Download infamous RAND air power briefing (hint: the “baby seals/F-35″ report)

This blog has obtained the RAND briefing described in so many reports this week. You can download it here by scrolling on the image below (thank you, Apture).

After a long review, I can understand why the heads of the program were mystified at how this briefing was used as the basis to attack the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The F-35 is mentioned only in passing [CORRECTING:] is described as “double-inferior” to Russian fighters on one back-up slide (#80), and but RAND’s analysts make no attempt to deconstruct the aerodynamic performance of any of the aircraft involved in the wargame.

At the same time, the briefing does not back up this remark by Maj Gen Charles Davis : “The exercise involvedbasing capacity around the Pacific Rim. It was a logistics anddeployablility exercise, not a battle.”

That’s not quite fair either. RAND’s analysis shows that a Taiwan Straits air war in 2020 exposes alarming concerns about the limits of US reliance on stealth, forward basing and beyond visual range combat. (Spoiler alert: the Chinese win.)

The analysts assume Kadena is wiped out by short-range ballistic missiles within the first minutes of the conflict. [ed: Bummer. I'm Kadena HS alum, class of '93.] That leaves Andersen, in Guam, to launch a counter-attack.

Operating from Andersen, RAND says that only six F-22s carrying a maximum of 48 air to air missiles can remain on station above Taiwan at any one time.

Chinese respond by launching three air regiments — 72 SU-27s carrying 912 air to air missiles — across the straits. 

For the purposes of discussion, RAND assumes the most optimistic outcome: Every missile fired by the F-22s find their mark, and none of the Chinese missiles shoots down an F-22.

Still, enough SU-27s escape the F-22 screen to attack and shoot down the F-22′s orbiting tankers. The F-22s now lack missiles and fuel, and have no hope of landing at a friendly base.

The Chinese win.

The F-35s are mentioned only one slide and as an excursion. I’d be interested to read your opinions,  but their involvement doesn’t appear to change the odds of success. More US aircraft are simply lost.

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45 Responses to Download infamous RAND air power briefing (hint: the “baby seals/F-35″ report)

  1. The Woracle 26 September, 2008 at 3:42 pm #

    There are two issues here. One is the imprt of the RAND analysis. The other is how did this analysis lead to the “clubbed like baby seals” smear? Sadly I think the second one is obvious. When Slide 81 went up on the screen, someone (probably a pilot) looked at the F-35′s position on the chart relative to the Sukhois, engaged mouth before brain, and….the rest is history.

    The chart precisely illustrates what Davis and Burbage argue is not relevant to the F-35. It is the energy manoeuvrability theory Boyd and the Fighter Mafia used to justify the F-16 lightweight fighter – low wing loading is good and high thrust-to-weight ratio is good. The JSF folks argue the fight is no longer about energy manoeuvrability, it is about stealth and situational awareness.

    I’m still working through it, but I think the RAND analysis questions that thinking, and tries to show that aircraft numbers, missile numbers, AND energy manoeuvrability will determine the outcome of the fight.

  2. Stephen Trimble 26 September, 2008 at 3:56 pm #

    Thanks for pointing out the chart, and the context for the basis of the RAND analysis. It’s now very clear why the JSF program office reacted so strongly.

  3. DensityDuck 26 September, 2008 at 4:06 pm #

    Woracle: So, really, the F-35 is a “systems” fighter; you don’t just go into single-combat dogfights until one side is totally dead, you instead have a…well, network, that covers the entire battlespace.

  4. Analyst 26 September, 2008 at 4:15 pm #

    Slides 79 & 80 discus the F-35 and paint a pretty negative picture. They note that it is optimized for strike, not for air-to-air combat. According to the authors of the briefing, it is “double inferior” to modern Russian/Chinese fighters in visual range combat. To quote them, it “can’t turn, can’t climb, and can’t run” when faced with likely adversaries.

  5. Frode 26 September, 2008 at 4:26 pm #

    “The other is how did this analysis lead to the “clubbed like baby seals” smear? ”

    That was based on a simulation not done by RAND.

    The war games, conducted at Hawaii’s Hickam airbase last month, were witnessed by at least four RAAF personnel and a member of Australia’s peak military spy agency, the Defence Intelligence Organisation, The West Australian said.

