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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Article Preview: SoS Air Superiority 2025-2030

In maybe a week or so I will publish a multi-part article series upon material I wrote for courses at the Elliott School. The article will make the case for a systems of systems (SoS) solution to air superiority between 2025 and 2030 as a means to ease the transition to a manned 6th generation fighter platform with an expected initial operational capability between 2035 and 2040. Below are a couple of slides from the presentation. 

Selected excerpt: 

Colonel Michael W. Pietrucha’s concept for a semi-autonomous force multiplier UCAV outlined in, The Next Lightweight Fighter, serves as a valuable starting point for conceptualizing the role and requirements of the loyal wingman concept,
The UCAV will not replace the manned fighter aircraft – we cannot build a control system to replicate the sensing and processing ability of trained aircrews. Nevertheless, UCAVs may play a valuable role as a supplementary system. Not remotely piloted aircraft, they will operate semiautonomously, serving as literal wingmen of limited capabilities. We can build the technology to fly an aircraft and execute the preprogramed routines. The ‘brains’ of the operation will remain the nearby human, who needs only to tell the UCAV what to do and (mostly) forget about it.[1]
The UCAV would not be a dogfighter in the traditional sense. Rather, the UCAV would act as a “missile truck” for 5th generation assets given the limited internal carriage of weapons in the F-22 and F-35. Therefore, the design can sacrifice many of the design attributes associated with high-end maneuverability in favor of payload, endurance, and range. Pietrucha outlines three modes from which his proposed F-40 Warhawk UCAV could operate: autonomous, semi-autonomous, and cooperative. However, Pietrucha’s vision of autonomous capabilities are relatively modest much as basic aviation capabilities related to navigation of predesignated locations and weapons employment against fixed targets. In the Air Force publication, Autonomous Horizons, the Office of the Chief Scientist mirrors many of Pietrucha technical feasibility reservations regarding fully autonomous combat aircraft.[2]

[1] Col Michael W. Pietrucha, "The Next Lightweight Fighter", Air & Space Power Journal, August-July 2013.
[2] United States Air Force Office of the Chief Scientist, "Autonomous Horizons", June 2015. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Op-Ed: Don't Restart F-22 Production, Accelerate the F-X Program

In recent weeks, a renewed interest in restarting F-22 production has emerged from both Capitol Hill and the defense policy community. In 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates lobbied Congress to terminate F-22 production at just 187 airframes; his decision to limit the F-22 production line was the culmination of his long running feud with the Air Force. Gates was adamant that the armed services should prioritize the development of practical capabilities relevant to the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In his testimony before Congress, Gates argued the F-22 was “a silver bullet” solution to the non-existent problem of foreign fifth generation aircraft which could deny U.S. air superiority in a hypothetical conflict with a near-peer competitor. As the Administration, lawmakers, and the Department of Defense begin to accept the reality that the United States will once again contend with the threat of great power competition and high-end conflicts, the acute deficiency of dedicated air superiority platforms within the USAF fleet hobbles the ability of U.S. forces to both achieve aerial superiority and assure all
domain access against near-peer competitors.

Image 1: F-22 Fort Worth production line. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

A small but highly capable fleet of F-22s serves the nation as not only a highly credible deterrence force with recent rotational deployments to Japan, the Korean Peninsula, and Poland, but also as a provider of robust warfighting capabilities over the skies in Syria. Despite the unique and unmatched capabilities of the F-22 in the air superiority mission, the USAF should not pursue restarting the F-22 production line. Restarting production would delay the sixth generation F-X program which must be accelerated to keep pace with both emerging threats and to preserve the skills and technical base of the three remaining combat aircraft manufactures; waiting 10 years to start the F-X program will reduce the viability of Boeing to compete against Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman who have active long-term combat aircraft contracts. The USAF must leverage the lessons learned from both the F-35 and L-RSB programs, such as the importance of stable requirements and use of mature technologies, to rapidly develop and procure a sixth generation air superiority aircraft. In parallel with the accelerated development of the F-X, the USAF should field interim solutions to rapidly enhance the effectiveness of the F-15, F-35, and planned arsenal plane in the air superiority mission.

