Tag Archives: air force

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.


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?

About these ads

1 Comment

Filed under Air Force, navy, planes

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.


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.

Comments Off

Filed under Air Force, Artillery

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.


Filed under Afghanistan, Air Force, ARMY TRAINING

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.


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.


Filed under Air Force

Linebacker II- The Soviet View

It’s been almost two years since we wrote about Operation Linebacker II, the Christmas bombing campaign that was the swan song of US aerial attacks on North Vietnam.

“Spill” just alerted me to this piece on the campaign- a review of the campaign by the senior Soviet advisor to North Vietnam for air defense.

A couple of points:

  • The lunacy of following SACs faulty mission planning made the North Vietnamese air defense problem much easier.
  • Air defense guns, while deadly to lower flying tactical aircraft, were virtually a non-starter against the B-52s.
  • The NV fighter regiments, while fairly capable during daylight, were ill trained to conduct night combat. Note that SAC planners had actually considered them the greater threat, in spite of the deployed aircrews argument that S-75 missiles (SA-2 SAMs) were the primary threat.
  • The fighter you don’t see is the one that kills you.
  • Electronic Warfare worked. Chaff worked too, and was cheaper. But a combination of chaff and jamming was better.
  • But jamming had to be well thought out. It could hurt almost as much as help.
  • The EA-6Bs weren’t allowed overland because of their highly sensitive jammers. The EB-66s weren’t allowed up north because they were vulnerable.
  • Even under the best of circumstances, it took a lot of SAMs to kill a plane.



416th Flight Test Squadron at Red Flag 2-12

Air Force pilots during the Vietnam War normally had a tour of 100 missions over North Vietnam. A disproportionate number of losses occurred during the first 10 missions of a tour. Pilots were simply overwhelmed by the requirements of flying combat in an incredibly dense air defense environment, in larger strike packages than they had ever practiced before.

Accordingly, the Air Force instituted Red Flag, an ongoing series of massive mock air battles over the Southwestern United States, with the goal of giving each aircrew its “first 10” in peacetime, rather than actual war. Large numbers of squadrons accross the entire spectrum of airpower would deploy to Nellis AFB just outside of Las Vegas. This package would closely resemble the actual force composition of a real air campaign, if on a somewhat smaller scale. Dedicated adversary fighter squadrons would play the role of an opposing air force. Complex, realistic ground based air defense threats were seeded throughout the training area, all in an attempt to provide a scenario that was “more real” than the real thing.

To this day, Red Flag is the capstone training exercise for Air Force units.

Friend of the blog ORPO1, a retired Navy Petty Officer, currently makes his living working as a contractor for the US Air Force, supporting the 416th Flight Test Squadron, responsible for ongoing engineering development for the F-16 Fighting Falcon. As as ED effort, the 416th, despite flying fighters, is an asset of Air Force Material Command.

In an unusual effort to provide a more realistic test environment, and validate the skills of the test pilots, the 416th deployed to Red Flag 2-12. And ORPO1 was right there with them. If you watch closely, you might even see his bald head a time or two.



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.

Comments Off

Filed under Air Force, planes

Grasping at Shadows, Blindfolded

A special guest post by Kenneth Ellis, “Fringe.”

The hallmark for good analysis of simulation is found from both admitting the functional limitations of the modelling capability and scenario, and by having an intimate understanding of that which is being represented by said model.

Recently, Kyle Mizokami over at War is Boring (by way of Medium and Foreign Policy) presented us with a long series of admissions pertaining to his simulation of a possible engagement within China’s new Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea:

“So what does my simulation of the battle mean for the current situation in the East China Sea? Simply put, China has a chance of pulling off an aerial ambush. If my scenario is realistic. If the game’s modeling is accurate. If the Chinese are little lucky and if U.S. and Japanese commanders make mistakes. And if the first volley of AMRAAMs misses.

To be sure, those are a lot of ifs.”

Measuring the Understatement

The first issue with Mizokami’s exercise is what he presents as a “battle plan”. To understand why, we must look at the defining factors of air to air engagement as they exist in the real world, versus how they are presented in the simulator that he used (Command: Modern/Air Naval Operations, from here designated CMANO), and coupled with his order of battle.

Air operations of the kind presented by Mizokami  are highly dependent on many moving parts and factors, the most important of which is time. In the age of Airborne Early Warning radar (AEW), the ability to detect, identify, and define intent takes place over many hundreds of miles; the further the detection is made against a potentially hostile flight, the longer the amount of time a defender has to position its assets as necessary to construct an effective defense.

To this, certain tactics and and systems can be employed which can minimize this window of response; for example, even against atmospheric reflecting over the horizon radar, low level approach can be used to hide until deep within the radar’s search range. However, the low level ingress eats in to another vital factor of air operations: fuel. Jet aircraft burn more fuel at low altitude by nature of the denser air. Constructing an operation in which a strike package at low level is going to run in at high speed to minimize their chances of exposure demands aircraft with suitably large fuel fractions and combat radius.

The actual strike assortment against the high value targets of China’s eye are the Chengdu J-10. The problem with this representation is that the J-10 has a reported effective radius of 550km when flying a leisurely cruise profile; striking with intent against a Japanese P-3 AND E-2C Hawkeye is anything but a leisurely exercise. With the E-2C orbiting nearly 300 nautical miles away from the closest represented PLA airfield, we have a problem: any dash/tail chase situation on the part of the J-10s against their prey is going to certify that they can’t get home, unless they’re carrying bags (external fuel tanks) to increase their fuel from the reasonable 9900 lbs to something more suitable for the mission profile.

While the need for bags may be a reason why the type, in Mr. Mizokami’s model, were not carrying a larger array of ordnance, it does not appreciably account for the incurred drag penalty having those tanks on the aircraft. Anything hanging off the airframe slows it down, whereas a targeted strike against an airborne target demands maximum haste. When this is contrasted with the premise that the J-10s cruise out to the Eagles, Orions, Hawkeye, and Raptor to engage them without bags, it means that they’re not getting home.

One could make the suggestion that this situation could be resolved through in-flight refueling; however Mizokami has not afforded the PLA assets this resource. Further, as a rule air to air refueling does not take place at low level; given the nature of the refueling approach and the need for options for both the refueling aircraft and its customers in the event of an emergency, such events take place at altitude. This would sacrifice the clandestine nature of the strike package- the instant they dive to hide, the JASDF aircraft in the area would know something was amiss. Groups of aircraft disappearing over contested airspace is a sure way to put people on notice.

Thus we find that given the circumstances that Mizokami has presented, the Chengdu J-10 is not the right tool for the job. That role, however, is more than happy to be filled by the J-11.

The Shenyang J-11 is a license-built copy of the familiar Russian Su-27 Flanker. Built for the air superiority role, and with the intent of minimizing the need for air to air refueling, the Flanker carries a downright prodigious internal fuel fraction- in excess of twenty thousand pounds, or more than double that of the J-10. Further, it can hang a higher amount of air to air ordnance off its pylons than the J-10, and attain a higher top speed. Dismissing the J-10 flight, and replacing it with a matching number of J-11s would go a long way towards solving the underlying failure towards generating operation realism in the scenario. But that is the role of the honest scenario designer, not the person evaluating the analysis.

