Category Archives: history

Pierre Sprey and the Fighter Mafia got it wrong.

In this post, I damned Pierre Sprey’s insights into the weapons development, particularly in aircraft.

Sprey was a part of the Fighter Mafia, alongside other notables, such as John Boyd, around whom something of a cult has formed. Indeed, your humble scribe is a member of a Facebook group devoted to Boyd and his theories.

But it is important to remember that while the Fighter Mafia had an outsized influence on the development of what would become the F-15, F-16, and eventually, the F/A-18, it’s even more important to remember that those three aircraft are all highly successful largely in spite of the Fighter Mafia, not because of them.

In the mid to late 1960s, appalled by the poor air to air combat record of the Air Force in Vietnam, the Fighter Mafia used Boyd’s E/M theory to argue successfully that the envisioned replacement for the F-4 Phantom should focus on maneuverability.

Eventually, that replacement became the F-15 Eagle, which, to be sure, is a highly maneuverable fighter. But the Fighter Mafia hated it. It’s a big, big fighter. Two primary factors led to its large size. First, fuel. For long range, you need a huge fuel fraction- that is, the percentage of gross take off weight dedicated to fuel. But the more fuel you carry, the more power you need to maintain performance and maneuverability. And of course, you get more power from bigger engines. Which need more fuel… The second factor driving the size of the Eagle was the radar. Radar range is largely a function of antenna array size. To achieve longer detection ranges, you need a larger array. The size of the antenna array ultimately has a large influence on the aerodynamic design of the rest of the aircraft. That is, a big radar results in a big airplane.

The Fighter Mafia also hated that the Eagle’s primary weapon was a quartet of AIM-7 Sparrow III missiles. To be sure, the Eagle also carried four AIM-9 Sidewinders, and an M61A1 20mm Vulcan cannon, in effect, the same armament as the late model F-4E it was to replace. The Fighter Mafia loathed the very idea of the Sparrow missile, with its heavy weight, required heavy radar, and the complexity and cost it imposed on the airplane. The rest of the Air Force, however, saw the Sparrow as the main battery, and the other weapons were just along for the ride, as they imposed a minimal penalty in weight and performance. The Eagle with its huge radar and beyond-visual-range, all aspect Sparrows would knock down MiGs long before the MiGs had a chance to maneuver against the Eagles. The Fighter Mafia did win some battles in the design of the Eagle- “Not a pound for Air to Ground” being one.

Overall the Eagle was the antithesis of what the Fighter Mafia sought in a new plane. They wanted, in effect, to out MiG-21 the MiG-21. They saw the perfect fighter as a lightweight, single engine plane armed with two Sidewinders, a cannon, and a simple radar along the lines of the APQ-153 for cueing the Sidewinders and gun-laying.

The Fighter Mafia also realized the cost of the Eagle would preclude the Air Force from buying nearly as many jets as they had F-4s to replace. And so, through some bureaucratic slight of hand, they convinced the DoD to open up a procurement program for what became the Lightweight Fighter (LWF) program.

Eventually, two prototypes would emerge from LWF, the General Dynamics YF-16, and the Northrop YF-17. At first glance, the Fighter Mafia would appear to have won. Both were small, very lightweight (well, compared to an Eagle), armed with Sidewinders and a gun, and with minimal radar.

Pierre Sprey did have a major influence at about this time. He was the driving force behind the competitive fly-off between the two prototypes.  At his insistence, the fly-off was conducted by operational test pilots, not engineering test pilots. That is, rather than pilots with a focus on ensuring the plane would meet some esoteric numerical data point, they wanted pilots who would evaluate the plane in terms of their experience with actual combat flying. Additionally, the test pilots would fly both types, giving them the opportunity to compare and contrast both. Both the objective data, and the subjective impressions of the pilots would influence the selection. In the end, the YF-16 won out.  The YF-17, after a major redesign effort, would be emerge as the F/A-18 Hornet now used by the Navy and Marine Corps.

While the YF-16 was almost exactly what the Fighter Mafia sought, the Air Force wasn’t entirely happy with it. Changes between the YF-16 and the production F-16A were extensive.

The Fighter Mafia saw the F-16 as the ne plus ultra of air to air combat. But the Air Force didn’t see much point to a second air to air fighter competing for budget dollars with the F-15 Eagle. What they did see a pressing need for was a light fighter bomber to replace hundreds of F-4 Phantoms, F-105 Thunderchiefs, and A-7D Corsairs. And so they gave the F-16 a significant air to ground capability. Additionally, advances in electronics and computing technology lead the Air Force to give the F-16 the APG-66  multi-function radar for both air and surface search, and air to air and air to ground weapons aiming. A few years later, the F-16C model began to enter service, and with it came the ability to use the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air to Air Missile, or AMRAAM. Where the Fighter Mafia envisioned an F-16 entering combat with no more external stores than a pair of Sidewinders, today an F-16 in combat typically carries two AMRAAMs, two Sidewinders, two to four Laser Guided Bombs, two 370 gallon drop tanks, and a jammer pod. To say the Fighting Falcon has strayed from the ideal of the Fighter Mafia is something of an understatement.