Image 2: Northrup Grumman sixth generation concept. The lack of a tail is likely an indication the concept aircraft is optimized against VHF radars which have the potential to detect X and S optimized stealth aircraft like the F-22 and F-35 as per the Rayleigh scattering region. Image Credit: Northrup Grumman.

The Air Force originally planned to procure 700 F-22s to fully replace its fleet of F-15C/D aircraft during the 1990s. As a result of cost overruns and program delays, the Air Force subsequently revised its planned force structure to 300 F-22s during the 2000s. No credible analysis of future operational needs against a near-peer competitor has concluded the USAF’s current Raptor fleet is sufficient to wholly provide sufficient air superiority capabilities. Of the 187 aircraft delivered to the USAF, only 123 are combat coded with the remaining F-22s serving in test and evaluation, attrition reserve, and training roles. Factoring in the reduced sortie generation rate of US aircraft in the Pacific given the extended transit periods between distant Western Pacific bases such as Guam and Kadena from expected deployment areas such as the South and East China Seas, the limited number of F-22s becomes especially acute. To mitigate the Raptor shortfall, the USAF has sought to upgrade its venerable F-15C/D fleet and has debated assigning additional air superiority responsibilities to the F-35. These short term solutions are not sufficient to meet USAF operational needs prior to the introduction of the F-X in the 2030s. The means in which the USAF seeks to bolster its F-15 and F-35 force in the interim period will serve as an instructive experience in formulating sixth generation requirements and testing relevant technologies.

Image 3: Boeing's 2040C concept. Image Credit: Boeing

The early termination of the Raptor production in concert with extended F-35 program delays will force the USAF to field a mixed fourth-fifth generation fighter force well into the 2030s. A total of 414 F-15C/Ds and F-15Es will receive a service life extension program (SLEP) to keep them airworthy into the 2030s in tandem with adding a new actively scanned electronic array radars, upgraded cockpit displays, an improved electronic warfare suite, an infrared search and track (IRST) pod, and a fourth-to-fifth generation communication pod such as the Talon Hate. Given its extended service life and robust upgrade package, the F-15 force should not be disregarded as a depreciating asset. The lack of a low observable airframe is somewhat offset by the F-15’s 1,000+ nautical mile (nm) combat radius (compared to roughly 500 nm for the F-35 and 470 nm for the F-22), comparatively low per-flight hour maintenance costs, high operational readiness rate, powerful 1,500 element AESA radar, and the aircraft's large growth potential. Two proposed solutions have the potential to both bolster the air-to-air capabilities of the F-15 and inform USAF decisions to draft requirements for the sixth generation F-X.

The USAF Research Laboratory is working to field a 100 kilowatt (kW) center-line laser pod demonstrator on an F-15E in the early 2020s. A 100 kW laser pod would provide substantial anti-missile defense capabilities as well as a nascent anti-unmanned aerial vehicle and anti-aircraft capability. The technology for a 100 kW laser pod is relatively mature and would better inform USAF deliberations to field a more powerful 150 kW+ directed energy weapon on the F-X. The USAF Research Laboratory has stated among the many proposed features of the F-X would be a “deep magazine”. Both the F-22 and F-35 Block IV can only accommodate six AIM-120D missiles (the F-22 also has two shorter range AIM-9X sidewinders in the side weapon bays). Against a numerically superior force equipped with highly capable digital radio frequency jammers (DRFM), the probability kill (pk) of each missile is expected to fall to approximately 50%. While the F-22 and F-35 cannot externally carry weapons without compromising their low observable profiles, the F-15 can expand upon its comparative advantages of high payload capability to add additional weapon pylons as demonstrated in Boeing's “2040C” upgrade which would expand the F-15’s AIM-120D load from 8 to 16 missiles. When networked with F-35s and F-22s, upgraded F-15s would offset the limited internal weapons storage capacity of US fifth generation fighters.

