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Friday, September 25, 2015

Countering Foreign 5th Generation Threats: Part I - PLAAF Objectives, Doctrines, and Capabilities

Author's Note/Disclaimer: The following is an educated guess as to plausible tactics, techniques, and procedures American fighter aircraft and other assets will utilize to combat foreign fifth generation fighter aircraft in air-to-air combat within a highly contested anti-access environment. Many of the capabilities capabilities of American aircraft such as the F-22 and F-35 are highly classified and are not available within the public domain (e.g. cyber and electronic warfare). Similarly, detailed information on the capabilities of Russian and Chinese fifth generation aircraft is scarce. Thus, the article is based upon hints given by senior officials over the years via reputable aerospace & defense publications as well as my own estimations when the limits of publicly available information have been reached. Any conjecture on my part is clearly marked as to not confuse readers with confirmed/complete knowledge of capabilities and systems.

Image 1: F-22A flying over Edwards AFB. Image Credit: Code One.

In 2005, the United States declared initial operational capability (IOC) for the world's first fifth generation fighter - the F-22A. At that time, the War on Terror preoccupied American strategic thinking and the development of new doctrines and technologies related to confronting near peer adversaries stalled. The Russian stealth fighter program was in its infancy and little credible information existed on Chinese fifth generation programs. A decade after the IOC of the F-22, the F-35B reached IOC and the United States faced a substantially different strategic reality; Russia and China are increasingly asserting their influence in Eurasia and have narrowed the performance gap in terms of low observable techniques and avionics with American aircraft. As the United States transitions from exclusively fixating on non-state actors, the US Navy (USN) and US Air Force (USAF) must recapitalize and expand upon proven on Cold War methods of operations as well as create entirely new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) to reassert the US' position as the dominant global conventional military force. The USN and USAF must be able to complete power projection and all domain access operations with the following environment in mind:
  1. Due to F-35 program delays, the US will field a mixed 4th and 5th generation fighter force well info the late 2020s to early 2030s 
  2. The limited production run of the high-end air superiority F-22A with just 187 airframes delivered outside of test and evaluation roles, of which 143 are combat coded at any one time
  3. The emergence of high quality low cost DRFM jammers has significantly degraded beyond visual range radar guided missile performance 
  4. Advances in electronic and cyberwarfare have the potential to disrupt both friendly and enemy networks, severely limiting situational awareness and reducing the viability of network centric warfare 
  5. Poor cybersecurity and counter intelligence failures have allowed China to obtain detailed information on US weapon systems as well as methods of employment   
  6. The proliferation of sophisticated electronic & cyberwarfare weapons in conjunction with foreign stealth aircraft will mitigate the effectiveness of active detection systems such as radars meaning passive detection systems will become more widespread e.g. IRST systems 
  7. Use of passive systems and increasingly capable very high frequency (VHF) radars will degrade the effectiveness of X and S band optimized stealth aircraft into the late 2020s to 2030s which includes all current stealth fighters in development with the possible exception of the sixth generation F-X 
The article will discuss potential TTP the USN & USAF will produce with respect to the aforementioned issues. The focus of this article on Chinese A2/AD related threats rather than equivalent Russian systems stems from the significant conventional military modernization issues faced by the Russian military. Other than the United States, the People's Republic of China (PRC) is likely to be only other nation to field hundreds of fifth generation aircraft:
"Russia has found it impossible, so far, to field numbers of fifth-generation fighters. 'The Russians can build one-off systems, can build small numbers of really capable stuff, but they have not yet achieved the industrial capacity to produce in huge volumes'...the Chinese are expected to produce large numbers of J-20s over time...'I absolutely believe they have the industrial capacity to build lots of them. That’s what worries me. I have no doubt they’ll get, they’re stealing stuff from us as fast as they can, so that will accelerate their technological path, and then their industrial capacity is impressive.'”- Former Air Force General Mike Hostage, 2014 
A brief overview of the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) objectives, doctrines, and capabilities relevant to probable US countermeasures e.g. new TTP will be provided.  PRC knowledge of sensitive American capabilities, revealed as a result of the Snowden leak and cyber espionage, will also be discussed.

Author's Note: Given the complexity of the topics discussed, the author recommends the following publications for a more detailed examination of the PLA and PLAAF: "Chinese Military Modernization and Force Development A Western Perspective" by Anthony H. Cordesman, Ashley Hess, and Nicholas S. Yarosh as well as "People's Liberation Army Air Force 2010" by the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.

PLAAF Objectives, Doctrines, and Capabilities

Image 2: J-20 prototype model "2011" featuring an electro optical targeting system system.


As a rising great power state, the PRC has a diverse range of national security objectives ranging from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) maintaining control over domestic media to suppression of Uyghur separatists in Xinjiang. For the purposes of this article, objectives and relevant doctrines related to the potential employment of PLAAF 5th generation aircraft against the United States will be discussed. Much of the literature discussing PRC strategic objectives related to a potential PRC-US conflict highlight the counter-intervention A2/AD strategy which would be employed between the first and second island chains; the first island chain covers the geographic region from the Ryukyu islands to the nine dash line in the South China Sea (SCS) and the second island chain extends outward from the first island chain toward Guam, the Marianas, and the Indonesia Sea (Global Security, 2011). As part of the A2/AD island chain strategy, the PLA would attempt to deny a foreign military force from intervening on behalf of Taiwan as well as the Philippines and Japan in the South China Sea and East China Sea respectively depending upon the contingency. The PLANAF and PLAAF would seek to establish regional air superiority, deny US sortie generation/basing, and destroy hostile surface vessels which would effectively limit US power projection in the region (RAND, 2008). As described below, the objective would be to execute a short decisive war within a limited in geographic scope.


Several PLA white papers discuss the growing need to fight a "local war under conditions of informatization" by achieving a state of information dominance over the enemy (DoD & Cordesman, 2015). In many respects, this doctrine mirrors aspects of the US doctrine of network centric warfare:
"The Local War under Conditions of Informatization (Local Wars) concept has been the official military doctrine of the PLA since 1993. This doctrine states that near-future warfare will be local geographically, primarily along China’s periphery; limited in scope, duration, and means; and conducted under 'conditions of informatization,' which the DOD describes as 'conditions in which modern military forces use advanced computer systems, information technology, and communication networks to gain operational advantage over an opponent'...Because of this extreme battlefield lethality, in combination with the limited geographic scope and objectives of Local Wars, the PLA expects to fight short wars in which the first campaign will be highly destructive at the military level and lead to a decision within the military sphere quickly. Moreover, the ability of military forces to communicate and coordinate rapidly through effective C4ISR networks means that, at the operational level, military forces in Local Wars will be agile, capable of high-tempo deep operations, resource-intensive, critically dependent on information, and present in all warfare domains." - Cordesman, 2015 
It remains to be seen if differing branches of the PLA can establish the level of cross service cooperation required to facilitate information dominance and effective employment of a networked A2/AD system given current institutional barriers (RAND, 2015). Furthermore, as PLA units gain greater cross service cooperation and improve their networked A2/AD capabilities, they become more susceptible to disruptive attacks against their C4ISR assets in a similar manner as the current vulnerability of American forces (Clark, 2014).

