.

Boeing has fashioned part of St. Louis Lambert International Airport into an aircraft carrier deck, complete with a mock catapult system. [Boeing]

Why did they do this?

The Pentagon apparently made this program change in order to address the Navy’s expected fighter shortfall by directing funds to buy additional F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and accelerate purchases and development of the F-35C. Having the CBARS as the first carrier-based UAV provides a less complex bridge to the future F/A-XX, should it be an autonomous strike platform. It also addresses the carriers’ need for an organic refueling aircraft, proposed as a mission for the UCLASS since 2014, freeing up the 20–30 percent of Super Hornets performing the mission in a more capable and cost effective manner than modifying the F-35, V-22 Osprey, and E-2D Hawkeye, or bringing the retired S-3 Viking back into service.

Notice within this quote the supposition that the F/A-XX would be an autonomous strike platform. This program was originally a USN-specific program to build a next-generation platform to perform both strike and air superiority missions, much like the F/A-18 aircraft are “swing role.” The US Air Force (USAF) had a separate program for a next generation air superiority aircraft called the F-X. These programs were combined by the Department of Defense (DoD) into the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program. We can tell from the name of this program that it is clearly focused on the air superiority mission, as compared to the balance of strike and superiority, implicit in the USN program.

Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), wrote a letter to then Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, on 2015-03-24, stating, “I strongly believe that the Navy’s first operational unmanned combat aircraft must be capable of performing a broad range of missions in contested environments as part of the carrier air wing, including precision strike as well as [ISR].” This is effectively an endorsement of the X-47B, and quite unlike the MQ-25.

I’m in agreement with Senator McCain on this. I think that a great deal of experience could have been gained by continuing the development and test of the X-47B, and possibly deploying the vehicle to the fleet.

The Navy hinted at the possibility of using the UCLASS in air-to-air engagements as a ‘flying missile magazine’ to supplement the F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-35C Lightning II as a type of ‘robotic wingman.’ Its weapons bay could be filled with AIM-120 AMRAAMs and be remotely operated by an E-2D Hawkeye or F-35C flight leader, using their own sensors and human judgment to detect, track, and direct the UAV to engage an enemy aircraft. The Navy’s Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) concept gives a common picture of the battle space to multiple air platforms through data-links, where any aircraft could fire on a target in their range that is being tracked by any sensor, so the forward deployed UCLASS would have its missiles targeted by another controller. With manned-unmanned teaming for air combat, a dedicated unmanned supersonic fighter may not be developed, as the greater cost of high-thrust propulsion and an airframe of similar size to a manned fighter would deliver a platform with comparable operating costs and still without an ability to engage on its own.

Indeed, the German Luftwaffe has completed an air combat concept study, stating that the fighter of the 2040’s will be a “stealthy drone herder”:

Interestingly the twin-engine, twin-tail stealth design would be a twin-seat design, according to Alberto Gutierrez, Head of Eurofighter Programme, Airbus DS. The second crewmember may be especially important for the FCAS concept of operations, which would see it operate in a wider battle network, potentially as a command and control asset or UCAV/UAV mission commander.

Aerial Combined Arms

Aerial Combined Arms

In a previous post, I quoted Jules Hurst’s comparison between the medieval knights of old and modern day fighter pilots. His point was that the future of aerial combat will feature more combined arms. This I agree with; the degree of specialization that will be seen in the future will increase, although our ability to predict what this will be is uncertain. Hurst’s second point, that today’s aerial combat is akin to jousting and jovial knights looking to independently take down foes, I do not agree with at all.

Last night, I watched the History Channel documentary “Dogfights of Desert Storm,” a wonderful summary of several selected dogfights from the first Gulf War (1991, US and coalition vs Iraq), which included:

1. A furball between an unarmed EF-111 and a Mirage F1. Eventually, an F-15C came to the rescue, but the EF-111 crew was apparently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for its actions that day. Ultimately, the F1 hit the ground, and the F-15C got the credit.

