August 2009 Archives
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is hosting a "media availability" (aka press conference) in a few minutes from Lockheed Martin's final assembly factory for the F-35 in Fort Worth, Texas.
You can watch the press conference live here: http://www.pentagonchannel.mil/
Gates has thrown his support behind the F-35, justifying his decision to close F-22 production after 187 jets by pointing to the ramp-up of the F-35 fighter. After Gates completes his factory tour in Fort Worth, he will travel to nearby
- Gates' press conference has started at 11:29am EST.
- Gates: "I'm especially excited that things seem to be on schedule for the first training squadron in 2011 and IOC in 2012."
- Gates on F136 alternate engine: "We have looked at the business case a number of times in terms of an alternate engine for F-35. The general conclusion is it would cost several bill dollars in addition. It would, just by the nature of things, it would be 3 or 4 more years behind the F135 engine and there's no reason to believe that it would not encounter the same kind of development challenges that other new engines have encountered along the way ... We feel very strongly that there is not a need for an alternate engine .. The president's advisers would recommend a veto if it's left in the bill. The final decision is up to the president."
- Bonus points to any spotter who can identify which variant of the F-35 Gates is standing in front of in the picture above.
Gates on Joint Estimating Team's prediction that the F-35 will be delayed two more years: "I don't want too get specific about that because frankly I don't know the specifics or the assessment that was made. I know there was some assumptions made in making that assessment that others have some disagreements with. My impression is that most of the high risk elements associated with this program are largely behind us and I feel a good deal of confidence in the management here that the manufacturing process, the supplier chain ... have been addressed or are being addressed."
- Gates on the F-35 costs: "I think the F-35 is at root the core of our combat tactical aircraft in the future. Our planned buy of these airplanes at this point is in the neighborhood of between 2,400 and 2,500 with hundreds more being purchase by our foreign partners. I think that the fact that we have an aircraft that has many common components for all three services is important for potential cost savings. [The F-35 at full rate production is] less than half the price for example of the F-22. My view is we cannot afford as a nation not to have this airplane."
- Press conference ended at 11:43am EST.
In the subscriber-only Defense Daily article, Northrop spokesman Randy Belote called Cantwell's press conference appearance "a breach of protocol" that is "both inappropriate and unfortunate". Northrop is currently locked in a tense battle with Boeing over a tanker contract, where Boeing's record of ethical conduct is hardly a minor issue.
Meanwhile, AAI is currently competing against Boeing for a $450 million contract to supply small tactical unmanned aircraft systems. AAI's press conference was focused on this issue. So what did Boeing's other competitor think about Cantwell's in cognito appearance? I called the spokeswoman for AAI's Aerosonde UAV division, Sharon Corona, today to find out.
Corona confirmed that Cantwell did not identify himself as a Boeing employee, but instead as a reporter for defensedialogue.com, the web site that Boeing has considered launching in October. She discovered Cantwell's true employer afterward when she noticed his Boeing email address on AUVSI's roster of press attendees. Did this fact bother AAI?
"Well, no," Corona replied. I asked: Really?
"It was our press conference," she said. "Everything that we planned to say was in the public domain. I guess it would have been nice to know that he was a Boeing employee."
Corona also said she double-checked, to be safe, the questions Cantwell asked during the press conference, but found no reason to raise alarms.
It appears French President Nicolas Sarkozy won't just waltz [ED: er, make that samba] into Brasilia next month and pick up a $4 billion check for 36 Rafale fighters, after all. Brazil's media previously reported that the F-X2 contract winner was scheduled to be announced on September 7, independence day, when Sarkozy just happened -- very coincidentally, wink-wink -- to have scheduled a state visit. Alas, it now appears the contract award has been delayed to October "at the earliest", which leads us to this wonderfully stereotypical quote by Dassault's top sales man in Brasilia:
"Let's uncork the champagne once it's signed," Jean-Marc Merialdo told the AFP wire service.
Although the Rafale proposal rides the momentum of expanded political, industrial and military ties between Brasilia and Paris, the other two finalists -- Saab JAS-39C Gripen and Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet -- are still fighting for the one of the world's most prized fighter awards.
Jim Albaugh, head of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, visited Sao Paolo last week to assure skeptical Brazilian reporters that the US would allow an "unprecedented" level of technology sharing for the deal.