All that said, the greatest error in the analysis is in not realizing the failures of Command’s model of air combat maneuver.

“For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack”

To illustrate this, we’ll forego review of the PLA engagements with the JASDF Eagles and move right into Mizokami’s money maker- the engagement between the surviving PLA aircraft and the F-22 Raptors.

In his breakdown, Mizokami states that the F-22 Raptors made a mistake late in their intercept of the inbound PLA aircraft- activating their respective APG-77 radars, allowing for them to be detected by the Chinese. This, as far as the white-sourced world currently knows, is in error.

The APG-77 is what is referred to as a Low Probability of Intercept, or LPI, radar. This means that the radar randomly changes the signal frequencies and widths it sends out hundreds of times per second, across its hundreds of individual active arrays, to keep the aircraft from being detected by way of its emissions. Radar warning receivers function based on recurring patterns of bandwidth frequency, width and power to define the type of threat that is pinging it and determine a relative direction and distance to that emitter. With LPI, the warning receiver is unable to find a pattern on which to designate a specific emitter; instead, even if the emissions are detected based on the bands that the RWR is sensitive to, no consistent pattern is found, and the signal is rejected as background noise.

Simply put- the J-11s can’t see the Raptor by way of RWR, even if they’re “loud”.

Compounding this is the differing nature of RWR sensing versus the required data to put a missile on a target. Whereas the APG-77 can turn another aircraft’s emissions into the type of data that an AIM-120 AMRAAM needs to engage, the N001VE Myech radar of the J-11 cannot. Thus, the pulse Doppler N001VE must be close enough to the F-22 to get some form of return to guide a PL-12 at it. Plugging in even a worst-case return value for the F-22 into the radar equation, that of the F-117 Nighthawk (of which the Raptor’s signature is a mere fraction), it’s still miniscule in the terms of beyond visual range (BVR) warfare.

What’s more, the F-22 carries what is referred to as the IFDL, or Intra-Flight Data Link. This system allows a group of Raptors operating within the same region to share targeting data amongst every other Raptor it wishes, meaning that one F-22 can “paint” a target for his wingman, and that wingman can launch a weapon without ever turning on his own radar.

While CMANO’s model of datalinked launch capability purportedly exists, Mizokami never gave it a chance. Lateral separation between a pair of Raptors means time and lack of full recognition of the threat, at least until J-11s (and J-10s) in his example start spontaneously exploding by way of AIM-120. Properly represented, the PLA aircraft do not know they’re being fired upon; and even if they do, they are attempting to intercept the wrong aircraft, making for an easier attack profile for the incoming AMRAAMs.

Summed, Mizokami’s contention that the “U.S. and Japanese commanders (or, in this case, aircrew) make mistakes” is wrong- they didn’t make the mistake. The mistake is on the part of the model, and ultimately, the analyst.

Further, even a cursory review of CMANO’s interactions within the air combat maneuvering arena find it’s modeling of such events to be suspect. BVR tactics are derived from a series of what are called “poles”-

the A-Pole (the range at which one’s BVR missile goes active and can attack without guidance from you),

E-Pole (minimum range one can be from the enemy and outrun his weapon),

and F-Pole (the range from an aircraft to the enemy when his missile attacks)

In BVR, a pilot wants to maximize the range of his launch, minimize the range of his opponent’s weapons, and maintain distance that allows him to reengage, or escape, as required. Applying tactical control of these “poles” allow a well trained pilot to do just that- engage without being engaged, escape when needed, and press the fight as required.

CMANO doesn’t grasp the poles, or more advanced BVR tactical considerations. Intercepts are purely a function of pointing at the enemy, launching at maximum range, and continuing to close with the opponent at the current speed. Weapon avoidance is unrealistically late, and in no way, shape, or form uses well understood maneuvering techniques to deny the shot. At no time do aircraft within CMANO attempt to maximize their situation by way of offset maneuvering, deceleration post-launch, or any number of other techniques made to make survival possible. It is all left to a pure probability model- that is, chance. Even when a player takes over flying duties through manual overrides, his ability to affect ultimate performance is limited; he can create mismatches, direct specific volumes of weapons to be employed on given targets, but not actually force the method of prosecution. This breaks down even further within visual range.

In essence, air warfare in CMANO is 18th century warfare by formatted lines. Mizokami’s example not only surrendered numerical advantage to the Chinese; by failing to account and allow for the USAF/JASDF to effectively employ the advantages their aircraft hold, the resulting findings are without merit, and without usefulness to the lay person or the professional.

Disingenuity to the Last

Ultimately, the most interesting aspect of this exercise is the fact that in its original home at Medium, the article was inherently unable to receive any sort of peer or communal critique. The need for Twitter to sign in, along with the broken comment methodology permitted on the forum, allowed the presentation time to cement a legitimacy that it is undeserving of. With the disclaimer effectively “ten minutes” below the headline, most would never see it, thus have no opportunity to shade the findings as appropriate.

Contrast this with the honest approach to modeling and simulation required when presenting findings to an audience lacking the knowledge to properly assess the evaluation; the oft-mentioned RAND simulation of the F-35 being trounced in open warfare with China is a perfect example. The model had holes, and these holes were understood in a way to still make the data useful to the Department of Defense. Mizokami either doesn’t recognize the holes in CMANO’s modeling of air combat, or is making a conscious effort to not admit where all of these knowledge bombs lay. Thus, one can quickly ascertain why the “ifs” were held till the end- speaking from a non-authoritative position on the subject matter, when adding in the spice of a F-22 Raptor being shot down, it doesn’t make good copy and fails to generate clicks.

There is a place for honest presentation of military subject matter, and the means to which equipment, training, and readiness combine to effect policy, and vice versa, to the public. Wanton click mongering pays no value to the public at large, nor to the services that must be prepared to take action on policy.

In closing, Mr. Mizokami’s scenario, and his final analysis, are works of bad fiction, and should be treated as such. Japanese Eagles and US Raptors may fall if challenged by the PLA over the East China Sea, but it will not be based on the terms he has offered as an example.

1 Comment

Filed under China

Is it time to close the Air Force Academy?

Until President Clinton changed the policy in the early 1990s, officers who received their commissions from service academies received a “regular” commission. They incurred a relatively short obligated term of service, but the regulars were the core of the commissioned officers, intended to make the military a career. ROTC and OCS grads, with a few exceptions, were received a commission in the reserve component, and were called to active duty for the term of their obligation. A limited number of those reservists who whished to make the service a career would be permitted to augment to the regular component.

But in the ‘90s, the policy change meant all newly commissioned officers received a reserve commission. That meant service academy graduates would have to compete after a few years of service against all the other accessions to augment to the regular commission. This was seen as leveling the playing field. And to be honest, the quality of an officers service is more a matter of his or her actual service than the means by which they entered.

Soon after that change, critics asked the reasonable question of why the services maintained the academies since ROTC and OCS were cheaper means of finding sufficient quality officers. The answer was the the academies were the keepers of the core cultural touchstones of each services officer corps.

But if the recent news coming out of the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs is any indication of that culture, perhaps it really is time to shutter them.

First, we would hope that the culture of the academy would be that espoused by the AFA’s core values: “Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.”

But apparently the culture is more aligned with that of their civilian counterparts, so much so that the Office of Special Investigations has had to turn cadets into informants against their classmates.

