The Japanese Aerospace Industry

A schematic rendering of Japan’s proposed F-3 fighter []

In my previous post, I discussed the progression of aircraft in use by the Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) since World War II. Japan has also invested significant sums in its domestic aerospace manufacturing capability over this same time period.

Japanese aircraft manufacturing has long been closely tied to the U.S Air Force (USAF) and U.S. aerospace majors offering aircraft for sales, as well as licensed production. Japanese aerospace trade groups categorize this into several distinct phases, including:

  • Restarting the aircraft business – starting in 1952 during the Korean War, Japanese aerospace firms like Mitsubishi and Kawasaki reacquired aircraft manufacturing capability by securing contacts with the USAF for maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of damaged USAF aircraft, including the F-86 Sabre, considered by the Americans to be the star aircraft of the war (although many believe its opponent from the Soviet side, the MiG-15 to have been superior.) There was little doubt, then, that the JASDF would purchase the F-86 and then license its domestic production.
  • Licensed production of US military aircraft – “Japan has engaged in licensed production of U.S. state-of-the-art fighter planes, from the F-86 to the F-104, the F-4, and the F-15. Through these projects, the Japanese aircraft industry revived the technical capabilities necessary to domestically manufacture entire aircraft.”
  • Domestic military aircraft production – Japanese designed aircraft, while independent, unique designs, also leveraged certain Western designed aircraft as their inspiration, such as the T-1 and eventual F-1 follow-on and the clear resemblance to the British Jaguar. This pattern was repeated in 1987 with the F-2 and its clear design basis on the F-16.
  • Domestic Production of business, and civil aircraft – “Japan domestically produces the YS-11 passenger plane as well as the FA-200, MU-2, FA-300, MU-300, BK-117, and other commercial aircraft, and is an active participant in international joint development programs with partners such as the American passenger aircraft manufacturer Boeing.”

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) won a contract to build the wing for the Boeing 787, a job that Boeing now considers a core competency, and is unlikely to outsource again (they kept this task in house for the more recent 737 MAX, and 777X aircraft). This shows MHI’s depth of capability.

Also in the previous post, I could not help but include the “F-22J,” a hypothetical fighter that has been requested by the Japanese government numerous times, as the air power threat from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has grown. The export of the F-22, however, was outlawed by the Obey amendment to the 1998 Defense Authorization Act (a useful summary of this debate is here). So stymied, the JASDF and supporting Ministry of Defense personnel conducted a series of design studies in order to establish detailed requirements. These studies clarified the approach to be taken for the next aircraft to put into service, the F-3 program, ostensibly a successor to the F-2, although the role to be played is more of an air superiority or air dominance fighter, rather than a strike fighter. These studies concluded that range, or endurance is the most important metric for survivability, a very interesting result indeed.

Airframe developers…appear to have settled on something close to the 2013 configuration for the F-3 that emphasized endurance and weapons load over flight performance… That design, 25DMU, described a heavy fighter with a belly weapons bay for six ramjet missiles about the size of the MBDA Meteor. The wing was large and slender by fighter standards, offering high fuel volume and low drag due to lift but penalizing acceleration.… The key factor was that the high-endurance design provided more aircraft on station than would be available from an alternative fleet of high-performance fighters. – (Aviation Week & Space Technology, February 15-28, 2016)

I am curious about the air combat models that reached the conclusion that endurance is the key metric for a new fighter. Similar USAF combat models indicated that in a conflict with PLA armed forces, the USAF would be pushed back to their bases in Japan after the first few days. “In any air war we do great in the first couple of days. Then we have to move everything back to Japan, and we can’t generate sufficient sorties from that point for deep strike on the mainland,” according to Christopher Johnson, former CIA senior China analyst [“The rivals,” The Economist, 20 October 2018]. (History reminds us of aircraft designed for range and maneuverability, the Mitsubishi A6M “Zero,” which also de-emphasized durability, such as pilot armor or self-sealing fuel tanks … was this the best choice?) Validation of combat models with historical combat data seems like an excellent choice if you are investing trillions of Yen, putting the lives of your military pilots on the line, and investing in a platform that will be in service for decades.

