Total Pageviews

Search This Blog

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Make America’s Carrier Air Wing Great Again


 Image 1: F-35Cs onboard the USS George Washington. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin & taken by Todd R. McQueen.

Author’s Note: For the purpose of this article, the majority of analysis will concern the role of carrier based fighter aircraft. For a quick primer on the roles of other carrier based aircraft, please refer to Sam LaGrone’s “Inside the Carrier Air Wing”.

In response to the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) rise as a near-peer competitor, bipartisan support continues to grow in support of rebuilding the American Navy. However, the U.S. Navy (USN), Congress, and the Administration officials continue to neglect modernizing the carrier air wing (CVW) as part of any major naval build-up. The current CVW is smaller than any deployed since the USN’s first super carrier in 1955 and consists of short range aircraft ill-suited for sea control and power projection operations against high-end adversaries. The F-35C is a critical component to the future CVW as the Lightning II greatly extends the reach, survivability, and lethality of the entire carrier strike group. Despite suggestions by the President that the F-35C could be replaced by a “comparable” F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, both the F/A-18E/F and F-35C will serve complementary roles as part of a high-low mix force structure. In order to demonstrate the necessity of funding the full procurement of 260 F-35Cs for the USN, an analysis of how the threat environment in the Western-Pacific challenges the modern CVW will be provided in parts I and II. Part III will discuss the unique capabilities of the F-35C and how its presence on USN carriers will multiply the effectiveness of other USN assets. Lastly, the fourth article in the series will conclude with a list of recommendations on the future structure of the CVW such as the role and ideal requirements for the Carrier Based Aerial Refueling System (CBARS) and the need for a carrier based long-range anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability to replace the S-3 Viking.

Future Threat Environment & the Role of Carrier Based Fighters



Chart 1: Planned CVW in the mid to late 2020s. 

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the USN obtained uncontested dominion over the world’s oceans for the first time since the end of World War II. The USN no longer needed to prioritize sea control assets, munitions, and doctrines such as the F-14D, the anti-ship variant of the Tomahawk cruise missile, and the Outer Air Battle concept. Given the permissive operational environment, the USN gradually tooled the CVW to provide persistent presence and air power against non-state actors following 9/11. The USN will have to relearn the institutional knowledge, skills, and doctrines associated with sea control in addition to procuring new ships and aircraft to face the modern threat environment. The Department of Defense (DoD) defines sea control as:
…operations designed to secure use of the maritime domain by one’s own forces and to prevent its use by the enemy. Sea control is the essence of seapower and is a necessary ingredient in the successful accomplishment of all naval missions…Such operations include destruction of enemy naval forces, suppression of enemy sea commerce, protection of vital sea lanes, and establishment of local military superiority in areas of naval operations.[1]
CVW fighters are an indispensable means towards establishing sea control in terms of providing defensive counter air (DCA) cover for the strike group, conducting anti-surface warfare (ASuW) operations, denying an adversary’s air and maritime use of a particular geographic region, and securing freedom of action for maritime forces. Once sea control is established, carrier based fighter aircraft facilitate power projection operations in the offensive counter air (OCA), suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD)/destruction of enemy air defenses (DEAD), interdiction, and strike roles. Given the sparse availability of land bases in the Western-Pacific, USN carrier based aviation will play an indispensable role in any U.S.-PRC conflict.  


Image 2: SAM coverage of Type 052 destroyer. Image Credit: Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), 2015.

The PRC is quickly fielding anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) systems such as anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), submarines, sea mines, and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) which will force carrier strike groups to operate hundreds of miles from directly contested regions at the start of a major conflict. However, PRC ASCMs and ASBMs will be heavily reliant on a mix of space, sea, and air based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets to provide over the horizon (OTH) targeting information. The PRC is also fielding an increasingly potent mix of integrated air defense systems (IADS) such as the HQ-16, S-300PMU, HQ-9, and S-400 surface to air missile (SAM) systems cued by a mix of VHF search radars and passive electronically scanned array (PESA) as well as active electronically scanned array (AESA) fire control radars.
These systems will pressure non-stealthy U.S. aircraft to operate at greater distances from A2/AD zones thereby greatly diminishing the utility of short range weapons. For example, adversary aircraft conducting DCA missions have the option of staying within the protective cover of their own IADS which limits the ability of non-stealthy CVW fighters armed with medium range air-to-air missiles (AAMs) to conduct OCA missions. Long-range SAMs will also degrade the utility of direct attack munitions, air-to-surface weapons with a range less than 50 nautical miles (nm) such as the 13 nm range Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), in the strike and interdiction roles.[2] In terms of both munitions and aircraft, the current CVW is ill-suited to execute sea control and power projection missions against high-end A2/AD adversaries. Both the current and planned CVW will be assessed with respect to sea control capabilities (ASuW, DCA) as well as power projection in a contested environment (OCA, SEAD/DEAD, strike, and interdiction).

 

Current CVW Sea Control



Image 3: Exploitation of critical sea lines of communication and geographic features will be crucial towards successful carrier operations in any U.S.-PRC conflict. Image Credit: RAND.

 The fighter contingent of the current CVW consists of one to two squadrons of F/A-18C/Ds Hornets and two to three squadrons of more capable F/A-18E/Fs Super Hornets for a total of 44 fighter aircraft.[3][4] Both the legacy Hornet and Super Hornet are reliable and versatile strike fighters, but they are severely constrained by their relatively short combat radius of approximately 290 nm for the legacy Hornet and 390 nm to 410 nm for the Super Hornet depending upon the flight profile and configuration of external stores.[5] With the retirement of the S-3 Viking in 2009, between five to six F/A-18E/Fs are used in the buddy tanking role to extend the reach and endurance of the remaining Hornets which further erodes the effective strength of the CVW.[6] 


Image 4: PLAN fleet distribution. Image Credit: ONI, 2015.

The sea control mission will greatly vary depending upon the nature of the PRC-U.S. conflict in terms of objectives and geography. Namely if the conflict occurs in the South China Sea (SCS), East China Sea (ECS), or is part of a broader Indo-Asia Pacific regional contingency. For example, the PRC would not be able to mass and sustain the same degree of air and sea power in the SCS as the ECS given its greater distance from the Chinese mainland.[7] However, across all plausible contingencies the PRC will retain an in theatre numerical advantage in combat aircraft and aggregate sortie generation rates; the PLAAF and PLANAF field more than 800 modern fighter aircraft including 400 J-10s and approximately 400 Flankers across all variants. In order to obtain sea control, CVW fighters must:
1.      Establish localized air superiority while maintaining a heavily favorable exchange ratio against People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF) fighter aircraft given the numerical advantage of PRC forces and the difficulty in resupplying the carrier with new aircraft in the midst of a conflict.
2.      Disrupt or destroy PRC OTH sensors enabling long-range employment of ASBMs and ASCMs
3.      Target PLAAF and PLANAF aircraft and surface combatants caring ASCMs-ideally before they are able to engage the strike group thereby reducing the cruise missile defense burden of the surface combatants
4.      Fleet anti-air warfare (AAW) assets must ensure the survival of special mission aircraft such as the EA-18G and E-2D as well as USN land based ISR and ASW assets supporting the strike group such as the P-8A and MQ-4C
5.      Facilitate collection of OTH targeting information for the strike group such that USN surface combatants can conduct long-range ASuW
6.      Destroy or disable enemy surface combatants as part of a broader ASuW effort.