Facing pressure to combat drug use and sexual assault at the Air Force Academy, the Air Force has created a secret system of cadet informants to hunt for misconduct among students.

Cadets who attend the publicly-funded academy near Colorado Springs must pledge never to lie. But the program pushes some to do just that: Informants are told to deceive classmates, professors and commanders while snapping photos, wearing recording devices and filing secret reports.

For one former academy student, becoming a covert government operative meant not only betraying the values he vowed to uphold, it meant being thrown out of the academy as punishment for doing the things the Air Force secretly told him to do.

Eric Thomas, 24, was a confidential informant for the Office of Special Investigations, or OSI — a law enforcement branch of the Air Force. OSI ordered Thomas to infiltrate academy cliques, wearing recorders, setting up drug buys, tailing suspected rapists and feeding information back to OSI. In pursuit of cases, he was regularly directed by agents to break academy rules.

“It was exciting. And it was effective,” said Thomas, a soccer and football player who received no compensation for his informant work. “We got 15 convictions of drugs, two convictions of sexual assault. We were making a difference. It was motivating, especially with the sexual assaults. You could see the victims have a sense of peace.”

Through it all, he thought OSI would have his back. But when an operation went wrong, he said, his handlers cut communication and disavowed knowledge of his actions, and watched as he was kicked out of the academy.

“It was like a spy movie,” said Thomas, who was expelled in April, a month before graduation. “I worked on dozens of cases, did a lot of good, and when it all hit the fan, they didn’t know me anymore.”

So off post drinking and spice smoking, and sexual assault are so prevalent that the whole point of the honor code has to be turned inside out. If the concept of honor has to be so deeply compromised in the accession program, there’s simply no restoring when these young officers reach the force. And it’s not just the abstract concept of honor for honor’s sake. Integrity lapses in the real world have real consequences. The maintenance officer who lies about the work done on a plane can kill crews. The Intel officer who says he reviewed defenses can lead fighters into a trap.

And sadly, it seems pressure from some quarters, particularly alumni, has come to see the academy as more a host for a sports program, putting the cart before the horse. A good sports program exists to build well rounded, physically capable officers. But there are suggestions afoot to give the AFA a fifth year for some cadets in order to improve their chances in collegiate athletics.

Discussions are being held within the Air Force Academy that could lead to expanding the basic four-year classroom program for graduation to a five-year program for some cadets in order to enhance academic achievements. Such a plan, if adopted, could have a huge effect on the athletic program, thereby allowing an extra year of competition.

Air Force football coach Troy Calhoun has expressed frustration this season about the competitive disadvantage of not being allowed to have cadets play a fifth year. The Falcons are 2-9 and winless in Mountain West play. Their season finale is Saturday at Colorado State.

One guesses the impetus is almost wholly the Division IA football program.

CDR Salamander has long bemoaned the football programs at the academies driving the academy in the wrong direction. Looks like once again, he has been proven right.

The service academies are supposedly some of the most selective schools in America. Shouldn’t we, the “customer” of the product, expect a degree of excellence above and beyond the run of the mill product from other institutions? And if not, why do we have them?


Filed under Air Force

CSAR/X is CRH is… probably dead. Or only mostly dead.

The Old AF Sarge’s Friday Flyby post this week features the Jolly Green Giants- Air Force helos dedicated to retrieving downed aircrews behind enemy lines.* This Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) has long been seen as critically important- if you’re shot down and alone behind enemy lines, the service will keep the faith with you, and do everything in its power to bring you home.

And the proud history of the Jollies lives on today, in the form of the HH-60G PaveHawk and its crews.

The problem is, the PaveHawk has been around for 30 years of hard use, and they’re falling apart. Indeed, of an initial purchase of 112, only 99 remain, and they’re effectively at or beyond the planned 7,000 hour service life, and many are suffering from cracks and other fatigue problems.  Further, while the PaveHawk was state of the art when purchased (compared to say, a UH-1 Huey), it has a relatively short range, and limited payload and cabin space.

This isn’t a problem that has cropped up overnight. The Air Force about a decade ago decided to start shopping around for a replacement for the PaveHawk, just as some very capable helicopters started to enter production in both the American civilian and European military markets. Examples of these capable new aircraft included the Sikorsky S-92, the Augusta/Westland EH101, improved versions of the CH-47 Chinook, and as an outside chance, the Eurocopter EC725.

And so the Air Force went about holding a competition to replace it’s old PaveHawks with a newer, more capable helicopter. The details of that competition are far, far too involved to delve into in a simple post. In the end, Boeing’s offer of a modified version of its MH-47G Special Operations helicopter for the Army, itself a modified version of the CH-47F just entering production then, won the competition. The HH-47H was a great choice. It was a large, powerful, long-ranged aircraft with plenty of room, and capacity for growth. It’s basic design was already in production, and most of the special equipment would also be shared with the Army’s MH-47G fleet, driving down unit costs. The volume of spare parts in service would also be leveraged to drive down lifetime operating costs. Most importantly, it was the most capable platform for the mission.

Immediately, the losing bidders protested the decision to the GAO.  Years passed, and eventually, the GAO said the process was indeed flawed. Note, the GAO didn’t say the HH-47H wasn’t capable, or that the competitors entries were better. Merely that the bidding process was flawed. All this before sheet metal had been cut on a single bird. And at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to the government, all while the PaveHawk fleet was getting older and older.

Eventually, the Air Force was forced to simply cancel the contract to Boeing.

The aging of the PaveHawk fleet has gotten so bad the Air Force has been forced to buy the occasional UH-60M off the Army’s production line, and refit it with special equipment from an older PaveHawk simply to keep the minimum fleet available.

At any event, the Air Force announced the CSAR/X program was dead. And then immediately announced a wholly new program, the Combat Rescue Helicopter or CRH. Not surprisingly, the basic needs for the program looked an awful lot like the CSAR/X program. Something bigger, newer and longer ranged than the HH-60G.

Because of the way the solicitation was written, and various market factors, the CRH program has forced most of the “usual suspects” to either drop out, or not even bother bidding in the first place. In effect, the program is a sole source contract for the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter.

The only problem is, in the age of the sequester, the Air Force is struggling mightily to find money. It’s something of a given that almost anything will be sacrificed upon the altar of the F-35 program. Second only to that is the KC-46 replacement tanker program. As it stands, the Air Force has basically told Sikorsky “fine, you win…” but as of now, there simply is no money to buy any aircraft.

The entire fiasco is an indictment of our flawed procurement process. It surely seems to me that back in the days of duplication and fraud, waste and abuse, the services certainly seemed to be able to buy more systems with less development times, and at less risk than today.

*Note, this mission is separate and distinct from the Air Force Special Operations for inserting and retrieving special operations forces. Different environments, different missions, different doctrine, and different training. To some extent, there is some crossover, but there has always been good reason to keep them distinct.



Daily Dose of Splodey

The video title says 4000 pound bomb, but that’s not quite accurate.

Hard to tell just how many bombs, and what size, were dropped. I counted at least six primary detonations.

