Family Time

I’ve got family visiting. With a little bit of luck, maybe one of the coauthors has something to post.

If not, I’mma try to do a brief follow up on the S-300 post later tonight.

In the meantime, The Who >Rolling Stones>the Beatles. Discuss.

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Texas A&M football team goes through Navy SEAL training | | Dallas Morning News

If Texas A&M head football coach Kevin Sumlin was looking for an alternative way to bring his players together, he may have found the perfect way to do just that on Thursday.

A&M assistant coaches posted pictures to their personal Twitter accounts on Thursday of Aggie football players doing similar training to what Navy SEALs or Marines go through.

Embedded image permalink

via Texas A&M football team goes through Navy SEAL training | | Dallas Morning News.

It’s not quite the real deal (for one thing, it’s run by the A&M Corps of Cadets, and not the Navy) but it’s still an excellent team building exercise.

I should note that I’ve done enough rubber boat training to know it isn’t always fun.

I should also note that the closest I’ve come to *real* SEAL training is sitting on my balcony in VIP quarters at NAB Coronado while sipping a cocktail and watching the young sailors going through BUDS make sugar cookies in the sand and run back and forth into the surf.

A tip o’ the hat to Aggiesprite, who might just be a tad biased toward A&M.



Army to review decision to have male cadets wear high heels – The Washington Post

The photos above were taken at Temple University in Philadelphia. But a similar event at Arizona State University has generated controversy this week. An anonymous post on Reddit alleged that cadets there were required to participate, and would get a negative mark for not supporting the “sharp” mission, an Army acronym for the Army’s Sexual Harrassment/Assault Response & Prevention program.

The post has generated attention from a variety of conservative publications, including RedState (Headline: “Army forces ROTC cadets to wear high heels”) NewsMax (“ROTC Cadets required to Wear High Heels with Combat Uniform”) and The Washington Times (“Army ROTC program allegedly pressured cadets to walk in high heels for ASU event”).

A spokesman for U.S. Army Cadet Command, Lt. Col. Paul Haverstick, said ROTC units across the country were directed to participate in Sexual Assault Awareness Month events on their campuses “to help stamp out sexual assault on the campuses where they have a presence.” But Maj. Gen. Peggy C. Combs, the cadets’ commanding general, did not direct how the units would do so, and had other events as options, Haverstick said.

via Army to review decision to have male cadets wear high heels – The Washington Post.

You can click through to look at the pictures if you want. You’ve likely seen them by now.

This is errant stupidity from Cadet Command. “Raising Awareness” is just about the dumbest approach to virtually any problem. If someone on campus today isn’t aware of the frenzy surrounding so-called “rape culture” on campus, they aren’t going to be enlightened by this.

As someone in the comments at WaPo notes, this is little more than the modern analog of the Maoist self flagellation for not supporting the Cultural Revolution.

Does that mean Army ROTC shouldn’t support Sexual Assault Awareness Month? No. It shouldn’t be the prime focus of ROTC. Cadets have enough on their plates between earning their degrees and fulfilling their commitments to learning military arts and sciences.

But Army ROTC could have partnered with other organizations on campus. Army Sexual Harassment and Assault Reporting and Prevention Training (SHARP) is such a good deal that soldiers have to go through it on a recurring basis. Maybe ROTC could have invited interested groups and students to attend a SHARP class and see for themselves the Army view on best practices for reporting and prevention.  Or the ROTC could have hosted a train-the-trainer program for victims advocacy groups on how best to support victims of harassment and assault.

Cadet Command can spin this any way they want, but they come out of this looking stupid, maybe not so much on campus, but certainly with their end customers, the troop units of the Army itself.



X-47B Autonomous Aerial Refueling

Just the other day Salty Dog 502, one of two X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrators actually performed in flight refueling autonomously by plugging into and taking on fuel from an Omega Aerial Refueling Services KC-707 tanker.

The X-47B is strictly a demonstrator program, designed to show that autonomous vehicles could be launched from a carrier, land aboard a carrier, operate on the flight deck, and be refueled in flight. Those were some pretty lofty goals, and we admit that we were surprised at just how successful the program was, with little or no drama involved in the various phases of the program.