Image 5: Carrier strike group composition. Image Credit: NAVSEA. 

Defensive Counter Air

Even without the F-35C, current CVW fighters will be able to achieve high exchange rates against PLAAF and PLANAF fighters within the defensive cover of the strike group. The USN has heavily invested in its AAW capabilities with the development of Aegis baseline 9.0 combat system, E-2D Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft, Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) for the DDG-51 Flight III, 200 nm + range SM-6 SAM, 90 nm range SM-2 Block IIIA SAM, 27 nm + range Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) SAM, SeaRAM, and upgraded CWIS Block 1B. A strike group typically consists of four DDG-51 guided missile destroyers and one CG-47 guided missile cruiser which collectively have 506 vertical launch cells (VLS); the USN is considering expanding the number of surface combatants per strike group up to seven or eight for a total capacity of 698 to 794 VLS cells (not including the SSN which is typically assigned to the strike group but in practice often operates autonomously).[8]

The USN has been proactive investing in its F/A-18E/F fleet with its spiral upgrade flight plan which will add additional APG-79 AESA capabilities, enhanced electronic warfare (EW) and self-protection capabilities, IR search and track (IRST) pods, and improved software to support sensor fusion as well as network centric warfare and multi-missile shot capability.[9][10] Furthermore, the USN has been procuring AIM-120D and AIM-9X AAMs at an accelerated place with 1,170 and 758 missiles requested in the five year defense plan (FYDP) respectively.[11] Within the short-term, F/A-18C/Ds and F/A-18E/Fs will maintain a significant qualitative edge over PLAAF and PLANAF aircraft in beyond visual range (BVR) combat engagements. The vast majority of current PLAAF and PLANAF aircraft utilize mechanically scanned array radars such as the indigenous Type 1473 and Type 1474 for the J-10A and J-11B which are further constrained by obsolescent fire control computers and networking capabilities. Therefore, most current PRC fighter can only engage one to two aircraft simultaneously at BVR which mitigates their numerical advantage in contrast to the Hornets and Super Hornets which can engage multiple targets at longer ranges simultaneously.[12] Over the next decade, the PRC will field increasingly capable Flanker variants such as the Su-35, J-11D, and J-16 as well as the fifth generation J-20 which will significantly erode the quality advantage of current CVW fighters.


Image 6: Pair of J-20 fighters on display at Zhuhai 2016. Note the Luneburg lens radar reflectors mounted on the underside of the aircraft to mask the J-20's real RCS. The J-20 program continues to make steady progress as shown by design refinements made between the initial J-20 prototypes and the low rate initial production (LRIP) aircraft. The DoD estimates the J-20 will reach initial operational capacity (IOC) around 2018. A production run of a few hundred airframes is plausible and the design will only become more formidable as Chengdu engineers thoroughly examine the PLAAF's new Su-35s. 

Detection of low observable aircraft such as the J-20 will present a significant challenge for the current CVW and AAW assets within the strike group. The unique design traits of the J-20 airframe suggest it is a low observable interceptor designed to destroy the enablers of U.S. power projection such as AEW&C, EW, ISR, and tanker aircraft.[13] All of these aircraft have minimal maneuvering capabilities, with the exception of the EA-18G, which thereby increases the no escape zone of long-range AAMs launched against them. The E-2D Hawkeye AEW&C’s APY-9 VHF AESA radar is likely the asset best suited to locate PLAAF stealth aircraft given that the J-20’s use of planform alignment is optimized against the X and S-bands. The APY-9 has a maximum detection range of over than 300 nm and a 250% greater surveillance envelope compared to the legacy APS-145 on the E-2C.[14] The SPY-6 AMDR may be able to locate and track stealth aircraft at tactically significant ranges despite operating in the S-band; the AMDR is composed of thousands of gallium nitride (GaN) transmit receiver modules which grant the AMDR 30 times the detection capability of the legacy SPY-1 on the DDG-51 Flight I and IIs. It is worth noting that both the APY-9 and SPY-6 were built to aid in the defense against cruise missiles which feature a comparatively low RCS. Alternatively, EA-18Gs may be able to locate J-20s with their emission location equipment or F/A-18E/Fs would be able to detect the J-20 with their IRST pods at relatively short ranges.

Even if the current CVW is able to detect low observable aircraft, the USN’s current qualitative edge in fighter aircraft is significantly declining. Without the F-35C, the current CVW will increasingly have to rely upon support from surface combatants and shore based USAF aircraft to establish localized air superiority. CVW fighters will eventually have to leave the protective cover of the strike group to target PRC OTH sensors, ASCM carrying aircraft, and PLAN surface combatants at extended ranges. Even with extensive EA-18G EW support, current CVW fighters will struggle to accomplish the aforementioned missions without high attrition rates.

Anti-Surface Warfare


Image 7: Super Hornet configured for ASuW with four AGM-84D Harpoon missiles. Image Credit: USN. 

The current CVW is armed with two principal anti-ship weapons, the AGM-154 C-1 JSOW and the AGM-84D (Block 1 C) Harpoon both of which have a range of approximately 70 nm.[15][16] In the fourth quarter of FY 2017, the USN will begin fielding the upgraded AGM-84N Block II + which includes a two-way data link, GPS guidance, and enhanced electronic counter measure performance.[17] However, U.S. CVW aircraft will be significantly outranged in the ASuW mission when compared to their PLAAF and PLANAF equivalents. The most numerous air launched ASCMs in service with the PRC are the subsonic YJ-83 (70 nm), YJ-63 (108 nm), YJ-83A (135 nm), and YJ-62A (215 nm) as well as the supersonic YJ-12 (135 nm).[18][19] PLAN surface combatants are also fielding increasingly longer range ASCMs such as the YJ-62A and supersonic YJ-18 (97 nm +); the PLAN’s Russian acquired Sovremenny-class destroyers are armed with 3M54E Klub (108 nm) and SS-N-22 Sunburn (130 nm) ASCMs.[20] Nearly every PLAN surface combatant is armed with ASCMs and at SAMs including smaller corvettes and frigates which greatly increases the number of targets CVW aircraft must engage i.e. the PLAN has been practicing “distributed lethality” for years while the USN continues to make meager process enacting distributed lethality.

