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  • USS Jackson at Portland Fleet Week… and Disruption Hits the Navy

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on June 10th, 2017 (All posts by )

    Portland, Oregon hosts “fleet week” where navy ships (including from Canada) dock alongside the river right next to downtown and offer tours and set up booths and the like. This year I was excited because USS Jackson, an Independence Class Littoral combat ship was arriving and I would get to see what an advanced combat craft looks like up close. I also found out a key link to “disruption” which has been a theme of my recent analysis and posts.

    The first thing you notice is the unique hull (compared to traditional warship designs). This design is supposed to let it operate in shallow waters near coastlines and also deliver very high speed – up to 50 knots – although the top speed is classified. The navy had a chain link fence up and armed guards with M16 weapons and a sign saying “use of deadly force authorized” so they were not kidding around.

    That same day I received my copy of “Modern War”, a magazine published by Strategy and Tactics Press (and I highly recommend that you subscribe to their publications, they are a solid and interesting publishing house) which just happened to profile the Independence Class ships on p68-70 of their July – August issue. Some highlights:

    They are controversial because of their limited basic armament and expensive construction costs. Senior naval leaders argue the mission flexibility and extensive automation provide a vast array of capabilities with fewer personnel and platforms than traditional designs. Construction and operating costs dominate budget discussions and headlines because they come ‘up front’. Today, however, personnel costs constitute 62% of the annual Department of Defense Budget.

    While I am a military history enthusiast I am not an expert in systems design and cannot add a lot of value to the controversy of whether or not the Independence Class is an effective combat ship for the money (for actual analysis see the points by Trent Telenko over at Chicago Boyz his insights are first rate and amazing). However, I have years of experience with the secondary point of this article, which is the long term benefits of automation and disruption on areas of the economy which have traditionally been (primarily) served through manual of semi-automated methods.

    When you are a large entity like the US Navy, you are making some high level calculations on a strategic level. In general:

    1) you need to understand your mission

    2) you need to understand how your funds are spent to achieve your mission

    3) you need to recognize that change is relentless and you are anticipating the NEXT war, not the last war (i.e. a “future state”)

    The Navy faces the same challenges of disruption as the rest of the economy. The key themes of disruption drive AUTOMATION and SOFTWARE OVER HARDWARE and REAL TIME RESPONSE. In the future there won’t be hours of notice and long battles – there will be attacks from automated systems that will demand a response in milliseconds. The traditional “call to action stations” where sailors jump up from their bunks and man the weaponry cannot respond in time to these sorts of attacks. It is impossible.

    The future of automation is inevitable. And yet, the military overall is spending 62% of their funding on personnel to effectively do manual tasks or be a man / machine interface. The military has to work quickly to phase out manual effort whenever possible and move to an automated solution that can 1) respond to real time threats 2) more importantly, be upgraded continuously via software and take advantage of ever-increasing powers of computational hardware.

    I can already hear the “corner case” objections of specific jobs that will require “boots on the ground”. Absolutely soldiers will be needed to take and hold ground and deal with civilians and other missions – but many of the duties already done by soldiers from sentry duty to manning weapons can already be done more effectively by machines, especially when those machines are funded from tech savvy groups like the NSA rather than what you or I could buy off the shelf (like a Tesla). The “optimal” funding level, over time, probably is 70% machines / automation / real time and 30% staffing. The entire model has to be re-done in order to win on the types of real-time combat and missions that our military will face in the future.

    Another giant but rarely thought of element is that weapon systems with less (or ideally zero) humans can be reconfigured into much more cost-effective and resilient systems. Much of the space on ships is for people and when people are killed or wounded the ship becomes ineffective. And yet the elimination or massive reduction in staff lets you create a much smaller footprint per square foot of killing power or weaponry and it can be designed with autonomous systems so that it can fight until it is utterly destroyed. Unlike TV or in the movies, ships and tanks and teams do not typically fight to the last man but systems do; and ships and teams that can’t move fast or have significant amount of wounded or killed team members can be forced to surrender.