Image Credit: Director AFRL Munitions Directorate John Wilcox.

Proposals to “deepen the magazine” of the F-35 include small kinetic hit- to-kill interceptors such as CUDA and small advanced capability missile technologies (SACM-T) concepts. The concurrent development of the miniature self-defense munition (MSDM) follows a similar concept in which a kinetic interceptor is launched to defeat an adversary missile. The relative utility of a micro interceptor such as MSDM against a numerically superior adversary’s missiles is dubious from both a cost exchange and a finite payload capacity perspective in a similar manner as Navy deliberations to field high-end kinetic interceptors on large surface combatants against Russian and Chinese anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs). The ideal solution is to “shoot the archer before he shoots his arrows” in a similar manner as the F-14 was armed with long range Phoenix missiles against Soviet Backfire bombers carrying multiple ASCMs. This solution is achievable within the current fighter fleet either through a deep magazine on a low observable airframe, which thus has first shot first kill capability, or a fourth generation fighter or arsenal plane equipped with an extended range air-to-air missile well beyond the 100 nm range of the AIM-120D. The expansive weapon bays of both the B-1B and B-52, the two leading arsenal plane candidates, makes the fielding of a long range beyond visual range missile especially appealing.

Image 5: Of the two most likely candidates for the arsenal plane, the B-1B bomber is superior to the B-52 at least within the air-to-air role. The B-1B's reduced radar cross section of approximately 1m^2 and maximum speed of mach 1.2 offers greatly enhanced survivability over the subsonic B-52. Planned modernization programs for the B-1B include the Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) AESA radar, modified from the original F-16 AESA model, in addition to modernized cockpit displays and communication systems. Image Credit: Foxtrot Alpha, Tyler Rogoway.

In conclusion, the opportunity cost of restarting F-22 production is too high as it would delay the F-X which will be better suited to counter emerging anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) threats such as integrated air defenses networked with VHF radars. The USAF can leverage its interim solutions to expand the air superiority capabilities of its fighter force to reducing the risk of technologies associated with the sixth generation F-X such as the deep magazine capability and directed energy weapons. The USAF must emphasize mature technologies and extensive prototyping within the F-X program, in a similar manner as the LRS-B program, if it seeks to avoid the extensive program delays of the F-35. The combination of a longer range beyond visual range missile for the arsenal plane, 2040C F-15 upgrade, and a kinetic interceptor optimized against enemy fighter aircraft to expand the magazines for the F-22 and F-35 will enable the USAF to meet its air superiority requirements and contribute to broader inter-service efforts to attain all domain access against near-peer competitors.

Related Articles

America's Sixth Generation Fighters: The F-X and F/A-XX - I
The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors - Part I Introduction
The Future of America's Eagles Part I 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Countering Foreign 5th Generation Threats - Part II

Image 1: Effects of A2/AD. Image Credit: Director AFRL Munitions Directorate John Wilcox.

The US philosophy for air combat operations relies upon establishing situational awareness through advanced avionics and network centric warfare while denying situational awareness to the adversary through stealth, electronic warfare, and cyberwarfare. Thus, US aircraft like the F-22 and F-35 have "first shot first kill" capability against fourth generation aircraft such as the Su-35 and J-10. This strategy has been pitched as a means to defeat the anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) systems of near peer competitors such as Russia and China which are fielding increasingly capable weapons systems such that the US' technological superiority has been substantially reduced. However, the US strategy of obtaining situational awareness while simultaneously denying it to US adversaries is at least partially based on some erroneous assumptions: (1) US forces are also vulnerable to cyber and electronic warfare attacks to disrupt US networks and situational awareness, (2) the ability of US forces to conduct stand-off kills at range utilizing the "first shot first kill" capability will be diminished over time as probable US adversaries will utilize their own low observable aircraft, cyberwarfare, and electronic warfare which will both disrupt US sensors and lower the probability kill (pk) beyond visual range (bvr) air-to-air missiles. Furthermore, the United States Navy (USN) and United States Air Force (USAF) must cope with the reality that their fourth generation fighter forces will continue to operate well into the late 2020s and likely into the 2030s meaning they will not be able to fully field a pure fifth generation fighter force which would be able to most effectively implement the aforementioned strategy of obtaining situational awareness and denying it to the enemy. In order to remain competitive against near peer adversaries under these constraints, both the USN and USAF have a number of options between the late 2020s to early 2030s time frame before the advent of US sixth generation fighters. This series of articles will discuss options the USAF might develop to cope with the aforementioned challenges such as lowering the electromagnetic footprint of US aircraft, increasing the use of passive detection systems, and integrating fourth and fifth generation fighter operations. 

