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Monday, July 21, 2014

The Reblance - Deterrence in the Asia-Pacific

Image 1: US-Japan joint exercise with USS George Washington, 2010. 

Deterrence within the context of the rebalance can be examined in two respects: preventing a conventional high-intensity conflict and dissuading Chinese attempts to alter the territorial status quo through low-intensity disputes and paramilitary operations. In both respects the rebalance has encountered major shortcomings. A comprehensive examination of Chinese open source literature, ranging from academia to official PLA military publications, indicates a growing confidence within the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in its ability to defeat the United States in a regional conflict. In his testimony before Congress, Lee Fuell - Technical Director for Force Modernization and Employment with the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, commented on the growing confidence of the PLA:  

"Recent Chinese operational literature describes a more nuanced approach to counter-intervention that seeks to strike a balance between supporting the main campaign and deterring the powerful enemy - that usually means us in the literature - and striking at them if necessary with the need to avoid an expansion of the conflict...This newer literature reflects a departure from past PLA writings which placed more emphasis on preemptive attacks to counter a U.S. intervention. We feel that this demonstrates to some degree a growing confidence within the PLA that they can more readily withstand an initial U.S. involvement than in years past...This isn’t to say the PRC might not still feel compelled to conduct preemptive actions against U.S. intervention, particularly in the cyber domain or other less 'kinetic' ways; however, the PLA appears to be developing a more mature viewpoint on the broad application of military operations against the U.S." 

The following excerpt is from The Science of the Second Artillery Campaigns, the most authoritative Chinese open source publication with respect to China's strategic rocket forces which corroborates Mr. Fuell's testimony: 

"When the powerful enemy uses allied military bases in our periphery and aircraft carriers as aircraft launch platforms to implement various forms of military intervention; and when the powerful enemy's allied military bases around our periphery are beyond our air arm's firing range...conventional missiles can be used to implement harassment strikes against military bases of the enemy's allies around our periphery as well as the carrier battle groups" - Yoshinhara, 2014

Image 2: DF-21 launch site within the 810 Brigade's base near Dalian. DF-21C missiles launched from Dalian would have coverage of US bases in both Korea and Japan. Image credit: Federation of American Scientists 

In addition to preparing for a high-intensity conflict with the United States, China has been proactively changing the status quo in the South China Seas (SCS) through oil rig deployments, island reclamation efforts, establishing a coast guard, and declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) all within the past two years. While significant US resources have been invested in acquiring platforms and capabilities relevant to US-China high-intensity conflict such as 2 Virginia-class attack submarines per year or the development of the F-35 fifth generation aircraft, both Congress and the Obama Administration have undertaken minimal efforts to address China's low-intensity efforts to change the status quo:

"China is pursuing in Asia what the United States has in Latin America: regional hegemony. In pursuit of that goal, China keeps trying to take territory, bit by bit, in the East and South China Seas. And the United States doesn't know what to do about it. This practice, known as salami-slicing, involves the slow accumulation of small changes, none of which in isolation amounts to a casus belli, but which add up over time to a substantial change in the strategic picture. By using salami-slicing tactics in the East and South China Seas, China does not have to choose between trade with the rest of the world and the achievement of an expanded security perimeter in the Western Pacific at the expense of China’s neighbors." - Robert Haddick, 2014 

Clearly current US efforts to deter China are insufficient as exemplified by the growing confidence of the PLA and the relative success of China's efforts to claim the SCS. Statements by both the Obama Administration and senior Navy officials such as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Jonathan Greenert have been carefully calibrated as to not antagonize Beijing. Admiral Greenert recently refused to discuss probable US tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) with regards to China at a Naval War College event as, "“If you talk about it openly, you cross the line and unnecessarily antagonize”. As the status quo power who partly derives acceptance among regional powers by policing the maritime commons and promoting stability, it does not behoove the United States to act belligerent but statements such as CNO Greenert's do not promote effective deterrence.  

James Holmes recently wrote Deterring China = Capability x Resolve x Belief , in which he argues the US shouldn't arbitrarily antagonize Beijing but the US must underscore its capability and resolve to promote an effective military deterrence:  

"Henry Kissinger supplies the best definition of deterrence, depicting it as a product of our capability, our resolve, and — here’s Kissinger’s special ingredient – the opponent’s belief in our capability and our resolve to use it...Teddy Roosevelt sums it up with a pithy frontier maxim: 'don’t bluster, don’t flourish your revolver, and never draw unless you intend to shoot'. In Kissinger’s terms, that’s a statement about communicating one’s intentions frankly but without needlessly giving offense, about clearly outlining the conditions that warrant reaching for the gun, and about actually following through should the opponent defy our terms. Capability, resolve, belief." 

Striking a balance between needlessly antagonizing Beijing and protecting long-held US strategic interests is difficult in and of itself but gets even more troublesome when accounting for the varying interests and circumstances between US Pacific allies. In broad terms, many US Pacific allies want the US to act as an insurance policy toward their security in a time of national crisis (Zakaria, 2014). Many US pacific allies such as Australia would like a peaceful and stable status quo without a Cold War type military escalation between the United States and China due to extensive trade relations. Stephen Walt recently underscored the logic behind Australia maintaining its robust alliance with the United States despite its extensive trade relations with China. Walt's reasoning applies not only to Australia but also to several countries in South East Asia: 

"You know when states get into trouble, there is no 911 number to call…You can’t call Ban Ki-Moon and get any help. You will get his sympathy, he will put you on the agenda at the Security Council but he’s got nothing else he can do for you. Therefore, nations who think at some point they might face some significant challenge of one form or another, it’s good to have friends…Having the United States as an ally would be a really nice insurance policy”.  

In conclusion, an appropriate US deterrence must address Chinese provocations by underscoring US resolve, US capabilities, and working in consultation with Pacific allies. The US must strike a balance between being non-aggressive to assuage the concerns of US allies, but it must also actively deter China and protect key US interests. Preventative measures such as establishing a robust military deterrence in the Asia-Pacific are much less costly than an open war with China over the long-term even if a robust deterrence sours US-China relations. Part II will examine a host of minimally bellicose measures to deter China at the low-intensity level through a variety of measures, all of which underscore US resolve through joint Congressional-Presidential action. 


  1. China and America: Dancing Around the Containment Question, Joseph A. Bosco, 2014. http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/china-america-dancing-around-the-containment-question-10723
  2. America can make Friends in Asia through Trade, Fareed Zakaria, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fareed-zakaria-america-can-make-friends-in-asia-through-trade/2014/04/24/bb5db266-cbe0-11e3-93eb-6c0037dde2ad_story.html
  3. Deterring China = Capability x Resolve x Belief, James Holmes, 2014. http://thediplomat.com/2014/06/deterring-china-capability-x-resolve-x-belief/
  4. History's Warning: A U.S.-China War Is Terrifyingly Possible, Michael Vlahos, 2014. http://nationalinterest.org/feature/historys-warning-us-china-war-terrifyingly-possible-10754
  5. America has no Answer to China's Salami Slicing, Robert Haddick, 2014. http://warontherocks.com/2014/02/america-has-no-answer-to-chinas-salami-slicing/
  6. The perils of a foreign policy that leans forward, Fareed Zakaria, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fareed-zakaria-the-perils-of-a-foreign-policy-that-leans-forward/2014/06/05/b4cd16f8-ecd8-11e3-9f5c-9075d5508f0a_story.html
  7. Rebalancing U.S. Forces - Japanese Bases and Chinese Missiles, Toshi Yoshihara, 2014. 
  8. China's Military Modernization and its Implications for the United States, 2014. http://origin.www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/USCC%20Hearing%20Transcript%20-%20January%2030%202014.pdf 
  9. The rise of China and America's Asian allies, Stephen M. Walt, 2014.          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh6K22htlZE

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The American Approach Part III: Future TTP - Network Centric Warfare & Cyber weapons

Image 1: F-35 weapons bay testing

Author's Note: This article is a continuation of the series Divergent Thinking: How Best to Employ Fighter Aircraft which details the American approach to fielding fighter aircraft. The series is F-35 centric given its key role in the future USN, USMC, and USAF.
Part I
Part II

The F-35 will compose a significant portion of the future USAF, USN, and USMC fighter fleets well into the 2030s and 2040s. Keeping a fleet of combat aircraft relevant to potential national security challenges over the course of their 20 to 30 year service life is achieved both through not only new capabilities via upgrades but also through the development of new techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTP). Leveraging the immense technological capabilities of the F-35 to the fullest extent possible is the responsibility of the USAF's Weapons Test School and various test and evaluation units. The Weapons Test School at Nellis and test and evaluation squadrons (TES) are staffed by some of the most experienced and talented instructor pilots within the USAF.

