Category Archives: Air Force

William S. Lind’s Grim Assessment of the US Officer Corps

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From The American Conservative.   Bill Lind, one of the authors of Fourth Generation Warfare, is often a bit of a scratchy contrarian who is firmly convinced of his own infallibility when it comes to military theory.   Lind has never served in uniform, and often his condescending pontification and admonitions of “You’re doing it all wrong!” to US military thinkers causes his views to be dismissed out of hand.  But Lind is very smart, and often had nuggets of insight that deserve our consideration.  Here are a few from his TAC article:

Even junior officers inhabit a world where they hear only endless, hyperbolic praise of “the world’s greatest military ever.” They feed this swill to each other and expect it from everyone else. If they don’t get it, they become angry. Senior officers’ bubbles, created by vast, sycophantic staffs, rival Xerxes’s court. Woe betide the ignorant courtier who tells the god-king something he doesn’t want to hear.

And:

What defines a professional—historically there were only three professions, law, medicine, and theology—is that he has read, studied, and knows the literature of his field. The vast majority of our officers read no serious military history or theory.

While my personal experience has been that Marine Officers tend to read and discuss military history, it could be that I gravitate toward those who do.  I will admit that I am chagrined at the numbers of Officers of all services who have seemingly no interest in doing so.

Lind also identifies what he calls “structural failings”:

The first, and possibly the worst, is an officer corps vastly too large for its organization—now augmented by an ant-army of contractors, most of whom are retired officers. A German Panzer division in World War II had about 21 officers in its headquarters. Our division headquarters are cities. Every briefing—and there are many, the American military loves briefings because they convey the illusion of content without offering any—is attended by rank-upon-rank of horse-holders and flower-strewers, all officers.

Command tours are too short to accomplish anything, usually about 18 months, because behind each commander is a long line of fellow officers eagerly awaiting their lick at the ice-cream cone… Decisions are committee-consensus, lowest common denominator, which Boyd warned is usually the worst of all possible alternatives. Nothing can be changed or reformed because of the vast number of players defending their “rice bowls.” The only measurable product is entropy.

The second and third structural failings are related because both work to undermine moral courage and character, which the Prussian army defined as “eagerness to make decisions and take responsibility.” They are the “up or out” promotion system and “all or nothing” vesting for retirement at 20 years. “Up or out” means an officer must constantly curry favor for promotion because if he is not steadily promoted he must leave the service. “All or nothing” says that if “up or out” pushes him out before he has served 20 years, he leaves with no pension. (Most American officers are married with children.)

It is not difficult to see how these… structural failings in the officer corps morally emasculate our officers and all too often turn them, as they rise in rank and near the magic 20 years, into ass-kissing conformists.

I cannot help but notice the truth that rings from much of what Boyd asserts.  I have made some of those very same assertions myself on more than a few occasions.  Give the article a read.  What does the gang here think?  Is Boyd on target?  If so, how do we fix it?  Can it be fixed?

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The Return of the Flying Dorito? Or “What the heck was that over Texas?

Planespotters in Texas and now Kansas have recently been seeing some very unusual looking aircraft overhead. The shape of these high flying mystery jets is similar too, but NOT the same as, the B-2 Spirit bomber, better known as the Stealth Bomber.

These sightings have, of course, cranked up the rumors and theories.

Today we have new pics that are the clearest yet.

A mysterious flying object was snapped flying over Wichita, Kansas by Jeff Templin. It resembles a similar unidentified aircraft streaking across the skies of Texas last month

The triangular shape certainly calls to mind one of the biggest procurement failures of the latter half of the 20th Century, the Navy’s failed A-12 Avenger II program.

The A-12, planned successor to the fabled A-6 Intruder attack aircraft, was eventually cancelled before the first was ever built due to staggering cost overruns and the massive weight gain of the design.

http://aviationintel.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/A-12-Avenger-II-Experimental-Stealth-Bomber-Side-View-Angle.jpg

But you can see from the picture above, the triangular shape of the mystery jet is certainly very, very similar to the A-12.

Who knows if the jet over Texas is manned or a drone, or what?

What say you?

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Scramble!

Lithuania, a tiny Baltic nation bordering Russia, and long under the thumb of the Soviet Union, has been wary of its large neighbor to the east. The small nation can hardly provide for its own air defense needs. Accordingly, NATO nations rotate the duty of providing additional air defense assets to Lithuania.

Currently, the US Air Force is a part of that rotation. And given the events in Crimea and Ukraine, the US is anxious to remind Russia that its territorial ambitions have limits.

That’s why The Aviationist can bring us some video of US F-15Cs practicing a scramble.

Similarly, the US has deployed F-16s to Poland and to Romania as well.

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Brimstone

We’ve all heard of the Hellfire missile, the primary weapon of the AH-64D Apache helicopter. Goodness knows, we’ve showed enough videos here of Hellfires landing on the heads of jihadis in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Britain liked the Hellfire. They have used them for years on their own fleet of Apaches. In fact, they liked it so much, they wanted to adapt it to be used from their fast jet fleet. But Britain also wanted to get away from the Hellfire’s semi-active laser seeker, and instead use a “fire and forget” millimeter-wavelength radar seeker.

Eventually, the redesigned missile, now known as Brimstone (which, yeah, the next logical name after hellfire), entered service in 2005. But it also became apparent that the positive control of a semi-active laser seeker was a handy feature. Accordingly, the Brits cleverly designed a “dual mode” seeker, allowing the shooter to fire in either millimeter-wave mode, or laser mode.  In radar mode, it can be ripple fired to engage multiple targets.  In fact, our Navy is looking closely at Brimstone to counter swarming boat attacks.

The British used Brimstone with good results throughout the campaign in Libya.

H/T to Dave at The Aviationist.

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Russians Claim US Drone Captured While Flying Over Crimea

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Stop me if you heard the one about anything with an uplink/downlink being vulnerable to MIJI and capture.  From Yahoo news, via Drudge.

“The drone was flying at about 4,000 metres (12,000 feet) and was virtually invisible from the ground. It was possible to break the link with US operators with complex radio-electronic” technology, said Rostec in a statement.

The drone fell “almost intact into the hands of self-defence forces” added Rostec, which said it had manufactured the equipment used to down the aircraft, but did not specify who was operating it.

“Judging by its identification number, UAV MQ-5B belonged to the 66th American Reconnaissance Brigade, based in Bavaria,” Rostec said on its website, which also carried a picture of what it said was the captured drone.

Super.   Perhaps President Obama will take the strong-arm stance he took when Iran did a similar thing.  Ask politely for them to return it.  Yeah, that’ll show ‘em.   One has to wonder when this actually occurred, and if this information was released specifically to discredit Kerry on the day of his meeting with Lavrov in London.   But that would be strategic messaging, which is part of Information Dominance.   And WE have Information Dominance, dammit!

Our foreign policy is being dictated by nincompoops and imbeciles.  We are screwed.

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Ten Years Ago Today

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We flew in to Habbaniyah on a C-130 out of Kuwait, and the pilot juked on the way in, just in case.   Once on the deck, we were dispatched into an Army-Marine Corps convoy headed to Ramadi.  On the way out the gate of the laager, a VBIED detonated next to one of the lead security vehicles, killing two soldiers.  It would be an interesting eight months in Iraq.   The First Marine Division, led by MajGen James N. Mattis, whose ADC was John Kelly and Chief of Staff Colonel Joe Dunford, was one hell of a team (that included the Army’s excellent 1-16th Infantry).

The 1st Marine Division (not including Army casualties) suffered 118 killed and more than 1,400 wounded in those eight months in places like Fallujah and Ramadi, Haditah, and a lot of other dusty villages and towns nobody could find on a map except the men who fought there.   A high price was paid to hold the line in Anbar, to hold elections, and cultivate conditions for the Awakening.   For the Marines and soldiers who did so, recent events with AQ flying flags in Anbar’s cities and towns are particularly maddening.  It was clear that the “cut and run” philosophy of the White House was an exceedingly poor one, and subsequent events show that the so-called “zero option” is as descriptive of the President’s credibility as force levels in Iraq.  And we are set, with the same litany of excuses, to do it again in Afghanistan.

I wondered then what all this would be like, ten years on, should I be fortunate enough to survive.  Some things remain very vivid, the sights and smells, and the faces of comrades.  Others I am sure I would have to be reminded of.  And a few memories, thankfully few, are seared into the memory for the rest of my time on this earth.