Lowering the Electromagnetic Signatures of US Aircraft

Within the next two decades, passive detection systems will become an increasingly important means of locating and tracking adversary aircraft in tandem with active systems such as radar. The United States maintains a comparative advantage in actively scanned electronic array (AESA) radars such as the AN/APG-77 and AN/APG-81 which enable the detection and tracking fighter sized radar cross section (rcs) targets at ranges exceeding 100 nautical miles. However, by virtue of actively emitting signals, radars can be located by passive systems such as radar warning receivers (rwr). Most American AESA radars have a low probability intercept (LPI) mode which mitigates but does not eliminate the possibility of passive detection. LPI software automatically manages the intensity, duration, and frequency of radar emissions such that minimal situational awareness is lost while maximizing the probability of avoiding detection (Sweetman, 2001). Similarly, the use of data links such as Link 16 can compromise the location of friendly aircraft to adversary forces by virtue of emitting signals. As with LPI radars, elaborate minimally detectable data links such as the advanced tactical data-link (ATDL) and Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) mitigate the probability of detection by emission locator systems. However, the proliferation and growing capabilities of radio frequency threat warning systems, such as the Khibiny M, necessitate the USAF and USN to develop procedures to reduce electronic emissions.While US science and technology investments are on track to reduce the electromagnetic footprint of future US fighter aircraft, widespread operational changes must accompany these technological advancements to promote the ability of US forces to operate in a communications and electromagnetic spectrum denied environment

Image 2 Credit: Ronald W. Brower, USAF.

The armed services have grown too accustomed to operating in a permissive environments against non-state actors. Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin notes, US forces can dramatically reduce their electronic signatures as a result of operational rather than technological changes, 
We have to have better discipline. For the last 15 years, we've grown very comfortable just going wherever we need having all the bandwidth, all the pipes cause we have been fighting these two wars overland...before that during the Cold War we did practice a lot of discipline, which has gone out of favor. We need to re-instill that...We need to be able to operate in a coms denied environment.

Image 3: MADL. Image retrieved via

Instilling operational discipline is key within the context of the current doctrine of network centric warfare in which both USN and USAF aviators are expected to seamlessly share real time intelligence and threat data to grant US forces unmatched situational awareness. The Navy's Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) and USAF's "Combat Cloud" concepts epitomize how the services have failed to change their collective mindset from operating in a permissive to denied environment. As Jon Solomon astutely notes on Information Dissemination,
...there is a gigantic difference between a network-enhanced warfare system and a network-dependent warfare system. While the former’s performance expands greatly when connected to other force elements via a network, it nevertheless is designed to have a minimum performance that is ‘good enough’ to independently achieve certain critical tasks if network connectivity is unavailable or compromised....Conversely, a network-dependent warfare system fails outright when its supporting network is corrupted or denied.
The fixation on technology relating to information dominance has a risk of making future US fighter forces network dependent as opposed to network-enhanced. Both Russia and China are developing tools which would limit the effectiveness of network dependent operational concepts such as NIFCA-CA; C4ISR nodes within US networks such as the E-2D are likely to be targeted (Fulghum, 2012). Cyber weapons have the potential to falsify radar data as well as to disrupt or even destroy US networks. Therefore, it is imperative that US pilots gain experience in future exercises or simulations which depict a realistic threat environment.  