Saab also faced quetions about potential US meddling, since the Gripen is powered by the General Electric/Volvo F414 engine. Bob Kemp, Gripen's top sales man, told O Globo yesterday: "A tecnologia-chave... as coisas que realmente importam, nós controlamos." (Translated: "The key technology ... the things that really matter, we control.")
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia did everything on Tuesday but stare at MiG and Sukhoi with his finger and his thumb in the shape of an L on his forehead, a la Smash Mouth.
Russia's United Aircraft Corporation, corporate parent of both fighter-makers, is now $3.76 billion in the red after squandering opportunities to sell off non-core assets, float shares and restructure, Putin said during opening ceremonies for MAKS air show outside Moscow.
"I would like to warn you against the illusion that the state will endlessly cover losses, bail out companies or correct mistakes by management," Putin says.
But not yet. Only moments before before making the above statement, Putin announced plans to inject $100 million in cash to stabilize Sukhoi and to consider pumping another $470 million in state aid to MiG. Last year, the Russian government bailed out MiG's finances with a similar cash injection, and assumed a $570 million order for 34 MiG-29SMTs rejected by Algeria.
Putin also announced a $2.5 billion order for 64 new Sukhoi fighters through 2015.
Just don't expect more of the same, he says.
"We cannot resort to this practice all the time," Putin says. "We can work effectively in this country and we should achieve this by all means."
This is what the F-35B looks like with a full load of external weapons, including the 25mm gun pod mounted on the belly. Lockheed Martin released this photo today of the BF-3 prototype, which is now in ground vibration testing. Meanwhile, the BF-1 prototype is expected to return to flight after a very long hiatus "at any minute" today, Lockheed says.
Boeing Launches Internal Probe After Company Flack Poses As BloggerFull disclosure: I attended the same briefings that Cantwell attended. In addition to the Northrop briefing, he also sat in on a briefing by AAI Corp, which is competing against Boeing for the STUAS/Tier II contract. I of course was aware that Cantwell is a Boeing employee. I've known him for several years. It surprised me that he identified himself as a Defensedialogue.com reporter when he asked questions. I assumed that Northrop's and AAI's flacks knew of his Boeing affiliation as well, but I should have asked.
Boeing [BA] is conducting an internal investigation into a nascent social media effort after a company spokesman posed as an independent blogger and sat in on several briefings of archrival Northrop Grumman [NOC] at a trade show last week.
Doug Cantwell, a company spokesman who works out of one of Boeing's Washington state facilities, preregistered for last week's Association for Unmanned Vehicles System International (AUVSI) symposium as an "independent blogger" working for Defensedialogue.com, according to a spokeswoman for AUVSI.
By not identifying himself as a Boeing employee, Cantwell went against company policy, Dan Beck, a Boeing a spokesman, told Defense Daily yesterday. "Boeing policy is clear."
More full disclosure: I was also fully aware of Boeing's plans for Defensedialogue.com, which as I understand is intended to be a leading news and information portal. It is the brainchild of former Business Week reporter Stanley Holmes, who now works for Boeing, reporting to IDS Communications Vice President Mary Foerster.
As the excellent Defense Daily article correctly, notes, Boeing's plans to launch a defense industry and policy blog by around October were an open secret in the trade press. I generally support the idea of defense companies getting into the blogging business. There is an intense discussion about the aerospace industry in the blogosphere. It would be a pity if the industry's voice is the only one absent. I intended to reserve judgment about Defensedialogue.com until I saw it in published form.
Alas, Defense Daily's fine reporting likely means we will never see Defensedialogue.com, or any external blog published by Boeing's defense division. Boeing IDS has always supported my use of social media technology, but has seemed skittish even among defense contractors about using such tools corporately. For example, Boeing was the only major US defense company at the Paris Air Show that did not post updates on Twitter.
It was clearly a mistake for Cantwell, who I've always regarded as a highly professional and competent media representative, to pose as an "independent blogger" at the news conferences of two competitors. This falls short of corporate espionage, since he didn't sneak into a private meeting. But blogs are above all about being completely transparent. I do not know if going in cognito was Cantwell's decision, or if he was instructed to do so.
But my biggest concern is that this episode will force Boeing to retreat from the blogosphere altogether, just as the conversation really starts to get interesting.
