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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Article Announcement: F-22A vs Su-35

Image 1: Su-35S. Image Credit: Mikhail Voskresenskiy 

By next week I  will publish an article detailing a hypothetical engagement between a dozen F-22As and 48 Su-35s around 2020. The purpose of the article is to identify the challenges future Raptor pilots are going to face and how those challenges should inform potential mid-life upgrades of the F-22. Going forward, I will try to include additional analysis on Russian systems on this blog. I will be sure to list all of my assumptions and methodology in the endnotes as trying to predict an accurate engagement with only open source data is extremely difficult.

Recommended Media

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Building the F-22C "Super Raptor": Improvements Part - III

Image 1: Notional F-22C upgrade package. 

While the enhancements described in Part II will rectify some the inherent design deficiencies of the base F-22A - such as range and limited computing power, additional changes are needed to ensure the F-22 can operate in the most contested environments in the post-2030 timeframe. The key elements of any F-22C upgrade program would include additional sensors to improve situational awareness, survivability, and munitions integration and storage capacity. Overall, the majority of these upgrades will assist in within visual range engagements and survivability against infrared (IR) guided missiles. Each upgrade recommendation varies in technical complexity, schedule, and cost which invariably will make certain upgrades more attractive to the USAF than others. 

Sidelooking AESAs

Image 2: Proposed F-22 growth options by Karlo Copp. Image Credit: Air Power Australia & Carlo Kopp, 2006.  

      The existing F-22 sensor suite is arguably the most capable of any fighter aircraft with the exception to the F-35. The APG-77 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar consists of at least 2,000 transmit receive modules which can detect a 1m^2 rcs target at a distance of 150 nautical miles (nm) all the while changing its frequency 1,000 times per second under its low probability of intercept (LPI) mode to evade emission locator systems.[1] The passive detection capabilities of the F-22 are arguably even more impressive, BAE’s ALR-94 radar warning receiver (RWR) and digital electronic warfare suite enables the F-22 to perform precise geolocation and tracking of emitters from any direction up to 250 nm away; the details of this capability are highly classified but it is plausible the fidelity of the geolocation capabilities are of a high enough quality to provide target quality tracks for weapons employment i.e. narrowband interleaved search and track (NBLST) mode.[2] However, the key to leveraging all of the F-22’s powerful sensors – and arguably the area of greatest difficulty to developing a fifth generation fighter, is the F-22’s software which fuses sensor inputs and disseminates critical information for the pilot thereby providing unmatched situational awareness of his or her environment. Despite the already impressive capabilities of the baseline F-22A, changes to the threat environment and USAF procurements since termination of the production line necessitate additional upgrades to the F-22’s sensor suite.
      With its current suite of sensors and enhanced situational awareness, Raptor pilots over the skies of Syria haven taken on battle management duties; the superior understanding of the battlespace by Raptor pilots provides nascent airborne warning and control (AWACS) capabilities to Coalition forces.[3] The Raptor’s command and control (C2) role will only grow in importance should the U.S. fight in a highly contested environment where the safety of E-3 and E-2D AWACS aircraft – even at stand-off ranges, is not assured. Furthermore, the limited production run of F-22 and the vast geographic expanse of likely conflict zones both the Asia-Pacific and Europe will force a standard four ship formation of F-22’s to undertake much more demanding combat air patrols for both offensive and defensive counter air missions. A potential solution to expand both the F-22’s C2 capabilities and enable small units of F-22s to cover wider areas of responsibility would be the installation of sidelooking AESA radars which would provide much greater horizontal and vertical coverage. Furthermore, these arrays could utilize a lower frequency band, such as the L-band sidelooking arrays utilized on the Su-35, to improve detection capabilities against low radar cross section targets optimized for the X and S-band.[4]

Image 3: 2008 PO document courtesy BDF and Note: this document is out of date, but it does provide valuable insight towards a much longer term upgrade roadmap than the current Increment series. The desire for additional C2 and ISR capabilities is particularly noteworthy. 

The F-22A’s existing superstructure has provisions for sidelooking phased array radars as a growth option for further development.[5] The upgrade would not be necessary for every F-22, even upgrading only the flight lead’s and element lead’s aircraft within a four aircraft formation would enable much greater operational flexibility. For example, during the Persian Gulf war, it was standard practice for two pairs of F-15Cs to fly in the beyond visual range fighting formation known as the “Wall of Eagles”:
Using their radars, all formation members searched the area ahead of them usually in a 120 degree azimuth sweep, which covered an 80 nm wide arc at 40 miles off the nose. With as much as five miles between the wingmen, at 40 nm the entire formation searched an 85-mile-wide swath, making it difficult for an adversary to outflank the formation, or escape detection…Each two-ship element in the ‘Wall of Eagles’ formation searched with their radars from the earth’s surface to the base of the contrail level, the two elements ensuring overlapping coverage. Additionally, the wingman visually scanned the contrail layer for telltale signs of aircraft approach in that altitude band. – F-15C Eagle vs Mig-23/25, Douglas C. Dildy and Tom Cooper, pp. 43, 2016. 
This formation maximized the probability of detecting adversary aircraft across the assigned mission area of combat air patrols. The potential coverage of two pairs of F-22s employing a similar tactic would dwarf the original, but the effectiveness of the tactic would be augmented considerably if at least two aircraft per formation were equipped with sidelooking arrays providing vertical and substantial additional horizontal coverage.
            In the low observable “AWACS” role, side panel equipped Raptors could provide a highly survivable situational awareness capability for the joint force even within contested airspace. As of fiscal year 2017 USAF budget documents, 72 F-22As will receive Link 16 capabilities in an unspecified waveform and all F-22s will receive IFTL Gateway mode which will enable 5th to 4th generation communications. Even after expending all internal weapons, F-22s will likely remain close to the battlefield provided fuel is not a constraint given their unique highly survivable battle management and command and control capabilities: 
After their missiles were fired, the F-22’s active & passive sensor capabilities functioned as the Raptor’s last weapon. Northern Edge 2006’s Raptors remained in the fight, flying as stealthy forward air controllers and guiding their colleagues to enemies sitting behind mountains and other ‘Blue Force’ AWACS blind spots. When the AIM-120D AMRAAM missile enters wider service, F-22s will also have the option of actively guiding missiles fired by other aircraft.[6]
Overall assessment (1 – low, 5 – High):
            Relative Utility: 3/5 – Intermediate
            Technical Feasibility and Cost: 3/5 – Intermediate