Part III will discuss the growing importance of passive detection systems and methods such as infra-red search and track (IRST) and Time Distance of Arrival (TDOA). 

  1. Inside the Navy’s Next Air War, Dave Majumdar and Sam LaGrone, 2014. 
  2. China, U.S. Chase Air-to-Air Cyber Weapon, David A. Fulghum, 2012. 
  3. 21st Century Maritime Operations Under Cyber-Electromagnetic Opposition, Part II, Jon Solomon, 2014. 
  4. Are U.S. Soldiers Ready If War ‘Goes Dark’?, Aaron Picozzi, 2016.
  5.  Detection And Jamming Low Probability Of Intercept (LPI) Radars, Aytug Denk, 2006.
  6. Arming 5th & 6th Gen Aircraft In An A2AD Environment, John ‘Beach’ Wilcox, undated. 
  7. FIGHTER EW., Bill Sweetman, 2000.                                                                           
  8. The Avionics Handbook APG-77, Ronald W. Brower (also image 2 credit), 2001. 
  9. The Future of Naval Capabilities, CSIS, 2015.                                                                

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2016 Updates

Image 1: F-22, Eurofighter, and Rafale participating in a trilateral exercise. Image Credit: Kayla Newman.

Given the lack of new articles since October 2015, I thought it would be appropriate to update readers on the status of the blog going forward into 2016. I will begin to publish articles as normal within a week to two weeks. A couple of topics I am considering writing about include: PLAAF training & PRC knowledge of US capabilities,  future TTP - countering foreign 5th generation threats part III, and should the USAF cut F-35 procurement to fund the LRS-B?  Feel free to suggest article topics or let me know if you have any questions or concerns. Thank you!



Recommended Reading

Northrop Unveils Sixth Gen Fighter Concept - By Colin Clark 
China Assembles Its Stealth Jet Fleet - By David Axe 
India and Russia Fail to Resolve Dispute Over Fifth Generation Fighter Jet - By Franz-Stefan Gady
Russia, China Still Fierce Competitors Despite Recent Arms Deals - By Miles Yu
Office of Naval Intelligence Report on Russian Navy 
Russia receives its first ordered MiG-29SMTs - By Nicholas de Larrinaga
Work Outlines Key Steps in Third Offset Tech Development - By Aaron Mehta
Robot Wars: Centaurs, Skynet, & Swarms - By Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr. 
Next US Navy Budget Battle Pits Ships Against Strike Fighters - By James Drew
U.S. Spy Net on Israel Snares Congress - By Adam Entous & Danny Yadron

Monday, October 26, 2015

PLAAF Fighter Modernization & J-20 Updates

Image 1: J-11A fighter aircraft.

As part of the "Countering Foreign 5th Generation Threats" series, this article will focus on broader trends within the PLAAF fighter force with respect to preparing for local wars under "informatization" conditions in the 2020 to 2030 time frame.

For information on specific types of PLAAF fighter aircraft and avionics, please refer to the following articles:

China's Anti Access Strategy Part II: Air Power
The Technological Maturity of Chinese AESA Technology & Strategic Impacts
Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters: Shenyang J-31 Part I
Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters Part III: J-31 Part II

Equipment Modernization

The current composition of the PLAAF's fighter and interceptor fleet demonstrates both the progress and complexity of China's modernization effort since the 1990s. The current fleet contains approximately 1,200 fighter and interceptor aircraft of which 60% are third generation platforms such as the J-7 which is a domestic copy of the Mig-21 (Coredsman & Yarosh, 2012). While variants of the PLAAF's third generation aircraft incorporate significant upgrades, they are largely obsolete relative to Japanese and US fighter aircraft. Most of the PLAAF's third generation fighter force will be retired over the course of this decade and replaced by much more capable fourth generation aircraft such as the J-10 and J-11.