Given the US defense industry's amazing success on the subcontinent since 2005, so far I see India tilting in Boeing's direction. But I would not discount the Russians and the French -- India's longtime weapons suppliers -- just yet. Although US officials made a huge deal about signing the end-use monitoring agreement last month, it was interesting to read that the Indian Air Force wasn't so impressed. The very reliable StratPost blog even quoted one IAF commenter suggesting the end-use agreement would expose a Super Hornet or Viper fleet to US spying.
The Russian Air Force will reportedly award a $1.9 billion deal for 60 Sukhoi fighters at the MAKS 2009 air show this week outside Moscow. News of the blockbuster deal -- by Russian terms -- was overshadowed by a fatal mid-air collision during airshow warm-ups that killed Russian Knights commander Col Igor Tkachenko and put two other SU-27 pilots in the hospital. If true, the deal would require Sukhoi to deliver 12 new jets a year to the Russian air force through 2015. The order is reportedly for 48 SU-35s, 4 SU-30M2s and 12 SU-27Ms. Some may note a little skepticism that the Russian Air Force budget can support such a deal, or that Sukhoi can deliver on its promises. But the contract would be a huge sign of support from Moscow, even as its struggling aerospace industry attempts to compete for export orders in India, Alegeria and Eastern Europe.
Lockheed Martin has released a nice video showing a KC-130 probe-and-drogue refueling the second F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) prototype named BF-2. The refueling tests are essential before BF-1 can be flown to Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Maryland, from Fort Worth, Texas. BF-1 is still scheduled to complete the first vertical landing in late September or early October, although one flight test pilot said November is also a possibility.
What could possibly go wrong?
New military vehicle flips with TV reporter at wheel
Two UAV-makers that battled for a $1 billion US Army contract four years ago are poised for another epic face-off in the US market.
In 2005, the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-1C Sky Warrior prevailed over the Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) Heron (shown above) for the army's extended-range/multi-purpose (ERMP) contract. A few months later, the Heron, which then-IAI partner Northrop Grumman called the "Hunter II", also lost a competition against the Predator B for a deal with the US Customs and Border Patrol.
The battle between the Heron and the Predator series then moved overseas, with IAI better holding its ground. Both sides have won some and lost some in the foreign market. Germany, for example, has apparently recently sided with the Heron, according to, of all people, GA-ASI CEO Thomas Cassidy.
The competition has now moved back onto US shores -- or, more precisely, just off the US shores. The next battle between the Predator B and the Heron will be in the US market for maritime patrol aircraft.
In separate interviews at AUVSI this week, both Cassidy and IAI North America CEO Uzzi Rozzen said they are now positioning for potential new orders by the US Coast Guard, navy and Department of Homeland Security.
GA-ASI's Cassidy believes the baseline Predator B, stripped of the extended Altair wing and expensive gear that proved non-competitive for the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) contract, can be a powerful, land-based surveillance aircraft for naval missions. The comapny is evaluating radars from five different suppliers for the maritime role, he says.
Meanwhile, IAI's Rozzen believes the Heron will prove to be attractive as a low-cost alternative to the Predator B, which is larger and more costly than the Sky Warrior. Rozzen also expects the US Southern Command to award a follow-on contract IAI to perform an operational evaluation of the Heron in the maritime role. IAI previously demonstrated the Heron for SOUTHCOM during an exercise in Honduras.
Please excuse the fuzzy photo. I had to maneuver my cell phone camera over and behind a model of the ADVENT engine on the AFRL booth to get this shot.
We all know about the precision-guided, JDAM glide-bomb. Flightglobal also has reported that Korea is developing an extended-range version of JDAM, which includes an attached wingkit.
But this is the first mention I've ever seen of a JDAM-ER missile, which implies some form of rocket or air-breathing propulsion. More intriguingly, the picture was posted on a slide showing applications for the AFRL's various propulsion development programs.
The motto of the flying demonstrations last month for the STUAS/Tier 2 contract bidders seemed to be: What happened in Yuma stays in Yuma.
We don't know what happened when the four bidders for the US Navy and Marine Corps contract traveled to the Arizona UAV range to show that their aircraft actually does what they say it can do in their proposals.
Not surprisingly, there have been a lot of rumors.
In a press conference today at the AUVSI convention, AAI Corp VP Steve Flach became the first to go public with his understanding of what happened at the secretive Yuma event.
Also not surprisingsly, according to his version of the story, the Aerosonde Mk 4.7 was the only aircraft to complete the two-day flight trials without a mishap. Not that the USN or USMC program office has told him officially, of course.