So where did the Fighter Mafia go wrong? They carefully analyzed the shortcomings of US airpower in air to air combat in Vietnam, and had a very plausible theory (E/M) that showed the way to overcome those failures.

The Fighter Mafia’s mistake was a failure to realize that many of the problems the US faced in Vietnam would be overcome by technology, much of it not directly related to the fighter aircraft themselves. Other issues were political or doctrinal, and would be overcome by training.

For instance, much of the bad reputation of the F-4 Phantom in combat was related to the early, all missile armed C and D models. Especially early in the war when they were equipped with the early AIM-7D model Sparrow, coupled with a requirement that all targets be visually identified, that poor air to air reputation was somewhat valid. But by the end of the Vietnam conflict, the vastly improved AIM-7E2 Sparrow was much more reliable, and a much better missile from a tactical point of view. Coupled with that technical improvement was early work on what we would today call Non-Cooperative Threat Recognition allowed US aircrews to begin using the Sparrow in the way it was intended, yielding much better results. Looking at the highest scoring ace of the Vietnam War, Chuck DeBellevue, we see that four of his six kills were with the radar guided Sparrow, and only two with the Sidewinder.

Similarly, the ability of airborne warning and control to definitively designate potential targets as hostile was on the cusp of being when the Fighter Mafia was arguing for a fighter that would, by design, be forced to merge to visual range with the enemy. The old EC-121 radar planes were being replaced by the vastly more capable E-3A Sentry.

Vastly improved training in air to air combat maneuvering also greatly changed the performance of US aircrews. Early failures in Vietnam were not merely a symptom of poor airframe design. Instead, prior to Vietnam, a very large percentage of the training time was spent on the tactical nuclear strike mission, as well as conventional air to ground training. Little thought was given to realistic air combat maneuvering. All these factors gave an unrealistic impression of the inability of the platforms such as the F-4 to succeed in the air superiority mission.

With continue improvement in missiles, in training, and in command and control measures allowing beyond visual range engagements, we’ve actually seen the virtual disappearance of the swirling dogfight the Fighter Mafia insisted the F-16 be built for. Looking at US Air Force air to air victories after Vietnam, the vast majority have been made with the long range Sparrow or the AMRAAM. Very few fights involved more than one sustained turn. Instead, the most common Eagle tactic is referred to as The Wall, with four Eagles line abreast using their powerful radars and Sparrows/AMRAAMs to sweep aside enemy fighters with “in your face” shots.

One of the prime drivers in the design of the F-22A Raptor was the need for very high, very fast flight because that high/fast combination gives a missile an even greater standoff range than one launched lower and slower.

And it is not just the US that increasingly saw that the long range standoff attack was the future. The Soviet MiG-29 and Su-27 were both primarily armed with the  R-27 (NATO reporting name AA-10 Alamo) and later the R-77 (NATO reporting name AA-12 Adder) long range radar guided missiles. European nations use either the AMRAAM or a variety of similar long range missiles. Had the F-16 become the Fighter Mafia wanted, it would be severely handicapped in the face of such BVR capable opponents.

It’s interesting that John Boyd, later famous for his OODA loop, would himself, as a member of the Fighter Mafia, arguably make a grave error in his own OODA loop in justifying his vision of the Lightweight Fighter.

OODA.Boyd

 

Having observed the poor air to air performance of the Air Force in Vietnam, his orientation led him to mistaken assumptions about what the future of air combat would look like.

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The CDC and Enterovirus D68; Another Political Denial

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Pushed into the background with the outbreak of Ebola in Texas, and possibly Ohio, and other locations, is the stunning increase of the deadly Enterovirus D68.  The EV D68 is the illness that strikes with symptoms similar to polio, affecting children almost entirely.   Between 1970 and 2006, this virus was considered exceedingly rare.  In the 36 year study, only 26 cases had been reported in the United States, an average of just under one case per year.  In 2014, the number of cases has reached 691.  What has happened to cause an increase of more than 960% in this rare and potentially deadly pathogen?  Well, let’s see.  Barack Obama has allowed untold numbers of illegal immigrant children into our country, our cities and towns, our communities, and our schools.  Most are from Central America, an area where such diseases are relatively common.  The locations of these children have been kept from the American public.  How many children?  Thousands and tens of thousands.  Where are there clusters of EV D68 cases?  Kansas City.  Chicago.  Areas where significant numbers if illegal immigrant children have been moved.   What has the CDC to say in the matter?