Recommendation: Further technical and cost analysis required utilizing classified information is likely required to make a full assessment. The U.S. has yet to field a fighters equipped with sidelooking arrays as of 2016. All existing USAF aircraft employing sidelooking arrays are optimized at observation of ground targets such as JSTARS and Global Hawk.[7] Any contract would likely be a sole source to Northrop Grumman since the system would have to be integrated with the existing APG-77(V)1. Air Power Australia is among the few sources in the public domain which states the base airframe has provisions for sidelooking arrays, internal modifications since the initial design may have utilized any existing growth margin. Furthermore, the full capabilities of the APG-77(V)1 may be sufficient to provide acceptable C2 capabilities without further investments. Determining the extent to which additional capabilities are needed to monitor contested airspace likely merits its own in-depth technical study.

Incorporating a different frequency band in the sidelooking arrays has the potential to provide greater flexibility against intensive adversary jamming against the X-band. However, the APG-77(V)1 is already highly resistant to jamming. Furthermore, L-band arrays may not be able to provide similar target quality track information required for weapons employment.

Helmet Mounted Display and Cueing System

Image 4: Third generation HMD for the F-35. Image Credit: Rockwell Collins. 

      Arguably the most glaring current deficiency of the F-22A is its lack of a helmet mounted display and cueing system (HMDCS). HMDs are vital for within visual range engagements as they enable the cueing of advanced off-boresight missiles such as the AIM-9X Block I; off-boresight missiles paired with an HMD enable the pilot to look at an adversary aircraft and gain IR missile lock on the target up to 90 degrees from the launch point. Interception of the target even at extreme angles is possible for modern IR guided missiles as a result of thrust vectoring and freedom from biological g-limit constraints which dictate the maneuverability envelope pilots can sustain. Without an HMD, Raptor pilots have had to rely upon their traditional heads up display (HUD) for IR missile cueing and display of weapons engagement zones (WEZ) which constraints IR targeting to the forward sector. At the operational level, the lack of an HMD can be mitigated somewhat with the lock-on-after-launch (LOAL) feature in the AIM-9X Block II as the missile will loiter in close proximity to the launch point before being re-tasked by the pilot to perform any aspect interception. However, the LOAL feature requires integration of a two-way datalink which will not be completed until the Increment 3.2b upgrades are completed.

Image 5: Off-boresight capability of the Python 4 IR guided missile. Image courtesy of Defense Industry Daily. 

The USAF has tested the Thales Scorpion HMDCS for integration with the F-22 in 2014, but the effort was canceled as a result of sequestration.[8] FY 2017 USAF budget documents indicate the USAF still plans to field a HMDCS system for the F-22 in the near future:
The HMDCS program will select, integrate, test and field a mature HMDCS to take full advantage of advanced weapons such as the AIM-9X, and improved battlespace situational awareness during day/night within-visual-range engagements. The HMDCS will be integrated on all Block 30/35 Raptors.[9]
While the integration of either the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) or the Scorpion HMDCS on the F-22 is likely, there are no official plans to develop and integrate an equivalent to the Rockwell Collins third generation HMD for the F-22. The main advantage of the F-35’s HMD over JHMCS or the Scorpion is its integration with the distributed aperture system – a series of cameras embedded in the F-35’s skin which provides real-time all-aspect tracking of aircraft within a 15 nautical mile radius.[10] However, the F-22 does not require an equivalent of the third generation HMD as it has no equivalent of DAS. Furthermore, the single piece bubble canopy of the F-22 already affords the pilot with excellent visibility when compared to the F-35’s cockpit without DAS. An equivalent to the third generation HMD might be merited depending upon a decision to fuse the sensor inputs of the AAR-56 Missile Launch Detector (MLD) cameras into a cohesive system like DAS as well as the integration of the advanced electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) which will be discussed in the next article.

[1] Dan Katz, “Comparing F-22, F-35 Cost and Capability”, 2016.
[2] Bill Sweetman, “The Next Generation, 2000.
[3] Lolita C. Baldor, “F-22 Raptor Ensures other War-Fighting Aircraft Survive Over Syria”, 2015.
[4] Carlo Kopp, “Assessing the Tikhomirov NIIP L-Band Active Electronically Steered Array”, 2009.
[5] Carlo Kopp, “Lockheed-Martin / Boeing F-22 Raptor”, 2012.
[6] “Defense Industry Daily, “F-22 Raptor: Capabilities and Controversies”, last accessed September 2016.
[7] Defense Science Board, “Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Future DoD Airborne High-Frequency Radar Needs/Resources”, 2001.
[8] Dave Majumdar, “Air Force Evaluating New Targeting Monocle for F-22 Raptor”, 2014.
[9] USAF Budget Documents FY 2017, RTD&E Volume III Part I pp. 420
[10] Dan Katz, “Comparing F-22, F-35 Cost and Capability”, 2016.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Blog Update September 2016

Apologies for the long publishing hiatus, I have been preoccupied with both work and graduate school. I am currently working on the "Building the F-22 Super Raptor" series; the next two parts will discuss means to improve the Raptor's sensors, countermeasures, and munitions.

