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Monday, December 31, 2012

A New Year of Awesome

Image 1: It is what it is; don't question its awesomeness. All credit for image goes to Jason Heuser. Give his deviantart page a quick look for more stuff like this. :)

Around this time four years ago I had roughly 3,600 views, now we are at almost 56,000! Thanks guys for all the support. I will continue to write articles next year and hopefully make it the best year for this blog yet. Furthermore  I am considering writing some opinion pieces e.g. the state of the NATO alliance, current events, etc.  Don't worry, they won't be dumbed down from by impartial "report" style articles. I will still publish a majority of report articles. It just makes it easier on me so I can put out more content.

I am always interested in your feedback! You guys influence what I write about so let me know. I might go back and update a few of the older posts. For example, an astute viewer let me know about some radar information I aught to change in the F-35 Maneuverability Woes article. 

On another note, if you wouldn't mind, could you tell me how you found my blog? I'm curious as to how I can expand my audience. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Future of 4th Generation Aircraft in the 21st Century

Image 1: Lockheed F-22A Raptor, the first and only 5th generation fighter currently in service world wide.

With the emergence of new 5th generation stealth fighter designs from around the world, some have concluded that 4th generation fighters will cease to be relevant to future conflicts. This is simply not the case; fourth generation aircraft will remain in wide spread use by air forces world wide for another two decades. The last 4th generation aircraft will likely not be fully retired until around three decades from now. Third generation fighters such as the F-4 Phantom continued to serve long after the emergence of the 4th generation series of fighters like the F-15. Japan recently secured a deal, the F-X program, to replace its reconnaissance variant F-4 phantoms with the F-35. Likewise, upgraded derivatives of fourth generation aircraft will continue to be utilized because of procurement issues, budgetary concerns, and desired capability to equipment based decision making on behalf of governments. Following this explanation, the future of 4th generation aircraft in the USAF, Indian Air Force, Russian Air Force and Chinese Air Force will be discussed.

A generation of aircraft is defined by both the historical period in which was developed in addition to its general technological and design characteristics. With each progressing generation of fighter aircraft, the difficulty and cost to produce the new generation of aircraft rises significantly. (See Rising Fighter Aircraft Costs Over Time: For this reason, it is impractical to acquire large numbers of a new generation of aircraft very quickly.  When initial production of the F-15 began, it was an extremely expensive aircraft relative to its predecessor. Adjusted for inflation, the F-15 costs roughly three times as much as the F-4 (38.6 million vs. 13.6 million 2011 USD). Likewise, the F-22 Raptor costs roughly four times as much as the F-15. Over time, costs lower and production becomes cheaper. Furthermore, the complexity of modern fighter aircraft ensures that their deployment will be phased and take years. The days of quick mass production and immediate entry into service (e.g. World War II) is over. The USAF's full order of F-15A's was delivered to the USAF over the course of seven years. During that time, the proceeding aircraft is gradually phased out. Today, the older F-15's and F-16's that are not chosen for upgrades are being phased out in preparation for the USAF's transition to the F-35.

From a budgetary standpoint, most nations have opted to upgrade their existing 4th generation aircraft as opposed to seeking a new 5th generation aircraft. The cost is simply to high at this point for many nations to procure the 150 million dollar F-35 in large numbers (price variable if developmental costs included and by variant  some estimates higher than 200 million). Both the funds and technology required to build 5th generation aircraft ensures the use of upgraded 4th generation jets. Only the United States, China, Russia, and India have stealth programs that have or will come to fruition within the next decade. The state of Japan's military industrial complex is such that domestic production of the proposed ADT-X would be intolerably high.
More info:

Another reason why 4th generation aircraft will persist is many governments have decided that they do not need the stealth capability that 5th generation aircraft provide. Arguably the most intelligent method of procuring equipment is a capability to equipment based approach. That is, a government determines what capability it needs to ensure its own national security. Upon deciding what capability(s) is needed, the government  looks for equipment to best enforce the desired capability. Furthermore, many governments have put less importance on defense especially within Europe. Limited budgets and high personnel expenditures means even fewer funds can be allocated to equipment procurement.

Even in the most well funded and largest air force, the USAF, 4th generation aircraft will continue to remain in service. The USAF has plans to upgrade 176 of its current F-15C/D's with structural improvements, improved radars and a joint helmet mounted cueing system. They will remain in service until 2025. The F-15E Strike Eagle will remain in service until at least 2035 (Global Security, 2011)  The venerable F-16 will also remain in the USAF inventory. Current plans call for 300 of the newest USAF F-16's (Block 40, 42, 50, 52) to be upgraded with a new AESA radar, radar warning system and an improved cockpit display. (Flight Global, 2011) Likewise, within the U.S. Navy, the F/A-18E Super Hornet and its electronic warfare variant,  the F/A-18G, will continue to remain in service inspite of the F-35C.

Despite the recent media attention to China's second stealth fighter program, China's air force will largely be predominately composed 4th generation fighters with 3rd generation fighters being phased out over the next decade. The J-10, Su-30, Su-27, J-11, and J-15 will continue to serve past 2020 in China's air force and navy. The J-20 will likely begin to enter service around 2017-2018. However, after 2020, China is capable and will likely produce hundreds of stealth aircraft. Based on the limited information the public has on the J-31, it will likely be produced in heavier numbers than the bulky J-20 as the J-31 fulfills the light fighter requirement role. Furthermore, China is the only power aside from the United States who can finance multiple stealth fighter programs on its own. The Chinese military budget is expected to grow by 142% between 2010-2015. (WSJ, 2011) Chinese pilot quality has also increased with the rapid increase of mandatory flight hours per year (100-200 hours REF 8) However, the quality and technological complexity of China's stealth fighters remains dubious compared to its U.S and Russian peers.

Despite the concern over the PAK FA, the majority of Russia's air force will be comprised of upgraded 4th generation fighters. Russia plans to spend 600 billion dollars over the next decade on weapon procurement. (Russian Today, 2010) The 4.5 generation Su-35S will be ordered in large numbers. Russia plans to procure 250 PAK FA fighters with the possibility of a second stealth fighter program, the Sukohi LMFS, being produced later on.