“There is no evidence that unaccompanied children brought EV-D68 into the United States, we are not aware of any of these children testing positive for the virus”

The wording would lead one to assume that these many tens of thousands of illegal immigrant children were tested for EV D68.  Which is, of course, not the case.  It also might cause one to believe that the CDC has the slightest idea what diseases these illegal immigrants brought in with them.  Such as drug-resistant tuberculosis.  For which the CDC remained ominously silent.  While the medical staffs of the holding facilities were forced to be so.  The CDC, in reality, has no real idea what pathogens are crossing our borders, even if what they do know paints a grim and dangerous picture.

So one can take the “There is no evidence” claim by the CDC regarding EV D68 at face value, or one can fairly sensibly take into consideration the dismally inept performance of the CDC in handling the Ebola situation and unbroken track record of deliberate falsehoods promulgated by this Administration (F&F, IRS, Benghazi, Justice subpoenas, ISIS, etc.) and come to the reasonable conclusion that what the CDC means by “no evidence” is that “There is no evidence we would dare make public” regarding the explosion of the deadly enterovirus and any possible link to the wholesale dumping of illegal immigrant children into America’s cities and towns.    Much like the idea that restricting flights from ebola-affected countries in west Africa won’t do anything to reduce ebola cases in the US, but restricting the travel of US citizens possibly exposed, somehow would.
In essence, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have done precious little of either.  Instead, they have served as a quasi-legitimizing mouthpiece for Barack Obama’s far-left agenda (gun control) and his dangerously bankrupt policies and decisions.  However, the credibility of the organization, and its parent Health and Human Services (HHS), is at very low and still-sinking ebb (Obamacare, anyone?).  The ebola situation is just a part of that loss of credibility.  The alarming outbreak of enterovirus D68 is yet another.  It remains to be seen which will be more serious, more disruptive, or will kill and cripple more Americans.
While the President of the United States and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cannot be held responsible for ensuring such outbreaks didn’t happen in the US, they sure as hell can be held responsible for ensuring that they did.

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Filed under Around the web, Defense, history, obama, Politics, stupid, Uncategorized, weapons

Mr. Fusion

Commercially viable fusion power. For my entire life, it’s been about 30 years away. It was 30 years ago, and it is now.

But maybe…

There have been not one, but two major announcements in the field.

First, the University of Washington.

And now, Lockheed Skunk Works, of all people!

The implications are incredible. First generations plants would prove both the business model, and provide practical experience to build further improvements. After all, development of the steam engine didn’t stop with Watt.

Large scale use of fusion produced electricity would virtually end the use of coal. Use of other fossil fuels would also be curtailed. Beyond that, I’m sure you have ideas as well.

And of course, I can’t wait for the first fusion powered submarine, which I propose should be named USS Nautilus.

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The First Troop of the Philadelphia City Cavalry

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece on what is probably the most unique unit in the entire Army.

Formed even before the beginning of the American Revolution, FTPCC has been at the service of our nation ever since.

First Troop members ride in a George Washington memorial event in Philadelphia in 2006.

Gregg Connell ’s enlistment into his National Guard cavalry unit went like this:

Already well-lubricated at the armory bar, members of the troop passed around a wooden box. Those who wanted to accept Spc. Connell dropped in white marbles. Those opposed, black marbles.

White marbles outnumbering black, Spc. Connell was summoned into the armory’s mess hall, where, beneath oil paintings of bewhiskered men in silver-buttoned tunics and helmets topped with bearskin crests, the captain pinned a fabric rosette to his blue blazer. Spc. Connell saluted and signed a muster roll with names dating back to 1774.

Then he stood on a chair and sang a selection from the troop’s big book of bawdy songs: “Take It Out at the Ballgame.”

So it was that the 24-year-old aspiring architect joined what is probably the most idiosyncratic unit in the U.S. military: First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry.

Hopefully the rest of the article isn’t behind the paywall for you. It’s well worth reading.

Here’s the thing, because the unit existed before the Militia Act of 1792, and subsequent revisions, it has been permitted, by law, to continue its traditions, such as election of officers.

Now, every member has to enlist in the Pennsylvania National Guard before standing for membership in FTPCC. There’s no guarantee they’ll get into the troop.

And while the troop seems to focus mostly on social events, understand, that is in addition to performing their actual Guard duties. That means a weekend of honest to goodness Army type drill each month, and then the troop specific stuff on a separate occasion. And troopers are expected to donate their drill pay to the troop for maintenance of troop specific property, such as the tack gear for their horses. The taxpayer isn’t funding the historical aspects nor the social aspects.

The troop or members of the troop have been activated and served in or during almost every war in our nation’s history.

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Jerry Hendrix Discusses Rep. Randy Forbes’ Assertion That the US Navy Has No Strategy

Jerry Hendrix, late of the Naval Historical Center and now a fellow at CNAS, addresses a letter from Randy Forbes (R-VA) to CNO Admiral Greenert.  Read it all on DefenseOne.com.