"The Weapons School cadre also authors tactical doctrine, and conducts tactics validation. Actively collecting tactical knowledge and lessons learned from deployed units, evaluating solutions in exercises, and formally preparing them for application across the force, the Weapons School provides a controlled learning environment and knowledge trust for best practices in air, space and cyber combat techniques." - USAF, 2014

These pilots effectively translate the capabilities of the aircraft into actual tactics or methods of employment to be used on the battlefield. The Weapons School and TES units will have to cope with the following challenges with respect to keeping America's F-35 fleet capable for the next two to three decades:
  • Proliferation of advanced foreign fifth generation aircraft such as the Chengdu J-20, Shenyang J-31, and Sukhoi PAK FA
  • Integration with 4th generation aircraft into the 2020s and 2030s 
  • Expanded air-to-air role as a result of early F-22 production termination and eventual F-15C retirement in the late 2020s to early 2030s
  • Proliferation of Very High Frequency (VHF) radars which have the potential to degrade the stealth characteristics of small low observable aircraft as per the Raleigh scattering regime
  • Increasingly capable surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems such as the S-400 and the HQ-19
  •  Increasingly capable Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) jammers will degrade the effectiveness of beyond visual range radar guided missiles such as the AIM-120
  • Proliferation of Infrared Search and Track (IRST) systems among 4.5 generation and 5th generation aircraft will increased likelihood of detection within short to medium range 
  • Operating within contested anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environments
  • Integration within combined arms approach and compatibility with allied forces 

These developments collectively represent a significant challenge toward keeping the F-35 relevant over the next three decades. Technological upgrades alone would be insufficient to maintain a force capable of countering these emerging national security threats. Historically, the innovative methods devised by of the Weapons Test school and TES units have been able to cope with emerging national security challenges and are poised to do so for future decades (e.g. new TTP and concepts developed post-Vietnam in Part II). The process of developing new TTP for the F-35 will likely resemble the process for developing new TTP for the F-22 by the 422nd TES and the Weapons School.

The 422nd TES received its first F-22s in 2004, a year before the first combat F-22s reached IOC status, in order to vet the equipment and systems within the Raptor in terms of both effectiveness and reliability under simulated combat conditions (Majumdar, 2009). The initial work done by TES units usually identifies teething problems with the aircraft. For example, the 422nd identified software reliability issues with the AN/APG-77 radar which have since been rectified as a result of input from the 422nd. After identifying and rectifying potential technological issues, the TES pilots create new methods of employing fighter aircraft. New TTP are strenuously evaluated with aggressor units in large simulated combat exercises such as Red Flag, Red Air, or Northern Edge. The USAF also has access to Su-27s and Mig-29s aircraft to further heighten the realism of combat training which are flown from Groom Lake, these aircraft were obtained as a result of the "Constant Peg" program.

For example, the 2006 exercise Northern Edge provided F-22 pilots an opportunity to evaluate the methods of contributing toward the efforts of Blue Force even after expending their payload of air-to-air missiles:

"After their missiles were fired, the F-22′s active and passive sensor capabilities functioned as the Raptor’s last weapon. Northern Edge 2006′s Raptors remained in the fight, flying as stealthy forward air controllers and guiding their colleagues to enemies sitting behind mountains and other 'Blue Force' AWACS blind spots." - Defense Industry Daily, 2013

The initial process for developing new TTP for the F-35 has already begun as both the 31st and 422nd TES under the 53rd Wing are receiving F-35 aircraft:

“As part of the Joint Operational Test Team, we take the aircraft hardware and software released from developmental test, our training from the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin (AFB, Fla.), the administrative and logistics support we get from the Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin, and we integrate all of these disparate elements with maintenance practices, tactics, techniques and procedures required to create an incredibly lethal weapon system that can go out and win the nation’s wars...'We’ve got a brand new tool with a whole new set of capabilities that has never been used by the combat air forces. We have to take that tool and find out the best way to utilize it, to go out and defeat an enemy on the battlefield,'” - Commander of the 31st TES Lt. Col. Steven J. Tittel, 2013

While the specifics of any new TTP created for the F-35 are likely to remain classified, the following are plausible methods of employment in which the F-35 can be expected to be utilized over the next three decades:

Coordination Between Sensors and Shooters 

Image 2: Allied force networked via ATDL in an A2/AD environment (Image Credit: Northrup Grumman).

Both the USAF and USN are finding new methods of networking assets to facilitate greater situational awareness and coordination between C4ISR, bomber, and fighter aircraft. Data links form the basis for the USN's Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) concept which would allow assets such as the E-2D Hawkeye and F-35C to provide targeting data via the advanced tactical data-link (ATDL) or tactical targeting network technology (TTNT) waveform to cue missile launches from other assets such as the F/A-18E/F and UCLASS.

"...the Rockwell Collins-designed tactical targeting network technology (TTNT) waveform, an individual platform does not necessarily need to generate its own tracks.To eliminate the target once it is located—in the air, on land, or floating on the ocean—the Growlers or the E-2D would relay via Link-16 a 'weapons quality' track to one of the Super Hornets, which would actually destroy the threat. 'That F/A-18E/F and the F-35C out front, they don’t even need to have their radars on,' Manazir said. 'They don’t need to be contributing to the picture themselves, they are just receiving this data.” Moreover, the F/A-18E/F would not even necessary even control the weapon that it launches—other than pulling the trigger. The E-2D, the EA-18G or even another Hornet or F-35C could guide that weapon, Manazir said." - Dave Majumdar and Sam LaGrone, 2014

Coordination between multiple sensors and shooters within NIFC-CA greatly increases the range of a carrier air wing as individual aircraft can engage targets beyond the range of their own individual radars so long as targeting data is provided by other friendly assets. Data links such as TTNT waveform create new opportunities to increase the effectiveness of a mixed 4th and 5th generation fighter force into the 2020s and 2030s. The USAF's service life extension programs (SLEP) will keep more than 200 F-15C/Ds and 300 F-16s in service until around 2030 and the F/A-18E/F is not scheduled to be replaced until the 2030s by a yet to be determined 6th generation design. Due to the internal carriage of weapons, 5th generation aircraft such as the F-35 generally carry fewer air-to-air weapons than equivalent 4th generation aircraft (CUDA will be discussed in Part IV). However, the individual survivability of a 4th generation aircraft is low as they are becoming increasingly vulnerable to long-range radar guided missile exchanges meaning they might not be able to fully make use of a comparatively larger missile load. Coordination between 5th generation and 4th generation aircraft via data-links effectively mitigates the aforementioned shortcomings of both aircraft.

Image 3: F/A-18C with ten AIM-120 and two AIM-9 air-to-air missiles

For example, the F/A-18E/F could act as a missile truck as it can carry up to 12 AIM-120D radar guided missiles and 2 AIM-9X Block II missiles to the F-35C's four (six AIM-120D on Block 4). The F-35C's stealth and enhanced situational awareness would allow it to stay on station within a highly contested anti-access environment and designate targets to the more vulnerable Super Hornets even after expending its internal air-to-air payload. USAF F-35A's and F-22A's could also provide targeting data not only to one another but also friendly F-16s and F-15s in a similar manner.

A major hindrance for the F-22 has been its interoperability with other systems due to its intra-flight datalink (IFTL) which can only transmit and receive data from other Raptors or specialized gateway communication aircraft. Plans to install the F-35's multifunction advanced data link (MADL) in the F-22 have effectively been put on hold due to funding limitations (Defense Industry Daily, 2013). However, increment 3.2A upgrades in conjunction with Project Missouri will allow the Raptor to transmit and receive Link 16 in a minimally detectable low-probability of intercept mode.

"Lockheed Martin, has demonstrated a new data-linking capability it developed for them secretly through 'Project Missouri', a proprietary program. During the demonstration, Lockheed validated the use of a Link 16 transmit capability from the twin-engine F-22 Raptor and showcased an exotic waveform developed by L-3 Communications and optimized for low-probability of intercept/low-probability of detection transmissions (LPI/LPD), says Ron Bessire, vice president of technology and innovation at the company's Skunk Works." - Amy Butler, 2014

Future American fighter aircraft will be able to seamlessly operate as part of a larger networked force across minimally detectable jam resistant data links. The F-35's integrated avionics suite and sensors are crucial to implementing both the USAF's and USN's vision of a highly coordinated mixed 4th and 5th generation fighter force.

Cyber and Electronic Warfare 

Image 4: The F-35's integrated avionics and sensor suite

Even in the midst of sequestration, systems and agencies related to cyber warfare have experienced consistent budget growth rates as a result of Congressional prioritization. Concepts and systems such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) "Plan X" program increasingly seek to integrate cyber attacks with conventional kinetic strikes. Although the exact nature of the F-35's cyber capabilities remains classified, the F-35 has immense potential for use as a cyber weapon delivery platform as a result of its AN/APG-81 AESA radar and AN/ASQ-139 electronic warfare system:

"An enemy’s radios and radars are run by computers, so you can transmit signals to hack them. If the enemy’s computers are linked together then your virus can spread throughout that network. The enemy does not have to be connected to the Internet. You just need the enemy’s radios and radar to receive incoming signals...the AESA radar’s beams can throw out those zeros and ones to ANY sort of receiver. And an enemy’s radar is a receiver. His radios are receivers. Some of his electronic warfare sensors are also receivers." -Colin Clark, 2014

The effects of a future F-35 deployed cyber weapon are likely to be similar to BAE system's "Suter" which has already been deployed by US aircraft in coordination with L-3 Communications.

