U.S. Armed Forces Vision For Future Air Warfare

[Source: Naval Air Vision 2014-2025]

I’ve been reviewing the U.S. armed forces vision for how to fight and win with the F-35. It plays a pretty central role in each services’ vision documents, meaning that they have all adapted to the “top-down” strategic guidance given by the Department of Defense (DOD). But the interesting part is the differences between the services’ documents and statements.

How The Services View Their F-35s

Below are the U.S. armed forces I’ve focused on, and their current and future plans for the F-35. The table is from the FlightGlobal World Air Forces 2017 report.

Given the large numbers of aircraft going to training units, we can see that all forces are building their new pilot numbers, and according to Lt Col Berke (via an Aviation Week interview), they will put new pilots into F-35s, so they simply learn a fifth generation mindset from scratch, rather than having to “un-learn” the fourth generation mindset.

We can also see the U.S. Marine Corps building active combat units, in their relative haste to declare Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in July 2015, and in support of their first F-35B overseas deployment to Iwakuni Airbase, Japan in January 2017. This deployment location is a good way to support both possible confrontation sites in Korea and the East China Sea.

[Source: Forbes]

Another viewpoint exists on the U.S. military force posture in Asia that is essentially militaristic. The map image above is from a Forbes article, calling other US media “blind to the militarism of its own mentality and approach, as well as to the essential militarism of the U.S. alliance system in Asia, with its “cornerstone” of U.S. bases, including the headquarters and the Seventh Fleet, and some 100,000 force personnel in Japan and South Korea.” The Marine Corps is apparently quite keen to replace their ageing AV-8B and early model F/A-18A/B/C/D aircraft (as they have skipped out on the Super Hornet F/A-18E/F).

Meanwhile the U.S. Navy has articulated their vision in a document from Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) entitled Naval Aviation Vision 2016-2025. They state:

The supersonic, multi-role, multi-service F-35 Lightning II represents a quantum leap in air superiority capability. Combining the next-generation fighter characteristics of radar-evading stealth, supersonic speed and fighter agility with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history, the F-35 delivers unprecedented lethality and survivability to Naval Aviation [emphasis added].

Their characterization of the F-35 as an instrument of air superiority is perhaps a bit too optimistic, or stretches the F-35 capability a bit too much. In an assessment from the U.S. Naval War College of “Chinese Air Superiority in the Near Seas”, the F-35 does not stand out from the pack of Chinese and American fourth generation fighters, in the same way that the F-22 clearly does:

Indeed, while the U.S. Air Force has big plans for the F-35, it also offers some cautionary words about the force design and balance that the F-22 brings to the fight. According to Chief of U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command Gen. Michael Hostage in a February 2014 interview:

Dealing with the Joint Strike Fighter, Hostage says he is ‘going to fight to the death to protect the F-35’ since the only way to keep up with the adversaries, which ‘are building fleets that will overmatch our legacy fleet’, is by employing a sufficient fleet of 1,763 (‘not one less’) F-35s. You can update and upgrade the F-15 and F-16 fleets, but they would still become obsolete in the next decade.  But, the F-22 Raptor will have to support the F-35. And here comes another problem. When the Raptor was produced it was flying ‘with computers that were already so out of date you would not find them in a kid’s game console in somebody’s home gaming system.’ Still, the U.S. Air Force was forced to use the stealth fighter plane as it was, because that was the way the spec was written. But now, the F-22 must be upgraded through a costly service life extension plan and modernization program because, ‘If I do not keep that F-22 fleet viable, the F-35 fleet frankly will be irrelevant. The F-35 is not built as an air superiority platform. It needs the F-22,” says Hostage to Air Force Times.’ [emphasis added].