As of 2014, the PLAAF fields 200 J-10A aircraft and roughly 300 Flanker derivative aircraft including the J-11A, J-11B, Su-27SK, Su-27UBK, and Su-30MKK (Flight Global World Air Forces, 2014). Production of these fourth generation aircraft by Chengdu and Shenyang is likely to accelerate over this decade to facilitate the replacement of the J-7 and J-8. Chengdu is expected to produce 200 J-10 aircraft over the next five years with at least 30 of the more advanced J-10B variant being produced each year (Fisher, 2015). According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies report The Military Balance for the years 2012 and 2014, the PLAAF and PLANAF added an additional 88 J-11B aircraft to their fighter forces within a two year period. While most literature on the PLAAF acknowledges the shift from third generation to fourth generation platforms, the substantial performance disparity among the new fourth generation aircraft is frequently overlooked.

Image 2: Fighter Radar Specifications

By Western standards, much of the PLAAF's current fourth generation fleet is not modern. For example, the N001, N001VE, and Type 1493 mechanically scanned radars equipped on the PLAAF Flanker fleet is comparable to 1980s US systems. The major limitation of these older mechanically scanned arrays is the PLAAF cannot fully utilize its numerical superiority as its fighter radars are limited in their ability to simultaneously track and engage multiple targets and provide situational awareness. Modern active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars will enable 4.5 generation and fifth generation PLAAF fighters such as the J-10B, J-11D, J-16, and J-20 to fully utilize their large payload capacity for effective beyond visual range (BVR) missile salvos. The PRC has made significant progress in domestically produced BVR missile technology with the development of the PL-15. The PL-15 is powered by a ramjet which grants it an improved no escape zone and at least a 60 mile range; the missile also features an active seeker and two way data-link. Chief of Air Combat Command, General Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle indicated that fielding longer range missiles to out range the PL-15 is "an exceedingly high priority". General Carlisle's remarks are especially stark as it is not customary for USAF officials to publicly refer to specific systems developed by potential adversaries (Axe, 2015).

Image 3: Concept art of a FC-31/J-31 launching a PL-15.

In addition to modern AESA radars, PLAAF 4.5 and 5th generation aircraft will also field greatly improved electronic warfare and countermeasure systems. In March of 2015, Richard Fisher from IHS Jane's reported the addition of new missile approach warning systems (MAWS) on J-11A aircraft. The combination of both the PLAAF's willingness to acquire significant numbers of new fourth generation aircraft and upgrade its existing fourth generation fleet has significant implications on the number of fifth generation aircraft the PLAAF is likely to field over the next decade.

PLAAF 5th Generation Developments - J-20 & J-31

Image 4: Design alterations between the first and third J-20 airframes are clearly visible including the nose cone, diverterless supersonic inlets (DSI), and the possible inclusion of radar absorbent material coatings (RAM). The latest J-20 airframe designated 2016 includes an expanded fuselage towards the engines such that less of the unstealthy nozzles are exposed and an expansion of the DSI (Feng, Lin, & Singer, 2015).

Despite the recent media attention about China's stealth fighter programs, the bulk of China's air superiority capability will consist of non-stealthy 4th generation aircraft for at least another decade. The J-20 is expected to enter service between 2017 and 2018. Given the limited information within the public domain, the J-20 program appears to be progressing well as a total of seven prototype aircraft have been built since the initial debut in 2011 (Feng, 2015). The more recent J-20 airframes such as numbers 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2016 show a progression towards a stealthier production aircraft equipped with a large AESA radar and EOTS-89 electro-optical targeting system (EOTS). While externally impressive, the photographs of the new prototypes do not reveal the extent in which Chinese firms involved in the production of the J-20's avionics been able to write software that will effectively fuse the J-20's sensors to provide enhanced situational awareness. As the US F-35 program has demonstrated, the development of internal systems and software has generally been a more daunting task than the development of a low observable airframe.