"[Suter] allows users to invade communications networks, see what enemy sensors see, and even take over as systems administrator so sensors can be manipulated into positions so that approaching aircraft can't be seen...The process involves locating enemy emitters with great precision and then directing data streams into them that can include false targets and misleading message algorithms." - Aviation Week, 2007

The US has deployed Suter via the EC-130 in both Iraq and Afghanistan to neutralize insurgent IEDs linked to wireless telephone systems. Plans to integrate air deliverable cyber weapons into the Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD) system have also been discussed. Israel is also suspected of utilizing Suter or a similar weapon as Suter to infiltrate and disable the Syrian integrated air defense system (IADS) surrounding a Syrian nuclear reactor site during "Operation Orchard" in 2007. Given the success of Suter in a SEAD role, its plausible future F-35 deployed cyber weapons could mask incoming radar contacts or display false signals to enemy fighter pilots which would greatly degrade the enemy's situational awareness (Clark, 2014). 

The United States is not unique in terms of possessing an air deliverable cyber weapon, both the Russian and Chinese militaries have been developing similar capabilities to target high priority US aircraft such as the E-3 and E-8 (Aviation Week, 2012). However, the F-35 is comparatively less vulnerable to similar cyber attacks as the AN/APG-81 radar features a low probability of intercept (LPI) mode. Successful delivery of systems like Suter requires a robust emitter locating capability which LPI modes make significantly more difficult via emission control principles. LPI software governs the duration, intensity, and space of signals to ensure a pilot maintains a high degree of situational awareness while mitigating the probability of detection by emitter locator systems. (Bill Sweetman, 2000). Equivalent Russian and Chinese aircraft are likely to be comparatively more vulnerable to US cyber weapons as a result of less mature LPI technology.

Russian AESA radars such as the Phazotron Zhuk AE/ASE are a generation behind their US equivalents in the areas of TR module packaging and cooling technology (Kopp, 2012). Although information on the state of Russian LPI software is scarce within the public domain, it is plausible to assume Russian LPI software is also comparatively less mature compared to current Western designs given the performance of the Phazotron Zhuk AE/ASE in all other non-LPI areas resembles primitive US AESAs. Similarly, Chinese AESA technology is less technologically mature than their Russian equivalents with no confirmed fighter mounted AESAs designs as of July 2014 outside of dubious internet leaks on various Chinese aviation forums. Although, most US intelligence officials believe the J-20 will be equipped with an AESA when it reaches initial operating capability (IOC) in 2018.


Image 5: A pair of Northrup Grumman E-2D Hawkeye aircraft. The E-2D along with the F-35C forms the linchpin of the USN's NIFC-CA concept. Current carrier air wings typically include 4 E-2C aircraft.

A significant outstanding issue with relation to the current adoption of network centric warfare and cyber weapons is the vulnerability of allied AWACS aircraft. Given the US focus on network centric warfare, where AWACS aircraft such as the E-3 and E-2 act as the central node of a network, a cyber weapon infecting an E-3 or E-2 remains a potential vulnerability from which the larger networked force could become compromised. Even if the F-35 is a reduced risk from becoming the initial point from which an enemy cyber weapon infects an allied network due to LPI, Chinese or Russian forces could still indirectly infect F-35 units as a result of the cyber weapon proliferating throughout the network from the AWACS aircraft.

The maximum effective range of an enemy air launched cyber weapon is likely dependent upon the range and accuracy of enemy emitter locator systems. However, given the intensity and volume of signals emitted, AWACS aircraft are comparatively more vulnerable to detection via emitter locator systems than other types of aircraft. The US Military is already in the process of enacting measures to mitigate the damage resulting from high intensity electronic jamming on its networks but publicly available information on measures to protect networks from air launched cyber attacks is understandably limited. Successful protection of AWACS aircraft against enemy cyber weapons is crucial to implementing network centric warfare. Potential methods to reduce the vulnerability of AWACS aircraft might include measures to reduce electronic emissions of AWACS aircraft or network diversification not dependent upon a "central node" based system. Both the USAF and USN should work in consultation with USCYBERCOM, DARPA, and other relevant agencies to develop appropriate countermeasures to protect US networks.

Developments in network centric warfare and cyber weapons have the potential to maintain US superiority in air-to-air combat and enable SEAD missions within contested A2/AD environments. The combination of the two techniques leverages the United States' existing competitive advantage in the fields of avionics and software relative to potential strategic competitors. As discussed in Part II, the US doctrines such as information dominance seek to attain situational awareness while degrading or denying the enemy's situational awareness. The combination of cyber weapon such as Suter and network centric warfare achieves both these objectives.

Author's Note: Stay tuned for the next article in the series, "The American Approach Part IV: Future TTP -  Countering Foreign 5th Generation Threats". If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to message me on the F-16.net forum (ID: "mangler-muldoon"), send me an email, or leave a comment.

Sources (In addition to Parts I and II)

  1. Israel suspected of 'hacking' Syrian air defences, John Leyden, 2007. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/10/04/radar_hack_raid/
  2. Five years on, new details emerge about Israeli strike on Syrian reactor, Amos Harel, 2012. http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/five-years-on-new-details-emerge-about-israeli-strike-on-syrian-reactor-1.464033
  3. New details of Israel’s 2007 attack on the Syrian Nuclear reactor emerge, Richard Clements, 2012. http://theaviationist.com/2012/09/10/op-orchard/
  4. China, U.S. Chase Air-to-Air Cyber Weapon, David A. Fulghum, 2012. http://aviationweek.com/defense/china-us-chase-air-air-cyber-weapon
  5. The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye Stays On-Track, Jan Tegler, 2011. http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/the-e-2d-advanced-hawkeye-stays-on-track/
  6. Active Electronically Steered Arrays A Maturing Technology, Carlo Kopp, 2002. 
  7. http://www.ausairpower.net/aesa-intro.html 
  8. Aerospace System Improvements Enabled by Modern Phased Array Radar, Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems, 2002.  http://www.northropgrumman.com/Capabilities/MESA/Documents/aesa_techpaper.pdf
  9. Phazotron Zhuk AE/ASE Assessing Russia's First Fighter AESA, Carlo Kopp, 2012.  http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-Zhuk-AE-Analysis.html#mozTocId563567
  10. ‘A God’s Eye View Of The Battlefield:’ Gen. Hostage On The F-35, Colin Clark, 2014.  http://breakingdefense.com/2014/06/a-gods-eye-view-of-the-battlefield-gen-hostage-on-the-f-35/3/
  11. Lockheed’s Secret ‘Project Missouri’ Links F-22, F-35, Amy Butler, 2014. http://aviationweek.com/awin/lockheed-s-secret-project-missouri-links-f-22-f-35
  12. Talking Stealth: USAF Pushes for 5th to 4th 'Gateway', Amy Butler, 2013.  http://aviationweek.com/blog/talking-stealth-usaf-pushes-5th-4th-gateway
  13. JSF: Integrated Avionics Par Excellence, Charlotte Adams, 2003.  http://www.aviationtoday.com/av/issue/feature/JSF-Integrated-Avionics-Par-Excellence_1067.html#.U7tVmfldUrX 
  14. F-35 Electronic Warfare Suite: More Than Self-Protection, Ron Sherman, 2006.  http://www.aviationtoday.com/av/military/F-35-Electronic-Warfare-Suite-More-Than-Self-Protection_845.html#.U7tVn_ldUrX
  15. FIGHTER EW, Bill Sweetman, 2000.                                                                                   http://www.f-16.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=9268
  16. F-35 as ISR collector, Dave Majumdar, 2010.  http://www.defensenews.com/article/20101101/C4ISR02/11010309/F-35-ISR-collector
  17. Inside the Navy’s Next Air War, Dave Majumdar and Sam LaGrone, 2014. http://news.usni.org/2014/01/23/navys-next-air-war
  18. ANALYSIS: Northrop, Lockheed vie to connect F-22 to airborne network, Stephen Trimble, 2014. http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/analysis-northrop-lockheed-vie-to-connect-f-22-to-airborne-400181/
  19. Navy: F-35C Will Be Eyes and Ears of the Fleet, Dave Majumdar, 2013. http://news.usni.org/2013/12/31/f-35c-will-eyes-ears-fleet 
  20. Introducing the USAF’s airborne networking future, Stephen Trimble, 2008. http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/the-dewline/2008/09/introducing-the-usafs-airborne/
  21. F-22 Raptor: Capabilities and Controversies, Defense Industry Daily, 2013. http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/f-22-raptor-capabilities-and-controversies-019069/
  22. F-35 Enters Operational Testing at Edwards and Nellis Air Force Bases, Defense Update, 2013. http://defense-update.com/20130318_edwards-afb-airmen-begin-f-35-operational-testing.html#.U7Svb_ldUrV 
  23. Simulation plays vital role in building F-35 tactics and aircraft development, Dave Majumdar, 2012.  http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/simulation-plays-vital-role-in-building-f-35-tactics-and-aircraft-379336/ 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Divergent Thinking: How Best to Employ Fighter Aircraft - The American Approach Part II

Image 1: Group of F-35 aircraft. Image Credit: Donald Allen, 2013.