The limited standoff ranges of the AGM-84N Block II + and JSOW C-1 degrade the survivability of current CVW fighters in the ASuW role. PLAN surface combatants will continue to improve their own AAW capabilities with continued production of the Type 052D which incorporates the Type 346 Dragon Eye AESA radar and extended range HQ-9 (80 nm). Furthermore, PLAN surface combatants may choose to stay within the protective cover of land based SAMs depending upon the nature of the conflict and resulting geography which would further degrade CVW survivability. In order to successfully conduct ASuW missions with the current AGM-84N and JSOW C-1, current CVW fighters will require substantial MALD/MALD-J decoy and EA-18G EW support. The interim fielding of the 300 nm + range capable Lockheed Martin AGM-158C long-range anti-ship missile (LRASM) in 2019 as part of Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare (OASuW) increment 1 will greatly improve the survivability of the current CVW in the ASuW role.

The AGM-158C features a low observable air frame, jam resistant two way data link, semiautonomous targeting modes, 1,000 pound warhead, and multi-mode seeker.[21] Despite the significant capabilities of the AGM-158C, the USN has only requested 60 AGM-154Cs in its FYDP as of FY 2017 with procurement ending in 2019.[22] The limited procurement quantities likely reflect the interim nature of the OASuW program prior to OASuW increment 2 which will field a larger number of ASCMs across the fleet starting in 2024. The main competitors of OASuW increment 2 are the LRASM, an advanced active seeker equipped derivative of Raytheon’s Tomahawk Block IV, and possibly Kongsberg’s Naval Strike Missile (NSM).[23]

Author’s Note: Part II will discuss the CVW's power projection capabilities against the PRC.



[1] “Command and Control for Joint Maritime Operations”, Joint Staff, 2013. http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/new_pubs/jp3_32.pdf
[2] “United States Navy Fact File: Joint Direct Attack Munition”, USN, last accessed February 2017. http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=2100&tid=400&ct=2
[3] “The Carrier Air Wing of the Future”, David Barno, Nora Bensahel and M. Thomas Davis, February 2014. https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/CNAS_CarrierAirWing_white.pdf pp. 8
[4] “The Basics: Inside the Carrier Air Wing”, Sam LaGrone, April 2014.
[5] “F/A-18 Hornet Specifications”, Global Security, last updated July 2011. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/f-18-specs.htm
[6] “CNO: Navy Should Quickly Field CBARS To Ease Tanking Burden on Super Hornets”, Megan Eckstein, February 2016.
[7] “The U.S.-China Military Scorecard Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power, 1996–2017”, Eric Heginbotham, et al., 2015.  http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR300/RR392/RAND_RR392.pdf pp. xxx
[8] “Navy Wants to Grow Fleet to 355 Ships; 47 Hull Increase Adds Destroyers, Attack Subs”, Sam LaGrone and Megan Eckstein, December 2016.
[9] “FY 2015 Programs: F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler”, DOT&E, 2016. http://www.dote.osd.mil/pub/reports/FY2015/pdf/navy/2015fa18ef.pdf
[10] “RDT&E Budget Item Justification: PE 0204136N / F/A-18 Squadrons”, USN, February 2016.
[11] “Highlights of the Department of the Navy FY 2017 Budget”, DON, 2016. http://www.secnav.navy.mil/fmc/fmb/Documents/17pres/Highlights_book.pdf
[12] Modern Chinese Warplanes, Andreas Rupprecht and Tom Cooper pgs. 66, 72, 81
[13] “PLAAF Fighter Modernization & J-20 Updates”, Matt, October 2015. https://manglermuldoon.blogspot.com/2015/10/plaaf-fighter-modernization-j-20-updates.html
[14] “Lockheed Martin AN/APY-9”, Scramble, last updated July 2011. http://wiki.scramble.nl/index.php/Lockheed_Martin_AN/APY-9
[15] “Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW)”, NAVAIR, last accessed February 2017. http://www.navair.navy.mil/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.displayPlatform&key=9097785F-B258-46B6-8474-20A48B820898
[17] Ibid.  
[18] “A Potent Vector Assessing Chinese Cruise Missile Developments”, Dennis M. Gormley, Andrew S. Erickson, and Jingdong Yuan, 2014.
[19] “YJ-63”, Deagle, last accessed February 2017.
[20] “A Potent Vector Assessing Chinese Cruise Missile Developments”, Dennis M. Gormley, Andrew S. Erickson, and Jingdong Yuan, 2014.
[21] “Offensive AsuW Weapon Capability”, Lockheed Martin, 2015. http://www.lockheedmartin.com/content/dam/lockheed/data/mfc/pc/lrasm/mfc-lrasm-pc.pdf
[22] “Highlights of the Department of the Navy FY 2017 Budget”, pp. 4-7, DON, 2016. http://www.secnav.navy.mil/fmc/fmb/Documents/17pres/Highlights_book.pdf
[23] “Navy: Raytheon Tomahawk Likely to Compete in Next Generation Anti-Ship Missile Contest“, Sam LaGrone, August 2015.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

January 2017 Updates

Next post planned for Tuesday 2/7/17 evening EST. 



Image 1: Eglin AFBs accompanied by Tyndall AFB F-22s. Image Credit: USAF.

I decided to create a Twitter account to post future blog updates, article announcements, and interesting articles I come across. For those who don't use Twitter, I will continue to post updates on the blog.

https://twitter.com/MMuldoonUSABlog

I am current writing two articles at the moment, "Russian Networked Command and Control – Limitations and Recent Developments" and "Threat Analysis: Su-35S Part III – Maneuverability & VKS Training" both of which required an extensive period of time to write given the difficultly of finding research materials in those topics. Both of these articles will provide a foundation for the F-22 vs. Su-35S scenario article.

Recommended Media


U.S. 1960s training film detailing types of electronic jamming and how countermeasures work, while the systems of changed many of the fundamental principles remain the same.

Document: U.S. Navy Surface Force Strategy - USN via USNI News
​Beijing receives first four Su-35s - Greg Waldron
No, Mr. Trump, You Can’t Replace F-35 With A ‘Comparable’ F-18 - Doug Birkey
Mr. Trump: We Need F-35s Built Faster, Not Fewer - Dave Deptula
A chance to get closer to Japan in the Trump era - David Lang
How Might North Korea Test an ICBM? - John Schilling
Problems with the release of mobile missile systems "yars" - BMDP
Pakistan Closer To Nuclear Second-Strike Capability After Sub Missile Test - Tyler Rogoway 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Innovation and Air Dominance: Loyal Wingman Options & Acquisition Approach - Part III

Author's Note: I realized I still hadn't uploaded parts III and IV of the Innovation and Air Dominance article series; parts I and II were posted last year. The article series is based off of  two papers I wrote for graduate school. 