But "that's the rumor mill," he says. "We probably did the best at the demo from all of our competition."
The staff member for the defense subcommittee is responsible for cutting $415 million, or enough to buy seven RQ-4s for the US Air Force and Navy, Ed Walby, Northrop's Global Hawk business development director, said during a press conference.
Walby also says the funding cut will result in 14,000 lost jobs linked to the program and more deaths of US soldiers in combat.
"It's a good cut if you want to save the taxpayers money, but I think soldiers' lives are more important than $300 million or $400 million," Walby says.
Contacted by The DEW Line, the staff member referred questions about Walby's comments to a press officer, who was not immediately available. TDL is not disclosing the staffer's name.
The House appropriators specifically cut $270 million for procurement of three RQ-4B Block 40s, and $50 million more for advance procurement of three more, Walby says. The committee also removed $85 million to buy one RQ-4N for the USN's broad area maritime surveillance (BAMS) program.
Northrop was scheduled to deliver the Block 40 aircraft in Fiscal 2012 to start operational testing. But testing for a new version of the Block 20 system the US Air Force to delay the evaluation until at least FY2013, Walby says.
Walby notes that both the vehicle and Block 40's wide area sensor developed under the multi-platform radar technology insertion program are ready to begin testing on schedule.
Boeing has launched a "full-court press" on Congress members to earmark funds in the Fiscal 2010 defense budget to help the A160 Hummingbird program survive a pivotal transition period.
Despite strong interest for the A160 from the US special forces, army, marines and navy, Boeing's commitment to continue investing in the program without a production contract will reach a "pivot point" some time next year, Vic Sweberg, Boeing's director for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
In 2008, the A160 completed a decade-long development process funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The Hummingbird's development culminated in a record-breaking, 18hr flight last year, although the program to date has completed only 150 flight hours, Sweberg says.
SOCOM plans to deploy the A160 to
But the program still lacks a production order, and a recent report by the Senate Armed Services Committee warned that Boeing's production capacity could disappear as early as October.
The A160 also remains a candidate to receive funds from the Joint Improved Explosive Device Detection Organization (JEIDDO), which is seeking a platform to carry the Northrop Grumman vehicle and dismount exploitation radar (VADER), a sensor that can track hundreds of different moving people.
The army and special forces had originally agreed to partner to support the JEIDDO requirement, but funding for the A160 remains uncertain, says Tim Owings, the army's deputy program manager for UAS. JEIDDO officials are considering other platforms, most likely the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9 Reaper.
DARPA's joint unmanned combat air systems (J-UCAS), with the Boeing X-45 for the US Air Force and the Northrop Grumman X-47B for the US Navy, died in 2005.
The USAF kept the program on life support for one year, but the USN split off to launch a carrier-landing demonstration program (UCAS-D), eventually re-selecting the X-47B over the X-45.
In my interview yesterday with the UCAS-D program manager, Capt Martin Deppe, I found out the J-UCAS partners are back at the table.
The USAF and the USN are in discussions "on getting some air force presence in the navy program offices so they can better understand what we're doing," Deppe says. "In return, we can understand what the air force is doing. I think that's going to be the beginning of a nice partnering relationship because we both have similar requirements in some regards for systems like these."
The partnership does not include USAF funding at this point, Deppe says, but "it all begins with getting together and starting to talk and find out what the synergies are. Who knows where it goes from there."
WEBSTER FIELD -- Boeing kindly rendered a reconnaissance by this reporter to a sweltering southern-Maryland swamp -- er, UAV demonstration area -- worthwhile by offering this peak at their strategy for the US Air Force's MQ-X contract. I expect to hear more tomorrow about Boeing's plans for this MQ-9 replacement concept at the AUVSI convention. For now, we just have this picture.
For the visitors on this site familiar with British vulgarity (you know who you are), Boeing also had a treat for you, too. You may remember that the BellBoeing V-22 program at the 2007 Paris Air Show unveiled the Totally Organic Sensor System, delighting British-accented crowds with the apparently unintentinonal and unfortunate acronym. Well, Boeing has managed to find a completely different system to call a TOSS. See below.
For calling the M-346 jet trainer the 'son of Yak', neither Alenia nor Aermacchi may ever forgive me. But, in my defense, the M-346 is a westernized and updated version of the Yak-130 originally produced by the Yakovlev/Aermacchi joint venture in the early 1990s.