Recommended Defense & National Security Media 

Operational Assessment of the F-35A Argues for Full Program Procurement and Concurrent Development Process - John Venable
F-35 Thermal Scan Highlights New Stealth Features - Tamir Eshel
Is the European Meteor Air-To-Air Missile Really the Best in the World? - Tyler Rogoway
Navy Sidelines First 4 LCS; Overhauls Deployment, Crewing- Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr.
China and Ukraine agree to restart An-225 production - Gareth Jennings

A Few Words About TPP

Note: While I intentionally try to avoid politics, the ongoing legislative battle over TPP is of paramount importance and its not getting both the attention intellectual scrutiny it deserves. The TPP is often written-off as corporate power grab in the U.S. media and is now opposed by both presidential candidates. Overall, both political parties have demonstrated a limited understanding of international trade policy and economics this campaign season - particularly regarding TPP and the much lambasted "trade deficit".

"According to the World Bank, in just 10 years, four of the five largest economies in the world will be in the Asia-Pacific region. The United States will be able to shape the 21st century only if it remains a vital Pacific power...The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the sine qua non of Washington’s pivot to Asia because it works at many levels simultaneously — economic, political and strategic. It boosts growth, shores up U.S. alliances, sends a powerful signal to China and, most importantly, writes the rules of the 21st century in ways that are fundamentally American...With the Asia pivot, Obama is pursuing the deepest, most enduring interests of the United States. But in doing so, he is now alone in a Washington that is increasingly awash in populism, protectionism and isolationism." - Fareed Zakaria
  • Many Asian countries set aside their parochial economic-industrial interests in order to negotiate with the U.S., particularly Japan under Abe has borne huge political costs. 
  • The U.S.' has been able to exact comparatively favorable terms in many aspects of the negotiations given its part of the largest single market in the world (NAFTA). 
    • Economics is the study of trade-offs, the net benefit to the services sector as well as the agricultural, technological, and pharmaceutical industries offsets losses in manufacturing. By many counts TPP will only produce modest growth to the U.S. economy, its real purpose lies within international politics e.g. U.S. trade volume with Vietnam is projected to surge. 
    • Securing robust trade relationships with developing Asian countries lays the groundwork for maintaining the U.S.' long-term soft power influence in the region to offset China.
  • Should the U.S. fail to pass TPP, the U.S. reputation in the Asia-Pacific will be damaged for years to come:
    • "The Japanese living in an uncertain world depending upon the American nuclear umbrella will have to say, on trade the Americans could follow through, if its life and death, whom do I have to depend upon?...Its an absolutely serious calculation which will not be said openly, but I have no doubts it will be thought" - PM Lee Hsien Loong
  • Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has stated he does not intended to bring TPP to the floor of the Senate for a vote even after the November 2016 elections. 
If nothing else, the TPP deserves serious discussion and examination this campaign season. It is one of the few proactive efforts, rather than crisis control, aspects of U.S. foreign policy which has the potential to secure U.S. influence in the most dynamic and populous region of the world decades to come. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Building the F-22C "Super Raptor": Improvements Part - II

While the F-22 is unambiguously the most lethal air-to-air platform in existence, the F-22 was designed during the 1980s and 1990s under a different threat and technological environment. Namely the F-22’s antiquated internal computing capabilities, software, limited combat radius, and high maintenance requirements degrade the utility of the F-22 within the context of operating in the Asia-Pacific against increasingly capable great power threats. Part II will examine these deficiencies further in preparation for an analysis of what features an F-22C could include which would both correct these shortcomings and add new capabilities to the F-22 airframe in Part III.

1980s Hardware & Software

Image 1: F-15C cockpit vs. F-22A. F-15C image courtesy of Eagle.RU forums. 

            The avionics suite of the F-22 is among the most capable of any fighter in service in terms of raw performance, the AN/APG-77 active electronically scanned array (AESA) and ALR-94 radar warning receiver (RWR) provide unmatched active and passive detection capabilities. Data collected from the F-22’s avionics suite are fused and presented on six liquid crystal displays in the cockpit providing unmatched situational awareness when compared to primarily analogue switches and cathode ray tube based displays within 4th generation cockpits. However, the original internal computing hardware and software that manages the F-22’s avionics are obsolete.

Image 2: F-22 internal computing systems. Image Credit: F-22 avionics handbook, Ronald Brower, 2001. 

            Two Hughes Electronics designed common integrated processors (CIP) provide the computing backbone of the F-22 avionics and flight systems which enable dissemination of radar, communication, electronic warfare, and systems data.[1] The CIP is a modular design composed of 66 Standard Electronic Module Size – E (SEM-E) units each which are in turn connected to Dual Data Processing Elements (DDPE) on each side of the SEM-E units; the DDPEs feature two 32-bit, 25-MHz, Intel 80960 (i960) processors which collectively provide the bulk of the F-22’s processing capability to support its integrated avionics suite.[2] Polyalphaolefin liquid coolant provides thermal management for both the CIP racks and AN/APG-77 radar. Each CIP is capable of computing 10.5 billion calculations per second and have a maximum memory capacity of just 300 megabytes each. The software which runs the F-22’s hardware is equally dated.

