Friday, November 18, 2005

How do you land a Seafire on a carrier?

Normally I wouldn't pass along junk mail, but this is pretty cool:

Historical and Rare Pilot Manuals Now Available Online

ROCKVILLE, Maryland - Historical aviation researchers and aviation enthusiasts now have access to a large and growing collection of rare and historical pilot manuals, pilot operating handbooks, flight manuals and aircraft manuals, online.

PilotManuals.com, a division of Rare Aviation, has just released a collection of over 11,000 printed and downloadable manuals that are available through their website.

"As a pilot and historian myself I found it frustrating to try to search for and research lost and rare manuals and information on historic aircraft so I created this resource for everyone to be able to use," Said Steve Rhode, chief pilot and archivist for PilotManuals.com. "Since many manuals are downloadable, researchers from around the world can instantly access long lost information on aircraft from World War I on. The site is also loaded with many warbird manuals and historical aviation documents."

The downloadable pilot manuals are in the universally accepted Adobe Acrobat format so they are of high quality and resolution. All manuals may be printed once downloaded.

"On the site as well, visitors will find a number of historical aviation movies we have restored. These films include a growing number of restored gun camera film collections from World War II. Films from both United States aircraft and German Luftwaffe gun cameras are available."

The manuals would be interesting not just for historians and collectors, but for writers, novelists, and movie producers as well, it seems. At least those who are interested in realism. Oh, and the site has some sample gun camera and bombing footage from WWII and Vietnam, which is always amusing.

What kind of airbase defense?

There is now discussion in Poland, what kind of air defense system is to be deployed to protect major airbases, declared to NATO: Minsk Mazowiecki, Lask, Powidz and Poznan-Krzesiny. One of the ideas is to move the S-125SC Neva (modernized version of Soviet SA-3 Goa) to those bases, ot provide some level of defense against aircraft and UAVs. Such a move do not fix the problem of defending the airbases against TBMs. Actually Poland do not operate any system with anti-TBM capabilities and the Polish territory is fully exposed on such attack. However the possibility of TBM attack against the mentioned airbases is also limited. Even when Belarus would place her Tochka-M launcher at the bridge to the north of Brest (normally used by alcohol and cigarette smugglers), the closest point to Minsk, the missile would not reach it, thought by slight margin. However Russia could theoretically use her Iskander system to attack Minsk, Lask or Powidz from Kaliningrad pocket, but the system is not yet deployed in significant number and will not be deployed in Kaliningrad area for rather long time, if ever.
So the main concern is to engage aircraft, cruise missiles (including air launched stand off missiles) and UAVs. When new systems are considered, the biggest chance have SL-AMRAAM (surfaced launched AMRAAM), recently offered by USA and Norway, in the form of surplus Norway NASAMS systems for reasonable price (recently modernized; with container launched AMRAAMs, Raytheon AN/TPQ-36A radars and Fire Distribution Centers). No details can be discussed since no decision was yet taken and even the tender not yet launched. Eventual procurement of NASAMS would be the other example of gradual replacing of ex-Soviet air defense systems by western technology in the new NATO member states.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Fighting Friendly Fire

It's a staggering statistic: In the 1991 Gulf War, 35 of the 148 US combat deaths came from allied fire. In other words, fratricide was to blame for just under one in four US combat deaths.

Despite technological superiority over its adversaries, the US still lost a shameful number of its own men to friendly fire. Compare the results of various studies that estimate the some 12-15% of casualties in combat during the 20th century overall were the result of friendly fire, and the 23.6% lost to fratricide during the 1991 Gulf War can only be considered a disgrace.

However, it must be noted, as my colleague Ted McKenna did in an article on the subject of fratricide last year, that Gulf War marked a new era in warfare, with the introduction of a precision-guided weapons and the melding of different services and different countries’ forces on the same battlefield, which may explain the rise in fratricide. Certainly, because of the speed and precision of weapons today, friendly-fire incidents, when they occur, are more likely to be deadly. Add to this the split-second pace required for decision-making today, and you've got a recipe for trouble.

That said, it's good to see that the US military is taking steps to avoid fratricide: from joint exercise with French and British troops conducted last year to the new combat-ID devices being developed for the US army's Future Combat Systems (FCS). Hopefully, efforts such as these will lead to fewer cases of brother killing brother.