Given this expected cost, Japan faces a choice to develop the F-3 independently, or with foreign partners. Mitsubishi built and flew the X-2 “Shinshin” prototype in April 2016. The JASDF also issued an RFP to existing aircraft manufacturers, including the BAE Eurofighter Typhoon, the Boeing F-15 Eagle, and the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. In October 2018, the Typhoon and the Eagle were rejected for not meeting the requirements, while the Raptor was rejected because “no clear explanation was given about the possibility of the U.S. government lifting the export ban.” The prospect of funding the entire cost of the F-3 fighter by independently developing the X-2 also does not appear acceptable, so Japan will look for a foreign partner for co-development. There is no shortage of options, from the British, the Franco-Germans, or multiple options with the Americans.

Is The End Of Stealth Neigh?

Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor [Creative Commons]

Michael Peck made an interesting catch over at The National Interest. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is soliciting input on potentially disruptive technologies for future warfare. With regard to air warfare, the solicitation baldy states, “Platform stealth may be approaching physical limits.” This led Peck to ask “Did the Pentagon just admit that stealth technology may not work anymore?

A couple of years ago, a media report that the Chinese had claimed a technological breakthrough in stealth-busting quantum radar capabilities led me to muse about the possible repercussions on U.S. military capabilities. This was during the height of the technology-rooted Third Offset Strategy mania. It seemed to me at the time that concentrating on technological solutions to the U.S.’s strategic challenges might not be the wisest course of action.

The notion that stealth might be a wasting asset seemed somewhat far-fetched when I wrote that, but it appears to have become a much more serious concern. As the DARPA solicitation states, “Our acquisition system is finding it difficult to respond on relevant timescales to adversary progress, which has made the search for next generation capabilities at once more urgent and more futile.” (p. 5)

Er, yikes.

Air Combat And Technology

Any model of air combat needs to address the effect of weapons on the opposing forces.  In the Dupuy Air Combat Model (DACM), this was rifled bullets fired from machine guns, as well as small caliber cannon in the 20-30 millimeter (mm) class.  Such was the state of air combat in World War II.  This page is an excellent, in-depth analysis of the fighter guns and cannon.  Of course, technology has effects beyond firepower.  One of the most notable technologies to go into active use during World War II was radar, contributing to the effectiveness of the Royal Air Force (RAF), successfully holding off the Wehrmacht’s Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain.

Since that time, driven by “great power competition”, technology continues to advance the art of warfare in the air.  This happened in several notable stages during the Cold War, and was on display in subsequent contemporary conflicts when client or proxy states fought on behalf of the great powers.  Examples include well-known conflicts, such as the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, but also the conflicts between the Arabs and Israelis.  In the Korean War, archives now illustrate than Russian pilots secretly flew alongside North Korean and Chinese pilots against the allied forces.

Stages in technology are often characterized by generation.  Many of the features that are associated with the generations are driven by the Cold War arms race, and the back and forth development cycles and innovation cycles by the aircraft designers.  This was evident in comments by Aviation Week’s Bill Sweetman, remarking that the Jas-39 Grippen is actually a sixth generation fighter, based upon the alternative focus on maintainability, operability from short runways / austere airbases (or roadways!), the focus on cost reduction, but most importantly, software: “The reason that the JAS 39E may earn a Gen 6 tag is that it has been designed with these issues in mind. Software comes first: The new hardware runs Mission System 21 software, the latest roughly biennial release in the series that started with the JAS 39A/B.”

Upon close inspection of the DACM parameters, we can observe a few important data elements and metadata definitions: avionics (aka software & hardware), and sensor performance.  Those two are about data and information.  A concise method to assign values to these parameters is needed.  The U.S. Air Force (USAF) Air Combat Command (ACC) has used the generation of fighters as a proxy for this in the past, at least at a notional level:

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

The Fleet Series game that has been reviewed in previous posts has a different method.  The Air-to-Air Combat Resolution Table does not seem to resonate well, as the damage effects are imposed against either one side or the other.  This does not jive with the stated concerns of the USAF, which has been worried about an exchange in which both Red and Blue forces are destroyed or eliminated in a mutual fashion, with a more or less one-for-one exchange ratio.

The Beyond Visual Range (BVR) version, named Long Range Air-to-Air (LRAA) combat in Asian Fleet, is a better model of this, in which each side rolls a die to determine the effect of long range missiles, and each side may take losses on non-stealthy units, as the stealthy units are immune to damage at BVR.