Image 3: F-22 CIP. Image Credit: Hughes Aircraft Co, 1996.  

Of the 1.7 million lines of code responsible for running the F-22s various systems, 90% is written in Ada - a prehistoric programming language developed in 1980. In a Wall Street Journal editorial against the F-22 program, former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman sarcastically remarked, “At least they [the F-22] are safe from cyberattack since no one in China knows how to program the '83 vintage IBM software that runs them”.[3] Despite the limitations of the F-22’s current hardware and software, Lockheed Martin engineers ensured the aircraft had significant growth margins to accommodate future computing advances.
            A total of 19 SEM-E slots in CIP 1 and 22 SEM-E slots in CIP 2 are vacant to facilitate future growth.[4] Furthermore, provisions were made within the F-22 airframe to facilitate future incorporation of a third CIP.[5] Production of the i960MX ceased in 1997 and it’s likely that the CIP’s original hardware was upgraded, but these upgrades are not well documented. Under the common configuration program (CCP), Defense Industry Daily reports, “F-22A Block 10s were retrofitted to Block 20/ Increment 2 status, but retain the original core processor [implying a new processor has been fielded]”.[6] In 2001, Military and Aerospace Electronics, reported that PowerPC processors would be integrated into lot 5 production aircraft:

…an upgrade to a new PowerPC processor already is on the drawing board, beginning with Lot 5 production of the aircraft around 2004…When the time comes, designers say they expect to replace the signal processor with a PowerPC using AltiVec technology, Motorola's high-performance vector parallel processing expansion to the PowerPC RISC processor architecture. AltiVec adds a 128-bit vector execution unit operating in concert with the PowerPC's existing integer and floating point units to provide highly parallel operations, as many as 16 simultaneously in one clock cycle.
The full extent of the CIP’s upgrades are not apparent from public sources, but it’s likely the original obsolescent parts were at least partially replaced for sustainment purposes since Lot 5. Given the additional sensors and networking capabilities envisioned in an F-22C, which will be detailed in Part III, it’s likely the current baseline computing hardware will require additional upgrades. Furthermore, the USAF ought to examine the feasibility and relative utility of upgrading to a C++ or non-Ada based operating system while also keeping cybersecurity in mind. The Integrated Maintenance Information System (IMIS), the rough equivalent of AILIS for the F-22, is currently being upgraded to the C++ standard.[7] The Air Force’s budget materials for FY 2017 under “F-22 Small Projects” lists “Windows XP migration” as a planned upgrade.[8]

[UPDATE 9/25/16]: Forecast International reports a third CIP was added on lot 5 production aircraft and beyond. 


Image 4: F-22A range comparison, the chart is somewhat biased against the F-15E given the HLLH configuration. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin. 

Arguably the most substantial limitation of the F-22 is its limited range. On internal stores only, the F-22 has a subsonic combat radius of 590 nautical miles (nm). With the addition of a pair of 500 gallon drop tanks, which are mounted from detachable pylons on the wing to enable reestablishment of the F-22’s stealth outline, is 850 nm. However, even a range of 850 nm is fairly limited when compared to the vast geographic expanse of the Asia-Pacific. The original advanced tactical fighter requirements were tailored to the strategic situation of the Cold War in which the U.S. air campaign would be fought from a network of bases in the U.K. and Western Europe which were comparatively close proximity to Warsaw Pact forces.
            In order to both improve the relevance of the Raptor to the Asia-Pacific and reduce the strain on aerial refueling assets during a high-end conflict, the F-22C would add both variable cycle engines and conformal fuel tanks. Variable cycle engines are likely to be among the defining traits of six generation aircraft, provided such a platform centric approach is pursued, and provide numerous performance benefits when compared to current turbofan engines:

To alter bypass ratio, variable-cycle engines add a third airflow stream outside of both the standard bypass duct and core. The third stream provides an extra source of airflow that, depending on the phase of the mission, can be adapted to provide either additional mass flow for increased propulsive efficiency and lower fuel burn, or to provide additional core flow for higher thrust and cooling air for the hot section of the engine, as well as to cool fuel, which provides a heat sink for aircraft systems. During cruise, the third stream can also swallow excess air damming up around the inlet, improving flow holding and reducing spillage drag.[9]
Variable cycle engines have the potential to provide between 25% and 35% greater range and 10% greater thrust when compared to traditional turbofan engines.[10] Furthermore, the third stream of air provides additional heat sink capacity which would facilitate both the incorporation of additional avionics – which often generate excessive heat, and directed energy weapons.[11]

Image 5: F-22A drop tank test. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin. 

            The addition of conformal fuel tanks would greatly expand the Raptor’s range at minimal cost to maneuverability, for example, the F-15’s Fuel And Sensor Tactical (FAST) CFTs provide an additional 1,698 gallons of fuel while the F-16C Block 52’s CFTs provide 900 additional gallons, and the Advanced Super Hornet’s CTFs provide 3,000 pounds of additional fuel combined. The addition of variable cycle engines and CTFs could expand the F-22B’s combat radius to approximately 825 nm or greater than 1,180 nm with two drop tanks.[i] However, the addition of CTFs would degrade the F-22’s stealth performance by virtue of disrupting the careful balance of planform alignment, the process in which multiple flight surfaces of an airframe share the same angle such that they reflect radar waves way from the source; shaping techniques provide between 80-90% of radar cross section (RCS) reductions while radar absorbent material (RAM) coatings provide the remainder.
            The relative utility of mounting CFTs for the F-22 would depend upon the extent of RCS degradation and the expected threat environment. For example, even if the CTFs would entirely negate the F-22’s stealth characteristics, CTS would still be useful for ferry flights between distant Pacific bases such as Joint Base Pearl-Hickam in Hawaii and Kadena Air Base in Japan. However, it is unlikely the addition of CTFs would entirely negate the F-22’s stealth when shaped appropriately and treated with RAM. Israeli Aerospace Industries has explored adding CTFs to the F-35.[12] Similarly, both Boeing’s Advanced Super Hornet and Silent Eagle proposals incorporate CFTs and are able to maintain a relatively low RCS. If the addition of CTFs does not degrade the frontal RCS of the F-22C significantly beyond that of the F-35, it might be appropriate to use in moderately contested threat environments; it would not be used in highly contested SEAD/DEAD missions against near-peer competitors.