Soldier Pilots in Iraq


A lot has been written about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in combat, but what is it like to actually employ them, and what use are they to the average soldier? Dodge Billingsley of Combat Films & Research recently spent some time with UAV operators of the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Air Assault Division back from Iraq, where they have been operating the US Army's Shadow Tactical UAV (TUAV) and Raven (UAV). He wrote an article for eDefense Online entitled "Soldier Pilots." Here is an excerpt:


The Shadow platoon falls under the recently renamed Special Troops Battalion (STB), part of the newly transformed modular brigade. The STB was created last year and includes, among other units, military police (MPs), intel assets, and a UAV platoon. Each UAV platoon is supposed to have 22 soldiers when fully operational – a warrant officer, platoon leader, platoon sergeant, 13 qualified air-vehicle operators (AVOs) or pilots, mission-payload operators (MPOs), and maintenance personnel – although CPT Gourley, the 3rd brigade's UAV platoon leader, admits he will deploy to Iraq two pilots short of a full platoon.

Members of the Shadow platoon come from various Military Occupation Specialists (MOSs) -- field artillery, communications, and infantry. SGT Brenner used to be a 31-Charlie, or radio operator, "about as basic como as you can get, and I wasn't satisfied with that job, so when it came time for reenlistment, I reclassed and came in as a 96-Uniform [Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Operator] to Fort Huachuca."

SFC Baker is a former infantryman who was looking at an early discharge because of a medical condition, went before a medical board, reclassed to a different MOS, and found his way into the Shadow platoon. He now considers himself fortunate to be in the UAV platoon and is looking forward to his specific mission in Iraq. None of the pilots/operators expected to fly or work with UAVs, since the position didn't exist when they entered the Army.

SGTs Brenner and Baker received their Advanced Individual Training (AIT) for 26 weeks at Black Tower, the location of the UAV schoolhouse at Ft. Huachuca, AZ, where training with the Shadow and Hunter UAV takes place. They also received two months of additional training at the Redstone Arsenal facility near Huntsville, AL, with other platoon members.

SGT Brenner is the standards pilot for the platoon. "The standardization pilot is pretty much in charge of all training areas that our platoon is involved in, making sure that all of our pilots are current and they're up to all the different 1000-, 2000-, 3000-level tasks designated by the commander," he explained.

It is his job to evaluate all the pilots in the platoon. The Army requires that he and the other pilots operate the Shadow at least once every 90 days or they fall "out of currency" and have to re-qualify. Regulations and procedures allow each pilot to make one flight simulation count as a flight, but they must fly the actual Shadow within the second 90-day period. "If a pilot is outside of 90 days flying a Shadow, he's considered non-current and goes down to what is called RL-3, which is the readiness level of 3. That means you have to take evaluative flights, and you have three months in order to achieve RL-2, at which point you have another three months to achieve RL-1. An RL-1 is a pilot who is ready to fly with no one else in the back seat evaluating them," said SGT Brenner.

CPT Gourley and his pilots expect some growing pains operating a new system in a hostile environment. The platoon has had limited ability to integrate the Shadow system into their brigade training operations. The UAVs were sent directly from Redstone Arsenal to the brigade's staging area in Kuwait, instead of returning to Ft. Campbell, KY, with the Shadow platoon, so they did not train a single day with the brigade prior to deployment.

The primary means of communication with the Shadow is line-of-sight (LOS) communications. Being able to operate at a higher altitude means the Shadow will not fall victim to the obstruction of signal from which lower-flying UAVs might suffer in an urban environment of tall buildings and telecommunications towers, but potential loss of LOS will be a factor.

The sound of the Shadow's Motto Guzzi engine is another concern. According to the Army, more than 20 UAVs were shot down in Kosovo in 1999 and more, including Shadows, have been downed in Iraq and Afghanistan by alert enemy ground forces (see "US Army UAV Programs in Flux"). Despite these considerations, CPT Gourley is not overly concerned: "In open terrain, in the countryside, people below would hear it, but in the cities, the urban landscape, with lots of city traffic, it is unlikely that people would notice it overhead." In any case, labels posting a reward for the return of the UAVs to coalition forces are plastered on the sides of the Shadow and the Raven in an effort to minimize aircraft loss in the event one does go down due to hostile fire or mechanical issues.

However, some units within the brigade are benefiting from the noise factor. According to Shadow platoon members, psychological-operations (PSYOPS) units have recorded the sound of the Shadow and broadcast it in an effort to make the enemy think one is overhead, in an effort to deter insurgent strikes.