India recently announced with would reduce its PAK FA order to 144 down from the original 200 (India Strategic  2012) due to cost concerns. Although the MRCA program is currently in limbo, India's future air force composition will largely be comprised of 4th generation fighters regardless. The 3rd generation Mig 21 will likely be phased out over the coming decade. India recently finalized a deal upgrade its fleet of Su-30MKI fighters for 3 billion dollars. The 4th generation HAL Tejas and 4.5 Rafale (pending investigation) will serve in India's Air Force and Navy. The AMCA program might come to fruition (Domestically produced Indian 5th generation fighter) but it is not planned to enter service until past 2020.

Fourth generation aircraft will continue to operate world wide for at least the next three decades. The continued use of 4th generation aircraft does not indicate that 4th generation aircraft can evenly complete with 5th generation aircraft. If both pilots have similar training standards, the 5th generation pilot has a distinct advantage. When the F-15 was first deployed in Israel, the 3rd generation Syrian Migs were easily destroyed with no F-15 losses. Likewise, modern F-22A's participate in 1 vs. 4 to 5 engagements against F-15's and routinely win. Even a lower quality 5th generation fighter, such as the F-35, has the advantage over a 4.5 generation aircraft like the Su-30MKI. (Author's Note: If you vehemently disagree feel free to comment and I will debate with you provided you are not a troll)

Image 3: Lockheed Martin F-35. Image Credit: Flight Global. My evaluation of the F-35:



Saturday, December 22, 2012

Made in China? A History of Reverse Engineering Part II

Due to the success of the first post, I decided to do a sequel with some clarifications between reverse engineering and imitation.

Outright Reverse Engineering 

In the following examples, designs originally built by both the U.S and Soviet Union were reverse engineered by China. For the purposes of this article, reverse engineering is defined as:

The reproduction of another manufacturer's product following detailed examination of its construction or composition. - Merriam Webster

Soviet Su-33

Chinese J-15

(For more information see: China's First Carrier Flight post)

American MK 48 Torpedo


Soviet BMP-1

Chinese Type 86

Soviet Mig 21

Chengdu Jian-7


The following Chinese designs have a remarkable degree of similarity both visually and operationally to their American counterparts. With the possible exception of the J-31, no reverse engineering occurred on the part of China in the literal sense.

American MQ-9 Reaper UAV (2007) put into service

Chinese Wing Loong (2012) First appearance

MQ-4 Global Hawk

Chengdu Xianglong

Lockheed Martin F-35 (X-35 first test flight 2000)

Shenyang J-31 (first test flight 2012)

Image Credits 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

America's Next Generation Bomber Part I

Image 1: Northrup Grumman B-2 Spirit

America's bomber fleet is small and aging rapidly. With the exception of the B-2, the bulk of the American bomber force is unable to penetrate the air defenses of an advanced hostile nation with acceptable rates of survivability. Although the B-52 force has served the U.S well for half a century, it has its inherent limitations. Survivability against SAM systems became an issue as early on as the Vietnam War. The speed, reduced radar cross section, and payload capacity of the B-1B makes it a highly capable platform. However, in an extremely high threat environment,  its survival is not guaranteed. Only the B-2 can enter a high threat environment, deliver a sizable payload, and leave with impunity. The incredibly capability the B-2 grants USAF is accomplished by only 19 operation aircraft. America needs more stealth bombers in the event of a high intensity conflict with a Pacific great power. The Long Range Strike-B (LRSB) will become instrumental in defeating anti-access weaponry in the event of a future conflict. The case for the LRSB will be made following a brief service history of the B-2 and its contributions to national security.

The B-2 is an ionic image of America's status as a global super power. The B-2 was designed during the late stages of the Cold War to penetrate the advanced Soviet integrated air defense network and deliver nuclear munitions. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the B-2 has served the United States like no other aircraft. The B-2 has served in every American conflict since the first bombers were delivered in 1993.  The endurance, survivability and lethality of the B-2 were most recently demonstrated in Operation Odyssey Dawn.

Utilized in conjunction with a storm of over 100 Tomahawk cruise misses, B-2 bombers were able to knock out a significant portion of Libya's air defenses. Three B-2 bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base flew a 25 hour sortie to hit 45 hardened aircraft shelters in Sirte (Brigadier General Scott Vander Hamm, 2011). All shelters were destroyed with no B-2 losses. Although cruise missiles can take out a wide variety of targets, the technology used to intercept cruise missiles has improved rapidly. The Russian S-300PM/PMU1 is claimed to have a 40-85% kill ratio for cruise missiles such as the Tomahawk. (Air Power Australia, 2012) Furthermore, hardened targets such as bunkers or aircraft shelters remain too resilient for standard cruise missiles. Any adversary a fielding high quality SAM system (S-300, S-400, etc) and makes use of hardened facilities could continue to operate inspite of U.S strikes. Eliminating hardened targets ideally suits a B-2 equipped with precision guided bunker busting munitions (e.g GBU-28).

Although the B-2 is an exceptional aircraft, the limited fleet size is a major concern. When the B-2 "Spirit of Kansas" crashed in Guam, the damage was total. Adjusted for inflation, the B-2 costs roughly 2 billion dollars each. With the cost of upgrade packages included, the unit cost of the B-2 is even higher. The B-2 is simply too costly to procure in large numbers. Despite the current robust stealth performance of the B-2,  it was designed two decades ago. New developments in stealth technology will insure the USAF's new bombers continued admittance into heavily defended airspace for decades to come.

Part II: The LSRB (next week)

  6. More on Operation Odyssey Dawn:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

New Posts & Updates December 2012

(Image 1: Northrup Grumman X-47B preforming a land based catapult launch test. Image Credit U.S. Navy 2012)

I plan to post a storm of articles in the coming weeks so stay tuned! I'll have much more free time soon (in about a week). Current articles in the works: Made in China? A History of Reverse Engineering Part II, What would an American Strike on Iran Accomplish?, America's Next Generation Bomber, The Big, the Fat and the Ugly: logistic assets that make America a Super Power, and The Future of 4th generation aircraft in the 21st century. 

Let me know if you have any feedback or concerns in the comments!