Availability Rates & Sustainment

            Banal details related to maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) programs and their impact fleet readiness is a dimension of defense analysis that is often lost upon most armchair generals. Despite the unmatched air-to-air capabilities of each individual F-22 and the extensive training of each Raptor pilot, the small fleet of primary aircraft inventory airframes (PMAI) translates into an even smaller number of planes which are ready for combat at any one time. For example, the USAF has two broad terms to describe an aircraft fleet’s readiness: mission capable rates and availability rates. Mission capable rates (MCR) are equal to the mission capable hours divided by the unit possessed hours while the mission availability rate is equal to the mission capable hours divided by the total aircraft inventory (TAI) hours; MCR is generally a satisfactory level of determining readiness at the unit level while availability rates are indicative of broader fleet level readiness.[13] For example, of the 183 F-22s in the USAF inventory, on average roughly 115 are airworthy and able to execute assigned missions at any one time with an availability rate of 62.8%, the corresponding mission capable rate for the PMAI F-22 component fleet is 72.7% or roughly 89 of 123 PMAI aircraft would be ready to execute missions at any one time.[14][15]

Image 6: Image Credit GAO, 2014. 

            The U.S. can effectively increase its fleet of deployed F-22s by improving readiness rates such that the existing limit fleet size translates into the most combat capability possible. For example, a 10% improvement in MCR among PMAI aircraft would effectively boost the available PMAI fleet size by 13 aircraft – more than half a squadron worth, to a total of 102 up from 89. With such a small fleet size and the prospect of restarting production low, ensuring maximum fleet readiness is vital given the F-22’s unique role as the only high-end survivable air superiority asset in the USAF inventory for the foreseeable future. The USAF has a goal of achieving a fleet availability rate of 70% by 2018 up from the current 62.8% through the reliability and maintainability maturation program (RAMMP). RAAMP modifications include:
Mighty Tough Boot Development [toughens the seams between aircraft panels to facilitate easier maintenance and mitigate damage to RAM coatings], Aircraft Mounted Nozzle Shield (AMNS) Liner Redesign, Integrated Forebody (IFB) Rain Erosion Nose Cap, Canopy Topcoat Redesign, Stored Energy System (SES) Air Filter, Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) Plenum Sealing, Gland Redesign, Automated Backup Oxygen System, Secondary Multi-Function Display (SMFD) Backlight to Lower Power LED, Gland Redesign, and Driver B RF Circuit Redesign[16][17]

Image 7: RAMMP. Image Credit: Flight Global. 

According to Lockheed Martin, 50% of all maintenance activities for the F-22 relate to maintaining its RAM coatings. The limited resilience of the F-22’s RAM coatings contributes towards its astronomically high cost per flight hour to operate at $59,166 compared to $20,318 for the F-16 and $32,000 (projected) for the F-35 as of 2015 data.[18] A total of $1.7 billion will be spent on RAAMP associated upgrades through 2020, but additional modifications – particularly to the F-22’s RAM, are likely required and ought to be incorporated to any F-22C.

Part III will detail capability improvements such as enclosed weapon pods, HMD, IRST, etc. 

[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.

[i] Assumes 3,000 pounds additional fuel from CTFs and 25% greater fuel efficiency from variable cycle engines. Does not factor drag or other important factors i.e. this is a “napkin math” type calculation that provides a rough estimate of expected performance. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Building the F-22C "Super Raptor": Intro & Backgrounder - Part I

Image 1: F-22 design evolution. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin retrieved via Code One Magazine.  
Table of Contents
  1. Intro: Air Superiority 2030 – A Non-Traditional Approach– Part I
  2. Backgrounder: Fleet Composition & Upgrades – Part I
  3. F-22A Deficiencies to Correct 
  4. F-22C Enhancements
  5. Fleet Options & Building the F-22C Super Raptor
  6. F-22C Strategic Impacts and Implications
  7. Conclusion

Intro: Air Superiority 2030 – A Non-Traditional Approach       

In recent months, the remarks of both senior USAF officials and service strategy documents depict a fluid and increasingly questionable approach to conceptualizing, let alone developing, an F-22 replacement. The latest iteration of the F-22 replacement was revealed in June 2016 with the publication of “Air Superiority Flight Plan 2030” which calls for a “penetrating counter air (PCA)” aircraft:
The Air Force must reject thinking focused on ‘next generation’ platforms…Such focus often creates a desire to push technology limits within the confines of a formal program…Capability development efforts for PCA will focus on maximizing tradeoffs between range, payload, survivability, lethality, affordability, and supportability. While PCA capability will certainly have a role in targeting and engaging, it also has a significant role as a node in the network, providing data from its penetrating sensors to enable employment using either stand-off or stand-in weapons. As part of this effort, the Air Force should proceed with a formal AoA in 2017 for a PCA capability.[1] [emphasis added]
Notably absent from the PCA description is maneuverability, the defining characteristic of fighter aircraft for the past century. The description of the PCA is an evolution of earlier USAF remarks which emphasize the service’s desire to develop a non-traditional systems of systems approach to air superiority in the 2030s to the replace the F-22. The study was led by Colonel Alex Grynkewich, a former F-22 pilot, who believes the USAF must invest in high payload-long range capable systems paired with unmanned assets such as the loyal wingman; Colonel Grynkewich discourages using the term “sixth generation” to describe the PCA.[2][3]