Now, this descendant of Soviet aeronautical skills could become Alenia's bid for the US Air Force's potential order for 100 light attack fighter-trainers.
The US-based subsidiary of Finmeccanica has confirmed to Flightglobal that the M-346 is being considered for the company's response to the USAF's request for information, which was issued last week. The M-346 is also Alenia's probable candidate for the USAF's T-38 replacement contract, called T-X.
Alenia North America also is considering offering the all-Italian (versus half-Soviet) MB-339 trainer. Interestingly, the USAF previously rejected the MB-339 for its primary trainer in favor of the Hawker Beechcraft (nee Raytheon) T-6A Texan II.
Both the M-346 and the MB-339 are the first jet-powered options to be publicly proposed for the potential light attack order.
The competition is dominated by turboprop-powered aircraft, ranging from high-end the (ie AT-6, Embraer Super Tucano) to low-end (ie Air Tractor AT-802U) to nostalgic revivals (OV-10, PA-48). The USAF also is considering several unknown clean-sheet designs.
There was a time (about a year ago, in fact) when I thought EP-X was going to be a very exciting adventure in military acquisition. It appeared to my eyes that the US Navy was setting the stage for another epic competition between a Boeing commercial aircraft derivative and a Northrop Grumman/EADS North America team offering an Airbus A321.
Even as the USN alerts industry that a request for information is coming soon, I know that those days are over. It seems almost quaint these days to expect a platform battle for a new-start, multi-billion dollar contract. Where once Northrop and EADS executives spoke boldly of an A321 bid for EP-X, there is now not even a whisper. Where I once imagined an easy victory for an "EP-8"-based concept, I'm no longer even sure the USN has the budget or the patience for even that.
There was the revelation last week that the advanced airborne sensor (AAS) -- Raytheon's secretive successor to the Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS) -- is destined not for an EP-X bid, but for the P-8A Poseidon itself. Like the LSRS before it, the AAS is more than a sensor upgrade. It introduces an entirely new mission set -- intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting. That is mission territory formerly occupied solely by the US Air Force with the E-8C joint standoff attack radar system (JSTARS), and encroaches on the capability turf of the Northrop Grumman/Raytheon multi-platform radar technology insertion program (MP-RTIP).
Recent comments by USN officials and EP-X program insiders also portray a new spirit of caution for an EP-3 replacement program. USN Rear Adm Allen Myers, director of naval warfare integration, made this point about EP-X during a Congressional hearing on 19 May.
Re-manufacture the EP-3E ARIES II? When did that option become a serious alternative?
Currently we are undergoing an analysis of alternatives to determine whether or not a follow on EPX would be a manned replacement platform or an unmanned or distributed platform or a series of family of platforms.
So that analysis is ongoing and that's an issue for F.Y. '11 and POM '12 to make sure that we understand and are focused on and funded so that if it is a follow-on platform then we can program for it and make sure that it's mature enough before we sunset the EP-3.
And if the decision is to re-man the EP-3 and keep it in the same manned platform, then we need to make a decision by POM '14 so that we can take advantage of some of the zone five kits, SSIK and the outer wing work that we've been doing for the EP-3. [Emphasis added.]
Also, consider these remarks by Kerry Rowe, president and chief operating officer, of Argon ST, a key partner on Boeing's EP-X supplier team, as he answered questions from financial analysts on May 6:
I absolutely believe that there are alternative CONOPS and alternative combinations of platforms that are being evaluated. You probably know that Undersecretary [Ashton] Carter has been confirmed and he has now come in, replacing Mr. [John] Young. I firmly believe he is looking at both ACS and EPX, looking at both constellations of manned and unmanned platforms, and trying to understand as he looks at these two manned jet platforms that there are other combinations of systems that might do the trick.Carter's predecessor as the Pentagon's top weapons buyer, John Young, clearly set the tone for the current discussion about both EP-X and Aerial Common Sensor (ACS). He told reporters last November:
These airplanes on an aggregate cost, I guess a procurement average unit cost where you include the development and the purchase price are $500 to $700 million airplanes.How many times can the department buy in pockets of 20, 30, 40, 50 airplanes worth of capability for $20 to $30 billion? I think those are the kind of issues that are getting attention right now and will continue to need attention.
Has it been 50 years already?