Loyal Wingman Assessment and Procurement Strategy


Image 8: Loyal Wingman Options

            The F-16 is a reliable, combat proven, and highly versatile airframe with nearly 1,000 active aircraft in service within the USAF. The F-16 design is highly mature and upgraded derivatives of the F-16 are expected to fly into the late 2020s to early 2030s ensuring robust fleet sustainment and support activities for any modified unmanned F-16 program. In 2012, Boeing began modifying older F-16 airframes into QF-16 target drones which have superior maneuverability and countermeasure performance when compared to older QF-4 target drones. The greatest benefit a modified QF-16 program would be its comparatively low unit cost. The average cost to modify and F-16 into a QF-16 under a 2014 contract was $6.9 million per airframe.[1] Furthermore, at least some of the 300 F-16 airframes remain stored at the “boneyard” in Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, AZ could be utilized for a modified QF-16 program.[2] Given the reduced maneuverability needs of the loyal wingman concept, the QF-16 could be loaded with external fuel tanks to extend its range and endurance. The greatest deficiency of a modified QF-16 design would be its limited survivability as a result of its comparatively large radar cross section (RCS) relative to 5th generation aircraft; significant electronic warfare support would be required to keep QF-16s operational long enough for them to fulfill their support role of manned aviation platforms. The following initiatives could improve the survivability of a modified QF-16 at additional cost:
  1. “Have Glass” II radar absorbent material (RAM) coatings applied to the F-16CM/CJ “Wild Weasel” F-16 derivative could conceivably be applied to the QF-16 for marginal RCS improvements
  2. An enclosed specially shaped weapons pod similar to Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Block III concept for the QF-16 could provide additional RCS improvements
  3. Adoption of the Low Observable Asymmetric Nozzle (LOAN) to the F100-PW-200 engine as demonstrated by Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney in 1996 would both reduce the QF-16’s rear aspect RCS and its IR signature[3]
  4. Incorporation of a diverterless supersonic inlet (DSI) similar to Lockheed Martin’s highly successful modified F-16 Block 30 demonstrator aircraft tested in 1996 would likely provide substantial frontal RCS improvements[4]

In contrast to the QF-16, the Predator-C features a built in reduced RCS which would greatly enhance its survivability.
            The Predator-C was originally developed to fulfil the USAF’s MQ-X program to design a low observable airframe capable of withstanding battle damage in a contested environment as well as incorporating a resilient and agile communications system.[5] Notably, the USAF did not find the Predator C’s performance to meet MQ-X requirements and canceled the program in 2012. However, the cancelation of the MQ-X may have been the result of shifting priorities towards the classified deep penetrating ISR and electronic warfare platform, the RQ-180 RPA.[6] Regardless, the Predator C fulfills many of the less ambitious loyal wingman criteria such as low observability, range, endurance, and low technical risk and cost ($15 million unit cost). The modular design of the Predator C facilitates future upgrades and new payloads such as General Atomics’ 150 kW laser module which is scheduled for in-flight interception tests against rocket and missiles between 2016 and 2017 at the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.[7]  A more in-depth technical and cost analysis is likely required to definitively determine which aircraft best would fulfil the loyal wingman role, but the greater capabilities and survivability of the Predator-C likely merit the additional unit cost. Should the USAF pursue a SoS solution to air superiority to ease the transition between 5th and 6th generation platforms, the following organizational structure maximizes acquisition agility, expertise, and risk reduction:
  • Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) – oversight and coordination
  • Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) – acquisition
  • Big Safari – systems integration between loyal wingman and 5th generation platforms
  • USAF Weapons School, Test and Evaluation Squadrons (TES), Aggressor Squadrons (ARGS)  – new techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTP)
Image 9: Relevant development, acquisition, and procurement agencies. 

The guiding philosophy behind the organizational structure above is that small well financed and highly autonomous offices/organizations staffed by the best and the brightest within an institution are key drivers of innovation[8]. The growth of bureaucracies and oversight requirements has stifled the pace of innovation as two former Skunk Works engineers recently remarked in a Classic Aircraft Magazine interview:
…the time it takes to go from initial design to operational use by the Air Force is directly proportional to the size of the Air Force oversight committee that’s guiding the airplane design. For the F-117, the Air Force team was a colonel and six other experts-the corresponding team on the F-22 was 130. And if you ratio 130 over seven, you’ll get just about the ratio of the time it took from starting the airframes to getting them in service… Because of bureaucracy, […] once you get all these organizations involved-all the different Air Force bases across the country, and every contractor that makes a screw for the airplane-when they have meetings, everybody comes to every meeting, and nothing ever gets settled. It’s crazy! If you’ve got 300 people in a meeting, what the hell do you solve?[9] [emphasis added]
Given the core requirement of any SoS solution to be fielded within a decade, as many of the major organizations which would be required to transition the SoS concept to an operational capability were chosen as a result of their comparatively small highly skilled workforce and greater institutional autonomy.
            The SCO is the newest of the four major organizations listed above and was created in 2012 at the recommendation of Ashton Carter while he served as Deputy Secretary of Defense. SCO has largely developed around the expertise and creativity of William Roper, a Rhodes Scholar with an educational background in physics and mathematics. SCO’s mission is “to help us to re-imagine existing DOD and intelligence community and commercial systems by giving them new roles and game-changing capabilities to confound potential enemies — the emphasis here was on rapidity of fielding, not 10 and 15-year programs. Getting stuff in the field quickly”. [10] SCO has a full time staff of just six government employees and roughly 20 contractors making it the smallest organization examined in the proposal.[11] The growing clout of SCO, whose budget rose to $530 million in funding for 2016 up from $125 million in 2014, and small size facilitate SCO’s role as the ideal oversight and coordination body for the SoS solution to air superiority. In many ways, the SCO drew its organizational inspiration from the RCO.
            The RCO is the USAF’s premier agile acquisition organization with a consistent track record of success as demonstrated in their involvement of the X-37B space plane and long range strike bomber. Formed in 2003, RCO operates outside of much of the Pentagon’s traditional acquisition system and reports directly to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition), Chief of Staff for the Air Force, and Air Force Secretary. The workforce of roughly 80 individuals is widely regarded as among the USAF’s foremost experts in acquisition.[12] Given its extensive acquisition capabilities and experience, RCO would be responsible for leading the acquisition of the loyal wingman. RCO would seek to procure at least 200 primary aircraft inventory (PAI) – the minim number to be strategically relevant, loyal wingmen UCAVs with additional units for attrition reserve, test and evaluation, training, etc. The unmodified base Predator-C has a unit cost of roughly $15 million meaning the low-end procurement estimate cost of the proposal, which does not factor necessary data link and semi-autonomous mode modifications, is $3 billion. The opportunity cost in terms of F-35As would be roughly 28 aircraft using Lot 8 prices of roughly $108 million per airframe.[13]  In terms of the cost effectiveness of a platform to carry air-to-air missiles, the F-35A is $9 million vs. $2.5 million in terms of unit cost divided by SACM storage capacity. Despite the enormous capabilities of the F-35, the minimal curtailment of the F-35 fleet, roughly one fighter squadron worth of aircraft, to fund 200 UCAVs is merited as the UCAVs would have a disproportionate force multiplier effect on the entire fighter force via SoS integration.