Image 2: Current 6th generation technology development efforts detailed by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). Some of these technologies can be integrated into the F-22 which will be discussed in subsequent articles. Image Credit: John ‘Beach’ Wilcox Director AFRL Munitions Directorate 

            Lt. General Holmes, Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements, has been a vocal proponent of a SoS approach with respect to replacing the F-22. This SoS approach would be much more minimalistic in the sense that it would not necessarily produce a sixth generation F-X aircraft. Instead, it would produce several technologies within a shorter time period i.e. 2025 which could be integrated into existing platforms or deployed from modular purpose-built platforms as part of a wider SoS architecture.   
‘F-X would have been most likely like a sixth-generation fighter and would have had a 20 or 30-year development programme,’ Holmes said at an Air Force Association forum in Washington DC on 7 April. ‘What we want to try to do is solve the problem faster than that by looking out across the range of options and building what we’re capable of building instead of waiting for the next generation’.[4]
Given the growing traction of those who seek to develop and integrate sixth generation technologies into existing platforms and field new operational concepts in lieu of developing a new fighter (or substantially delaying a 6th generation F-X as a result of upgrades), the option to restart F-22 production merits further consideration. Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA), Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee within the House Armed Services Committee, added a provision within the House version of the proposed 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which would order the Air Force to study the costs of restarting F-22 production with a goal of 194 additional airframes; the added 194 would enable the USAF to meet its prior requirement for 381 airframes.[5] While its widely recognized Congressman Forbes likely added the provision to bolster his reelection campaign, which he recently lost the primary for, this article will examine how the USAF could plausibly add additional capabilities to the F-22 fleet via the development of an F-22C “Super Raptor”.

Backgrounder: Fleet Composition & Upgrades [Updated 7/4/16] 

            Prior to an analysis of the F-22C and its additional capabilities, a brief overview of the current state of the USAF F-22 fleet is necessary to provide a contextual background. The F-22 program has survived a series of tumultuous political and bureaucratic challenges which have terminated additional procurement, realigned basing, and altered modernization plans. With a national security calculus which put a greater emphasis on non-state actors over great power threats, Congress curtailed F-22 production in 2009 to just 195 airframes of which 187 were delivered to the USAF; Of those 187 airframes, only 123 are currently deployed to active combat capable units as primary mission aircraft inventory (PMAI) airframes. The following is a chart provided by Air Combat Command (ACC) which details the current F-22 fleet by base and inventory type. ACC figures account for write-offs, i.e. crashes, but the two test configured F-22As at Edwards AFB, CA are not included by ACC as they are under USAF Materiel Command’s 411th FTS. Thus, the current active F-22 inventory is 183 airframes of all types.

Image 3: Source: ACC A589/8XX, 15 January 2014. Retrieved via “Air Superiority by the Numbers: Cutting Combat Air Forces in a Time of Uncertainty”, pp. 21, Major Taylor T. Ferrell, 2014.

Image 4: “Aerospace Vehicle Programming, Assignment, Distribution, Accounting, and Termination”, pp. 33, 2013.  

The USAF had planned to operate 381 F-22As of which 240 would be PMAI status thereby evenly forming 10 fighter squadrons (FS). Standard USAF fighter squadrons generally consist of 24 PAI aircraft and 2 BAI designated airframes; BAI aircraft are still assigned to active squadrons but are often temporarily undergoing programmed depot maintenance (PDM) prior to rotating back into the PMAI fleet such that another two PMAI airframes become BAI and undergo depot maintenance.[6]  The 123 PAI airframes, roughly half of the earlier USAF requirement, were originally divided into smaller squadrons of between 18 and 21 PAI aircraft accompanied by 2 BAI airframes.[7]  As a result of financial pressures, the F-22 fleet underwent a major realignment in 2011 which was completed in 2014 in which both the 7th and 8th FS at Holloman AFB, NM were reassigned to Joint Base (JB) Elmendorf-Richardson, Tyndall AFB, Nellis AFB, and JB Langley-Eustis. An effort was made to consolidate the newest and most capable F-22As, namely Block 30 and Block 35 airframes, at Elmendorf and Langley while older airframes were assigned to JB Pearl-Hickam and Tyndall such that fleet capabilities are evenly spread between the East and West Coasts.[8]
The largest non-PMAI airframe contingent of F-22As is based at Tyndall AFB within the Tyndall Schoolhouse. These 31 Block 20 configured F-22As assigned to the 43d FS and are utilized to train new Raptor pilots. The next largest contingent of non-PMAI airframes resides at Nellis AFB, NV which are utilized for test and evaluation roles as well the formation of new techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTP) by the 422d test and evaluation squadron (TES) and 433d weapons squadron (WS) respectively; Nellis’ F-22As feature a diverse mix of Block 20, 30, and 35 airframes.[9]
In 2010, the USAF planned to upgrade 149 F-22As with Increment 3.1 capabilities bringing them to the Block 30 standard; 87 of these 149 airframes were to be upgraded further with Increment 3.2 capabilities such that the final PAI and BAI composition would consist of 63 Block 30, 87 Block 35, and 35 Block 20 F-22As. It’s important to note two write-offs have occurred since 2010 including 1 43d FS Block 20 at Tyndall and 1 Block 30 at Elmendorf within the 525th FS.[10] The total cost of the Increment series of upgrades is $6.9 billion with all F-22 improvement programs through 2023 budgeted at $11.3 billion, 60% of these funds were spent prior to FY 2014. 
            In 2012, Government Accountability Office (GAO) documents show that the USAF plans to bring 143 F-22As to the Block 35 standard with full Increment 3.2 upgrades at a total cost of $1.5653 billion and a unit cost of $10.298 million per airframe.[11] These 143 airframes likely consist of 123 PMAI aircraft as well as those squadron’s accompanied 12 BAIs airframes and the remaining 8 airframes would plausibly be assigned to Nellis for TES or USAF Weapons School roles. Major F-22 upgrade programs are detailed below, the upgrades are generally understood to be associated with the following Block designations:
  • Increment 2.0 = Block 20 – earlier airframes upgraded to this baseline
  • Increment 3.1 = Block 30
  • Increment 3.2 = Block 35
In addition to the upgrade programs below, the F-22 is receiving additional upgrades through the Increment 3.2 follow-on, “Budget Program Activity Code [BPAC]: 674788 – F-22 Tactical Mandates” which consists of Update 5 and Update 6.