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Going Hollow: The Hagel Preview of the FY2015 Defense Budget

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Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh Burke Chair at CSIS, provides a very cogent summary of the weakness of our Defense Department leadership and its inability or unwillingness to discuss the 2015 DoD budget meaningfully.

At the simplest level of budgetary planning, the Secretary’s budget statements ignore the fact that the Congressional Budget Office projects that the Department’s failure to manage the real-world crises in personnel, modernization, and readiness costs will have as negative an overall budget impact over time as Sequestration will. Ignoring the Department’s long history of undercosting its budget, its cost overruns, and the resulting cuts in forces, modernization, and readiness means one more year of failing to cope with reality.  Presenting an unaffordable plan is as bad as failing to budget enough money.

Cordesman gets to the real meat of our failure of strategic (dare I say “national strategic”?) thinking, as well.

He talks about cuts in personnel, equipment, and force strength in case-specific terms, but does not address readiness and does not address any plan or provide any serious details as to what the United States is seeking in in terms of changes in its alliances and partnerships,  and its specific goals in force levels, deployments, modernization, personnel, and readiness.

He holds nothing back in his contempt for the process of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), either.

Worse, we are going to leave these issues to be addressed in the future by another mindless waste of time like the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). All the past QDRs have been set so far in the future to be practical or relevant. Each successive QDR has proved to be one more colostomy bag after another of half-digested concepts and vague strategic priorities filled with noise and futility and signifying nothing.

Cordesman saves his best for last, however.

Like all of his recent predecessors, Secretary Hagel has failed dismally to show the U.S. has any real plans for the future and to provide any meaningful sense of direction and real justification for defense spending. The best that can be said of his speech on the FY2015 defense budget is that U.S. strategy and forces will go hollow in a kinder and gentler manner than simply enforcing sequestration.

We do need to avoid cutting our forces, military capabilities, and defense spending to the levels called for in sequestration. But this is no substitute for the total lack of any clear goals for the future, for showing that the Department of Defense has serious plans to shape a viable mix of alliances and partnerships, force levels, deployments, modernization, personnel, and readiness over the coming Future Year Defense Plan.

I don’t always agree with Cordesman’s assertions, but he is just about always a thoughtful if provocative commenter on Defense and National Security issues, and his analysis of SECDEF Hagel’s remarks are spot-on.  We are headed for a hollow force, despite its smaller size, as many of us have feared all along.  This, despite all the promises and admonitions of this Administration and our Pentagon leadership.  Go have a read.

 

 

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Seduced By Success; An Army Leadership Untrained for True War?

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Our friend at Op-For, the urbane and erudite sophisticate LTCOL P (supplying some cogent comments of his own), points us to a superb article in AFJ by Daniel L. Davis outlining the very real possibility that our immense advantages over our foes in the last two-plus decades has left many of our middle and senior leadership untested and overconfident in our warfighting capabilities.

Imagine one of today’s division commanders finding himself at the line of departure against a capable enemy with combined-arms formation. He spent his time as a lieutenant in Bosnia conducting “presence patrols” and other peacekeeping activities. He may have commanded a company in a peacetime, garrison environment. Then he commanded a battalion in the early years of Afghanistan when little of tactical movement took place. He commanded a brigade in the later stages of Iraq, sending units on patrols, night raids, and cordon-and-search operations; and training Iraq policemen or soldiers.

Not once in his career did an enemy formation threaten his flank. He never, even in training, hunkered in a dugout while enemy artillery destroyed one-quarter of his combat vehicles, and emerged to execute a hasty defense against the enemy assault force pouring over the hill.

Spot-on.  Such sentiment applies to ALL SERVICES.  Even in the midst of some pretty interesting days in Ramadi and Fallujah, I never bought into the idea that was being bandied about so casually that “there is no more complex decision-making paradigm for a combat leader than counterinsurgency operations”.   It was utter nonsense.  The decisions to be made, as the author points out, above the troops-in-contact level, were seldom risking success or failure either in their urgency or content.  We had in Iraq and in AFG the ability to largely intervene with air or ground fires as we desired, to engage and disengage almost at will, against an enemy that could never have the capability of truly seizing tactical initiative.  Defeat, from a standpoint of force survival, was never a possibility.  To borrow Belloc’s observations of Omdurman, “Whatever happens, we have got, close air support, and they have not”.

Having a brigade of BMP-laden infantry rolling up behind the fires of a Divisional Artillery Group, supported by MI-24s and SU-25s, which stand a very real chance of defeating (and destroying) not just your unit but all the adjacent ones, is infinitely more challenging than even our rather intense fights (April and November 2004) for Fallujah.  The speed and tactical acumen of the decision makers will be the difference between holding or breaking, winning and losing, living or dying.   The author points out some significant shortcomings in our current training paradigm, and brings us back to some fundamentals of how we train (or used to, at any rate) decision-makers to operate in the fog and uncertainty of combat.  Training and exercises, designed to stress and challenge:

At some of the Combat Maneuver Training Centers, Army forces do some good training. Some of the products and suggestions from Army Training and Doctrine Command are good on paper. For example, we often tout the “world class” opposing force that fights against U.S. formations, and features a thinking and free-fighting enemy. But I have seen many of these engagements, both in the field and in simulation, where the many good words are belied by the exercise. For example, in 2008 I took part in a simulation exercise in which the opposing forces were claimed to be representative of real world forces, yet the battalion-level forces were commanded by an inexperienced captain, and the computer constraints limited the enemy’s ability to engage.

Many may remember the famed “Millennium Challenge 2002” held just before Operation Iraqi Freedom. Retired Marine general Paul Van Riper, appointed to serve as opposing force commander, quit because the exercise was rigged. ”We were directed…to move air defenses so that the army and marine units could successfully land,” he said. ”We were simply directed to turn [air defense systems] off or move them… So it was scripted to be whatever the control group wanted it to be.” For the U.S. Army to be successful in battle against competent opponents, changes are necessary.

Field training exercises can be designed to replicate capable conventional forces that have the ability to inflict defeats on U.S. elements. Such training should require leaders at all levels to face simulated life and death situations, where traditional solutions don’t work, in much more trying environments than is currently the case. They should periodically be stressed to levels well above what we have actually faced in the past several decades. Scenarios, for example, at company and battalion level where a superior enemy force inflicts a mortal blow on some elements, requiring leaders and soldiers to improvise with whatever is at hand, in the presence of hardship and emotional stress.Simulation training for commanders and staffs up to Corps level should combine computer and physical exercises that subject the leaders to situations where the enemy does the unexpected, where key leaders or capabilities are suddenly lost (owing to enemy fire or efforts), yet they still have to function; where they face the unexpected loss of key communications equipment, yet still be forced to continue the operation.

Such exercises should not all be done in nicely compartmentalized training segments with tidy start and end times, and “reset” to prepare for the next sequence. Instead, some exercises should be held where there is a beginning time “in the box” and no pre-set start or end times until the end of a rotation two weeks or more later. In short, the training rotation should replicate the physical and emotional stress of actual combat operations in which there is no “pause” to rest and think about what happened.

I couldn’t agree more.  However, in a budget-crunch environment where significant funding is going toward advancing political and social agendas even within DoD, I am not at all sanguine about such training occurring.  Worse, rather than having leaders champion the need for it and constantly fight for training dollars, I fear that such a requirement will be dismissed as less than necessary, since we already have “the most professional, the best educated, the most capable force this country has ever sent into battle.”  While our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are indeed superb, and honed at the small unit level, our senior leadership is much less so.  What’s worse is that leaders who have no experience in battlefield command against a near-peer force have begun to assert that technological innovation makes such training superfluous.  That the nature of war has changed, and we are now in an era of “real-time strategy” and “global awareness”.   To steal a line from The Departed, there is deception, and there is self-deception.

Anyway, the Armed Forces Journal article is a thought-provoking read.

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AC-130J Ghostrider

The recent news that the Air Force is planning to retire its fleet of AC-130H Spectre gunships had all the usual suspects up in arms, howling how the Air Force was again shirking its commitment to Close Air Support.

Well, maybe. But the AC-130H fleet is aging badly, and  the airframes, the avionics and the weapons are all tired and expensive to maintain and operate.

A couple years ago, looking to supplement its already stretched thin fleet, the Air Force undertook an interim program to modify some Special Operations MC-130s to “Combat Dragon” specs with a so-called Precision Strike Package, with a 30mm Bushmaster chain gun, and the ability to employ the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, and the AGM-176 Griffin guided bomb.