Capabilities: IADS, C4ISR, and Fighter Aircraft 

For the purposes of this article, aspects of China's integrated air defense system (IADS) and C4ISR capabilities will be discussed as it is most relevant to fourth and fifth generation fighter operations. However, it is important to note that anti-ship ballistic missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, conventional ballistic missiles, etc. all contribute towards China's A2/AD capabilities within the first two island chains. China's IADS includes ground radars, surface to air missiles, command and control (C2) sites, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance assets (ISR), and fighter aircraft.

Image 3: HQ-9 site near Beijing. Image Credit: Sean O'Connor, 2007.

The mainstay of the PLA's long range SAM forces consist of S-300 derivatives including the locally manufactured copy, the HQ-9 which features minor alterations including a redesigned rocket motor. The PLA fields:

  • Between 8 to 16 HQ-9 SAM batteries
  • 16 battalions of 150 km range S-300PMU1 SAMs 
  • At least 8 battalions of the more capable 200 km range S-300PMU2 SAMs 

Note: Each S-300 battalion consists of up to six batteries which features up to six transporter erector launchers equipped with four missiles  each (Global Security & Kopp, 2015).

In any potential US-China conflict, the main threat to US fighter forces would result from high concentrations of S-300 and HQ-9 batteries with maximum engagement ranges between 125-200 km augmented by scores of shorter range SAMs such as the HQ-12 and SA-15.

Wile the negotiation of the sale of the 400 km (215 nautical miles) range S-400 has frequently made news headlines, the S-400's strategic value to China in the near term has been greatly overestimated by most media outlets for two reasons: (1) the PLA's acquisition of S-400 systems will be limited to between four and six battalions and (2) the 400 km figure pertains to only one of many missile types employed by the S-400 system - the 40N6 missile. The majority of missiles employed by the S-400 system are composed of the 130 nautical mile (240.7 km) range Fakel 48N6E3/48N6DM missile while the more expensive 40N6 is reserved for high priority targets such as AWACS aircraft (Kopp, 2014).

The radars comprising the S-400 system, such as the 92N2E Grave Stone, are likely to have a greater strategic impact than the 40N6 missiles given their ability to network with other IADS assets. Furthermore, the opportunity to reverse engineer the S-400's advanced radars will almost certainly have long-term effects on the technological maturity of future PLA SAM systems. Long range ground based radars will remain the backbone of the PLA's long range network of sensors to provide targeting data to both surface to air and surface to surface missiles as China fields limited space based and airborne ISR systems.

Image 4: Long March 2C launch vehicle. In 2014, the PRC put 16 satellites in orbit compared to 23 for the United States and 34 for the Russian Federation (Clark, 2014).

In order to deny US power projection within the first and second island chains, China's A2/AD strategy relies upon ISR assets to provide over the horizon (OTH) targeting information to PLA conventional ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, ships, and aircraft. Large fixed targets such as US ground facilities in Japan would be comparatively easy to target given the locations of these targets are static and observable in peacetime conditions. However, mobile targets such as US carrier groups, AWACS aircraft, and tanker aircraft would require real time long range space based and airborne sensors to relay targeting information to PLA forces.

The PRC has made significant investments in reconnaissance, navigation, and communication satellites which could provide real time OTH information to PLA forces within the first and second island chains. Beidou 1 consists of five satellites positioned in geostationary positions between 70 to 140 degrees east longitude and 5 to 55 degrees north latitude; an additional 16 Beidou 2 navigation satellites are active (Gormley, Yuan & Erickson, 2014). China has also deployed multiple Jianbing-8 ocean surveillance satellites similar to the US' Naval Ocean Surveillance System (Barbosa, 2014). As China continues to heavily invest in space assets, the assumption that the US would be disproportionately affected in a future conflict with China in which both sides attempt to deny the use of space merits further analysis; without long range space based systems the effective range of China's A2/AD assets is confined well within the first island chain (Biddle & Oelrich, 2015).  A combination of kinetic and non-kinetic options are available for the US to target both Chinese surveillance and communication satellites.

Image 5: Chengdu's Tian Yi High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAV. Note the uncanny resemblance to the Northrup Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk. A second derivative of the Tian Yi features two engines buried within the airframe along with additional stealth features.

As with PRC satellites, UAVs enable the PLA to cue long range conventional ballistic and cruise missiles. The DoD reported in May of 2015 that the PRC will field more than 40,000 sea and land based UAVs by 2023 at a total cost of $10.5 billion. The vast majority of future PRC UAVs will be shorter range miniature and tactical UAVs capable of operating only within the first island chain. However, the comparatively larger number of tactical UAVs such as the ASN-206 will make neutralizing the PLA's ISR capabilities much more difficult within the first island chain. Larger and more capable medium altitude long endurance (MALE) and HALE UAVs will provide substantial ISR capabilities within the second island chain but fewer of the more capable platforms such as the Divine Eagle will be available.

A large number of publications, such as Popular Science, have heralded the Shenyang Project 973 UAV as a game changer with its alleged anti-stealth capabilities and its role as an integral C4ISR node within China's larger A2/AD force:
"The Divine Eagle is planned to carry multiple Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars, of the AMTI, SAR and GMTI varities. Airborne Moving Target Indicator (AMTI) radar types are used to track airborne targets, like enemy fighters and cruise missiles. Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) provides high resolution of slow moving ground vehicles and enemy bases. Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) radars are ideal for identifying and tracking ships, such as aircraft carriers. X/UHF band radars, which include the 'F-22 killer' JY-26 that debuted at Zhuhai 2014, have raised concerns in the American military that they could track stealth aircraft like the F-35 fighter and B-2 bomber at long ranges." - Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer  
A great deal of skepticism is warranted when trying to assess the Divine Eagle given the spectacular performance claims made by many Chinese publications and defense forums. Early claims that the UAV itself was stealth are clearly refutable on the basis of its vertical tail surfaces. Furthermore, the active emission of signals from its AESAs would reveal its position to passive systems such as the ALR-94. Lastly, UHF/VHF radars do provide an ability to detect stealth aircraft at tactically significant ranges, but do not provide weapons quality track data which still requires S and X band arrays (Majumdar, 2014). All the aforementioned caveats do not imply the Divine Eagle does not have significant capabilities, but it is unlikely a "silver bullet" to combating stealth American aircraft. If the details on its avionics provided by Popular Science are correct, the Divine Eagle can still provide an early warning capability against X and S band optimized stealth aircraft like the F-22 and F-35.

