Peter Layton reports: American air supremacy is in a bear market of long-term decline with no end in sight. The RAND Corporation recently determined: “continuous improvements to Chinese air capabilities make it increasingly difficult for the United States to achieve air superiority within a politically and operationally effective time frame. . . .” These improvements are part of the reason the Center for Strategic and International Studies considers that: “ at the current rate of U.S. capability development, the balance of military power in the [Asia-Pacific] region is shifting against the United States.”
“The advantage that we had from the air, I can honestly say, is shrinking…This is not just a Pacific problem. It’s as significant in Europe as it is anywhere else on the planet…I don’t think it’s controversial to say they’ve closed the gap in capability.”
America’s current air supremacy rests on the F-15 fighter fleet complemented by small numbers of F-22s. The elderly F-15s are though having problems handling the latest, new-build Russian and Chinese fighters. In assessing performance against the Russian Su-35 fighter (now being acquired by China), the National Interest’s Dave Majumdar observes: “Overall, if all things were equal, even a fully upgraded F-15C with the latest AESA upgrades would have its hands full…”
As regards the much higher performance F-22, only about ninety are available for global air supremacy tasks. This is arguably too small for winning air supremacy in one theatre, let alone both Europe and the Pacific. Ongoing peacetime training attrition is further gradually reducing this small fleet. The 2009 decision ceasing F-22 production early was based in part on beliefs that it was irrelevant to countering Islamic extremists or the counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Events have now overtaken this perspective.
Today, the dangers of a resurgent Russia and a more assertive China have become both more apparent and important. America’s current air supremacy force structure remains highly effective for wars against third world tyrants, such as Saddam Hussein in 2003. These kinds of wars though are not the only conflicts now possible. Instead, there is a growing need to be able to deter, and potentially to win, wars involving near-peer competitors.
Some consider the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will in time address declining air supremacy. Countering this sanguine view, the worrying RAND study earlier noted included the F-35 (and the F-22) albeit not the new Chinese J-20 or J-31 stealth aircraft. This study, in looking at 2017, may actually understate what China will be capable of later this decade when it has more than 1,000 advanced fighters in service.
So what? Does air supremacy matter? Air supremacy will not win a war but it will stop a war being lost. America has not won a war without air supremacy—a point that has been widely recognised. It’s no surprise that China sees air superiority as one of the key “Three Superiorities” that can decide a conflict’s outcome. Nor is it a surprise that a major part of Russia’s force modernisation is fighter development and procurement.
The still-in-development F-35’s contribution to future American air supremacy is mixed. The aircraft was designed as a short-range aircraft primarily for attacking ground targets while having a secondary air-to-air capability. Twenty years ago American air supremacy was unquestioned except for Russian-built SAM systems that the F-35 was built to defeat. But times change, albeit the F-35’s 1990’s era airframe design cannot.
Given that, the F-35s avionics have now been tweaked to compensate for the F-35’s designed-in constrained air-to-air fighting capabilities. The idea is that data received from the aircraft’s onboard systems fused with information from accompanying aircraft and distant sensors will provide the pilot with a god’s eye view of the battlefield. With this, the pilot will be able to kill hostile aircraft at long range before opposing fighters can close and engage the F-35 where it is weakest. Close-in manoeuvrability is then irrelevant. There are several concerns with this concept.
Data fusion is an inherently complex business. Before every flight the F-35’s mission data files must be updated with the latest electronic signatures of friendly and hostile forces. Without this, the pilot’s god’s eye view may be inaccurate and dangerously misleading. In broad terms, the process involves advanced in-theatre and national intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems collecting the tetra-bytes of data necessary, skilled teams analysing this before on-forwarding to the United States, on-call software teams quickly translating the evolving tactical circumstances into mission data files and then retransmitting back out to the field to load onto each F-35 before every sortie.
John Fund continues:
…Both Bevin and Hampton are Tea Party activists who have never held elective office. Hampton’s path certainly represents triumph over adversity. Born in Detroit, the 57-year-old Hampton and her three sisters were raised by a single mom who lacked a high school education and couldn’t afford a television or a car.
But Hampton was determined to better herself. She graduated with a degree in industrial engineering and worked for five years in the automobile industry to pay off her college loans. She then joined the Air Force, retiring as a Captain.
Source: National Review Online
— National Review (@NRO) May 15, 2015
Russian Air Force SU-27 Cockpit Detail
Photo: Vitaly Kuzmin
— National Review (@NRO) December 24, 2014
NASA/USAF Martin Marietta X-24B – Lifting Body Test
Sharon Weinberger writes: For almost two years, an unmanned space plane bearing a remarkable resemblance to NASA’s space shuttle has circled the Earth, performing a top-secret mission. It’s called the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle — but that’s pretty much all we know for certain.
“Despite the secrecy surrounding its mission, the space plane’s travels are closely watched. The Air Force announces its launches, and satellite watchers monitor its flight and orbit. What is not revealed is what’s inside the cargo bay and what it’s being used for.”
Officially, the only role the Pentagon acknowledges is that the space plane is used to conduct experiments on new technologies. Theories about its mission have ranged from an orbiting space bomber to an anti-satellite weapon.
The truth, however, is likely much more obvious: According to intelligence experts and satellite watchers who have closely monitored its orbit, the X-37B is being used to carry secret satellites and classified sensors into space — a little-known role once played by NASA’s now-retired space shuttles.