Image 5: GAO vs USAF description of F-22 modernization effort components retrieved via CRS. Auto GCAS capability has been withdrawn from the Increment 3.2 upgrade and is now featured within the Update 5 software modification. Much more detailed examination of F-22 upgrades is available here:

The F-22 Tactical Mandates series of software upgrades have three principal objectives: reduce the risk of fratricide, improve fourth-to-fifth generation communication, and complete risk reduction measures for the Increment 3.2B upgrade via partial integration of the AIM-9X.[12] The most substantial Tactical Mandates components not listed under either Update 5 or Update 6 are Link-16 transmit capability and Identification friend or foe (IFF) mode 5 integration. A total of 72 F-22As will receive Link-16 transmit capability by 2020; the distribution of these 72 aircraft among the PMAI squadrons and the nature of the Link-16 modification, i.e. use of L-3 developed “Chameleon” waveform to reduce probability of detection, have not been specified. [13] In the interim period prior to the 2020 Link-16 upgrade, Raptor pilots will continue to utilize a series of ad-hoc operational procedures to share information over UHF and VHF radio with 4th generation pilots when there are no Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) aircraft is not present; Update 5 modified aircraft will also be able to utilize the Intra-Flight Data Link (IFDL) GWY Mode as a means to communicate with 4th generation aircraft.[14][15]  
            In 2014, pilots from the 422d TES tested the Scorpion helmet mounted cueing system (HMCS) for integration with the F-22. However, the Scorpion was ultimately not funded as the Air Force was struggling to fund Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) mandated items such as mode 5 IFF as part of the Tactical Mandates program.[16] While integration of a HMCS or helmet mounted display (HMD) may seem of greater utility to F-22 combat capabilities than IFF upgrades, aircraft than have not featured the latest available IFF standard have often been relegated to subordinate roles or have had to adhere to strict rules of engagement which greatly diminish the capabilities of their aircraft. For example, F-4 Phantoms often struggled to identify distant radar contacts in the early years of the Vietnam War such that full use of the Phantom’s beyond visual range (BVR) capabilities was not realized until the fielding of the APX-80 IFF in 1972.  

Image 6: BAE PowerPoint slide showing contract award for AN/DPX-7 transponder integration into the F-22. TACAN = Tactical Air Navigation, ADS-B = Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast, M5L2 = Mode 5 Level 2 – Broadcast. Image Credit: BAE systems.  

The APX-80 IFF was developed under the “Combat Tree” program in which the U.S. covertly acquired Soviet SRO-2 IFFs from Arab MiGs downed during the Six Day War. APX-80 equipped Phantoms enabled pilots to not only recognize friendly IFF contacts, but also to definitely recognize adversary aircraft at BVR.[17] Similarly, U.S. Navy F-14As participating in the alpha strike against Tammuz AB during the opening hours of the Persian Gulf War lacked electronic identification capabilities. Tomcat pilots had to follow strict rules of engagement, “F-14s were not allowed to sweep ahead of the US Navy strike packages (except for the far west H3 area). Instead they were relegated to close escort of the relatively defenseless carrier-based aircraft”.[18] Despite the fact that the F-14 arguably had the greatest BVR capabilities of any Coalition aircraft during the Persian Gulf War as a result of the AWG-9 and APG-71 radars (for the A and D models respectively) and AIM-54 Phoenix missile, it was effectively relegated to within visual range (WVR) roles thereby greatly diminishing the capabilities of the aircraft. Ensuing the F-22 is not sidelined in a future conflict for fear of fratricide, is well worth delaying the integration of an HMD which is now scheduled for 2021.[19]
The Update 5 software modification component of the Tactical Mandates program is actively being integrated within the F-22 fleet, “The Update 5 Operation Flight Program (OFP) includes Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (AGCAS), Intra Flight Data Link Mode 5th to 4th generation IFDL capability (IFDL GWY Mode), and basic to Block I AIM-9X missile launch capability".[20] Full integration of the more capable AIM-9X Block II requires Increment 3.2B upgrades which prove two-way datalink functionality between the F-22 and AIM-9X Block II thereby enabling lock-after launch (LOAL) capability. Furthermore, the symbology, possibly the weapons engagement zone (WEZ), for the AIM-9X is displayed with AIM-9M characteristics on the F-22’s HUD under the Update 5 modification. Increment 3.2B will rectify the symbology issues but is not scheduled to incorporate a HMD which facilitate AIM-9X HOBS. However, Raptor pilots will still be able to fully utilize the AIM-9X’s increased range and maneuverability enhancements over the AIM-9M as a result of the Update 5 modification. While the AIM-9X integration component of Update 5 is significant, the AGCAS capability is critical to mitigating the potential of future write-offs within the small F-22 fleet; the Update 5 modification also improves general software stability.
Image 7: The 525th FS based JB Elmendorf-Richardson Alaska have received the Update 5 modification. Image Credit; John Dibbs, Code One Magazine, 2015. 