Part II will discuss PLAAF and PLANAF fighter capabilities as well as PRC knowledge of American systems through the Snowden leaks and cyber espionage.


  1. People's Liberation Navy - Offshore Defense, Global Security, 2011. 
  2. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Project: Organizational Capacities and Operational Capabilities, Ian M. Easton and L.C. Russell Hsiao, 2013.
  3. China’s Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Industry, Kimberly Hsu, 2013.'s%20Military%20UAV%20Industry_14%20June%202013.pdf 
  4. Divine Eagle, China's Enormous Stealth Hunting Drone, Takes Shape., Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer, 2015. 
  5. 2014’s launch tally highest in two decades, Stephen Clark, 2014. 
  6. Air Combat Past, Present and Future, John Stillion & Scott Perdue, 2008. 
  7. The HQ-9 SAM System: A Site Analysis, Sean O'Connor, 2007.
  8. China's Incomplete Military Transition, Michael S. Chase, Jeffrey Engstrom, Tai Ming Cheung, Kristen A. Gunness, Scott Warren Harold, Susan Puska, Samuel K. Berkowitz, 2015.
  9. Commanding the Seas A Plan to Reinvigorate US Navy Surface Warfare, Bryan Clark, 2014. 
  10. Long March 4B lofts Yaogan-21 in surprise launch,  Rui C. Barbosa, 2014. 
  11. A Low-Visibility Force Multiplier Assessing China’s Cruise Missile Ambitions, Dennis M. Gormley, Andrew S. Erickson, and Jingdong Yuan, 2014. 
  12. Future Warfare in the Western Pacific: From Command of the Commons to Spheres of Influence, Stephen Biddle & Ivan Oelrich, 2015. 
  13. Chinese and Russian Radars On Track To See Through U.S. Stealth, Dave Majumdar, 2014.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Updates & Countering 5th Generation Threats [UPDATE: Article will be published on 9/25/15]

Image 1: F-35 & F/A-18F. Image Credit: Code One Magazine, 2015.

For the past several weeks I have been researching content for what is among the most difficult and technically complex articles I've written on the American Innovation Blog, "The American Approach Part IV: Future TTP -  Countering Foreign 5th Generation Threats". The article will seek to outline plausible tactics, techniques, and procedures American fighter aircraft and other assets will utilize to combat foreign fifth generation fighter aircraft in air-to-air combat within a highly contested anti-access environment. Many of the capabilities capabilities of American aircraft such as the F-22 and F-35 are highly classified and are not available within the public domain (e.g. cyber and electronic warfare). Similarly, detailed and reliable information on the capabilities of Russian and Chinese fifth generation aircraft is scarce. Thus, the article is based upon hints given by senior officials over the years via reputable aerospace & defense publications as well as my own estimations when the limits of publicly available information have been reached. I have gone to great lengths to ensure that any conjecture on my part is clearly marked as to not confuse readers with confirmed/complete knowledge of capabilities and systems; all conjecture will be based in part in confirmed information. Expect to see the article published in the next couple weeks.

Additionally, the "Blog Articles By Topic" tab has finally been updated to account for articles published within the past year. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A New Age of Great Power Competition? - Russia Part II


Efficacy of the Current US Response

Image 1: "Dragon Ride" exercise across Europe, 2015. 

Key Points from Part I: 
  • Russia's main foreign policy objectives are (1) remain a nuclear power on equal footing to the United States (2) retain great power status in international politics, and (3) attain regional hegemony (Leon Arron, 2013). 
  • Russia's increased belligerence is not an indicator of Russian strength. The conventional Russian military faces substantial modernization challenges which are unlikely to be addressed in light of the country's bleak economic prospects
  • Given Russia's poor economic prospects, Russia is more likely to invest in its nuclear modernization program as a means to offset conventional US military advantages. Furthermore, Russia will invest in its asymmetric capabilities to coerce states below the Article 5 threshold as part of its strategy to attain regional hegemony in the near abroad. 
The principle US Military response to the Russian intervention in Ukraine has been "Operation Atlantic Resolve". Congress approved $1 billion towards funding Atlantic Resolve which facilitated substantial rotational deployment of US forces in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, prepositioning heavy equipment in six Eastern European countries, and large scale exercises between US and NATO partners. Unlike the US & EU sanctions which are intended to enact costs such that Putin will cease Russian support for Ukrainian separatists, the objective of Atlantic Resolve has been to deter Russian aggression into NATO states and reassure US allies. The short-term goal to reassure US allies and deter Russia has worked insofar as no Russian military incursions into the Baltics or Eastern Europe have occurred but the sanctions have largely been ineffective given the extent of Russian commitment to retain Ukraine within its sphere of influence. However, two major military policy issues remain unaddressed by Atlantic Resolve: (1) the large scale deployment of conventional military forces is ill-suited to counter Russian asymmetric forces - which are more likely to be used given the shortcomings of their conventional military and the greater geopolitical consequences of overt conflict, and (2) the NATO alliance continues to fade into irrelevance as a unified fighting force. Few European NATO members are capable of conducting both intensive military operations and are willing to use force to deter potential Russian aggression. NATO's shortcomings will be discussed followed by policy recommendations within a larger US foreign policy context in Part III.

The Hybrid Threat

Image 2: Pro-Russian separatists in Slavyansk. Image Credit: Roman Pilipey

Russia's use of unconventional forces poses significant challenges to conventional NATO forces, particularly in terms of response time. The speed at which Russian forces overwhelmed Crimea caught Western leaders off guard and underlined the inadequacy of the current 30 day mobilization period of conventional NATO units (Saunders, 2015).  Prior to the Ukraine crisis, NATO maintained a meager rapid response force of 5,000 troops with a response time of five to seven days; NATO now has plans to expand the rapid reaction force to 40,000 troops with a response time of 48 hours. While the expansion of the rapid reaction force is prudent, it is not wholly sufficient to counter Russian asymmetric capabilities in a potential conflict over the Baltics and Eastern Europe.