One important factor that the Fleet Series combat process does resolve is a solid determination of which side “holds” the airspace, and this is capable of using other support aircraft, such as AWACS, tankers, reconnaissance, etc.  Part of this determination is the relative morale of the opposing forces.  These effects have been clearly evident in air campaigns such as the strategic bombing campaign on Germany and Japan in the latter portion of World War II.

Dealing with this conundrum, I decided to relax by watching some dogfight videos on YouTube, Dogfights Greatest Air Battles, and this was rather entertaining, it included a series of engagements in aerial combat, taken from the exploits of American aces over the course of major wars:

  1. Eddie Rickenbacker, flying a Spad 13 in World War I,
  2. Clarence Emil “Bud” Anderson, flying a P-51B “Old Crow” in European skies during World War II, flying 67 missions in P-51Ds, 35 missions in F-80s and 121 missions in F-86s. He wrote “No Guts, No Glory,” a how to manual with lots of graphics of named maneuvers like the “Scissors.”
  3. Frederick Corbin “Boots” Blesse, flying a F-86 Sabre in “MiG Alley” in North Korea close to the Chinese border,
  4. Several engagements and interviews of aces from the Vietnam War:
    1. Steve Ritchie, who said “Surprise is a key element.” Previously discussed.
    2. Robin Olds – a triple ace in both WWII (P-38 and P-51) and Vietnam (F-4), and the mastermind of Operation Bolo, a fantastic application of deception.
    3. Randy “Duke” Cunningham and William P “Irish” Discol, flying an F-4 Phantom, “Showtime 100”, and up against North Vietnamese MiG-17s.

An interesting paraphrase by Cunningham of Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron’s statement: “When he sees the enemy, he attacks and kills, everything else is rubbish.”  What Richthofen said (according to, was “The duty of the fighter pilot is to patrol his area of the sky, and shoot down any enemy fighters in that area. Anything else is rubbish.” Richtofen would not let members of his Staffel strafe troops in the trenches.

The list above is a great reference, and it got me to consider an alternative form of generation, including the earlier wars, and the experiences gained in those wars.  Indeed, we can press on in time to include the combat performance of the US and Allied militaries in the first Gulf War, 1990, as previously discussed.

There was a reference to the principles of aerial combat, such as the Dicta Boelcke:

  1. Secure the benefits of aerial combat (speed, altitude, numerical superiority, position) before attacking. Always attack from the sun.
  2. If you start the attack, bring it to an end.
  3. Fire the machine gun up close and only if you are sure to target your opponent.
  4. Do not lose sight of the enemy.
  5. In any form of attack, an approach to the opponent from behind is required.
  6. If the enemy attacks you in a dive, do not try to dodge the attack, but turn to the attacker.
  7. If you are above the enemy lines, always keep your own retreat in mind.
  8. For squadrons: In principle attack only in groups of four to six. If the fight breaks up in noisy single battles, make sure that not many comrades pounce on an opponent.

Appendix A – my own attempt to classify the generations of jet aircraft, in an attempt to rationalize the numerous schemes … until I decided that it was a fool’s errand:

  • Generation Zero:
    • World War II, 1948 Arab Israeli conflict
    • Blue: Spitfire, P-51 Mustang,
    • Red: Bf-109, FW-190, Mitsubishi Zero/George
    • Propeller engines, machine guns & cannons
  • First Generation:
    • Korean War, China & Taiwan conflicts
    • Blue: F-86 Sabre,
    • Red: MiG-15, Me-262?
    • Jet engines, swept wings, machine guns & cannons, early air-to-air missiles
  • Second Generation –
    • 1967 and Cuban Missile Crisis
    • Blue: F-100, F-102, F-104, F-5, F-8
    • Grey: Mirage III, Mirage F1
    • Red: MiG-19, MiG-21
    • Multi-mach speeds, improved air-to-air missiles, but largely within-visual range (WVR), early radar warning receivers (RWR), early countermeasures.
  • Third Generation:
    • 1973 Arab Israeli Wars, Vietnam War
    • Blue: F-4 Phantom, F-111 Ardvark, F-106?
    • Grey: Mirage III
    • Red: MiG-23, MiG-25, Su-15
    • Look-down/Shoot-down capability, radar-guided missiles, Beyond Visual Range (BVR), Identification Friend or Foe (IFF), all-aspect infrared missiles.
  • Fourth Generation:
    • 1980’s Cold War, 1990 Gulf War, 1982 Lebanon, 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War
    • Blue: F-15 Eagle, F-16 Viper, F-14 Tomcat, F/A-18 Hornet
    • Grey: Mirage 2000
    • Red: MiG-29, MiG-31, Su-27/30
  • Fourth Plus Generation:
    • 2003 Gulf War, 2011 Libiya
    • Blue: F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, F-15 improved (F-15E, F-15I, F-15SG, F-15SK…)
    • Grey: Eurofighter Typhoon, Rafale
    • Red: Su-35S
  • Fifth Generation:
    • Marketing term used by aircraft producers
    • Blue: Adanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) = F-22 Raptor, Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) = F-35 Lightening II
    • Grey: Grippen?
    • Red: PAK-FA Su-57, J-20
  • Sixth Generation – the current frontier
    • Blue: Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, UAS ?
    • Red: ?
    • Grey: Two seat, Twin tail “drone-herder”?