The program was very quick, and quite successful, and the Air Force has decided to buy a fleet of about 30 new build, dedicated AC-130J gunships, similarly armed, but with fully integrated avionics and adding the famous 105mm cannon.

The Marine Corps’ similar Harvest Hawk program also employs the Griffin and Hellfire, but is designed to be convertible back to a standard cargo hauler, or to a hose and drogue tanker.

This picture shows a GAU-23 mounted on an H model C-130.

http://www.atk.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/BAU_23_bushmaster_sub02.jpg

Note the IR/FLIR/Laser designator turret under the nose, and the second one on the landing gear sponson.

The first AC-130J recently made its first flight. It will eventually replace the current fleet of AC-130H and U variants.

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Douhet, Mitchell, Lambeth. All Airpower advocates, all wrong.

It must be budget battle time, as airpower advocates are coming out of the woodwork to tell us that the Air Force will win the wars, and the rest of us can just stay home.

Since the Cold War’s end, the classic roles of airpower and land power have changed places in major combat against modern mechanized opponents. In this role reversal, ground forces have come to do most of the shaping and fixing of enemy forces, while airpower now does most of the actual killing.

Operation Desert Storm in 1991 showcased, for the first time, this departure from past practice between air- and ground-delivered firepower. During the Battle of Khafji in January of that year, coalition air assets singlehandedly shredded two advancing Iraqi armored columns through precision night standoff attacks.

This role shift repeated itself with even greater effectiveness in 2003 during the three-week major combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom that ended Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s rule.

Modern airpower’s achievements in these two high-intensity wars demonstrated that precision air attacks now offer the promise of being the swing factor for victory in an ever-widening variety of theater war scenarios. The primary role of US land power may now be increasingly to secure a win against organized enemy forces rather than to achieve it.

In organizing their response to Hussein’s forceful seizure of Kuwait in 1990, the leaders of US Central Command aimed to destroy as many of Iraq’s armored forces from the air as possible before launching any land invasion to drive out the occupying enemy troops. It remained unclear, however, how effective allied airpower would be under this approach until they actually executed the air campaign.

Three factors came together to enable allied airpower to draw down Iraqi forces to a point where allied ground troops could advance in confidence that they would be engaging a badly degraded opponent once the ground offensive began. First, allied aircraft were able to operate at will in the medium-altitude environment, unmolested by Iraqi radar guided surface-to-air missiles or fighters, thanks to an earlier US air defense suppression campaign.

Second, the introduction of the E-8C JSTARS aircraft permitted allied air planners to see and identify fixed and moving objects on the battlefield clearly enough to make informed force commitment decisions and to execute lethal attacks day or night. Third, allied planners discovered during the campaign’s initial preparation phase that aircraft equipped with infrared sensors and armed with laser guided bombs could find and destroy dug-in enemy tanks one by one in large numbers at night.

It’s a long article, but it doesn’t get any smarter. Let’s just fisk a little of what we have here.

First and foremost, let me state again that I’m not opposed to airpower. Air superiority, or at a bare minimum air parity,  is a necessary precondition for success in high intensity combat.

1. Uncontested medium altitude operations- There’s certainly no guarantee that future campaigns will allow our tactical airpower to operate freely over the battlefield, whether at medium altitudes or any other. While the Iraqi forces had a reasonably sophisticated air defense system for fixed installations, they lacked modern mobile air defenses for maneuver units. Future enemies learned a lesson about that. And Lambeth ignores the long time the Air Force had to devote to the suppression mission (SEAD-Suppression of Enemy Air Defense).  Time spent on SEAD was time and sorties not spent attriting Iraqi armor. Had the Iraqis made a large scale offense while the Air Force was still trying to achieve suppression, rather than the modest attack at Khafji, we groundpounders would have faced a much more difficult problem.*

2. JSTARS tracking and targeting- Well, that’s what it’s for, to give the commander an ability to look deep throughout the depth of the battlefield and identify and track enemy formations. But two things about that. First, few places on earth are as conducive to JSTARS tracking formations as the Iraqi desert. Second, having learned that the capability exists, any enemy can quickly devise countermeasures, which can be as simple as just having a bunch of people driving private autos around, either randomly or as spoof formations.

3. PGMs as anti-armor weapons- Tank-plinking was indeed a successful campaign. Why, a gazillion dollar F-111 could go out and in the space of a 2 hour sortie, drop its four GBU-12 500 pound LGBs, and probably kill 2 or even three tanks.  But for all the success of the campaign, vast amounts of Iraqi armor still survived, and was still capable of maneuver and engaging our forces.  As a counterpoint, I had a front row seat when my brigade engaged a Republican Guard brigade. In the space of about half an hour, we eviscerated the entire formation, destroying somewhere around 100 armored vehicles, and probably another couple hundred vehicles.

Further, the Air Force is still limited in its ability to attack armor or other moving formations in bad weather. Cloud layers will degrade laser designators quickly, leaving the attack aircraft either unable to deliver ordnance, or forcing them into the low altitude air defense environment, where they are terribly vulnerable.  Ground forces ability to engage can be degraded by foul weather, but not to nearly the extent of air power. Artillery doesn’t care if it is cloudy.

The bottom line is this- in spite of almost a century of airpower visionaries proclaiming that the days of muddy boots are over, airpower still cannot stop the enemy on the ground. It can impede it, it can attrit it, it can make movement costly. But airpower still remains a supporting fire, much as the artillery. No sane commander would attempt to fight a campaign solely with artillery.  One of the historical strengths of our armed forces since World War II has been our incredible ability to harness the synergy of combined arms, whether from the Infantry/Artillery team, or the unified application of land, sea, air and space power. Puerile arguments about the supremacy of  airpower do little credit to the Air Force Association’s flagship publication.

*Especially units like mine. We had people on the ground, but our vehicles hadn’t even reached port in Saudi Arabia yet.

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Cutaway Thursday: Douglas X-3 Stiletto

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More on the X-3 Stiletto here.

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USAF MiG-21F-13s at Tonopah.

Before you read on if you haven’t been in-briefed on Have Doughnut go read.

MiG-21f-13 "Fishbed-C". Image credit Wikipedia.

MiG-21f-13 “Fishbed-C”. Image credit Wikipedia.

Have Doughnut was the combat evaluation of the Soviet-built MIG-21F-13 (NATO codenamed) “Fishbed-C.” The F-13 version of the -21 is an early version of the ubiquitous MiG-21 family. It was the first short range day fighter version of the -21 to be placed in mass production and was the first variant to use the K-13 air-to-air-missile. The -21F13 was also in service with the North Vietnamese Air Force and saw regular combat against USAF and USN combat aircraft in-theater.

Constant Peg was a training program that took Have Doughnut a step further an under the auspicies of the 4477th Test and Evaluation Force. The “Red Eagles” as they became known, equipped with the MiG-21F-13,  provided a somewhat formalized training environment, for both USAF and USN fighter pilots that saw the MiG as the primary threat aircraft.

From the Wikipedia page:

By the late 1970s, United States MiG operations were undergoing another change. In the late 1960s, the MiG-17 and MiG-21F were still frontline aircraft. A decade later, they had been superseded by later-model MiG-21s and new aircraft, such as the MiG-23. Fortunately, a new source of supply of Soviet aircraft became available, Egypt. In the mid-1970s, relations between Egypt and the Soviet Union had become strained, and Soviet advisers were ordered out. The Soviets had provided the Egyptian air force with MiGs since the mid-1950s. Now, with their traditional source out of the picture, the Egyptians began looking west. They turned to United States companies for parts to support their late-model MiG-21s and MiG-23s. Very soon, a deal was made. According to one account, two MiG-23 fighter bombers were given to the United States by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. The planes were disassembled and shipped from Egypt to Edwards Air Force Base. They were then transferred initially to Groom Lake for reassembly and study.[2]

In 1987, the U.S. Air Force bought 12 new Shenyang F-7Bs from China for use in the Constant Peg program. At the same time, it retired the remaining MiG-21F-13 Fishbeds acquired from Indonesia.[citation needed][3]

The United States operated MiGs received special designations. There was the practical problem of what to call the aircraft. This was solved by giving them numbers in the Century Series. The MiG-21s and Shenyang F-7Bs were called the “YF-110″ (the original designation for the USAF F-4C), while the MiG-23s were called the “YF-113″.[2]

The focus of Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) limited the use of the fighter as a tool with which to train the front line tactical fighter pilots.[1] Air Force Systems Command recruited its pilots from the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, who were usually graduates from either the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards or the Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. Tactical Air Command selected its pilots primarily from the ranks of the Weapons School graduates at Nellis AFB.[1]

The 4477th began as the 4477th Test and Evaluation Flight (4477 TEF), which began 17 July 1979. The name was later changed to the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron (4477 TES) in 1980. The 4477th began with three MiGs: two MiG-17Fs and a MiG-21 loaned by Israel, who had captured them from the Syrian Air Force and Iraqi Air Force. Later, it added MiG-21s from the Indonesian Air Force.