A response, but certainly not a rebuttal.  I think the good Captain (Retired) is spot on with his assertions of the victory of the “Technical Rickovers” over the “Humanities Mahans”.   And that the very lack of being able to verbalize the importance of seapower is a major factor in the dearth of strategic eloquence from our Navy leadership.

When senior admirals speak strategically, their message can be summarized as “we do what we do because we have always done what we have done. The oceans are peaceful, we created that environment, and there is no need to change the formula.”

Indeed.  We are saddled with senior Navy leadership that assiduously avoids meaningful discussion about why the US Navy is building a fleet so entirely contrary to the requirements of the Cooperative Strategy.  Inherent in that avoidance is the unwillingness to discuss true ship numbers, or anything approaching a proposition for a high-low mix.  We have ever-smaller numbers of very large and very expensive warships which bodes poorly for forward presence.  The result is an increasing tally of unmet requirements, and of capital ships being employed in very low-end missions, to the detriment of other missions more appropriate and important.

That shipbuilding is a colossal mess, with LCS being the poster-child, should be no surprise.  This is the Navy, after all, that has its senior leadership in critical c0mmand positions offering up such gems as the Navy’s mission not being war at sea, and the most dangerous threat to US interests in the Pacific is not China or North Korea, but global warming.  And, though less openly now, the rather curious assertion that forcible entry is no longer possible or required, that somehow the sea as strategic or operational maneuver space is an outmoded idea.

Have a read, folks, and let me know what YOU think of Hendrix’s assertion.

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Filed under Around the web, budget, China, Coast Guard, Defense, history, Iran, iraq, logistics, marines, navy, Politics, Uncategorized, war

‘Jeopardy’ As a Contact Sport

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Our dear friend Boston Maggie damn near made me spit coffee this morning with her outrage at the ignorance of the contestants.   She is all about the Revolutionary War, having lived most of her life amidst the historical geography of Boston.   So when she gets the category of “American Revolutionaries” she is guaranteed to be all but crawling through the television screen.   Of course, she calls it “Jeppidy”, but she excels at it.  No surprise, with her quick wit and impressive intellect.  Mixed with the educational boot camp of Catholic school.

And she is, of course, correct.  Jeppidy contestants are sposta be smaaaahht.  Smart enough to know George Washington wasn’t in the Navy, for cryin’ out loud.

But what happens when the category is “Civil War”?   Or “Mayberry”?    “Who is….  Mayor Pike”?

This is Johnny Gilbert speaking….

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Panetta Jumps Ship

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Former SECDEF and CIA Director Leon Panetta has released an excerpt from his memoirs, Worthy Fights, in which he lays out precisely what nearly everyone who paid any attention at all (to someone other than Chris Matthews, at least) in the last four years knew to be true.  Obama cut and ran from Iraq for domestic political reasons.  The WAPO, of all places, has the story.

(Michele) Flournoy argued our case, and those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.

Barack Obama threw away a victory paid for with the blood of American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.  He did so with the cavalier disregard of someone discarding old socks.   Obama rendered the blood and sacrifice of our service men and women moot.   Watching ISIS roll over Anbar Province, taking control of places whose names evoke such strong emotion in those who were there, Ramadi and Fallujah, Mosul, Tikrit, engendered in me a seething anger that has not really dissipated.   Anger at Barack Hussein Obama for his dereliction of duty, and for the Useful Idiots who believed his far-fetched fabrications, and who yet refuse to place responsibility for ISIS and Iraq’s current troubles on the man whose blithe and egregious neglect of his responsibilities brought on precisely what he was warned about.  It must be akin to a Vietnam Veteran watching the fall of Saigon.

Maybe it was Leon Panetta’s time in uniform (He was a United States Army Intelligence Officer) that would not allow him to ignore the despicable falsehoods perpetrated by his boss, especially when he knew the price that had been paid for the gains Obama was throwing away.  Whichever, Panetta puts paid to the lies of this Administration regarding ISIS and his headlong skedaddle from Iraq.  Panetta goes further.

To this day, I believe that a small U.S. troop presence in Iraq could have effectively advised the Iraqi military on how to deal with al-Qaeda’s resurgence and the sectarian violence that has engulfed the country.

Barack Obama has not told the truth about a single act or decision he has made.  His is the most malignant, corrosive, dishonest, and damaging presidency in the history of our nation.   The blood of the mass murders committed daily in Iraq is largely on his hands.  Not that he cares.  He got re-elected.  Much to this great nation’s detriment.

“The man who refuses to judge, who neither agrees nor disagrees, who declares that there are no absolutes and believes that he escapes responsibility, is the man responsible for all the blood that is now spilled in the world.”     – Ayn Rand

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