While most folks react to the probable retirement of the A-10 fleet with anguish, I have to admit I’m not terribly concerned.  Yes, the GAU-8 gun of the A-10 is handy. But virtually all close air support delivered today is via precision guided weapons. Between the Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) on the ground and the use of PGMs, the A-10’s low and slow capability is largely redundant. Further, the vastly improved electro/optical sensors carried by virtually all strike aircraft today also argue against the A-10s ability to get down in the weeds to spot targets. Simply put, the technology to attack targets exists now that was beyond the state of the art when the A-10 was conceived and fielded.  The improvement of short range air defense in that same environment further argues against an A-10.

Before you call for my beheading, yes, I’d prefer the Air Force to keep the A-10 in service. But removing an airframe from service has the potential to save the Air Force a lot of money. I can see where they’re coming from.



C-27J to JFK

We’ve written the frustrating saga of the USAF knife in the back of the (originally) Army program to buy the C-27J light transport.

After successfully commandeering the program, the USAF quickly turned around and killed it, even as brand spanking new airframes are still rolling off the production line in Italy.  These planes are being delivered directly to storage at Davis-Monthan AFB where they’ll join the rest of the fleet in long term storage.


Or will they?

Defense Industry Daily says that Special Operations Command (SOCOM) wants seven Spartans to replace their current fleet of CASA C.212 aircraft for training purposes.

SOCOM is a joint command, albeit very heavily biased toward the Army. In essence they’re their own separate armed force, with their own budget authority, and a history of noted disdain to parochial games, even while excelling at them.

Alenia C-27J Spartan aircraft picture

The Coast Guard has already stated they’d love to have  the entire production run of C-27Js to convert them to medium range maritime patrol aircraft.* But a quirk of US law says the Air Force can’t give them to the USCG ( part of DHS) unless there are no military takers for them. Obviously, SOCOM, as a DoD entity, would have first call on the Spartans. And so, it’s highly likely the John F. Kennedy Center and School will add 7 Spartans to its fleet.

Now, SOCOM says the C-27Js would be for training. And I’m sure they would be. But unlike the aircraft already in the SOCOM fleet, the Spartans are combat ready aircraft with radar and missile warning systems, and chaff and IR flare dispensers. It would not be terribly surprising if some “training” aircraft found themselves in “exigent” circumstances deployed to support “urgent” operational needs, in effect giving SOCOM its own tactical transport fleet, and reducing the reliance on USAF and TRANSCOM for airlift.

That’s pure speculation on our part. What say you?

*Even as the USCG is buying another foreign built twin engine turbo-prop for the role, the HC-144 Ocean Sentry based on the EADS CN-235.



C-27Js to mothballs

Well, we knew the Air Force’s primary aim in involving themselves in the C-27J Spartan airlifter program was to deny the Army any fixed wing intra-theater air. And they’ve succeeded.

But of course, that’s only after they’d signed a $2bn or so contract for the airplanes. And since they’ve been bought, they’re being delivered. But since the Air Force won’t operate them, they’re putting brand spanking new airframes into storage at Davis-Monthan.

The Pentagon is sending $50 million cargo planes straight from the assembly line to mothballs because it has no use for them, yet it still hasn’t stopped ordering the aircraft, according to a report.

A dozen nearly new Italian-built C-27J Spartans have been shipped to an Air Force facility in Arizona dubbed “the boneyard,” and five more currently under construction are likely headed for the same fate, according to an investigation by the Dayton Daily News.  The Air Force has spent $567 million on 21 of the planes since 2007, according to purchasing officials at Dayton’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Of those, 16 have been delivered – with almost all sent directly to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, where some 4,400 aircraft and 13 aerospace vehicles, with a total value of more than $35 billion, sit unused.

The C-27J has the unique capability of taking off and landing on crude runways, Ethan Rosenkranz, national security analyst at the Project on Government Oversight, told the newspaper. But with sequestration dictating Pentagon cuts, the planes were deemed a luxury it couldn’t afford.


At this point, it’s too far gone for the Army to find the troop strength and aviator numbers to field the force.  And the Air Force almost certainly can’t sell them to private users or foreign governments, because the manufacturer, Alenia Aermacchi, has stated publicly they will boycott spares and support to anyone who buys these airframes. They don’t want the potential markets to buy used what they could be building new.

So most likely, other, non-DoD departments of the government will end up with them. Already there’s word the Coast Guard and the Forest Service will end up with some, and I heard today one in State Department markings has been spotted.

But the Army still doesn’t have the airlift it needed, and still needs, when it first selected the Spartan almost a decade ago.


Filed under Air Force, stupid

John Boyd and the Reformers

No, not a band.

COL John Boyd is famous for his his OODA Loop theory. But the OODA Loop didn’t spring fully formed from his mind one day. It was the evolution of his thinking on air combat that lead to his E/M theory, which laid the intellectual groundwork for OODA Loop.

Nor was Boyd alone. He’s part of the famous Fighter Mafia. Air Force Magazine has a nice overview of the Fighter Mafia, and how they led the reform movement of the 1970s and 80s.

The Military Reformers were an obscure lot when they first emerged on the national stage around 1980. There were only about a dozen of them, mostly retired officers and midlevel systems analysts from the Pentagon and the defense industry. The outside world had never heard of them. They were not even called “Reformers” yet.

Their basic message was that the US armed forces were addicted to high technology and complex weapon systems. Such weapons were so costly that relatively few could be bought. Complexity made them hard to use and maintain, leading to readiness problems and reduced sortie rates. Even worse, the Reformers said, these complicated weapons were not as effective in combat as simpler, cheaper ones.

The Reformers took on tanks, missiles, and ships, but their primary target was tactical aircraft. In 1980, their home base was the Tactical Airpower division of the Program Analysis and Evaluation section of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. At the center of the movement were three individuals:

  • John R. Boyd, retired Air Force colonel, air combat theorist, consultant to PA&E, and the spiritual leader of the Reformers.
  • Pierre M. Sprey, engineer and PA&E systems analyst, who, along with Boyd, had been a key instigator of the Lightweight Fighter program in the 1970s.
  • Franklin C. “Chuck” Spinney, who had worked for Boyd as a captain and followed him to PA&E. His briefing, “Defense Facts of Life,” became the manifesto of the reform movement.

These three were protected and supported by Thomas P. Christie, head of the Tac Air division. He was an ally of Boyd’s from previous days and had recruited him for PA&E.

Read the whole thing. In the closing paragraphs, you’ll see a well intentioned group with a good cause go off the rails.

Here’s the thing about most complex weapon systems- they’re complex for a reason. While there are notable exceptions (say, F-35, F-111, LCS), most of the time complexity in a weapon system is driven  by a perceived need to counter a specific threat or provide a specific capability.

Why was the F-15 so big? Because the Air Force in Vietnam had been frustrated by the relatively short range of the Phantom, and the need for a long range powerful radar. Long range drives up the size of an airplane. And a long range radar requires a large radar antennae, which dictates to a certain degree the size of the airplane. It was specifically to address shortcomings that the Air Force accepted the cost and complexity that came with those capabilities.

And speaking of John Boyd, how about John Boyd speaking?



Will the A-10 Be Shot Down?