The US Air Force revealed yesterday it wants to replace the venerable Northrop T-38C Talon by 2017 with a new "family" of jet and simulator systems that can do five things: sustained high-g maneuvers, air-to-air intercepts, data-link operations, night vision imaging and air refueling.
The USAF listed its performance requirements for the so-called T-X contract in a second request for information to potential bidders. The first RFI issued in March asked vendors to supply only general information about their manufacturing and design capabilities. In the second round, the USAF wants to know specific information about the capabilities of the competing aircraft.
The replacement for the T-38C's has been delayed several times in the past. The USAF believes it can keep the current fleet flying safely through 2020, but hardly a moment longer. A fatal crash last year grounded the T-38 fleet after investigators found that it was caused by a single part that failed due to age.
Replacing the USAF's 50-year-old T-38 fleet of more than 550 jets is seen as the prize for the military jet trainer market. The contenders for the deal include the KAI/Lockheed T-50 Golden Eagle, BAE Systems Hawk and AleniaAermacchi M346, with the latter already eyeing the opportunity to compete as a prime contractor for the first time for a major US contract.
I noticed the USAF has asked the potential vendors to specify if their aircraft shares common parts "with any other operational aircraft". I wonder if this is a veiled reference to the T-50s commonality with the Lockheed F-16?
As most allies refocus on conventional capabilities, the US Air Force is moving to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire dozens of new light fighters and airlifters uniquely dedicated to counter-insurgency roles.
Having spent much of the past decade supporting US-led military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, the major air powers of Europe are looking to re-calibrate their fiscal resources and operations more towards conventional operations, say several analysts.
"We have invested far too much in [irregular warfare, or IW]. We now have to claw back," said Andrew Brookes, a retired Royal Air Force pilot and now aerospace analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Foreign air powers have followed the USAF lead for past innovations such as stealth and precision bombing. But, excepting air forces such as Brazil that already own light attack fighter fleets, the USAF is likely to stand alone if it decides to create a dedicated IW force within its ranks.
The lesson learnt in Europe has been "you can not win in Afghanistan at the expense of losing your core major league skills," Brookes added.
As the USAF explores options for buying up to 100 light fighters and 60 light airlifters, Robert Day, the USAF's director of IW requirements, said he is not aware of any interest from other major air forces.
"That a decision I think they need to make," Day said.
Rob Coppinger, Flightglobal's tech and space editor, is covering the AIAA Joint Propulsion Conference in Denver, and he reports:
Wing drop in high rate transonic turns is a problem because it results in a turn becoming a roll.
Because leading and trailing edge flaps may not be enough to counter this phenomenon, the carrier variant F-35C will have a 4.5kg (10lb) spoiler added to the centre of its outboard wing for the test programme.
Lockheed currently believes the potential wing drop problem can be resolved with flight control software changes, but the spoiler will be added at least for the flight test phase.
Brig Gen David Heinz, F-35 program executive, told reporters on 3 June that the experience gained from the Boeing F/A-18E/F program had helped them resolve the wing drop issue for the F-35 in simulation. At the time, I interpreted Heinz's statement as meaning such a wing fence or spoiler or would not be necessary, but that was an incorrect assumption on my part.
If you're wondering how the spoiler will affect the F-35C's radar cross section, Coppinger put that question to Lockheed executive JD McFarlan, who replied: "It has been designed to be LO [low observable, or stealth]-compliant".
Nearly 10 years after a RAND study predicted the US side easily beats China in an air war over the Taiwan Straits, the think-tank has published a new monograph online today that reverses its former opinion.
Now, a People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) bristling with a newly acquired arsenal -- including Su-27 and J-10 fighters, AA-12 and PL-12 missiles, and short-range ballistic missiles -- defeats the US side. Moreover, the PLAAF defeats the US side with or without F-22s, with or without access to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa and with or without the participation of two US carrier battle groups, according to the monograph.
RAND's analysis "suggests that a credible case can be made that the air war for Taiwan could essentially be over before much of the Blue air force has even fired a shot. Threats to Blue air bases and a more evenly matched qualitiative balance combine to paint a very troubling picture."
Personally, I would be careful to trust any military analysis that states -- on two occasions -- the US Marine Corps flies F/A-18E/Fs (... er, no, not in this lifetme). But the overall facts in RAND's air war scenario appear very persuasive, at least to this observer.