F-22 + F-35 = Air Superiority

[Source: 5th Generation Fighters, Lt Gen Hawk Carlisle, USAF ACC]

So, is the F-35 a capable air superiority platform, or not? General Hodges in 2014:

[E]xamine [the] Raptor versus the Lightning. A Raptor at 50-plus thousand feet at Mach 2 with its RCS has a different level of invulnerability than a Lightning at 35,000 at Mach .9 and it’s RCS.  The altitude, speed, and stealth combined in the two platforms, they give the airplanes two completely different levels of capability. The plan is to normalize the Lightning’s capability relative to the Raptor by marrying it up with six, or seven or eight other Lightening’s. The advanced fusion of the F-35 versus the F-22 means those airplanes have an equal level or better level of invulnerability than the Raptors have, but it takes multiple airplanes to do it because of the synergistic fused attacks of their weapon systems.  That’s the magic of the fifth-gen F-35, but it takes numbers of F-35s to get that effect. That’s why I’ve been so strident on getting the full buy. Because if they whittle it down to a little tiny fleet like the Raptor, it’s not going to be compelling.

In a separate interview in 2015, “Re-norming of Airpower in Practice: An F-22 enabled Air Combat Force,” General Hawk Carlisle made the point that

[T]he F-22 was a key enabler for the air combat force currently, and had led to a re-norming of airpower in practice … It’s not just that the F-22s are so good, it’s that they make every other plane better. They change the dynamic with respect to what the other airplanes are able to do because of what they can do with regard to speed, range, and flexibility. It’s their stealth quality. It’s their sensor fusion. It’s their deep penetration capability. It is the situational awareness they provide for the entire fleet which raises the level of the entire combat fleet to make everybody better.  The F-22s make the Eagles better, and the A-10s better, and the F-16s better. They make the bombers better. They provide information. They enable the entire fight. And its information dominance, its sensor fusion capability, it’s a situational awareness that they can provide to the entire package which raises the level of our capabilities in the entire fight. This is not about some distant future; it is about the current fight.

This point is nicely illustrated with the kind of cross domain information-sharing capability which embodies “joint-ness” and is demonstrated by F-22’s providing targeting data to submarines (SSGN) for land-attack cruise missiles.

General Carlisle also announced that “[t]he exercise coming up at Langley in December 2015 will feature the F-22 flying with the Typhoon (XI Squadron from the RAF) and the Rafales from the French Air Force. What these three aircraft have in come is that they all are about 10 years old in terms of combat experience and life.”

Perhaps these exercises were engineered to test improvements to the F-22’s combat capabilities, especially Within-Visual-Range (WVR), aptly named since the Mark 1 human eyeball becomes a sensor that stealth cannot fool. In May of 2015, the Raptor fired its first AIM-9X sidewinder, latest generation dogfight missiles. Along with a helmet-mounted sight, this capability was fielded by the Soviet Union in 1984, when the R-73 (AA-11 “Archer”) was mated to the MiG-29 Fulcrum. According to Lt. Col. Fred “Spanky” Clifton, who is one of the most experienced aggressor pilots ever, having flown the F-15, F-5, F-16 and the notorious MiG-29,  “[i]n the WVR (within visual range) arena, a skilled MiG-29 pilot can give and Eagle or Viper driver all he/she wants.”

The experience at Red Flag Alaska in 2012, a training exercise which saw the F-22 go up against Typhoons of the German Luftwaffe, was perhaps humbling for the Air Force to some degree, as the German pilots reported they had “Raptor salad for lunch,” and subsequently painted F-22 kills on their aircraft. This may have provided some impetus to deploy better capabilities; this year, Raptor pilots were happy to see the incremental update 3.2, which fielded the AIM-9X capability.

The 9X Block 1 version of the dual-use, infrared missile is “a dramatic leap within visual range missile capabilities,” said Lt. Col. Daniel, an F-22 pilot of the 95th Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. … with the AIM-9M ‘Mike’ we kind of went out there going, ‘We have six missiles,” Daniel joked, referring to the increased effort required to make the weapon effective in modern combat operations. ‘With AIM-9X, we step out the door going, ‘We got eight missiles on the jet.’

The helmet-mounted sight is due by 2020 for the F-22.

The Future of Air Superiority: BVR or WVR?