2. A complex dogfight between a flight of two F-15Cs against 2 Mig-25s and 2 Mig-29s. This was a hairy affair, with lots of maneuver. The MiG-25s were able to decoy many heat-seeking AIM-9’s, so the AIM-7 radar guided missiles needed to be used to shoot them down.

[As previously reported, an F/A-18F had problems trying to down a Syrian Su-22 Fitter with an AIM-9 missile due to the effectiveness of Russian-made flares and had to resort to an AIM-120 radar-guided missile. Also a strategy from Soviet days, the preference to carry more than one type of seeker types seems to be quite good advice. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has traditionally adhered to the concept of a beyond visual range (BVR) medium range, radar guided missile, the AIM-7 and the AIM-120 successor. This coupled with the short range AIM-9 infrared missile. The gap that this leaves is the long range, infrared guided missile.]

3. A well-run dogfight pitting a flight of four F-15Cs vs. a flight of four F-1s. Of the F-1s, one turned back to base, either for fear, prudence, or mechanical difficulty, it is difficult to say. The three other F-1s were all downed by AIM-7 missiles, fired at beyond visual range. What was noted about this engagement was the patience of the USAF flight leader, who did not immediately lock-on to the F-1s, in order to avoid triggering their radar warning receivers (RWR), and giving up the element of surprise by notifying them of the impending attack.

The statistic given was that 60% of the aerial victories in the entire conflict were from BVR.

The coalition’s triumph was an emphatic boost for current air war strategy. Multiple aircraft with specific roles working on concert to achieve victory. Air war in 1990, as it is today, is a team sport.” Multiple weapons disrupted the Iraqi capability to deal with it. It was information overload. They could not deal with the multiple successive strikes, and the fact that their radars went offline, and their command and control was shut down … jamming … deception – it was like having essentially a ‘war nervous breakdown’. (emphasis added).

Larry Pitts, a USAF F-15C Eagle pilot (retired), said

aerial victory against an enemy airplane was a career highlight for me. It’s something that I’ll never be able to beat, but you know in my mind, I did what any fighter pilot would have done if any enemy fighter had been put in front of him. I relied on my training, I engaged the airplane, protected my wingman as he protected me, and came out of it alive.

One key element in all of the combat recounted by the USAF pilots was the presence of airborne early warning aircraft, at the time the E-3C Sentry. Indeed, this form of combined arms—which is effectively an augmentation of a fighter pilot’s sensors—has been around for a surprisingly long time.

  • In February 1944, the United States Navy (USN), under Project Cadillac, equipped a TBM Avenger torpedo bomber with an airborne radar, and the resulting TBM-3W entered service with the Airborne Early Warning (AEW) mission.
  • In June 1949, a joint program with the USN and USAF resulted in the EC-121 Warning Star, a conversion of a Lockheed L1094 Super Constellation airliner. This aircraft entered service to reinforce the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, across the Arctic in Canada and Alaska to detect and defend against Soviet Air Force bombers flying over the pole. This was also the plane that played the “AWACS” role in Vietnam.
  • In January 1964, the E-2 Hawkeye was introduced into service with the USN, which required a carrier-based AWACS platform.
  • In March 1977, the first E-3 Sentry was delivered to the USAF by Boeing.

Indeed, the chart below illustrates the wide variety of roles and platforms flown by the USAF, in their combined arms operations.

[Source: Command: Modern Air & Naval Operations]

In addition, the USAF just released its FY2019 budget, fresh from budget action in Congress. This had a few surprises, including the planned retirement of both the B-1B and the B-2A in favor of the upcoming B-21 Raider, and continuing to enhance and improve the B-52. This is a very old platform, having been introduced in 1955. This does match a shift in thinking by the USAF, from stating that all of the fourth generation aircraft (non-stealthy) are entirely obsolete, to one in which they continue to play a role, as a follow-up force, perhaps in role of a “distant archer” with stand-off weapons. I previously discussed the Talon Hate pod enabling network communications between the F-22 and F-15C systems.

More on this to come!

Aerial Drone Tactics, 2025-2050

Aerial Drone Tactics, 2025-2050

[Image: War On The Rocks.]