Three main theories exist among Western defense/aerospace publications with respect to the role of the J-20, each has different implications on the number of J-20 aircraft the PLAAF is likely to acquire. The first theory is strait forward, the PLAAF has a history of fielding both low-end and high-end fighter aircraft and it is likely the J-20 will fill the air superiority high-end role (Gary Li, 2012). Two issues hinder the J-20's current utility as a high-end air superiority fighter: (1) its lack of sufficiently powerful engines and (2) its exposed engine nozzles. Current prototypes use a pair of imported AL-31F engines from Russia which produce a maximum of 27,500 pounds of thrust each compared to the estimated 70,000 pound plus weight of the aircraft will a full load of fuel and munitions. Bill Sweetman argues the lack of rear aspect stealth is likely an intentional design choice based on the assumption that high speed stealth aircraft can tolerate a relatively higher aft radar cross section (rcs). Assuming the J-20 receives adequate engines, proponents of the high-end fighter theory argue the J-20's delta wing canard airframe will grant it exceptional maneuverability and high angle of attack capability. If the J-20 serves as the high-end component of the PLAAF fighter force, a final production run of at least a few hundred airframes is plausible.

Image 5: J-20 weapons bay door on the second prototype aircraft designated 2002. Along with the two side bar doors which can carry one IR guided missile each, the J-20 has the capacity to carry at least six air-to-air missiles.

The second theory argues the J-20's design attributes such as its large internal fuel capacity, AESA radar, large internal weapons bay, and relatively small wings indicate the J-20 is optimized as a stealth supersonic interceptor. Karlo Kopp and Peter Goon of Air Power Australia argue the J-20's design traits would make it an ideal platform to target AWACS, C4ISR, electronic warfare, and tanker aircraft within the first and second island chains. Bill Sweetman also finds the stealth interceptor role convincing noting that,
The U.S. has committed its armed forces to concentrate much of their funding on tactical fighters with a combat radius of 600 mi., much less than the distance from their bases to targets on the Chinese mainland, and has persuaded its allies to do the same. As a result, operations are almost entirely dependent on two groups of aircraft: tankers and large intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft with long endurance. Under the 'distributed control' concept favored by U.S. Air Force commanders as a hedge against electronic warfare, including cyberattacks, the ISR aircraft also have a control-and-communications function. However, both tankers and ISR aircraft are vulnerable to attack, and maintaining a defensive combat air patrol (CAP) over them at long range is also difficult.
By targeting the enablers of US power projection in the Western Pacific, the J-20 would assist in denying the US the ability to sustain operations in the vicinity of China as part of a larger PRC A2/AD strategy. If the J-20 serves as a stealth interceptor, the niche role within the PLAAF would presumably require less aircraft than the high-end fighter role.

The third theory is that the aircraft is optimized as a air-to-ground strike aircraft given its large internal fuel and payload capacity. The J-20 would penetrate through US & Japanese air defenses and strike targets within the first and possibly second island chain. Propoents of the strike bomber theory argue that the J-20 would be a useful complement to the larger non-stealthy H-6. While the H-6 bomber has the range to strike targets within the first and second island chains, its large radar cross section would not enable it to deliver precision guided munitions in a highly contested environment; the H-6 would be forced to utilize stand-off weapons such as cruise missiles.

Of the three theories, the stealth interceptor role is the most plausible in the short-term given the lack of high performance domestically produced jet engines. Over the long-term, it is likely that domestic development of a high performance turbofan engine will enable the J-20 to become a formidable air superiority aircraft capable of fulfilling both the high-end and stealth interceptor roles in the PLAAF fighter force.

Image 6: FC-31 EORD-31 IRST sensor. Chinese media sources claim the EORD-31 can detect an F-22 at a range of 110 km (60 nm) and the B-2 at a range of 150 km (81 nm). These claims are highly suspect and are unlikely to be accurate given the verified performance figures of high-end IRST systems such as the Eurofighter's PIRATE IRST which has a range of approximately 50 km.