This seems clear, the F-22 dominates the fight from Beyond Visual Range (BVR), where its stealth and radar provide it the initiative and the ability to use the element of surprise in its favor. An analysis by Aviation Week, using publicly available data from system manufacturers, illustrates this quantitatively and graphically.

Large ‘fourth-generation’ fighters such as the F-15, Su-27 and Tornado have radar cross-sections (RCS) of 10-15 m2. The F-16 and “Gen-4.5” fighters—Typhoon, Rafale, Su-35 and Super Hornet—are believed to be in the 1-3-m2 range. The F-35 and F-22 RCSs are said to equal a golf ball and marble, respectively. Based on Sukhoi’s claims that its Su-35 can detect 3-m2 targets at 400 km in a narrow-angle, maximum-power search, Aviation Week estimated how far away it can detect these fighters. Note the detection range in a standard search is half as much. [Credit: Colin Throm/AW&ST]

Almaz-Antey says the S-400’s 92N6E “Gravestone” fire-control radar can detect a 4-m2 radar-cross-section target at 250 km. Based on this figure, Aviation Week estimated its detection range against modern fighter aircraft. [Credit: Colin Throm/AW&ST]

The F-35 should be able to use these same tactics, as it has those capabilities as well.  Once the fight devolves into WVR, even the Raptor, designed as an air superiority platform, finds challenges with capable fourth generation opponents. Should we expect the F-35 to fare better or worse than the F-22 in the same situation?

It seems this is one of the key questions in air-to-air combat modeling or war-gaming: how often are engagements taking place at BVR, and how often are they WVR? This is all the more challenging since “visual range” is a highly dynamic and situational.

The Russian Artillery Strike That Spooked The U.S. Army

Images of the aftermath of the Zelenopillya rocket attack on 11 July 2014. Photos from Oleksiy Kovalevsky’s Facebook page [Unian Information Agency]

In the second week of July 2014, elements of four brigades of the Ukrainian Army Ground Forces were assembling near the village of Zelenopillya, along a highway leading north to the city of Luhansk, Ukraine. They were deploying along the border with Russia as part of an operation to cut the lines of supply to paramilitary forces of the separatist Luhansk People’s Republic operating in the Luhansk Oblast.

A combined Ukrainian Army and police operation in May and June had achieved considerable success against the Separatist forces and the government of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had declared a unilateral cease-fire in late June. Ukrainian forces resumed the offensive at the beginning of July and fighting broke out around the Luhansk International Airport on 9 July

Zelenopillya, Ukraine and surrounding area [Google Maps]

At about 0430 on the morning of 11 July, a column of battalions from the Ukrainian 24th and 72nd Mechanized Brigades and 79th Airmobile Brigade was struck with an intense artillery barrage near Zelenopillya. The attack lasted only three minutes or so, but imagery posted online of the alleged aftermath reported a scene of devastation and scores of burned out vehicles (see below). Ukraine’s Defense Ministry admitted to 19 killed and 93 wounded in the attack, though other sources claimed up to 36 fatalities. No figures were released on the number of vehicles lost, but a survivor reported on social media that a battalion of the 79th Airmobile Brigade had been almost entirely destroyed.

Video of the aftermath of the attack on Zelenopillya. [LiveLeak]

The Ukrainians quickly identified the perpetrators as “terrorists” using short-range BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch systems (MLRS) firing across the border from Russian territory, which was only nine kilometers from Zelenopillya. Independent analyses by various open-source intelligence groups amassed persuasive circumstantial evidence supporting the allegation. On 16 July, the U.S. government instituted a round of additional sanctions against Russia, including Russian arms manufacturers and leaders and governments of the Separatist People’s Republic of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic.

Video of Russian MLRSs allegedly firing from the same location as the 11 July 2014 strike on Zelenopillya. [YouTube]

Western military analysts took notice of the Zelenopillya attack and similar strikes on Ukrainian forces through the summer of 2014. What caught their attention was the use of drones by the Separatists and their Russian enablers to target Ukrainian forces in near-real time. The Ukrainians had spotted Separatist drones as early as May, but their number and sophistication increased significantly in July, as Russian-made models were also identified.