-Mangler Muldoon

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

China's First Carrier Flight

On November 23rd, China launched a single fixed wing aircraft from a carrier for the first time. Welcome to the club China, we've been waiting for you for over 100 years (one of the first aircraft launches from a ship at sea preformed in 1910 by the U.S Navy). Although the previous comparison is not entirely fair, it does illustrate an important point, China most recent achievement should be put into context before determining its full significance. Many news organizations cite this event as proof of China's rise to power in the Asia-Pacific region. In reality, the situation is far more complicated. 

The J-15 itself is a knock-off of the Russian Su-33, a member of the Su-27 family of aircraft. China was unable to secure an acquisition agreement with Sukhoi due to concerns of potential intellectual property violation. In lieu of buying navalized Flankers directly from Russia, the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation
 managed to acquire a Su-33 from Ukraine in either 2001 or 2005 (Global Security, 2012). From the Su-33 acquired from Ukraine, Shenyang was able to reverse engineer the aircraft and build the J-15. The Su-33 in which the J-15 is based features an antiquated set of avionics and internal systems. In fact, the Su-33 has failed gain favor with the Russian armed forces due these deficiencies. The Mig-29K will be utilized by both the Indian Navy and Russian Navy (once the retrofit of Admiral Kuznetsov is complete) instead of the Su-33 (Russian Navy Webpage, 2012).  

Image 1: J-15 carrier take off. Note the Liaoning's ski jump. (Retrieved via Danger Room, 2012)

The J-15 is limited even further by the Liaoning itself. The Liaoning features a ski ramp design rather than a steam catapult system. The advantage of the steam catapult system is assists aircraft into the air by supplementing the jets own power which allows for a greater take off weight. Although the Su-33 is theoretically capable of carrying 6,500 kg of ordinance, in practice it will not be able to carry its full combat load on its own power (Axe, 2012).

Furthermore, a complete carrier air wing consists of fighter/attack aircraft, electronic warfare aircraft, aerial refueling aircraft, submarine hunting aircraft, UAVs, and AWACS aircraft. The Chinese Navy has only begun to thoroughly test its fighter/attack aircraft, the J-15. Although the fighter/attack aircraft deliver the punch in a carrier air wing, the importance of the logistical and command and control aircraft cannot be overstated. Many nations including China have put a great emphasis on visually impressive fighter aircraft rather than the big ugly logistical and command and control assets that allow the fighter and attack aircraft to operate effectively. Without such assets, the J-15 will be a much less threatening foe.

In summary, the J-15 does not change the balance of power within the Pacific or give China a substantial advantage in a future conflict. Before the J-15 becomes a credible threat:

  1. Domestically produced avionics and aircraft systems need to be comparable to their western (or at least Russian) counterparts
  2. Support aircraft need to supplement the J-15 to form a full carrier air wing
  3. Chinese naval aviators (both flight and deck crews) need experience operating the carrier (which will take years)
  4. China will need multiple carriers (3-4) full of these aircraft, experienced crew, and systems. 
It is unlikely that all of these criteria will become a reality for at least 20 years. The Chinese Navy has taken its first steps to becoming a true carrier force but it has a long way to go. In the meantime, the United States operates eleven 100,000 ton super carriers with full carrier air wings supplemented with their strike group of submarines, destroyers, missile cruisers, and supply ships. 


(Retrieved via Danger Room, 2012)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

J-31 Preliminary Report Part I

Author's Note: Unsurprisingly a great deal of information about China's new stealth fighter is unknown. Specific details such as radar cross section figures are nonexistent at this point. Estimates and theories comprise the bulk of public "knowledge" about the J-31 and are thus subject to change and scrutiny. As a side note, I'm sorry for the late post but being a full time student and finding the time to write these is pretty hard. 

It has been more than a month since China's second stealth fighter made its public debut. A cloud of speculation still shrouds China's second stealth fighter. Even its exact designation has not been confirmed hence the use of the J-21, J-31, and F60 designations by many sources (they all refer to the same aircraft). The primary purpose of this article is to list what few details are  known about jet. Following this, the article will discuss the educated guesses by aviation experts as to its origin, purpose, capabilities, and impact on the region.  

Image 1: Among the first images of the J-31 released. The aircraft shown is designated 310001 hence the theory that the aircraft is designated as the J-31. Furthermore the writing on the tail, 鹘鹰, is Chinese for “Falcon Eagle” (Cenciotti, 2012). Hence, the J-31 designation will be used for the remainder of the article. 

What is Known 
  • First images released by Chinese military forums prior to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's visit to China on September 19th.
  • Images taken outside a Shenyang Aircraft Corporation airfield 
  • Weapons bays underneath fuselage, no side weapon bays. 
  • The aircraft is approximately the size of an F-35 (estimated by using objects in image as reference) 
  • Twin power plant with non thrust vectoring engine nozzles 
Origin and Purpose

As stated before there are virtually no details as to the circumstances of development or resources devoted to the J-31 project. The J-20, China's first stealth fighter, is being developed and built by Chengdu aircraft corporation/conglomerate. However, the J-31 made its debt outside of a Shenyang corporation airfield. Shenyang the chief competitor to Chengdu. 

"The various plants of the Avic group, such as Chengdu Aircraft and Shenyang Aircraft, have a long tradition of rivalry. To overcome that, the group began bundling them together from 2008 into specialist subsidiaries in which they were supposed to work together. But the defense ministry opposed tight integration of the defense subsidiary—including Chengdu and Shenyang—in order to maintain closer control and probably to retain and foster competition among them."  - Bill Sweetman 

Some theorize is possible that the J-31 lost to the J-20 in a fighter aircraft competition. However, the design differences between the J-31 and J-20 suggest they were designed with completely different roles in mind. The J-20 bears many of the characteristics of heavy fighter or strike aircraft vs the lighter build of the J-31. It is unlikely that the two aircraft competed for the same role. Traditionally the PLAA has a history of procuring a light and heavy fighter.  

“In traditional PLA thinking, there has always been a necessity for ‘light’ plus ‘heavy’ in terms of equipment.” - Gary Li, 2012

The most plausible theory put forward is that the J-31 will serve as a light fighter supplementing the heavier J-20. Both aircraft are in their prototype stages. However, it is also possible that the J-31 is merely a test aircraft and not a prototype with a finalized version to enter production. The United States built several prototype stealth aircraft that never entered service e.g. the Lockheed HAVE BLUE demonstrator aircraft.