My previous post outlined the potential advantages and limitations of current and future drone technology. The real utility of drones in future warfare may lie in a tactic that is both quite old and new, swarming. “‘This [drone swarm concept] goes all the way back to the tactics of Attila the Hun,’ says Randall Steeb, senior engineer at the Rand Corporation in the US. ‘A light attack force that can defeat more powerful and sophisticated opponents. They come out of nowhere, attack from all sides and then disappear, over and over.'”

In order to be effective, Mr. Steeb’s concept would require drones to be able to speed away from their adversary, or be able to hide. The Huns are described “as preferring to defeat their enemies by deceit, surprise attacks, and cutting off supplies. The Huns brought large numbers of horses to use as replacements and to give the impression of a larger army on campaign.” Also, prior to problems caused to the Roman Empire by the Huns under Attila (~400 CE), another group of people, the Scythians, used similar tactics much earlier, as mentioned by Herodotus, (~800 BCE). “With great mobility, the Scythians could absorb the attacks of more cumbersome foot soldiers and cavalry, just retreating into the steppes. Such tactics wore down their enemies, making them easier to defeat.” These tactics were also used by the Parthians, resulted in the Roman defeat under Crassis at the Battle of Carrahe, 53 BCE. Clearly, maneuver is as old as warfare itself.

Indeed, others have their own ancient analogies.

Today, fighter pilots approach warfare like a questing medieval knight. They search for opponents with similar capabilities and defeat them by using technologically superior equipment or better application of individual tactics and techniques. For decades, leading air forces nurtured this dynamic by developing expensive, manned air superiority fighters. This will all soon change. Advances in unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) will turn fighter pilots from noble combatants to small-unit leaders and drive the development of new aerial combined arms tactics.

Drone Swarms: A Game Changer?

We can see that the new technologies come along, and they enable a new look at warfare, and often enable a new implementation of ancient tactics. There are some who claim that this changes the game, and indeed may change the fundamental nature of war.

Peter Singer, an expert on future warfare at the New America think-tank, is in no doubt. ‘What we have is a series of technologies that change the game. They’re not science fiction. They raise new questions. What’s possible? What’s proper?’ Mr. Singer is talking about artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and big-data analytics. Together they will produce systems and weapons with varying degrees of autonomy, from being able to work under human supervision to ‘thinking’ for themselves. The most decisive factor on the battlefield of the future may be the quality of each side’s algorithms. Combat may speed up so much that humans can no longer keep up. Frank Hoffman, a fellow of the National Defense University who coined the term ‘hybrid warfare’, believes that these new technologies have the potential not just to change the character of war but even possibly its supposedly immutable nature as a contest of wills. For the first time, the human factors that have defined success in war, ‘will, fear, decision-making and even the human spark of genius, may be less evident,’ he says.” (emphasis added).

Drones are highly capable, and with increasing autonomy, they themselves may be immune to fear. Technology has been progressing step by step to alter the character of war. Think of the Roman soldier and his personal experience in warfare up close vs. the modern sniper. They each have a different experience in warfare, and fear manifests itself in different ways. Unless we create and deploy full autonomous systems, with no human in or on the loop, there will be an opportunity for fear and confusion by the human mind to creep into martial matters. An indeed, with so much new technology, friction of some sort is almost assured.

I’m not alone in this assessment. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has said “You go all the way back to Thucydides who wrote the first history and it was of a war and he said it’s fear and honor and interest and those continue to this day. The fundamental nature of war is unchanging. War is a human social phenomenon.”

Swarming and Information Dominance

Indeed, the notion of the importance of information dominance plays upon one of the most important fundamental aspects of warfare: surprise. There are many synonyms for surprise, one of the most popular these days is situational awareness (SA). In a recent assessment of trends in air-to-air combat for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), Dr. John Stillion described the impact of SA.

Aerial combat over the past two decades, though relatively rare, continues to demonstrate the importance of superior SA. The building blocks, however, of superior SA, information acquisition and information denial, seem to be increasingly associated with sensors, signature reduction, and networks. Looking forward, these changes have greatly increased the proportion of BVR [Beyond Visual Range] engagements and likely reduced the utility of traditional fighter aircraft attributes, such as speed and maneuverability, in aerial combat. At the same time, they seem to have increased the importance of other attributes.