It is a long, long stretch from a demonstrator type program to fielding an actual combat capable autonomous platform, and indeed there’s strong debate over just what roles any future unmanned combat aircraft should perform. Some argue that a lower risk approach of an ISR focused platform would reach the fleet sooner, at lower cost, and develop the tribal knowledge to form a firm foundation for future development, all while fulfilling an important mission not currently met by the carrier air wing. Others, such as Senator McCain insist that the expense of developing an unmanned combat air vehicle demand that it be an actual strike platform, especially in light of the challenges anti-access weapon systems such as the S-300 pose to the current airwing.

The objectives of the X-47B program have been met, and both Salty Dog 501 and 502 will shortly be retired, and almost certainly be turned into museum pieces.


Filed under navy, planes

Iranian Ships Turn Back From Yemen After Standoff – NBC

Senior defense officials tell NBC News that an Iranian convoy, believed to be carrying weapons destined for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, turned around and is headed north away from that country and toward Iran.

A potential showdown took shape Monday when American ships arrived in the Arabian Sea that U.S. officials said could intercept the convoy. An intercept also could have been carried out by Saudi Arabia, Egypt or the United Arab Emirates, which are patrolling the waters off Yemen.

via Iranian Ships Turn Back From Yemen After Standoff – NBC

It’s unlikely US warships, centered on a carrier strike group, would have actually interdicted or boarded the ships of the Iranian convoy. That likely would have been up to the Saudis or their allies.


Mind you, this is just a minor hiccup to the Iranians. Iran has been exporting terror since 1979. They’re used to setbacks like this. They suffer little or no consequences, and so they’ll just try again later. Maybe they’ll try another convoy, or maybe they’ll try a more discrete method.

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Since the Clinton Foundation is in the news…

I used to do a lot of work with non-profits. Most were a treat to work with. Some… not so much.  Private foundations are often used by the wealthy to extend their control over their assets after they die. That is, they want their fortunes to be put to use supporting causes they support, rather than being subsumed into the maw of the federal tax coffers.  A goal I support.

Then there are the foundations some uber rich like Bill and Melinda Gates run, where they put their money to work even before they die. I might not agree with their goals, but hey, it’s not my money.

Then there’s the Clinton Foundation. I think it was Ace that described the primary purpose of the Clinton Foundation as a jobs program for their political cronies in between elections.


A third of the total expenditures of the Clinton Foundation in 2013 went to salaries and benefits.

Still looking for more information on their exact distributions. Foundations have a minimum amount they must distribute annually (generally 5%) which the Clinton Foundation easily surpassed. But there are several ways that distributions, which supposedly cannot be for the benefit of the principals, can be laundered. Not saying that happened here, just that I can think of ways it easily could.

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The S-300

Recent news that Russian leader Vladimir Putin will deliver S-300 missiles to Iran has raised concerns that the US, Israel or other nations would lose any ability to use military force to delay, degrade or eliminate Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons program. Setting aside the political aspects for a moment, let us take a look at the dreaded S-300 Surface to Air Missile System (SAM).

The Russians have had a robust SAM development program just as long as the United States, and arguably had better results than the US. The Russian S-25 (NATO reporting name SA-1) Berkut and S-75 (SA-2) Dvina SAMs were roughly analogous to the US Nike Ajax, and the S-125 (SA-3) Neva was analogous the US HAWK missile. Similarly, the S-200 (SA-5) Angara fulfilled a role much as the US Nike Hercules.

A historical aside- the Soviet Union had two distinct air defense organizations. The first V-PVO, the Soviet Air Defense Forces, was a separate military service dedicated to the air defense of the Soviet Union, with its own interceptors and surface to air missile systems, and associated warning and control systems. The second was The Air Defense of Ground Troops, which was similar in mission to our own US Army Air Defense Artillery. Obviously the needs of the two forces were quite different, and so each service tended to pursue different missile systems.

That’s important, because when we talk about the S-300 SAM system, it’s important to realize that there are two entirely distinct families of S-300 with vastly different capabilities.  The S-300V family is a national defense asset. The system that Iran has purchased, and which Moscow seems ready to deliver, is the S-300P family, originally designed to protect Soviet forces in the field.