Image 10: AH-64 with MQ-1C, OH-58 background. Image Credit: U.S. Army. 

            Big Safari is a USAF program founded in 1952 and its primary mission is to rapidly create modifications for existing aircraft. Over its long history, Big Safari has supported numerous USAF programs such as the RC-135 Rivet Joint, MQ-1, and reactivation of the SR-71 fleet in 1994.[14] In many respects, Big Safari’s role in the loyal wingman proposal is the most challenging. Both the F-35 and F-22 need to be able to communicate with the Predator-C which likely utilizes a C-Band line-of-sight data link before transitioning to a Ku-Band Beyond Line-of-Sight (BLOS)/SATCOM data link for the majority of its the flight in a similar manner as the MQ-9 Reaper.[15] Traditional methods of ground control are insufficient and reliance on satellite communication systems in the midst of a conflict with a near-peer adversary is possibly shortsighted. Big Safari might be able to incorporate the Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) into the F-35, F-22, and Predator-C as a short-term solution to expedite the modification process; the AH-64E already utilizes TCDL to command the MQ-1C under MUM-T. Over the long-term, developing a low probability intercept, resilient, and secure data link is the single most important aspect of any SoS system. The data link and associated battle management network is potentially the Achilles’ heel of any SoS system as disrupting the integration and communication of its various subsystems negates the synergistic effects SoS typically provides thereby potentially making each individual system more vulnerable to attack. At a higher institutional level, the U.S. military needs to be diligent to institute a network-enhanced warfare system, not a network dependent system as Jon Solomon astutely examines in the article, “21st Century Maritime Operations Under Cyber-Electromagnetic Opposition”:
...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.[16]
A partial solution to a network-dependent system is semi-autonomous capability as this proposal advocates as a core requirement for the unmanned wingman UCAV. Big Safari would likely work with General Atomics on a sole source basis to develop the necessary software and hardware modifications to upgrade the Predator-C with a semi-autonomous mode capable of supporting manned 5th generation assets. Once the modifications to the F-22, F-35, and Predator-C have been completed, the first modified aircraft would be sent to specialized units to create new TTP.
The elite Weapons School based at Nellis Air Force Base is responsible for both teaching the skills required for modern combat pilots and developing new TTP in tandem with USAF TES and AGRS. Once a new aircraft enters the fleet, TES attempt to identify teething problems with the aircraft. After the aircraft’s teething problems have been rectified, the TES pilots often attempt to create new methods of employing the aircraft[17]. Doctrines and new TTP are strenuously evaluated with aggressor units in large simulated combat exercises such as Red Flag, Red Air, or Northern Edge. AGRS enable the USAF to conduct accurate combat exercises by providing a realistic opposing force to engage trainees. Aggressor pilots are among the most skilled pilots in the USAF fighter force and specialize in flying their aircraft in a manner similar as a selected aircraft from a potential adversary; aggressor pilots will study their chosen adversary aircraft in detail for an entire year based upon briefings from the intelligence community on adversary capabilities and tactics.[18] These institutions provide the USAF with a robust capability to test new concepts of operation in a realistic setting. The feedback and TTP developed by the Weapons School, TES, and ARGS with respect to the loyal wingman will be the final major step before operationalizing the SoS approach to air superiority.
In conclusion, a manned F-X sixth generation WVR capable platform is still needed with an expected IOC of 2035 to 2040. However, a low cost SoS solution to air superiority incorporating MALD, SACM, a loyal wingman UCAV, and 5th generation platforms can ease the transition between the 5th and 6th generation platforms by substantially solidifying the U.S.’ comparative advantage in BVR missile exchange capabilities. The loyal wingman and its associated modifications developed and purchased by the DoD and USAF’s leading small, autonomous, highly skilled and innovative organizations such as SCO, RCO, and Big Safari will maximize acquisition agility. Lastly, the Weapons School, TES, and ARGS will translate the potential of the loyal wingman and SoS concept into decisive new operational capabilities for the USAF and the joint force.

Author's Note: Part IV will discuss the role of the sixth generation F-X and why the USAF must accelerate the program.