Stillion, famous for his RAND briefing on the F-35, proposes an interesting concept of operations for air-to-air combat, centered on larger aircraft with bigger sensor apertures, and subsonic UCAS fighters in the “front line.” He’s got a good video to illustrate how this concept would work against an adversary.

[I]t is important to acknowledge that all of the foregoing discussion is based on certain assumptions plus analysis of past trends, and the future of aerial combat might continue to belong to fast, agile aircraft. The alternative vision of future aerial combat presented in Chapter 5 relies heavily on robust LoS [Line of Sight] data links to enable widely distributed aircraft to efficiently share information and act in concert to achieve superior SA and combat effectiveness. Should the links be degraded or denied, the concept put forward here would be difficult or impossible to implement.

Therefore, in the near term, one of the most important capabilities to enable is a secure battle network. This will be required for remotely piloted and autonomous system alike, and this will be the foundation of information dominance – the acquisition of information for use by friendly forces, and the denial of information to an adversary.

Air Power and Drones, 2025-2050

Air Power and Drones, 2025-2050

[Credit: Financial Times]

In the recently issued 2018 National Defense Strategy, the United States acknowledged that “long-term strategic competitions with China and Russia are the principal priorities for the Department [of Defense], and require both increased and sustained investment, because of the magnitude of the threats they pose to U.S. security and prosperity today, and the potential for those threats to increase in the future.”

The strategy statement lists technologies that will be focused upon:

The drive to develop new technologies is relentless, expanding to more actors with lower barriers of entry, and moving at accelerating speed. New technologies include advanced computing, “big dataâ€� analytics, artificial intelligence, autonomy, robotics, directed energy, hypersonics, and biotechnology— the very technologies that ensure we will be able to fight and win the wars of the future… The Department will invest broadly in military application of autonomy, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, including rapid application of commercial breakthroughs, to gain competitive military advantages.” (emphasis added).

Autonomy, robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning…these are all related to the concept of “drone swarms.” TDI has reported previously on the idea of drone swarms on land. There is indeed promise in many domains of warfare for such technology. In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on the future of warfare, Mr Bryan Clark of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments argued that “America should apply new technologies to four main areas of warfare: undersea, strike, air and electromagnetic.”

Drones have certainly transformed the way that the U.S. wages war from the air. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) innovated, deployed and fired weapons from drones first against the Taliban in Afghanistan, less than one month after the 9/11 attacks against the U.S. homeland. Most drones today are airborne, partly because it is generally easier to navigate in the air than it is on the land, due to fewer obstacles and more uniform and predictable terrain. The same is largely true of the oceans, at least the blue water parts.

Aerial Drones and Artificial Intelligence

It is important to note that the drones in active use today by the U.S. military are actually remotely piloted Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). With the ability to fire missiles since 2001, one could argue that these crossed the threshold into Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs), but nonetheless, they have a pilot—typically a U.S. Air Force (USAF) member, who would very much like to be flying an F-16, rather than sitting in a shipping container in the desert somewhere safe, piloting a UAV in a distant theater of war.

Given these morale challenges, work on autonomy is clearly underway. Let’s look at a forecast from The Economist, which follows the development of artificial intelligence (AI) in both the commercial and military realms.

A distinction needs to be made between “narrowâ€� AI, which allows a machine to carry out a specific task much better than a human could, and “generalâ€� AI, which has far broader applications. Narrow AI is already in wide use for civilian tasks such as search and translation, spam filters, autonomous vehicles, high-frequency stock trading and chess-playing computers… General AI may still be at least 20 years off. A general AI machine should be able to carry out almost any intellectual task that a human is capable of.” (emphasis added)

Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the U.S. military (or others) will not field a fully automated drone, capable of prosecuting a battle without human assistance, until roughly 2038. This means that in the meantime, a human will be somewhere “in” or “on” the loop, making at least some of the decisions, especially those involving deadly force.