Shenyang took a conservative approach in designing the J-31 as it extensively borrowed from features from the Lockheed F-22 and F-35. The design similarities between the J-31 and the Lockheed developed stealth fighters leads many experts to believe in industrial espionage on the behalf of Shenyang occurred. (Cenciotti, 2012) Both Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon have been the target of multiple cyber attacks from China. It is plausible that classified design details were compromised during these attacks.

The shaping of the intakes on the J-31 bear remarkable similarities to those on the F-35. The tail design and chined nose emulate the F-22 closely (However J-31 design features conventional tail nozzles).

Of particular interest to some observers is the use of twin wheels on the front landing gear. Aircraft featuring twin wheeled landing gear are typically carrier based aircraft. However, the implementation of a twin wheeled landing gear system is hardly grounds to suggest the J-31 is destined for carrier operations. Building a stealth fighter is difficult. Building a stealth fighter for carrier based operations is extremely difficult. Its unlikely that the second stealth fighter ever produced by China would be carrier capable. Carrier based aircraft must include fold-able wings, tail hooks, strengthened heavy landing gear, and an extremely durable airframe that can take the structural strain of carrier landings. The current J-31 design only features ONE of the listed criterion, possibly two. Furthermore, the J-15 is already been developed for carrier use on the Liaoning.

Bill Sweetman believes the J-31 is equipped with twin Russian RD-93 engines. China's domestic jet engine designs continue to prove problematic and demonstrate poor performance and reliability. The J-31 is further hampered by China's lagging domestic fighter radar designs. For example, the domestically produced radar used in the 4.5 generation J-10 can track 10 targets while engaging 4 targets vs the F-15's AN/APG-63 (V) 1 radar built in the 1990s can track 14 and engage 6 targets. Without sufficiently capable internal systems, the J-31 will look externally impressive but will be outclassed by other 5th generation fighters. 

Part II will contain sources and uncovered information mentioned in outline. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

J-31 Test Flight

On October 31 2012 China's second stealth fighter took flight. The aircraft has the same designation, 31001, as the first J-31 shown in initial photos last month.

My own preliminary report on the J-31:

More Information

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Author's Note 2012

"It's easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn't." - Martin Van Buren

The release of the "J-31 Preliminary Report" article has taken longer than expected to complete. I apologize for the delay. I am a full time college student and finding the time to write these articles is extremely difficult. Further difficulty is added when finding adequate research sources becomes difficult. Only so many things are published on the internet and my personal collection of military books is not that extensive. I don't have the money to subscribe to Jane's or any subscription based resource for the best information. In short, finding good information and doing a good job takes time.

 On another note, I am considering writing on other topics aside from just fighter aircraft based topics if my audience is fine with that. I have read extensively on several other topics relating to the military and history. Comments and feedback (including constructive criticism) is very welcome. I've improved my writing tremendously since the start of this blog 2 years ago and have accumulated more views that I thought possible. (Even if internet bots probably make up 50% of my total views) I plan to continue to write these articles for both my own self edification and to for those interested in military technology everywhere. Thank you for your continued patience.


Mangler Muldoon 

Monday, September 17, 2012

China's Second Stealth Fighter?

As you may know, images of the suspected J-21 are going viral across the internet. Its too early to know if its real or not but I intend to keep a close eye on any developments. I planned to release my assessment of the J-21 early this week but due to new information I will withhold publishing the article with the hope of obtaining more information.

Much of what is publicly available is merely hearsay at this point. And very few actual clear photos exist of the alleged J-21 (or J-31) at this point. The aircraft depicted below has many similarities to both the F-35 and F-22. The second photo looks remarkably like an F-35. From the rear, the aircraft resembles the Raptor but lacks thrust vectoring engine nozzles.

Artistic CGI rendition of the J-21 done by Gaoshan retrieved via Chinese Military review: 

NOTE: Although Chinese Military Review has good pictures, they are not a trusted source. The website's author's are heavily biased in favor of China. 


More information:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters III: Emerging Threats (announcement)

Due to the popularity of the Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters series and by viewer request, I am now working on Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters III: Emerging Threats. The focus will be on upcoming foreign stealth fighter designs that have yet to be built but are underdevelopment. I plan to post the article sometime next week if things work out.

A few points must be made however regarding the topic before I post the actual article. One, the number of speculative and plain false stealth fighters (especially of Chinese origin) is staggering. Manipulated images posted often on web forums account for many of the rumored stealth aircraft. For example, the second image claims to depict a low observable variant of the JF-17 Thunder. I will only assess stealth aircraft that likely to exist or are well known and are likely fake. The usual sources I use have little information on the upcoming jets. New sources found with preliminary research are in the language of the native country of the rumored stealth jet. I can read a tiny bit of Chinese but highly technical concepts are way beyond my abilities. I do not know Russian at all nor do I know Japanese etc. (I do know a bit of German though :D ) If the source seems legitimate I might opt to use a translated copy of the source but I'm always wary of this method as I am unable to verify the authenticity of the translation. I'll mark translated sources in the reference section incase anyone wants to provide a better insight or notify me of any issues. So bear with me.

The rest of the post is just about the fake JF-17 and a little about faked/manipulated aircraft images in general.

Image 1: Real JF-17 Thunder. This is likely the original image unmanipulated image.

Image 2: Manipulated image depicting fake low observable JF-17. Do not let the changed air intakes, candid tails, and different placement of personnel fool you, this is indeed a fake. Also note the same ID number used for both aircraft, 116. An acquaintance of mine can manipulate images in a similar manner given the right software and enough time.

Faked images such as the one above range in quality from poor to nearly undetectable to the untrained eye. Google was able to pair the unaltered original image with the manipulated image merely by searching for similar images. This is done by dragging your mouse over the over the manipulated image (in search image selection) and look for the search for similar option near the more sizes.

This is not a foolproof technique but its fairly quick and easy to do and is worthwhile if you suspect the image is a fake. Occasionally you will get lucky. This method does not work for computer generated models of fake aircraft, drawings, etc as there is no original unaltered image in those types of fabrications.