The Air Force is looking to trim older platforms (that’s airplanes to you and me) from its inventory to free up money to operate and maintain the rest of its fleet. We wrote briefly a couple days ago that the KC-10 was among the platforms being considered. Heck, the Air Force is even looking at retiring the F-15C fleet. But no proposal will generate more howls of outrage among the public and especially among the ground pounders than the thought of retiring the A-10 Warthog fleet.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As an old Warthog pilot, Lt. Gen. Stanley E. Clarke III spoke in near mournful tones Wednesday of the likely mothballing of the venerable A-10 close air support aircraft and tank killer.

“Can we save the A-10?” was the question from the audience Wednesday at the Air Force Association’s Air & Space Conference here.

Clarke, director of the Air National Guard, came at the question in roundabout fashion. He loved flying the A-10 Thunderbolt, better known as the “Warthog,” Clarke said. He noted that the plane was “near and dear to land warriors” for its GAU-8 Avenger, a 30mm rotary cannon that is the heaviest such weapon mounted on an aircraft.

But the Air Force was “looking at reducing single mission aircraft,” Clarke said, and under the sequestration process “we’re not getting any more money – that option is out.”

The Air Force “has to have a fifth generation force out there” of stealthy, fast and maneuverable aircraft, and the low and slow A-10 just didn’t fit in, Clarke said.

“We’re on board with moving towards Air Force 2023,” the concept for the future of the force which has no room for the A-10, Clarke said.

Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, also declared his affection for the A-10, which happens to be an aircraft he has 1,000 hours flying.

“I love that old ugly thing,” Welsh said.

However, the chief of staff explained the service has to take part in finding over a trillion dollars in cuts to the defense budget over the next ten years because of sequestration. In this budget environment, he said the Air Force will likely be unable to afford the Warthog.


I think this is pretty dumb. The Air Force just spend a ton of money on refurbishing most of the active Warthog fleet to extend their service lives and make them capable of employing modern smart weapons.

But I can also see why the Air Force thinks this is a viable option. And a large part of it is the existence of those smart weapons.  When the A-10 was conceived and bought almost 40 years ago, there simply weren’t a lot of smart weapons, and the few that existed were hideously expensive.  Most Close Air Support missions would rely on old fashioned dumb bombs and cluster munitions (and yes, of course, the gun).  To be at all accurate, you had to get down in the weeds, which suited the A-10 just fine. Other jets, such as the F-4? Not so much.

Fast forward to today, and virtually no CAS missions are flown that don’t employ a precision guided weapon, most commonly the JDAM GPS guided bomb. With JDAM and similar weapons, there’s no real need to get close. The pilot doesn’t have to see the target. He simply has to have the coordinates, plug it into the bomb, and he’s reasonably assured a direct hit. That’s something other jets like the F-16, the F-15E Strike Eagle, and soon the F-35 are more than capable of doing. And have been doing for some time now. Heck, the B-1B has been doing it over Afghanistan for years now, and is a popular weapons because of its huge payload and good endurance.

Further, we’ve had the luxury in the wars of the past decade of almost total air dominance, with virtually no enemy air defense capability. But the Air Force knows this will not always be the case. The proliferation of modern MANPADS short range air defense missiles will make future COIN battlefields hazardous to low flying aircraft.  Syrian rebels have had some success against Assad forces, downing both helicopters and jets.  So using a high altitude jet flying above MANPADS range with some standoff capability via JDAM or other weapons makes a lot of sense.  Conversely, a lot of the CAS capability, ISR capability, and long loiter time ground commanders ask for can be provided by assets like the MQ-9 Reaper. And if a Reaper is shot down, you don’t have to go rescue the pilot. And should a more conventional war break out, the A-10 would be at even greater disadvantage against a wider array of air defense systems.

So while I think retiring the A-10 would be a bad idea, I don’t think it is an indefensible one.

But I know I’m gonna need earplugs for the howls of outrage about to come.


Filed under Air Force, planes

Links of Interest

I’m not really a fan of Tom Ricks Best Defense over at Foreign Policy. I tend to find myself in disagreement with him far more than agreement. But he does have a talent for inviting guest posts that are thought provoking and informative.

Here’s one on the Army’s Command and General Staff Course at Ft. Leavenworth.

Here is the difference: We are not talking direct level anymore. We do not want them to be company commanders anymore. We are focusing their education and thinking on the organizational level (battalion level), which could be considered the cusp between direct and organizational and brigade and higher. Our previous students over the past few years had more experience in that area, but the new classes we are receiving have not. It is going back to the way it was before 9/11 where very few, and soon, if any, will have had battalion level jobs.

Third, as for this being a graduate school like its civilian counterparts — to some degree, yes, but not as much as the article led its readers to believe. The graduates do not automatically receive a graduate degree. Only those that put in the extra effort for their Masters of Military Arts (MMAS) or are part of the joint efforts between University of Kansas or K-State. But to equate it to a civilian university/college is again a bit false since our students are on a different path and the military is different. CGSC is a professional school for a professional education at a specific point in the officer’s professional development. The Army is going to be only sending 55 percent of a specific year group to attend the resident CGSC course. The officers that do attend will have been board selected and are expected to be the top 55 percent of their year group.

Maybe our own resident CGSC instructor alum has some thoughts?


Another guest post- 10 things a Marine wished he’d known before company command.  I like the advice about learning in detail the history of a single battle.  There’s some good meat in the comments as well.


DoDBuzz has a couple articles about the Air Force. With the tight budgets of the future should the Air Force:

Get rid of the B-1?

Oddly, it’s one of the preferred platforms for Close Air Support because of its huge bomb load. But it has always been a maintenance hog.

And is it time to retire the KC-10?

Deleting an airframe type from the fleet has cost savings above and beyond just deleting the airframes themselves. The support, training, parts and logistics can all go away as well.  But the KC-10 is a low-density, high-demand item. That is, it’s a really, really good tanker. Maybe they can give them to some of our allies?


Monday,in the wake of the murders at the Washington Navy Yard,  Craig and I were chatting about the insanity of military installations being gun-free zones.

As many people have noted, it’s somewhat incredible that we can trust our troops to fight our wars, but not to have firearms on post.  Few people outside the military understand that even in the Infantry, you spend a majority of your time in the service with your weapons locked up tight in the company arms room.

Should we at least look at having the Staff Duty NCO or the company Charge of Quarters armed?

And Craig pointed out, this is a decision that maybe we ought to be entrusting to our unit commanders. We entrust them with life or death decisions when deployed, but instantly withdraw that authority stateside. Is it any wonder so many of the best and brightest junior officers leave the service when they’re shown by the service’s action that the service simply doesn’t trust their judgment?

At any event, here’s Matt Walsh’s thoughts on a gun-free military.


Comments Off


The A-10’s Future

There’s a lot of gnashing of teeth about Air Force plans to replace the A-10 with the F-35A. And I suppose eventually, they will. But from what I’ve seen of the fielding plans, it looks like F-16 units are first in line to switch over.

And while there has always been somewhat of a love/hate relationship between Big Air Force and the A-10 community, let’s at least be honest enough to admit that Big Blue has in fact put significant money into the fleet, improving the remaining planes, even while drawing total numbers down somewhat.

First, the Air Force ponied up the money to rebuild most of the fleet from the original A-10A standard to the A-10C model, which adds night attack and precision guided weapon capability.

Secondly, the Air Force is spending real money on rebuilding the wings of the fleet to extend their fatigue service lives for another thirty years.

In fact, Boeing just announced another contract to build 56 more wings.