Flying in a crowded skies environment is perhaps the greatest challenge to the Shadow. Without any form of aircraft-avoidance system, word among the platoon is that there has been at least one case where a UAV struck the tail of a Blackhawk helicopter in Iraq, nearly causing the helo to crash. Standard operating procedure for the Shadow is to schedule a flight 72 hours in advance, reserve a slot, and then push out. Traditionally, an operations officer at the brigade level will work out the air-tasking order.

According to SGT Brenner, they are treated "just like a manned aviation plane. We have to coordinate airspace through air-traffic control, and we have officers that pretty much do that for us. But when we're flying, we're still in constant contact with air-traffic control."

Because of the need to reserve the airspace, the Shadow is not a quick-reaction-force (QRF) asset. Conceding that the Predator and other UAV assets will be tasked for theater-wide targets at a higher echelon of command, the real benefit, according the Shadow platoon, is the ability the UAV gives the brigade commander to get his own "eyes on target" without having to fight for airtime on other platforms like the Predator. (For more on UAV usage, see "US Plans Expanded Role for UAVs.")

The inability to quickly adjust the flight path in a fluid battlefield environment is compounded by the fact that UAVs are still under Air Force flight-plan constraints and requirements. Coordination with the Air Force is a time-consuming process, thus negating the potential benefit of having a tactical UAV at the brigade level. To overcome this obstacle, CPT Gourley hopes – in a best-case scenario, at least – "to have the Shadow more or less tasked to be in the air as much as possible in support of ongoing operations. The Shadow can then be re-tasked in the air to cover any contingency that might be necessary." He envisions at least one mission to "track vehicles to do area searches and road searches looking for IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and things of that sort. We're really good at route recons and smaller-level things like that." (For more on countering IEDs in Iraq, see "No Silver Bullets for IEDs.")

Shoot at the cables…

Recently Romania took delivery of ex-Dutch Improved Hawk air defense system, shipped in late October from Netherlands to Romania on board of merchant ship. The eight batteries of Hawk with total 48 launchers and 16 High Power Illuminator fire control radars, previously belonged to No 801, 802, 803 and 804 Squadrons of Royal Netherlands Air Force in the de Pel airbase, where they formed so-called “triad units” with two Improved Hawk and a single Patriot battery in every squadron. Romania will field the system probably for airbases and other vital objects defense, thought the details of the organization of the future Romanian Hawk units are still unknown.

This remind me a story from Poland, from 1986. I was a pilot at 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing in Miroslawiec, which used badly obsolete Lim-6M aircraft – a Polish attack version of Soviet MiG-17. The aircraft was based on ex-radar equipped Lim-5P (MiG-17PF) and had bulbous nose, housing some ballast in place of removed radar. It was armed with three NR-23 guns of 23 mm caliber and two rocket pods for 16 S-5 rockets of 57 mm caliber. Theoretically it could also carry two 250 kg bombs in place of drop tanks, but could not fly anywhere with such load so we normally carried the tanks on every mission. The aircraft did not have any EW suite except for simple RWR protecting only rear hemisphere against attacking fighters. But we were also tasked to attack air defense means positioned not farther than 150 km from the front line of own forces, since the aircraft could not fly any farther on low altitude. The biggest challenge was the Improved Hawk system, since Patriot just started to enter service two years earlier and was not widely deployed, and we did not know yet much about Patriot. Nike Hercules we did not care, since we used to make jokes that fully loaded Lim-6M cannot reach the altitude of 1500 m, which is the lowest altitude on which Nike Hercules can engage an air target. But Improved Hawk was a challenge.

Somebody organized us (pilots from Miroslawiec) a common exercise with Kub air defense regiment (SA-6), somewhat similar to Improved Hawk, at least it was the semi-active short to medium range air defense system. And we looked for an advise from air defense guys, how to evade such an air defense system. The GBAD [ground-based air defense --ED] guys were not much cooperative and stated proudly that they sweep away from the sky any aircraft, if its pilot would be stupid enough to get close to their missile engagement zone. “Any aircraft” was to include wide range of supersonic and subsonic fighters, transport or helicopters, and even such a piece of scrap like Lim-6M, thought they would worry of expending their beautiful missile for it. Finally we had a common party so some initial ice was broken, but they still told us that there is no chance to evade modern air defense system without adequate EW system and anti-radar missiles, which would make the thing slightly better.