    The US navy is attempting to take on these challenges with this class of ships. Whether or not it is ultimately successful in creating cost-effective, automated and resilient weapons systems within the limits of available funding will determine whether or not they win or lose in future wars. it is as simple as that. Adding sailors to non-automated functions doesn’t achieve these future goals and will consume available funding in an endless make-work project.

    Cross posted at LITGM

     

    37 Responses to “USS Jackson at Portland Fleet Week… and Disruption Hits the Navy”

    1. Anonymous Says:

      Very interesting presentation.

      Since there are human decision makers on these weapon systems at this stage of development and system decision making and control, having fewer on board/present seems to me to increase the value of each and therefore the effect of the loss of each of them. The issue of next man up when adjusting to combat losses when redundancy opportunities are significantly reduced. I know that theoretically, these could be modeled and the combined man-machine system configured to sustain component losses with designed redundancy, but in the interim stages of this substitution, the risk is high they we haven’t really understood the probability of where the losses will occur since we are largely guessing about the combat scenarios.

      While programing can enhance a machine’s capabilities, it can seldom change it’s basic function significantly. One of the awesome things about the human is that they are very pliable in being trained for new or additional tasks.

      A private gets a couple of weeks training as a loader on a tank and while operating it that position is trained formally and inadvertently in the additional skills of driver, mechanic, gunner and even tank commander. Those with the desire and abilities move into the higher skilled positions as the need arises. Formal schooling is added as responsibilities increase, but it fundamentally the adaptability and synthesizing of information of the human that permits this growth in capabilities in a relatively short period of time.

      Those that have similarly acquired the advanced skills monitor, coach and evaluate the skills and temperamental suitabilities of those who follow them. In a tank crew there is at least one human who is expert at all four positions and capable of training others in them, there is at least one that knows at least three and some of the fourth, at least one that knows two and some of the other two and one that knows one position and possibly some of the other three. This is a type of redundancy and self development that at least at the current technological state can not be replicated by machines.

      I think my example only scratches the surface of the issue. I know that the digital proponents are promising that artificial intelligence will soon surpass human capabilities in all areas, but permit me to be a little skeptical. Outside of Hollywood, I want to experience a machine that knows love, compassion, loyalty, bonding and skepticism. Not just shows behavior that mimics these characteristics.

      I’m not arguing that redundant tasks should not be automated where this out performs present techniques. Nor am I discounting the ability of machines to gather, filter and economically provide important info to operators. We just need to make sure we aren’t centralizing and programing combat where we become predictable and vulnerable. I don’t think we are at this point, but the abuse is almost predictable.

      Death6

    2. Carl from Chicago Says:

      Thank you for the insightful comment.

      In general, we like to fixate on the errors of machines since we are human and we are hard-wired to believe that humans “add value”. In order to actually evaluate the gains we get from humans (pliability, ability to react effectively) from the huge downsides of humans (they are costly, require resupply and provisioning, and can be rendered ineffective without completely destroying the machinery) we would have to view the difference between

      1) situations where humans made a situation better, despite machines
      2) situations where humans made it worse, in spite of potential machine solutions

      Since I come from the financial services industry, we had an endless hue and cry for “type 1” situations above. “Specialists” would calm the markets in times of panic, humans would avoid massive errors, and everywhere it was worth paying large costs in terms of overheads and per transaction costs to “buy” this protection. We also started with manual trading desks and manual processes.

      In general, these “protections” from highly paid and highly skilled professionals bought us next to nothing “when the chips were down” in 2008. The costs were ever present, plus the slowness and error prone environment caused by “putting humans first”, but the downside protection turned out to be almost nil.

      This war is mostly over now. Machines have replaced most humans for most tasks from planning to trading to compliance. Costs per transaction have plummeted. We still face massive downside risk but we aren’t “paying a premium” to get that risk.

      For wars – we would have to weigh all the human errors on the ground and in the sky against as well as all the costs of humans in the mostly human less man interface against the benefits of machines, which include real time response, ability to fight to the last drop, and higher killing power per unit.