    The RAND story came later. fuel on the fire…

  6. Lightndattic 26 September, 2008 at 9:28 pm #

    It shows the deficiencies for ALL participants in a scenario where your tactics are extremely limited.

    I’d like to see the Chinese surge attack when factoring in any/all ROC assets as well. I didn’t see any statement regarding those assets in the scenario setup.

    Add in 2-3 carrier air wings with their SAM systems on the tanker/ISR side of Taiwan for protection against leakers and max load F-18E/F Blk2/3 for A-A to salvo their -120D’s and you have a much more desirable outcome.

  7. Paul Irving 26 September, 2008 at 10:28 pm #

    Lightndattic: I think the RoC air force is assumed to have lost its bases to ballistic missile attack.

  8. The Woracle 27 September, 2008 at 3:27 am #

    DensityDuck – I’m not endorsing the JSF program’s view of the combat equation, just paraphrasing their argument that for the F-35 it is no longer about energy manoeuvrability, as it was when the F-16 was conceived.

    In fact, I think RAND’s analysis legitimately challenges the view of the combat environment to which the JSF program adheres. I make no judgement about who is right. I’m an aerospace reporter, not an defence analyst. And glad of it.

  9. Daverino 27 September, 2008 at 4:28 am #

    “The exercise involved basing capacity around the Pacific Rim. It was a logistics and deployablility exercise, not a battle.”

    After reading the whole thing myself, i would agree with this statement. It did include informed guesses based on data, but no simulated battles.

    Any way thank you so much for posting that I really enjoyed that, and if you have any more please post them.

  10. Liam 27 September, 2008 at 3:57 pm #

    Nice to see the Typhoon doing well in the Rand analysis. Boyd and the Fighter mafia are still as relevant as ever.

  11. Horde 28 September, 2008 at 2:34 am #

    Just because LM and others say the traditional metrics of air combat (i.e. speed, agility, aero and kinematic performance, payload/range) no longer apply, doesn’t mean this is true.

    The Holy Grail of the Fighter Pilot is to have a machine that enables one to engage and disengage, at will, throughout the whole air combat continuum and stay outside the adversaries’ kill envelopes while putting them in yours.

    The desired outcome from a BVR scenario is just the same as that for WVR, however, this game is played out at 40+ nm with the Mark 1 Eyeball replaced by sensor systems more easily befuddled and the volume of air between the protaganists providing much greater warning times and, thus, far greater time to evade and dodge incomings.

    Stealth is but one aspect of the game and is both fragile and perishable. Ask any Submarine Captain.

    At the end of the day, he who has the speed, agility and range/payload advantage will dominate

  12. Chockblock 28 September, 2008 at 3:19 am #


    1)WTF are the “robofighters” the brief talks about? UAV’s I take it.

    2)What about the SAM’s? They said that ROC and PLA SAM “Don’t Play”, BS!


    4)ARM’s like Kh-31, what about them? Lightndattic, the PLA want to KILL Patroit/HAMK and other air defense from far away. ROC assets will inflect damage, but in the end they are a speed bump unless the US gets involved. But it’s weird to see a brief that does not mention a class of missiles that has given US air defense planners the willies for years.

  13. Scott Ferrin 28 September, 2008 at 4:07 am #

    In a scenario like that where it’s sheer numbers in the air it seems like a good time for something like B-1Bs outfitted to launch SM-6-sans-booster as an AAM. You could probably get 24 – 30 of them per bomber and if you were able to cue them with E-2/E-3 (or even F-22s) that could help. Of course there’s the problem that none of that exists at the moment and who knows if the things could be easily modifed for airborne carriage. You could also pack a LOT of SM-6s onto an Ohio SSGN for a nasty surprise (obviously it’s not as easy as waving one’s hands but the problem could be worked). Sounds like a problem that needs outside-the-box thinking (or a butt-load of F-22s).

