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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Deal or No Deal: The Case for Diplomacy with Iran Part II - Assuaging Gulf Allies & Bolstering Regional Deterrence

[Update Shortly after the publication of this article, Saudi Arabia announced its intent to acquire 10 MH-60 ASW helicopters.] 


Image 3: US CENTCOM "enduring locations" (bases) construction budget FY 2016-2021.

The concern of G.C.C. (Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates) nations that a nuclear deal between the United States and Iran would compromise their own security is understandable. G.C.C. nations, Saudi Arabia in particular, perceives the US-Iran nuclear deal within the context of the US re-balance to Asia (Cooper, 2015). From the Saudi. perspective, not only is the United States substantially drawing down its long-term presence in the region, but also it is empowering the most significant military, cultural, religious, and political rival in the region. Many G.C.C. nations have clearly shown they view the context of the Saudi-Iran rivalry in a sectarian Sunni-Shia context as Qatar and Saudi Arabia have already provided arms to radical Sunni Islamist groups in Syria to fight Assad's Alawite (Shia sect) regime despite US concerns (Sanger, 2014). Saudi Arabia's leaders already perceive a situation of strategic encirclement as a result of Iran backed Shia proxies operating in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen (Kram & Keath, 2015). In an expression of the extent of dissatisfaction with current US policy, neither Saudi King Salman nor Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa will attend this week's Camp David summit with President Obama. Oman and the UAE will also not send their respective rulers on account of health issues. The concerns of G.C.C. nations are partially based on the official policy of the United States which calls for increased engagement in Asia, but the defacto policy has been doubling down in the Middle East in many respects. 

Over 35,000 US troops will continue to be stationed in CETCOM despite the draw down in Afghanistan. The Navy will increase its forward operating presence from 30 to 40 ships by 2020. The bulk of these forces will be concentrated in Kuwait which hosts 10,000 US troops and Bahrain, the head quarters of the United States Navy's Fifth Fleet. The United States will greatly augment its facilities in the Middle East through 2021 with $3.5 billion in new base construction efforts. Perhaps the greatest showing of US commitment to the Middle East in recent years has been the irreplaceable time spent by Secretary of State John Kerry as well as other Department of State officials in terms of negotiations, consultations, etc. with respect to regional crises, the Iran nuclear deal, and Palestinian statehood. While the United States should continue with the re-balance, it must frequently underscore its resolve to maintain a sizable presence in the region.  In addition to reminding G.C.C. allies of the substantial assets in the region described above, Washington can take numerous steps to assuage the concerns of gulf allies including drafting a written security pact - which would not require authorization from Congress - and new weapons exports. The United States must also recognize the divisions with the G.C.C. while conducting the Camp David summit on May 14th which provides a perfect opportunity to enact the proposals above. 


Image 4: Cyclone-class patrol boats in the Gulf, a total of 10 Cyclone ships are deployed to the 5th fleet. Relative to its size, the Cyclone-class is among the most heavily armed ships in the US Navy with two 25 mm auto-cannons, 40 mm grenade launchers, .50 caliber machine guns, and Griffin missiles. 

As Helene Cooper states in her New York Times article, "White House Looks to Ease Arab Fears Over Iran Nuclear Pact", a formal treaty alliance signed by Congress is unlikely to materialize. The best the Obama Administration can provide is a written security pact which would have loosely defined terms in which the United States would agree to intervene on behalf of G.C.C. nations if they were attacked by an outside power. Such a security agreement would have to balance the potential for internal conflict within many of these nations as well as Congressional concerns over Israel's security (Cooper, 2015). Overall, the concern of ensuring Israel maintains the most dominant military in the region greatly constrains US assistance for G.C.C. nations, especially in terms of arms exports. 


The F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter is consistently ranked as the top arms export item requested by G.C.C. nations but the United States will ultimately be unable to export the aircraft due to Congressional concerns over Israel. It is possible the United States could sign agreements to export the aircraft after Israel takes delivery of its first aircraft three years from now, if this compromise occurs the first F-35 customer in the G.C.C. would likely be the UAE (Cooper, 2015). While the addition of the F-35 would greatly augment the capabilities of US gulf allies, G.C.C. militaries have significant deficiencies - many of which were made glaringly apparent after strikes in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. In general terms, Gulf states have the assets required to deliver ordinance - such as advanced 4th generation fighter aircraft - but lack the enabling assets which are required to both facilitate and sustain operations. While capabilities vary significantly among the six nations, US Gulf allies generally lack anti-submarine warfare, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and logistics assets. Furthermore, many G.C.C. nations maintain conventional missile forces and anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems but the United States can work to augment and improve existing capabilities. All of the capabilities above would be highly relevant in a conflict with Iran which has become increasingly dependent upon asymmetric warfare as a means to cope with its comparatively small military budget under international sanctions and its limited domestic arms industry. 

Anti-Submarine Warfare


Image 5: MH-60R with variable depth active sonar for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) missions

Iran has continued to invest in its midget submarine force as a means of threatening US and G.C.C. ships in the Gulf. While each submarine is individually limited in terms of payload and endurance, the comparatively small theater of operations and nearby supporting facilities makes Iran's midget submarine force a credible threat to US and allied naval vessels. North Korea demonstrated the viability of midget submarines by sinking the ROKS Cheonan with a Yono-class submarine; North Korea exported technologies from the Yono-class to Iran which subsequently built the Ghadir-class submarine. Despite the increased threat posed by Iranian midget submarines, no G.C.C. nation currently fields a dedicated ASW patrol aircraft with the exception of the Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma deployed by the Saudi Arabian and UAE Navies in limited numbers. G.C.C. nations must address their lack of ASW capabilities with the addition of aircraft such as the P-3C, P-8, and MH-60R. These aircraft would also provide substantial ISR and maritime surveillance capabilities during peacetime conditions. 

Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance 


Image 6: General Atomics Predator XP, a modified export variant of the existing MQ-1 predator 

Operations by G.C.C nations in Yemen as part of Decisive Storm and operations in Syria have shown Gulf allies are heavily dependent upon US ISR capabilities. Saudi Arabia has been widely criticized for having hit civilian and non-Houthi affiliated targets resulting in high casualties. As part of US intelligence sharing assistance with Saudi Arabia, US advisers have reviewed targets submitted by the Saudis in an effort to reduce civilian casualties but the review process is far from perfect (Maria Abi-Habib & Maria Abi-Habib, 2015). Saudi Arabia and its allies must acquire ISR assets such that they are able to identify and track enemy assets independently in order to reduce the unsustainable burden on US ISR platforms operating in the Middle East:
"'Carlisle noted that the Air Force’s current manning problem is so acute that the service will have to beg the Pentagon to reconsider its demand for 65 drone combat air patrols, or CAPs, as early as April 2015...The Air Force has been forced to raid its schools for drone operators to man the operational squadrons that are flying combat missions over places like Iraq and Syria. As a result, training squadrons—called Formal Training Units (FTU)—are being staffed with less than half the people they need...Overworked drone crews have had their leaves canceled and suffered damage to their careers because they could not attend required professional military education courses. The result is that drone operators are leaving the Air Force in droves. 'Pilot production has been decimated to match the steady demand placed upon the RPA community by keeping ‘all hands’ in the fight,' Carlisle wrote. 'Long-term effects of this continued OPSTEMPO are manifested in declining retention among MQ-1/9 pilots, FTU manning at less than 50%, and enterprise-wide pilot manning hovering at about 84%.'” - Dave Majumdar, 2015 [emphasis added]
To retain the current byzantine and overly restrictive UAV export policy in the midst of severe operational shortfalls by US forces coupled with disproportionately increased demand is, to put mildly, astoundingly shortsighted. A restrictive US UAV export policy does not stop, or even delay, the proliferation of UAVs. Other manufactures have stepped in to fill the void in the international UAV market -  despite the preference among many nations American hardware. Saudi Arabia allegedly acquired the Wing Loong UAV, a Chinese medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV suspiciously similar to the MQ-1, in 2014. The Predator XP is an ideal candidate for export among G.C.C. nations pending reforms to US arms export policy given the XP's alterations with respect to sensitive technologies. Demand for the Predator XP among US allies in the Middle East is high, King Abdullah of Jordan personally appealed to the Obama Administration to allow exports of the surveillance drone but was refused (Gould, 2015). China has subsequently offered armed UAVs to Jordan. Even a unarmed configuration of the Predator XP would be of great value to US allies in the region given that many of these states have the manned assets required to conduct strikes but desperately lack ISR capabilities. 