Here are some newer photos of those MiG-21F-13s at the Tonopah Test Range sporting Soviet Air Force markings and cavorting about the Tonopah Test Range, probably in the 1970s.

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Several of these photos are probably in Steve Davies “Red Eagles” and Gail Peck’s “America’s Secret MiG Squadrons.” According to both of these books, after the aircraft reached the end of their useful lives, they mysteriously appeared at several museums throughout the United States. Reportedly, as the aircraft were dropped off, curators were told not to ask any questions about the aircraft.

If you haven’t read either “Red Eagles” or “America’s Secret MiG Squadrons” you should. You’ll get more information than what you read on the Wikipedia page.

[UPDATED]:

Apparently, I have a cutaway drawing of the -21F-13 so if you’re wondering what it looks like under the skin, here ya go:

mig21f13

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Rockwell’s HiMAT RPRV-870 (part 1)

The Rockwell International RPRV-8870 HiMAT.

The Rockwell International RPRV-8870 HiMAT.

Rockwell International’s RPRV-870 (Remote Piloted Research Vehicle) HiMAT (Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology) was a joint USAF/NASA program to develop advanced technology for future fighter aircraft. There were 2 aircraft flown for a total of 26 flights. The 0.44 scale RPVs tested advanced technology concepts like composite and metallic structures, digital integrated propulsion control, and ground and airborne relaxed stability digital fly-by-wire.

Many of the aircraft technologies that we use today came from HiMAT developments of the 1970s and 80s. HiMAT’s main advantage was that it was able to test several of these technologies in a synergistic manner, integrating as many of these technologies as possible. The program was operated and funded jointly by the USAF and NASA.

In August 1975, Rockwell International was awarded the contract to build 2 subscale unmanned vehicles. These were delivered to NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in March and June 1978.

HiMAT technologies and 3-view.

HiMAT technologies and 3-view.

One of the main research goals of the HiMAT program was to provide a mathematical foundation for the use of computational tools in comparative analysis of future aerodynamic and structural design and to provide high quality flight test data for correlation and comparison with flight test data. Goals for the vehicle itself included testing of advanced aerodynamic configurations and advanced design concepts like composites, metallic structures, a digital integrated propulsion system (IPCS) and ground to airborne digital fly-by-wire concepts.

Structurally, the HiMAT, design goals were to provide “compromises when necessary to integrate several new technologies into a system with real constraints that must allow a significant level of benefit of the technology to be realized.” As a result of this integration, designers realized that “late discoveries of these unpredictable problems may significantly impact cost and/or schedule performance.”

In turn,  the HiMAT vehicle was driven by several design goals and constraints:

1. Most importantly the design must integrate, to the highest fidelity possible the technologies mentioned above.

2. The configuration had to be representative of a realistic (future) air-to-air fighter.

3. The additional constraints of scaling effects and RPRV requirement.

4. The transonic sustained maneuver requirement of 8g’s coupled with efficient performance.

The overall structural approach was design a full-scale fighter that had the desired full technology integration and then develop the RPRV with minimum compromises. Keeping this in mind it was necessary to match thrust-to-weight (T/W) and wing loading (W/S) of a full-scale fighter so that equivalent maneuvering performance could be achieved with the RPRV. Another constraint imposed was the off the shelf availability of the J85-21 engine, so the best match in terms of size and performance was to be the 0.44 scale factor.

HiMAT fighter to RPRV comparison.

HiMAT fighter to RPRV comparison.

The design of HiMAT was also driven by 3 major factors:

1. Aerolastic tailoring to provide the aerodynamic required twist and camber distributions.

2. Maximum use of advanced materials, both metallic and nonmetallic.

3. Modular design so that components of the airplane could be replaced with alternate designs for research purposes.

HiMAT's modularity

HiMAT’s modularity

HiMAT's modularity

HiMAT’s modularity

The HiMAT design used several advanced materials and composite structure applications. HiMAT trade studies and fabrication experience dictated that graphite/epoxy be the material for primary and secondary lifting surface structures. Control and lifting surfaces were designed and fabricated to meet the program’s torsional stiffness requirements. This had the added benefit of saving 25 to 40% of what otherwise would have been the vehicle’s weight. Development of  HiMAT’s structure included the first utilization of the TSO composite design optimization computer program.*

HiMAT construction by material.

HiMAT construction by material.

A primary feature of the HiMAT, was its construction from advanced materials. The wing and canard were constructed from graphite-epoxy using a non-standard ply technique. This provided an aerodynamically beneficial spanwise aeroelasticity to reduce vehicle drag. The vehicles were also designed to fly in a relaxed stability configuration to further reduce drag. NASA established the goal that the HiMAT vehicle have the ability “to perform a sustained 8-g turn at Mach 0.9, at an altitude of 30,000 feet, with a mission radius of 300 miles.”

The RPRV (Remotely Piloted Research Vehicle), which the HiMAT was, had systems requirements that no single systems failure could result in the loss of the vehicle and the vehicle must fly statically unstable. This meant that the approach to flight control systems, vehicle systems, fault detection and failure management systems, and systems flight qualification all required an unheard of level of complexity. All of HiMAT’s systems could be divided into primary and backup. There were dual onboard microprocessor computers as well as dual electrical and hydraulic systems as well as duel flight control systems and redundant flight sensors.

The overall vehicle configuration was that of a “close coupled canard with a swept wing.” The control surfaces included twin all-movable twin rudders mounted on a boom. The rudders deflected symmetrically for yaw control and asymmetrically for speed brake control. The elevator was used for pitch control, elevons for pitch and roll control. The canard flaps were capable of pitch and sideforce control but were not used as such.

HiMAT gross weight was 3501lbs with 659lbs of fuel. Each vehicle was powered by a J85-21 turbojet engine rated at 5004lb of sea level static thrust. Engine control was provided through an IPCS in the backup computer. Vehicle subsystems were also powered by an engine-driven electrical generator with backup power supplied by a 35V silver-zinc battery. Primary hydraulic power was supplied by an engine-driven pump with a backup electrical pump. There were no single points of contact between the primary and backup hydraulic systems other than the dual tandem actuators for the rudders.

HiMAT's operational concept.

HiMAT mounted on the pylon of NASA's B-52 mothership.

Flight tests were conducted with the HiMAT dropped from at B-52 mothership at about 45,000ft at Mach 0.68. The vehicle was placed on the right wing of the B-52 on a specially modified pylon. Typical missions lasted about 30 minutes. The pilot (or rather operator) sat in a fully instrumented, fixed base ground cockpit. The pilot would fly HiMAT with typical fighter-type controls, a center stick and left side throttle.

HiMAT cockpit.

Control of HiMAT was maintained through ground control and uplink computers and aircraft response was downlinked to a ground station and indicated to the pilot via conventional aircraft instrumentation. A flight engineer sat next to the pilot and assisted the pilot with the conduct of maneuvers and navigation. NASA ground radar provided tracking, backup airspeed and altitude information. In the event of systems failure, the backup systems could be engaged by the chase aircraft (a NASA TF-104) or at the ground station.

HiMAT was equipped with skids for landing on the Rogers Dry Lakebed. Typical landing runs were 4500ft along the 15000ft runway.

Simplified diagram of HiMAT's different signal paths.

Under typical flight conditions HiMAT was flown via the Primary Control System (PCS). The PCS control laws ran from a ground-based Varian V-73 computer. In the event, the PCS failed, there was a Back-Up Control System (BCS) whose program was run either based on a failure of the PCS or could be engaged manually from the chase aircraft or the ground station. The BCS control laws were resident in the backup computer aboard the vehicle.

The downlink receiving station processed data from the primary on board computer to the flight test instrumentation system (FTIS) for transmission in a modulated data stream at 220HZ. The ground station then processed this data into usable words using a Varian V-77 computer.