      I wouldn’t know how to do that per se since I am not from the military but it could be done and I think every day the spectrum is tilting massively towards machines. This is definitely happening in the air force fastest, with drones and computer assisted flight. The capabilities of drone pilots vs. automation entirely of the process (and managing by exception) I’m sure are being considered right now.

      As far as misuse, this is guaranteed. This is a function of human nature. Would Assad use these weapons today if he had them? Hell yes. The weapons trickle down to the nastiest people. However, in this world, the Chinese or Russians or someone else will build them anyways and the only variable is whether or not we have them as well.

      Also – we make almost no steel or aluminum and the only place we have advantages over the Chinese are in software. As we move to more programmable devices this is how we can keep a fighting edge. Right now they are the “arsenal of communism” and we are essentially a craft manufacturer. It is like WW2 except we are the axis with smaller scale economies and our (likely) enemies have the advantage of scale and production. Sad but true.

      Thanks again for the thoughtful comment and I am definitely an expert in the use of automation vs. humans in process control but that doesn’t imply that this expertise translates effectively across all domains.

    3. drjim Says:

      There are times when having “A Man In The Loop” is absolutely essential, whether there on-site, or remotely observing.

    4. Subotai Bahadur Says:

      There are several variants of the LCS. I can’t say that I have particularly heard of the JACKSON, but I can say that despite the variants every other one I have heard of has had horrendous problems.

      1) despite different propulsion systems, every one has broken down. We had one literally stranded in the far east [Singapore?] for longer than the tour of duty of the crew. The very act of getting from the east coast to the Panama Canal is apparently pushing the envelope of the propulsion systems.

      2) the ships are supposed to be “modular” so that they can have their mission changed rapidly. Except the modules do not seem to work.

      3) the LCS is the functional replacement for the OLIVER HAZARD PERRY guided missile frigate [FFG]. Block obsolescence and a desperate urge by the Left to reduce the numbers and capabilities of the Navy lead to them being scrapped early before replacement. The LCS was supposed to be cheaper [nope, not by a long shot], more capable [nope], able to be mass produced quickly [nope], and as you noted require less personnel. That last is true but at too much of a cost.

      Combat operations and casualties as noted mean the need for personnel reduncancy. However, peacetime naval operations are not a binary choice between Battle Stations and in combat -vs- cruising on a Carvival ocean liner. To maintain combat capability, it takes a LOT of ongoing maintenance and training.

      To be honest, they have undermanned these ships. Note that they have not engaged in any combat operations, and most of their operations have been dog and pony cruises, and the dog and the pony have not done well. And yet they are at the point where at times when the crew is working 18 on – 6 off for prolonged periods of time. That is not sustainable. You do not engage in prolonged operations with no margin. There is no margin.

      In addition, if you are going to deploy, you need a working logistics chain to keep things going, especially if you are going to use new generation automation extensively. If something breaks, fails, or you run out of something; you need to be able to get replacements. The LCS seems to have . . . problems with that.

      Yes, we need modern equipment and to use the latest technology. Yes, it is a good thing to reduce manning requirements. But the new designs have to work and be supportable, and you have to have enough personnel to operate for prolonged periods and not lose effectiveness.

      It is telling that there are a number of cheaper, more effective, foreign designs already in series production by our putative allies that do a better job in the Littoral Combat role the LCS was supposedly designed for.

      We have lost the ability to actually design and build ships to fill a military role. As the number of shipbuilders has shrunk, the purpose of ship procurement seems to be primarily to maximize both profits and spread the political credit for the jobs.

      Long ago when the world was new, I was a guest aboard USS YORKTOWN [CG-48], the second AEGIS missle cruiser, at the Ingalls-Pascagoula shipyard. She was there for the scheduled post-shakedown yard availability. Short form, the shipyard builds the ship, the Navy takes it out on a shakedown cruise and TRIES to push it to failure to make sure it does what the Navy is paying for. Then they take it back to the shipyard and make them fix whatever didn’t work and bring it up to spec. Every Navy ship does that.