[Credit: The Economist]

Future Aerial Drone Roles and Missions

The CIA’s initial generation of UAVs was armed in an ad-hoc fashion; further innovation was spurred by the drive to seek out and destroy the 9/11 perpetrators. These early vehicles were designed for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance (ISR) missions. In this role, drones have some big advantages over manned aircraft, including the ability to loiter for long periods. They are not quick, not very maneuverable, and as such are suited to operations in permissive airspace.

The development of UCAVs has allowed their integration into strike (air-to-ground) and air superiority (air-to-air) missions in contested airspace. UCAV strike missions could target and destroy land and sea nodes in command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) networks in an attempt to establish “information dominance.” They might also be targeted against assets like surface to air missiles and radars, part of an adversary anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capability.

Given the sophistication of Russian and Chinese A2/AD networks and air forces, some focus should be placed upon developing more capable and advanced drones required to defeat these challenges. One example comes from Kratos, a drone maker, and reported on in Popular Science.

Concept art for Mako combat drone. Based on the existing BQM-167 aerial target, this drone can maneuver at forces that could kill a human pilot [Image courtesy of Kratos/Popular Science]

The Mako drone pictured above has much higher performance than some other visions of future drone swarms, which look more like paper airplanes. Given their size and numbers, they might be difficult to shoot down entirely, and this might be able to operate reasonably well within contested airspace. But, they’re not well suited for air-to-air combat, as they will not have the weapons or the speed necessary to engage with current manned aircraft in use with potential enemy air forces. Left unchecked, an adversary’s current fighters and bombers could easily avoid these types of drones and prosecute their own attacks on vital systems, installations and facilities.

The real utility of drones may lie in the unique tactic for which they are suited, swarming. More on that in my next post.

North Korea And The U.S. Navy

North Korea And The U.S. Navy

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspects what is said to be a hydrogen bomb. [EPA]

This past week has seen some extraordinary events in the stand-off between North Korea, and it seems the rest of the world. North Korea continues to test its nuclear weapons, causing a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. Evaluation of these events does indicate the strength of the weaponry used, however, some doubt exists as to the veracity claims of the technology used.

The force of the explosion, at 100-150 kilotons, could have been ten times bigger than North Korea’s previous test. But experts argue that is still not quite powerful enough to have been a genuine hydrogen bomb. Instead, they suggest it might have been an implosion device boosted by tritium and deuterium gas (hydrogen isotopes). If that was the case, making the device small enough to be turned into a warhead that could be carried on an ICBM would be technically difficult. On the other hand, if it turns out to have been a two-stage device, in which an initial blast is used to amplify the main detonation, then it probably was a small thermonuclear bomb, which could be miniaturised into a compact warhead. There is as yet no way of knowing which it was. Although experts are sceptical about the latter, they have been caught out often enough by North Korea’s nuclear programme advancing faster than most expected.

The United States has had several voices of response, including Defense Secretary James Matthis, who said “We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely North Korea. But as I said, we have many options to do so.” Diplomatically, both China and Russia claim they are united against the nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. Meanwhile, the U.S. has called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, saying that North Korea is “begging for war.” China has apparently made the suggestion that the U.S. and South Korea cease military exercises in exchange for freezing missile and nuclear operations by North Korea. The U.S. demands the “strongest possible measures” be put into effect.

The previous post gives a link to a detailed chronology of North Korean ballistic missile developments. It has been a problem decades in the making, and not easily solved. Other posts have addressed the defenses that the U.S. and Japan have against a threatened strike on Guam, and also the different layers of defense that exist between a potential North Korean missile strike and his many potential targets.