In a war over Taiwan, China may think twice about striking sovereign Japanese territory on Okinawa, or sovereign US territory on Guam. But RAND's analysts are prudent to assume that the PLAAF's strategy would seek to maximize its chances of success in a battle over the future of Taiwan.
The scenario assumes a 27:1 kill ratio for the F-22, 4.5:1 kill ratio for the F-15 and a 2.6:1 kill ratio for carrier-based F/A-18E/Fs, which seems to reflect conventional wisdom. But that's not hardly enough. By striking Kadena and Taiwan air bases with missile attacks, the PLAAF can generate 3.7 times more sorties than the blue forces. On the first day, the PLAAF loses 241 jets compared to 147 jets for the Blue forces, including one F-22. But the PLAAF still dramatically outnumbers Blue forces and wins the war of attrition.
Interestingly, the new RAND monograph is not critical at all of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Last year, John Stillon, a senior RAND analyst was fired after he put the think-tank in an awkward position. Stillon's presntation on the results of the Pacific Vision wargame, which were leaked to the press and posted on this blog, noted the F-35 "can't turn, can't climb and can't run". In the new study, RAND says "the F-22 and the still-to-come F-35 can expect to offer meaningful aircraft-on-aircraft technological advantages over what the PLAAF will bring to the fight".
A Boeing executive today predicted the US Navy could buy 26 to 30 EA-18Gs more than the 88 already in the budget, potentially addressing a shortfall created by the US Air Force 12 years ago.
For several years, the US Navy's Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowlers have been pulling double-duty. The EA-6B serves primarily as the carrier battle group's radar and communications jammer. The USAF retired the General Dynamics EF-111 Raven in 1997. Ever since, some Prowlers have also been assigned to a primarily land-based mission, escorting strike packages of fighters and bombers into combat zones.
With the USN EA-6Bs scheduled to phase out in Fiscal 2012, the Pentagon faces a problem. The USAF still has not funded a replacement for the EF-111. The USN needs all 88 EA-18Gs to replace Prowlers serving only the carrier-based mission. In an age when electronic threats are growing, US forces will lose ground if the land-based EA-6Bs are not replaced.
According to Rick Martin, Boeing's EA-18G program manager, the USN could fill this gap by boosting the currently planned EA-18G fleet by about one-third. The move could also extend Boeing's common production line for F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and Growlers by up to two years at current production rates.
A comment yesterday posted by an anonymous reader of this blog makes a very important point. With the release of the investigation report on the F-22 crash on March 25, we now know The Washington Post's highly critical F-22 article contained a major factual error. As The DEW Line highlighted then, TWP Staff Writer R. Jeffrey Smith ended the article with two tantalizing paragraphs about the fatal crash:
The Air Force has declined to discuss the cause, but a classified internal accident report completed the following month states that the plane flew into the ground after poorly executing a high-speed run with its weapons-bay doors open, according to three government officials familiar with its contents. The Lockheed test pilot died.We know now that each one of Smith's "several sources" was wrong. Dead wrong. And they either did not know the real details about the F-22 flight test on March 25, or they were unaware of the most basic information about the F-22's weapons.
Several sources said the flight was part of a bid to make the F-22 relevant to current conflicts by giving it a capability to conduct precision bombing raids, not just aerial dogfights. The Air Force is still probing who should be held accountable for the accident.
The anonymous commenter, who identified himself as Buzz, wrote:
Now go back to the Washington Post article from 10 July, which stated: "Several sources said the flight was part of a bid to make the F-22 relevant to current conflicts by giving it a capability to conduct precision bombing raids, not just aerial dogfights." The open weapons bay door cited in the report was the side bay, meaning an AIM-9 test. So Smith's sources obviously weren't close to the program, and the snark encompassed in "bid to make the F-22 relevant" was unfounded. Makes you question the validity of anything he got from his not-so-well-informed, unnamed sources...
Buzz is absolutely correct. The F-22 has four weapons bays. There are two central bays that carry either AIM-120s, JDAMS, or Small Diameter Bombs. There are also two side weapons bays that only carry AIM-9s. The investigation report does not explain which weapon was being tested on March 25, but we can safely infer that it had nothing to do with making the F-22 more relevant in current operations. Moreover, the report does not link the open weapons bay door to the cause of the crash.
More likely, the F-22 crashed during a high-g release test for the Raytheon AIM-9X, which is being integrated on the F-22 as part of the Increment 3.2 upgrade.