  • A country’s method of fighter employment is uniquely tailored to the host country’s national security objectives, the relative strengths and weaknesses of its defense industry, budgetary considerations, prior combat experiences, and its pilot training programs and infrastructure.
  • The United States method of fighter employment favors aircraft with stealth and heightened situational awareness which results in a comparatively high cost mass production procurement strategy. This procurement strategy is made possible by consistent and large scale American R&D efforts in avionics, sensors, stealth technology, and related software in conjunction with the unrivaled Department of Defense procurement budget.
  • The US method of fighter employment addresses the national security challenges associated with a high intensity anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) conflict in the Western Pacific. A measure to replace the F-35 with existing 4.5 generation aircraft, as advocated by many F-35 critics, will not meet current American national security objectives, ignores the relative strengths and weaknesses of the American defense industry, and does not account for the robust pilot training programs and initiatives of the United States.

The air campaign in Vietnam was a significant learning experience for the USAF not only in terms of highlighting the importance of fighter maneuverability, institutionalizing dogfighting skills, and retaining an internally mounted gun - as commonly discussed by scholars and USAF officials, but also in terms of highlighting the importance of situational awareness. After the relative ineffectiveness of the USAF against Vietnamese Migs, the Air Force compiled its findings in the Project Red Baron report with the goal of improving American air to air capabilities. One of the key findings of the Red Barron report was the majority of American airmen who were shot down did not see their adversary until it was too late (Laslie, 2013). Robin Olds, a triple ace and one of the most distinguished American airmen who served in both World War II and Vietnam, described an encounter with Vietnamese Mig 21s for the Red Barron report:

"Going in a pair of MiG-21s hit us, two of them, and they came in supersonic from six o'clock high and was [sic] right on top of us before we ever knew anything about it,  launched a bunch of missiles, and shot down two of my F-4s. Bang. Just that fast. I turned around, I heard them scream, I turned, and all I saw were two burning objects on  the side….these MiGs were gone, supersonic."

Image 2: Robin Olds was an extremely influential American aviator who argued for greatly expanding basic dogfighting skills as part of standard fighter pilot training. Among his many accomplishments, Olds was responsible for orchestrating Operation Bolo which was both the largest and most successful air-to-air engagement carried out by American forces during the Vietnam War. Olds was also well known for his trademark non-regulation "bullet proof" handlebar mustache. NY Times obituary 

Significant investments in radar technology, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) equipment and the institutionalization of new techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTP) and concepts  - such as John Boyd's OODA loop in the 1970s and 1980s, revolutionized the approach in which the USAF used established air superiority. The results of the USAF's approach to establishing situational awareness greatly contributed towards the lopsided engagements favoring Coalition forces in the Persian Gulf War. 

Similarly, the development of stealth technology in the mid 1970s enabled the USAF to greatly degrade an enemy's situational awareness by both limiting the effectiveness of enemy radars and enabling allied aircraft to destroy enemy command and control assets in the opening hours of a conflict. For example, F-117A destroyed Iraqi command and control facilities and Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS) with impunity at the onset of the Gulf War which limited the effectiveness of the Iraqi Air Force for the remaining duration of the conflict.

The combination of both heightened situational awareness and low observability form the basis of American 5th generation fighter aircraft. New developments in cyber warfare, electronic attack capabilities, avionics, and sensors featured in the F-35 and recent F-22 upgrades further augments the USAF's ability to achieve situational awareness through Network-Centric Warfare (NCW) and provides new opportunities for the USAF to deny and degrade a potential enemy's situational awareness. Prior to an examination of how stealth and situational awareness have shaped the evolution of American air-to-air tactics, an examination of how fighter aircraft operate within a broader combined arms context in addition to pilot training is required.

The Combined Arms Approach 

Image 3: Flight deck of USS George Washington in the Pacific

As stated in part I of this series, one cannot draw meaningful conclusions of force effectiveness by merely reviewing the specifications of two opposing fighter aircraft (e.g. thrust to weight ratio vs. wing loading) to determine the probable victor. A comprehensive analysis to determine the future effectiveness of a nation's method of fighter employment must include consideration of its force doctrines, how its fighter aircraft preform within the nation's combined arms approach. In the case of the United States, fighter aircraft do not operate alone but as part of a larger networked force. For example, F-35C aircraft would coordinate actions as part of Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) concept:

"...targets spotted hundreds of miles away by one sensor—such as the emerging F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) or E-2D Advanced Hawkeye intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft—could be engaged cooperatively by any number of shooters: a JSF, F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet tactical fighter, or future unmanned vehicles, all available to the strike group over vast distances." - Majumdar & LaGrone, 2014

Aircraft from the carrier air wing, such as the F-35C and E-2D, would work in conjunction with Aegis equipped assets to cue SM-6 surface to air missiles (SAM) and SM-3 anti-ballistic missiles (ABM) beyond the range of ship mounted radars (LaGrone & Laird, 2014). Furthermore, the USN would closely coordinate with USAF assets in contested A2/AD environments resulting in new tactics such as F-22s providing targeting data to tomahawk cruise missile equipped nuclear attack submarines. In summary, American fighter aircraft train and fight with other assets. Thus, any examination of future American air-to-air capabilities must account for how American fighter aircraft would preform within not only a broader inter-service force but as part of a broader joint USAF and USN force.

Pilot Training

Image 4: Group of F-16 aggressor pilots participating in a Red Flag exercise

Similarly, without understanding how American fighter pilots train for combat at the tactical level (doctrines and broader operational concepts being strategic level), one cannot determine the probable outcome of an engagement. As The Russian Approach and the American Approach - Part I demonstrate, the manner in which air forces employ similar assets varies significantly. For example, the Russian method of fighter employment favors a comparatively minimal pilot training programs supplemented by mass production of 4.5 generation aircraft and cost-effective use of beyond visual range radar guided missiles. The American approach invests greater resources in both the airframe and the development of its individual fighter pilots. American fighter pilots fly between 250-300 hours per year for training purposes while Russian fighter pilots receive 100 practice hours each year (Source 1 & 2). The base requirements of American fighter pilots are augmented by realistic combat exercises such as Red Flag and Red Air.

Analysis of the air war in Vietnam led by Moody Suter concluded that the majority of pilot casualties occurred before each pilot's tenth combat mission, casualty rates decreased dramatically if a pilot survived their first ten combat missions. Red Flag was devised as a means to provide US fighter pilots with their first ten combat missions in a training environment. More than 30 years later, Red Flag and Red Air provide American fighter pilots with invaluable opportunities to hone their skills and operate alongside US allies in conjunction with a larger networked force. Aggressor units provide a holistic simulation of potential enemy threats not only in air-to-air operations but also in cyber warfare and electronic warfare operations:

"...the Information Aggressors simulate attacks on Blue Force computer networks and information systems. At the same time the 57th and 177th Information Aggressor Squadrons (57th and 177th IAS) might attempt to infiltrate Blue Force bases- including their dorms- to search for intelligence useful to the Aggressors during the simulated war. Combined with the aerial Aggressors flying the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters, these Aggressor forces mount a coordinated offensive against the Blue Force during exercises...
Similarly, in order to replicate the very real danger of computer network infiltration attacks the 57th and 177th Information Aggressor Squadrons stage elaborate attacks on various USAF installations in order to test their defenses...Toth said that due to the serious nature of the threat, the simulated attacks have to be very realistic. The bases that are subject to a simulated network attack by the Aggressors are not given any prior warning, Toth stated. He added that only a few seniors officer are given prior notice of these 'stimulation exercises' in order to ensure that the Aggressors tactics are not mistaken for an actual attack on the USAF network." - . Dave Majumdar

Image 5: Pair of aggressor F-16s at Red Flag Alaska. Aggressor units have incorporated new technologies in recent years such as IRST pods to replicate probable enemy threats.

American intelligence agencies (primarily the Defense Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, and National Security Agency) provide invaluable information to aggressor units regarding the capabilities, TTP, organization, and doctrines of potential enemies and strategic competitors (Bender, 2013). Aggressor units have imitated North Korean, Russian, Iranian, and Chinese forces within Red Flag exercises (Hoffman, 2009). The realistic training environment and robust pilot training infrastructure of the United States enables the facilitation of new TTP by special test and evaluation squadrons (TES) and the USAF Weapons School.