The Dupuy Air Campaign Model (DACM)

[The article below is reprinted from the April 1997 edition of The International TNDM Newsletter. A description of the TDI Air Model Historical Data Study can be found here.]

The Dupuy Air Campaign Model
by Col. Joseph A. Bulger, Jr., USAF, Ret.

The Dupuy Institute, as part of the DACM [Dupuy Air Campaign Model], created a draft model in a spreadsheet format to show how such a model would calculate attrition. Below are the actual printouts of the “interim methodology demonstration,” which shows the types of inputs, outputs, and equations used for the DACM. The spreadsheet was created by Col. Bulger, while many of the formulae were the work of Robert Shaw.

The Dupuy Institute Air Model Historical Data Study

British Air Ministry aerial combat diagram that sought to explain how the RAF had fought off the Luftwaffe. [World War II Today]

[The article below is reprinted from the April 1997 edition of The International TNDM Newsletter.]

Air Model Historical Data Study
by Col. Joseph A. Bulger, Jr., USAF, Ret

The Air Model Historical Study (AMHS) was designed to lead to the development of an air campaign model for use by the Air Command and Staff College (ACSC). This model, never completed, became known as the Dupuy Air Campaign Model (DACM). It was a team effort led by Trevor N. Dupuy and included the active participation of Lt. Col. Joseph Bulger, Gen. Nicholas Krawciw, Chris Lawrence, Dave Bongard, Robert Schmaltz, Robert Shaw, Dr. James Taylor, John Kettelle, Dr. George Daoust and Louis Zocchi, among others. After Dupuy’s death, I took over as the project manager.

At the first meeting of the team Dupuy assembled for the study, it became clear that this effort would be a serious challenge. In his own style, Dupuy was careful to provide essential guidance while, at the same time, cultivating a broad investigative approach to the unique demands of modeling for air combat. It would have been no surprise if the initial guidance established a focus on the analytical approach, level of aggregation, and overall philosophy of the QJM [Quantified Judgement Model] and TNDM [Tactical Numerical Deterministic Model]. It was clear that Trevor had no intention of steering the study into an air combat modeling methodology based directly on QJM/TNDM. To the contrary, he insisted on a rigorous derivation of the factors that would permit the final choice of model methodology.

At the time of Dupuy’s death in June 1995, the Air Model Historical Data Study had reached a point where a major decision was needed. The early months of the study had been devoted to developing a consensus among the TDI team members with respect to the factors that needed to be included in the model. The discussions tended to highlight three areas of particular interest—factors that had been included in models currently in use, the limitations of these models, and the need for new factors (and relationships) peculiar to the properties and dynamics of the air campaign. Team members formulated a family of relationships and factors, but the model architecture itself was not investigated beyond the surface considerations.

Despite substantial contributions from team members, including analytical demonstrations of selected factors and air combat relationships, no consensus had been achieved. On the contrary, there was a growing sense of need to abandon traditional modeling approaches in favor of a new application of the “Dupuy Method” based on a solid body of air combat data from WWII.

The Dupuy approach to modeling land combat relied heavily on the ratio of force strengths (largely determined by firepower as modified by other factors). After almost a year of investigations by the AMHDS team, it was beginning to appear that air combat differed in a fundamental way from ground combat. The essence of the difference is that in air combat, the outcome of the maneuver battle for platform position must be determined before the firepower relationships may be brought to bear on the battle outcome.

