Wednesday, October 04, 2006

From the Comments 
Elevated from the comments section:

...It's not about now, it's about where the US will be in 20 years. And it's about where potential enemies will be in 20 years.

Right now, no sane air force would try and tangle with the USAF, let alone the US Navy and the Marine fliers. I think that this is a given, especially for the Chinese: they're not dumb, they saw what happend in GWI and GWII. They are also keen observers of what has been going on in Iraq, and from what I've heard - all unclassified - they have learned never to try to deal with us on our terms, as they know that means lots of dead soldiers, virtally all theirs.

But it's not about now: it's about 20 years from now. The job of the USAF is dominance of the aerospace environment to support US national security goals - duh - and while you can do that with the current hardware, in 15 years all of the current inventory will be very, very long in the tooth. Sure, a lot can be done with everyone's new darling, RPVs, but there is one area where that doesn't work: air combat. There is no situational awareness available for RPVs, especially when there is massive jamming and active interference on control channels: RPVs will replace ground attack and support, but to get air superiority using RPVs you have to introduce a massive improvement in AI/independent computing that simply isn't in the pipeline, as it will require some massive breakthroughs. Hence the need, a fundamental need, for fighter pilots: you may be able to replace them some day, but you can't today *and* for the foreseeable future.

That said, the F22 has two attributes that are killer attributes, pun intended: supercruise and relative stealth. They can be seen from the ground and AWACS under the right conditions, but they won't be seen by any of the fighter-born radars of the current or next generations, meaning that they won't be seen. Add to that supercruise and you have the following scenario: a plane that can fire its formidable missile load will outside of an enemy's ability to even detect them, and a plane that can break off combat at will by going faster than anyone else can for a sustained period. An enemy can match supercruise by going to afterburner, but they go bingo faster than they can get into range.

In other words, the F22 really is a dedication to air superiority without having to get involved in close air-to-air, where some of the contemporary challengers are very good indeed. But instead of building an even more manouverable F16 - remember, this has been tried with canards and the like - you simply change to terms of the conflict so as to avoid it where possible (and with that huge wing and supercruise speed, the F22 wouldn't be a slouch here either, with vast energy reserves and control surfaces to put them to use).

And we can afford them: we're fighting a war and spending like we're at peace. Bump the military budget back to where it was in the Cold War and we can buy all the F22s we need, as well as the F35 and all the RPV follow-ons...

Yes, we're fighting a war and spending like we're at peace.
As this jock says, we don't need the F22 today. What we do need is to fix or replace a lot of stuff that the Army and Marine Corps are breaking while fighting the war we are in, as opposed the the war 20 years from now.
He's right in that we need to be preparing for the future. But I see his argument as self-defeating. The writer states that we cannot use UCAV's for air combat because of the situational awareness factors involved, and then makes the case that we've changed the factor of warfighting with the F-22 making situational awareness a non-factor. At 50+ (really more like 100+ but we'll go with unclassified ranges for our weapons) miles on a radar screen does it matter if the pilot is sitting in the cockpit or at a ground station miles away?

We do need more money, but does anyone see congress as forthcoming with more? Therefore we need to be making hard choices that we're not...
The F-22 reflects the "Cold War" paradigm of short-ranged, manned tactical aviation with secure bases close to the projected theater of operations. This is the classic "NATO Central Front" scenario, but the situation in the Western Pacific is very different. In particular, the F-22 is worthless in a fight against China. Where are you going to base it? Close-in bases like Taiwan, Okinawa, Korea, and mainland Japan will come under relentless missile attack (and that assumes the host nations will let us use their bases in the first place). On the other hand, survivable and politically secure bases - i.e. bases that we own - are too far away. Guam is about 1500 nautical miles from the Straits of Taiwan (compared to maybe 200 miles from Ramstein to the old inner German border). This means that F-22s based there will spend most of their time tanking and in transit, and little or no time over the target. Even "supercruise" does not truly solve this problem. Moreover, even if F-22s could cover the Straits of Taiwan, that's not enough to win the war. The US would need to penetrate deep into China itself in order to suppress enemy air defenses and ballistic missile forces, and the F-22 can't do this. Last but not least, Guam itself is not immune from enemy missile attack, and if we made F-22s on Guam the centerpiece of our strategy, the Chinese would build enough missiles to obliterate Andersen AFB as their first order of business.

If you are serious about fighting China, you need long range, stealth, persistence, and heavy payload - essentially an unmanned B-2 bomber with a self-defense capability (AESA and air-to-air missiles). No, such UCAVs wouldn't be able to dogfight, but I think enemy pilots would find it bothersome if they knew there were stealthy AMRAAM buses loitering over supposedly friendly airspace. Other pieces of the puzzle would include conventional ballistic missiles and effective missile defenses. However, the point is moot, because the Air Force isn't interested in any kind of bomber, let alone an unmanned bomber.

There is a good paper on the problems of basing in Asia here:


There is also a good paper on the need for long-range strike:


And no, I don't work for CSBA. =)
" The writer states that we cannot use UCAV's for air combat because of the situational awareness factors involved, and then makes the case that we've changed the factor of warfighting with the F-22 making situational awareness a non-factor."

No, he makes the point that we can't have the SA by a COMPUTER to make UAV's viable. We then reduce the SA requirements for a HUMAN to make the fighter better. Imagine we develop UAV's and don't solve the SA problem, first nation with a good jammer makes our whole fleet as good as bottle rockets. With a person there the planes can operate indepdently.
That isn't the case already?
The writer more asserts it than makes the point that AI isn't up to air-to-air combat. To me, air-to-air is a simpler problem than close support and ground attack, two roles the writer is willing to concede to UCAVs.

Air-to-air is easier from a sensor perspective, if harder from a fire control one. If drones share some kind of good IFF or target ID (a la the latest round of brilliant weapons) they should be able to patrol and shoot things down just fine on their own.
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