Watching US forces in Vietnam, and Israeli forces in the Yom Kippur war learn to negate the early generation Soviet SAMs through jamming and Wild Weasel tactics, the Soviet Union began development of what would become the S-300 families.  Prime objectives were better mobility for the system, to allow “shoot and scoot” capability, longer missile range, better kinematics (energy and maneuverability) for the missile, greater rate of fire, increased resistance to jamming and other ECM, and reduced vulnerability to anti-radiation missiles that homed in on the SAM battery radar.

When the Soviet Union began developing the next generation of SAMS in the 1970s, several related areas were seeing significant advancements in the state of the art, such as integrated circuits and solid state electronics, reliable digital computers for signal processing and data management, improvements in solid rocket motors, and a shift from mechanically scanned radars to phased arrays.

Let’s talk about the organization of SAM units. The basic unit is the battery, which is a roughly company sized organization, and is the smallest unit capable of independently completing an engagement. That is, it has the resources to acquire, track, identify, and engage a target. This in effect means that each battery has a command post, an acquisition (or search) radar, an engagement radar, and one or more Transporter, Erector, Launch (TEL) vehicles which hold the actual SAMs themselves.  Typically, a battery would have three TELs, each with four launch tubes, for twelve missiles. Usually two missiles are tasked to each target, so a battery can normally engage six targets before it needs to reload. Typically, two to five batteries are integrated into a battalion to cover an even wider area.

The S-300P, manufactured by Almaz, was first fielded in the late 1970s and known in the West as the SA-10 Grumble. As noted, a battery consisted of a command post, an acquisition radar, and engagement radar, and usually three TELs.

Each of the four elements is integrated to the S-300P system, but over time, each of the four elements was also upgraded, or even replaced to enhance the capability of the system. For instance, the original engagement radar, the Flap Lid (5N63), has given way to the Tomb Stone* (30N6) radar. Improvements in one element improve the overall system. And over the course of the life of the S-300P, pretty much every element has been upgraded or replaced by an improved system, to such effect that modern S-300P systems are in effect completely different systems from the original, though care has been taken to ensure backward compatibility.

Iran originally ordered S-300P in for delivery in 2008, but UN imposed sanctions, while not explicitly barring delivery, have to this point led Russia to hold off from closing the deal.  Reportedly, the Iranians will receive the S-300PMU1, also known as the SA-20A Gargoyle A.

Let’s take a look at the elements of the SA-20A.

The command post is the 54K6E.

Note the antenna for data link connection to the radars and TELs of the battery, though it can also be connected via cable.

While the system sold to Iran is reportedly the SA-20A, exactly which radars associated with the sale are included are something of a mystery. And the Russians have a vast array of, well, arrays available to chose from. One high end system is the 64N6E Big Bird.

The Big Bird is a large passively scanned phased array. In fact, the array is larger than the arrays of an Aegis radar on a US destroyer. Normally the Big Bird scans in azimuth by mechanically rotating the array, and scans in elevation by electronic beam steering. It can stop the rotation, and scan a sector of 60~90 degrees azimuth by electronic beam steering. Detection range against high flying fighter sized targets is credited as being around 150 miles. Of course, due to the earth’s curvature and the resulting radar horizon, detection range versus low altitude targets is much shorter. Consequently, many S-300P systems also use a dedicated radar for low altitude search. The radar horizon issue persists, but the radar is optimized for operating in the ground clutter environment. One such radar is the 76N6E Clam Shell.

The engagement radar is likely the 30N6E Tomb Stone phased array radar.

Rather than emitting one beam and rotating to move the beam, a phased array uses thousands of phase shifters mounted in an array (hence the name) to electronically steer the main search beam, and can also simultaneously transmit and receive secondary beams. For instance, it might be searching its engagement sector, while simultaneously also tracking half a dozen targets for engagement. It is also frequency agile, so the targets being tracked don’t receive a continuous stream of energy at the same frequency, making it harder for the target to realize it is under attack, and further, making it much more difficult to jam.

The SA-20A missile itself is the 48N6, a large, single stage missile quite similar to our own early Patriot missile. The SA-20A is cold launched vertically from a four tube launcher mounted either on a truck or semi trailer.

It is generally credited with an effective range of anywhere from 40 to 80 miles versus an aerial target. It has a maximum speed of about Mach 6, though the average speed, particularly for longer range engagements, is more typically around Mach 2 or Mach 2.5. In addition to engaging aircraft and cruise missiles, it has a limited capability against short ranged ballistic missile type targets.

