F-22 + BACN = Taliban-killer?



If the US Air Force deployed Lockheed Martin F-22s to Afghanistan today, could they do anything? Some argue the F-22 is over-engineered to fight the Taliban, which is not an unreasonable claim. But, for the sake of argument, could the F-22′s current air-to-ground capabilities contribute to the attack?

Perhaps other informed bloggers, such as Bill Sweetman, Eric Palmer and Dave Majumdar, could contribute here, but this is what I think.

The F-22 has a weapons bay equipped to store two GBU-32 joint direct attack munitions. In theory, yes, it could attack ground targets. But the F-22 needs more than a weapon to attack ground targets. The aircraft must have the means to receive updates about the target after taking off. This is where the current state of the F-22′s capabilities get complicated.

As a stealthy aircraft, the US Air Force equipped the F-22 to transmit data only with other F-22s on a low-probability of intercept signal. As far as we know, no other aircraft has the ability to exchange data with the F-22. That is expected to change with the arrival of the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) in 2015. Even then, the MADL will allow the F-22 to share data about targets only with other stealth aircraft, such as the F-35 and B-2.

There is an interesting “but” here. In fact, the F-22 may have the ability to share data with troops on the ground today, but the USAF has declined my requests to confirm that information. In April 2008, the USAF demonstrated that the F-22′s solitary waveform could plug into the battlefield network. The USAF used a Northrop Grumman system installed on a Bombardier Global Express XRS regional jet to translate the F-22′s intraflight data link into Link 16. The same software could be used to “bridge” the F-22 signal into a CDMA waveform, which is the standard used for many mobile phones.

Last month, the USAF announced that the Northrop Grumman system — hilariously called BACN, or battlefield airborne communications node — is now operational, and has been flying in Afghanistan and Iraq since at least last November. BACN has been deployed because it can patch ground radios into the Link 16 network used by most non-stealthy combat aircraft.

The question now is whether the F-22 bridging demonstration last year has become an operational capability. As I said before, the USAF has declined to answer my requests for this information. So we don’t know. But it is possible.

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7 Responses to F-22 + BACN = Taliban-killer?

  1. Vijainder K Thakur 14 July, 2009 at 3:54 pm #

    The Raptor’s advanced Stealth, super cruise, super maneuverability and information fusion were never meant to address the Taliban threat and if that disappoints some politicians shouldn’t we just be happy they are politicians?
    The Raptor keeps the peace in much more dangerous areas.
    I think the Raptor should manage the threats that would otherwise come to the brink of being unmanageable, not the Taliban.

  2. Upandaway 14 July, 2009 at 8:13 pm #

    The question that should be asked isn’t “what could the F-22 do?”, but rather “what can the F-22 do better?”.

    Better in this regard doesn’t have to be more accurate or quicker (and likely wouldn’t be. The most accurate CAS is done by the A-10, and the fastest should be the B-1) but could also be more persistent or cheaper (both done by UAV:s…)

    Now… is there anything it would be doing better?

    Don’t think so.

  3. alloycowboy 14 July, 2009 at 9:26 pm #

    Using an F-22 to fight guys armed with AK-47′s is little over kill don’t you think?

  4. airplane jim 14 July, 2009 at 9:42 pm #

    Someone needs to help me with the logic that says we need the F-22 to be a Taliban Killer. First it cost somewhere north of $200 million a copy. A large Taliban force is about 50 insurgents and they usually are not all within the blast zone of a SDB. This is like using a cannon to get some flies at a picnic. Second it holds only 2 SDB’s. One or two runs at a target and it’s time to go home. Switch to the cannon and you have 5 sec. of cannon fire to utilize. None of this takes into consideration the communications problem mentioned which will sometime be resolved. Now compare this to an F-16 or and F-15 for bomb load and cost of operation per hour not to mention the risk of being hit by a shoulder fired, if the F-22 ever gets that low, and you have got to ask, WHY? I am open to having my mind changed.

  5. ELP 14 July, 2009 at 10:55 pm #

    The only real benefit that has never been discussed for dirt wars is speed.

    For 911 calls where a ground force has been ambushed… the F-22 ( like other fast movers including the B-1) can do something.

    It would be the fastest CAS response out of the JSTARs stack or other orbit where time is life. The only thing ambushed troops care about is fire support now. Note here precision rocket artillery that is in range of a patrol could do this too.

    An A-10 is only good if it is a few blocks away. Otherwise it isn’t much use for emergency CAS. It is slow. Again, here when a B-1 with s Sniper pod shows up, it can hang around for a while. JTACS like them for that. But back to the F-22.

    So an F-22 shows up. Getting cords from the JTAC on the way in and drops a few JDAMs. Better than nothing and might just put the ambush off balance until other CAS assets show up. This is a lot cheaper to deal with than paying out death benefits for lost soldiers.

    Other than that, no not really. Just remember the above if ambushed troops die waiting on fire support. Again though I am an advocate for GPS/INS artillery rounds too (tube or rocket). The JTAC with the ground troops could call that in easy and it would be there pretty quick.

  6. Otto Pernotto 15 July, 2009 at 1:31 am #

    Stephen,
    I generally agree with the other commentors that the F-22 would be massive overkill in either Iraq or A-Stan but let’s take it to a different theater where there might be some triple digit SAM’s and the stealth features would be good to deliver ordnance.

    The question is not just can it recieve inputs from other aircraft, what about troops on the ground? I doubt it can self lase or self derive coordinates, but what about some folks lasing or otherwise getting coordinates on the ground? Just as our entire fleet of F-15A/B/C/D’s can’t provide air to mud support right now, looks like the F-22 will be an air to air machine, almost exclusively, too.

  7. Pun-dit 13 July, 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    The F-22 carries 8 SDBS or 2 1000 lb JDAMS.

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