Of course, the Navy spent a fortune rewinging it’s A-6 fleet just before retiring them.


Filed under Air Force, ARMY TRAINING

Air Force Anti-Alcohol Campaign moves into high gear.

Young people drinking exercise poor judgment. Virtually everyone in the service knows someone who did something stupid, got in trouble, and embarrassed themselves, their unit, and their service. And so, it’s not surprising the services have taken measures to discourage drinking.

The Air Force might be getting a bit carried away though.


Comments Off

Filed under Air Force


It’s a travel day for me. I’m on the road all day, so here’s some food for thought.

Are sailors (and other service members) coddled? Meh. I get the threat of laxity in society showing up in the service. On the other hand, for a decade of war, we’ve seen soldiers displaying awesome discipline on the battlefield. I’m always concerned about a loss of discipline in garrison, but that’s an indicator secondary to the performance on the battlefield.


On the other hand, we’ve got very junior officers that want another award. I  think a good rule of thumb for a j.g. is to listen, not speak.


As always, the Air Force is trying to divest itself for the weapon best suited for the war it is currently in, in favor of a weapon that may or may not be suitable for a future war.


Finally, Blackfive brings us one of the very dumbest pieces I’ve ever seen (that is, B5 links to it, not that B5 wrote something stupid).

A female non-combat arms officer (who has sued the government for excluding women from combat arms) writes a vapid, shallow piece in which she tells all us knuckledragging grunts what it really takes to succeed in combat. You know, the very combat she’s been excluded from.

I’m not against women in the service.  They can and have served honorably and with distinction. But the fact is, most jobs in the military don’t require any great strength,  stamina, or resilience to discomfort or injury. The exception to that rule is the combat arms.

Further, every argument is proposed as one of fairness to women. But not once has the issue been sold as improving the combat capability of the services. That’s because it will not, cannot in any way improve the combat arms.


We’re leaving Oak Harbor this morning. I’ll miss it, as always. Hopefully, it won’t take me three years to get back here. The island in August is heavenly.
Many thanks to MaryAnn Fakkema Engle, and Teresa Ortego for the mini-meetups, and it was great to see Pat Crouch, as well.
Too much crab, mussels and clams, loads more great foods. Driving around and visiting some old haunts, and seeing the changes. What fun!
I hate seeing Deception Pass in the rear view mirror. But I know I’ll see it in the windshield again some day.


Filed under Around the web

VXX and the Hazards of Procurement

VXX reborn….

The original VXX program to replace the Presidential helicopter fleet became such a boondoggle, and object lesson on gold-plating and a failure to reign in requirements that a simple order of a relative handful of helicopters bloomed to a potential $13 billion program. That’s roughly on a par with the entire Navy shipbuilding budget for one year (though VXX would have been spread over several years) and as such was completely unrealistic. The basic “green” helicopter airframe wasn’t so bad. There were extensive costs involved in adapting a European airframe to US standards, but nothing insurmountable. The real problem came because the buyer, the US Navy, also had to represent the end user, the White House, and between them, they failed to properly define exactly what communications systems the aircraft needed.  It’s one thing to require secure Video Tele Conferencing on the Air Force One, when the President may be airborne for hours. But does he really need that on his helicopter? And a full galley for hot meals?  I think the President can get by with a thermos and a sammich for half an hour.

AW101/VH-71 Kestrel

In the reborn VXX program, the Navy has written a much more tightly defined set of requirements. But the method by which they’ve written them, and the scoring method set, has, as a practical matter, excluded all but one contender. The point of a competition is supposedly to avoid the issues of a monopoly supplier. But now there are concerns that Sikorsky will simply walk away with the program.

The U.S. Navy program to find a replacement for the “Marine One” Presidential helicopter is looking set to become a one-horse race following the withdrawal of AgustaWestland and Northrop Grumman.

The two companies had partnered to offer the AW101 three-engined helicopter for the VXX requirement to replace the aging fleet of Sikorsky VH-60 Whitehawks and VH-3 Sea Kings, but have decided to withdraw after analyzing the request for proposal documents.

In statement to Aviation Week, an AgustaWestland spokesman said: “After a comprehensive analysis of the final RFP, dated May 3, 2013, we determined that we were unable to compete effectively given the current requirements and the evaluation methodology defined in the RFP.

The S-92 was probably the leading contender anyway. Boeing’s two possible entries, the H-47 and the V-22, were really non-starters from Day One. And it’s hard to see how the AW101/VH-71 could be a realistic contender after the debacle of buying several green airframes, only to cancel the program, and sell them to Canada for spare parts at pennies on the dollar.

S-92 as Marine One

Separate from, but simultaneous with the VXX program has been the Air Force’s CSAR-X program to replace its Combat Search and Rescue helicopters. The Air Force fleet of HH-60G’s is old, has limited capabilities, and has shorter range than the Air Force needs. For over a decade, the Air Force has sought to buy up to 121 helicopters to renew their fleet. And while the answer to the Air Force prayers is, to most disinterested observers, a no brainer, politics and the maze of procurement regulations have hampered the Air Force from actually buying any aircraft.

The obvious answer for the Air Force was to piggyback on  the Army’s MH-47G special operations helicopter program, which would have given them a very modern, very long range, very capable aircraft, with the added benefit that the Army had already paid most of the bills for development. And let’s not forget the economies of scale of having hundreds of Chinooks already in service, in terms of training, spare parts, and a robust depot level maintenance system.

And that’s pretty much what the first CSAR-X contract did, awarding the buy to Boeing and the HH-47.


But the complexities of the procurement laws, and strong congressional support for constituent companies, meant that protests in court and the GAO led to the cancellation of the contract, and having to restart the entire program from scratch. Basically, we’ve poured hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps billions, down the drain. And the program requirements have been rewritten so that in effect, the only possible winner is the Sikorsky S-92. The other companies won’t even bother to compete.

Now, the S-92 isn’t a bad helicopter, really. It’s been something of a disappointment in terms of sales, and not without its problems, but it isn’t exactly a disaster.  But we’ve gone from a procurement system that provides the services with the best aircraft for the mission, with rules in place to prevent fraud, waste and abuse, to a system that protects the contractors over the customer. It’s insane.

As an added bonus for Sikorsky, the Air Force also desperately wants to replace its fleet of ancient UH-1N Hueys that provide support to ballistic missile sites. Their first plan, to simply buy UH-60s directly from the Army (rather than from Sikorsky) was shot down. Now, the S-92 is on the fast track to securing that mission as well, boosting the numbers bought.

There was a time in the not very distant past when the Air Force bought pretty much whatever aircraft the Chief of Staff said to buy. That’s something of an oversimplification, but not by much.

Today, we’ve reached a point where the concern for “fairness” has led to the Air Force, and Navy, being almost unable to buy any aircraft unless it’s a part of a Joint-Multinational program that involves every defense contractor and damn near every congressional district.


Filed under Air Force, army, helicopters, history, planes

Herkin’ and Jerkin’

A C-130J Hercules aircraft releases fire retardant over the trees in the mountains above Palm Springs, Calif., July 19. The 146th Airlift Wing, a California Air National Guard unit, was activated to assist the community with wildfires.