Analysts also noted that the Zelenopillya rocket strike incorporated a Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munition (DPICM)  mix of air-dropped mines, top-down anti-tank submuntions, and thermobaric fuel/air explosives to achieve a devastating effect. They surmised the munitions were delivered by Tornado-G 122mm MLRS, an upgraded version of the BM-21 introduced into the Russian Army in 2011.

The sophistication and effectiveness of the attack, in combination with other technological advances in Russian armaments, and new tactics demonstrated in the conflict with Ukraine, prompted the U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center, then led by Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, to initiate the Russian New Generation Warfare Study to look at how these advances might influence future warfare. The advent of new long-range precision strike capabilities, high-quality air defense systems, maritime anti-access weapons, information operations and cyber warfare, combined with the adoption of anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategies by potential adversaries led into the technologically-rooted Third Offset Strategy and development of the Army and U.S. Marine Corps’ new Multi-Domain Battle concepts.

Probably Doesn’t Mean Much…but….

Probably doesn’t mean much but 7,000 protestors is a pretty big protest by Russian standards. Still, it appears that the authorities were concerned enough that they put it down quickly with hundreds of arrests (500?). There were times when they were less concerned about opposition. Next presidential election is in 2018.




The F-35 Is Not A Fighter

I’ve been listening to Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work speak on the Third Offset Strategy.  He spoke at Defense One Production forum (2015-09-30), and again to Air Command and Staff College students, (2016-05-27).  What follows are some rough notes and paraphrasing, aimed at understanding the strategy, and connecting the F-35 platform and its capabilities to the strategy.

Work gives an interesting description of his job as Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Department of Defense (DOD), which is “one of the biggest corporations on the planet,” and having a “simple” mission, “to organize, train and equip a joint force that is ready for war and that is operated forward to preserve the peace.”

The Roots of the Third Offset Strategy

Why do we care about Third Offset?  “We have to deal with the resurgence of great power competition.”  What is a great power? Work credits John Mearsheimer’s definition, but in his own words, it is “a large state that can take on the dominant global state (the United States) and really give them a run for their money, and have a nuclear deterrent force that can survive a first strike. Don’t really care about economic power, or soft power, the focus is only on military capabilities.”

This is quite interesting, since economic power begets military capabilities.  A poor China and a rich China are worlds’ apart in terms of the military power that they can field.  Also, the stop and start nature of basing agreements with the Philippines under Duterte might remove key bases close to the South China Sea battlefield, having a huge impact on the ability of the US military to project power, as the RAND briefing from yesterday’s post illustrated in rather stark terms.

What has changed to require the Third Offset?  Great power rivals have duplicated our Second Offset strategy, of precision guided munitions, stealth and operational (campaign) level battle networks.  This strategy gave the US and allies an advantage for forty years.  “We’ve lived in a unique time in post-Wesphalian era, where one state is so dominant relative to its peers.”  He sees a dividing line in 2014, when two events occur:

  1. China starts to reclaim islands in the South China Sea
  2. Russia annexes Crimea and destabilizes Ukraine

Also, the nature of technology development has changed as well.  In the Cold War, technological innovation happens in government labs:

  • 1950’s – nuclear weapon miniaturization
  • 1960’s – space and rocket technology
  • 1970’s – precision guided munitions, stealth, information technology
  • 1980’s – large scale system of systems

From 2012, militarily-relevant technologies are happening in the commercial sphere:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Autonomous Weapons Systems
  • Robotics
  • Digitization
  • Fight from Range
  • Operate from inside their battle network
  • Cyber and EW, how to take down their network?

“This means we know where to start, but we don’t know where it ends.”  Of this list of technologies, he calls out AI and Autonomy as at the forefront.  He defines Autonomy as “the delegation of decision authority to some entity in the battle network. Manned or unmanned system … what you are looking for is human-machine symbiosis.