      Everyone I talked to from Captain Carl Anderson down to the deck force seamen was amazed. They tried to break her. And they couldn’t. EVERYTHING worked to spec or better than designed. None of the crew had ever seen that before, and she joined the fleet earlier than scheduled.

      Ingalls was acquired by another large defense contractor. They don’t build ships that well anymore. Not even close.

      We seem to have lost the ability to do anything but waste money [and in the future lives] in defense procurement.

    5. MCS Says:

      All of the above squared. The variants with aluminum hulls have literally broken.

      Automation is a big deal in commercial marine. The difference is that commercial voyages are days to weeks between port calls and shore side support for anything that needs fixing. Winston Churchill wrote that at the beginning of the WWI, a coal fired Dreadnought had 100 men engaged just shoveling coal from holds toward the boilers without ever actually seeing a boiler.

      Naval cruises are much longer measured between port calls where the specialized facilities and personnel to repair weapon systems are available. With at sea replenishment, ships may spend months out of sight of land with only on-board crew available. Until we can just hose a malfunctioning system down with nanobots, there isn’t going to be a substitute for actual knowledgeable, skilled and ingenious sailors on the spot.

      In any kind of battle, this is increased exponentially. Future battles are likely to be fought with little human involvement after pulling the trigger at the beginning. The crew will be what makes sure that when the trigger is pulled, something happens and picks up the pieces and keeps the ship afloat afterwards.

      I’ve noticed that when the “resurgent” Russian Navy makes an extended cruise, the flotilla is invariably accompanied by one or more sea going tugs. This was after the embarrassing spectacle of a ship drifting at sea until a rescue could be organized from the fatherland. This may be something we’ll have to do as well.

    6. ed in texas Says:

      Subotai, if you want a timeline on the ongoing debacle that is LCS, go over to Cdrsalmander and follow the links; it’s impressive. There (CdrS) they take the notion that the designers have tried to jump too many steps up the stairs at once, tranformational vs evolutionary. The mission module issue is basically that they don’t exist, not even designed yet, because the space and position allocation isn’t compatible with the functionality requirements (i.e. anti air needs to be on top, but ASW [anti-submarine] needs to be on the bottom, with sensors pre-installed -you can’t just bolt this stuff on).
      Litton Ingalls was aquired by Northrop Grumman.

    7. Mike K Says:

      “the military overall is spending 62% of their funding on personnel to effectively do manual tasks or be a man ”

      There is a situation in medicine that is not exactly analogous but Kaiser has the highest percentage of costs of doctors of any health care program. Most private insurance (and this is probably out of date) paid about 25% of revenue for doctors. Kaiser was over 33%. Why ? Because they did a lot more primary care and less specialist care.

      Something like this might apply to ships depending on the ratings involved. If a lot of people are chipping rust, it is wasteful. If a lot of people are fixing broken automation gear, maybe not.

      I have been reading some CDR Sal posts on the LCS and it seems to be the military version of Obamacare.

      There are some people who want to bring back the equivalent of the DE.

    8. Grurray Says:

      Earlier this year there was an announcement that the LCS was going to be outfitted with over-the-horizon missiles. I was skeptical at first, but the more I think about it the more it makes sense. Because of advancements in enemy A2/AD the LCS wasn’t ever going to be able to operate offshore from its target in a battle of attrition, but if we can disperse them peripherallly where the enemy doesn’t know where they’re coming from then we can utilize deception and maneuvering, like subs.

    9. dearieme Says:

      “like subs”: I suspect that only subs have much chance of survival in a war against a reasonably advanced country. I’d be trying to work out how many different sorts of job a sub could do, in addition to the classic ballistic missile launcher and torpedo launcher. Cruise missiles too, no doubt; what other tasks?

    10. dearieme Says:

      Sub as aircraft carrier, with drones being the aircraft?