Cockpit displays on the pilot’s fixed station included a forward-looking video monitor, attitude direction indicator (ADI), a radar altimeter, barometic altimeter, airspeed and Mach indicators, altitude rate, engine rpm, fuel flow, fuel quantity, and exhaust gas temperature (EGT), a computer select mode control (CSMC) box and pulse panel. As previously mentioned, the pilot’s interface to the PCS was through the standard fighter aircraft 3-axis controls made up of a stick, throttle lever, and rudder pedals. A speed brake switch was provided on top of the throttle lever. Interface to the BCS was via command switches located to the left and right of the main console, also in the pilot’s cockpit.

No vehicle data was provided to the chase TF-104 so the aircraft provided control and guidance visually.

The flight test engineer (FTE) communicated with the pilot for assistance with navigation, checklist and emergency procedures, pulse panel tests, system gain changes and landing emergency management. Navigation was done via a radar driven plot board showing the position in a track above the ground. Energy management during landing was also display on a radar driven slope plot board. Pulse panel inputs were initiated by the FTE and consisted of pre-programmed commands given to the pilot.

Three computers were used to perform the PCS control law, maneuver autopilot and navigational computation functions. These were the Varian V-73A, V-73B and V-72 computers, respectively. The vehicle downlinked sensor signals and were processed through the V-77 then combined with control inputs from the pilot via the V-73A computer (using the PCS control law commands). The V-73 also performed air-data calculations for display in the ground cockpit. Additional functions carried out by the V-73 was the automated prefilght program that tested all interface input/output.

The V-73 also had a mechanized flight test maneuver autopilot (FTMAP). The FTMAP “was designed to provide precise, repeatable control of HiMAT during certain prescribed maneuvers.” FTMAP acted as a “non-flight-critical” outer loop controller with the PCS. During FTMAP operation, the FTMAP computer replaced all pilot imputs. The FTMAP also passed landing guidance information to the cockpit’s ADI.

The V-72 received and decoded tracking radar data and calculated vehicle ground track information for display to the pilot. The V-72 also provided a limited ILS (Instrument Landing System) i.e. glideslope and localizer information for display in the cockpit.

The uplink encoder, combined signals from the pilot’s input and output from the V-73 computer before sending the commands to the vehicle. The encoder formatted to send data in four 16-bit words per frame at a rate of 106.6 frames per second. Two different frames were alternately sent for a total of 8 16-bit updated 53.3 times/second. The data itself was formatted as:

The first four words addressed vehicle decoder number one, and the last four words addressed vehicle decoder number two. The first 10 bits of each words were available only to the primary onboard computer and were designated proportional data. These proportional channels represented the PCS interface to the vehicle aerodynamic surfaces and throttle. The last 6 bits of each word were designated as manual command discretes and were hardwired directly to the encoder from cockpit switches. These discretes represented the pilot’s discrete interface to the onboard BCS and other vehicle systems.

In terms on airborne systems, the PCS required that both receivers and decoders be operational. Dual receivers-decoders received the uplink signal and provided the command input interface to dual onboard computers. Early in the program the vehicle experienced frequent automatic transfers from PCS to BCS because the either one of both of the receivers-decoders received inadequate uplink signals as a function of vehicle attitude. To alleviate this these nuisance transfers to the BCS, a diversity-combining concept was used in the hardware to prevent an interruption of the groundlink signal. The diversity combiner combined output signals of the dual receivers so regardless of vehicle orientation, the best continuous signal was available for uplink commands. As the diversity combining hardware was installed in vehicle number one, it eliminated nuisance transfers to the BCS.

Dual onboard custom built computers provided critical systems control for the HiMAT. These 2 computers were based on Intel 8080 microprocessors. and operated asynchronously but had identical computational and memory capacities:

Each computer contained 22,528 bytes (8 buts) of erasable, programmable, read only memory (ROM) and 1024 bytes of random access memory (RAM). Both computers were programmed entirely in 8080 assembly language and packaged in a common chassis with separate circuit cards and connectors. The dual computer chassis weighed 40lb and had a volume of 1198in3

The principal functions of the primary computer were:

1. uplink data processing.

2. downlink data processing.

3. failure detection for the computers, flight sensors, servoactuators, and power system (for both the PCS and BCS).

4. failure detection for the IPCS

The functions for the backup computer were:

1. uplink data processing.

2. primary IPCS.

3. BCS control laws.

The computers communicated with other vehicle systems via digital, analog and discrete channels. Each computer also had its uplink and downlink telemetry systems.

HiMAT had 7 redundant flight critical system sensor sets that provided the vehicle with a “fail-safe” capability. 5 of the sensor sets were triplex and the 2 other were duplex. The 7 sensor sets:

included the triplex three axis angular rate gyros, normal and lateral accelerometers, and the duplex air data system.

Air data rates were determined by an analog differentiation of the air data signals. A single sensor of each set was designated the backup to the BCS. A simplex all-attitude gyro and radar altimeter were provided but not deemed “flight critical.” The gyro provided data to the vehicle’s ADI and to a “direction cosine algorithm” in the BCS code. The radar altimeter provided data to the pilot at all altitudes below 5000ft during approach and provided critical input to the BCS in automatic landing mode. The BCS could even be used to land the vehicle even if the radar altimeter failed.

The servoactuator electronics (SAE) box provided an interface between the onboard computers and the control surface actuators as well as the engine nozzle. The SAE box functions included:

electrically closing all servo loops to the actuators, receiving all actuator command from the computers and feeding back all actuator positions to the computers.

Another primary function was failure detection of the elevon servoactuator system which was sensed faster in hardware than software. If a failure was detected the SAE would notify the primary computer.

Rounding out the airborne systems of the 2 HiMAT vehicles, is a flight test instrumentation system (FTIS). The FTIS processed all data to be downlinked into a PCM data stream. Inputs to the FTIS were both analog and digital. Some signals were downlinked directly through the FTIS and through the onboard computer. Some downlinked data was processed through the downlink processing routine in the FTIS. The downlink processing routine included midvalue selection of triplex sensors, synchronization logic and the packing of vehicle status and failure indication discretes. The routine formatted and processed data eighteen 10-bit proportional parameters and seven 10-but discrete words.

In part 2 we’ll discuss the HiMAT flight test program and results.

Another view of HiMAT at landing.

*The TSO (aerolastic tailoring and structural design optimization) computer program provides aerolastic tailoring information for lifting surfaces.

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War Department Film: Landings On New Britain

UPDATE:  Okay fine.  Brad posted it already back in June.  Watch it again, anyway.

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As per SOP, I watched the really good movie that XBRAD posted earlier, and in looking at zenoswarbirdvideos.com, found this one.

My Father was an 18-year old Machinist Apprentice who made both landings shown in the film, Arawe on 15 December 1943, and Cape Gloucester on 26 December.    His LCT 172 was a 105 foot craft somewhat larger than an LCM-8.  (You see LCT 174 at some point in the video.)  Part of his responsibilities was to go in ahead of the assault and mark water depth on the landing beaches, then paddle back out to the LCT and make the landings themselves.

At Arawe, his LCT went to pick up the survivors of the Army cavalry company that attempted to go in by rubber boat (described at 28:30).  It was shot full of holes in the process.  And LCT 172 was close to destroyer Brownson (DD-518) at Gloucester when she was hit by Japanese aircraft and sunk.  (49:50 in the film.)

Anyway, on a cold and snowy Saturday afternoon, grab a cuppa and have a watch.  The film is pretty gritty, and hardly paints a romantic picture of the war in the South Pacific.

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Locklear: US Pacific Dominance “Diminishing”? You don’t say, Admiral!

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Commander of US Pacific Command Admiral Sam Locklear seems to not have much of a knack for strategic thought.  Last March it was Locklear whom, in the face of a sabre-rattling North Korea and an intransigent and increasingly hostile China, defined his biggest strategic threat to be……  climate change. 

Recently, at the Surface Navy Association, Locklear again puts a round in the wood with his convoluted and childishly naïve assessment of The People’s Republic of China, after finally having the long-overdue epiphany that China actually represents a threat to US interests in the Pacific and elsewhere.

“China is going to rise, we all know that,” Adm. Locklear said, as reported by Defense News, which included several quotes from his speech at the annual Surface Navy Association meeting.