A great deal of literature acknowledges the shortcomings of conventional US & NATO forces in dealing with the various aspects of hybrid warfare including information operations, use of special forces, paramilitary forces, cyber attacks, etc. but much less is published on specific tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) US forces would utilize to counter hybrid threats. In order to create new TTP, the United States should continue to collect as much intelligence information on Russian capabilities as possible throughout the conflict. For example, the US Army has garnered useful information on the efficacy of counter-mortar radar units against hybrid forces and potential vulnerabilities of US & allied networks to Russian electronic warfare systems:
"The U.S. Army is working to glean intelligence on Russian military technology from the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, American generals said...'The lightweight counter-mortar radar, turns out, that it is a much better piece of equipment than we realized,' Hodges said. 'None of us have ever -- maybe one or two exceptions -- have ever been under a massive Russian artillery [attack] the way the Ukrainians have, and so we have learned a lot in the way that they have responded to that.'On the other hand, the conflict has exposed the potential for Russian electronic warfare technology to pierce U.S. and allied battlefield communications networks', Hodges and other U.S. generals said. Rostec, a Russian-owned arms and technology company, last year claimed it used 'complex radio-electronic' frequencies to hack into an MQ-5B Hunter drone that was flying over Crimea and belonged to the Army's 66th military intelligence brigade based in Germany." - Brendan McGarry, 2015

NATO's Growing Irrelevance

Image 3: NATO military spending by member states.
"The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress, and in the American body politic writ large, to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources ... to be serious and capable partners in their own defense..future U.S. political leaders, those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me, may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost,” - Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, 2011 [emphasis added] 
In recent years US diplomats and top Administration officials have lamented the continued perceived lack of defense spending among European partners. As the graph above shows, it immediately appears as if the United States is responsible for a disproportionate burden of defense responsibilities relative to European allies. In terms of the spending burden, two major factors must be kept in mind. A major caveat is the US economy is nearly equal to the combined total of the 28 European Union countries despite its much smaller population; the US has a population of 320 million and a GDPs of $17.45 trillion 2014 dollars compared to the EU's population of roughly 500 million and GDP of $18.48 trillion in 2014 dollars (IMF, 2015).Thus it is important to remember that given even a low percent of GDP allocated towards defense, the US is bound to significantly outspend any individual member of NATO.

The second major caveat is US forces are spread throughout six operational commands given the global national interests of the United States. A more apt comparison for peacetime aggregate defense spending would be US expenses related to the defense of Europe relative to NATO allies e.g. the costs associated with the forward deployed 65,000 US troops stationed in EURCOM. However, during wartime conditions in Europe forces from other operational commands would be allocated to USEUCOM e.g. surge forces from US. With these two factors in mind, the overwhelming extent to which the US provides funds for Europe's defense is somewhat reduced but remains substantial relative to other NATO members. Most importantly, the United States disproportionately provides the bulk of warfighting capabilities within the NATO alliance despite the aforementioned caveats with respect to US defense spending.

Image 4: Note the divide among member states between increasing expenditures among Eastern European members and cuts in Western European countries. Image Credit: Defense One, 2015.

The aggregate spending figures alone do not illustrate the full extent to which the US composes the alliance's warfighting capability. Defense spending is a means to produce warfighting capability and "bean counting" type of analysis's which look at total defense budget figures alone glaringly overlook how defense budgets translate into a fighting force's effectiveness. Defense budgets are generally divided into four categories: procurement, research & development, operations and maintenance, and personnel expenditures. The most troublesome trend among European allies in terms of defense budgets has not been the overall budget cuts of recent years. Rather, European militaries consistently spent upwards of 50% of their existing defense budgets on personnel expenditures such as benefits in conjunction with overall defense spending cuts. Given the higher proportion of personnel expenditures in European militaries, less new equipment can be purchased, existing vehicle and equipment are not as likely to be maintained, and more capable future systems will be delayed or not pursued. Thus, European defense budgets translate into substantially less warfighting capacity than the United States. It is worth noting that the DoD has also struggled in recent years with the onset of sequestration and the end of two wars to reign in personnel expenditures, but in percent terms these additional personnel costs do not approach many of the EU states below.

Image 5: EU member states proportion of defense spending allocated to personnel expenditures. Note: Austria, Cyprus, Malta, Sweden, Finland, and Ireland are not part of NATO.

Another worrisome trend within European militaries is the growing rift among Eastern and Western European NATO members in terms of their willingness to use force. Western European states face a less immediate threat from Russia as Eastern European states such as Poland and the Baltics. Unlike the Cold War, Western Europe has substantial economic ties with Russia and is incentivized to limit further economic damage from sanctions relating to Ukraine. The cohesion of the alliance has been disrupted further by the Snowden leaks which have drastically lowered US favorability in Europe, particularly in Germany. In an overt military conflict with Russia, these trends are unlikely to be as impactful as peacetime efforts against countering asymmetric Russian advances in Eastern Europe. Given the lack of immediate danger to themselves and economic incentives, Western European states are much less willing to confront Russia in Eastern Europe so long as Moscow refrains from overt military intervention. The combination of high personnel expenditures in the face of overall defense cuts coupled with the reduced willingness to use military force effectively erodes the extent in which European partners contribute to NATO's overall deterrence via providing substantial warfighting capabilities.

Image 6: Divisions among NATO member states in response to Russia. Image Credit: The Wall Street Journal, 2015.

Given Russian capabilities and NATO's growing irrelevance, Part III will discuss policy recommendations within the context of a larger US foreign policy perspective.

Sources (in addition to Part I) 

  1. Explainer: This Graph Shows How NATO’s Military Capability Has Evolved Since 1949, Janine Davidson, 2014. 
  2. NATO Members’ Defense Spending, in Two Charts, Kedar Pavgi, 2015. 
  3. International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook Database, 2015.
  4. World Europe U.S. pledges commandos and high-end equipment for new NATO force, Carol Williams, 2015.
  5. U.S. Consolidates Forces in Europe to Save Money, Helene Cooper, 2015. 
  6. National Defence Data 2013 of the 27 EDA Member States Brussels, Silvija GuzelytÄ—, 2015 
  7. Ukraine’s Army Slogs Through the Merciless Donbass, Robert Beckhusen, 2014. 
  8. Carter Says U.S. Will Contribute to New NATO Rapid-Action Force, David J Lynch & James G Neuger, 2015.

Friday, July 10, 2015

F-35 loss to F-16? Setting the Record Strait

Image 1: F-35. Image Credit: Liz Kasynski Code One, 2015.

Earlier in July David Axe from “War is Boring” published excerpts from a report made by an F-35 pilot upon the conclusion of basic fighter maneuvering (BFM) exercises which took place in January of 2015.  During the exercise, the clean configured F-35 was outmaneuvered by an F-16 with two drop tanks and was subsequently defeated. Axe argues the failure of the F-35 to defeat the aircraft it was intended to replace is the latest in a series of developments which ultimately demonstrate the F-35 is a waste of American tax payer dollars and the aircraft will be of little use on the battlefield against maneuverable fourth generation opponents. The article caused considerable public debate and even prompted an official response by the Joint Program Office (JPO) which oversees the development of the F-35. Upon reviewing the circumstances of the test within the broader context of the maturity of the F-35 program, it becomes apparent that the BFM testing in January does not provide conclusive results with respect to assessing the F-35’s potential dogfighting prowess.