Author's Note: Part III will discuss the process in which TES units and the USAF Weapons School create new TTP which exploits the advantages of stealth and situational awareness. Probable tactics that will be utilized by future American fighter pilots, specifically F-35 pilots, will subsequently be examined. Part IV will discuss the American approach with an A2/AD context in the Western Pacific and the new challenges posed by emerging Chinese systems such as the J-20 and J-31.


(1) F-16 Fighting Falcon Service Life, Global Security, 2012. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/f-16-life.htm
(2) Reviving the Russian Air Force, Gorenburg, 2013.
(3) F-22 will provide targeting for submarine based Tomahawk cruise missiles, David Cenciotti, 2013.
(4) Plymouth native emulates enemy in Air Force war games, Bryan Bender 2013.
(5) Aggressor pilots: Paid to play the villain, Michael Hoffman, 2009.
(6) The Next Act for Aegis, Sam LaGrone, 2014.
(7) The Long Reach of Aegis, Robbin Laird, 2012.
(8) The makings of a warrior: Training pilots to fly America's next generation fighters. Part 1, Dave Majumdar, 2009.
(9) Inside the Navy’s Next Air War, Dave Majumdar and Sam LaGrone, 2014.
(10) The Implementation of Network-Centric Warfare, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2005.
(11) Red Flag: How the Rise Of "Realistic Training" after Vietnam Changed the Air Force's Way of War, Brian Laslie, 2006.
(12) Aggressor squadrons feel the pinch of DoD cuts, Jamie Hunter, 2014.

Friday, June 6, 2014

News June 2014

Image 1: PAK FA weapon integration testing

I will have a full fledged article done by next week. In the meantime, here are a few articles to tide you over.

Recommended Articles:

Gen. Mike Hostage On The F-35; No Growlers Needed When War Starts - Colin Clark
‘A God’s Eye View Of The Battlefield:’ Gen. Hostage On The F-35 - Colin Clark
A Low-Visibility Force Multiplier Assessing China’s Cruise Missile Ambitions - Dennis M. Gormley, Andrew S. Erickson, and Jingdong Yuan
The Hunt for Full-Spectrum ASW - William Toti
What China still seek from Russian military export - Feng
America’s Lazy Asian Allies? Not Down Under - Henry Lawton
Navy Altered Destroyer Upgrades Due to Budget Pressure, Demand for Ships - Sam LaGrone
Navies of the World: The Royal Navy in the Pacific - James R. Holmes
Annual Report to Congress on Chinese Military Development - Office of the Secretary of Defense
Bombs Away: Study the Battleship to Save the Aircraft Carrier - James R. Holmes
How U.S. can reinvigorate India defense ties - Vikram J. Singh and Joshua T. White
5 Ways Europe Can Help the US Pivot - James R. Holmes
US To Review Europe Troop Presence -Agence France-Presse

The Rise of China and America's Asian Allies

Professor Stephen Walt offers a grim but increasingly plausible interpretation of future US-China relations and the role of US Pacific allies like Australia. A more succinct article with some of his thoughts: What Has Asia Done for Uncle Sam Lately?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Current Events: Recommendations Concerning HD-981 Vietnam-China Maritime Dispute

Earlier this May, China National Offshore Oil Corporation moved its Haiyang Shiyou HD-981 oil rig to within 120 miles of Vietnam's coast southeast of the Paracel Islands. The HD-981 Vietnam-China dispute is the latest in a series of territorial disputes involving China and its East and Southeast Asian neighbors. The intent of the manufactured crisis is to bring about a change in the status quo within the South China Sea, of which more than 80% China claims as part of its nine-dash line:

“Each step is designed by China not to provoke conflict, of course, but to change the understanding of the status quo, so that if they get away with it in Vietnamese waters, then they continue build these [oil rigs] in other waters and use the same tactic of claiming that this is really Chinese territory...China is across the board attempting to create a new type of understanding of the territory that is its own or over which it should have control.” - Michael Auslin, 2014                                                                                             China's decision to move the $1 billion dollar rig near the Paracel islands was a politically motivated rather than financially based decision as the prospect of hydrocarbon deposits within the area is questionable (Panda, 2014). Furthermore, the timing of the incident,  the rig was moved in place shortly after President Obama departed from his tour of Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Malaysia, suggests China is testing the resolve of the United States in its commitment to the pivot (Fravel, 2014). Despite the strong historical animosity between China and Vietnam, the HD-981 incident is especially notable given that the governments of both countries have greatly expanded economic ties with one another in recent years and Premier Li Keqiang visited Hanoi in October of last year. 

Vietnam is not a treaty bound ally of the United States despite steady progress in mutual defense cooperation and exchanges since the 1990s. The Government of Vietnam is currently divided among those who want closer ties with the West and the United States and those who seek to strengthen ties with China:

"The Vietnamese do not see normalization with the U.S., nor their continued normalization with China, in zero-sum terms. They realize that engaging more with the U.S. does not necessarily entail engaging less with China. Vietnam continues to acknowledge the critical importance of an effective, friendly relationship with China, even in the midst of exacerbated concerns regarding Beijing’s efforts to make its influence felt in the region. This means that the Vietnamese will not risk damage to their relationship with China in order to strengthen their relationship with the U.S...For this reason, the U.S. has little to gain from portraying its interest in improved strategic relations with Vietnam as focused exclusively on the extent to which enhanced defense and security cooperation between Hanoi and Washington can impact China’s strategic calculations." - William Jordan, Lewis M. Stern and Walter Lohman, 2012 

Given the somewhat limited extent of Vietnam-US defense engagement in conjunction with the aforementioned economic and political developments between Vietnam-China relations, Vietnam became the preferred candidate for another territorial incident. The PRC leadership correctly determined that the desire of Vietnam's Government to maintain robust economic ties with the PRC outweighed Vietnam's traditionally firm stance on maritime disputes. Because Vietnam desires close economic ties to China, its response has been limited to rhetoric and the deployment of its coast guard. 

Thus, the situation is more nuanced than prior territorial incidents involving stalwart US allies who are largely unified in their opposition of Chinese territorial claims such as Japan and the Philippines. This is not to say US interests are not at risk in the current crisis, but a hawkish US response will likely be undesired by Vietnam. Furthermore, a hawkish US response would undermine current efforts to promote greater military to military communication and the establishment of release mechanisms for US-China tensions. For example, the US recently concluded a series of high level military exchanges with China and is about to partake in joint exercises with People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels in RIMPAC. 

As part of the pivot, the US seeks to maintain its role in the post-World War II international order e.g. maintaining US influence through international bodies and institutions, freedom of navigation, and the diplomatic resolution of territorial disputes (Fravel, 2014). These traditional elements of US foreign policy are at risk by China's latest provocation as they constitute a clear violation of several established international laws and norms in which the US has helped to both develop and promote e.g. the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Therefore, the US response to the HD-981 dispute should be tailored to preserve US backed international maritime laws and established international norms such as of freedom of navigation while also accounting for the somewhat divided stance of Vietnam's Government with respect to China.   

Recommendations for the United States

Image 2: Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang with President Obama. Image Credit: Reuters, 2013.

Thus far, the US response has been limited to Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department criticizing the HD-981 incident as provocative. Kerry spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi about the incident but China has been unreceptive to the US narrative concerning the crisis. Chief of China's military, General. Fang Fenghui, responded to the HD-981 incident during his visit with US officials:

"We believe that the ones that are provoking those issues in the South China Sea [are] not China, but certain countries that are attempting to gain their own interests, because they believe that China is now developing its economy and the United States is adopting this Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy"

It is abundantly clear that current US statements to discourage China from challenging the territorial status quo in the South China Sea remains insufficient. Despite the aforementioned caveats regarding the desire of Vietnam to maintain favorable economic ties with China, the HD-981 incident can still serve as the impetus for further US-Vietnamese defense cooperation. If the US can improve its defense ties with Vietnam as a result of the current crisis, the precedent would serve as a powerful deterrent for future Chinese provocations. However, the US should frame its new effort to improve relations with Vietnam in a manner that does not directly oppose China. Greater soft power engagement through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would greatly enhance US ties with Vietnam:

"By 2025, Vietnam would stand to gain nearly $96 billion or 28 percent of its GDP. This is largely due to exports increasing an estimated 37 percent...Exports and privileged access to the U.S. market benefit emerging Asia, as the terms of trade will favor them over trading partners not at the table. The U.S. and Japan could also act as an economic counterbalance to China [which is not part of TPP talks] in the region—helping the smaller, less-developed countries compete for export growth" - Samuel Rines, 2014

Greater US-Vietnamese economic engagement as a result of the TPP would allow Vietnam to be less dependent on China for its economic growth over the long-term and ensures Vietnam maintains a vested interest in pursuing relations with the US. Soft power measures over time could form the basis of greater military cooperation.