Additional Munitions - "Conventional Second Strike" & Bunker Busting Munitions 

The United States could provide G.C.C nations with additional conventional deterrence capabilities in the form of the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (left) which has a 300 km range and either sub-munition or a 500 lb unitary warhead. The UAE acquired 100 ATACMs, 12 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) launchers, spares, and support equipment in 2014 for $900 million. The UAE's geographic position directly across the narrow strait of Hormuz from Iran enables the 300 km range missiles, which comply with range limitations specified by missile technology control regime guidelines, to effectively target much of Iran's coast. Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia could similarly position ATACMs units within range of many of Iran's key facilities. Bahrain and Kuwait already possess either the M270 or HIMARS rocket systems capable of launching ATACMs. HIMARS is particularly advantageous given its ability to be carried by C-130 cargo aircraft which would allow US allies to quickly deploy ATACMs units as needed. Another possible means in which the US can improve Saudi conventional strike capabilities would be if Saudi Arabia continues with its planned purchase of Type 209 submarines from Germany. The Type 209 can accommodate the 150 nautical mile range UGM-84L Harpoon missile which is able to strike both sea and land based targets. As Iran continues to improve its integrated air defense system with either Antey-2500 or S-300 surface to air missiles supplied by Russia, surface to surface missiles will grow in importance as a means of targeting defended sites in the Gulf.

The Obama Administration is considering exporting the 5,000 lb GBU-28 bunker buster to Saudi Arabia as a means of assuaging concerns over Iran's hardened nuclear sites (Taylor, 2015). Israel is currently the only US ally in the region to field the weapon which is capable of penetrating 20 feet of hardened concrete or 100 feet of soil. The GBU-28 would allow Saudi Arabia to target all of Iran's hardened nuclear sites except Fordow which is believed to shelter its uranium enrichment equipment with around 260 feet of hardened rock and reinforced concrete; Saudi Arabia's fleet of F-15S and F-15SA aircraft would be capable of carrying the GBU-28. 

Integrated Anti-Ballistic Missile Shield & Aegis Ashore 


Image 8: THAAD interceptor 

Nearly all G.C.C. nations field sophisticated US built ABM systems such as the Patriot PAC-2 Guidance Enhanced Missile (GEM), Patriot PAC-3, and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. Cumulatively, G.C.C. nations are set to acquire over 1,000 PAC-2 and PAC-3 Patriot missiles as well as 288 THAAD interceptors (Defense industry Daily, 2015). Furthermore, Gulf countries maintain state of the art radars such as the 25,344 transmitter receiver module AN/TPY-2 radar which can track ballistic missiles at high altitudes at ranges up to 1,000 km. Despite the individually capable systems employed by G.C.C. nations, Gulf nations refuse to integrate their systems into a broader and more robust Gulf missile shield:
"'You can’t just buy lots of interceptors and park them in the desert,' said Thomas Karako, a missile defense expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS. 'You’ve got to stitch them together into the network and give them plenty of early warning and sensor information so they know where to shoot'...regional politics, military rivalries and even cyber espionage concerns have blocked them from setting up an intertwined missile defense shield akin to what NATO has built and in Europe. There, alliance members have been beefing up missile defenses to protect the continent from long-range Iranian missiles. 'The difference is that you don’t have NATO in the Middle East,' Karako said. 'Really the prerequisite to serious cooperation, to serious interoperability and integration is and always has been the lack of political integration and … security integration like you have with NATO'" - Marcus Weisgerber, 2015
In order to maximize the use of existing interceptors and radars, a networked and highly automated system is required to successfully defeat ballistic missiles from Iran which will have a flight time of roughly 4 minutes against regional targets (Weisgerber, 2015). Given the sensitivity in sharing data among G.C.C. countries, the United States could act as an intermediary by collecting information from G.C.C. ABM sensors and radars in the region and coordinating a response. A somewhat similar agreement exists between South Korea, Japan, and the United States relating to North Korea's missiles and nuclear program; the United States  acts as an intermediary between two parties who were otherwise unwilling to share sensitive data. 

In addition to integration of sensors and existing interceptors, US Gulf allies should consider longer range more capable ABM systems.  The current composition of G.C.C. interceptors relies upon the 25 km range Patriot PAC-3 missile; the comparatively low cost and high capacity four missiles per container  in a Patriot launcher (16 total) makes the PAC-3 ideal for defending military bases or other high priority targets in a limited area but is of little relevance to protecting non-localized targets. Another limitation of the Patriot is it is designed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles in their terminal or final phase of descent within the earth's atmosphere. THAAD is a much  more capable system and enables multiple opportunities for interception by providing exo-atmospheric and endo-atmospheric interception capabilities; THAAD has a maximum range of over 200 km and a maximum altitude of over 150 km (Global Security, 2013). Thus, THAAD batteries stationed in the UAE have the potential to protect US regional forces as well as key sites across the country, 


Image 9: Midcourse and terminal phase of US missile shield. With current technology, boost phase interception is not viable though the United States maintains several sensors capable of tracking missiles through the boost phase such as the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS).

Ideally the US should press G.C.C countries to field larger numbers of longer range and integrated ABM systems such as THAAD and Aegis ashore. The SM-3 utilized in the Aegis ashore system, which will be operationally deployed to Romania later in 2015, will field midcourse interception capable 500 km range SM-3 Block 1A and 1B missiles. In many respects, the SM-3 is the most capable and reliable US ABM system which will continue to receive upgrades which will improve performance against intermediate range and intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Navy's current policy has been to rotate DDG-51 destroyers into the Middle East, Europe, and the Pacific as a means to provide ABM capabilities to US forces in each region. However, the limited vertical launch system  (VLS) capacity of destroyers means that ABM missions detract from other capabilities such as offensive sea control and land attack payloads. The limited VLS capacity for destroyers coupled with increasing combatant commander demand for ABM capabilities, of which 40% the Navy as able to meet in 2014, necessitates a new ABM strategy in consultation with US allies (Bacon, 2015). 
"Today the Navy has thirty-three BMD-capable ships, with plans to increase the number to forty-three ships by 2019. On average, two large surface combatants are continuously deployed in the Mediterranean Sea, Arabian Gulf, and Western Pacific Ocean to provide BMD for partners and allies overseas, which requires at least eighteen CGs or DDGs to support...The Navy should pursue replacing today’s BMD ship stations in the Middle East and Japan with Aegis Ashore to defend fixed locations against known threats. The cost of an Aegis Ashore system is about $750 million whereas a Flight IIa DDG-51 costs about $1.6 billion" - Bryan Clark, 2015
The limited ability of the US Navy to provide regional ABM capabilities will be exacerbated further by sequestration cuts towards eliminating the modernization of five DDG-51 destroyers with ABM capability(LaGrone, 2015). Thus, the Navy will have ever fewer ABM capable ships than planned.

In conclusion, the United States should (1) provide a limited security agreement with the G.C.C. such that the United States could assure Gulf allies of US regional commitment and (2) allow new arms exports to focus towards ameliorating current deficiencies in Gulf militaries such as ASW, ISR, and networked long range ABM systems.  The combination of new arms export and a new formal security agreement would greatly bolster US-G.C.C. deterrence against Iran. 