  14. WaltBJ 29 September, 2008 at 5:39 am #

    1) How much longer will it be possible for aircraft to fly unchallenged by SAMs? I can foresee a future when it will be infeasible to fly within missile arcs, especially if AEW is performed from space
    2) Mobility, dispersal and camouflage make it difficult to neutralize a number of SAMs. They won’t stand out like SA2 sites did.
    3) It should be possible to detect jet aircraft takeoff IR bloom from space. Staring IR detectors might be able to do this especially if supercooled.
    4) It takes a finite amount of time for a fighter force to takeoff and assemble. BTDT.
    5) Field ballistic missile flight times might be less than 4, above. ICM warheads would work to disrupt a mass launch.
    6) With the high cost of jet fuel how will it be possible to keep fighter pilots at peak capability for the ‘knife fight?’ It took me about 3 sorties a week to maintain Zen-like performance in the arena.
    7) One pound submunitions are not the only option.
    Each 800# CBU 29 had 665 ‘mini-frags’ and included a percentage of variable delay-timed submunitions to harass the troops. Let’s look at the range vs payload for ‘field ballistic missiles’ and see how much we can loft from east of Taiwan onto those hardened airfields from SSBNs.
    8) What if it is nighttime?

  15. Royce 29 September, 2008 at 2:06 pm #

    What I took away from the briefing was that current basing options in the theater make it all but impossible to defend Taiwan against the Chinese. Even if we had loads of evolved F-15s to match the numbers of Chinese Su-27s, once Kadena gets hit the forward deployed aircraft are destroyed and the U.S. military is forced to fly very long range missions that put us at a disadvantage. Geography and the dependence on a few big bases is the big enemy here. The F-35 stuff was just kind of tossed in there.

  16. John S. 29 September, 2008 at 3:34 pm #


    Could you provide a better link to the Rand slides? Your embedded slideshow here is very small and cannot be blown up to full screen. It’s hard to read some of the charts.



  17. John S. 29 September, 2008 at 3:39 pm #


    This whole exercise sounds to me like a plea to reopen a new version of Clark Air Base.

  18. David Geaves 29 September, 2008 at 6:30 pm #

    I think the Rand report and Dr Richard P Hallion’s report only serves to highlight the USAF’s many problems.
    The F-15, having been the premier air superiority fighter for so long has suffered from a lack of modernization and upgrades, and apart from the so called ‘Golden Eagles’ it has been relatively unchanged since the ‘C’ model came along apart from modest radar and weapon upgrades. Thrust vectoring has not been taken up and the benefits of IRST have been ignored. Hardly surprising that the SU-30 is reckoned to be so much better in so many areas. With a modest amount of F-22′s the USAF needs a fighter that can at least equal the threat that the SU-30 poses.
    The performance of AMRAAM in the Rand report was a real eye opener; from all the hype that one hears and reads, one could be forgiven for thinking that it is a one shot – one kill missile but far from it with a reported Pk of .59 and all against non manouvering targets without ECM or comparable weapons. I wonder how it would fare in a heavy ECM environment against opponents of comparable skill and equipment.
    The wars of recent years have been against opponents with inferior equipment so perhaps this has given rise to a false sense of confidence in the american war machine.
    And, as for the F-35, having been hyped up to be all sorts, it really is just a stealthy first strike aircraft with an extensive EW fit and a AESA radar, it has no air to air combat persistence unless carrying external weapons and then it’s not stealthy.

  19. ikkeman 30 September, 2008 at 8:42 am #

    So IF we discount ground units, except on the china side and IF we discount additional assats still flying in 2020 (F-16, F-15… yes, even F-4′s on loan from Japan, if they are not allowed to buy the F-22 themselves), IF we discount any help from allies and IF we assume China doesn’t have to protect any of it’s borders the USAF has a hard time defending a province of china against the chinese (taiwan voted against independence, didn’t they?).

    many IF’s – many of them IMHO important.

    and about the F-35 getting clubbed like baby seals – didn’t baby seal no longer get clubbed???

  20. Jeenho Hahm 30 September, 2008 at 4:27 pm #

    Thank you for posting the actual report so that all the misunderstandings and bickering would be clarified and left it up to the readers. I would have to first say that both sides have their own justifications and it was purely a miscommunication. The Australian report was based on the simulation test conducted by the U.S. Air Force, and the results actually showed that F-35 was inferior to other models in a close-range combat. On the other hand, Lockheed Martin and USAF do argue that the test was more focused on the overall performance in the Pacific Theater, which includes logistics and deploybility as well, not just the combats. I would like to agree with all the other commentators here that the slides that really hit the points are from 79 to 81. Especially the “Double Inferior” is a critical one that states that F-35 has inferior “acceleration”, “climb”, and “sustained turn capability”, which translates to “Can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t turn.” F-35 is not designed to have the energy maneuverability like F-16 did, but instead it is intended to have much more close-range or air-to-air combat superiority than F-22 Raptor or any other fighters that either exist or being developed. Yet, as you mentioned, in a conflict over Taiwan Strait, we will face the fighters from China, and this shows they will outperform us if we don’t have the adequate maneuverability. Does this mean that we should keep F-16 for this? The “baby seal” was an exaggeration to spark media controversy, but it surely brought an important consideration to the light.