First and foremost, the test aircraft utilized in the BFM exercise (AF-2) is among the oldest in the fleet and is optimized for flight sciences not dogfighting; AF-2 has neither radar absorbent material coatings nor the latest software configuration to enable HMD and full avionics functionality (Jennings, 2015). Thus, the F-35 was effectively deprived of its two most significant advantages over legacy aircraft, enhanced situational awareness and low observability. The combination of stealth and complete situational awareness enables the F-35 to effectively perform “stand-off” kills or beyond visual range engagements. The F-35 sharesthe fifth generation traits of stealth and situational awareness with the F-22which has already demonstrated their value- even when controlling for theF-22’s superior maneuverability performance

Image 2: F-35 AIM-120 test
“…the results of training exercises indicate the Raptor is highly capable in close range maneuvering fights but it is clearly not invincible. The results of close in maneuvering fights indicates supermaneuverability alone is not responsible for the Raptor's success, stealth and heightened situational awareness have contributed immensely to the Raptor's overall combat effectiveness exercises. All [simulated] instances of Raptors being shot down, with the possible exception of a case where an AIM-120 missile kill was achieved by an EA-18G, occurred at visual range in close in maneuvering fights. The F-35 shares stealth and heightened situational awareness with the Raptor and, given all the information that has been publicly released, there is no credible reason to conclude the F-35 is incapable of performing similar ‘stand-off kills’ utilizing stealth and situational awareness as described by Brown” - Matt, 2013
Without stealth and enhanced situational awareness, the F-35 utilized during the test was effectively a fourth generation fighter. But, the lack of stealth coatings and software upgrades were not important as the objective of the test was to determine the limits of – and ultimately improve – the aircraft’s maneuverability characteristics as per the pilot’s recommendations at the end of the report. Lockheed had initially framed the outcome of the test, prior to David Axe’s publication, as a positive outcome given that the F-35 can be “cleared for greater agility as a growth option” (Davies, 2015).

Image 3: F-35 canopy & HMD 

The F-35 test pilot concluded the aircraft had an insufficient pitch rate, suffered from an energy disadvantage (drop in speed after maneuvers), and poor rearward visibility. The pilot subsequently recommended increasing the pitch rate to enable the pilot to have greater options, increasing the alpha onset, increasing the beginning of the blended region to 30 degrees (angle of attack), increase pilot yaw authority, and fixing HMD/canopy issues. By following the pilot’s recommendations in addition to planned block upgrades, many of the deficiencies cited in the report will be either mitigated or disappear. For example, Block 6 improvements include both a canopy expansion and propulsion upgrade e.g. adaptive cycle engine with up to 10% increased thrust and 25%-30% range (Norris, 2015). However, some maneuverability challenges would remain such as high-wing loading which cannot easily be remedied as a result of upgrades. Its worth noting that maneuverability is determined by examining several metrics such as thrust to weight ratio, high subsonic acceleration, rate of climb, AOA, sustained radius turn ability, etc. As with prior generations of US fighter aircraft, inherent design considerations made as a result of trade-offs in capability will ensure an aircraft performs better in some maneuverability metrics over others.  

Ultimately, the development of tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) by test and evaluation squadrons and the Weapon’s Test School will enable F-35 pilots to maximize the aircraft’s strengths while mitigating its weaknesses during engagements. This effort will include attempting to create dogfighting techniques at visual range which favor the F-35. The recent test is yet another reminder that the F-35 program is still in its infancy when compared to legacy systems and the development of TTP will likely take years. Former F-16 pilot C. W. Lemoine argues the BFM test in January means little as it will take a substantial period of time for F-35 pilots to accumulate proficiency in their aircraft and commentators aught to withhold judgement until F-35 pilots become proficient and new TTP are developed: 

Image 4: F-35 & F-16 over Luke AFB. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin 
"...a guy with maybe 100 hours in the F-35 versus a guy with 1,500+ Viper hours? I’ve seen thousand-hour F-16 guys in two-bag D-models beat up on brand new wingmen in clean, single-seat jets. It happens. It’s the reality of the amount of experience in your given cockpit...It’s way too early to declare the F-35 the 'worst fighter aircraft design ever imagined.' Please. Let’s see how it does when guys who are proficient in developed tactics do against guys with similar amounts of experience–the realm of the bros in the operational test or Weapons School environment." - C. W. Lemoine , 2015
Much of the debate regarding the F-35 has stagnated towards fixating on particular maneuverability characteristics or specific technical problems in isolation rather than evaluating the holistic potential of the aircraft based upon how it is likely to be used in combat under a combined arms approach with multiple assets and skilled pilots. With these additional factors in mind, ensuring the F-35 will be effective at visual range will become increasingly important over the next ten to fifteen years as both the proliferation of effective electronic warfare/countermeasure systems and foreign fifth generation fighters will challenge the efficacy of the F-35's ability to reliably achieve bvr kills. In summary, January's BFM tests provide few conclusive results other than the F-35 program is still relatively immature and further work is needed to fix teething problems in the airframe and to ensure F-35 pilots are able to accumulate the required experience to be proficient in their aircraft. 


Friday, July 3, 2015

Blog Update: F-35 Loss to F-16

News of the F-35's "loss" against an F-16 in basic fighter maneuvering testing has been widely discussed in defense/aerospace forums over the past week. I will post my own analysis of the implications and takeaways of the test next week. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

A New Age of Great Power Competition? - Russia Part I

Image 1: US carrier group crossing the Atlantic. Image Credit: US Navy.

The past few years have made it glaringly apparent that the United States does not have the luxury to focus its military exclusively against non-state actors and low intensity conflicts which ultimately bear little economic and geopolitical consequence for the United States. The rise of China and Russia's increasingly belligerent behavior constitute a substantial threat to the post-World War II liberal international order. The United States military is desperately seeking to reassert many of its capabilities which were systematically neglected during the 1990s and the War on Terror including: anti-submarine warfare, fleet air defense, all domain access, counter intelligence, offensive electronic warfare, and nuclear deterrence. As the DoD moves forward to confront new great power threats, the political leadership of the United States must recognize the distinct capabilities and intentions of Russia and China. Most importantly, Congress and the Obama Administration must not superficially judge Russian revanchism and saber rattling as indicators of Russia's strength. Rather, Russia's belligerent behavior is a consequence of Russia's status as a declining power attempting to reassert its traditional sphere of influence. While China's incremental and steady effort to challenge the United States rarely makes news headlines, it ultimately constitutes a far more serious long-term threat to global US primacy when compared to Russian revanchism. The distinct challenges from both Russia and China will be discussed in terms of objectives, capabilities, and the efficacy of the US' current response. A series of recommendations will subsequently be provided within the context of America's historical grand strategy towards great powers.