A trademark sign of a faked aircraft is the design is not wholly consistent across many images as different digital artists created the images with their own unique renditions and design features. Many times the individuals manipulating the images are not familiar with basic aircraft design techniques let alone know how low observable features work. The image below is clearly a fake and incorporates many design differences from the rendition of the low observable JF-17 shown above. This image is essentially a F-35 with a the Pakistani flag taped on the tail.

If all else fails, use common sense and or your knowledge of aircraft. One cannot simply make a "stealth variant" of a standard fighter design. The only legitimate case of a stealth variant of a conventional fighter aircraft is the F-15SE which is still underdevelopment. Even the F-15SE is not a true stealth aircraft and only maintains a low frontal rcs. Stealth generally has to be built into the design from its conception, it can't be added in latter due to the extremely unforgiving nature of radar e.g. planform alignment oriented flight surfaces, room for internal weapon bays, etc. Another problem with a hypothetical stealth JF-17 is China would not share a stealth aircraft with Pakistan, at least not in the immediate future. I am not an expert on the inner workings of diplomatic relations between China and Pakistan. From what I do know, Pakistan largely wants go increase ties rapidly but China is more reserved in the pace in which it seeks to improve relations. Furthermore, if China were to sell/co-develop a stealth aircraft for or with Pakistan, India would immediately denounce China.

In summary, unless the aircraft in question is validated by reliable sources, don't take some guy's word for it on a forum or trust that the picture is real. Especially if the jet is supposed to be from/related to China.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Red Flag 2012: Did the Raptor Seriously Just Get Owned?

Image 1: Luftwaffe Eurofighter Typhoons (Image Credit: Copyright Eurofighter - Geoffrey Lee - retrieved 2012)

In the American training exercise, Red Flag Alaska 2012, scores of pilots and fighter aircraft took part in a series of intense simulated combat scenarios. This year marked the first appearance of the Luftwaffe's advanced 4.5 generation Eurofighter Typhoons. The Germans did not disappoint. In mock dogfights between single Luftwaffe Eurofighter Typhoons and USAF F-22A Raptors, the Luftwaffe claimed several aerial victories over their American counter parts. One German pilot went so far as to say, "Yesterday we had Raptor salad for lunch" Many American news networks and even some defense related news sites reported the complete failure of the Raptor. The following was taken from ABC news:

"The United States has spent nearly $80 billion to develop the most advanced stealth fighter jet in history, the F-22 Raptor, but the Air Force recently found out firsthand that while the planes own the skies at modern long-range air combat, it is 'evenly matched' with cheaper, foreign jets when it comes to old-school dogfighting." - Lee Ferran, ABC News, 2012

The Eurofighter Typhoon is no doubt an exceptional aircraft and maintains its position as the premiere 4.5 generation fighter. Yet, from the perspective of one who is familiar with the capabilities of both aircraft, these results seem questionable for many good reasons. I did my own "investigation" into these reports and tried to determine exactly what happened, if the Luftwaffe claims in regard to the Eurofighter's performance were genuine, and the circumstances in which the F-22 and Eurofighter pilots fought, and why the results occurred the way they did. This is what I found.   

According to German pilots, the Eurofighter's and Raptors squared off in one vs. one engagements (Basic Fighter Maneuvering or BFM) at visual range. Luftwaffe pilots got as close to the raptors as possible and squared off in the merge. 

"As soon as you get to the merge … the Typhoon doesn’t necessarily have to fear the F-22”- Major Marc Grunene 

Luftwaffe pilots claim that they were able to achieve several Raptor kills in mock dogfights at visual range. At visual range, the Luftwaffe pilots noted that they were fairly evenly matched with the Raptor. Using their HMD's and simulated off bore sight missiles, the German pilots were able to score several Raptor kills. It is unknown how many Raptors the Germans actually managed to "kill" and how many Eurofighter's were lost in the effort. At least four Raptors were killed (three Raptor kill markings on one Eurofighter and a single kill marking on the second) judging from photographs taken by Dietmar Fenners posted on the The Aviationist website.

Image 2: A Luftwaffe Eurofighter with three Raptor kill markings painted near the canopy. (Image Credit: Dietmar Fenners, 2012; retrieved via The Aviationist) 

Nearly every mainstream media account of the engagements did not feature the input of American pilots. The American media has a tendency to report what will get attention and sell newspapers which is not necessarily the truth. The only reporter to get the input of American Raptor pilots that I found was Flight Global reporter Dave Munjar. Not surprisingly, American accounts differ substantially from their German counterparts.  

"It sounds as though we have very different recollections as to the outcomes of the BFM [Basic Fighter Maneuvering] engagements that were fought...We ended up with numerous gunshots" -  Unnamed USAF pilot

"I did review the HUD footage, a lot of gun shots from the F-22's to the Eurofighters and not a whole lot coming back" - Unnamed USAF pilot

"USAF sources say that the Typhoon has good energy and a pretty good first turn, but that they were able to outmanoeuvre the Germans due to the Raptor's thrust vectoring. Additionally, the Typhoon was not able to match the high angle of attack capability of the F-22." - Dave Munjar 

Without the rules of engagement, complete list of step by step maneuvers employed by both aircraft in every engagement, kill ratios, HUD cam footage, etc. being reported, these results are of limited use in determining the effectiveness of the Eurofighter vs. the Raptor. More broadly, arguments contending to use this series of mock dognfights as evidence that 4.5 generation fighter are able to counter 5th generation fighters are moot until more details are known. 

The American accounts suggest that the Raptors inflicted a heavy toll on the Eurofighters. Even if the Typhoons and Raptors exchanged evenly (which I doubt), it would indicate the strength of the base Raptor configuration rather than its weakness. From what is known about the rules of engagement, the Eurofighter was given every possible advantage. No beyond visual range missile shots were allowed. Subsequently the Raptors were forced to get in close to the Typhoons which thereby negated the Raptor's stealth advantage. At visual range, the stealth of the F-22 becomes much less of a factor meaning the Eurofighter can either attempt a IR guided missile lock or position itself for a gun kill. Furthermore, the Raptor in its current configuration is not equipped with a helmet mounted display (HMD) meaning it cannot make full use of off boresight missiles e.g. the AIM-9X. I cannot overstate the importance of the helmet mounted display and off bore sight missiles. The combination of these two technological developments makes the Eurofighter considerably more lethal in vr engagements than earlier 4th generation fighters. Despite the lack of an HMD and having to engage in visual range, the Raptors killed off many Eurofighters. (Once again, no kill ratios released)

Image 3: Eurofighter pilot equipped with HMD system.