One of these layers is of particular interest, the component provided by the U.S. Navy (USN), specifically the Arleigh Burke class destroyers, equipped with the AN/SPY-1D radar, and carrying the RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 (SM3), and this part of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (Aegis BMD). The name Aegis is taken from ancient Greece, a shield carried by Zeus and Athena, and said to “produce a sound as from a myriad roaring dragons.” (Iliad, 4.17) This is intended to invoke a strong defense, and has been effectively branded as such by Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer. Lockheed continues to sell Aegis technology to the USN under the Aegis BMD program, and also to Japan under the Aegis Ashore banner. The powerful Aegis radars were first fielded on Ticonderoga class cruisers, authorized in 1978, built from 1980, and commissioned from 1983. Their targets were Soviet anti-ship cruise missiles and bombers that would hunt USN carrier battle groups during the Cold War. This technology has evolved since then to offer some defense from ballistic missiles; per the Congressional Research Service:

Aegis BMD

enables warships to shoot down enemy ballistic missiles … Aegis BMD-equipped vessels can transmit their target detection information to the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system and, if needed, engage potential threats using the RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) mid-course interceptors and the RIM-156 Standard Missile 2 Extended Range Block IV (SM-2 Block IV) or RIM-174 Standard Extended Range Active Missile (SM-6) terminal-phase interceptors. Aegis BMD does not have the ability to intercept ICBMs, although future versions may allow limited intercept capability.  [Emphasis added]

As retired F-35 and F-22 pilot Lt. Col. Berke so accurately noted before, information is the most precious commodity. The capability to detect a missile launch from the Sea of Japan, and transmit that through a secure network at the speed of light to every other component of the BMD network is the first and crucial step in the kill chain that hopefully results in a shoot down of each and every North Korean missile fired in anger, or even off-target. I would argue that the U.S. use the United Nations as a forum to define the parameters for any possible North Korean missile launch that should be intercepted with allied BMD assets If, for example, a North Korean missile looks likely to hit close to Tokyo, based upon the trajectory identified by Aegis ships at sea, then BMD should shoot it down. By making our rules of engagement public, this would provide a clear signal to China and Russia that the U.S. and its allies intend to use their BMD capabilities (and potentially learn from any failures) against live enemy missiles, but also temper the risk of escalation into any further missile volleys between any parties.

The U.S.S. John S. McCain after collision with a commercial tanker. [EPA]

Recently, however, the credibility of U.S. BMD deterrence has taken a large step backward due to self-inflicted wounds.  It is related to the concept of friction, as reported in this blog.  We can see the effects of friction on the U.S. Navy’s safety and navigation incidents, which have unfortunately cost of the lives of seventeen seamen, more injured, and perhaps some loss of prestige.

  • U.S.S. John S. McCain (DDG-56) collides with Alnic MC, a Liberian-flagged oil tanker of 30,040 gross tons, on [2017-08-21 05:24] east of the Straight of Malacca. (wikipedia), NavyTimes.
  • U.S.S. Fitzgerald (DDG-62) of 9000 gross tons collides with MV ACX Crystal, a Phillipines-flagged container of 29,060 gross tons.

As noted here, an interesting comparison is with a Russian naval vessel and its collision with a commercial ship in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, on 27 April, close to the busy sea lanes of the Bosporus. Warships don’t transmit an Automatic Identification System (AIS) signal, so the ship is not visible for AIS-connected shipping; however, it would be visible on radar within a certain range, as an unidentified object. Also, warships, in accordance with wide-spread practices, are not predictable in their movements, including speed and course.

As The Economist reports, in a critique of the USN “… critics argue that the 277-ship naval fleet is already overstretched, particularly in the Western Pacific, where naval competition with an increasingly capable China requires a high tempo of operations. The John S.McCain was on its way to Singapore after a “freedom of navigationâ€� mission during which it had sailed through international waters near a reef where China has created an artificial island. The Chinese media have been cock-a-hoop over pictures of American warships limping into port with apparently self-inflicted damage.

The spate of accidents has raised questions about whether they are in some way linked to a common cause. Inevitably, there has been speculation that hacking of the ships’ computers or navigation systems by the Chinese or North Koreans might be responsible. The navy says it has seen nothing that suggests this might have happened.