    11. ed in texas Says:

      Dearieme: go over to ‘combatfleetsoftheworld.blogspot (waay too much information)
      “The 4 oldest (SSBN 726-729: Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Georgia), entered service in 1981-1984, have been converted to SSGN between 2002-2007 during their mid-life refits. The Navy estimates the total cost for refueling and converting four Tridents (including R & D, procurement costs…) at about $4.0 billion, or $1 billion per boat. ($2.4 billion in 1999-2000 estimation……). Refueling and converting four Tridents avoids a near-term expenditure of about $440 million to inactivate and dismantle them……Their 24 Trident nuclear missiles had been replaced by equipment for 66 special forces and 98 to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles. Well suited for deal with rogue state (but not in coastal area, because the very big size of these SSGN’s), this 4 ships to be retired without being replaced around 2022/2027”

      That’s four large subs that have been outfitted to carry 66 Navy SEALs, their minisubs, and around 100 cruise missles to boot.

    12. Mike K Says:

      “over-the-horizon missiles. I was skeptical at first, but the more I think about it the more it makes sense. ”

      Yes, especially if their power plants don’t work. They can just anchor (or drift if the water is too deep_) and shoot off missiles.

      Power plant problem solved,

    13. dearieme Says:

      Thanks, EinT. Have they been used in those modes? (Assuming, perhaps wrongly, that we’d have heard about it if they had.)

      “not in coastal area, because the very big size of these SSGN’s”: then maybe diesel-electric “littoral” subs would make sense.

    14. MCS Says:

      Mike, as far as chipping paint, I think we both may have read the same book. “Warm Bodies” if I remember right. You’ll be happy to know that the Navy takes paint very seriously. The specs with required qualification tests probably weigh 10-15 pounds for all of the different types for all of the different use cases. At the same time, protecting the ship’s integrity from a very hostile environment is just as important as keeping the gadgets working.

      The biggest problem that many see with the LCS’s is that they are so expensive that even if they worked exactly as advertised, there would be too few to control an appreciable length of coast. The most advanced ship in the world can still be only one place at a time. We are at the point where much of this mission could probably be handed over to UAV’s, both air and surface borne. The LCS’s aren’t really suited to be drone tenders and we already have much more sea worthy ships for missile launch platforms.

      The next problem is the ever increasing range and capability of anti-ship missiles. It’s getting very hard to imagine any large surface ship operating close to a hostile shore. This has probably already pushed the carrier groups so far that the effectiveness of their air groups is seriously reduced for a near peer engagement. You can afford to launch a lot of million dollar missiles to sink a 10 billion dollar carrier.

      Pretty much the same argument applies to strategic bombers. It’s hard to imagine that any large aircraft will be able to penetrate very far into a competently defended air space. It’s even harder to imagine why you would want to.

    15. Mike K Says:

      One, we should probably go back to Essex class or Midway class carriers. Build more and use more unmanned aircraft.

      Two, Diesel subs seem to be everyone else’s choice. Why do all our subs need to be SSNs?

      Big seems to be the default choice for everything. I didn’t watch all the Sen Cotten and USAF exchange video but maybe pilots are leaving because the planes are all F 35s and there are not enough planes or air time to keep pilots occupied, so they end up driving Powerpoint presentations.

      The latest I’ve heard is, “Want to fly ? Join the Army.”

      The airlines don’t pay as well as they used to but at least they have planes.

    16. PenGun Says:

      Big targets are not the future of warfare. Missiles are so effective already, that building these things and attempting to defend them, is a fools game.

      Big changes coming to warfare, like everything else. ;)

    17. Subotai Bahadur Says:

      At the risk of heresy, allow me to posit the thought that there is no ONE class or type of ship that will best serve all purposes. EACH nation, with its own national goals and strategies, may require a different mix of vessels and capabilities. Something the most who have never been involved in military and naval matters cannot comprehend.

      Allow me to offer a few thoughts, subject to refutation of course, as to some of the matters that create the limits of what our fleet needs.

      1) It is a bloody huge world. And our interests [trade, diplomatic, economic, and strategic] drive us to NOT BE MARKEDLY INFERIOR IN ANY PART OF THAT WORLD. If you would it were not so, then change the nature of our national interests instead of merely making it impossible to uphold them. It is easier to design incapacity, but the price is paid in blood.