Russian Military Capabilities & Intentions

Image 2: T-14 Armata tanks preforming in the 2015 Moscow Victory Day Parade

Since the seizure of Crimea last year, many geopolitical commentators have heralded a new Cold War between the West and Russia. President Putin has resumed many of the hallmarks of Soviet brinkmanship including: a 50% increase in Russian submarine patrols, bomber patrols off the coast of California, Alaska, Guam, and the Gulf of Mexico, a surge in Russian espionage and intelligence collection activities against the West, etc. Washington has clearly taken notice and former Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers announced last year that monitoring Russian revanchism is the greatest priority for the intelligence community behind monitoring the Civil War in Syria and Al Qaeda and its affiliates (note Vicker's remarks were made prior to the fall of Mosul to ISIL). In contrast, China appeared as the seventh and last priority discussed by Vickers (Clark, 2014). Russian objectives and methods will be assessed prior to determining an appropriate US foreign policy response.

A strong consensus exists among Russian foreign policy experts that President Putin seeks to maintain Russia's influence in Ukraine in the wake of the ousting of the pro-Russian Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych (Gates, 2014). Ukraine is the most important state in the near abroad, a region encompassing former Soviet states where the Russian Federation is attempting to assert a new sphere of influence through economic and military coercion. Asserting regional hegemony is among the three greatest enduring Russian strategic priorities since the collapse of the Soviet Union:
"Much in Russian foreign policy today is based on a consensus that crystallized in the early 1990s. Emerging from the rubble of the Soviet collapse, this consensus ranges across the political spectrum — from pro-Western liberals to leftists and nationalists. It rests on three geostrategic imperatives: that Russia must remain a nuclear superpower, a great power in all facets of international activity, and the hegemon — the political, military, and economic leader — of its region. This consensus marks a line in the sand, beyond which Russia cannot retreat without losing its sense of pride or even national identity. It has proven remarkably resilient, surviving post-revolutionary turbulence and the change of political regimes from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin". - Leon Aron, 2013  [emphasis mine]
In order to maintain Russia's status as a nuclear power and attain regional hegemony, Vladimir Putin pledged in 2010 to spend $650 billion on a massive modernization program that would aim to replace 70% of the Russian military's old Soviet hardware through 2020 (Gady, 2015). However, it was apparent that Russia's defense industry would be unable to meet Putin's demands even during times of relative economic prosperity. Incompetent and corrupt state institutions, a weak commodity dependent economy, and the scale of obsolescence among much of Russia's equipment - e.g. the Russian Navy will nearly have to be rebuilt from the ground up - will force future Russian military to reassess its modernization effort.

Image 3: SU-24 equipped with civilian GPS unit fixed in place with a rubber band. More information available courtesy of Tyler Rogoway's Foxtrot Alpha article "Check Out The Walmart-Grade GPS Systems In These Russian Attack Jets"

There are already indications that Russia is scaling back its most modern equipment and is choosing to re-manufacture incremental improvements of Soviet era systems instead. For example, Russia cut the number of fifth generation T-50s it planned to produce by 2020 from 50 to just 12. Russia will continue to produce upgraded fourth generation aircraft such as the Su-35S, Su-30SM, and MIG-29 SMT. While these aircraft compare favorably to many Western fourth generation designs such as the F-16C and F-15C, they will be outclassed by the F-22 and F-35. Similarly, the new stealth PAK DA bomber will almost certainly be delayed if the T-50 program is any indication. The Russian Ministry of Defense recently announced their intent to re-manufacture 34 Tu-160 Blackjack bombers for a total fleet size of 50. Despite being Russia's most modern strategic bombers in service, the current 16 aircraft fleet has been plagued by maintenance and engine reliability issues (Johnson, 2013). This is not to say Russia's conventional military little threat to the United States, but the notion that Russia is producing vastly superior military equipment to the United States and NATO is detached from reality. The conventional Russian military is more than capable enough to threaten states in the near abroad, particularly those without NATO membership such as Ukraine and Georgia. Given the constraints of Russia's domestic arms industry and economic factors, Russia is producing equipment - when used under Russia's current force doctrines, has the highest "bank per buck" relative to the quality of their conventional military personnel, which suffers from significant systemic shortcomings.

The Russian Military fields 308,100 conscripts which each serve a minimum 12 month term (Global Security, 2015). Given the diverse security concerns across Russia's immense geographic borders, even with hundreds of thousands of conscripts, units are typically understaffed and only brought up to full strength during times of war:
"...the conventional Russian military continues to be influenced by the old Soviet structure of numerous under-manned units, pre-positioned with equipment to be brought up to full staffing levels during times of conflict. The drawbacks of this design were laid bare during the 2008 war with Georgia, where airborne units (VDV) were able to deploy faster from interior Russia than those units stationed in the Caucasus...Complementing plans to increase units to permanent readiness status have been efforts to increase the level of professional troops, kontrakniki. These efforts have fallen considerably short (the retention rate for kontrakniki remains unacceptably low, and recruitment targets are struggling to keep up with the attrition rate). Slightly increased housing, pay and status have remained unconvincing to most of Russian society. Efforts to recruit kontrakniki were also designed to create an NCO corps that the Russian military never had (not to mention never having a professional recruiting corps that has also limited the recruitment of professional soldiers). NCO roles in western armies are filled in the Russian military by lower level officers, contributing to a bloated officer corps."- Andrew S. Bowen, 2015 
In summary, the cost to modernize its conventional military force near Western standard as originally proposed would be disproportionately more expensive than nuclear modernization in concert with developing Russia's asymmetric capabilities; the bottom line is Russia's economy cannot sustain Putin's grandiose military aims. Russia will be able to much more easily meet its objective of asserting regional hegemony and its nuclear status through acquiring asymmetric capabilities and continuing its nuclear modernization program. The use of special forces, intelligence services, cyber attacks, and paramilitary units enables Russia to coerce nearby states below the Article 5 threshold - the point at which the US military would be obligated to respond. Both the efficacy of Russia's asymmetric capabilities and its willingness to employ them represent a far greater practical threat to US interests in Europe than Russian's conventional  military.

Image 4: "Green Men" from the seizure of Crimea, most likely members of the GRU 45th Spetsnaz Regiment.