Sources
In addition to Part I: 
  1. Precision Fires Rocket and Missile Systems. http://www.msl.army.mil/Documents/Briefings/PF/PFRMS%20Systems%20Public%20Release%20Brief%20FINAL.pdf
  2. Obama weighs offering Saudi Arabia weapons provided only to Israel, Guy Taylor, 2015. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/may/5/obama-weighs-offering-saudi-arabia-weapons-provide/
  3. Iran nuclear sites may be beyond reach of "bunker busters", Michael Ammons, 2012. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/12/us-iran-nuclear-strike-idUSTRE80B0WM20120112
  4. Gulf States Requesting ABM-Capable Systems, Defense Industry Daily, 2015. http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/gulf-states-requesting-abm-capable-systems-04390/
  5. IDEX 2015: Saudi, Qatari THAAD contracts in the pipeline, Jeremy Binnie, 2015. http://www.janes.com/article/49344/idex-2015-saudi-qatari-thaad-contracts-in-the-pipeline 
  6. Patriot Fact Sheet, NATO, 2013. http://aco.nato.int/resources/3/documents/Patriot%20Deployment/SHAPE%20PATRIOT%20FACT%20SHEET%20final-2%20Apr%2013.pdf 
  7. BMD mission demands outstrip fleet's capabilities, Lance M. Bacon, 2015. http://www.navytimes.com/story/military/2015/04/13/navy-unable-to-meet-growing-bmd-demand/25463331/ 
  8. Navy Again Reduces Scope of Destroyer Modernization, 5 Ships Won’t Receive Any Ballistic Missile Defense Upgrades, Sam LaGrone, 2015. http://news.usni.org/2015/03/03/navy-again-reduces-scope-of-destroyer-modernization-5-ships-wont-receive-any-ballistic-missile-defense-upgrades 
  9. SM-3 BMD, in from the Sea: EPAA & Aegis Ashore, Defense Industry Daily, 2015. http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/land-based-sm-3s-for-israel-04986/ 
  10. THAAD TMD, Global Security, 2013.   http://www.globalsecurity.org/space/systems/thaad.htm
  11. Commanding the Seas: A Plan to Reinvigorate U.S. Navy Surface Warfare, Bryan Clark, 2014. http://csbaonline.org/publications/2014/11/commanding-the-seas-a-plan-to-reinvigorate-u-s-navy-surface-warfare/ 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Deal or No Deal - The Case for Diplomacy with Iran Part I


Image 1: Bushehr nuclear reactor

The ongoing Iranian nuclear negotiations between the P-5+1 powers and Iran has generated a great deal of public debate on the relative merits of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) framework released in early April. While technical negotiations based on the JPOA are not set to conclude until June 30th - and could certainly fail before then, the United States should seriously consider a final agreement similar to the JPOA as it best promotes US interests relative to its plausible alternatives: re-imposition of sanctions with the intent of trying to negotiate a "better deal" or military strikes against Iran's nuclear infrastructure. The word choice "consider" is appropriate given the final terms have yet to be negotiated. Policies must not be judged in a vacuum, the alternatives to the JPOA are less likely to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. A brief overview of the JPOA details will be provided followed by an analysis of alternatives, the viability of passing a nuclear deal given Congressional interference, and how the United States should proceed if an agreement with Iran can be reached.

The following JPOA details are paraphrased from a Department of State press release
  1. Iran’s stockpile of 10,000 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) would be reduced to 300 kg of 3.67 percent LEU for 15 years.
  2. Reduction in Iranian centrifuges from 19,000 IR-1 models to 6,104 for 10 years
  3. Iran’s inventory of 1,000 advanced IR-2 centrifuges would be mothballed and monitored
  4. Iran would not enrich Uranium beyond 3.67 percent for at least 15 years (90% is weapons grade but the time required for uranium enrichment accelerates beyond LEU) 
  5. Iran's will not build additional heavy water reactors and will limit current operations to hinder plutonium enrichment 
  6. Extremely intrusive IAEA monitoring and full access to Iranian nuclear facilities for 25 years and beyond - while not explicitly discussed by the JPOA, robust US signals intelligence would also assist in determining if Iran does not fulfill its obligations 
  7. Phased sanctions relief, P5+1 will be able to re-institute sanctions if Iran caught violating the deal
  8. Iran will remain a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in perpetuity 
The technical details above produce an agreement in which Iran would have a breakout time of one year for the first ten years of the agreement. Thus, even if Iran reneged on its obligations, the technical and scientific limitations of the enrichment process would keep Iran from obtaining weapons grade material for a year vs. the current 2-3 month breakout time. After a period of ten years the breakout time would gradually diminish until finally after 13 years Iran would essentially become a nuclear threshold state similar to Japan. Clearly the prospect of Iran achieving a nuclear threshold status is less than ideal from the perspective of the United States. However, alternative policies solutions will delay Iran's nuclear program to a lesser degree and will ultimately enact much greater costs to the United States. 

Proponents of additional sanctions argue the United States can force Iran to renegotiate a nuclear deal with more favorable terms such as the near complete dismantlement of Iran's nuclear infrastructure. Any new sanctions are likely to build off of the existing sanctions which are largely underpinned by the US dollar's status as the dominant global reserve currency. The dollar is widely recognized as a medium of exchange that is well regulated and stable (Zakaria, 2014). Thus, 87% of all foreign transactions in 2013 were conducted in dollars and more than 60% of all foreign exchange reserves - the amount of cash financial institutions hold to pay foreign obligations - were denominated in dollars (Bank for International Settlements, 2013). Through the Federal Reserve's licensing system, the United States Government can cut foreign countries off from using the dollar which would severely diminish a country's opportunities for international trade. However, new sanctions are unlikely to halt Iran's nuclear program despite enacting massive economic costs on Iran given the outcome of prior negotiations. 
"Between 2003 and 2005, under another practical president, Mohammad Khatami, Iran negotiated with three European Union powers a possible deal to place its nuclear program under constraints and inspections. The chief nuclear negotiator at the time was Hassan Rouhani, now Iran’s president.
Iran proposed to cap its centrifuges at very low levels, keep enrichment levels well below those that could be used for weapons and convert its existing enriched uranium into fuel rods (which could not be put to military use) ...But the talks collapsed because the Bush administration, acting through the British government, vetoed it. It was certain, Jenkins explained, that if the West could 'scare' the Iranians, 'they would give in.'... Harvard University’s Graham Allison, one of the United States’ foremost experts on nuclear issues, pointed out that “by insisting on maximalist demands and rejecting potential agreements, the first of which would have limited Iran to 164 centrifuges, we have seen Iran advance from 10 years away from producing a bomb to only months.” - Fareed Zakaria, 2015 [emphasis added]
As Fareed Zakaria argues, the technology required to enrich uranium is 70 years old. Even with sanctions Iran will generate enough revenue to fund a nuclear program similar to how North Korea has managed to enrich uranium despite intense sustained international pressure. Similarly, military strikes against Iran's nuclear infrastructure is unlikely to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon in the long-term. 



Image 2: Center for International and Strategic Studies (CSIS) graphic with predicted assets required to initiative strikes against Iran's nuclear infrastructure

A strong consensus exists within the national security community that the United States would be capable of conducting successful strikes against Iranian nuclear sites across the country. The strikes would not be swift as the United States would first have to disable Iran's integrated air defense systems (IADS) which include radar sites, air bases, surface to air missile batteries, etc. US forces would then have to utilize bunker busting munitions such as the 30,000 lb GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) to destroy hardened enrichment sites such as Fordow and Natanz. ISR assets such as the RQ-170 Sentinel and Northrup Grumman RQ-180 would assess the damage to Iran's facilities and Command and Control assets would determine if further strikes are needed. Finally, US forces would have to eliminate Iran's means of retaliating against US and allied forces in the region which would include conventional ballistic missile facilities, rocket sites, midget submarine bases, etc. The combination of tactical and logistic hurdles required to successfully target dozens of sites across Iran is a task that can only be carried out by the United States military. However, even a massive US operation against Iranian facilities will only delay Iran's nuclear program from between five to ten years at most or less than the JPOA (CSIS, 2012)

The problem lies in the fact that kinetic strikes will destroy Iran's physical nuclear infrastructure but the knowledge required to resume Iran's nuclear program is diffused throughout the country's scientists and university system. Thus, military strikes against Iran are inherently limited in what they can achieve. Furthermore, strikes against Iran would entail debilitating opportunity costs on behalf of the United States as resources from other operational commands - such as PACOM and EUCOM - would be required to both carry out the initial operation and remain in theater for deterrence operations for years afterward. Greater military commitment to the Middle East is definitively not in the interests of the United States. Especially if further involvement would halt the Asia re-balance which is required to safeguard sea lanes which facilitate trillions of dollars in US maritime trade each year, protect five treaty allies - in contrast none of the Gulf Cooperation Council (G.C.C.) countries are covered under formal US defense treaties, and "manage" the rise of China which has the economic and technological potential to pose the most significant long-term great power threat to the United States since the Soviet Union (though its important to recognize the current US-China relationship is a form of "strategic competition" rather than overt enemies like the US & USSR as well as many other caveats). Finally, US strikes against Iran would grant Iranian leaders with a substantial justification for acquiring nuclear weapons in order to deter future US attacks.