It is far more likely that unrelenting operational demands on forward-deployed vessels and several years of Pentagon spending distorted by budget caps and sequestration have taken their toll. A report by the Government Accountability Office in 2015 found that the Navy was working on the basis that its Japan-based cruisers and destroyers would spend 67% of their time deployed and 33% in maintenance. That meant there would be no time left for training. Without training drills to remind sailors of the “basic seamanship� referred to by Admiral Richardson, it would not be surprising if some bad habits and sloppiness have crept in. [emphasis added]

Also, here is a great video, showing replay data, based on the Automatic Identification System (AIS) data source:

Fifth Generation Deterrence

Fifth Generation Deterrence

“Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy… the FEAR to attack. And so, … the Doomsday machine is terrifying and simple to understand… and completely credible and convincing.” – Dr. Strangelove.

In a previous post, we looked at some aspects of the nuclear balance of power. In this Stpost, we will consider some aspects of conventional deterrence. Ironically, Chris Lawrence was cleaning out a box in his office (posted in this blog), which contained an important article for this debate, “The Case for More Effective, Less Expensive Weapons Systems: What ‘Quality Versus Quantity’ Issue?” by none other than Pierre M. Sprey, available here, published in 1982.

In comparing the F-15 and F-16, Sprey identifies four principal effectiveness characteristics that contribute to victory in air-to-air combat:

  1. Achieving surprise bounces and avoiding being surprised;
  2. Out-numbering the enemy in the air;
  3. Out-maneuvering the enemy to reach firing position (when surprise fails);
  4. Achieving reliable kills within the brief firing opportunities presented by combat.

“Surprise is the first because, in every air war since WWI, somewhere between 65% and 85% of all fighters shot down were unaware of their attacker.” Sprey mentions that the F-16 is superior to the F-15 due to the smaller size, and that fact that it smokes much less, both aspects that are clearly Within-Visual Range (WVR) combat considerations. Further, his discussion of Beyond Visual Range (BVR) combat is dismissive.

The F-15 has an apparently advantage inasmuch as it carries the Sparrow radar missile. On closer examination, this proves to be little or no advantage: in Vietnam, the Sparrow had a kill rate of .08 to .10, less that one third that of the AIM-9D/G — and the new models of the Sparrow do not appear to have corrected the major reasons for this disappointing performance; even worse, locking-on with the Sparrow destroys surprise because of the distinctive and powerful radar signature involved.

Sprey was right to criticize the performance of the early radar-guided missiles.  From “Trends in Air-to-Air Combat: Implications for Future Air Superiority,” page 10

From 1965 through 1968, during Operation Rolling Thunder, AIM-7 Sparrow missiles succeeded in downing their targets only 8 percent of the time and AIM-9 Sidewinders only 15 percent of the time. Pre-conflict testing indicated expected success rates of 71 and 65 percent respectively. Despite these problems, AAMs offered advantages over guns and accounted for the vast majority of U.S. air-to-air victories throughout the war.

Sprey seemed to miss out of the fact that the radar guided missile that supported BVR air combat was not something in the far distant future, but an evolution of radar and missile technology. Even in the 1980’s, the share of air-to-air combat victories by BVR missiles was on the rise, and since the 1990’s, it has become the most common way to shoot down an enemy aircraft.

In an Aviation Week podcast in July of this year, retired Marine Lt. Col. David Berke (also previously quoted in this blog), and Pierre Sprey debated the F-35. Therein, Sprey offers a formulaic definition of air power, as created by force and effectiveness, with force being a function of cost, reliability, and how often it can fly per day (sortie generation rate?). “To create air power, you have to put a bunch of airplanes in the sky over the enemy. You can’t do it with a tiny hand full, even if they are like unbelievably good. If you send six aircraft to China, they could care less what they are … F-22 deployments are now six aircraft.”

Berke counters with the ideas that he expressed before in his initial conversation with Aviation week (as analyzed in this blog), that information and situational awareness are by far the most important factor in aerial warfare. This stems from the advantage of surprise, which was Sprey’s first criteria in 1982, and remains a critical factor is warfare to this day. This reminds me a bit of Disraeli’s truism of “lies, damn lies and statistics”pick the metrics that tell your story, rather than objectively look at the data.