I was actually out of town when this particular mission was flown, but the smoke from the Mountain Fire was quite visible from I-10 as we drove back into town.  In addition to the C-130, two modified DC-10 tankers and a slew of other fixed wing and rotary wing air attack aircraft, dozens of fire engines, and 3000 firefighters struggled to contain the blaze and save the charming town of Idyllwild.






Filed under Air Force

H. R. McMaster and AirSeaBattle

DrewM over at the mothership pointed out that MG H.R. McMaster has penned an Op-Ed in the New York Times.

FORT BENNING, Ga. — “A GREAT deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep,” the novelist Saul Bellow once wrote. We should keep that in mind when we consider the lessons from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — lessons of supreme importance as we plan the military of the future.

Our record of learning from previous experience is poor; one reason is that we apply history simplistically, or ignore it altogether, as a result of wishful thinking that makes the future appear easier and fundamentally different from the past.

We engaged in such thinking in the years before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; many accepted the conceit that lightning victories could be achieved by small numbers of technologically sophisticated American forces capable of launching precision strikes against enemy targets from safe distances.

These defense theories, associated with the belief that new technology had ushered in a whole new era of war, were then applied to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; in both, they clouded our understanding of the conflicts and delayed the development of effective strategies.

Today, budget pressures and the desire to avoid new conflicts have resurrected arguments that emerging technologies — or geopolitical shifts — have ushered in a new era of warfare. Some defense theorists dismiss the difficulties we ran into in Afghanistan and Iraq as aberrations. But they were not aberrations. The best way to guard against a new version of wishful thinking is to understand three age-old truths about war and how our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq validated their importance.

A little background on MG McMaster-

He first rose to prominence for his brilliant performance as a Captain leading a cavalry troop at the Battle of 73 Easting in Desert Storm. His performance there was a textbook example of AirLand Battle doctrine executed at the small unit level.

And he has risen through the ranks serving as a sucessful combat commander of a cavalry regiment during the Iraq War. And today, he serves as the commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence- the result of merging the Infantry Center & School with the Armor Center & School. In a nutshell, he’s the Army’s head instructor for land warfare.

But McMaster is also one of the Army’s leading intellectuals. Which, normally, is in direct conflict with rising to higher rank. The numbers of intellectuals in the Army who saw their careers stall at Colonel is large. Indeed, McMaster almost befell the same fate. He was passed over for Brigadier General his first time before the selection board.  Fortunately, he was later selected and promoted again to Major General.

The Op-Ed isn’t an official Army statement. Theoretically, it’s just McMaster’s own musings. But let’s face it, H.R. isn’t exactly going off the reservation here.  I’d be rather stunned if the 4-star leadership of the Army didn’t get a heads up that the article was coming.

And Brian McGrath at ID, no slouch in the brains department himself, sees the article primarily as a shot at AirSea Battle, the joint Air Force-Navy effort to address anti-access efforts by our potential enemies.

Major General H.R. McMaster is one of the smartest men in our military, the epitome of a warrior-scholar.  He has been famous since he was a Major and he is one of the few serving officers who can confidently have his work placed in the New York Times, which he did yesterday.  He is the most eloquent advocate for land power on the scene today, and he will invariably provide much of the Army’s intellectual heft in the coming QDR and concomitant budget battles.  Read closely in his NYT piece and you see the Army’s argument clearly.  That is, without even mentioning AirSea Battle, he has lumped it in with the Revolution in Military Affairs, Net Centricity, and Rumsfeld’s reorganization ideas as fashionable passing fancies we must not follow again.  Instead, we must keep in high readiness a large powerful Army capable of combined arms maneuver AND the ability to occupy large portions of the earth’s surface.
If you think that I’m wrong, and that he’s not arguing against AirSea Battle, then it is not worth your time to read on.  If you think he is or might be, then consider moving forward.

I think McGrath is right. McMaster is taking a shot across AirSea Battle’s bow.

Furthermore, I think McMaster is right. I’ve always been a strong proponent of a strong Navy, and robust airpower. But the Army (and to a lesser extent, the Marines) see ASB not so much as a tool for future warfare, but  a truce in the looming defense budget battles, in which the Navy and Air Force will set aside their long animosity and attempt to bolster their budget out of the Army’s hide.

Maybe that is paranoia, but then again, maybe not.

And as a practical matter, simply wishing away the need for large numbers of ground troop in future warfare is simply that- wishing.  Not once since the end of World War II has the nation engaged in a significant war or military intervention and decided it had more than enough ground troops. Instead, we’ve repeatedly found ourselves scrambling to increase the numbers of formations available, at great cost in money, time, and sadly, often in lives.

I’d be far, far more receptive to the Navy’s arguments for a larger slice of the budget pie if recent history hadn’t shown just how bad the Navy can be at using what it has.  The utter trainwreck that is the LCS program leads front and center. The goldplated LPD-17 class is a close second.  Building amphibious warfare ships without a well-deck for the LHA-6 class chimes in as well.  And now we’re hearing rumbles that the replacement for the LSD-41 class might be a stretched LPD-17 (as opposed to a much cheaper modernized LSD-41 hull).

Don’t even get me started on the JSF tri-service fighter boondoggle.

I’ll grant you that Army procurement hasn’t been much better, but at least the Army has had the good sense to cancel monstrosities rather than pushing on to production.

This will hardly be the only shot fired in a newspaper Op-Ed page. We can, in the next few years, expect to see more from all sides.


Filed under Air Force, army, navy

Tintypes on the Battlefield

In an homage to Matthew Brady,

Ed Drew is an artist who’s studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, pursuing a BFA in sculpture with a minor in photography. He’s also a defensive heavy weapons and tactics specialist for the California Air National Guard.

When Drew was deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan this past April as a helicopter aerial gunner, he decided to bring his passion for photography with him. What resulted were the first tintype photos to be created in a combat zone since the Civil War.
The Brooklyn-born photographer tells us that his motivation for the project was to stay sharp and not get rusty while he was away from home. “I was really interested in making art while I was in Afghanistan so I wouldn’t lose my momentum in my absence from art school,” he says.

Many of the photographs are of his fellow soldiers who fly Air Force rescue helicopters. Some of the images show the helicopters themselves.

Creating tintypes on the battlefield was a challenging experience. In between flying on combat missions, Drew found that his chemicals would react to the harsh environment there in ways that you wouldn’t see in the quiet safety of a photo studio. It made him “really appreciate every plate’s individual creation,” he says.

Be sure to look at all the pics. They’re fascinating.

These Are the First Combat Zone Tintype Photos Created Since the Civil War fYLIh3k



40th Anniversary of the All Volunteer Force

Esli reminded me that today marks the 40th anniversary of the All Volunteer Force. To the best of my knowledge, there remain no more draftees on active duty.*

The initial efforts of the AVF were shaky at best. Hot on the heels of the unpopular Vietnam War, and with pay, benefits and infrastructure such as barracks and housing ill funded, finding quality recruits for the Army (and the other branches) was challenging, and standards slipped to levels the even the dark days of 2005 would call appalling. The vast majority of enlistees were decent, honorable folks trying to do their best, but there were enough miscreants in the force to badly damage the entire service. Drug use and alcohol abuse were rampant, discipline was sometimes less  than we might hope for, and the lack of funds for training and maintenance led to a hollow force.