Former NSA counterintelligence officer John R. Schindler describes the process of Russian forces coercing nearby states without overt conflict as "special war":
"'special war,' an amalgam of espionage, subversion, even forms of terrorism to attain political ends without actually going to war in any conventional sense. Special war is the default setting for countries that are unable or unwilling to fight major wars, but there are prerequisites, above all a degree of cunning and a willingness to accept operational risk to achieve strategic aims...It’s very cheap compared to any conventional military operations, and if executed properly it offers states a degree of plausible deniability while achieving state interests without fighting." -  John R. Schindler, 2013
Despite Putin's initial failure to keep Yanukovych in power and cement economic ties with Ukraine, the GRU  skilfully carried the seizure of Crimea. Russian intelligence agencies continue to supply, equip, train, and advise separatists in eastern Ukraine. Eastern European NATO allies, particularly the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, are concerned Russia may use special war tactics within their own countries (Grady, 2015).

Part II will examine the efficacy of the current US response towards Russia and list a series of recommendations.

A New Age of Great Power Competition? - Russia Part II

  1. China and Russia vs. America: Great-Power Revisionism Is Back, Thomas Wright, 2015.
  2. The United States must resist a return to spheres of interest in the international system, Robert Kagan, 2015.
  3. Back to the Future: The U.S. Navy Confronts Great Power Challengers, Robert Farley, 2015.
  4. Bill Seeks Info on Russian Missile Sales, John T. Bennett, 2015.
  5. Russian Navy Chief: Submarine Patrols Up 50 Percent Over Last Year, Sam LaGrone, 2015.
  6. Stop calling Russia weak, Sergey Aleksashenko, 2015.
  8. US Army Eyes Ukraine Conflict for Intel on Russian Military Technology, Brendan McGarry, 2015.
  9. USDI Vickers’ Top Threats: Terrorists, Syria, Russian ‘Revanchism’, Colin Clark, 2015.
  10. Further delays for modernisation of Russian Air Force Tu-160 bombers, Reuben F Johnson, 2015.
  11. Overblown: Russia's empty nuclear sabre-rattling, Steven Pifer, 2015.
  12. Russia's Deceptively Weak Military, Andrew S. Bowen, 2015. 
  13. Russian Military Personnel, Global Security, 2015.
  14. A ‘New Cold War’? Abusing History, Misunderstanding Russia, Andrew Monaghan, 2015. 
  15. Russian and Chinese Assertiveness Poses New Foreign Policy Challenges, Robert Gates & Council on Foreign Relations, 2014. 
  16. An Assessment of Russian Defense Capabilities and Security Strategy, Paul N. Schwartz, Clark A Murdock, Andrew C. Kuchins, and Jeffrey A. Mankoff, 2014.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Consequences of India's Limited Rafale Fleet & the Delayed T-50

Image 1: Rafale test of MBDA Meteor beyond visual range missile

In April of 2015, France and India announced a $4.3 billion government to government contract to provide the Indian Air Force (IAF) with 36 Rafales in fly away condition in addition to support equipment and maintenance assistance. The government to government contract was praised by many aviation publications as a pragmatic solution to quickly develop the IAF opposed to the defunct $20 billion dollar Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition in which Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) would produce 108 Rafales under domestic license and Dassault would provide 18 fly-way condition aircraft. The IAF desperately needs additional fighter aircraft to meet its operational requirement of 42 fighter squadrons, the minimum number required to fight a two front war with both Pakistan and China, from the current 25 IAF squadrons. Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar recently announced the IAF has no intention to acquire more than 36 Dassault Rafale aircraft.

Most commentators, including myself, believed the IAF would acquire more than 36 aircraft given the benefits of a larger fleet in terms of logistics and sustainment costs. IAF modernization have been stalled further due to developmental and funding issues with respect to the fifth generation T-50/FGFA. The decision to acquire a limited Rafale fleet in conjunction with the delay of the FGFA has three major affects on the IAF: (1) at least some of the funds saved by foregoing the MMRCA program will be utilized to fund the indigenous HAL Tejas fighter, (2) the acquisition of the Rafale represented an opportunity to pursue closer ties with the West and the decision to forego a major Rafale commitment will ensure Russia remains the principle foreign supplier in the IAF, and (3) the Su-30 MKI will remain the only air dominance fighter available in large numbers within the IAF over the next decade which can compete with high-end PLAAF aircraft.

The Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mk I is a fourth generation delta wing fighter design produced to replace the IAF's aging fleet of 150 "Bison" configuration Mig-21 aircraft (Chandra, 2015). Both the Mig-27 and Mig-21 squadrons will have to be retired in the early 2020s due to the age of the airframes and poor maintenance meaning a further reduction to the IAF by at least 7 squadrons. HAL is scheduled to produce 230 MK I and MK II Tejas aircraft for the IAF and possibly a naval variant for India's future aircraft carriers. However, the Tejas program is plagued with a series of design and manufacturing shortcomings. India's Comptroller and Auditor General recently declared that the Tejas failed to meet IAF standards:

Image 2: HAL Tejas MK I
"India's Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) declared on 8 May that the locally designed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mk I was 'operationally deficient' and its pilots vulnerable even to 7.62 mm rounds fired at the fighter's front end. In the 63-page report tabled in parliament, Shashi Kant Sharma revealed that the long-delayed LCA Mk I, which obtained its second initial operational clearance (IOC-2) in December 2013, had failed to meet the Indian Air Force's (IAF's) air staff requirements on numerous counts...The persistent shortcomings, some of which were still under design, development, and testing, include excessive weight, engine thrust, reduced internal fuel capacity, non-compliance of all-weather operations, non-achievement of single-point defueling fuel system protection, and pilot protection. They restrict the "operational efficiency and survivability of the aircraft, thereby limiting its employability when inducted into IAF squadrons" - Rahul Bedi, 2015
The more capable MK II variant, which incorporates fixes for many of the deficiencies above, will not enter service for at least another five years. HAL's inability to produce a reliable low-end fourth generation fighter is indicative of the systemic shortcomings of India's domestic arms industry which has had difficulty in producing even basic assault rifles. State owned industries such as HAL are isolated from private sector competition and simply do not have the incentives to improve production - consistent with discussions of India's troubled heavy Import Substitution Industrialization development strategy.  The inefficient production processes of HAL was demonstrated in the domestic production of Su-30 MKI aircraft:
"Of the SU-30MKI’s roughly 43,000 components, there are 5,800 large metal plates, castings and forgings that must come from Russia...Those plates, castings, and forgings are a source of considerable waste: 'For example, a 486 kg titanium bar supplied by Russia is whittled down to a 15.9 kg tail component. The titanium shaved off is wasted. Similarly a wing bracket that weighs just 3.1 kg has to be fashioned from a titanium forging that weighs 27 kg…. manufacturing sophisticated raw materials like titanium extrusions in India is not economically viable for the tiny quantities needed for Su-30MKI fighters.'An assembly line that wasn’t state-owned wouldn’t be wasting all that left-over titanium.” - Defense Industry Daily, 2014 [emphasis mine]
The decision to limit the IAF to just 36 Rafales and prioritize domestically produced aircraft ensures the IAF will field a greater number of fighter aircraft over the next decade at the cost of greater high-end air-to-air capabilities. While the MK II has the potential to compete with both the Pakistani JF-17 and F-16 as well as the Chinese J-10A, it will be outclassed by more advanced flanker derivatives flown by the PLAAF such as the J-11B & J-16. Without the Rafale, the high-end air-to-air capability of the IAF will be dependent upon the Su-30 MKI which comprises nearly one third of operational IAF squadrons.