Update 6 appears to be geared towards both denying potential adversaries a source of signals intelligence and bolstering the cyber security, and possibly the resilience of, of Link-16 and IFDL:

U6 will develop, test and field new capabilities and capability enhancements including changes driven by real world evolving threats, emergency/safety of flight issues, and deficiency reports. U6 Interoperability provides cryptographic updates required by the National Security Agency (NSA) to IFDL, Link-16, and Tactical Secure Voice (TSV) and development to maintain interoperability with the enhancements to Link-16 and Secure Voice networks. The U6 Interoperability program will absorb and build upon the development work already accomplished in the KOV-20 Cryptographic Modernization Program and integrate that development into a single Operational Flight Program (OFP) for fleet release. In addition, U6 Interoperability will develop and deliver software fixes identified as critical to the operational community. - Exhibit R-2, RDT&E Budget Item Justification: PB 2016 Air Force - PE 0207138F: F, 2015.[22] [Emphasis added]

While the current F-22 modernization program represents a holistic approach to increasing the combat capabilities of the fleet with respect to suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD)/destruction of enemy air defense (DEAD) roles, augmenting the F-22’s already formidable beyond visual range (BVR) and within visual range (WVR) capabilities, and improving 4th to 5th generation compatibility – planned upgrades to not remedy deeper design deficiencies within the F-22A. While the F-22 is unambiguously the most lethal air-to-air platform in existence, the F-22 was designed during the 1980s and 1990s under a different threat and technological environment. Namely the F-22’s antiquated internal computing capabilities, software, high maintenance requirements, and limited combat radius degrade the utility of the F-22 within the context of operating in the Asia-Pacific against increasingly capable great power threats. Part II will examine these deficiencies further in preparation for an analysis of what features an F-22C could include which would both correct these shortcomings and add new capabilities to the F-22 airframe.


Works Cited

[2] “USAF Ordered to Look At Raptor Production Restart”, Combat Aircraft, Volume 17 –Issue 6, pp.8, June 2016.
[3] “Don’t Call it ‘Sixth Gen’, John A. Tirpak, Air Force Magazine, and April 2016.
[4] “USAF backs off sixth-gen 'fighter' in quest for air supremacy “, James Drew, April 2016.
[5] “Facing Election Fight, Forbes Pushes F-22 Revival”, Lara Seligman, April 2016.
[6] “Air Superiority By The Numbers: Cutting Combat Air Forces in A Time of Uncertainty”, Major Taylor T. Ferrell, June 2014.
[7] “F-22 Raptor Deployment”, Global Security, last modified January 2016.
[9] “422d TES Order of Battle”, Aviamagazine, last visited June 2016.
[10] “USAF debates major upgrade for F-22 Raptors”, Stephen Trimble, August 2010.
[11] DEFENSE ACQUISITIONS Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs, “F-22 Increment 3.2B Modernization (F-22 Inc 3.2B Mod)”, pp. 137-138, March 2016.
[12] “Exhibit R-2, RDT&E Budget Item Justification: PB 2016 Air Force - PE 0207138F: F”, USAF, 2015.
[13] “Critical Ingredient In Short Supply”, John A. Tirpak, March 2016.
[14] “Exhibit R-2, RDT&E Budget Item Justification: PB 2016 Air Force - PE 0207138F: F”, USAF, 2015.
[15] “Critical Ingredient In Short Supply”, John A. Tirpak, March 2016.
[16] “Air Force Evaluating New Targeting Monocle for F-22 Raptor”, Dave Majumdar, 2014.
[18] F-15C Eagle vs Mig-23/25, Douglas C. Dildy & Tom Cooper, 2016.  
[19] “Critical Ingredient In Short Supply”, John A. Tirpak, March 2016.
[20] “Exhibit R-2, RDT&E Budget Item Justification: PB 2016 Air Force - PE 0207138F: F”, USAF, 2015.
[21] Ibid.  

Works Consulted

"Air Force F-22 Fighter Program", Jeremiah Gertler, July 2013. 
"Final Environmental Assessment for Force Structure Changes at Langley Air Force Base, VA", ACC, 2011. 
"F-22 Raptor History", Global Security, last modified January 2016. 
"F-22 Raptor in Action", Lou Drendel, Squadron Signal, June 2011. 
"Langley receives last Raptor, completes fleet", Chase S. DeMayo, 2007.
"Lockheed Martin to upgrade F-22 for AIM-9X missile", IHS Janes 360, 2014. 
"Program Profile: F-22", Aviation Week Intelligence Network, last visited June 2016.
"Raptor's New Claws: The F-22 Stealth Fighter Is More Lethal than Ever", Dave Majumdar