In terms of possible Congressional interference, the United States Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan resolution 98-1 which would authorize Congress to hold a vote of disapproval pending the scheduled conclusion of negotiations in June 30th; Senator Tom Cotton (R, Ark.) was the sole dissenter. Given the nature of a vote of disapproval, a total of 34 Senators are required to ensure an Iranian nuclear deal goes into effect given the Presidential veto - a legislative task substantially easier than marshaling 60 votes in favor of the agreement (Berman, 2015).  The bill effectively enables the President to have a plausible chance at reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran now that the threat of Congressional interference has been substantially mitigated.

In summary, a diplomatic solution similar to the proposed JPOA would be the best solution to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon relative to its plausible alternatives. The deal would buy time for renewed diplomacy and some degree of normalization of relations, but its unlikely the deal will enable a broader US-Iran rapprochement (McManus, 2015). Preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is clearly a US strategic priority but additional sanctions and military action is unlikely to delay Iran's nuclear program in the long-term. Once Iran reaches threshold capacity 13 years after signing any potential agreement, a combination of military deterrence and economic incentives would be utilized to keep Iran from fielding nuclear weapons. The ideal outcome for the United States after 13 years is Iran's leaders decide a nuclear threshold state would provide adequate deterrence given that Iran possess the delivery systems and enriched uranium required to field nuclear weapons quickly if needed. Significant work is needed on behalf of the United States to build upon its conventional and nuclear deterrence capabilities in the region to assuage the legitimate concerns of G.C.C. allies which will be discussed later this week in Part II.

PART II

Sources

  1. Sending a Bunker-Buster Message to Iran,  Michael Makovsky and David Deptula, 2015. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304418404579462970629373280
  2. Analyzing the Impact of Preventive Strikes Against Iran’s Nuclear Facilities, Anthony H. Cordesman & Abdullah Toukan, 2012. http://csis.org/files/publication/120906_Iran_US_Preventive_Strikes.pdf
  3. U.S. Attack on Iran Would Take Hundreds of Planes, Ships, and Missiles, Noah Shachtman, 2012. http://www.wired.com/2012/09/iran-war-plan/
  4. Controversy Continues Over Iran’s Rockets And Weapons, Bill Sweetman, 2015. http://aviationweek.com/defense/controversy-continues-over-iran-s-rockets-and-weapons
  5. Artful Balance Future US Strategy and Force Posture in the Gulf, Bilal Y. Saab & Barry Pavel, 2015 http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/images/publications/ACUS_ArtfulBalance_WEB.pdf 
  6. The Iran Bill Clears the Senate, Russell Berman, 2015. https://uk.news.yahoo.com/mitch-mcconnell-moves-save-senates-iran-bill-101700456.html#kJR6b8i 
  7. The danger of America's 'economic drone', Fareed Zakaria, 2014. http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2014/07/15/the-danger-of-americas-economic-drone/
  8. Triennial Central Bank Survey Foreign exchange turnover in April 2013: preliminary global results, Bank for International Settlements, 2013. http://www.bis.org/publ/rpfx13fx.pdf
  9. Why the Dollar Is Still King, Milton Ezrati, 2015. http://nationalinterest.org/feature/why-the-dollar-still-king-12305 
  10. Nuclear deal unlikely to make Iran a docile U.S. partner, Doyle McManus, 2015. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0405-mcmanus-mideast-foreign-policy-chaos-20150405-column.html 
  11. White House Looks to Ease Arab Fears Over Iran Nuclear Pact, Helene Cooper, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/02/world/white-house-looks-to-ease-arab-fears-over-iran-nuclear-pact.html
  12. Iran, Saudi Arabia fighting bloody proxy wars across region, Zeina Karam and Lee Keath, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iran-saudi-arabia-fighting-bloody-proxy-wars-across-region/2015/03/26/8ec4c4bc-d3ee-11e4-8b1e-274d670aa9c9_story.html
  13. Rebel Arms Flow Is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria, David E. Sanger, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/15/world/middleeast/jihadists-receiving-most-arms-sent-to-syrian-rebels.html
  14. Opinions A nuclear deal with Iran is the best option, Fareed Zakaria, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-nuclear-deal-with-iran-is-the-best-option/2015/04/02/bc8292d2-d978-11e4-8103-fa84725dbf9d_story.html 
  15. Netanyahu enters never-never land, Fareed Zakaria, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/netanyahu-enters-never-never-land/2015/03/05/2f279c3c-c372-11e4-ad5c-3b8ce89f1b89_story.html

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters Part III: J-31 Part II




Image 1: J-31 demonstrator at Zhuhai 

Key conclusions from Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters: Shenyang J-31 Part I
  • Current J-31 demonstrator is unlikely to enter either PLAAF or PLANAF service in the short term, Shenyang has been described the FC-31 as an export only aircraft 
    • Possible reasons include: insufficient performance, increasingly capable 4.5 generation fighter fleet serving as the low end in the high low mix with the J-20, and risk management in the case of the PLANAF given the development of the J-15 
  • Relatively stealthy airframe, use of planform alignment and DSI but notably lacks rear stealth 
    • degree of stealth likely to be inferior to both the F-22 and F-35 given ongoing quality control issues within the Chinese aerospace industry but still sufficient enough to cause serious concern for American 4th generation aircraft and equivalent aircraft 
Part II will discuss the potential export prospects, avionics, and strategic impact of the FC-31.


Export Prospects



Image 2: FC-1/JF-17. Image Credit: Alan Warnes

Between 2010 and 2014, Chinese arms exports have surged by 143% and accounted for 5% of the global total in 2014. China's past and ongoing efforts to expand its arms industry provide insight towards which countries may potentially acquire the FC-31:
"A significant percentage (just over 68 percent) of Chinese exports went to three countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. China also exported major arms to 18 African states. Examples of China’s increasing global presence as an arms supplier in 2010–14 included deals with Venezuela for armoured vehicles and transport and trainer aircraft, with Algeria for three frigates, with Indonesia for the supply of hundreds of anti-ship missiles and with Nigeria for the supply of a number of unmanned combat aerial vehicles." - SPRI, 2015
Efforts by the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) in cooperation with the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) to export the FC-1/JF-17 indicate China is targeting countries which have traditionally imported Russian combat aircraft.  CAC has offered the JF-17 to Bulgaria, Myanmar, Nigeria, Indonesia, Egypt, and Argentina (Bokhari & Jennings, 2015). It is important to note that while Shenyang produces the FC-31 rather than Chendgdu, both companies are subsidiaries of the state owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) which is responsible for exporting the products of its subsidiary companies.

The JF-17 is pitched as a low cost alternative to Western and Russian designs in the low-end fighter export market with standard 4th generation capabilities and a unit price of $20-25 million (Panda, 2015). The low unit price and fairly competitive capabilities makes the aircraft a viable option in many of the countries above, particularly in Argentina, Bulgaria, and Nigeria where ongoing financial constraints are expected to heavily influence potential acquisitions (Panda, 2015). However, the only country to take delivery of the JF-17 has been Pakistan despite the numerous attempts to export the aircraft in the aforementioned countries.