What do you need to do this?  First, deep-learning systems.  “Up until 2015, a human analyst was consistently more accurate at identifying an object in an image than a machine. In 2015, this changed. …  when a machine makes a mistake, it makes a big one.”  He then tells the story of a baby holding a baseball bat, “which the machine identified as an enemy armed combatant. … machines looked for patterns, and then provide them to humans who can use their intitive and strategic acuity to determine what’s going on.

The F-35 and Strategy

As an example of how this might play out, a machine can generate the Air Tasking Order (ATO – which is a large document that lists all of the sorties and targets to be prosecuted by joint air forces in a 24-hour period, per Wikipedia) … in minutes or hours, instead of many analysts working for hours or days. “We are after human-computer collaborative decision-making.” In 1997, super computer “Deep Blue” beat Gary Kasparov in chess, which was a big deal at the time. In 2005, however, two amateur chess players using three computers beat a field of grand masters and field of super computers. “It was the human strategic guidance combined with the tactical acuity of the computer that we believe will be the most important thing.”  He then goes on to highlight an example of this human-machine collaboration:

The F-35 is not a fighter plane. It shouldn’t even be called the F-35. It should be called the BN-35, the “Battle Network”-35. It is a human-machine collaboration machine that is unbelievable. The Distributed Aperture System (DAS), and all the sensors, and the network which pours into the plane; the plane processes it and displays it to the pilot, so that the pilot can make accurate, relevant and quick decisions. That’s why that airplane is going to be so good.

Work also covers another topic near and dear to me, wargaming.  Perhaps a war game is a great opportunity for humans and machines to practice collaboration?

We are reinvigorating wargaming, which has really gone down over the past years. We’re looking at more at the service level, more at the OSD level, and these are very, very helpful for us to develop innovative leaders, and also helpful for us to go after new and innovative concepts.

He mentions the Schriever Wargame. “[O]nce you start to move forces, your great power rival will start to use cyber to try to slow down those forces … the distinction between away games and home games is no longer relevant to us.”

Next, I’ll look at the perspectives of the services as they adopt the F-35 in different ways.


U.S. Army Moving Forward With Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) Program

Steven Miller of Shephard Media reports that the U.S. Army is moving forward with its assault gun light tank Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) program. He quotes Colonel William Nuckols, director of the Mounted Requirements Division at the U.S. Army Maneuver Center if Excellence, “As of today, [MPF] is not an ‘interim’ solution. BOIP [fielding numbers] have been determined and set. Again, as of today, every [Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT)] will get a company of MPF.” Miller writes “This would see a production requirement of around 500 if the Army National Guard IBCTs, war reserves, prepositioned stocks and training needs are included.”

What has not been determined, however, is exactly which vehicle this will be, nor the specific capabilities it will have. The MPF program is part of the Army’s Combat Vehicle Modernization Strategy to remedy shortfalls in IBCT lethality and mobility in the short-term with off-the-shelf solutions. The Army is exploring trade-offs with potential manufacturers between rapid fielding, reduced price and reduced risk, and the potential for future upgrades in capabilities. It intends to finalize the program’s Capability Development Document (CDD) for approval in May 2017.

Since the MPF is intended to provide direct fire support, lethality is the prime desired capability, according to Nuckols, This is manifested in the requirement for the MPF vehicle to mount a 120mm gun, although the Army is willing to accept a 105mm gun initially. Since the Army also wants to be able to deploy two MPF vehicles by C-17 air transport, this will limit the vehicle to approximately 40 tons, or medium-weight. The Army would like the vehicle to be capable of insertion via air-drop, but since the need for direct fire support for all IBCTs is deemed more important, this likely won’t be a demand.

Nuckols suggested to Miller that the MPF “would have 15% inherent growth capacity in the platform to accept new capabilities down the road.” This would include the addition of an active protection system (APS), which has become de rigueur for modern armored vehicles. In fact, it is a bit of a surprise that the Army is even willing to field the MPF initially without it.