“[But] how are they behaving? That is really the question,” the admiral said, adding that the Pacific Command’s goal is for China “to be a net provider of security, not a net user of security.”

Not that Locklear is alone in his Pollyanna take on the PRC.  More than a few times, in wargames, and in discussions of events in the Pacific, I have heard senior officers discuss “co-opting” China as a “partner” to help “find a solution” to the problem, when the problem was very intentionally created by China and Chinese actions, because a change in status quo was in China’s best interests.   But Locklear has PACOM.   The People’s Republic of China is in his AOR.    Locklear’s bizarre assertions have gotten notice, finally.

“The problem with this formulation is, for whom does Adm. Locklear think China will be providing security?” said Dean Cheng, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation. “The implicit answer is ‘to everyone,’ because the assumption is that we can somehow mold China into being ourselves — that China will see its interests as somehow congruent and coincident with those of the United States, and therefore China will assume the mantle of regional provider of public goods.

“But this is a remarkable assumption, especially in light of recent Chinese behavior. China is not interested in providing security for everyone and, frankly, not even for anyone other than itself.”

A couple of news flashes for Sam Locklear.  China is not in a position to rise.  They ARE rising, and have been for some years.  The epiphany you had about China ending US dominance?   A little late.  By almost a decade.  China has been an unabashed supporter of DPRK bellicosity and intransigence, and has materially aided them in both weapons development and network exploitation capabilities.  They have undermined and eroded the Iran sanctions.  China has been long involved in penetration of US networks and theft of national and industrial secrets, as well as many tens of billions of dollars of intellectual property.  China has also made her intentions brutally clear on several occasions, in myriad ways.   Unfortunately, political being that he is, Sam Locklear is deaf to the sounds of a regional adversary playing power politics when his civilian masters deny that power politics even exist (except domestically, to get elected).
China as a force to be reckoned with has been something past Administrations have had to deal with, for sure.  Not all of them (Loral?) have done so prudently.  The continued shrinking of the US Navy under George W. Bush prevented a major US maritime presence in the Western Pacific while two wars unfolded in the Middle East.   But what has happened since January 2009 has been an emboldened China seeing a reluctant and amateurish Unites States foreign policy that lacks resolve and is determined to cut the very capabilities which would be most useful in deterring Chinese expansion in WESTPAC at the expense of our allies.   China smells blood (and opportunity), has greatly accelerated its efforts to establish complete regional hegemony, and has met with next to no opposition from the United States.   The US acquiescence to the Chinese ADIZ is a case in point.  Which is why you see Japan, and the Republic of Korea, India, and even the Philippines scrambling to build sufficient naval and military power to oppose China .  Those nations, all of the US allies, see a vacillating and irresolute America befuddled by the rules at the grown-up table.  American response to China’s increased aggression has been decidedly muted, while China’s proclamations of sovereignty over vast areas of the Pacific, and its military and diplomatic measures to cement that sovereignty have gone largely unchallenged.   The US, it is perceived, lacks the will to stand up to China.  Few indicators make that as clear as appointing someone like Sam Locklear to command PACOM.   Patrick Cronan at CNAS verbalizes it well.

Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, recently told The Washington Times that the U.S. is facing “a long game” when it comes to China.

Developments such as Beijing’s air defense zone may be “small tactical gambits,” Mr. Cronin said. But if the U.S. does not “respond and we don’t remain strong, then China will unilaterally redefine the region in a way that we do not recognize.”

President Obama’s promise that Defense cuts will not compromise US presence in the Pacific is being seen by both allies and enemies as largely disingenuous (and false) rhetoric more suited for the campaign trail than in diplomatic policy discussions.  The US position vis á vis China has been deteriorating for some time, and we are in danger of the bottom positively falling out.  Our Pacific allies sense that their ability to choose between Washington and Beijing may be nearing an end.   Sam Locklear seems to just be getting it.  Like the old woman who peeks out the front door of her house while the upstairs is engulfed in flames to ask the fireman rushing in, “Is there a problem?”

So when Admiral Locklear says “Our historic dominance that most of us in this room have enjoyed is diminishing, no question”, the first response that comes to mind would be that of my Senior Drill Instructor.  “NO SH*T, Sherlock!  What was your first clue?”   But this isn’t Marine OCS, and Locklear isn’t working a squad tactical problem.    Unfortunately, clueless as he is, he is a symptom of the disease, which permeates Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon.  I do hope the illness is not fatal.

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Robert Farley isn’t a huge fan of the Air Force.

And he’s pretty willing to tell you all about it.

I haven’t read his  book (though if he sends me a review copy, I’ll be happy to).

But he’s been more than willing to engage in a debate on what is the best role for airpower, and what is the structure that best provides it.

Farley penned a piece titled “Ground the Air Force” laying out his arguments.

The United States needs air power, but it does not need an air force.

In fact, it never really did. The U.S. Air Force, founded in 1947, was the product of a decades-long campaign by aviation enthusiasts inside the U.S. Army. These advocates argued that air power could not achieve its promise under the leadership of ground commanders. With memories of the great bombing campaigns of World War II still fresh and a possible confrontation with the Soviets looming, the nation’s would-be cold warriors determined that the age of air power was upon them. But it wasn’t. Advocates of an independent air force had misinterpreted the lessons of World War II to draw faulty conclusions about air power’s future.

That piece, of course, invited a response by COL Robert Spalding:

Robert Farley (“Ground the Air Force,” December 19, 2013) is so far wide of the mark that he brings to mind the difference between the miss-by-a-mile bombs of World War II and the precision-guided bombs of today that fly through windows. The defense establishment is certainly in need of new ideas. But getting rid of the U.S. Air Force will do nothing to make the Pentagon more efficient or effective. In fact, such a move would do grave damage to our national security.

Farley argues that Pentagon planners pushed for an independent air force because they had “misinterpreted the lessons of World War II” to conclude that strategic bombing — massive air raids on enemy cities — represented the future of warfare. But military leaders favored an independent air force because of what they had learned from the North African campaign: When ground commanders controlled aircraft, the results were disastrous. As Colonel F. Randall Starbuck writes in Air Power in North Africa, 1942–43: “One example, relayed by General Doolittle, was the incident where a ground commander asked him to provide a fighter to cover a Jeep that was going out to repair a broken telephone line. He refused. The plane that would have wasted its time on that mission shot down two German Me-109s.”

Farley’s counterpoint is here:

Was the jeep ambushed? Were communications restored? How critical were these communications to maintaining offensive momentum? Did anyone bother to ask? Maybe Doolittle did, and maybe he had good reason to believe that, on that day, one of his planes could catch and kill two Bf109s.

Col. Starbuck doesn’t tell us, and Col. Spalding doesn’t seem to care.
And this, in short, is why some people don’t trust the Air Force with airpower.

Deciding how to use scarce resources is the essence of military decision-making. Every commander will run short of assets, and have to weigh values in order to decide to let some missions go while pursuing others. Air superiority is surely a critically important mission, but so is communications maintenance and ground force protection. Pre-emptively choosing one mission over the others amounts to dogmatism, not decision-making.

In the West, seemingly based solely on the precedent set by the establishment of the Royal Air Force in 1918, we tend to see forces divided into armies, navies,  and air forces. A nice, simple triad of services. Of course, then you get various adjuncts, such as the Marines and the Coast Guard. And other additions, such as Naval Aviation, Marine Corps Aviation, Army aviation, and so on.

But it is not graven upon stone that there must be such a triumvirate of services. Let us assume the Air Force were to be abolished, or at a minimum, significantly reorganized. What might such a force structure look like?

One possible example is the Soviet Union.

Really?

Sure, why not? We in the Army have been stealing tactics and operational procedures and even equipment design ideas from them for decades. Why not organizational ideas? The Soviet Union was, and Russia continues to be, primarily a continental power, while the US is primarily a seapower. But the Soviet model can still serve to show what a different organization might look like.

The primary force of the USSR was the Soviet Army. The senior leadership of the Ministry of Defense, at the joint level, was always Army. The geographical district commanders (or Fronts)  for the various theaters of the USSR were always Army. This provided a unity of command. Obviously, in the US forces, having some geographical theaters under Army command makes less sense. The Pacific Command has long been seen as the property of the Navy, and with good reason, both historically, and operationally.

The Soviet Navy, even when it grew to be a true blue water fleet, was always seen as a supporting force, and while its various fleets may not have been under the direct operational control of an Army theater commander, the needs of that theater commander greatly influenced the tasking of each fleet.