Despite the strength of the base Raptor configuration, it can and must be improved. It should be noted that many view the F-22A with God like attributes in terms of aerial combat prowess. Although the Raptor is the culmination of nearly a century's worth of American aerospace engineering, it is not invincible. This is not the first incident in which a Raptor was "shot down" by other less capable aircraft. (At least two prior to Red Flag Alaska 2012) With a fleet of only 187 Raptors in the USAF arsenal, every single plane will matter in a future air war. Though no amount of upgrades will make the Raptor invulnerable, the implementation of an HMD system for the Raptor is a necessity. At the moment, no plans are underway to upgrade the Raptor with an HMD. It is possible that the HMD will be proposed as part of the possible increment 3.3. upgrade package which if pursued would take effect some time after 2020. (Defense Industry Daily, 2012) Plans to upgrade the F-22 with an HMD should be accelerated. In addition, the Raptor needs an IRST. With the advent of other 5th generation fighters, an IRST will prove to be an invaluable tool for the Raptor. Plans to equip the Raptor with an IRST were shelved as part of an initiative to save costs. Given the already expensive price of the Raptor, a few extra million dollars to make them significantly more effective against 5th generation fighters is a worthwhile investment.

As a ending note, the ABC news reporter quoted in the beginning of this article had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

Related Articles: 

The Benefits of Stealth and Situational Awareness
Quick Thoughts: F-22s in Syria
The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors - Part I Introduction
The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors - Part II Adaptations to Budget Cuts
The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors - Part III Upgrades



Saturday, September 1, 2012


I"m back from my two month break from writing articles. Stay tuned. New blog articles will be posted shortly. If anyone has any topics they'd like me to write on/research in the future, let me know in the comments or send me an email.

Friday, June 29, 2012

What Would an Israeli Strike on Iran Accomplish? Part I

(Image 1: Iranian Military Parade)

As tensions continue to rise in the Middle East, many news organizations have frequently discussed the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. The purpose of this article is to determine how, if possible, could Israel attack Iranian nuclear facilities? First and foremost, the number of variables that would be involved in such an operation is staggering. As a matter of practicality, some details must be overlooked for the sake of brevity. The following should be considered
  1. Circumstances leading up to hostilities 
  2. What is the objective? Bombing Iranian nuclear facilities will likely set back Iranian nuclear efforts but risk of not completely eliminate the threat.
  3. In relation to objective, time frame of operation? How to end conflict and what will be the determining criteria for deescalating conflict?
  4. Extend of U.S involvement if any: none or logistical to deploying combat assets
  5. Route in which Israeli aircraft fly into Iran
  6. How will Israeli overcome the Iranian IADS and to a lesser extent, the Iranian Air Force
  7. How many targets and which ones does Israel target? Israel has a limited supply of bunker busting munitions and extent of hardening Iranian facilities archive. U.S involvement critical to this variable.  
  8. Iranian counter attack on Israel with missiles: possibility for missile attack on U.S bases in region, possible launches on Saudi Arabia if country is complicit with Israel. Response to Iranian missile threat and possibility of extended conflict needed by allied forces. Iran knows Israel maintains a nuclear deterrent, this may effect Iran's decision to use its chemical weapon arsenals. 

Note: This analysis will examine a scenario in which Israel launches a surprise aerial attack into Iran to hit critical  nuclear facilities. This analysis will be conducted with current equipment e.g. Israel will not have access to stealth aircraft. Attacking Iran's nuclear facilities would be a measure of last resort and not be undertaken lightly e.g. Iran is weeks away from developing nuclear weapon grade uranium. Initially, the analysis will assume that the United States is not involved for Part I.

Any Israeli operation within Iran must be centered around a clear measurable objective with an abundantly clear exit strategy. For example, the most probable objective would be destroy nuclear facilities and eliminate only critical Iranian assets that would impede such an operation and exit Iran as quickly as possible.  Israel would only want to disable the nuclear facilities as to avoid the risk of a protracted war with Iran. A quick efficient method of determining the success of the airstrikes is needed. It is probable that Israeli satellites and UAV's will be used to determine the level of effectiveness of any bombing attempts. Even if the United States was not militarily involved, it is likely that the United States would share intelligence gathered from its surveillance platforms with Israel. If the nuclear sites are deemed destroyed or put out of service then it is unlikely that Israel would not seek further conflict with Iran and withdraw. Iran knows Israel maintains a nuclear deterrent, and may or may not risk further hostilities. This will be discussed in Part II.

List of Targets

Before any strike is carried out, a list of targets must be compiled. Iran currently maintains several nuclear program related facilities. Determining which facilities are most vital to the Iranian nuclear programs and destroying those facilities is key if the objective is prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Ideally, several individuals with extensive expertise in creating and maintaining nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons would be consulted to determine which facilities are most vital. Because I do not have access to such expertise, the following are priority targets are listed by several respectable sources.

Fordow (Qom)

Route to Iran 

In order to strike targets within Iran, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) must traverse at least one other country to reach their targets. The image below shows possible air routes into Iran. Any attempt to fly over Syria seems highly unlikely. Not only is Syria a staunch ally of Iran, but also Syria has a formidable integrated air defense system (IADS) of its own. Even disabling portions of Syria's IADS would be needlessly complicated if other routes are available. Unfortunately, political relations play a role into which routes are open to Israel. I am not a political or diplomatic expert. From the limited knowledge I do know on the subject, routes through Jordan and eventually Saudi Arabia seem to be the most likely followed by the possibility of traveling through Turkey. Saudi Arabia has no desire for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and has been at odds with Iran for much of the past decade. In this event, Saudi Arabia would have to deactivate its IADS or have capable IFF (identification friend or foe) recognition systems in order to limit friendly fire. Assuming this is a surprise attack, only the most crucial individuals would have knowledge of the operation prior to its initiation. At some point Saudi forces must be alerted of the incoming Israeli aircraft even if it increases the risk of alerting Iran. 