Off-The-Shelf Options

The Army wants the MPF sooner rather than later, so it is pursuing acquisition of off-the-shelf technology. So far, the likely candidates are General Dynamics Land System’s Griffin Technology Demonstrator and British Aerospace Engineering (BAE) Systems’ M8 Armored Gun System.

The M8 was originally designed in the 1990s as a replacement for the Army’s M551 Sheridan light tank used by airborne forces. It has a crew of three and an automatic gun-loading system. Modular armor gives it a weight of between 19 and 24 tons depending on options, which would make it air-dropable and up to three could fit in a C-17. It only mounts a 105mm gun, however, and BAE Systems plans on upgrading its infrared sight, turret electronics, and powertrain.

The Griffin mates a new lightweight, aluminum-constructed turret mounting a 120mm smoothbore gun on an Ajax Scout Specialist Vehicle chassis, originally designed for the British Army. This configuration weighs in at 28 tons, but the addition of reactive armor and APS would increase the weight. The vehicle is a “conversation starter” and would be modified based on Army feedback.

MPF and Multi-Domain Battle

As I have discussed before, the MPF concept is something of a throwback, as the U.S. Army long ago phased out dedicated direct fire support for its light infantry. The desire to move forward quickly with procurement suggests a serious concern that Army light infantry maneuver units might be left without sufficient on-call firepower in anti-access/area denial combat environments. A new article by two U.S. Marine Corps officers expresses a similar concern.

This suggests there might be some doctrinal dissonance at work as the Army and Marine Corps press forward with their Multi-Domain Battle concept. It is not entirely clear whether the Army intends for MPF to be just dedicated mobile firepower support, or if it is actually adding organic light/medium-weight tank companies to its IBCTs, or maybe both. Historically, anything that looks like a tank, even if not designed for tank combat, invariably gets pressed into that role, usually with less than happy results.

It is also interesting that the Army does not appear to be seeking a cross-domain fire solution to the problem. This could be because of the newness of the Multi-Domain Battle concept, or it might be due to some ambiguity of the role of light infantry on future battlefields. With the trend clearly shifting toward greater jointness and cross-domain targeting, it would seem odd for light infantry to be going in another direction.

F-22 vs. F-35: Thoughts On Fifth Generation Fighters

F-22 and F-35 [War on the Rocks]

[This is the first post from Geoffery Clark, a guest contributor to Mystics & Statistics. TDI is pleased to share his perspective and insights.]

This post begins a series on air warfare, how it has evolved, and where it is headed in the future. My goal is to highlight key facts that I believe are meaningful to help understand capabilities, both existing and emerging, and how they might play out in battle. Of course, I will also hypothesize, speculate from time to time, perhaps even downright evangelize. Those actions will obey the doctrine of separation of church and state. A good place to start a series on air warfare is the current state of the US Air Force (USAF) fighter programs, specifically the fifth generation F-35 and sibling F-22.

To disclose my own biases, I’ve been a skeptic of the F-35 aircraft for a long time, largely because my father worked on the F-22 program, and a certain amount of rivalry exists between these two programs. Often the F-35 capabilities have been compared to the F-22, as they are the first two fifth generation fighters into service with any air force. USAF Air Combat Command (ACC) has stated that anything that you can do in a Raptor (F-22) you can do with a Lightening (F-35), you just need more of them to do it. This has stoked the embers of those on the F-22 program, who saw their program end after several build curtailments, as prospects for export were squashed in congress; although production resumption bills spring up from time to time.

My personal opinion is that the F-22 advantages are fleeting, as all military advantage seems to be (“military secrets are the most fleeting of all.” ~ Spock, Star Trek, “The Enterprise Incident”), we should thus sell the Raptor to allies, dulling the stealth coatings to acceptable export levels, and using the opportunity to upgrade the Raptor’s avionics, sensors, cockpit and software (aka “real-time sensor fusion engine”, per Lt Col Berke, see below) to keep the platform optimized and relevant in the decades to come.