The SA-20A uses a guidance technique known as Track Via Missile, or TVM. There are a couple different variations on TVM, but most work generally the same. Let’s walk through a hypothetical engagement to show how TVM works.

  1. The Big Ben acquisition radar detects a target in the battery’s sector.
  2. The target is displayed on the command posts scopes.
  3. The command post initiates the engagement by queuing the Tomb Stone engagement radar to lock onto the target.
  4. The Command post tasks a TEL to engage, and gives the 48N6 missile’s autopilot initial steering commands to follow.
  5. The missile launches vertically, then tips over to the direction of the estimated intercept point.
  6. As the missile flies toward the target, the Tomb Stone uses a radar beam to illuminate the target.
  7. A passive radar receiver in the missile receives the reflected radar energy from the target, and transmits that information in a coded stream back to the Tomb Stone radar.
  8. The Tomb Stone radar sends that message to the command post.
  9. Fire direction computers in the command post generate steering commands for the missile, and transmit them to the Tomb Stone radar.
  10. While still illuminating the target, the Tomb Stone radar also sends the coded steering commands to the missile, which generally has a receiver antenna in the back of the missile’s fins.
  11. The missile corrects its flight path.

Note that as the missile gets closer to the target, it is receiving ever more of the reflected radar energy from the target. In essence, it gets more accurate as it gets closer. TVM means that the illumination beam doesn’t need to be as powerful as a conventional semi-active homing system. Further, the missile can be somewhat cheaper, as the computing power is not on board the missile, but in the command post.

Cold Launch doesn’t always work as planned.


While the SA-20A has a formidable low altitude capability, it is optimized for the mid to high altitude counter-air role.** Since the US has, since the end of the Vietnam War, tended to operate at those altitudes to avoid low technology defenses such as gunfire and short range IR guided missiles, that poses a challenge for the US and other nations with a similar operational philosophy.

That the S-300P is a formidable air defense system is without question. But can we (or more likely, the Israelis, or less likely, the Saudis) penetrate to a target defended by it.

Well, yes, but…

As we’ve seen in air campaigns from the 1982 Israeli-Syria Bekka Valley war through Desert Storm, and Allied Force in Kosovo, the first phase of a campaign is to disintegrate the enemy Integrated Air Defense System. Some of that can be as simple as putting a Tomahawk cruise missile in the headquarter of the enemy’s air defense organization. Other weapons used to suppress or destroy air defense assets can include the Army’s ATACMs short range ballistic guided missile system. The problem is that precise targeting is needed to attack a system such as the S-300P. The S-300P can be moved in as little as five minutes. So the targeting has to be in virtually real time. To do that requires an investment in quite a few electronic warfare aircraft or other system. Once found, simply attacking it is a challenge. The maximum range of the SA-20A is nominally greater than the range of the HARM anti-radar missile normally used to attack SAM systems.

But the US, and its allies, tend to eschew taking a system versus system approach, and instead use multiple avenues to address any single platform. For instance, attacking any target protected by an S-300P would almost certainly involve significant numbers of electronic warfare aircraft, such as the EA-18G Growler, both for locating the SAM site, and for jamming the associated radars, as well as launching HARMs at them. Other supporting HARM shooters would also be used.

Other stand-off weapons targeted in real time would include the Joint Stand-Off Weapon and likely the Small Diameter Bomb, both conceived of in part to defeat long range SAM systems. All these weapons would be used on coordination with a swarm of Miniature Air Launched Decoys.

A promotional video explaining how multiple weapons can be used to overwhelm advanced SAM defenses:

Bottom line, while the S-300P system in Iran would not preclude the US or its allies penetrating defended airspace, it would make such a task much more difficult, and likely time consuming. It would also greatly increase the risk of crew losses or captured airmen.

Having said that, if the alternative is a nuclear armed Iran, it seems that risking treasure and lives is worth it.



* Current Russian designation systems are somewhat impenetrable to my mind, so I’ve tended to mostly use the NATO Reporting Name for a given system.

**It is also quite typical for an SA-20A battery to have a modern short range air defense system such as the Tor-M1 (SA-15 Gauntlet)  co-located for terminal defense of the battery itself.


Filed under air defense, SAM