At the time of Dupuy’s death, it was apparent that if the study contract was to yield a meaningful product, an immediate choice of analysis thrust was required. Shortly prior to Dupuy’s death, I and other members of the TDI team recommended that we adopt the overall approach, level of aggregation, and analytical complexity that had characterized Dupuy’s models of land combat. We also agreed on the time-sequenced predominance of the maneuver phase of air combat. When I was asked to take the analytical lead for the contact in Dupuy’s absence, I was reasonably confident that there was overall agreement.

In view of the time available to prepare a deliverable product, it was decided to prepare a model using the air combat data we had been evaluating up to that point—June 1995. Fortunately, Robert Shaw had developed a set of preliminary analysis relationships that could be used in an initial assessment of the maneuver/firepower relationship. In view of the analytical, logistic, contractual, and time factors discussed, we decided to complete the contract effort based on the following analytical thrust:

  1. The contract deliverable would be based on the maneuver/firepower analysis approach as currently formulated in Robert Shaw’s performance equations;
  2. A spreadsheet formulation of outcomes for selected (Battle of Britain) engagements would be presented to the customer in August 1995;
  3. To the extent practical, a working model would be provided to the customer with suggestions for further development.

During the following six weeks, the demonstration model was constructed. The model (programmed for a Lotus 1-2-3 style spreadsheet formulation) was developed, mechanized, and demonstrated to ACSC in August 1995. The final report was delivered in September of 1995.

The working model demonstrated to ACSC in August 1995 suggests the following observations:

  • A substantial contribution to the understanding of air combat modeling has been achieved.
  • While relationships developed in the Dupuy Air Combat Model (DACM) are not fully mature, they are analytically significant.
  • The approach embodied in DACM derives its authenticity from the famous “Dupuy Method” thus ensuring its strong correlations with actual combat data.
  • Although demonstrated only for air combat in the Battle of Britain, the methodology is fully capable of incorporating modem technology contributions to sensor, command and control, and firepower performance.
  • The knowledge base, fundamental performance relationships, and methodology contributions embodied in DACM are worthy of further exploration. They await only the expression of interest and a relatively modest investment to extend the analysis methodology into modem air combat and the engagements anticipated for the 21st Century.

One final observation seems appropriate. The DACM demonstration provided to ACSC in August 1995 should not be dismissed as a perhaps interesting, but largely simplistic approach to air combat modeling. It is a significant contribution to the understanding of air combat relationships that will prevail in the 21st Century. The Dupuy Institute is convinced that further development of DACM makes eminent good sense. An exploitation of the maneuver and firepower relationships already demonstrated in DACM will provide a valid basis for modeling air combat with modern technology sensors, control mechanisms, and weapons. It is appropriate to include the Dupuy name in the title of this latest in a series of distinguished combat models. Trevor would be pleased.

TDI Friday Read: Naval Air Power

A rare photograph of the current Russian Navy aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov (ex-Riga, ex-Leonid Brezhnev, ex-Tblisi) alongside her unfinished sister, the now Chinese PLAN Liaoning (former Ukrainian Navy Varyag) in the Mykolaiv shipyards, Ukraine. [Pavel Nenashev/Pinterest]

Today’s edition of TDI Friday Read is a round-up of blog posts addressing various aspects of naval air power. The first set address Russian and Chinese aircraft carriers and recent carrier operations.

The Admiral Kuznetsov Adventure

Lives Of The Russian (And Ex-Russian) Aircraft Carriers

Chinese Carriers

Chinese Carriers II

The last pair of posts discuss aspects of future U.S. naval air power and the F-35.

U.S. Armed Forces Vision For Future Air Warfare

The U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force Debate Future Air Superiority

TDI Friday Read: U.S. Airpower

[Image by Geopol Intelligence]

This weekend’s edition of TDI’s Friday Read is a collection of posts on the current state of U.S. airpower by guest contributor Geoffery Clark. The same factors changing the character of land warfare are changing the way conflict will be waged in the air. Clark’s posts highlight some of the way these changes are influencing current and future U.S. airpower plans and concepts.

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

The F-35 Is Not A Fighter

U.S. Armed Forces Vision For Future Air Warfare

The U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force Debate Future Air Superiority

U.S. Marine Corps Concepts of Operation with the F-35B

The State of U.S. Air Force Air Power

Fifth Generation Deterrence


Fifth Generation Deterrence

“Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy… the FEAR to attack. And so, … the Doomsday machine is terrifying and simple to understand… and completely credible and convincing.” – Dr. Strangelove.