  21. guru 30 September, 2008 at 11:56 pm #

    the chinese have always been underestimated in such scenarios – hence this report is a welcome wake up call

  22. Obamanite 2 October, 2008 at 1:52 pm #

    As others have pointed out, this is an unrealistic scenario for not including the US Navy. Just two carrier battle groups near Taiwan gives you, assuming just one cruiser and two destroyers per CBG, and four F/A-18E/F squadrons per carrier (assuming no F-35C): Some 628 VLS missile cells (not counting ESSM quad-packs) and 80 fighters, each of which will be capable of carrying 12 AMRAAMs. The F-35C, with external AAM carriage, should by 2020 be cleared to also loft 12 AMRAAMs or perhaps 14, depending on whether 6 internal AMRAAMs are cleared. BVR the Superbug and the F-35C should both be superior to the Flanker (superior radar, lower RCS, even if the latter carries external AAMs). In the event of a mass formation of Flankers flying toward Taiwan, with two nearby CBGs the 6 F-22s (and the inexplicable exclusion of F-35As) should be augmented by at least 40 F/A-18E/Fs and/or F-35Cs, along with more than 600 VLS missile cells (not counting the several Aegis cruisers and/or destroyers likely to be stationed off Taiwan with the only purpose of engaging in ABMD, a discipline which should be amply mature by then, to say nothing of PAC-3 and THAAD). So, if putting up massive numbers of AAMs is the standard by which RAND seems to be measuring success, 40 F/A-18E/Fs and/or F-35Cs can do so in spades, namely, some 480 AAMs (all BVR). And that’s just half the fighter complement of only two CBGs. In short, RAND’s study seems either a bit short-sighted or a little disingeneous…

  23. eg 2 October, 2008 at 5:05 pm #

    As a ex-navy guy and a proponent of seapower, inspite of what the Navy may say, going in and playing around in littoral seas is bad ju-ju for our current navy. Given a few submarines with long ranage missiles and a lack of extended ASW coverage for a CVBG the carrier would be whacked before it could get into reasonable distance. That is a blue water scenario. Would you like to guess what would hapen with 500 miles of land? As far as depending on AAMRAM…the pk still is not as good as we would like.

  24. Stephen Trimble 2 October, 2008 at 5:43 pm #

    All of this makes sense to me. There are many ways to neutralize a carrier battle group if you come within range of China’s missile net. You don’t even necessarily need a direct hit on a ship, if you use the, ahem, right kind of warhead.

  25. FighterFan 7 January, 2009 at 1:11 pm #

    It’s understandable that the study had to exclude a host of relevant variables to keep the scope manageable, but IMO it overly discounted the role of the USN in this scenario.
    Unless the Navy is too busy defending itself against attacks by PLA navy antiship cruise missiles and subs, its Aegis ships and Super Bugs’ firepower (as pointed out above) should be able to put up an air defense gauntlet that would attrit the Flanker force before it could reach the HVA platforms. Likewise, SSNs with TLAMs could hit PLA AF bases and hinder flight ops.

    If I’m not mistaken, the analysis assumes only 6 F-22 CAPs on station due to distance/fuel constraints, i.e. tanker support limitations, and KC-135 tankers still predominant in 2020. Surely the USAF would have gotten its KC-X act together by then! A fleet of KC-767 or KC-30s with greater fuel offload capabilities should be able to support a larger number of F-22 CAPs on station.

    All this points towards another asset, which has not been considered, but would be available in the 2020 timeframe: the Airborne Laser. Aircraft don’t have predictable trajectories like TBMs, but they fly a lot slower, so the AL-1 would have plenty of time from standoff range to engage the Flankers. Just imagine the psychological impact on the Flanker drivers of seeing your squadron mates vaporized by the bolt from the blue, and your willingness to press on with the mission.