Since the first images of the J-31 became publicly available in 2012 until 2014, speculation has dwarfed known verified information regarding the aircraft's potential role as a low-end compliment to the J-20 or even as a carrier based aircraft. Since 2014 were the J-31 participated at the Zhuhai airshow, much more information on the aircraft has entered the public domain. It is now apparent the assumption that the J-31 would serve as a low-end compliment to the J-20 should be seriously questioned on the basis that it is unlikely the aircraft will enter domestic use within either the PLAAF or PLANAF. Shenyang consistently refers to the aircraft as the FC-31 which is an export only designation. The different public treatments between the J-20 and FC-31 by the PLAAF is indicative of their different roles:
What looks like a thoroughly modern stealth fighter is apparently not good enough to serve as China's next medium-weight combat aircraft...The J-20 was revealed in late 2010 and appears to have made its first flight in January 2011. It was not promoted at Zhuhai. And therein lies a key piece of evidence of the status of the J-31. The J-20 was not at Zhuhai because it is not for sale and because China does not want to reveal too much about it. It is intended for the Chinese air force. Conversely, because the J-31 was exhibited at Zhuhai and is promoted as an export product, the Chinese air force obviously does not want it.- Perrett, Hewson, Johnson, & Sweetman, 2014
The disparity in secrecy between the FC-31 and J-20 programs was clearly visible in September of 2015 when the F-31's performance data was leaked. Despite the inclusion of potentially sensitive information such as the jet's combat radius, Chinese internet censors did not deem the release of FC-31 performance specifications to be damaging enough to warrant action (Fisher, 2015). Given the extensive increase in fourth generation fighter production and substantial investments in new fourth generation upgrades, it is likely the PLAAF is content with its fourth generation aircraft serving as the low-end compliment to the J-20. Given the state of the PLAAF's current fighter inventory, the decision to adopt fourth generation aircraft as a low-end compliment to the J-20 rather than pursue a pure fifth generation fighter fleet is a prudent management of risk. Furthermore, the mass production of relatively inexpensive fourth generation aircraft is desperately needed by the PLAAF to facilitate the rapid retirement of the third generation J-7 and J-8.

Part III will discuss improvements to PLAAF training and tactics as well as PRC knowledge of American capabilities as a result of cyber espionage. Lastly, an analysis of PLAAF modernization challenges and current shortfalls will be presented. Part IV will discuss the growing importance and role of passive senors in a mixed fourth-fifth generation dogfight.

Sources (In Addition to Part I)

  1. J-20 Stealth Fighter Design Balances Speed And Agility, Bill Sweetman, 2014.                  
  2. Beijing tech show highlights advances in Chinese fighter sensors, Richard D Fisher Jr, 2015.
  3. Images suggest J-10Bs close to entering Chinese service, Richard D Fisher Jr, 2015.
  4. China showcases new weapon systems at 3 September parade, Richard D Fisher Jr, 2015.
  5. Images suggest upgrades to China's early series J-11s, Richard D Fisher Jr, 2015.
  6. USAF seeks ‘interim’ CHAMP, longer-range air-to-air missiles, James Drew, 2015.
  7. MAKS: Chinese firm unveils new sensors for J-20, J-31, Stephen Trimble, 2015. 
  8. PLA Air to Air Missiles, Karlo Kopp, 2012.                                                                         
  9. The New Chinese Missile That Has the U.S. Air Force Spooked, David Axe, 2015.
  10. CHINESE AIR-TO-AIR MISSILE HITS TARGETS, SPOOKS USAF GENERAL, P.W. Singer & Jeffry Lin, 2015.                                                                                                     
  11. 6TH J-20 STEALTH FIGHTER ROLLS OUT, MORE TO SOON FOLLOW, P.W. Singer & Jeffry Lin, 2015.
  13. China Developing a 2nd Stealth Fighter?, J. Michael Cole, 2012.                                        
  14. China's Expert Fighter Designer, Robert Beckhusen, 2015.
  15. Chengdu J-XX [J-20] Stealth Fighter Prototype A Preliminary Assessment, Karlo Kopp & Peter Goon, 2011. 
  17. Sky Searchers, 2014.
  18. Shenyang FC-31 fighter performance 'leaked' online, Richard D Fisher Jr, 2015. 
  19. J-20 and more thoughts on 5th generation projects, Feng, 2015.                                         

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 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.