      2) Different parts of the world, and the differing capabilities of both allies and adversaries require different capabilities on our parts to uphold our interests as defined by our national government. [and once again, if you don’t like the interest/ally/adversary change our domestic policy and do not leave our forces to die for your convenience]

      3) Back to the size of the world. It is big. Therefore we have to have sufficient forces to get to the Schwerpunkt wherever in the world our interests are contested in a timely enough manner to be effective. That is part of the multi-variant equation we have to solve.

      4) The type of opposition we may have to face around the world will differ with the part of the world, rising technology in various locations, and the alliances in the area.

      5) While the concept of cracking a walnut with a piledriver is not necessary each time, having a superiority of force is not a bad thing for our side.

      6) That superiority does not always have to involve aircraft carriers, nuke, etc. As an example, our first overseas war not involving Britain and France was with what is now an old enemy, the various Islamic states. The line in the Marine Hymn, “to the Shores of Tripoli” refers to that. Islamic entities were attacking peaceful US sailors and merchants with no legal cause, stealing their goods and either enslaving them or holding them to ransom. The European powers were willing to take that as a cost of doing business. The United States was not. Granting that we had the most powerful, best built frigates in the world, they were only frigates, the equivalent of a WW-II cruiser in naval orders of battle at the time. Europe could dispose of squadrons of battleships, but did not bother.

      However, the willingness to fight being enslaved and robbed was worth more than classes of ships. We kicked their collective gluts ending the piracy of Americans. We took casualties, but we won.

      If we had to engage Britain in a solely naval war, we would have lost. Fleets, their size, and composition, determined capabilities.

      7) There are far flung areas where carrier task groups give us absolute superiority. And there are just as far flung areas where carrier strikes are suicide. Similarly, there are places where defensive AEGIS cruisers, shallow water frigate, or submarines give us the needed superiority. It is a matter of having the judgement to do the right thing, and the numbers in the right places to do that right thing.

      8) One can make an argument for a mixed conventional/nuclear submarine mix. But you cannot avoid the detail that our only safe submarine bases are on our own territory, making range and endurance a prime necessity in most missions.

      9) This is the simple form. The projection of strategic power across the seas is vastly more complex. Two other axioms that may be good guides.

      First, a class of ships, for our purposes, needs to be as good or better than foreign adversaries in its specialized function and at least adequate in all others.

      Second, amateurs talk tactics and weapons. Professionals talk training and logistics [including maintenance and upgrades] Without this, wars are lost.

      The Littoral Control Ship is not superior at anything, is not adequate except in the most permissive environments, does not have the reliable range to get to the breakwater in many cases, let along to the theater of combat, and has a logistics chain made of code. Morse Code, that is. All dots, dashes, and gaps.

    18. Mike K Says:

      The base issue is a good one and justifies nuclear subs on that basis alone.

      The one theater that I cannot justify to myself is Afghanistan. It is landlocked and surrounded by our enemies.

      Pakistan is an enemy. When India was leaning to the USSR, the Pakis were worth more. Now they are nothing but trouble.

      Mexico is far more important to us and is in turmoil in the north.

      Britain and Taiwan are unsinkable aircraft carriers for us but they are vulnerable. Britain is going under an Islamic tide. Taiwan is too close to China for opsec.

      The Azores are probably more important to us now than Britain as a base.

    19. Brian Says:

      I am amazed that 30 years after vectored thrust aircraft entered service we still are building manned aircraft at all, given how the presence of the pilot is such a limiting factor on performance, but the defense world is very conservative, and the defense contracting world is just plain crooked.

      It seems like the LCS should have been built as a test bed project, a la the XB70, not a production ship, but I’m not sure they even would do that anymore.

      Automation is of course the future, or more realistically the present. The cost of any system would go down by massive amounts if you didn’t have to prioritize keeping people alive.