In terms of how efforts to export the JF-17 relate to the FC-31, it is probable the FC-31 will be offered to countries within a similar profile to those above. Countries which are not aligned with the West or the United States from a security perspective, have traditionally bought Russian or French supplied combat aircraft, and are likely to place a premium on affordability. While China is expected to find an export customer for the JF-17 in the near term, China's relative inexperience in providing logistics and training support to foreign customers is likely to hamper any bids. For example, it took several years for Saab with its low cost JAS 39 (from Sweden) to prove itself as a competitive supplier of combat aircraft on par with more established companies in the field like Lockheed Martin and Sukhoi.

Another potential issue with future attempts to export the FC-31 results from the requirements of expected export customers. While the FC-31 is expected to be much more affordable than the F-35, it will be undoubtedly more expensive than the current JF-17 unit price of $20-25 million. The greatest strength of the JF-17 is its low unit and operating costs relative to Western and Russian equivalents. A few of China's potential export customers might be willing to reduce the number of aircraft required in order to obtain higher quality aircraft but the strategic needs of many of these countries is insufficient to justify a high-end low observable fighter. For example, Nigeria is unlikely to value low observability when its primary concern is acquiring platforms capable of conducting affordable air to ground missions against Boko Haram. As defense aviation expert Richard Aboulafia has argued,  "The worst enemy of the best is the good enough" in the fighter export market. However, if troubles with Russia's T-50 continue, China could find an opportunity to further assert itself among traditional Russian customers with greater requirements than the JF-17 offers.



Image 3: T-50 demonstrator

Russia’s deputy defense minister for armaments, Yuri Borisov, recently announced Russia intends to cut its original order for 52 T-50s delivered by 2020 to just 12 aircraft in the same time frame. While the Defense Ministry's official justification for the reduced order is Russia's ongoing recession, technical difficulties with the aircraft's development undoubtedly contributed to the cut. Sukhoi has been fairly opaque with respect to providing information about the progress of the T-50's development but Indian sources have provided a wealth of information regarding the ongoing difficulties in the T-50's design process; India has spent $5.5 billion financing the development of the T-50 with the intent of acquiring 130-145 of the FGFA variant of the aircraft for a total cost of $25 billion (Raghuvanshi, 2015).
"The IAF's three top objections to the FGFA were: (a) The Russians are reluctant to share critical design information with India; (b) The fighter's current AL-41F1 engines are inadequate, being mere upgrades of the Sukhoi-30MKI's AL-31 engines; and (c) It is too expensive...The IAF's deputy chief of air staff (DCAS), its top procurement official, declared the FGFA's engine was unreliable, its radar inadequate, its stealth features badly engineered, India's work share too low, and that the fighter's price would be exorbitant by the time it enters service." - Ajai Shukla, 2015
While it is difficult to confirm the full extent of the T-50s development issues, Russia's ongoing financial problems combined with India's increasing unease with the program may facilitate Chinese efforts to market the FC-31 in countries which have already expressed interest in the T-50 such as Iran. Despite the ongoing sanctions against Iran, China has already provided equipment and expertise to upgrade Iran's existing fleet of F-4 Phantom aircraft.


Avionics


Image 4: FC-31 HMD exhibit at Zhuhai airshow

Reliable information on the FC-31's avionics is sparse. The model featured at Zhuhai, not the operational flight demonstrator, featured a similar electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) system  to the latest J-20 prototypes. Furthermore, it is expected the aircraft will feature an actively scanned electronic array (AESA) radar (Minnick, 2014).China has made significant advances in AESA technology over the last decade. China's first generation AESAs were developed for the J-10B and J-16 with the intent of producing a second generation AESA for the J-20 (Feng 2014).

Two major factors are likely to determine the FC-31's T/R module count: the willingness of China to export sensitive technology and domestic technical/manufacturing capabilities. Chengdu's willingness to offer the AESA equipped J-10B to Argentina demonstrates that China is willing to export its first generation AESA technology (Jennings, 2015). In contrast, China enacted an export ban policy with respect to the J-20 in December of 2014. While the sensitive technologies incorporated into the J-20 are more extensive than a second generation AESA, the export ban suggests AVIC will be unwilling to export similarly capable AESA systems in both the FC-1/JF-17 Block III and FC-31.

The article, The Technological Maturity of Chinese AESA Technology & Strategic Impacts, discusses the technical capabilities of the Chinese aerospace industry in great detail. For the purposes of this article, the analysis of the J-10B's first generation radar is largely applicable towards the FC-31. Both airframes feature smaller nose cones than the PLAAF's flanker derivatives leading towards a smaller possible T/R module figure. Furthermore, both are likely to contain 1st generation packing and cooling technology given China's willingness to export both aircraft but not the J-20. Thus, the author estimates a T/R module figure for the FC-31 to be similar to the J-10B's which is likely no greater than 1,000 T/R modules.

Strategic Impacts


Image 5: J-31 demonstrator accompanied by a PLAAF J-11 

The strategic impact of the FC-31 is dependent upon the relative capabilities of the aircraft in conjunction with the countries which will acquire the aircraft. In terms of capabilities, there are significant reasons to be skeptical of claims that the FC-31 will out preform the F-35 given ongoing quality control issues, engine reliability concerns, and the relative inexperience of the Chinese aerospace industry in the manufacturing of fifth generation avionics as discussed in Part I. However, the J-31/FC-31 does not have to be equivalent to the F-35 to pose a significant threat - especially in large numbers. Fourth generation American fighters such as the F-16C/D which will not be upgraded with modern AESAs will be outclassed. 

Countries which are likely to express interest in the FC-31 over the next decade in Africa and Latin America are inherently predisposed to acquire limited fleet sizes due to the FC-31's niche in the global fighter market. Countries with access to greater financial resources or have the required geopolitical ties are more likely to pursue either the F-35 or the T-50. Few countries in Latin America and Africa which China is likely to supply arms are openly opposed to the United States and its allies. The strategic impact of the FC-31 would be greatest in Asia for the United States and its allies if the FC-31 was fielded by either Iran or Pakistan; AVIC has expressed interest in exporting the FC-31 to both countries (Minnick, 2014).

The Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) is largely composed of third generation US aircraft supplied during the 1970s before the Islamic Revolution in 1979 as well as remnants of Saddam's air force which fled during the Persian Gulf War. The IRIAF is generally regarded to be an obsolete fighting force and the ongoing lack of spare parts has reduced the readiness of foreign supplied aircraft (Jennings, 2015). The addition of a modern fighter aircraft to the IRIAF would greatly increase the difficulty of Gulf allies in achieving air superiority absent of US intervention.  All Gulf allies in the region field fourth generation aircraft such as the F-15S, F-16C/D Block 50/52+, F/A-18C, and Eurofighter Typhoon, 


Image 6: Dassault Rafale. France and India recently singed a deal for 36 Rafales, ending three years of stalled negotiations. However, many IAF officials do not believe they will be able to sustain the acquisition of both the FGFA and Rafale.  

Pakistan has expressed interest in purchasing between 30 to 40 FC-31s as reported by IHS Janes in November of 2014. In a similar manner as Iran, the addition of the FC-31 would greatly augment the PAF's existing fighter force. The Pakistani Air Force (PAF) has been increasingly unable to match the recent acquisition and modernization efforts of the Indian air force. However, the limited number discussed is unlikely to dramatically change the outcome of a conventional conflict. In terms of equipment, the Indian Air Force will maintain a quantitative and numerical advantage under the assumption that it improves the readiness of its Su-30 MKI force which is currently 56% due to faulty Russian supplied engines

In terms of the deployment of the FC-31 having an impact on the United States, Pakistan is not an overt adversary despite efforts of the ISI to fund select elements of the Taliban in the tribal regions. Furthermore, India is not strictly an ally of the United States given the stringent desire of New Delhi to maintain its non-aligned status. The relative military balance of power between Pakistan and India is of interest to the United States given its security and implications on regional stability.  