In addition to Naval Air Forces as part of the Soviet Navy, the Soviet Union operated three “air forces.”

The first, Frontal Aviation (or VVS), consisted of what we roughly consider tactical airpower. Frontal Aviation Armies were directly subordinate to their Front commander. That didn’t mean they were solely dedicated to close air support, but rather this subordination resulted in close synchronization of effort between land and air power to achieve the Front Commander’s mission.

The second Soviet air force was the national air defense force, or PVO Strany. Tasked with the air defense of the Motherland, PVO operated directly under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense, and was not concerned with providing air defense to deployed forces. PVO  had their own air defense radars, command and control system, and even completely different aircraft designs. PVO fulfilled a role very similar to our own  Air Defense Command, though it was a completely independent service, unlike ADC which was a subordinate command of the USAF.

The final “air force” wasn’t really and air force, but instead was an independent armed service devoted specifically to the Soviet Union’s nuclear deterrent. The Strategic Rocket Forces had little interaction with the other branches. Unlike in our own Air Force, where missileers were (and still are) often considered those who couldn’t hack it as pilots, the SRF was considered the very elite of the entire Soviet armed forces.

I’m not advocating that we suddenly adopt a similar structure for our own DoD. But changing times argue for a look at just what roles and missions we expect our services to do. And looking at how other forces address similar problems can stimulate thinking as we look to our own challenges.

And if the Air Force wants to remain relevant in the 21st Century, maybe they can come up with better arguments to address critics such as Farley than they have to date.

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Wild Weasel

With the late 1965 introduction of the S-75 (SA-2) surface to air missile system in North Vietnam, the US Air Force began looking for methods to counter this deadly threat to its strike forces. Locating and suppressing batteries of SAMs was a challenging role, hampered not just by the difficulty of the mission, but by poor equipment. Two seat F-100F fighters were the first platform used. But they had virtually no sensors beyond the human eyeball. The F-100 also had limited range and payload. The crews of these SAM hunters lacked almost everything but sheer guts. They cheerfully took on the role of attacking not just into the teeth of the enemy’s defenses, but the very defenses themselves. This “in your face” boldness led them to name themselves the Wild Weasels. Their motto, YGBSM, similarly noted their valor.

Soon after they began operations, the need for more range and payload, and room for growth for sensors lead the Air Force to assign the Wild Weasels the F-105F two-seat operational trainer version of the Thud. Of 143 “F” models built, eventually 54 were converted to EF-105F* configuration. Added Radar Homing and Warning devices and receivers allowed these Wild Weasels to locate, triangulate, and range the location of SAM sites based on the transmissions of their search and fire control radars.

Even more useful, the EF-105F added the AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missile to the available weapons. The Shrike, modified from the design of the AIM-7 Sparrow III missile, had a passive seeker that homed in on the fire control radar of the SA-2. Vietnamese radar operators could avoid the Shrike by shutting down their radar, but while that radar was down, the Weasel crews could close in and attack with conventional bombs and cluster munitions. More importantly, while the SAM site was suppressed, the main body of a strike force could carry out their mission unmolested by SAMs.

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Further improvements to the “F” led to the F-105G** which served as the Air Force’s primary Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) platform until replaced by the F-4G Advanced Wild Weasel. The F-4G was replaced shortly after Desert Storm by the F-16CJ Wild Weasel.

*Not an official designation, it was still handy to differentiate them from vanilla two-seater Thuds.

**This time an official designation.

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Pentagon Shocked By Wave Of ‘Knockout Game’ Attacks

From the Duffel Blog, via our friends at Op-For.

Admit it, you have fantasized about just such a game if you have spent any time at all with senior Officers or Staff NCOs who talk to you as if you would starve for your own imbecility were it not for their wisdom and constant micromanagement.   I mean, after 28 years commissioned service, my list is probably a page and a half long at this point.

According to Pentagon chief historian Dr. Erin Mahan, speaking from behind a locked door, knockout attacks can be traced back to the late nineties, when Marine generals Charles Krulak and Anthony Zinni used to greet each other by punching each other as hard as they could in the face.

Good satire has more than a whiff of reality.

 

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F-16 Diverterless Supersonic Inlet (DSI)

F-16 Fighting Falcon Fighter Jet With Diverterless Supersonic Inlet  (DSI) (2)

This F-16 was modified with a diverterless supersonic inlet (DSI) for testing in support of Lockheed’s F-35 program.

From Wikipedia:

(DSI) is a type of jet engine air intake used by some modern combat aircraft to control air flow into their engines. It consists of a “bump” and a forward-swept inlet cowl, which work together to divert boundary layer airflow away from the aircraft’s engine while compressing the air to slow it down from supersonic speed. The DSI can be used to replace conventional methods of controlling supersonic and boundary layer airflow for speeds of up to Mach 2, such as the intake ramp and inlet cone, which are more complex, heavy and expensive

The F-16 DSI was first flown 11 December 1996 and test program lasted twelve flights flown in nine days in December 1996.

F-16 Fighting Falcon Fighter Jet With Diverterless Supersonic Inlet  (DSI) (5)

F-16 Fighting Falcon Fighter Jet With Diverterless Supersonic Inlet  (DSI) (3)

F-16 Fighting Falcon Fighter Jet With Diverterless Supersonic Inlet  (DSI) (1)

F-16 Fighting Falcon Fighter Jet With Diverterless Supersonic Inlet  (DSI) (4)

In addition to the F-35, DSI has also been used in the JF-17 Thunder:

jf-17_thunder_dsi_intake_01

and the J-10B:

J-10B

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Spectre Gunships Face Retirement

Relax. It’s the older “H” models. The U-Boats will still be doing pylon turns over the troops.

We let troops retire after 20 years. I think after well over 40 years, we can let a bird retire.

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Cutaway Thursday: MiG-31 “Foxhound”

 Work and personal commitments kept me from posting last week so here’s one a day early:

3106

 

The Aviationist has an interesting story on the Foxhound “intercepting” the Blackbird:

“The scheme for intercepting the SR-71 was computed down to the last second, and the MiGs had to launch exactly 16 minutes after the initial alert. (…) They alerted us for an intercept at 11.00. They sounded the alarm with a shrill bell and then confirmed it with a loudspeaker. The appearance of an SR-71 was always accompanied by nervousness. Everyone began to talk in frenzied voices, to scurry about, and react to the situation with excessive emotion.”

I’ve heard rumors of Foxhound intercepts of Blackbirds before and given the technology involved in the Foxhound’s Zaslon (it was the world’s first  passive electronically scanned array installed on a fighter) I suppose it’s possible. At certain aspects the -71s RCS is large enough to get a decent return for a fire control solution.

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Rarely-seen Photographs from the Korean War

These were published in the Denver Post back in 2010, but are worth a look.   Many are incredibly poignant, and show the misery and hardship of what war was like in Korea, and what it would be like today.   It is important to note the conditions, the terrain, and the utter exhaustion of the men in many of the photographs, especially as we decide to debate the physical demands of combat arms.

Unforgotten War

Korean War

Korean War

Korean War

There are more than a hundred of them.  Worth a cup of coffee and half an hour to look at all of them.

H/T

Miss Robin

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The Banya in the Arctic Circle

One of the more interesting trips I ever had as part of my Russian Flight Escort assignment was a trip to Russia to escort an AN-12 from Tiksi AB, Russia to Eielson AFB, AK for a joint Arctic Search and Rescue exercise between the Russian and US Air Force’s.

Tiksi had the distinction of being the most Northern permanent Air Base in the world (it has since been closed). We were going there in January. I shiver just thinking about it 20 years later.

Due to the high visibility of this exercise, the Assistant US Air attaché (a Lt Col) from the embassy in Moscow would be coming along and was going to be staying with the Russians for the duration. I was just along for the flight into Alaska.

I met up with the Attaché in Moscow and the next day we hopped on an IL-18 (4 engine turboprop) that was the personal plane of the Russian 3 star for the flight from Moscow to Tiksi.

IL-18

IL-18.

The Lt Col AF Attaché was a great guy (ethnic Ukrainian) who spoke fluent Russian. Unfortunately for this assignment, he was not a good drinker.

I was up front in the passenger section and the Lt Col was in the rear of the aircraft in the VIP compartment with the Russian 3 star and all of his staff.

About three hours into the six-hour flight a Russian Colonel came up to me, shook my shoulder to wake me up and invite me back to the VIP section.