    20. Anonymous #2 Says:

      Interesting article and comments. I just retired from the Air Force after 42 years, so let me offer the following observations.

      From the article: “you need to recognize that change is relentless and you are anticipating the NEXT war, not the last war.” Funny, that. The Air Force is trying to do that with its F-35 acquisition — fight smarter and more informed — but it absolutely gets torn to shreds if it fails to plan to fight the last war, by retaining the A-10.

      Side discussion: if the A-10 goes away, the Army is not naked. It has 650+ Apache attack helicopters that it can (and does) use to cover its troops. Except, by Army definition, they don’t “do” CAS; they perform something called “close aviation attack.” Why? Because, according to joint doctrine, CAS is apportioned across the entire joint/combined force by the air component commander — it’s an airpower mission, after all — and if the Apaches “do CAS,” the Army could lose control of their tasking. So it’s an ownership issue. This way, the Army gets to keep their Apaches for their sole use, while hammering the Air Force for not caring enough about grunts — best of both possible worlds!

      Some here mentioned over-the-horizon strike. The Air Force has encountered a related issue during several recent operations, where their ability to engage targets beyond visual range (BVR) was restricted by ROE which required pilots to visually ID the targets. The politicos were concerned about the possibility of shooting down an airliner or such, thus removing our technological advantage. We may have a similar challenge with OTH systems — the politicos may insist our targeting be absolutely pristine. Will we be able to satisfy them?

      Manned vs. Unmanned: here we go again. Currently, and for the immediate future, our long-range systems rely on datalinks networked around the world through satellites. Datalinks are vulnerable to jamming and such (and the Russians are *very good* at what they call radio-electronic combat), and both Russia and China have demonstrsted ASAT capabilities. If we lose data or satellites, what’s our Plan B for airpower? For this reason, a pilot will remain a reasonable investment against technological surprise in many mission areas. And as a side note, the weight savings from eliminating a pilot and associated life support is almost entirely offset by the now-needed satellite comm systems.

      As for dogfighting and our poor pilots suffering high-G turns. Dogfights originated due to the need to bring forward-firing guns to bear. Later, early missile systems had limited sector-of-fire issues that again required the pilot to manuever into position to bring either his radar or missile sensor to bear on the target. Today, we can engage pretty much from any angle; in the F-35, the pilot can shoot wherever he’s looking. So air-to-air combat is anticipated to be more shoot-and-scoot than a furball. Besides, how will an enemy fighter get a radar lock on a stealthy platform?

    21. dearieme Says:

      “how will an enemy fighter get a radar lock on a stealthy platform?” I read somewhere the assertion that “stealth” aircraft are easily visible on longer wavelength radar. Zat true?

    22. PenGun Says:

      Long wavelength radar can see stealthed aircraft, but the resolution is poor. Not good enough for targeting.

      The short wavelength stuff can accurately target anything it can see, but cannot resolve a well stealthed aircraft.

      This leads to the Russian solution, which is to put very agile, fast fighters, with very good IR detection into the area they know the stealthed plane is in.

    23. Mike K Says:

      The problem that us ignorami see with the F 35 is buying enough of them.

      Why is the USAF losing pilots ? I think it’s lack of flying time and too much Powerpoint.

      The A 10 is battle tested and still popular with grunts. The AF has a history that works against it. First “Strategic Daylight Bombing” that didn’t do anything like what it was said to do in WWII. Then the “fighter jock mentality” in the 60s.

      The F 105 was a nuclear bomber that was used in Vietnam for an entirely different mission because the AF had not anticipated the mission that was needed.

      Just thoughts for discussion.

    24. Grurray Says:

      While the F-35 is too busy getting grounded because of thunderstorms and lighting or to redesign its gargantuan helmet that will snap the pilot’s neck if he ejects, the 50 year old OV-10 Bronco is riding high again over the front lines

      http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/11395/the-ov-10-bronco-is-wailing-on-isis-yet-again-this-time-in-the-philippines

      Fixed wing close air support, the red-headed step child of air power, continually prevails against all odds over its enemies both around the world and in the Pentagon.