In conclusion, AVIC will likely target countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia which have traditionally bought Russian or French supplied combat aircraft, do not have a security relationship with the West or United States, and are likely to place a premium on affordability. The FC-31 will likely occupy a specific niche in the future fighter market among countries which are unable to aquire either the T-50 or F-35 but require greater capabilities than more affordable fourth generation alternatives like the JF-17 and JAS 39. The strategic impact of the FC-31 will be minimally significant in Latin America and Africa for the United States but may cause concern in Asia if both Pakistan and Iran acquire the aircraft. 


Sources

  1. Chinese Avionics Advances Ripple Throughout Asia, Usman Ansari, 2011 http://archive.defensenews.com/article/20110620/DEFFEAT06/106200314/Chinese-Avionics-Advances-Ripple-Throughout-Asia 
  2. Argentina and China agree fighter aircraft working group, Gareth Jennings, 2015 http://www.janes.com/article/48726/argentina-and-china-agree-fighter-aircraft-working-group
  3. Images show JF-17 flying with CM-400AKG hypersonic ASM, Richard D Fisher, 2014 http://www.janes.com/article/44897/images-show-jf-17-flying-with-cm-400akg-hypersonic-asm
  4. Bulgaria to be offered JF-17 fighter by Pakistan, Gareth Jennings, 2015 http://www.janes.com/article/49749/bulgaria-to-be-offered-jf-17-fighter-by-pakistan
  5. IDEAS 2014: Nigeria 'close to signing up' for JF-17, Farhan Bokhari, 2014. http://www.janes.com/article/46579/ideas-2014-nigeria-close-to-signing-up-for-jf-17
  6. Block 2 JF-17 makes first flight ahead of Block 3 improvements, Alan Warnes, 2015 http://www.janes.com/article/49991/block-2-jf-17-makes-first-flight-ahead-of-block-3-improvements
  7. JF-17 Presses On After News of Egypt's Plans, Usman Ansari, 2015 http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/air-space/strike/2015/01/25/pakistan-jf-17-china-egypt-mirage/22170455/
  8. Argentina, China Could Jointly Develop Fighters, Wendell Minnick, 2015 http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/air-space/strike/2015/02/22/argentina-china-could-jointly-develop-fighters/23602417/
  9. AIRSHOW CHINA: CATIC hunts elusive JF-17 export deal,  Greg Waldron, 2014 http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/airshow-china-catic-hunts-elusive-jf-17-export-deal-405956/
  10. Pakistan Begins Producing Block-II JF-17 Aircraft, Ankit Panda, 2013 http://thediplomat.com/2013/12/pakistan-begins-producing-block-ii-jf-17-aircraft/
  11. AIRSHOW CHINA: Pakistan outlines JF-17 upgrade activity, Greg Waldron, 2014 http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/airshow-china-pakistan-outlines-jf-17-upgrade-activity-405957/
  12. China and Pakistan Push Chengdu JF-17 Fighter for Export, Chris Pocock, 2010 http://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/defense/2010-08-06/china-and-pakistan-push-chengdu-jf-17-fighter-export
  13. China's J-10 advocated as Argentine 'Typhoon beater', Andrew Tate, 2015 http://www.janes.com/article/49002/china-s-j-10-advocated-as-argentine-typhoon-beater 
  14. Russia and India agree preliminary design for FGFA fighter, Gareth Jennings, 2015 http://www.janes.com/article/47803/russia-and-india-agree-preliminary-design-for-fgfa-fighter
  15. Defence ministry ignores Russia's requests to discuss fighter project, Ajai Shukla, 2015 http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/defence-ministry-ignores-russia-s-requests-to-discuss-fighter-project-115040200031_1.html
  16. Russia can't deliver on Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft: IAF,  Ajai Shukla, 2014 http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/russia-can-t-deliver-on-fifth-generation-fighter-aircraft-iaf-114012100059_1.html
  17. India, Russia Discuss FGFA, Helo Co-Production, Vivek Raghuvanshi, 2015 http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/air-space/2015/01/21/india-russia-helicopters-kamov-shoigu-parrikar-fgfa/22099755/ 
  18. With J-31 Flight, China Makes a Statement, Wendell Minnick, 2014 http://archive.defensenews.com/article/20141115/DEFREG03/311150035/With-J-31-Flight-China-Makes-Statement 
  19. Trends in international arms transfers, 2014, Pieter D. Wezeman and Siemon T. Wezeman, 2015 http://books.sipri.org/files/FS/SIPRIFS1503.pdf
  20. Analysis: India faces crunch decision over Rafale, PAK-FA, Reuben F Johnson, 2015 http://www.janes.com/article/50530/analysis-india-faces-crunch-decision-over-rafale-pak-fa
  21. Beijing Banned Export of Its New Stealth Fighter, War is Boring, 2014 https://medium.com/war-is-boring/beijing-banned-export-of-its-new-stealth-fighter-6c50124fec6a
  22. Analysis - Iranian fighter programmes: Bona fide or bluff?,  Gareth Jennings, 2015 http://www.janes.com/article/49727/analysis-iranian-fighter-programmes-bona-fide-or-bluff
  23. Airshow China 2014: Pakistan in talks to buy '30-40 FC-31s', Farhan Bokhari, 2014 http://www.janes.com/article/45718/airshow-china-2014-pakistan-in-talks-to-buy-30-40-fc-31s 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

March 2015 Blog Updates & News

[UPDATE: Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters: the J-31 Part II will be published on either Thursday 4/9/15 or Friday 4/10/15]

Every few months I try to provide an update on the blog's future publishing schedule. Work towards my senior thesis has thankfully become manageable so I should hopefully be able to publish these up coming articles soon. I would also like to thank readers for all the feedback on the sixth generation fighter series of articles.

Planned Articles 

Deal or No Deal? Analysis of Proposed Iranian Nuclear Deal and Alternatives


Image 1: Iranian Qiam-1 ballistic missiles

At the American Innovation Blog, I have long sought to a provide non-partisan national security perspective and I will continue to do so. The relative merits of an Iranian nuclear deal will be objectively analyzed in concert with the security implications of the two major alternatives: allowing a nuclear armed Iran or launching a major military campaign to destroy Iranian nuclear sites. The article will also discuss conventional means in which Iran is seeking to erode US influence in the Middle East through proxy forces in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, etc. In a prior article, What Would an Israeli Strike on Iran Accomplish?, I concluded a unilateral Israeli strike would be only marginally effective in hindering Iran's capability to develop a nuclear weapon. The author will argue that the United States Government should strongly consider the proposed 10 year freeze on the Iranian nuclear program in light of the immense costs associated with the two aforementioned alternatives. Iranian security threats do not occur in a vacuum, the opportunity costs of greater involvement in the Middle East must be factored into any US action e.g.  the substantial deployment of additional resources to the Middle East means less resources are available for the Asia-Pacific, the Arctic, and Europe, etc.


Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters: the J-31 Part II


Image 2: J-31 demonstrator at the Zhuhai air show

Part I discussed the potential domestic use of the J-31 and the airframe's stealth characteristics, Part II will discuss the aircraft's avionics, export prospects, and strategic ramifications. Chinese efforts to market the FC-1 or J-17 provide an indication of which countries China is likely to market the FC-31 towards as well as which sensitive technologies China is willing to export. Should the FC-31 gain export orders, US intelligence services will gain further insights towards the capabilities of the Chinese aerospace and defense industry in a similar manner as US intelligence agencies have gained access to Russian equipment through countries receiving Russian arms exports.  Ultimately, the J-31's strategic ramifications are likely to be limited given the low probability of domestic service and none of the probable export customers are likely to field the aircraft in large numbers.