We had with us a young second-lieutenant, a political officer, inexperienced and stupid more than average among the political officers. And he started to explore the matter of countering Improved Hawk system, starting from the point that Kub is highly effective since it was developed in Soviet Union, but the Improved Hawk developed by those bloodsucking capitalists MUST have certain shortcomings. So the GBAD guys told him to buy a drink to every of them, and then they would tell him the proper way of Hawk suppressing, in a secret. His wallet became sleeker, the air defense men got drunk, but the officer was happy to learn the secret. Pilots were curious what was that. And he repeated what the GBAD guys told him: “all the elements of the Improved Hawk are separated by 50-150 m, but they are all connected by cables. Those cables are highly vulnerable. Shot at them and you get it…”

Some years later, when we got Su-22M4 and SPS-141 system along with Kh-25MP anti-radar missiles (which was actually never fired in Poland), we showed the Kub guys how the thing can be done. Then they were asking us, how to deal with all of this stuff. And our answer was equally smart. We told them: “our aircraft are extremely vulnerable for ingesting any foreign objects to the air intake. Release a lots of meteo [weather --ED] balloons, when we fly across your battery…”.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Battle for India

It was reported today by eDefense's New Delhi correspondent Pulkit Singh that the Indian Air Force is planning to upgrade a large number of it combat aircraft due to concerns that the service may be facing serious obsolescence issues until at least 2012. Given the aircraft involved -- primarily MiGs, Jaguars, and Mirages -- much of this upgrade work will likely go to European (including Russian) and possibly some Israeli contractors. A conservative estimate puts the total value of the work at some $3.5 billion, but that pales in comparison to the real prize up for grabs in India: the country's $7-billion program to acquire 126 new multirole, medium-range combat aircraft.

India's selection of an aircraft under this program will have a profound effect in one of the world's most rapidly growing military markets. The British and Swedes have thrown their collaborative hat in the ring with the JAS-39 Gripen, the Russians with the MiG-29, the French with the Mirage-2005V, and the US with the F-16 and possibly the F/A-18E/F. Given that the Indian Air Force operates primarily Russian-made fighters, the service could, of course, opt for the safe route and go with the known quantity. The same is true of the Mirage, earlier versions of which are already in service with the Indian Air Force. India could also stick with Europe and choose the Gripen -- probably not a bad choice, considering the relatively low price. The Gripen, though, as eDefense European Editor Michal Fiszer has pointed out, is perhaps better suited for small- and medium-size countries, like Hungary and the Czech Republic, that have air defense as a priority. India, in its quest for a "multirole" fighter more than likely wants an aircraft that can conduct strike, as well as air-defense, missions.

Should India decide to change course, though, the US is poised to provide F-16s (and maybe F/A-18E/Fs. But wait...the US has already sold F-16s to India's regional rival, Pakistan, and intends to sell even more, although the deal has been delayed to to the recent earthquake that rocked Pakistan. That said, however, expect the US to pull a hard-sell for its aircraft. There are a number of reasons why the US would sorely want to sell its fighters to India, but perhaps most important are the ties to the US created by a sale of advanced military hardware like F-16s. With F-16s in the inventory of a country's air force, that country is dependent upon the US for spare parts, training, and certain upgrades, thus forging links between its air force and the US Air Force, as well as between the defense industries of the two nations. In addition, and maybe even more importantly, a sale by the US of advanced fighter aircraft to another country confers a significant diplomatic status upon the buyer -- that of US ally. So selling F-16s to both India and Pakistan would effectively make both countries US allies, and allies of the US simply do not go to war against each other.

With both India and Pakistan being nuclear powers now, avoiding a war between the two is in everyone's interest.

White Phosphorus in Combat

















Here at Situational Awareness, our intention is to provide news and commentary on advances in military technology in an apolitical manner. Of course, it is not always possible to separate politics from the art of what has been called "politics by other means." There is a controversy raging over the use of white phosphorus by US forces in the Falluja campaign in November 2004. This is being celebrated in some circles as something of a "gotcha" moment, with commentators seizing on the Pentagon "admitting" to using the incendiary in combat. This is something like the Pentagon "admitting" to using bullets and high explosives against the enemy.

White phosphorus has been used extensively in combat for over half a century. In particular, it is worth noting the employment of white phosphorus rounds against the giant ants that infested areas of New Mexico and California in 1954. In one memorable engagement, US Army soldiers fired white phosphorus bazooka rounds at the opening of a desert nest in order to drive the Volkswagen-sized ants deeper into their tunnel complex, away from the surface. This facilitated the introduction of poison gas into the lair. Special combat engineering teams then rapelled down to mop up with flamethrowers. Textbook.