In a previous post, we looked at some aspects of the nuclear balance of power. In this Stpost, we will consider some aspects of conventional deterrence. Ironically, Chris Lawrence was cleaning out a box in his office (posted in this blog), which contained an important article for this debate, “The Case for More Effective, Less Expensive Weapons Systems: What ‘Quality Versus Quantity’ Issue?” by none other than Pierre M. Sprey, available here, published in 1982.

In comparing the F-15 and F-16, Sprey identifies four principal effectiveness characteristics that contribute to victory in air-to-air combat:

  1. Achieving surprise bounces and avoiding being surprised;
  2. Out-numbering the enemy in the air;
  3. Out-maneuvering the enemy to reach firing position (when surprise fails);
  4. Achieving reliable kills within the brief firing opportunities presented by combat.

“Surprise is the first because, in every air war since WWI, somewhere between 65% and 85% of all fighters shot down were unaware of their attacker.” Sprey mentions that the F-16 is superior to the F-15 due to the smaller size, and that fact that it smokes much less, both aspects that are clearly Within-Visual Range (WVR) combat considerations. Further, his discussion of Beyond Visual Range (BVR) combat is dismissive.

The F-15 has an apparently advantage inasmuch as it carries the Sparrow radar missile. On closer examination, this proves to be little or no advantage: in Vietnam, the Sparrow had a kill rate of .08 to .10, less that one third that of the AIM-9D/G — and the new models of the Sparrow do not appear to have corrected the major reasons for this disappointing performance; even worse, locking-on with the Sparrow destroys surprise because of the distinctive and powerful radar signature involved.

Sprey was right to criticize the performance of the early radar-guided missiles.  From “Trends in Air-to-Air Combat: Implications for Future Air Superiority,” page 10

From 1965 through 1968, during Operation Rolling Thunder, AIM-7 Sparrow missiles succeeded in downing their targets only 8 percent of the time and AIM-9 Sidewinders only 15 percent of the time. Pre-conflict testing indicated expected success rates of 71 and 65 percent respectively. Despite these problems, AAMs offered advantages over guns and accounted for the vast majority of U.S. air-to-air victories throughout the war.

Sprey seemed to miss out of the fact that the radar guided missile that supported BVR air combat was not something in the far distant future, but an evolution of radar and missile technology. Even in the 1980’s, the share of air-to-air combat victories by BVR missiles was on the rise, and since the 1990’s, it has become the most common way to shoot down an enemy aircraft.

In an Aviation Week podcast in July of this year, retired Marine Lt. Col. David Berke (also previously quoted in this blog), and Pierre Sprey debated the F-35. Therein, Sprey offers a formulaic definition of air power, as created by force and effectiveness, with force being a function of cost, reliability, and how often it can fly per day (sortie generation rate?). “To create air power, you have to put a bunch of airplanes in the sky over the enemy. You can’t do it with a tiny hand full, even if they are like unbelievably good. If you send six aircraft to China, they could care less what they are … F-22 deployments are now six aircraft.”

Berke counters with the ideas that he expressed before in his initial conversation with Aviation week (as analyzed in this blog), that information and situational awareness are by far the most important factor in aerial warfare. This stems from the advantage of surprise, which was Sprey’s first criteria in 1982, and remains a critical factor is warfare to this day. This reminds me a bit of Disraeli’s truism of “lies, damn lies and statistics”pick the metrics that tell your story, rather than objectively look at the data.

Critics beyond Mr. Sprey have said that high technology weapons like the F-22 and the F-35 are irrelevant for America’s wars; “the [F-22] was not relevant to the military’s operations in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya — at least according to then-secretary of defense Robert Gates.” Indeed, according to the Washington Post, “Gates called the $65 billion fleet a ‘niche silver-bullet solution’ to a major aerial war threat that remains distant. … and has promised to urge President Obama to veto the military spending bill if the full Senate retains F-22 funding.”

The current conflict in Syria against ISIS, after the Russian deployment resulted in crowded and contested airspace, as evidenced by a NATO Turkish F-16 shoot down of a Russian Air Force Su-24 (wikipedia), and as reported on this blog. Indeed, ironically for Mr. Sprey’s analysis of the relative values of the AIM-9 vs the AIM-7 missiles, as again reported by this blog,

[T]he U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet locked onto a Su-22 Fitter at a range of 1.5 miles. It fired an AIM-9X heat-seeking Sidewinder missile at it. The Syrian pilot was able to send off flares to draw the missile away from the Su-22. The AIM-9X is not supposed to be so easily distracted. They had to shoot down the Su-22 with a radar guided AMRAAM missile.