As part of its effort to grant greater flexibility to Vietnam, the US can also help diversify Vietnam's military cooperation with US allies such as the Philippines. Vietnam and the Philippines have already concluded a number of defense agreements and exchanges in recent years. Encouraging stronger Vietnam-Philippines engagement in the South China Sea is largely to the benefit of the United States as it provides a means to further develop both countries' military capabilities while allowing Vietnam flexibility by avoiding a one-sided US or China centric foreign policy.

Over the long-term, an agreement between the US and Vietnam similar to the current Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the US and the Philippines would greatly assist the pivot. In the short-term, US military planners greatly desire routine access to Cam Ranh bay, one of the best deep water ports in the Pacific, for maintenance purposes. Vietnam has routinely expressed a desire for access to US arms exports, spare parts and restoration of its Vietnam era US equipment, and an end to US scrutiny regarding human rights (Weisgerber, 2012).

Image 3: Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visiting Vietnamese officials in Cam Ranh bay. Image Credit: Department of Defense, 2012.

The US continues to prohibit the sale of military equipment to Vietnam on the basis of human rights violations within the country. Given the stake of US interests in the region, it might be wise for the US to offer Vietnam some degree of flexibility on human rights issues. This would not entail a complete withdrawal of human rights concerns, but Vietnam's treatment in US arms sales is somewhat arbitrary. When the national interest is at stake, Washington has shown  a willingness to overlook human rights violations if it means hedging potential national security threats. For example, as part of its effort to contain Iran, Washington has not only overlooked human rights issues within its Gulf state allies but also has provided them with access to some of its most advanced arms exports including the THAAD and PAC-3 anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems. Thus, the sale low-end items such as spare parts for Vietnam's fleet of UH-1 helicopters should be permitted especially since these requests do not violate existing foreign military sale regulations (Jordan, Stern & Lohman, 2012).      

If the sale of spare parts remains politically difficult in Washington, it is likely the parts could be delivered through intermediaries or US allies given widespread usage of the UH-1. Private contractors could also preform the restoration work on Vietnam's UH-1 fleet, many logistics and support specialized private military firms (PMF) such as MPRI provide aircraft maintenance services. The use of private contractors would be convenient as it would grant the US a degree of separation from being directly involved in the UH-1 restoration work, which is beneficial as it minimizes potential Chinese and domestic scrutiny. Depending upon the firm (e.g. a large PMF like MPRI), the extent of official US Government involvement would be limited to State Department approval. In exchange for the spare parts, the US Government should press Vietnam for greater access to Cam Ranh bay in the form of more allotted port visits per year and investment in port facilities for maintenance work.

As far as high-end arms exports are concerned, large scale support from Congress is an unavoidable prerequisite. Furthermore, Vietnam's military is predominantly a Russian military supplied force. The interoperability issues that would result from a mixed Russia-US arms supply would likely limit the effectiveness of the Vietnamese military in the short-term. It often takes decades to effectively switch between a Russian and US equipped force, e.g. Egypt after the Camp David Accords 1978. Thus, the problematic nature of operating a mixed US-Russia arsenal and the political difficulties in Congress make high-end US arms exports to Vietnam unlikely. Vietnam can still effectively deter future Chinese attempts at forceful resolution of territorial disputes with a combination of Russian arms exports and US militarily assistance in the form of military training exercises and providing opportunities for Vietnamese officer education and training.

The combination of these measures would assist Vietnamese forces denying China the ability to seize and control disputed territories in a similar manner as China's current anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy is situated against the United States. In essence, China would not be able to resolve existing territorial disputes effectively with the use of force if the aforementioned Vietnamese strategy was successfully implemented. In comparison to active power projection assets such as amphibious assault ships, which are used take seized island territory, an A2/AD strategy is much more economical and practical given Vietnam's circumstances. The basis for Vietnam's A2/AD strategy is already underway with the conclusion of several Russian arms purchases including: 6 Kilo-class submarines, SS-N-22 Sunburn anti-ship missiles, Kh-35 anti-ship missiles, SS-N-26 Oniks anti-ship missiles, the S-300 surface to air missile system, Molniya/ Project 12418 fast attack craft, Su-30s, etc.

In conclusion, the HD-981 incident can serve as a means to enhance US-Vietnamese cooperation. Despite the desire for the Vietnamese Government to prioritize economic ties with China, its more than likely that Vietnam's Government wishes for a flexible economic and defense policy not directly situated with either the United States or China. Expanding US-Vietnamese defense ties remains plausible so long as the US offers Vietnam increased flexibility in both economic and defense terms via the TTP and expanded relations with US allies such as the Philippines. A strong Vietnam-US defense partnership would greatly benefit the pivot if the US can obtain increased access to Cam Ranh bay and other Vietnamese facilities as part of its "places not bases" strategy.


  1. Why Did China Set Up an Oil Rig Within Vietnamese Waters?, Ankit Panda, 2014. http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/why-did-china-set-up-an-oil-rig-within-vietnamese-waters/
  2. China's Oil Rig Gambit: South China Sea Game-Changer?, Carl Thayer, 2014. http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/chinas-oil-rig-gambit-south-china-sea-game-changer/
  3. The Gift of American Power, Robert Kaplan, 2014. http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2014/05/15/the_gift_of_american_power.html#.U3XiRzCKfuc.facebook
  4. US-China To Set Up Video Hotline, Talk Of Joint Exercises, Colin Clark, 2014. http://breakingdefense.com/2014/05/us-china-to-set-up-video-hotline-talk-of-joint-exercises/
  5. Vietnam Frees Some Dissidents Amid TPP Trade Talks, Luke Hunt, 2014. http://thediplomat.com/2014/04/vietnam-frees-some-dissidents-amid-tpp-trade-talks/
  6. The $1 billion Chinese oil rig that has Vietnam in flames, Adam Taylor, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/05/14/the-1-billion-chinese-oil-rig-that-has-vietnam-in-flames/
  7. China Claims U.S. Is Encouraging ‘Dangerous and Provocative Actions’ in Oilrig Standoff, Sam LaGrone, 2014.                                                                                     http://news.usni.org/2014/05/13/china-claims-u-s-encouraging-dangerous-provocative-actions-oilrig-standoff
  8. China's Big Strategic Mistake in the South China Sea, Ha Anh Tuan, 2014. http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/chinas-big-strategic-mistake-the-south-china-sea-10477
  9. At Pentagon, Chinese general warns US on territorial disputes, Chris Carroll and Jon Harper, 2014. http://www.stripes.com/news/us/at-pentagon-chinese-general-warns-us-on-territorial-disputes-1.283348
  10. The Battle for the South China Sea, Michael J. Totten, 2014. http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/michael-j-totten/battle-south-china-sea
  11. China’s Naval Modernization: Implications and Recommendations, Andrew S. Erickson, 2013. http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS28/20131211/101579/HHRG-113-AS28-Wstate-EricksonA-20131211.pdf
  12. Is a Philippine-Vietnam Alliance in the Making?, Carl Thayer, 2014. http://thediplomat.com/2014/03/is-a-philippine-vietnam-alliance-in-the-making/
  13. The Limits to US-Vietnam Ties, Richard Pearson, 2014.                     http://thediplomat.com/2011/06/the-limits-to-us-vietnam-ties/?allpages=yes
  14. China and America Clash on the High Seas: The EEZ Challenge, Jeff M. Smith and Joshua Eisenman, 2014.                                                                                                   http://nationalinterest.org/feature/china-america-clash-the-high-seas-the-eez-challenge-10513 
  15. Vietnam’s Russian Restocking, Defense Industry Daily, 2014.                                                              http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/vietnam-reportedly-set-to-buy-russian-kilo-class-subs-05396/
  16. U.S.–Vietnam Defense Relations: Investing in Strategic Alignment, William Jordan, Lewis M. Stern and Walter Lohman, 2012.                                                                                                                 http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/07/us-vietnam-defense-relations-investing-in-strategic-alignment

Sunday, May 11, 2014

America's Littoral Combat Ships: Part II - Small Surface Combatant

Image 1: Pair of Independence class LCS 

Under the direction of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the Department of Defense has reduced its total LCS buys to 32 ships down from 52. The decision to limit LCS buys to 32 ships was influenced by scathing criticism from many Department of Defense officials, including former Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox, who argued the ship's lack of both the firepower and protection made it a "niche" platform with little relevance to the Pivot. 