    If I were the USAF ABL program management, I would aim for a demo-shootdown against FSAT drones, after demonstrating its basic anti-missile capabilities.

    PS: shouldn’t the F-35 be described as “doubly inferior” instead of “double inferior”?

  26. drunken sailor 11 April, 2009 at 11:17 pm #

    The Flankers can carry ~mach2 anti-shipping cruise missiles. Is it reasonable to expect that a carrier group under massive missile attack will be able to coordinate their airborne assets? AWACS will be eliminated in the first hour. And those old diesel subs (sitting quietly on some sandy sea floor) have, in some instances, been refitted with the newest programmable torpedoes. These run deep and fast, dipping to select the biggest target and detonating well below the keel. Everyone knows the story: initial blast envelope followed directly by massive upwelling of air pockets drops the carrier’s keel straight into the non-buoyant region, breaking the ship’s back. Even sending a carrier group near the China coast is assisted suicide (see SU-30 command functions).

  27. Jim Scully 3 May, 2009 at 12:32 pm #

    I’ve always had doubts about the JSF’s and the Raptors air to air capability, but I’m not sure the US airforce is intending either aircraft to engage enemy aircraft all the time in the airspace. I think both aircraft are simply intended for ground attack. Their air-air payloads are just in case they should have to engage enemy aircraft.So weather the US would lose the war is still a matter of debate.

  28. Bill Wright 22 July, 2009 at 4:42 pm #

    Leaving out the Navy (submarine support) is a big mistake. Leaving out lasers as weapons is a big omission. Leaving out the B3 is might be a mistake. Leaving out missile defense from Taiwan is a mistake. Leaving out help from Japan might be a mistake.

    Overall, this Rand report is flawed.
    – Bill

  29. Bill Wright 22 July, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

    * Leaving out US Navy submarine support is a mistake.
    * Leaving out theater-ABM support is a big mistake.
    * Leaving out offensive lasers is a probable mistake.
    * Taking out our air-to-air refueling is a mistake.
    * Making the F35 seem helpless is a small mistake.
    * Leaving out help from Japan might be a mistake.
    * Using so few F22′s is a likely mistake.
    * Having no ballistic missile support from the US is a likely mistake.
    * Leaving out the B3 is a likely mistake. At least a few will be available.
    * Clubbing baby seals is always a mistake as eventually momma seal will get you.

    – Bill

  30. stephen blank 21 October, 2009 at 4:27 pm #

    Dear Mr. Trimble I need to get access to this study can you send me a link or a copy, I’d be very grateful

    Professor Stephen Blank

  31. Jay Cline 29 January, 2010 at 9:29 pm #

    Taiwan not strategically significant?? Well, if it isn’t in the national interest to maintain the Pacific as an American lake, to support and maintain free sailing in the Pacific, then I guess not. Look at a map. If China pops the cork (Taiwan), it opens the flood gates right through our center. Guam and Kadena wouldn’t stand a chance.

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  34. Theo 27 September, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    Very interesting report and very interesting comments here as well. The report IS a simplification, that much is obvious, and I think this was done to reduce the length of the report, but not to bias the results and conclusions. I think the intent of the report’s conclusions is to provide a wake up call (possibly either for political or military financing reasons) and that it does quite admirably.

    While the report ignores Chinese SAMs and all RoC air assets (aircraft and SAMs) as well as the possibility of laser weapons on ships and large aircraft by then and a new class of US bomber (B3) but does mention that the Chinese will almost certainly have stealth aircraft of their own by then, the general balance seems pretty good to me. The Chinese will be a comparable well-trained, high-tec military by then (they already are to a certain extent) with the capability of deploying large numbers of theater missiles and even larger numbers of supersonic, long-range cruise missiles, very likely enough to overwhelm SAM defenses and CBGs.

    The one factor inexplicably only mentioned by the report as an aid to the Chinese side – “Robocraft”, strikes me as odd, though. The US will by then have long experience and much larger numbers of combat capable drones, and the lower cost of these compared to conventional jet aircraft means that there is a good chance that both sides, but more the US, would be using these in very large numbers by then, enough to influence the tide of battles possibly.

    The omission of this factor makes me think the report was influenced to a certain degree by the jet-fighter lobby.

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