For the record the AIM-7 was a direct technical predecessor of the AIM-120 AMRAAM. We can perhaps conclude that having more that one type of weapon is useful, especially as other air power nations are always trying to improve their counter measures, and this incident shows that they can do so effectively. Of course, more observations are necessary for statistical proof, but since air combat is so rare since the end of the Cold War, the opportunity to learn the lesson and improve the AIM-9X should not be squandered.

USAF Air Combat Dominance as Deterrent

Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. – Sun Tzu

The admonition to win without fighting is indeed a timeless principle of warfare, and it is clearly illustrated through this report on the performance of the F-22 in the war against ISIS, over the crowded airspace in Syria, from Aviation Week on June 4th, 2017.  I’ve quoted at length, and applied emphasis.

Shell, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and Raptor squadron commander who spoke on the condition that Aviation Week identify him only by his call sign, and his squadron of stealth F-22 Lockheed Martin Raptors had a critical job to do: de-conflict coalition operations over Syria with an irate Russia.

… one of the most critical missions the F-22 conducts in the skies over Syria, particularly in the weeks following the April 6 Tomahawk strike, is de-confliction between coalition and non-coalition aircraft, says Shell. … the stealth F-22’s ability to evade detection gives it a unique advantage in getting non-coalition players to cooperate, says Shell. 

‘It is easier to bring air dominance to bear if you know where the other aircraft are that you are trying to influence, and they don’t know where you are,’ says Shell. ‘When other airplanes don’t know where you are, their sense of comfort goes down, so they have a tendency to comply more.

… U.S. and non-coalition aircraft were still communicating directly, over an internationally recognized, unsecure frequency often used for emergencies known as ‘Guard,’  says Shell. His F-22s acted as a kind of quarterback, using high-fidelity sensors to determine the positions of all the actors on the battlefield, directing non-coalition aircraft where to fly and asking them over the Guard frequency to move out of the way. 

The Raptors were able to fly in contested areas, in range of surface-to-air missile systems and fighters, without the non-coalition players knowing their exact positions, Shell says. This allowed them to establish air superiority—giving coalition forces freedom of movement in the air and on the ground—and a credible deterrent.

Far from being a silver bullet solution for a distant aerial war, America’s stealth fighters are providing credible deterrence on the front lines today. They have achieved in some cases, the ultimate goal of winning without fighting, by exploiting the advantage of surprise. The right question might be, how many are required for this mission, given the enormous costs of fifth generation fighters? (more on this later).  As a quarterback, the F-22 can support many allied units, as part of a larger team.

Giving credit where it is due, Mr. Sprey has rightly stated in his Aviation Week interview, “cost is part of the force you can bring to bear upon the enemy.”  His mechanism to compute air power in 2017, however, seems to ignore the most important aspect of air power since it first emerged in World War I, surprise.  His dogmatic focus on the lightweight, single purpose air-to-air fighter, which seems to shun even available, proven technology seems clear.

See A Russian Su-35 Defy The Laws Of Physics

If you want to watch a breath-taking aerial maneuver by a Russian Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E fighter at the 2017 International Aviation and Space Show outside Moscow, click on the link below.

The U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force Debate Future Air Superiority

F-35C of Strike Fighter Squadron 101 (VFA-101) flies in formation with a Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet of VFA-122 near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida (USA) on 22 June 2013. (USAF via Wikimedia)

The U.S. Navy (USN) and U.S. Air Force (USAF) are concerned about the ability to achieve and retain air superiority in future conflicts. In 2008, with the F-35 program underway, the USN issued a new requirement for an air superiority platform, the F/A-XX. The USAF, looking at its small fleet of F-22 Raptors–187 total, 125 combat-ready–and the status of the F-35 program, kicked off its own F-X program or Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) in 2012.

In 2015, Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s “acquisition czar” combined these two programs into Penetrating Counter-Air (PCA) to be run by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This means that some basic requirements will need to be agreed upon, such as stealth or low-observable characteristics. The USN and USAF have some differing viewpoints on this particular topic.