[1] Defense Industry Daily, “QF-16s: Look Ma, No Hands!”, last modified May 2014.
[2] “F-16 Fleet Reports”, last visited April 2016. http://www.f-16.net/fleet-reports_article2.html
[3] “F-16 LOAN Low Observable Asymmetric Nozzle”, last visited May 10, 2016.
[4] Eric Hehs, “JSF Diverterless Supersonic Inlet”, July 15, 2000. http://www.codeonemagazine.com/article.html?item_id=58
[5] David Axe, “The U.S. Air Force Was Not Fond of the Next-Gen Predator Drone”, November 2014. https://warisboring.com/the-u-s-air-force-was-not-fond-of-the-next-gen-predator-drone-77cb9a3d10b8#.k5zgqyv7j
[6] Amy Butler and Bill Sweetman, “Where Does RQ-180 Fit In Stealthy UAS History?”, December 2013. http://aviationweek.com/defense/where-does-rq-180-fit-stealthy-uas-history
[7] Richard Whittle, “General Atomics Plans 150kW Laser Tests; Eye On AC-130, Avenger”, December 2015. http://breakingdefense.com/2015/12/general-atomics-plans-150kw-laser-tests-eye-on-ac-130-avenger/
[8] Ben R. Rich & Leo Janos, Skunk Works, (Back Bay Books, 1994), 343-350.  
[9] Dario Leone, “Two former Skunk Works members seem to know why the F-35 program is a mess”, April 2013. http://theaviationist.com/2013/04/08/skunk-works-jsf-mess/
[10] Colin Clark and Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “Robot Boats, Smart Guns & Super B-52s: Carter’s Strategic Capabilities Office”, February 2016.
[11] Dan Lamothe, “Veil of secrecy lifted on Pentagon office planning ‘Avatar’ fighters and drone swarms”, March 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/03/08/inside-the-secretive-pentagon-office-planning-skyborg-fighters-and-drone-swarms/
[12] Marcus Weisgerber, “Meet the Secretive Team Shaping the Air Force’s New Bomber”, October 2015. http://www.defenseone.com/management/2015/10/secretive-team-air-force-bomber/123060/
[13] Aaron Mehta,“Bogdan: F-35 Costs Down, Despite Worries”, March 2015. http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/air-space/strike/2015/03/25/f35-costs-cracks-development-/70392734/
[14] Global Security, “Big Safari”, last modified April 2011. http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/systems/big_safari.htm
[15] Defense Industry Daily, “It’s Better to Share: Breaking Down UAV GCS Barriers”, last modified October 2011. http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/uav-ground-control-solutions-06175/
[16] Jon Solomon, “21st Century Maritime Operations Under Cyber-Electromagnetic Opposition Part Two”, October 2014. http://www.informationdissemination.net/2014/10/21st-century-maritime-operations-under_22.html
[17] Dave Majumdar,“USAF testers prepare for F-35 operational evaluation”, last modified 11 March, 2013, https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/usaf-testers-prepare-for-f-35-operational-evaluation-383309/
[18] Dave Majumdar, “The Aggressors: Someone has to play the bad guy. Part One”, NY Military and Civil Aviation Examiner, last modified April 2009, http://www.f-16.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=12293
[19] Bill Sweetman, “F-35 Stealthier Than F-22?”, June 9, 2014.
[20] John Wilcox, “Arming 5th & 6th Gen Aircraft In An A2AD Environment”, 2015. http://www.ndiagulfcoast.com/events/archive/40th_Symposium/AFRL_WilcoxAAS2014.pdf
[21] Amy Butler, “ACC Chief: Stealth ‘Incredibly Important’ For Next USAF Fighter”, February 12, 2015. http://aviationweek.com/defense/acc-chief-stealth-incredibly-important-next-usaf-fighter
[22] Guy Norris, “GE Details Sixth-Generation Adaptive Fighter Engine Plan “, January 29, 2015. http://aviationweek.com/defense/ge-details-sixth-generation-adaptive-fighter-engine-plan
[23] John Wilcox, “Arming 5th & 6th Gen Aircraft In An A2AD Environment”, 2015. http://www.ndiagulfcoast.com/events/archive/40th_Symposium/AFRL_WilcoxAAS2014.pdf
[24] Ibid.
[25] Bill Sweetman,, et al, “Podcast: What’s Interesting In The New Budget?”, February 2015. http://aviationweek.com/technology/podcast-what-s-interesting-new-budget

Monday, November 14, 2016

Threat Analysis: Su-35S Part II - Armament R-27 & R-73

Threat Analysis: Su-35S Part I



Image 1: The Su-35 can accommodate a maximum of 17,637 pounds (8,000 kg) of ordinance mounted on 12 external hardpoints. The Su-35 will be armed with three principal air-to-air missiles (AAMs): the R-27, R-73, and R-77. Note: various Russian sources claim the long-range R-37 will be integrated with the Su-35, but no live fire tests of the R-37 from the Su-35 have been documented at this time. Image Credit: Sukhoi.

R-27/AA-10 Alamo




Image 2: R-27 variants. Image Credit: Artem Company.

The R-27 is a highly modular beyond visual range (BVR) missile family designed by Vympel–now the Tactical Missiles Corporation–during the late 1970s for use on the Mig-29 and Su-27 fighters; the missile is currently produced by the Artem Company, a subsidiary to the state-owned Ukrainian export firm Ukroboronprom.[1] The R-27 series of missiles can generally be categorized by their diameter, 230 mm for the baseline variant and 260 mm for the “energeticheskaya” or energetic variants which feature a larger warhead, rocket motor, and extended range.[2] All variants have an 8g maneuverability limit and utilize an active radar proximity fuse to activate the missile’s 73/86 pound (33 kg/39 kg) continuous rod warhead. The R-27 is comparatively larger than most medium range BVR AAMs; the “energetic variants” of the R-27 have launch weights between 343 kg to 350 kg which is more than twice the weight of the 161 kg AIM-120D. The weight, wingspan of the “butterfly” control surfaces, and 4.5+ meter length of the extended range series of R-27 limit external carriage to a maximum of six missiles for the baseline Su-27 Flanker and eight missiles for the Su-35.[3][4] Across both the 230 mm and 260 mm variants, there are four principal guidance types: semi-active radar homing (SARH), infrared (IR), passive radio frequency homing (PRFH), and active radar homing (ARH). Detailed descriptions of each method of guidance are described in the notes section at the end of the article.

The R-27R/RE is the most numerous BVR missile in the VKS inventory and is roughly equivalent to the U.S. AIM-7 Sparrow.[5] The R-27R/RE utilizes an inertial midcourse guidance with radio command updates and a terminal SARH seeker to locate targets. The N135 Irbis is able to illuminate up to two separate targets simultaneously to guide SARH missiles.[6]
The baseline R-27R variant has a range of 38 nautical miles (70 km) against approaching non-maneuvering targets compared to the R-27RE’s 70 nautical miles (130 km) range.[7] The only confirmed instance in which the R-27R was used in combat was the Ethiopian-Eritrean War in 1998-2000 which will be discussed after the R-73.

The R-27T/ET series is visually distinct from all other R-27 variants as a result of its IR seeker in the nose section of the missile. While the R-27T/ET is technically a BVR missile from a maximum kinematic range perspective, in practical terms it is limited to within visual range (WVR) engagements. The missile’s 36T seeker must be locked-on to a target before launch as the R-27T/ET does not feature inertial guidance and cannot receive radio command midcourse updates.[8] The R-27ET features an upgraded seeker which provides greater IR countermeasure discrimination performance and has a maximum acquisition range of approximately eight nautical miles or 15 km.[9]

The R-27P/EP is among the few PRFH AAMs in service. The missile utilizes a passive X-band PRGS-27 (9B-1032) seeker to detect emitting targets from distances up to 108 nm (200 km) away. However, the missile is still constrained by its limited power supply and propellant. Thus, the effective maximum kinematic range against approaching targets is 60 nautical miles or 110 km.[10] Vympel has marketed the R-27P/EP as capable of engaging airborne early warning and control (AWACS) aircraft, stand-off jammers, and fighter aircraft. The R-27P/EP is theoretically able to provide BVR capabilities without alerting adversary radar waring receivers (RWR). However, the missile is constrained in that it requires a cooperative constantly emitting target. The first live fire tests of the R-27P occurred in 1984 and the R-27P entered Soviet Air Force service in 1987. A limited number of missiles were produced prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union by the Artem plant in Ukraine.

R-27A/AE is an ARH variant of the R-27 family which did not enter production as a result of the development of the more advanced R-77.

R-73/AA-11 Archer
  

Image 3: R-60 (left most) and R-73 missiles on display at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Through the “Foreign Materiel Acquisition and Exploitation Program”, the U.S. Government has acquired everything from Russian MANPADS to complete S-300V and S-300PMU systems. Image Credit: USAF.