The Relative Merits of Extending Super Hornet Production Line


Image 3: EA-18G

Boeing's Super Hornet production line, which includes the EA-18G using the F/A-18F airframe, is set to close in 2017 without any additional orders. Any additional orders from the United States must occur in the FY 2016 budget request given the long lead procurement time among Boeing's suppliers. Two ongoing developments might extend Boeing's production line: an Office of the Secretary of Defense report which will outline the  need for more electronic attack capabilities and the emerging shortfall in strike fighters within the Navy as a result of service life extension difficulties in the legacy Hornet fleet and the resulting higher demand on existing F/A-18E/F Hornets. The extended production line would enable Boeing to compete for foreign fighter contracts in Canada, Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.

Recommended News & Media



Aviation & Aerospace

Images suggest upgrades to China's early series J-11s - By Richard D Fisher Jr
Dassault, HAL To Be Co-Contractors On Indian-Built Rafales- By Amy Svitak and Caroline Bruneau 
Su-30MKI are made in India - Defense Update
Boeing To Select F-15 EW Upgrade Contractor In May - By Amy Butler
Iran’s cruise missile could strike targets beyond 2000 km - Tamir Eshel
Lockheed Martin Unveils Legion Pod - By Aaron Mehta
U.S. asks Vietnam to stop helping Russian bomber flights - David Brunnstrom
That One Time Lockheed Hated on the Taiwanese Air Force - By Joseph Trevithick

Naval Affairs

U.S. aircraft carrier and part of its escort “sunk” by French submarine during drills off Florida - By David Cenciotti 
Winning The War Of Electrons: Inside The New Maritime Strategy - By Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr.
No, the US Navy isn't Big Enough - By Bryan McGrath
Navy To Increase the Number of Deployed Ships to the Middle East, Asia - By Marcus Weisgerber
Allies a Key Factor in New US Sea Strategy - By Christopher P. Cavas
Poland To Launch Sub Tender, Eyes Tomahawks - By Jaroslaw Adamowski

Strategy & Geopolitics

China Sends Fighter Jets to Myanmar Border After Bomb Kills Four - Agence France-Presse
Japan eyes MI6-style spy agency as it seeks to shed pacifist past - Linda Sieg and Nobuhiro Kubo 
The Pentagon’s Satellite Spies Are Aiming for the Arctic - By Aliya Sternstein
Russia's Polar Pivot - Matthew Bodner
America’s Frustration With South Korea - By Harry W.S. Lee

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

America's Sixth Generation Fighters: The F-X and F/A-XX - I


Image 1: Early sixth generation concept by Lockheed Martin

In recent weeks, senior Air Force, Navy, and Pentagon officials have discussed ambitious plans to design a pair of sixth generation aircraft that will succeed the F/A-18E/F (F/A-XX program) and F-22A (F-X program) in the 2030 to 2035 time frame.

  • Part I will discuss the need for a sixth generation fighter given the ongoing development of the capable fifth generation F-35 and the threat environment of 2030. 
  • Part II will examine the state of development in both programs, the technologies that will be incorporated into the design which will define sixth generation capabilities. 
  • Part III will review key design characteristics and the likely roles and missions of the two aircraft in their respective services. The author will subsequently examine the relative merits of the Air Force and Navy's F-X and F/A-XX concepts given the range of threats posed in an A2/AD environment. Finally, the author will conclude by examining the prospects of upgrading the F-35 with many of the sixth generation capabilities detailed throughout the article.
  • Part IV - Works Cited 


The Need for a Sixth Generation Fighter 


Given that the fifth generation F-35 has yet to enter service, it may seem odd that both the Navy and Air Force are planning new sixth generation designs. Four principal of factors have guided the services decision to begin work on the F/A-XX and F-X programs: increasingly sophisticated anti-access threats, the potential compromise of key F-35 program details to China, the age and finite quantity of existing air superiority/air dominance platforms in conjunction with the proliferation of foreign fifth generation aircraft, and industrial base concerns, 

In 2001, Lockheed Martin's X-35 was selected over Boeing's X-32 for the Joint Strike Fighter program and was to be developed into the F-35 which was scheduled to enter service in April of 2010 for the Marines, June 2011 for the Air Force, and April 2012 for the Navy (Anthony Capaccio, 2013). As of 2015, the planned initial operational capability (IOC) dates for the F-35 are 2015 for the Marines, 2016 for the Air Force, and 2018 for the Navy. The significant delay in the development of the F-35 program has enabled US competitors, chiefly China and Russia, to start to develop technologies that would somewhat limit the effectiveness of the F-35's low observability. The proliferation of very high frequency (VHF) radars is a cause for concern, the F-35's air frame is optimized to perform against X and S band radars. As per the Raleigh scattering region, electromagnetic radiation will scatter from bodies smaller than its wavelength (Plopsky & Bozzato, 2014). In comparatively small stealth aircraft that place a premium on maneuverability such as the F-22, F-35, PAK FA, and J-20, the wing edges, tail fins, and other flight surfaces will inevitably be smaller than the 1 to 3 meter wavelength of VHF radars. However, VHF radars are not a panacea type solution to countering stealth aircraft.


Image 2: Raleigh scattering region. Image Credit: Air Power Australia

Historically, VHF radars have been of limited use as the resolution cells are too large too provide a target quality track for weapons systems unlike the X and S bands (Majumdar, 2014). China and Russia have recently applied advances in processing power to improve the quality of their VHF systems. For example, the Type 052D Luyang III destroyer features a Type 518 L-band radar paired with a conventional Type 346 AESA radar which could provide it with nascent anti-stealth capability against aircraft like the F-22A and F-35. At the present level of technological maturity, VHF systems would likely provide an early warning capability against stealth aircraft and could eventually cue X and S band systems which would provide the targeting information to surface to air missile systems. However, the weapon employment range of a VHF radar cued with a X and S band system may not be tactically significant. In the future, a system of VHF radars would be networked via a high speed datalink, the resolution cell could hypothetically be refined enough for a weapon quality track (Majumdar, 2014). Both the USAF and US Navy have made preparations to keep the F-35 relevant in highly contested VHF anti-access area denial (A2/AD) environments into the 2030s and beyond; as VHF systems continue to proliferate the use of electronic warfare in conjunction with low observable aircraft will become a necessity.

Another factor that has led to the development of a sixth generation fighter stems from China's cyber espionage activities. Edward Snowden recently released documents confirming China's role in stealing F-35 program information including the AN/APG-81 design, engine schematics, infrared signature reduction methods, etc. (Gady, 2015). These technical details have not only helped China build its own stealth aircraft, but also the information could be used to potentially facilitate the creation of countermeasures against the F-35. Lockheed Martin insists China has not managed to obtain the "crown jewels" or technical details that would effectively compromise the program. Despite Lockheed Martin's assurances, the data breach is generally regarded as a significant setback for the F-35 program. Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Jonathan Greenert recently remarked, "The losing of proprietary data on high technology from cleared defense contractors — it’s just driving me crazy. Cyber theft is just hemorrhaging us". Ultimately, the Department of Defense's (DoD) decision to take the VHF threat seriously is prudent and essential towards maintaining the technological superiority of the American Military: 
"senior officials are in the preliminary stages of examining options should stealth—one of the F-35’s key attributes—be compromised by new technology. The idea is to be able to hand off to the next presidential administration both a healthy F-35 program—no small feat, after its years of pitfalls and overruns—and other options should the next president find the aircraft’s technology outdated, the industry source says. The hope is the F-35’s technology will be viable for decades to come. The studies are preliminary and academic at this point, and they do not indicate the Pentagon is backing away from the F-35; its support has been unwavering since the 2011 restructuring. The Pentagon is now planning for a substantial ramp-up in production for the fighter over the next five years." - Amy Butler, 2015 
The emergence of a new threat during the development of a fighter program is not new. The development of the sixth generation F-X while the fifth generation F-35 has yet to enter service is not dissimilar from how the Advance Tactical Fighter (ATF) program, which eventually led to the fifth generation F-22, was undertaken while the fourth generation F-X program - which led to the F-15A, had only just concluded. US reconnaissance satellites captured images of the T10-1 prototype, the Soviet's fourth generation response to the F-15 which resulted in the Su-27, in 1977 (Goebel, 2014). The Soviets had responded to the F-15 more quickly than anticipated and it was soon apparent that a new fighter aircraft was needed to maintain the US' technological advantage prompting the formulation of the ATF in 1981. Unlike the ATF during the 1980s, the next sixth generation aircraft(s) will be built by up to two of the remaining three US aerospace defense contractors that manufacture combat aircraft assuming the F/A-XX and F-X remain separate programs.