It wasn’t until the very end of the Carter Administration that pay for soldiers began to be increased to something approaching a living wage, and of course, the boom years of the Reagan buildup lead to the once reviled Armed Forces quickly becoming the most trusted institution in America.

The AVF has not been without its challenges and critics since then. For one thing, there’s a perception that it is disconnected from the American people, and that the political class have little worry that their sons and daughters will be the ones called to sally forth into battle.

For another thing, an AVF is expensive. The single largest cost for the armed services is personnel. Salary, housing, health care, care for family members, and retirement costs, and health care costs for retirees (and their families), the very things that make a career in the service attractive, also drive much of the costs of our Department of Defense.

There is simply no popular support for a draft, so that leaves three choices for manning the services.

1. Pay the cost. It’s expensive, but it also has provided a stunningly capable military.

2. Freeze the costs, which will make service much less attractive. To maintain anything approaching our current end strength, this would require lowering standards, a proposition virtually every military professional is loathe to consider.

3. Pay the cost, but to a much, much smaller force. Numerically, for the size of our population, we don’t have a historically large armed forces. But it is an incredibly capable one. A willingness to accept a certain level of strategic risk could mean acceptance of a significantly smaller armed forces. But the problem with strategic risk is, that risk or a similar one almost always comes to pass.

At any event, it is highly likely that for the foreseeable future, the force will continue to be all volunteer.

*Obviously, the term of their conscription ended long ago, but a surprising number of draftees made careers of the Army.



COINage- Or Broncos and Mohawks, Oh my!

We’ve written a few times about the Air Force program to develop a Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft (LAARA), primarily to arm nations such as Afghanistan and Iraq; allies that cannot afford, nor need, to operate high performance jets. These LAARA aircraft would normally operate in a permissive air defense environment over the host nation’s territory, and not have to cope with a sophisticated Integrated Air Defense System of radars and radar guided missiles. At worst, they would face the occasional MANPADS shoulder launched missile. The Air Force would likely own a small batch of any such production run primarily to serve as a training base for foreign users. The two prime candidate aircraft have pretty much always been the AT-6B Texan II from Beechcraft, and the A-29 SuperTucano from EMBRAER.

Given the rather stupendous costs of operating fast jets, in terms of cost per flight hour, we’re rather amazed how lukewarm the Air Force has been about the program. Fielding a wing or two of small, inexpensive aircraft would cost relatively little. It would also tend to show the Army that the Air Force was serious about meeting the needs of the Army, rather than maintaining its reputation for jealously guarding its independence. I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Unfortunately, what I wrote in that last link seems to be rather spot on:

At this point, I’m not really concerned with which platform they choose, just that they choose one.

But I’ve got unfailing insight into the future. Let me tell you what will happen. The fighter mafia, not wanting to get stuck with unsexy airplanes, have been dragging their feet on this, and will continue to do so. As US involvement in Afghanistan is trimmed back, the push to buy these LAARA birds will diminish somewhat, and then the fighter mafia will use the looming $400bn in defense cuts to argue that we can’t afford to buy and operate a new airplane.

LAARA is a good idea, long overdue (I mean, we’ve only been fighting in Afghanistan for 9 whole years!) and will almost certainly never reach operational status.

LAARA isn’t a dead program yet, but I haven’t seen it twitch much lately, much less move forward. Part of that is institutional foot dragging. And then there’s the political side, with various blocs in Congress pulling for one or the other of the two bidders. Beechcraft has been rather irritating in its insistence that the program be rewritten and recompeted time and again to give them a chance, never mind the EMBRAER product has been ready off-the-shelf almost since day one.

The Air Force’s argument is that to a great extent, it’s armed MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones provide the capability for long endurance Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Light Attack that the ground units need. To a certain extent they do, but they lack the responsiveness that Army commanders want. Unfortunately, Army commanders don’t get to dictate what the Air Force buys.

But there is another constituency that really wants a manned ISR/Light Attack capability, and while they can’t force the Air Force to buy stuff, they can lobby their own service to provide a niche capability. Navy Special Warfare, primarily the SEALs, has long wanted to have a LAARA type aircraft available to support some of their operations. Big Navy may not want to see the world revolve around NavSpecWar, but they do want to see them succeed. And so the SEALs brothers in NavAir started poking around to find a way to field about four airplanes to support them.

Under a program name of Imminent Fury, NavAir in early 2009 leased a SuperTucano, and tested it extensively. But when the Navy looked to move to Phase II, sending a detachment of four planes to Afghanistan, Congress slapped them down, hard. Imminent Fury had been run outside the normal procurement channels. That’s a pretty fair sized sin, in and off itself. But worse, the Navy was seen as giving EMBRAER the inside track on the Air Force LAARA program itself. NavAir was told in no uncertain terms that not only could they not lease four SuperTucanos, nor send them to Afghanistan, they couldn’t lease a single one, even stateside.

But Naval Aviators are wiley warriors, and a little thing like losing their airplane wasn’t going to ground them. They simply started looking around for another airplane. What they wanted was a light turboprop airplane, seating for two, capability to carry a fair ordnance load, and the ability to carry a sophisticated sensor system. Oh, and they had to be free.  And as it turn out, they had a pretty good idea where to find a couple. After all, the Navy (as well as the Marines and Air Force) had operated just such a plane once. The OV-10 Bronco. The Marines had modernized their fleet in the 1980s. When they’d retired them shortly after Desert Storm, they’d put some in the boneyard, given some to friendly nations, and  given a couple to NASA, who are always in the market for cheap aircraft to support various test programs.

And so, under a program called Combat Dragon II, the Navy is quietly operating those two NASA Broncos, updated and designated as the OV-10G+.

And it appears that whatever modifications the Navy wanted done were completed in-house at Patuxet River, MD, as now the aircraft, with Black Pony insignia as a nod to the heritage of VAL-4, are out west at Nellis AFB supporting various exercises to demonstrate their capabilities.

OV-10G+ at Nellis AFB

OV-10G+ at Nellis AFB

Click to greatly embiggenfy.

And the Bronco isn’t the only Cold War era COIN aircraft in the news.

There just may be a market for its uglier Army cousin, the OV-1 Mohawk.

Where the Bronco started as an attack aircraft with some reconnaissance capability, the Mohawk was a reconnaissance aircraft with some attack capability. But other than some very brief use early in the Vietnam War, its attack capability has languished.

But there is a market for quite a few nations that face internal instability, such as in South America, for an airplane or two (rather than a squadron) to support ground operations. And maybe the Bronco would be an ideal fit for them. But most of the Bronco fleet is worn out from hard use. But there are a goodly number of OV-1Ds sitting in the desert with a decent amount of fatigue life remaining.

And so, ATK, with other industry partners, is quietly getting into the business of updating, and arming, Mohawks for overseas users.

The latest version of the OV-1D Mohawk Armed with a 30 MM chain gun

Obvious changes from a stock OV-1D include the sensor turret under the nose, the rocket launchers on pylons outboard of the standard external fuel tanks, and most intriguingly of all, the 30mm M230 Chain Gun under the centerline. Presumably it is articulated in a manner similar to its use on the AH-64 Apache.

All this retro aviation stuff has me looking for some bell bottom jeans and a Nehru jacket.


Filed under Air Force, army, ARMY TRAINING, iraq, navy