USAF Air Combat Command (ACC) chief Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle says stealth will be “incredibly important” for the F-X aircraft that the USAF is pursuing as an eventual F-22 replacement. This viewpoint is reinforced by statements that the USAF’s fourth-generation fighters, F-14, F-15, F-16, and F-18, are “obsolete” even after upgrade, and “they simply will not survive” against the threats of the future, such as anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities.

Meanwhile, USN Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, has said that “stealth may be over-rated.” In a speech at the Office of Naval Research Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo in Washington, D.C., Greenert said “I don’t want to necessarily say that it’s over, but let’s face it, if something moves fast through the air and disrupts molecules in the air and puts out heat–I don’t care how cool the engine can be–it’s going to be detectable.”

Aviation Week detailed these advances in counter-stealth capability, including both radars and Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST):

U.S. Air Force is the latest convert to the capabilities of IRST. The U.S. Navy’s IRST for the Super Hornet, installed in a modified centerline fuel tank, was approved for low-rate initial production in February, following 2014 tests of an engineering development model system, and the Block I version is due to reach initial operational capability in fiscal 2018. Block I uses the same Lockheed Martin infrared receiver—optics and front end—as is used on F-15Ks in Korea and F-15SGs in Singapore. This subsystem is, in turn, derived from the IRST that was designed in the 1980s for the F-14D. 

While the Pentagon’s director of operational test and engineering criticized the Navy system’s track quality, it has clearly impressed the Air Force enough to overcome its long lack of interest in IRST. The Air Force has also gained experience via its F-16 Aggressor units, which have been flying with IRST pods since 2013. The Navy plans to acquire only 60 Block I sensors, followed by 110 Block II systems with a new front end.

The bulk of Western IRST experience is held by Selex-ES, which is the lead contractor on the Typhoon’s Pirate IRST and the supplier of the Skyward-G for Gripen. In the past year, Selex has claimed openly that its IRSTs have been able to detect and track low-RCS targets at subsonic speeds, due to skin friction, heat radiating through the skin from the engine, and the exhaust plume.

Are Fourth and Fifth Generation Fighters Comparable?

Then on 21 December 2016, in the middle of this ongoing debate, president-elect Donald Trump tweeted: “Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!”

Many have asked, can an upgrade to a “legacy” fighter like the Super Hornet be comparable to a fifth-generation fighter like the F-35? Some have said that an advanced Super Hornet is an “Impossible Magic Fantasy Jet.” Others flatly state “No, Mr. Trump, You Can’t Replace F-35 With A ‘Comparable’ F-18.” More eloquently stated: “In this modern era of stealth combat, there are two kinds of fighters. Stealth fighters and targets.”

The manufacturers of the two aircraft mentioned in Trump’s tweet have been debating this topic over the past few years. In 2014, Boeing questioned the relative capabilities of the F-35C and the E/F-18G “Growler”, an electronic attack variant of the Super Hornet. “Stealth is perishable; only a Growler provides full spectrum protection.”

Indeed, that same year, Boeing developed an Advanced Super Hornet. The idea was basically to enclose the weapons that current Super Hornets sling beneath their wings into a low-observable pod and thus bring the overall radar cross section (RCS) i.e. the main metric of stealth, down to a level that would provide some of the penetration capability that a fifth generation fighter enjoys.

F/A-18 XT Block III Advanced Super Hornet []

The current version of the advanced Super Hornet has “matured” after additional conversation with their primary customer, and low-observability has taken a less important role than range, payload, and battle-network capability. Indeed, Mr. Trump responded “We are looking seriously at a big order.”

For the USN, the F-35 seems to have evolved from a strike fighter into a platform for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (C4ISR). This is an important role to play, undoubtedly, but it may mean fewer F-35Cs on carrier decks, which puts more money back into the pocket of the USN for other purposes.

Boeing’s sixth-generation fighter concept. Notable features are the optionality of the pilot, the lack of visibility from the cockpit which indicates some sort of “distributed aperture system” a la the F-35, and lack of a tail, which might limit air combat maneuverability. [Aviation Week]

Of course, Lockheed is not resting still – they’ve recently demonstrated a manned and unmanned teaming capability, working with the Air Force Research Laboratory.

What both companies and both services state publicly must be taken in the context of politics and business, as they are in constant competition, both with each other and potential opponents. This is a natural way to come up with good concepts, good options, and a good price.

More on autonomous capabilities to follow.