The primary IR guided missile of the VKS is the R-73 which is fulfills a similar role to the American AIM-9 Sidewinder. The R-73 is slightly larger than the AIM-9X, the R-73M2 has a diameter of 170 mm, a launch weight of 110 kg, a 8 kg warhead, and a length of 2.9 meters. Like the Sidewinder, the R-73 family of missiles contains more than half a dozen variants which vary in terms of seeker type, fuse, off-boresight capability, and rocket motor. The Molniya OKB (design bureau) began work on the R-73 during the 1970s in Ukraine with the intent of developing a more maneuverable successor to the R-60/AA-8 Aphid. Responsibility for designing the new missile was transferred to Vympel in 1979 and the R-73 was first operationally deployed in 1984.[11] The R-73’s capabilities were greatly enhanced as a result of the Shchel-3UM helmet mounted sight which enabled off-boresight shots. U.S. pilots were able to thoroughly examine the capabilities of the R-73 and Shchel-3UM through a series of exchanges with the German Air Force in the 1990s. Lt. Col. Fred "Spanky" Clifton (Ret.), an F-16 pilot who was able to fly the Mig-29 in Germany, explains the Archer and HMS was much more effective than expected:

The Archer and the helmet-mounted sight (HMS) brought a real big stick to the playground. First, the HMS was really easy to use. Every pilot was issued his own HMS…Being on the shooting end of the equation, I saw shot opportunities I would've never dreamed of with the AIM-9L/M...In the WVR (within visual range) arena, a skilled MiG-29 pilot can give and Eagle or Viper driver all he/she wants.[12]

Despite the effectiveness of the R-73 and HMS, U.S. pilots generally judged the R-27 was significantly inferior to the AIM-7 and AIM-120. This conclusion was largely made evident a few years later in the Eritrean-Ethiopian War between 1998 and 2000 described later in the article.

The next major evolution in the R-73’s design is the R-74M which features an improved range of 21.5 nm or 40 km, 60°+ off-boresight capability as well as improved dual-band Impuls IR seeker with extended detection range and countermeasure discrimination capabilities. There are two variants of the R-74M, the R-74ML laser proximity fuse variant and the R-74MK with an active radar fuse.[13] The R-74M entered service in 2012, but the Impuls seeker is manufactured by the Arsenal company in Ukraine meaning Russia’s continued access to new R-74M seekers remains in doubt post-Crimea. Russia has had to launch numerous domestic industry programs to mitigate the loss of Ukrainian defense imports.


Image 4: Russia recently undertook a domestic development program to replace the Ukrainian produced Sura-M helmet mounted display for the Mig-29SMT, Su-30SM, and Su-35S.[14]

The latest variant of the R-73 is the R-74M2 which is analogous to the AIM-9X Block II. The R-74M2 features a Karfagen-760 IR seeker, more accurate internal guidance, datalink, and an improved rocket motor.[15]

Combat Record R-27 & R-73

In 1998, the Eritrean Air Force (ERAF) was supplied with an initial batch of six Mig-29s and at least 36 R-27 and 72 R-73 missiles; Eritrean pilots were trained by Ukrainian mercenaries.[16] The Ethiopian Air Force (EtAF) received at least eight Su-27S aircraft, including two Su-27UBK trainers, as well as 80 R-27 and 96 R-73 missiles from Russia between 1998 and 1999. In contrast with the ERAF, the EtAF Su-27s were often flown by Russian pilots.[17][18] Detailed accounts of aerial engagements during the Eritrean-Ethiopian War are sparse. Tom Cooper and Jonathan Kyzer’s article, “Ethiopian Eritrean War, 1998 – 2000”, originally printed in AFM Magazine’s August 2000 edition, is one of the few works to provide detained information regarding the combat performance of the R-27; an expanded version of the article is available courtesy of the Air Combat Information Group. Cooper and Kyzer describe two major engagements during the Eritrean-Ethiopian War in February 1999 and in May 2000 which feature the use of the R-27 and R-73.

February 1999 Engagement:

…on the morning of 25 February four MiG-29s were sent to intercept two Su-27s which were patrolling along the front-lines at Badme. Both Sukhois, flown by Ethiopian pilots, detected the appearance of their opponents in time and attempted to disengage, when - all of a sudden - they came under an attack by several R-27/AA-10 missiles. None of the weapons fired by the Eritreans – which were meanwhile inside the Ethiopian airspace – hit, but after evading them, the Ethiopians decided to turn back and fight. The lead, Maj. Workneh, acquired the enemy and fired what was reported as a "salvo" of R-27s, targeting one MiG-29 after the other. However, all the missiles missed and the only result was that the Eritreans were forced to break their attack - only to be pounced by the faster Su-27s. The result of following dog-fight was one Eritrean MiG-29 shot down, probably by an R-73/AA-11 IR-homing, short range air-to-air missile (fired again by Maj. Workneh).[19] [emphasis added]

Image 5: Russian Su-27 intercepted by the RAAF, this aircraft is armed with a typical mix of R-73, R-27T, and R-73ER missiles. Image credit: RAF. 

May 2000 Engagement:

On 16 May 2000 Eritrean Air Force flew couple of counterattacks against the Ethiopian “left hook”, advancing against the western flank of Eritrean positions....at least one MiG-29 was damaged sufficiently to crash-landed at Asmara, obviously after being damaged by R-27. The ERAF remained stubborn: only two days later, two MiG-29s were scrambled to intercept an incoming formation of EtAF MiG-21s. The leading Eritrean pilot missed with his R-27s, but then shot down at least one of Ethiopian fighters, using the 30mm gun during a short dogfight. Nevertheless, only minutes later, the same MiG-29 was in turn intercepted by a pair of EtAF Su-27s. As the Sukhois engaged, one of them collided with an Africa Buzzard (a very large bird), and had to return to base after sustaining heavy damage. The other Sukhoi – flown by one of former Derg-pilots – continued, engaging the MiG and shooting it down by a single R-73.[20] [emphasis added]

Cooper and Kyzer conclude the R-27 likely had a probability kill (PK) less than that of the AIM-7E and AIM-7F Sparrow variants utilized in Vietnam which had a PK of between 8-10%.[21] A maximum of 24 R-27 missiles were fired throughout the war–which were likely the R-27R variant, but only one R-27 managed to maneuver close enough to its intended target such that its radar proximity fuse to activated. In contrast, the R-73 proved itself as a lethal WVR missile; a total of nine missiles were launched resulting in five aerial victories or a PK of 55%.[22] As Cooper and Kyzer explain, the majority of engagements between EtAF Su-27s and ERAF Mig-29s occurred within visual range. Curiously, the Mig-29 – which is often regarded as having superb maneuverability characteristics – performed poorly against the larger Su-27. It’s possible the disparity in aerial victories between the ERAF and EtAF is attributable more towards training and personnel quality issues rather than hardware. It is unclear to the extent, if at all, the engagements between the ERAF and EtAF influenced Russian defense developments in the late 1990s to early 2000s.  