Critics beyond Mr. Sprey have said that high technology weapons like the F-22 and the F-35 are irrelevant for America’s wars; “the [F-22] was not relevant to the military’s operations in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya — at least according to then-secretary of defense Robert Gates.” Indeed, according to the Washington Post, “Gates called the $65 billion fleet a ‘niche silver-bullet solution’ to a major aerial war threat that remains distant. … and has promised to urge President Obama to veto the military spending bill if the full Senate retains F-22 funding.”

The current conflict in Syria against ISIS, after the Russian deployment resulted in crowded and contested airspace, as evidenced by a NATO Turkish F-16 shoot down of a Russian Air Force Su-24 (wikipedia), and as reported on this blog. Indeed, ironically for Mr. Sprey’s analysis of the relative values of the AIM-9 vs the AIM-7 missiles, as again reported by this blog,

[T]he U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet locked onto a Su-22 Fitter at a range of 1.5 miles. It fired an AIM-9X heat-seeking Sidewinder missile at it. The Syrian pilot was able to send off flares to draw the missile away from the Su-22. The AIM-9X is not supposed to be so easily distracted. They had to shoot down the Su-22 with a radar guided AMRAAM missile.

For the record the AIM-7 was a direct technical predecessor of the AIM-120 AMRAAM. We can perhaps conclude that having more that one type of weapon is useful, especially as other air power nations are always trying to improve their counter measures, and this incident shows that they can do so effectively. Of course, more observations are necessary for statistical proof, but since air combat is so rare since the end of the Cold War, the opportunity to learn the lesson and improve the AIM-9X should not be squandered.

USAF Air Combat Dominance as Deterrent

Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. – Sun Tzu

The admonition to win without fighting is indeed a timeless principle of warfare, and it is clearly illustrated through this report on the performance of the F-22 in the war against ISIS, over the crowded airspace in Syria, from Aviation Week on June 4th, 2017.  I’ve quoted at length, and applied emphasis.

Shell, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and Raptor squadron commander who spoke on the condition that Aviation Week identify him only by his call sign, and his squadron of stealth F-22 Lockheed Martin Raptors had a critical job to do: de-conflict coalition operations over Syria with an irate Russia.

… one of the most critical missions the F-22 conducts in the skies over Syria, particularly in the weeks following the April 6 Tomahawk strike, is de-confliction between coalition and non-coalition aircraft, says Shell. … the stealth F-22’s ability to evade detection gives it a unique advantage in getting non-coalition players to cooperate, says Shell. 

‘It is easier to bring air dominance to bear if you know where the other aircraft are that you are trying to influence, and they don’t know where you are,’ says Shell. ‘When other airplanes don’t know where you are, their sense of comfort goes down, so they have a tendency to comply more.

… U.S. and non-coalition aircraft were still communicating directly, over an internationally recognized, unsecure frequency often used for emergencies known as ‘Guard,’  says Shell. His F-22s acted as a kind of quarterback, using high-fidelity sensors to determine the positions of all the actors on the battlefield, directing non-coalition aircraft where to fly and asking them over the Guard frequency to move out of the way. 

The Raptors were able to fly in contested areas, in range of surface-to-air missile systems and fighters, without the non-coalition players knowing their exact positions, Shell says. This allowed them to establish air superiority—giving coalition forces freedom of movement in the air and on the ground—and a credible deterrent.

Far from being a silver bullet solution for a distant aerial war, America’s stealth fighters are providing credible deterrence on the front lines today. They have achieved in some cases, the ultimate goal of winning without fighting, by exploiting the advantage of surprise. The right question might be, how many are required for this mission, given the enormous costs of fifth generation fighters? (more on this later).  As a quarterback, the F-22 can support many allied units, as part of a larger team.

Giving credit where it is due, Mr. Sprey has rightly stated in his Aviation Week interview, “cost is part of the force you can bring to bear upon the enemy.”  His mechanism to compute air power in 2017, however, seems to ignore the most important aspect of air power since it first emerged in World War I, surprise.  His dogmatic focus on the lightweight, single purpose air-to-air fighter, which seems to shun even available, proven technology seems clear.

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