In Falluja, white phosphorus was apparently used to achieve the opposite effect. Enemy combatants were flushed from their hideouts by the heat and choking smoke so they could be killed in the open with bullets and high explosives. The dense smoke produced by white phosphorus rounds also was used to provide tactical cover for advancing US troops. Textbook.

White phosphorus: It's good enough for Them.

USB For Strike Weapons

I like programs that make existing systems more effective. Sometimes relatively small improvements can have a significant impact on how armed forces get the job done. The Universal Armaments Interface (UAI) program, run by the Aging Aircraft Systems Squadron at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, has the goal of developing common software that will allow the Air Force to incorporate new precision-guided munitions onto its aircraft without requiring major changes to each aircraft's operational-flight-program (OFP) software. This capability is expected to enable the integration of weapons independent of the block-upgrade process, cutting as much as five years from a given integration effort.

"The Air Force recognized that most aircraft have an OFP cycle that runs three to five years, and you start the second cycle midway through the first one," said Jerry Duke, deputy director of Aging Aircraft Systems Squadron and manager of the UAI program. "If your weapon comes onboard in the middle of one of those cycles, you have to wait until the beginning of the next cycle before you even start integrating the weapon onto that platform."

Saving time is cited as the major justification for the UAI program. With a standardized interface between the platform and the store, any new weapon that supports this interface could be integrated onto that platform without having to make changes to its OFP. "The dollar savings will be there in the long run," Duke said. "In the short run, it might cost you a little extra to put UAI in. But then the next time you crack that OFP, you won't have to do any weapons integration."

In early December 2004, and the Aging Aircraft System Squadron contracted Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman to develop the UAI. Each OEM has its own individual contract to create the platform stores initial capabilities document (ICD), the mission planning ICD, and perform validation activities. The UAI is an extension of Mil Std 1760, which specifies the number and type of connections between aircraft platforms and a class of precision-guided weapons that includes Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), the Paveway family, the Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD), the Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW), and the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) (see "Hammers of the Gods"). What the UAI standard defines is a message set that 1760-class weapons and compatible platforms use and recognize. It is not much of a stretch to say that the UAI is functionally similar to the Universal Serial Bus (USB) architecture used in the consumer electronics industry in that it enables compatible hardware to be connected and operated without any additional hardware or software changes.

The UAI effort has been proceeding at a brisk pace. A baseline ICD was released on June 30, 2005, for the F-15 System Program Office at Warner Robbins AFB to use for planning purposes. The F-15 Eagle is to be the threshold platform for UAI. August 31 was the deadline for quality-assurance checklists from the OEMs. These checklists are being issued to all appropriate program offices for platforms and stores so that each can certify that the UAI can be used. A final design review for the UAI ocurred on in late September at Wright Patterson. If all goes well, the final UAI specification will be released by the end of December.

Duke said that while the UAI standard currently only addresses 1760-class precision-guided munitions, in the future, his program office will look at expanding it to include air-to-air missiles, training pods, sensors, and other pods and stores. Duke said that he was also looking at getting release authority to give the UAI to some Foreign Military Sale (FMS) partners. Thus, the non-proprietary UAI standard might conceivably be made available to non-US manufacturers of strike weapons and operators of US-source aircraft. This would enable vendors to develop UAI-compatible weapons and air forces to incorporate UAI into their platforms' OFPs.

The US Navy is currently performing a baseline cost analysis to see what the benefit of the UAI is for the F/A-18s in particular. The UAI program office is in talks with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. The likelihood that the UAI or some derivative of it will be adopted across the services and even internationally seems quite good.

A Step Ahead of the U.S.

The Los Angeles Times has a good article today on U.S. efforts to capture Iraqi insurgency leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, who not only has managed to elude US forces but even expanded attacks to outside Iraqi, with the recent bombings in Amman, Jordan (see "In a Battle of Wits, Iraq's Insurgency Mastermind Stays a Step Ahead of U.S.).

Here's an except:

"Officials from several U.S. agencies said Washington had dramatically intensified its effort to catch Zarqawi over the last year as his network, which he calls Al Qaeda in Iraq, had launched a series of deadly and audacious attacks against civilian and military targets...