I’ve not been alone in my skepticism of the F-35; from War is Boring:
* ‘Your New Stealth Fighter is Really, Really Awful‘ (I bought this book for my Dad!)
* ‘The F-35 Stealth Fighter May Never Be Ready for Combat
* ‘Denmark’s F-35 Decision is Pretty Dumb
* ‘F’d: How the U.S. and Its Allies Got Stuck with the World’s Worst New Warplane

Perhaps most famously, the “Pacific View” briefing from RAND to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) back in 2008, which was leaked and apparently caused a bit of embarrassment for RAND. This was widely reported by F-35 critics, echoing the lines in the report “F-35A is “Double Inferior” … can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run.” (see attached slides, number 80). Dr. John Stillion, one of two listed authors, departed RAND, and is now at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), and has published some interesting viewpoints on future air warfare.

In the course of data collection and analysis, however, I’ve come to challenge my own bias, and consider the F-35 for what it is, what capabilities it brings to the field, and what that means for air warfare. What has caused this change of heart? More information about what the F-35 can do, for example, Aviation Week’s “Check Six” podcast, interview with Lt Col David Berke, USMC. Berke has flown both fourth generation fighters (F/A-18, F-16 “loves them”) and fifth generation fighters (F-22, F-35). Such first-hand evidence is essential to understand the capabilities of these aircraft as they develop in the hands of operators, whom he likens to app developers on the iPhone platform. They don’t ask “what can this plane do for me?”, rather “what can I do with this airplane?”

F-35 is in a world of its own, you’re talking about a level of awareness. Data is fused and presented, I can look at it and tell with a glance what’s happening, almost like watching a baseball game, I can see where everyone is. Then I can choose to drill into something, such as second base, and I can see what sensors are contributing, how confident those sensors are, see who else might be helping me out, constantly presented with information on the spectra, and thinking about which sensors are best to use in different situations. How can you best contribute to the development of this information? This is nothing like fourth gen platforms, which might have the link 16 network, but they did not fly around thinking ‘how can I better contribute to the link 16 network?’

Berke was quite candid about the state of the military networks, saying that “evolution of what this networking will allow us to do, we are in the infancy with this… those networks are in some ways yet to be created.” Indeed, USAF leadership is asking for help with technology; “fusing sensor data and communications from the land, sea, air, space and cyberspace will be key to the U.S. military’s success in future battlefields,” General David Goldfein said at the Air Force Association’s annual Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando Florida. “The victory in future conflict … will go to that leader who can command and control his or her forces to create multiple dilemmas from multiple domains … at a pace that would overwhelm any enemy on the planet while denying the enemy the ability to do the same.”

According to Berke, “the most precious commodity by a huge margin is data … situation awareness … information. The ability to make a more intelligent decision, earlier than your opponent, and do something smart with an airplane because you know what is going on around you.”

This reminds me of John Boyd’s famous OODA loop – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.

More to come on this topic!

The Iraqi Army Has Entered the Old City

The offensive is continuing and they have entered the old city: Iraq-forces-seize-ground-mosul-old-city

The estimate is that there are about 2,000 ISIL fighters left behind in Mosul (along with 700,000 civilians): in-mosul-a-heavy-but-not-crushing-blow-to-is-group

In Fallujah in 2004, they left behind about a 1,000 fighters. The November 2004 Fallujah operation did turn into a slow mop-up that cost the U.S. Army and U.S. Marines 65 KIA, 582 WIA, 1 NBD (non-battle death) and 54 NBI (non-battle injury).

Right now, I am editing Chapter 16 of my book War by Numbers. That chapter is called “Urban Legends” and covers the findings from the three reports we did on urban warfare in 2002-2004. So, if I have not been posting much lately on the blog, there is a good reason for it. Trying to keep the book on its scheduled August release date.

Army/Marine Multi-Domain Battle White Paper Available

The joint U.S. Army/U.S. Marine Corps white paper, “Multi-Domain Battle: Combined Arms for the 21st Century,” dated 24 February 2017, outlining their initial thoughts on the concept is available online at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) website.