After the poor performance of the AIM-7 in Vietnam, the U.S. made significant investments in upgrading the AIM-7 between 1970 into the 1980s such as greater jam resistance, look-down shoot-down capability, improved rocket motor, etc.[23] However, it is generally understood that the Russian defense industry received little in terms of research and development funding during the 1990s and early 2000s as a result of Russia’s financial difficulties; many new projects had to be sustained by export orders. Therefore, it is unclear to the extent in which Vympel tried to rectify the R-27’s shortcomings through upgrades or design changes to new missile orders. It is also unclear if the engagements during the Eritrean-Ethiopian War had impact on Russian conceptions of ideal fighter characteristics, e.g. such as emphasis on WVR maneuvering. The combination of continued investments in the R-73 while the development of the R-27’s successor, the R-77, lagged suggests the Russian Air Force weighed WVR capabilities as a higher priority.  

Author’s Note: Part III will discuss the R-77 family of BVR ARH missiles as well as probable TTP of Su-35 pilots.

AAM Guidance Notes

  • SARH guidance is the process in which the launch platform illuminates a target with its radar and the missile’s onboard receiver detects the reflected radar energy. By comparing the reflected beam’s characteristics to its source, the missile is able to determine the targets position and speed.[24] In order to properly function, SARH guidance requires the launch platform’s radar to continuously track and illuminate the target–which imposes limitations on the launch platform’s freedom to maneuver–and missile’s receiver must continuously detect the reflected radar energy. Furthermore, SARH requires the launch platform’s radar to continuously emit signals thereby exposing the launch platform to radar warning receivers (RWR) and other emission location systems.[25] However, SARH provides substantial BVR capabilities when compared to IR guided missiles.
  • IR guided missiles do not emit signals, rather they home in on heat sources (infrared radiation) such as jet engines. In order to successfully intercept the target, IR seekers must discriminate against background IR radiation sources and IR countermeasures. The first IR guided missiles could only be fired against tail-aspect targets as a result of seeker limitations. Subsequent generations of IR guided missiles such as the AIM-9L are all-aspect capable. The principal limitation of IR guided missiles is the limited detection range of their seekers. The latest generation of IR guided missiles such as the AIM-9X Block II feature lock-on after launch (LOAL) capability. 
  • PRFH missiles similarly do not emit signals, but home in on RF emitting targets.
  • ARH missiles have their own radar seekers which activate during the terminal stage of flight. ARH guided missiles enable “fire and forget” capability i.e. the pilot has freedom to maneuver after initially designated the target with the plane’s radar. By having its own seeker (often a monopulse X-band seeker), ARH missiles are inherently less susceptible to certain forms of jamming.

Author’s Note: I’m still planning on writing that article with 12 Raptors vs 48 Su-35s. There are far more variables than I had anticipated so I’m still researching a couple of topics like Russian air defense doctrines, electronic warfare, “jointness” between the various armed services, battle management networks, datalinks (which are very hard to research) as well as basic fighter maneuvering tactics. As such I’ll probably write an article or two on the topics above for my own edification. Below is a teaser to show some of the assets which will show up in the backstory and simulation:



Note that the 790th fighter regiments do not operate the Su-35S at this time. Only the 22nd and 23rd fighter regiments operate the Su-35S in large numbers (the 159th just received there first four aircraft in November 2016), but more deliveries will take place between 2016 and 2020. A typical squadron of fighter aircraft in the VKS consists of at least 12 aircraft.

Works Consulted

George M. Siouris, Missile Guidance and Control Systems, Springer-Verlag New York, 2004. 

Jeffrey T Richelson, The U.S. Intelligence Community, Westview Press, Jul 14, 2015.

Piotr Butowski, “Russian Air Power Almanac 2015”, Air Force Magazine, 2015. http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Magazine%20Documents/2015/July%202015/0715russia.pdf

Sebastien Roblin, "Russia's MiG-29 Fulcrum: A Super Fighter or Super Failure?", July 2016. http://nationalinterest.org/feature/russias-mig-29-fulcrum-super-fighter-or-super-failure-17054 

Tactical Missile Corporation, “Products”, last accessed November 2016. http://eng.ktrv.ru/production_eng/




[1] Artem Company, “R-27 missiles”, last accessed November 2016.
[2] Vympel offers R-27EP anti-radar air-to-air missile Piotr Butowski
[3] Artem Company, “R-27 missiles”, last accessed November 2016.
[4] Piotr Butowski, “The Flanker Family Part Two: Upgrades, Su-33 and Su-35”, Combat Aircraft September 2016 Issue, pgs. 61-66.
[5] Sukhoi Products: Su-35 multi-role fighter, last access October 2016. http://www.sukhoi.org/eng/planes/military/Su-35/
[6] Piotr Butowski, “The Flanker Family Part Two: Upgrades, Su-33 and Su-35”, Combat Aircraft September 2016 Issue, pgs. 61-66.
[7] Global Security, “AA-10 ALAMO R-27”, last updated November 2011. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/russia/aa-10-specs.htm
[8] Jane’s, “Russian Air-Launched Weapons 38”, 2001.
[10] Piotr Butowski, “Vympel offers R-27EP anti-radar air-to-air missile”, 2007.
[12] Tyler Rogoway, “How To Win In A Dogfight: Stories From A Pilot Who Flew F-16s And MiGs”, 2015. http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/how-to-win-in-a-dogfight-stories-from-a-pilot-who-flew-1682723379
[13] Piotr Butowski, Jane's International Defense Review, August 2014.
[14] BMPD/ CAST, “Helmet-mounted target designation system NSTS-T for Russian fighter jets”, November 2016. http://bmpd.livejournal.com/2200980.html
[15] Piotr Butowski, Jane's International Defense Review, August 2014.
[16] Pieter D. Wezeman “United Nations Arms Embargoes Their Impact on Arms Flows and Target Behavior Case study: Eritrea and Ethiopia, 2000–2001.” http://books.sipri.org/files/misc/UNAE/SIPRI07UNAEE-E.pdf
[17] Ibid.
[18] Jonathan Kyzer, et al., Air Combat Information Group, “Air War between Ethiopia and Eritrea, 1998-2000”, 2003.  http://www.acig.info/CMS/?option=com_content&task=view&id=138&Itemid=47
[19] Ibid.  
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.
[23] F-16.net, “AIM-7 Sparrow”, last accessed November 2016. http://www.f-16.net/f-16_armament_article10.html
[24] Robert L. Shaw, Fight Combat Tactics and Maneuvering, pp. 38
[25] Robert L. Shaw, Fight Combat Tactics and Maneuvering, pp. 38