For example, on New Year's Day of 1945, the Luftwaffe launched a surprise all out air campaign against Western Allied forces in conjunction with the Battle of the Bulge. The air campaign was called Operation Bodenplatte and was kept in total secrecy by the German leadership. The German Flak Anti-Aircraft-Artillery forces had not been informed of the upcoming operation and thus fired on their own aircraft. This resulted in the loss of around 200 German aircraft out of the original force of 800 aircraft solely from friendly fire. Operation Bodenplatte broke the back of the Luftwaffe and Nazi Germany was never able to claim air superiority for the rest of the war. In summary, coordination between the Saudi's or Turkish military and the IAF will be paramount. The IAF cannot afford to sustain needless fire casualties in route to Iran.

Another key factor is range. Due to the extensive distance of Iranian targets from Israel, all seven of Israel's tanker aircraft will likely have to be used in this operation (KC-707). The limited number of tankers in the IAF inventory will severely limit the scale of the strike force to a couple dozen Israeli aircraft. This will have a profound impact on the scope and limits of the operation as discussed throughout this article. A journal article published by Middle East Quarterly indicated that two to three full squadrons (48-72 aircraft)

The Israeli Air Force is capable of striking the necessary targets with two to three full squadrons of fighter-bombers with escorts to shoot down enemy aircraft." - Iran's Nukes and Israel's Dilemma, 2012

(Image 2: Potential air routes into Iran)

The Iranian Defense

Before we discuss the methods Israel would likely use to defeat the Iranian IADS, a quick look at Iranian Surface to Air Missiles (SAM) and select aircraft will be given.

The Iranian IADS is largely composed of Cold War relics originally designed and built between the 1950s and late 1960s. Arguably the most formidable of Iran's SAM systems is the Soviet built SA-5 Gammon (NATO designation: S-200) it received shortly before the collapse of the USSR. (Global Security, 2012) The Gammon variant deployed by Iran, the SA-5B (S-200VE) has a range of 200 nautical miles. NATO forces encountered a number of SA-5 missile sites in Operation Odyssey Dawn within Libya and destroyed them with relative ease through the use of cruise missiles in conjunction with electronic warfare. Though the SA-5 was highly capable SAM relative to other SAMs upon its original deployment in the late 1960s, its is now highly vulnerable to modern jamming equipment. Iran heavily relies on the S-200 for its national SAM coverage. (Air Power Australia, 2010)

(Image 3: Iranian SA-5B with launcher, retrieved through Air Power Australia)

The second main SAM operated by Iran is the 30 nautical mile capable HQ-2, a Chinese made copy of the Soviet designed SA-2 SAM system. Iran also operates the U.S supplied Hawk system it received in 1972. The Hawk variant operated by Iran has a much shorter range than the SA-5. Subsequently the Hawk would be used to target aircraft in similar ranges as the HQ-2. Iran also domestically produces a reverse engineered copy of the Hawk known as the Mersad which features moderate improvements.

The Iranian Air Force is a shadow of its former self. Prior to the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Iran had one of the best equipped Air Forces in the region. (Global Security, 2012) Despite the current poor state of the Iranian Air Force, they still pose a credible threat to the IAF in this type of scenario. The extent of the threat posed by the Iranian Air Force will be determined by the number of aircraft they can mobilize in the wake of their disabled command and control abilities (due to cyber attacks). The most formidable fighters flown by the Iranian Air Force is the F-14 and Mig 29. Both of these aircraft are outmatched by the modernized upgraded variants of the F-16 and F-15 flown by the Israeli's. Furthermore, Israeli pilots are among the best (if not the best) in the world. However, the two to three squadron Israeli strike force will be very limited in the number of air to air munitions it can carry due to: the limited number of aircraft, the weight of the 5,000 lb GBU-28 bunker busters, external fuel tanks, targeting pods, electronic jammer pods, etc. (Some aircraft will likely provide dedicated escort others will be equipped with bunker busters)

Image 4: As to be expected, Iran's most vital nuclear sites are covered by multiple layers of SAM protection in addition to being in close proximity to Iranian Air Force bases. (Image Credit: CIA)

Defeating the Iranian IADS

The IAF does not currently possess stealth aircraft of any kind. Thus, Israel must rely on other proven technologies to defeat Iran's IADS. Contrary to popular belief, the use of stealth technology is not the only method in use to circumvent an opponent's IADS. Since the Vietnam War, electronic warfare equipment has been fitted to aircraft with the purpose of jamming enemy radar's and missile systems. Since that time, electronic warfare systems have grown in sophistication and effectiveness. During the Gulf War in 1991, the prolific use of radar jamming systems and other electronic warfare equipment aided Coalition forces in defeating the Iraqi IADS. Recent developments in electronic warfare include use of cyber attacks to cripple enemy command and control abilities in addition to feeding early warning radars and sensors false information.

Israel has already demonstrated its firm understanding of electronic warfare principles to bypass an enemy IADS. In 2007 Israel launched Operation Orchard within Syrian airspace. Intelligence sources had indicated Syria was developing a nuclear reactor with North Korean assistance. IAF F-15 Ra'am (modified F-15E) and F-16 Sufa (modified F-16D block 50/52+) penetrated Syrian airspace and conducted strikes against the suspected reactor site. No Israeli aircraft were lost in the operation.

Israel managed this feat through the use of electronic jamming and cyber intrusion attempts. It is likely that the Israeli Defense Forces have comparable software to the United States in this regard. BAE systems developed a system for the United States called Suter. The following is from Aviation Week regarding Suter:

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

A program like Suter would allow Israeli aircraft to fly into hostile airspace and avoid detection by enemy surface to air missile sites. By necessity, Israel has some of the most skilled cyber warriors on earth. The Israeli Unit 8200 is especially renown for its cyber warfare capabilities and jointly developed the Stuxnet computer virus along with the U.S National Security Agency. (New York Times, 2012) However, there are several problems that arise in comparing the success of the Suter like program in Operation Orchard to an airstrike within Iran.

One, it its unclear exactly how long Suter is able to disorient Iranian sensors and communications. Operation Orchard involved striking one target within Syrian airspace before quickly withdrawing back to Israel. Any raid into Iran with the goal of disabling its nuclear program, would have to target multiple hardened nuclear sites to be truly effective. Breaking through the hardened facilities with current Israeli bunker busters would take repeated bombing runs preformed with near flawless airmanship over the course of days. This method would take a great deal of time compared to the relatively unfortified Syrian reactor bombed in Operation Orchard.