Turns out the vodka was flowing and the Lt Col was not doing so well. I took his place at the table with the 3 star and told jokes/stories when it was my turn.  I had to hold the Lt Col’s head as he puked in the lav on our approach into Tiksi.

Tiksi

IL-18 getting deiced at Tiksi AB. Sun is out, so it must be summer.

We landed and it was -40C. That’s where Celsius and Fahrenheit meet on the back side. This is were the Russian tradition of always taking off your gloves to shake hands really started to suck. I had my AF-issue extreme cold weather mittens on over flight gloves so of course every damn officer on base came out to welcome us to their frozen base. The good news is you really can’t feel the frostbite once the appendage is numb (this will come into play later in the story). It was also very dark. In January in the Arctic Circle it’s always dark. You get a bit of glow on the horizon for about an hour in the morning. That’s it, daylight complete.

We got the Lt Col to bed and then I had to fill in for him for the afternoon and evening. The 3-star’s valet picked me up from the VIP quarters and drove me to the ‘Banya’ on base. It’s basically a sauna/steamroom and it is a very old school Russian tradition.

Banya

The Banya, complete with Birch twigs. Sadly, no girls are involved in this story.

I walk in and the General is already there. He starts taking of his uniform. All of it. EVERYTHING.

So I do too. We’re soon sitting buck ass nekkid in the banya when his valet comes in with champagne.

Drinking champagne naked with a Russian 3 star. Well, at least it can’t get any weirder than that.

Wrong.

Next thing I know he starts hitting me in the back with birch twigs. It’s a Russian thing, meant to improve circulation, but I was not warned of this. After a minute or so he hands the twigs to me so I can reciprocate. I do. Sadly, that was not the gayest thing I did that night.

After our mutual flagellation session the valet brought in chilled vodka and strawberries. That was nice, and it was soon time to go. The General informed me that since this was my first time in a Russian Banya I needed to ‘complete the experience’.  This involved diving naked into the snowbank outside. Evidently it is healthy to ‘close up the pores’ after sweating so much. So I did it. At 1:00 am, -40C.

It also does a great job of ‘shrinking the penis into the mid-section’.

The next day we hopped on the AN-12 (C-130’ski) for our flight across Siberia to Fairbanks, AK. The trip over was relatively uneventful and thankfully no one got naked.

Next up will be some stories about a few of my trips with Yeltsin. Will try to do one a week until my temporary retirement is over and I go back to 737 school in January.

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The One With The Monkey

In 1992 I was offered a special duty assignment at Air Force Special Activities Command (AFSAC). It was to serve as a Russian Flight Escort Officer for Operation CONSTANT SHOTGUN.

Constant Shotgun photo IMG_zps77ed1a5c.jpg

At the time I was a young Captain (O-3) flying C-21’s (Lear 35A’s) out of Norton AFB, CA, and it was a bolt out of the blue. Granted, I was a Soviet Studies major (Russian language minor) from the Air Force Academy and drawing Russian language pay, but it still took me by surprise. I’d never heard of this program.

Mainly out of perversity (this was STRONGLY against the advice of the ‘airlift career manager’ at Air Force Personnel Command), I accepted the assignment and PCS’d to Washington, DC.

It turned out to be the craziest, weirdest ride of my career. It delayed my eventual exit from the AF a few years and probably cost me a few thousand seniority numbers by the time I eventually left active duty and joined the airlines, but it was a one of a kind experience.

The gist of the job is that Russian/former Soviet aircraft military and diplomatic aircraft were required to have an Air Force Pilot or Nav in the cockpit when flying in US airspace. Our role was mainly to ensure they flew their assigned routing (cleared by AF reps at the FAA and State Dept to avoid ‘sensitive’ areas).  The (then) classified part of the job was that we were actually Intel officers and trained to observe and report items of interest. That part of the job faded a bit as the Soviet Union broke up and, in reality, our main role evolved into being translators and flight safety advocates (many more stories on that in the future).

The standard practice for the escorts was to join the Russian crew at their last point of departure prior to entering the US and leave at the first landing out of the US. In this case I had to pick up an AN-24 leaving Tijuana and flying through the US to Vladivostok, Russia.

This mission was unusual because it was an Antonov factory aircraft and crew coming off a six-month ‘wet-lease’ to Peru.  Why they were flying under a diplomatic clearance, I never found out, but the AF rep in the FAA wanted me on board so off I went.

I met the crew in Tijuana and they looked ROUGH. I was used to flying with the very best of the Russian diplomatic (a special division of Aeroflot) and military crews. These guys looked, well, they looked like they’d spent six months in Peru.

All of the aircraft Russian aircraft I’d flown to this point were large transports, AN-124, TU-154, IL-62, IL-76, IL-86, etc. Normally I sit next to the radio operator or Nav in a Russian cockpit and they give me a headset so I can help out on the radios. In the case of the AN-24 that was not an option. It’s a small, two pilot cockpit. After introductions and helping them file the flight plan we walked out to the aircraft. The Captain pointed to the right seat and said, ‘Садитесь, пожалуйста’ (Sit down, please), so I sat down, strapped in and started figuring out where stuff was (flaps, gear, radios). I worked the comms, got the clearance, and off we went to Fresno, CA.

Once we got to cruising altitude I started hearing this horrible screeching and screaming from the back of the aircraft. I looked over at the Captain and he said, ‘Расслабьтесь, это всего лишь обезьяна.

I translated it to mean, ‘Relax, it is just the обезьяна’. What the hell was обезьяна? I was a DLI grad and conversationally fluent, but I was drawing a blank. Then the screeching started again. It clicked. I looked at the Captain and said, ‘Monkey?’.

‘Yes! It is just the Monkey!’

Holy crap! I threw off my shoulder harness and ran back to the cargo box where a monkey was literally going ape-shit. We’re talking throwing-feces-pissed-off. He was bouncing off the walls and the cargo pallets while the Russian mechanics were trying to catch him.

This was long before the Internet and the concept of ‘memes’ began, but I think I was the first to do the ‘double face palm’. Well, at least the first to do it at FL 190 in a Russian turbo prop.

My first thought was, ‘we’re all going to jail’. These guys had just smuggled some random monkey from Peru into the US. Hell, it was probably on some endangered species list. I was thinking about all of the people I needed to call once we landed in Fresno: State Department, Customs and Ag (already scheduled to meet us), FAA, Russian consulate in San Fran, and Animal control? The zoo? PETA?

What a shit sandwich! Then I decided…screw it, let’s try and brazen our way through.

I told the Russians: ‘when we land no one talks in English but me. If Customs and/or Ag ask you a question, look to me and I will translate the question and your answer. You guys have only two jobs: Make sure your paperwork and passports are ready as soon as we open the door and for fuck’s sake hide the damn monkey!’

I did the talking and they hid the monkey.

I flew with those guys for 3 more days as we hopped our way up the west coast, through Alaska and the Aleutian Islands to Vladivostok.

At Vladivostok I waved goodbye to the crew and to my new friend, the Monkey named Ivan. I doubt he survived the Russian winter, but he had one hell of a ride.

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F-111 Crew Escape Module

The post the other day about Martin-Baker ejection seats didn’t go into a lot of detail on alternatives. One such alternative in vogue in the 1960s and 1970s was the crew escape module.

Ejections are hard on the pilot under the very  best of circumstances. The accelerations, the wind blast and flailing virtually guarantee at least some injuries to the pilot. The Mach 2 speeds of jets in the 1960s raised the question of how a crew would survive ejection at speed and altitude. Rather than forcing a pilot out of his nice warm (if doomed) cockpit, designers decided to treat the entire cockpit as an escape pod, and slice it from the jet.

As it turned out, ejections at supersonic speeds turned out to be vanishingly rare, and even then, a surprising number of pilots on conventional seats survived.  And designing an escape pod for a tactical aircraft forced a lot of penalties upon a plane. First and foremost, any system using a pod was quite a bit heavier than conventional seats. And weight is something any good aircraft designer would sell his mother to reign in. The additional complexity of any pod system (think how hard it becomes to design in all the wiring, hydraulics and avionics and the explosives needed to shear them and the pod in an emergency) meant a lot more design, engineering and testing time had to be front loaded on the introduction of any jet, and the maintenance load increased on the service phase of a jet’s life.

The pod on the F-111 was generally popular, and quite successful. But the penalties and costs were such that few other aircraft have used this approach to crew escape since.

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