"...we need to closely examine whether the LCS has the independent protection and firepower to operate and survive against a more advanced military adversary and emerging new technologies, especially in the Asia Pacific.  If we were to build out the LCS program to 52 ships, as previously planned, it would represent one-sixth of our future 300-ship Navy." - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, 2014

As part I discussed, the purpose of the LCS is not to engage high-end surface combatants in the South China Sea. Rather, the LCS is intended to preform Phase 0 & I such as providing training opportunities for US allies, routine maritime patrols, anti-piracy operations, etc. These basic peacetime duties are much more suited to $400 million dollar LCS ships over $1.8 billion dollar DDG-51 Destroyers. The use of LCS ships to fulfill routine peacetime duties near Africa and South America frees high-end surface combatants such as Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers to transfer to the Pacific (Greenert, 2012). 

Even with these considerations, the decision to limit LCS procurement to 32 vessels is largely merited as it is a sufficient number of ships to free up high-end surface combatants for the Pacific and it allows the Navy to pursue a more heavily armed replacement to support the Pivot. The Small Surface Combatant (SSC) task force has been assigned with evaluating proposals for a more heavily armed surface combatant with capabilities consistent with a frigate. The task force would evaluate existing ship designs, upgraded LCS designs, and new designs with respect to the venerable Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate (Cavas, 2014).  The task force's initial findings are due by the end of July. 

SSC Role,Objectives, and USN Needs 

Image 2: USS Taylor FFG-50 

In many respects, the existing LCS designs do not fully replace the Oliver Perry-class frigate and they notably are not integrated as part of carrier strike groups. Because the SSC task force will compare SSC proposals to the Oliver Perry-class frigate, understanding the role of the Oliver Perry-class frigate provides some basis of what can be expected from the SSC. The following is from Global Security

"These ships were originally conceived as a low-cost convoy escort (hence the original 'PF' hull number for the prototype). They are particularly well suited to be a convoy escort and are Link 11 capable...PERRY-class frigates are primarily Undersea Warfare ships intended to provide open-ocean escort of amphibious ships and convoys in low to moderate threat environments in a global war with the Soviet Union. They could also provide limited defense against anti-ship missiles extant in the 70's and 80's. The ships are equipped to escort and protect carrier battle groups, amphibious landing groups, underway replenishment groups and convoys." - Global Security, 2011

The future SSC needs to be able to fulfill the traditional escort and patrol role of the Oliver Perry-class in addition to providing some fleet defense capabilities for carrier strike groups within a hostile anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environment

Relevant Capabilities Needed to Support the Pivot:

Anti-Surface Warfare: (ASuW) The SSC should be capable of engaging low and medium-end surface combatants such as the Type Jiangkai-class (Type 054A) and Type 056 corvette. Thus, the SSC needs VLS cells with capable long-range anti-ship missiles such as NSM, Tomahawks, or LRASM. VLS cells could be supplemented with two quad packs of Harpoon anti-ship missiles. A 76 mm main gun is standard for frigates of this size.

Image 3: The RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) serves as a medium range anti-aircraft and cruise missile weapon. The inclusion of the Mk 25 Quad-Pack allows four RIM-162 missiles to fit inside a standard MK 41 VLS cell. Thus, an SSC with 16 MK 41 VLS cells could provide effective air defense out to more than 27 nautical miles with 64 ESSMs. The quad pack configuration allows US carrier groups to field the large number of anti-cruise missile interceptors necessary for protecting a carrier group in an A2/AD environment. 

Anti-Aircraft Warfare (AAW):  The US Navy (USN) will deploy between 80 to 97 high-end surface combatants dedicated to fleet air-defense between FY 2015 – 2044 (O’Rouke, 2014). These ships will be supplemented with E-2D Hawkeyes, Aegis baseline 9, F-35Cs, F/A-18Es and 100 nm + capable SM-6 surface to air missiles. Thus, it would be cost prohibitive and redundant to spend money procuring heavy anti-air warfare frigates equipped with Aegis and ~48+ VLS cells. A limited fleet defense capability with quad packed RIM-162s and SM-2s supplemented with a SPY-1F would likely be sufficient to augment existing (and extensive) fleet AAW. The remaining cells could be filled with anti-ship missiles or anti-submarine weapons.        

Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW): The rising threat of People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) diesel electric submarines remains among the most serious threats to US carrier groups in the Western-Pacific. The SSC could supplement destroyers and cruisers in ASW role with towed sonar array and anti-submarine weapons (e.g. RUM-139 ASROC) in VLS cells. Torpedoes such as the MK 54 could be added for additional ASW and ASuW capabilities.   

Extended range and endurance: long range needed for transit between US Pacific facilities e.g. Naval Station San Diego, Pearl Hickam, Naval Base Guam, United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka, etc. 

Image 4: FFG-37 USS Stark after being hit by two Exocet missiles 

Survivability: A2/AD environments are extremely hostile toward surface combatants, especially within the first island chain. The PLAN has 100,000 sea mines and thousands of anti-ship cruise missiles (Freedberg, 2014). A built-in survivability standard of Level II is required at a minimum (destroyers, cruisers, and carriers are built to Level III while minesweepers and replenishment ships are built to level I). Oliver Perry-class frigates demonstrated the value of Level II survivability when the USS Stark was hit with two Iraqi Exoset anti-ship missiles in 1987 (above) and in 1988 when Samuel B. Roberts was hit with a 500 pound Iranian sea mine. In both cases, the ships managed to stay afloat despite the damage. The aluminum hull of the independence-class LCS and the aluminum-steel hull of the freedom–class LCS limit the ships to Level I+ survivability status (O’Rouke, 2014). The SSC’s survivability can be augmented with SeaRAM, close-in weapon system (CIWS), and decoys but ensuring the SSC has a robust built-in survivability standard should be a non-negotiable requirement given the expected A2/AD environment.

It is important to note that definitions of ship survivability have changed overtime and fixating on the Level I, II, and III levels themselves is not necessarily constructive. Lazarus from the Information Dissemination blog wrote an article, Following in the Wake of the Frigate; Remarkable Continuity in the Postwar US Surface Combatant Force, which concludes the US warships have relied on defensive weapons, advanced sensors, and communication equipment over heavy armor since World War II:

"The Ticonderoga class cruiser, the Freedom and Independence LCS sea frames and even the large Zumwalt class DDG 1000 are differing examples of the same design ethos [operated by a small crew, reliant on on stealth and self defense weapons rather than armor] that has dominated U.S. surface combatant design since 1945. Any discussion of surface combatant 'survivability' must take into account this basic similarity among U.S. surface warships." - Lazarus, 2014

The argument for substantial built-in survivability measures within the SSC design is largely pragmatic as Level II survivability would serve as a fail-safe against threats defeating active ship defenses. In both the cases of FFG-37 and  FFG-58, the defensive weapons (e.g. CIWS) and sensors employed by the ships failed to neutralize the incoming threats. New technology, such as advanced ship defense weapons, should be employed in tandem with proven passive survivability measures like placing armor over key areas of the ship. 

Growth margins – A service life of 30 years requires the SSC design to be easily upgradable.  Ideally, the hull should be able to accommodate a larger displacement over its service life to allow for upgrades. A capable power plant is essential toward the accommodation of new systems such as solid state lasers, rail guns, or a more powerful radar. A hybrid-electric drive (HED) would ensure the SSC has adequate growth opportunities for the remainder of its service life. 

"Littoral Combat Ships have plenty of onboard power, plus accessible free space for capacitors etc. Switching the 57mm forward gun for a railgun, and adding laser weapons for air and surface defense, would give an LCS with the 'EM weapons' package unique Naval Fire Support and air-defense roles within the fleet." - Defense Industry Daily, 2014

Likely Candidates for SSC

While the task force is evaluating a number of designs, the most likely candidates will be upgraded variants of existing LCS models and Huntington Ingalls' patrol frigate submissions. Congress is highly unlikely to permit the purchase of a foreign design for political reasons (Cavas, 2014). European navies have increasingly procured 6,000 tonne plus high-end AAW "frigates" equipped with 48 VLS cells and powerful radars (e.g. the German Sachsen class, the Spanish Álvaro de Bazán-class (F100), and the British Type 26 Global Combat Ship). These ships have largely replaced the role of fleet defense destroyers within these countries or are intended to supplement a reduced destroyer force. Even if political calculations were not part of the Navy's procurement process, European frigate designs are in excess of US needs given the large number of more capable Arleigh Burke-class destroyers deployed by the USN. Given the constrained fiscal environment of sequestration, it is also highly unlikely for any completely new designs to be seriously evaluated. 

Huntington Ingalls' Patrol Frigate 4501 & 4921

Image 5: Pair of National Security Cutters (NSC) 

Huntington Ingalls has been actively marketing modified versions of its NSC for Navy's SSC. The base NSC has been constructed to 90% military standards, has a unit cost of $638 million dollars and features a 57 mm main gun (O'Rouke, 2014). Two modified variants of the NSC have been offered, the PF 4501 and PF 4921. The PF 4501's greatest asset is its range of 12,000 nautical miles and an endurance of 60 days compared to the 3,500-4,000 nautical mile range and 21 day endurance for existing LCS vessels. The design requirements for long range policing and endurance for the base NSC make it well suited towards traversing between distant US and allied facilities in the Pacific. The design philosophy behind the PF 4501, to limit cost increases above the NSC, limits the ships armament to only a 57 mm main gun with machine guns and defensive weapons. The limitations of the PF 4501's armament largely limits its prospects as a viable SSC candidate. 