At least two top-secret, multi-agency commando teams have been assigned solely to track Zarqawi and mobilize quickly to pursue him into the most unstable areas of Iraq where he is believed to be hiding, several U.S. officials familiar with the units said. One of them is called Task Force 626, which was established last year by the Pentagon.

There are also dozens of special forces commandos and military intelligence gatherers looking for him. The CIA has deployed dozens of case officers and analysts, the FBI has flown in special agents and bomb experts, and forensic money-trackers from the Treasury Department are trying to monitor the flow of illicit funds into and out of Iraq as a way of of cornering Zarqawi and his top aides, those officials said in interviews.

Eavesdropping satellites, unmanned drones and even U-2 spy planes are gathering intelligence on the insurgency, some of them specifically watching for Zarqawi, the officials confirmed..."

This is a good description of how technology may aid fights against insurgencies, but is no substitute for human intelligence, as U.S. forces are also seeing with the plague of improvised explosive devices in Iraq (see "No Silver Bullet for IEDs"). After a decade or so of emphasis on electronic means of gathering intelligence, military planners and intelligence chiefs are quickly seeing the need for more fully "multidisciplinary" approaches.

For more on this, see "Promises, Promises" and "Intel Community Ineffective, Experts Say."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

First to Fight

The US Marine Corps' website recently ran a story on the service's first use of the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), becoming the third and last US service to employ the weapon (the Army, obviously, won't be using it, since it doesn't fly attack aircraft). The US Navy first used the JDAM about a year ago, while the GPS-guided weapon made its combat debut with the Air Force back in Operation Allied Force in 1998.

I've always wondered why it is that the Corps often seems to be the last US service to get the latest weapon systems and other combat equipment. Maybe it's a function of the Corps being, in effect, a sort of "sub-service." The USMC, after, all is the only one of the four US military services not to have its own department and secretary. But wouldn't it make sense for those who are "First to Fight" to be those who are first to receive the latest equipment?

Well, there are signs that they may be. The Marines were, for instance, the first US service to demonstrate the ability to datalink imagery from targeting pods (in this case, from USMC Harriers). And more recently, the Corps took the lead in developing and fielding a new ground-based, electronic-attack capability in the form of the Rockwell Collins (Cedar Rapids, IA) Rubicon II system, with the Army, which had been planning to acquire such a capability for a while now, effectively attaching itself onto the USMC's acquisition program for the system.

Maybe there's some hope yet that the Corps can get the respect it deserves in the procurement process.

Assumptions about IEDs in Iraq

It's generally accepted in articles about improvised explosive devices (see "Blast From the Past") that they are easy to make, yet the technology to counter them is expensive. While the latter statement may be true, a recent research paper by a research intern at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy questions received wisdom about tools for terrorism being cheap (and therefore very difficult to fight).

In "Accounting for Terror: Debunking the Paradigm of Inexpensive Terrorism," Joshua Prober uses the example of the 1998 East African bombings, which he estimates might well have cost over $50,000, including travel costs for the bombers and Al Queda supervisors, rental costs for the bomb-making factory, communications equipment such as satellite phones, electronic surveillance equipment, the trucks and other materials used for the bombs, and more.

What then does this mean? The importance of technology for detecting bombs will still be important, of course, but the cost of producing and planting bombs indicates that targeting the finances of terrrorists remains key. Prober quotes a US treasury officer as noting, "The simple fact remains that the money trail generally does not lie."

Monday, November 14, 2005

Star Trekkin'

USA Today recently reported on a study on teleportation commissioned by the US Air Force. The resulting report, entitled "Teleportation Physics Study" and produced by Warp Drive Metrics (Las Vegas, NV), explores the possibility of being able to "beam" matter from one point to another, just like the transporters employed on the Star Trek television series. The study cost the Air Force $25,000, and the report's author, Eric Davis of Warp Drive Metrics, recommends that a five-year, $7.5-million program to explore "psychic teleportation," reminiscent of the "experiments" conducted by alleged psychic and spoon-bender Uri Geller, whom the report actually references.

Now, Star Trek originally ran during the 1960s, and four decades later, many things considered to be nothing more than science fiction back then have become or are becoming reality. Take just a few examples: directed infrared countermeasures to protect not just military but civilian aircraft, the Airborne Laser to shoot down ballistic missiles, a non-lethal system that causes a burning sensation in its target(s), a directed-energy system to zap improvised explosive devices from afar, and many others -- including the aptly named PHaSR. Some of today's technologies even surpass those envisioned by the creators of Star Trek. Remember how Mr. Spock had to to stare down into that viewer at his station to view data? Now we can put that data right on the visor of a pilot's helmet. And let's not even get into all the meaningless flashing lights on the bridge of the Enterprise.