For a decade between the 1980s and early 1990s, NASA’s space shuttles were used for classified military missions, which involved ferrying military payloads into space.
“Now, with the X-37B, the Pentagon no longer has to rely on NASA — or humans.”
But the shuttles’ military role rested on an uneasy alliance between NASA and the Pentagon. Even before the 1986 Challenger disaster, which killed all seven crewmembers, the Pentagon had grown frustrated with NASA’s delays.
Now, with the X-37B, the Pentagon no longer has to rely on NASA — or humans.
The X-37B resembles a shuttle, or at least a shrunken-down version of it. Like the space shuttles, the X-37B is boosted into orbit by an external rocket, but lands like an aircraft on a conventional runway. But the X-37B is just shy of 10 feet tall and slightly less than 30 feet long.
Its cargo bay, often compared to the size of a pickup truck bed, is just big enough to carry a small satellite. Once in orbit, the X-37B deploys a foldable solar array, which is believed to power the sensors in its cargo bay.
“It’s just an updated version of the space shuttle type of activities in space,” insisted one senior Air Force official in 2010, the year of the first launch, when rampant speculation about the secret project prompted some to question whether it was possibly a space bomber. Read the rest of this entry »
Defense contractors are now bidding on the right to build the Long Range Strike Bomber. This is what you need to know about the Air Force’s next big machine of death.
For Popular Mechanics, Joe Pappalardo writes: The U.S. Air Force this week made it official: They are officially in the market for a new bomber. In wonk speak, the service sent a formal Request for Proposals to defense contractors who will vie for the (at least) $55 billion program.
“Will the LRS-B be designed to deliver nukes? The Air Force has indicated that the priority for America’s new bomber is not an ability to drop nuclear bombs but to deliver other weapons”
Like any massive, classified national security effort, few things about the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) are exactly what they appear to be. So here’s a cheat sheet.
1. Our Bomber Fleet is Old—Very Old
The average B-52 Stratofortress is 50 years old, and the B-1 Lancer fleet has a mean age of 28. Now, there are plenty of things you can do with a B-52; you can fly over undefended terrain and drop bombs, or launch missiles from longer, safer ranges. But you can’t fly a B-52 anywhere that is guarded by the kind of top-notch, integrated air defense radar and anti-aircraft missiles that Russia sells and that China, Iran, Syria, and others use. Only the B-2 stealth bomber can breach those defenses. Read the rest of this entry »
What’s her full-time gig? First lieutenant in the US Air Force.
Rookie “Sea Gal” Alicia Quaco, 25, works long days as a contract manager for the Air Force before rushing to evening cheerleading practice… taking on the demanding double life, she first had to convince her military higher-ups in a formal presentation to let her moonlight as a Sea Gal after trying out for the squad last year, she said.
‘You really ought to go home’
In what only can be described as a scene out of Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun,” Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force chief of staff, describes how F-22 stealth jets scared off Iranian jets from a U.S. drone flying in international airspace.
Aviation Week’s Amy Butler and Bill Sweetman report: A large, classified unmanned aircraft developed by Northrop Grumman is now flying—and it demonstrates a major advance in combining stealth and aerodynamic efficiency. Defense and intelligence officials say the secret unmanned aerial system (UAS), designed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, is scheduled to enter production for the U.S. Air Force and could be operational by 2015.
Funded through the Air Force’s classified budget, the program to build this new UAS, dubbed the RQ-180, was awarded to Northrop Grumman after a competition that included Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The aircraft will conduct the penetrating ISR mission that has been left unaddressed, and under wide debate, since retirement of the Lockheed SR-71 in 1998.
Neither the Air Force nor Northrop Grumman would speak about the classified airplane. When queried about the project, Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Cassidy said, “The Air Force does not discuss this program.”
The RQ-180 carries radio-frequency sensors such as active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and passive electronic surveillance measures, according to one defense official. It could also be capable of electronic attack missions.
This aircraft’s design is key for the shift of Air Force ISR assets away from “permissive” environments—such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where Northrop Grumman’s non-stealthy Global Hawk and General Atomics’ Reaper operate—and toward operations in “contested” or “denied” airspace. The new UAS underpins the Air Force’s determination to retire a version of the RQ-4B Global Hawk after 2014, despite congressional resistance. The RQ-180 eclipses the smaller, less stealthy and shorter-range RQ-170 Sentinel.
“America’s civilian space program may be on life support, now that the Space Shuttle’s gone. But its military space program is very much alive — and about to get much, much bigger. In the coming decades, the U.S. Air Force plans to pour an additional $36 to $40 billion into its effort to put military and spy satellites in orbit using commercial rocket services,” Foreign Policy reports.
“The Air Force is using that cash to add 60 launches between 2018 and 2030 to its $35 billion rocket launch effort called the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle. EELV is the Air Force’s program to pay private businesses to build and launch the rockets that carry Defense Department satellites into orbit. This planned cash infusion would make EELV one of the Pentagon’s top ten spending programs, InsideDefense points out. This comes just two years after the EELV program began experiencing massive cost increases — that sucked funding from other space initiatives — due to a spike in the price of rocket production. (Interestingly, one of the rockets currently used in the EELV program, the Atlas V, relies on a Russian engine to get it off the ground.)”
Source: Topic A: DefenseTopic A: Defense – Taegan Goddard