The PF 4921 sacrifices 4,000 nautical miles worth of range on the base NSC for a heavily increased armament:  

"...the PF 4921 is a light frigate for executing anti-air, anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare...Armament is a 76 mm main gun, a vertical launch unit for the evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM), a Phalanx  or SeaRAM CIWS, and six crew-served as well as remotely operated machine guns. Mounted aft are two quad packed Harpoon surface-to-surface missile launchers and a triple torpedo tube launcher. Sensors shown on the concept ship include a CEAFAR radar system, a hull mounted sonar and a towed array sonar system." -  Mrityunjoy Mazumdar, 2012

Sources differ on the number of VLS cells carried on the PF4921, either 12 or 16 (LaGrone & Cavas, 2014). The combination of the aforementioned weapon systems and sensors in conjunction with a 8,000 nautical mile range and 60 day endurance makes the PF 4921 a viable candidate for the SSC. The only outstanding issue for the PF 4921 is its built-in survivability standard given the base NSC was designed for seakeeping not combat against capable surface combatants. (Cavas, 2014). The PF variants of the NSC have been enhanced to meet Navy standards but to the extent in which the ships feature higher survivability, in terms of Level I, II, III, etc., remains unclear. 

Austal USA & General Dynamic's Independence International Variant

Image 5: Independence-international 

As far as the aforementioned required capabilities are concerned, the Independence international variant features a substantially improved armament when compared to the existing domestic variant. The international variant has been marketed with several different configurations but many include: two eight VLS configurations for 16 VLS cell total, two quad harpoon mounts, torpedo launchers and a medium caliber gun (either 57 or 76 mm). With these weapons, the Independence-class would be more able to engage PLAN surface combatants. A major advantage the Independence-class vessels have over existing Freedom-class LCS boats is its more expansive mission module area which can in turn be used to house more equipment and armament for the SSC program. However, the major limitation of the Independence-class domestic variant is still present in the international variant, its aluminum hull. 

"The original concept for LCS was a ship whose damage resistance could save the crew, but not the ship, in the event if a significant strike. That was upgraded slightly to potentially saving the crew and the ship, but not continuing to fight while doing so. As the Exocet missile strikes on the HMS Sheffield (sank) and USS Stark (survived, barely) proved, even steel warships designed to keep fighting after a strike may find it challenging to meet their design specifications...The LCS-1 Freedom Class uses an aluminum superstructure, while the LCS-2 Independence Class is primarily an aluminum design. While both ships have had to certify to the same fire-proofing standards asked of other ships, aluminum conducts heat very well, and melts or deforms easily. If the ancillary fire-fighting systems, resistant coatings, etc. fail, or cannot handle a given situation at sea, structural integrity problems and secondary fires could become fatal concerns very quickly." - Defense Industry Daily, 2014

The argument that the LCS did not need high survivability to fulfill its intended mission legitimate, as discussed in part I. But, Level 1+ survivability is not acceptable if General Dynamics and Austal USA intend to market the international variant in a traditional frigate role. Therefore, the Independence international variant should not be pursued as a viable SSC candidate given its limited built-in survivability standards. 

Lockheed Martin's Multi-Mission Surface Combat Ship

Image 6: Multi Mission SCS proposals 

Lockheed Martin has proposed a series of major alternations to the existing Freedom-class LCS hull as part of the multi-mission surface combat ship (SCS). SCS proposals range from the current 118 meter variant up towards a 150 meters combatant with a SPY-1F radar, 48 VLS cells, and Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability. The high-end variants of the SCS are in excess of US needs similar to foreign heavy air defense frigates. Furthermore, the proposed high-end Aegis equipped SCS variants would cost around $1 billion dollars each making them unfeasible in the current fiscal environment (Cavas, 2014). However, a mid-range variant of the SCS with either 16 or 32 VLS cells, two quad harpoon missile launchers, a 76 mm main gun, SPY-1F radar and torpedo launchers would be sufficient to adequately meet most conceivable ASW and ASuW needs. As with the Independence-class LCS,  built-in survivability remains a serious concern. 

The Freedom-class LCS uses a combination of steel and aluminum as opposed to the all aluminium hull like the Independence-class LCS but it still has received a Level I+ rating. However, Lockheed’s vice president of littoral ship systems, Joe North, recently claimed that the international variants of the Freedom-class LCS had higher durability than the Level II Oliver Perry-class frigates

“Folks understand our hull, our structure...The analysis done by the American Bureau of Shipping told us our structure was stronger and more survivable than a FFG 7 [Oliver Perry-class frigate]. ” - Joe North, 2014


If the SCS does have a higher built-in survivability standard as the Oliver Perry-class than it would likely become the front runner in the SSC selection process given its flexible design, significant armament, capable sensors, and the lowered developmental risk due to its commonality with existing Freedom-class ships. The PF 4921 is also a viable option for the SSC but it is likely the Navy has an institutional bias against adapting cutters in frigate roles: 

"Ingalls has dual challenges. Like the LCS builders, the company needs to show it can make the PF a creditable warship. But many naval officers and officials balk at considering a 'white hull' ship designed for the Coast Guard and not to the Navy’s more exacting combat standards.  Getting people to overlook those preconceptions and take a closer look at a design’s capabilities will be as much as challenge as fitting in more missiles and bigger guns." - Cavas, 2014

While the LCS' original concept remains valid, capping procurement at 32 ships is justified as it will allow the Navy to forward deploy more capable surface combatants to the Pacific. The Navy can further support the Pivot by procuring the SSC to support the Pivot in ASW, ASuW and AAW roles as part of conventional carrier strike groups.

Author's Note: I will continue to publish articles into the summer. About 1/2 of the article "Divergent Thinking: How Best to Employ Fighter Aircraft Part II - The American Approach" is completed and I'm in the process of working on articles relating to the DDG-51 Flight III & DDG-1000, US-Philippine defense ties, potential expansion for US-Vietnam ties, Divergent Thinking: How Best to Employ Fighter Aircraft - The Chinese Approach, as well as some other other topics. 

Sources (In addition to Part I)

  1. ‘Is China Enemy No. 1?’ Debate Erupts at Marine War Game, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 2012. http://breakingdefense.com/2012/03/marines-debate-is-china-enemy-no-1/
  2. Raytheon RIM-162 ESSM, Andreas Parsch, 2004.                                                   http://www.designation-systems.net/dusrm/m-162.html 
  3. Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD)   Program: Background and Issues for Congress, Ronald O'Rourke, 2014.                                                                                                                   https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/RL33745.pdf
  4. US Destroyers Get a HED: More Power to Them!, Defense Industry Daily, 2012. http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/us-destroyers-get-a-hed-more-power-to-them-07142/
  5. RIM-162 ESSM Missile: Naval Anti-Air in a Quad Pack, Defense Industry Daily, 2014. https://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/rim-162-essm-missile-naval-anti-air-in-a-quad-pack-03924/?utm_campaign=didsearch&utm_source=did&utm_medium=autosuggest&utm_term=RIM-162
  6. Patrol Frigate Concepts from Huntington Ingalls Industries Gain Traction Internationally, Mrityunjoy Mazumdar, 2012.                                                         http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/patrol-frigate-concepts-from-huntington-ingalls-industries-gain-traction-internationally/
  7. Single Cell Launcher  Flexible and Adaptable for Today’s Navy, Lockheed Martin, 2014. http://www.lockheedmartin.com/content/dam/lockheed/data/ms2/documents/launchers/Single_Cell_Launcher_brochure.pdf
  8. Lockheed Outlines Freedom-Class Improvements, Dave Majumdar, 2014. http://news.usni.org/2014/01/14/lockheed-outlines-freedom-class-improvements
  9. US Navy Task Force Seeks Industry Ideas, Christopher Cavas, 2014. http://www.defensenews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2014304300042
  10. CNO: Group Will Study New LCS Designs, Christopher Cavas, 2014. http://www.defensenews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2014303100028
  11. Ready, Set, Go! Navy Gives Industry 21 Days For LCS Alternatives, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 2014.  http://breakingdefense.com/2014/04/ready-set-go-navy-gives-industry-21-days-to-propose-alternatives-to-lcs/
  12. Following in the Wake of the Frigate; Remarkable Continuity in the Postwar US Surface Combatant Force, Lazarus, 2014.                                        http://www.informationdissemination.net/2014/05/following-in-wake-of-frigate-remarkable.html
  13. Ship Study Should Favor Existing Designs, Christopher Cavas, 2014.  http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140419/DEFREG02/304190020/Ship-Study-Should-Favor-Existing-Designs