But teleportation? Come now. That's more than a little stretch (well, except for maybe everyone but former US Congressman James Traficant, who frequently shouted "Beam me up" on the floor of the House). I realize science is all about pushing boundaries, but the Air Force would've been better served by investing $25,000 into figuring out how Captain Kirk always managed to land the hot alien women.

Okay, so that may not help the US Air Force, but I've been curious for a really long time now.

Disaster Planning

However awful some future contingency might be, some military planner somewhere in Washington, DC, has probably already thought of it. War with Iran, war with China, war between India and Pakistan, a peacekeeping operation in a central African nation – the list of scenarios that could require deployment of US troops, or at least a threat to US interests that requires some type of response, is long.

Dr. Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who spoke at the Air Force Association conference Sept. 13 in Washington, suggested a few that he believes are more likely than some:

1. Some scenario involving North Korea, including a collapse of the government there that creates a need to secure North Korean nuclear facilities.

2. A fight with China to protect Taiwan. "My sense is our Pacific Command plan is a bit too blindly escalatory, is prone to attacks on the Chinese mainland," O'Hanlon said. "This requires more thought."

3. Indonesia. A terrorist group could shut down the Strait of Malacca or other parts of the Malaysia straits, affecting the shipment of oil and other goods that pass through that area. This would be a much more serious situation than the piracy that already affects this region (see "Standing Watch").

4. An Indo-Pakistan war, perhaps caused by tensions over Kashmir and leading to the use of nuclear weapons. International control of Kashmir could be a solution to the problem.

5. A collapse of Pakistan, where unemployment, poor schools, and a general lack of opportunity could lead to some type of coup involving jihadists and which might require some type of intervention, say using special forces to help secure nuclear facilities. "I can't imagine any potential president, whether it be Howard Dean or Dick Cheney, not responding to the collapse of Pakistan," said O'Hanlon, who said political turmoil could also lead to government collapse in Iran (see "Chain Reaction") or Saudi Arabia, and be equally problematic.

Testifying at a recent hearing by the US House Armed Services Committee on the "goals and principles" of the 2005 QDR, Dr. Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the three main challenges the QDR must address are radical Islam, in an era in which small groups or even individuals can get their hands on weapons of massively destructive power; nuclear power in Asia, where unstable government regimes are competing for increasingly scarce sources of energy; and the rise of China, which is not the certain threat to the US that the Soviet Union was, but because of its economic power could be tempted – like any powerful nation is – to achieve its national goals through military might.

Of the various future scenarios, the country that seems to be most feared by US military officers is China. Whether talking about protecting satellite capability (see "Lost in Space"), the F/A-22 and other new types of fighter aircraft, missile defense, new naval ships (see "US Navy Sizes Up Future"), or any other big ticket program, a major justification always seems to be the threat that China may pose (see "US DoD Ponders China Threat"). A number of analysts also view China as a potential threat to the US directly, pointing to buildups in China's submarine fleet and development of new command-and-control technology, in keeping with the reforms underway within many Western militaries (see "The UK's Military Makeover").

Is China a real threat or just favorite topic for US warmongers? QDR developers say the review is supposed to be able to help the US prepare for any possible scenario. Based on talk by military officials, China appears likely to play a big part in their thinking on future threats.

You Can't Be Too Thin

I'm very excited about the Boeing GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB), which has begun operational trials by the US Air Force at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The SDB is a 250-pound-class unpowered strike weapon that is guided with a GPS-aided inertial navigation system (INS). The SDB program builds on previously proven technology, enhances the effectiveness of practically the entire existing US inventory of strike aircraft, enables the F/A-22 to become a strike aircraft without compromising its stealth characteristics, is an enabling technology for the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS), and offers combat commanders a weapon to support forces on the ground that can be employed under the very restrictive environments imposed by urban warfare.

Physically, the SDB cuts an almost missile-like profile. Dropped from an aircraft, it deploys small wings that give it the appearance of a flying crossbow. The wings enable the glide-weapon to achieve a published stand-off range of about 60-70 nautical miles when released from high altitude. The speed of the terminal descent impart the penetration capabilities of a 2,000-lb bomb with only a 50-lb warhead, greatly reducing blast damage. Because its INS has a new 12-channel GPS receiver, the SDB is a "fire-and-forget" weapon similar to the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) from which much of its underlying technology was derived, but with a circular error probable (CEP) accuracy of about seven meters compared to about a 14 meter CEP for JDAM.