Second, although Suter disables ground sensors and radars, it is unclear if it is able to interfere with the senors and avionics of aircraft e.g. Iranian Air Force. Because the IAF would have to cross at least one country (e.g. Saudi Arabia) before striking targets within Iran, the possibility exists that Iranian intelligence might be able to alert its Air Force to fly combat air patrols over its critical nuclear facilities. Even if Iranian ground based radar sites are unreliable, Iranian aircraft could still intercept incoming Israeli aircraft. It is clear that other electronic warfare systems would have to be used in conjunction with Suter to disable the Iranian Defense.  Israeli cyber attacks would likely target Iranian communications to mitigate this risk. However, any open cyber attack could invoke alarm among the Iranian military and likely increase Iranian military readiness. Although a sophisticated cyber attack would greatly weaken Iranian command and control abilities, it is hard to eliminate every method of communication.

Although Israel has the electronic warfare equipment needed to mitigate the threat of the SA-5 missiles, the IAF cannot comfortably destroy the SA-5 missile sites from long stand off ranges. NATO forces in Operation Odyssey Dawn made extensive use of Tomahawk cruise missiles. Israel has no direct equivalent to the Tomahawk. (Possibly for limited use of Popeye turbo cruise missiles launched from Dolphin submarines; The Dolphin is not a dedicated cruise missile submarine, missile load very limited) The longest range air to surface missile available to the Israeli strike force would be the Delilah cruise missile with a range of around 300km (officially 250km but anonymous IDF sources reported to Jane's that the missile had a 300km plus range). Even with the more optimistic range estimates, the Delilah would have a range of around 162 nautical miles, vs the SA-5B's range of 200 nautical miles. Only a limited number of Deliah's and AGM-78 anti-radiation missiles could be carried thus only key SAM sites would likely be targeted.

In summary, the IAF could likely overcome key portions of the Iranian IADS for at least short periods of time with minimal to acceptable combat losses.

Delivering the Blow

(Image 5: Israeli F-15C's (Baz) would provide armed escort for the bunker buster laden F-15E's (Ra'am)

(Image 6 Credit: Washington Post, 2012)

Both Qom and Natanz utilize a form of ultra high performance concrete (UHPC). Iran

"Iran is an earthquake zone, so its engineers have developed some of the toughest building materials in the world. Such materials could also be used to protect hidden nuclear installations from the artificial equivalent of small earthquakes, namely bunker-busting bombs." - The Economist, 2012

Commercially available U.S UHPC have stress ratings in excess of 20,000 psi. (Ahlborn, 2012) Current GBU-28 in use by Israeli's can only penetrate 20 feet of 5,000 psi rated concrete. (Expect much less penetration around 2-3 feet with 20,000 psi rated concrete, explosion would slightly widen actual penetration) Thus, dozens of GBU-28 bombs would be required to completely destroy the facility at Natanz. The GBU-28 would make short work of the 72 foot dirt mound but would experience difficultly penetrating the remaining reinforced concrete slab (reinforced roof) and subsequent barrier (8 foot thick wall). Bombs would have to be dropped at the same point repeatedly to break through one area of the barrier.

(Image 7: Natanz facility. Image Credit: Institute for Science and International Security/GeoEye, retrieved through Wired)

Both underground cascade halls at Natanz would have to be targeted as shown in the image above. Because the halls are separated into into two different buildings, more bombs will be required to completely destroy the facility. It is possible that disabling Natanz alone would require half of the IAF's 100 GBU-28 stockpile.

The GBU-28 is a combat proven and effective bunker buster against less hardened 5,000 psi rated moderately deep bunkers. That said, Fordow (Qom) is nearly invulnerable to the GBU-28. The inner enrichment hall is buried by an estimated 80-120 meters (264-396 feet) of hard rock. The only chance Israeli pilots would have in destroying Qom is to target potential weak points such as tunnel entrances or ventilation shafts. Consistently hitting targets as small as a ventilation shaft, even with the tremendous skill of Israeli pilots coupled with the use precision guided munitions, is no easy or guaranteed task. Furthermore, there are a number of relatively low cost measures to mitigate the damage done by strikes to tunnel entrances or other weak points, e.g. burster slabs, that the Iranians can pursue. Although the Fordow facility contains less operational centrifuges than Natanz, it will be considerably tougher to destroy. Even if Israel was able to succeed in destroying the majority of centrifuges at Natanz, Iran would still have remnants of its nuclear program and by some criteria, the operation would subsequently be a failure.

Israeli forces would be also constrained by the time limit allotted for the operation. The longer the operation takes in duration, the more likely Iran will be able to mount a defense of its nuclear facilities. A former member of Prime Minister Netanyahu's staff, Natan Hendel, estimated it would take Israeli two days to disable Iran's nuclear infrastructure. I do not share Mr. Hendel's optimism.

Over the course of days with relentless around the clock air strikes, Israel could destroy unhardened Iranian nuclear facilities with relative ease. However, arguably the most important facilities, Fordow and Natanz, would be extremely difficult for the IAF to destroy. Of the two facilities, Natanz would likely be given priority as it is not as heavily hardened as Fordow (Qom) and represents a greater share of Iran's operational centrifuges (Natanz has 9,000 centrifuges and Qom operates 3,000 centrifuges). In summary, even if Israel suppresses or destroy's the Iranian IADS, Israel could not extensively disable or destroy, with credible certainty, all five of the facilities listed above in a short period of time. Iran would still retain a sizable remnant of its nuclear program (around 3,000 operational centrifuges) even after the hypothetical extensive bombing campaign. Once again, individuals with expertise in nuclear development programs would be required to fully assess the damage done to the Iranian nuclear program in the wake of these hypothetical results.

Part II will examine the possibility of U.S involvement and other factors e.g. Iranian missile counterattack not discussed in Part I.


Image 8: The GBU-28 is a 19 foot long 5,000 pound dedicated bunker busting munition. The GBU-28 was used to great effect in the Gulf War against hardened Iraqi Command and Control bunkers and hardened aircraft shelters. Amazingly, the entire munition was developed in a period of just two weeks. (Image Credit: USAF)