Image 3: Su-30 MKI

The IAF will purchase a total of 272 Su-30 MKI multi-role fighter aircraft with 90 ordered directly from Sukhoi and 182 produced under license by HAL, a total of 205 aircraft have been delivered. (Defense Industry Daily & IHS Janes, 2015). The Su-30 MKI is the most capable fighter aircraft in the IAF inventory and compares favorably against most high-end fighter aircraft within the PLAAF with the exception of the J-16 and J-20. The proposed "Super 30" variant would add new capabilities such as integration of the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile, upgraded electronic warfare suite, updated on board computers, and an AESA radar such as the Phazotron Zhuk-AE (Defense Industry Daily, 2014). Given the significant performance of the Su-30 MKI at the cost of roughly $75 million per aircraft, compared to the $220 million price of the Rafale under the deal announced in April (note: the $220 figure includes maintenance and support unlike the Su-30 MKI figure), many within the Ministry of Defense have urged the acquisition of additional Su-30 MKI aircraft at the cost of the MMRCA. Russia has been eager to enact retribution over the cancellation of the Mistral warship deal with France and has aggressively marketed for additional Su-30 MKI aircraft within the MOD. Despite the fact that no additional orders for Su-30 MKI aircraft have been made, it is likely the IAF will compensate for the lack of high-end Rafales with additional upgraded Su-30 MKI aircraft over the next decade. While the decision is largely pragmatic in terms of additional capabilities and cost, the IAF must remediate the poor availability of its Su-30 MKI fleet due to maintenance and sustainment concerns.

On May 27th 2015, the MOD announced it would conduct a review over the safety of its Su-30 MKI fleet after the loss of an aircraft earlier in the month. The crash is the latest in a series of SU-30 MKI fleet sustainment shortfalls for the IAF. The jet maintains a 55% mission availability rate meaning that with a fleet of 200 aircraft, only 110 would be operable at any time. For reference, the USAF F-22 has a mission capable rate of 72.7% and the F-15C had a mission capable rate of 73.2% (Everstine, 2014). The primary cause for the low operational readiness of India's Su-30 fleet is a result of its Saturn AL-31FP engines:
"There have been no fewer than 69 investigations involving engine failures since 2012, according to Parrikar. Between January 2013 and December 2014 alone, the Indian Air Force recorded 35 technical problems with the turbofans...Parrikar attributed the failures to faulty bearings that contaminated the plane’s oil supply. It seems that metal fatigue led to tiny pieces of metal shearing off the friction-reducing bearings, which then entered the oil system. This accounted for 33 of 69 engine failures. Another 11 failures were the result of engine vibrations, while eight more arose from a lack of pressure in that same lubricating oil. New Delhi has not revealed the cause for the remaining 17 incidents." - Thomas Newdick, 2015 
Prior to the latest crash, Defense Minister Parrikar insisted that alterations to the AL-31 would increase mission availability rates to 70% by the end of 2015 (Bendi, 2015). With more capable fighter aircraft such as the Super 30 and higher mission availability rates from improved maintenance,  the IAF may seek to reconsider the merits of obtaining 42 squadrons of fighter aircraft given the substantial opportunity costs. Furthermore, the IAF should consider additional C4ISR, tanker, and electronic attack aircraft which would increase the effectiveness of existing fighter aircraft. The IAF largely lacks substantial dedicated electronic attack aircraft which would be vital in in defeating either the Pakistani or Chinese integrated air defense system given that the IAF will largely field fourth generation aircraft for the next two decades (IADS). Despite its substantial air-to-air capabilities, the FGFA will be ill suited to defeating IADS due to its intentional lack of rear stealth as per Russian requirements. Part II will detail the aforementioned additional recommendations to the IAF.


  1. Rafale Proposal Could Speed Deliveries to India, Pierre Tran and Vivek Raghuvanshi, 2015. 
  2. The Chinese Threat: An Indian Perspective, Vijai K. Nair, 2003. 
  3. A Turnaround For India’s First Indigenous Fighter, Jay Menon, 2015. 
  4. India Ordered, Modernized, Perhaps Regrets SU-30MKIs, Defense industry Daily, 2015.
  5. Why the Air Force Has to Wait Another 5 Years for Indigenously-Built Tejas Fighter, Sudhi Ranjan Sen, 2015. 
  6. India to review safety of Su-30MKI fighter fleet, Gareth Jennings, 2015.
  7. Rafale deal an unmitigated disaster – Bharat Karnad of CPR, 2015.
  8. HAL hands back first overhauled Su-30MKI to Indian Air Force, Rahul Bedi, 2015.
  9. Race against time: More people, money needed to keep aging fleets flying, Brian Everstine, 2014. 
  10. IN FOCUS: India advances air force modernisation, Greg Waldron, 2012. 
  11. India's auditor general brands Tejas 'operationally deficient', Rahul Bedi, 2015. 

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. 

In addition to Part I: 
  1. Precision Fires Rocket and Missile Systems.
  2. Obama weighs offering Saudi Arabia weapons provided only to Israel, Guy Taylor, 2015.
  3. Iran nuclear sites may be beyond reach of "bunker busters", Michael Ammons, 2012.
  4. Gulf States Requesting ABM-Capable Systems, Defense Industry Daily, 2015.
  5. IDEX 2015: Saudi, Qatari THAAD contracts in the pipeline, Jeremy Binnie, 2015. 
  6. Patriot Fact Sheet, NATO, 2013. 
  7. BMD mission demands outstrip fleet's capabilities, Lance M. Bacon, 2015. 
  8. Navy Again Reduces Scope of Destroyer Modernization, 5 Ships Won’t Receive Any Ballistic Missile Defense Upgrades, Sam LaGrone, 2015. 
  9. SM-3 BMD, in from the Sea: EPAA & Aegis Ashore, Defense Industry Daily, 2015. 
  10. THAAD TMD, Global Security, 2013.
  11. Commanding the Seas: A Plan to Reinvigorate U.S. Navy Surface Warfare, Bryan Clark, 2014.