To understand just how revolutionary the advent of GPS-aided systems are, it is important to see bombing from the standpoint of people who fight wars. The conventional wisdom for tactical strikes prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War was that it required six iron bombs to kill a particular "aim point." This is about the entire load of a typical strike fighter. And a given target might have more than one aim points, say an air base, depot, or missile site. So multiple aircraft would be tasked with striking the target. A percentage of these aircraft might be expected not to reach their aim points because of mechanical trouble or enemy action. Therefore, particularly valuable targets might have backup aircraft assigned for such eventualities. Compound this situation by dozens or scores of individual targets that need to be hit within a period of hours -- hundreds within days, thousands within weeks -- and the complexities and logistics required to mount and sustain an air campaign become clear.

The six-bomb rule was not because targets were so well protected, but because iron bombs tend to miss by such a margin that you need a six pack on average to get one good hit. The exception to this rule was for those few, special targets that rated a precision-guided weapon. But these were relatively few and far between, as were the numbers of such weapons in inventory. For a long time, since the Vietnam War at any rate, this was the accepted accounting: Drop six, kill one. Except that over time air defenses improved to the point where over-flying most any defended target was risky business. And then people started to become more concerned about where the other five bombs went.

So being able to hit a target, or even multiple targets, with a single aircraft at stand-off ranges satisfied three key concerns: First, fewer sorties needed to be flown to achieve mission goals, saving wear and tear on equipment and personnel. Second, aircraft could attack targets from outside the effective range of air-defense systems, saving lives and reducing the possibility of crew capture. Third, collateral damage to civilian lives, property, and infrastructure could be reduced.

While the JDAM -- an impressive and hugely successful program in its own right -- was a tail kit assembly that could be attached to existing iron bomb warheads to make them guided weapons -- the SDB was built from the drawing board as a new weapon system. The SDB was originally developed to provide the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with the ability to carry useful bomb loads in internal bays that would not break the low-observable lines of its fuselage features as externally carried ordnance would. It was, however, always understood that the weapon would be usable by essentially all US jet combat aircraft with a strike role. Moreover, the lightness of the SDB means that four bombs can be carried in place of a single 1,000-lb. bomb. This means the number of potential aim-points attacked per sortie quadruples also. In the case of the B-2 bomber, up to 160 SDBs can be carried, each of which can be independently targeted in flight to attack a different aim point.

In addition to multiplying the effectiveness of existing aircraft as strike platforms, the SDB is also enabling the evolution of the F/A-22 into a strike aircraft. Conspicuously during its development, the F-22 Raptor was billed as an air-dominance fighter. The US Air Force still insists that it needs the hugely expensive aircraft in this role. However, in an attempt to broaden its mission statement and hence its appeal in Congress, the Air Force ostentatiously added the "A" label to the aircraft's designation, a la the F/A-18. Since up to eight SDBs will fit in the Raptor's weapons bays, the aircraft will be able to carry out strike missions without compromising its stealth characteristics. Thus, the SDB is will help justify the cost of the fighter program.

The SDM is an important component of the X-45 J-UCAS program, which is seeking to develop a semi-autonomous unmanned strike aircraft. The SDB is the strike weapon of the J-UCAS, which also carries the weapons in an internal bay. Any deployed unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) developed from the J-UCAS technology demonstrator program will almost certainly be armed with SDB. The development of jet-powered unmanned combat aircraft will certainly be one of the main storylines of 21st century military aviation.

A final word on the SDB is that it clearly supports the ways that the US is likely to have to make war in the future. The relatively small warhead size and high expected accuracy will enable to SDB to be employed as a close-support weapon in fairly tight proximity to friendly forces and with a minimized effect outside the target area. To be clear, a semi-active laser weapon is more accurate than one that is GPS/INS guided. However, most laser-guided bombs, such as the Paveway family, are much heavier and larger warheads.

So, in all, the SDB program is one to watch. It will make existing aircraft more effective and enable new generations of strike aircraft to be fielded, including revolutionary unmanned ones. The weapon will be an important one for the "small wars" in the US' future, as well as any larger conflicts that may arise.