Image 3: Defense industry consolidation after the "last supper" in 1993. Image credit: Ann Markuson, 1998, “The Post-Cold War Persistence of Defense Spending,” in The Defense Industry in the Post-Cold War Era: Corporate Strategies and Public Policy Perspectives, ed G. I. Susman and S. O’Keefe (Amsterdam).



Image 4: Preliminary request for information concepts for the ATF courtesy of YF-23.net.

The consolidation of the US aerospace and defense industry after the Cold War has only been exacerbated in recent years due to the structuring of contemporary US combat aircraft procurement programs. Instead of a diverse set of multiple smaller procurement programs, there are only four major combat aircraft procurement programs over the next decade (UCLASS, T-X, LRS-B, and some F/A-XX and F-X work). Thus, if a major defense contractor fails to secure one of these programs it will be unable to sustain its aircraft manufacturing capability as the wait for another major program opportunity is unsustainable. Northrop Grumman is currently tenuously close to losing its aircraft manufacturing capability with its last combat aircraft manufactured in 1997 (B-2). Should Northrop Grumman lose both the upcoming Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) and next generation trainer (T-X) programs, there is a strong possibility its aircraft division will be sold to either Lockheed Martin or Boeing which would reduce the competitiveness of future defense programs (Aboulafia, 2015). Part of the justification for accelerating the F-X and F/A-XX programs is to provide work for the defense industrial base such that further consolidation can be avoided (Sweetman, Asker, Norris, & Butler, 2015).

The last major reason for starting development of a sixth generation fighter, at least from the Air Force's perspective, is the limited number of high end air superiority platforms currently in service. F-22 production was prematurely terminated with 195 aircraft produced of which only 186 are in the Air Force's current inventory (e.g. not production representative test vehicles and engineering and manufacturing development aircraft). Of these 186 aircraft, only 123 to 149 are combat coded at any one time with the remainder of the aircraft serving in either in an attrition reserve, training, or test and evaluation role.  A total of 300 F-22As were to replace the existing F-15C/D fleet which will now receive an extensive series of upgrades to keep the Eagle fleet operational until at least the late 2020s. While the F-35 will provide robust air to air capabilities, it is not an air dominance fighter like the F-22. A new sixth generation fighter would greatly increase the service's air superiority capabilities upon the retirement of the F-15C/D and F-22A fleets. The USAF will require new sixth generation air superiority aircraft in the 2030s if the service seeks to retain the current disparity in projected kill ratios between Chinese or Russian and US fighters.

The DoD estimates the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) will have its first operational J-20 unit between 2017 and 2018 (Sweetman, 2014). Similarly, the Russian Air Force will deploy its first fifth generation PAK FAs in 2016 with 55 units operational by 2020 (Novichkov, 2014). A new sixth generation air superiority fighter is needed  in the 2030s to hedge against a decline in expected US exchange ratios against increasingly advanced Russian and Chinese aircraft. A US Air Force official interviewed by the National Interest discussed the narrowing disparity in performance between US and Chinese aircraft which is a concern given China's regional numerical superiority:
"I think we can probably keep a slight advantage for quite some time, but a slight advantage means significant losses and less of a deterrent...Lets pretend the F-22 confronts current air-to-air threats outside of a SAM [surface-to-air missile] environment and has a 30 to one kill ratio today versus a [Sukhoi] Su-30 or [Shenyang] J-11. When the J-20 and J-31 come around, even a three to one kill ratio advantage becomes costly...Our competitors know the current reality and are working very hard to avoid the wide gap we have created by investing in those planes,they represent their attempt and creating parity in the skies."
Similarly, while the F-35 is capable as a strike fighter in terms of air-to-air capabilities it is not a purpose built air dominance platform like the F-22. In an Australian Parliamentary hearing within the Foreign Affairs, Defense And Trade Joint Committee, Garry Liberson who is the Technical Lead of Operations Analysis and Strategic Studies at Lockheed Martin indicated the F-35 would have a six to one exchange ratio against "advanced red threats" in the 2015 to 2020 time frame (Source 69, page 5).The red threats described by Mr. Liberson are likely to be either upgraded Su-30s or Su-35s. Thus the author would surmise the F-35 would perform less favorably against the J-20 and Pak Fa when compared to the F-22 as discussed above. In order to the maintain its edge, the Air Force must inevitably invest in new platforms, upgrades for its existing platforms, and innovate new tactics techniques and procedures (TTP) with respect to its employment of those systems.

The A2/AD Strategic Environment of 2030


Image 5: Chinese A2/AD anti-surface warfare weapons in the Asia-Pacific. Image Credit: CSBA, 2014

It is important to emphasize the context in which American sixth generation aircraft will operate in conjunction with other American and allied aircraft rather than merely analyzing various tactical air to air combat scenarios between individual adversary and US platforms. The sixth generation development programs take place within the broader context of the third offset strategy and new concepts like distributed lethality all of which are geared towards mitigating advancements made by Russia and China to limit US power projection operations. To provide a brief overview, China began to develop systems to inhibit US power projection after the overwhelming victory of the United States in the Persian Gulf War:
"...the consensus that U.S. forces were unbeatable in a conventional force-on-force conflict became the dominant global lesson learned. As the previous study notes [Conduct of the Persian Gulf War], 'while the Vietnam syndrome might always have been exaggerated and misinterpreted, the display of U.S. power in the Persian Gulf had the effect of creating an image of overwhelming power'. For nations, non-state actors, and other entities opposed to U.S. influence and contemplating violent means toward achieving their international political aims, conventional warfare seemed almost a closed option." - Tangredi, pg.29, 2013 
The general deterioration of Sino-US relations following Tienanmen Square in 1989, the Third Taiwanese Strait Crisis in 1996, and the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Kosovo in 1999 all provided the impetus for China's development of its A2/AD strategy (Erikson, 2013). To constrain US power projection near its shores, China has implemented a host of systems including: sea mines, ASCMs, electronic &GPS jamming, submarines, anti-satellite weapons, conventional land attack and anti-ship ballistic missiles, and extensive surface to air missile systems networked with air power. These systems collectively limit how close US forces can safely operate in proximity to China and allow Chinese forces to avoid a conventional force on force engagement which favors US forces as described above. In order to further push US forces out of the region in wartime conditions, many Chinese source publications such as, The Science of Second Artillery Campaigns, emphasize the need to destroy US logistics assets in the Western Pacific which are the enablers of US power projection. These assets include aircraft carriers, ports, allied air bases, pre-positioned stockpiles (e.g. at Guam and Diego Garcia) tankers, etc. Note the explicit abstention from referring to the United States directly and the term "powerful enemy" is substituted for the United States instead (presumably for political reasons):
"When the powerful enemy uses allied military bases in our periphery and aircraft carriers as aircraft launch platforms to implement various forums of military intervention; and when the powerful enemy's allied military bases around are periphery are beyond our air arm's firing range, and when the carrier battle groups are away from our shores, thus making it difficult to carryout out the overall operational advantages associated with firepower coordination among the service arms, conventional missiles can be used to implement harassment strikes against the military bases of the enemy's allies around our periphery as well as the carrier battle groups." - 401 (See source 55)
China's A2/AD strategy will force the US to operate its land and carrier based aircraft far from China's stores during the opening stages of the conflict. New technologies developed under the Defense Innovation Initiative and the National Aerospace Initiative will permit sixth generation aircraft to operate in in this heavy contested environment.

PART II - Development Status and Technology 
PART III - Roles and Missions
PART IV - Works Cited