TRADOC also has a page devoted specifically to Multi-Domain Battle.

A New-Style Army Brigade For Multi-Domain Battle

Schematic depiction of Douglas Macgregor’s proposed Reconnaissance Strike Group (RSG). Douglas Macgregor, PhD, “Information Briefing on the Reconnaissance Strike Group (RSG) as presented in the FY 17 National Defense Authorization Bill,” 31 October 2016

As the U.S. Army and Marine Corps work together to define multi-domain battle, their joint concept for waging warfare in the near future, will they redesign their force structures? This seems possible for the Army at least; Congress has already ordered it to evaluate proposed changes. In the context of the ongoing debate over U.S. Army readiness, Daniel L. Davis, a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities at The National Interest, highlights one idea whose time may have come: the Reconnaissance Strike Group (RSG).

The RSG concept is the brainchild of Douglas Macgregor (LTC, U.S. Army, retired), a Gulf War combat veteran, military thinker, and author who has acquired a reputation as a gadfly for his forceful critiques of U.S. land warfare doctrine and recent combat operations. Macgregor has been an outspoken advocate since the 1990s for reorganizing the Army to fully exploit the advantages promised by the Revolution in Military Affairs and maneuver warfare.

Congress Gets Involved

Macgregor’s arguments have received renewed attention following sobering assessments of the implications of Russia’s successful military operations in the Ukraine. He gained a powerful patron after briefing Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in January 2015. McCain subsequently arranged for Macgregor to brief other senators and Congressional staff on his assessments of relative U.S. and Russian military capabilities as well as the RSG concept.

In January 2016, the National Commission on the Future of the Army, created by the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, recommended that Congress mandate that the Army assess alternative combat force design and operational concepts, including the RSG. Section 1091 of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Barack Obama in October 2016, directed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Chief of Staff of the Army to separately report on “alternative Army operational concepts and organizational designs, known as the Reconnaissance Strike Group.” (It is not clear from this wording if this applies only to the RSG or to other concepts and designs as well.)

In consultation with the United States European Command commander, the JCS Chairman and Army Chief of Staff are each to appraise operational merits, feasible force mix under programmed end-strength, estimated costs for assessed potential force structure changes, and strategic force sufficiency and risks. Their findings are then to be each independently reviewed and evaluated by a Federally Funded Research and Development Center of their choice. The final reports, independent reviews, and JCS Chairman and Army Chief of Staff recommendations are to be submitted to the Senate and House armed services committees no later than October 2017.

The RSG and Multi-Domain Battle

Since the passage of the 2017 NDAA, the Army has publicly unveiled its multi-domain battle operational concept and committed to developing it in conjunction with the Marine Corps. What impact this may have on the RSG concept evaluation is not clear. On the face of it, the RSG appears tailor-made for multi-domain battle. However, while Macgregor was lobbying on its behalf in 2015, LTG H. R. McMaster, then commander of the U.S. Army’s Capabilities Integration Center (now currently the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs) was reported to be a skeptic. McMaster appeared to disagree with Macgregor’s assertions that the current Army Brigade Combat Team structures were too heavy and ponderous to fight effectively in hybrid warfare environments. He suggested that Macgregor’s proposed RSGs were insufficiently manned to conduct vitally important stabilization operations and were too lightly supported logistically.

These disagreements were likely more apparent than real. McMaster’s subsequent emphasis on cross-domain fires as one solution to the challenges of Russian military capabilities and anti-access/area denial environments sound strikingly similar to Macgregor’s “all arms/all effects” RSG concepts. The capabilities Macgregor advocates and claims for the RSG comport very closely to the current conceptualization of multi-domain battle. If the Army does not adopt the RSG, it will probably develop come up with very similar.

That is not to say that multi-domain battle and the RSG do not face some serious opposition within the Army. The changes they portend will have serious repercussions on the armor and airborne branches and more traditional warfighting concepts. I will take a closer look at the RSG concept and its possible implications in my next post.