    25. dearieme Says:

      “Long wavelength radar can see stealthed aircraft, but the resolution is poor.” Even if you have the radars in many different positions? Wouldn’t that let you identify a small enough volume of air to launch a missile at? It could home on its target using IR (as you alluded to).

      Why do the Russians expect to use fighters against fighter bombers? Is that really cost effective compared to using missiles?

    26. Anonymous #2 Says:

      “Fixed wing close air support, the red-headed step child of air power,”

      The assertion that Airmen do not care to support the grunts is a blood libel. We’re happy to help them out. The problem is convincing others (especially the Army) that airpower can also do other things.

      If we merged the Air Force back into the Army, the only activities that would soon be left would be CAS, ISR, and theater air mobility, because that’s all the Army wants from airpower. It fits their view of the world. But that’s not all airpower can do for the nation.

      The protracted war in CENTCOM has skewed things for several generations of soldiers. In the CENTCOM fight, they didn’t need all that artillery and armor, and left most of it at home and re-purposed those troops for ancillary tasks. Airpower was used as a substitute for the artillery they left behind. Airmen didn’t mind doing that, as that was the nature of *that* fight. But it’s a horrible template with with to gauge the range of possible future conflicts. In fact, as the Army started to rebuild itself, it found out that it has institutionally forgotten how to perform combined arms maneuver using the traditional mix of infantry, armor, artillery, and organic aviation.

      Does anyone here realize how *TINY* the US Air Force has become? The key reason the Air Force recently sought to retire the A-10 is not that they hate the CAS mission, but that they simply don’t have enough people to man all the current systems, plus bring on the F-35 fleet. To stay within their personnel ceiling (dictated by Congress), the Air Force sought to retire the A-10 fleet simply so that they could swing the maintenance force over to the F-35. Also understand that the Air Force is already about 3,000 maintenance troops short of its current needs. The Air Force would LOVE to keep the A-10, but they simply don’t have enough people to do all that is being demanded of them.

      Don’t get me started on unmanned systems. The Air Force fully appreciates them, but the demand on the Reapers and Predators has been such that the crews have been operating virtually non-stop on back-to-back shifts, with very little opportunity for leave or education. As a result, that career field has earned a reputation as a burn-out job. And that’s the real reason the Air Force is having trouble recruiting drone operators.

      And the pilots are bailing out because there’s not enough money for flying hours. Ideally, USAF pilots should be getting 40-60 flying hours per month to maintain basic proficiency. Before I retired, I saw one report that one unit was down to 4 hours per month. Pilots want to fly, and if they can’t fly in the Air Force, they’ll go somewhere else.

      Sorry if I seem to be ranting, but the state of the Air Force, as well as the other Services, really pisses me off. Do you know that if the Army were tasked to deploy today, they can deploy only one brigade? Folks, we’re broke!

    27. dearieme Says:

      “Do you know that if the Army were tasked to deploy today, they can deploy only one brigade?”

      I didn’t know: did the US puppets in Ukraine know?

    28. Mike K Says:

      “Folks, we’re broke!”

      And 46 million on food stamps. Thanks, Obama.

    29. Brian Says:

      “As a result, that career field [unmanned] has earned a reputation as a burn-out job.”
      If you’re not a pilot, the AF is a dead-end service, but I’m sorry, unmanned everything is the future. Not the present quite yet, but absolutely the future. The situation we’re in is like having a Navy in 1940 entirely led by battleship captains who insisted that anything that wasn’t a battleship was crap.

    30. Mike K Says:

      There is a very good book about piloting unmanned aircraft. It’s called “Hunter Killer” and is excellent.

      I have interviewed people going into the AF to fly unmanned aircraft.

    31. PenGun Says:

      “Why do the Russians expect to use fighters against fighter bombers? Is that really cost effective compared to using missiles?”

      Well it’s hard to tell exactly what their plans are. The S300/400 and now the S500 are among the most effective anti air/missile weapons there are but they can’t make decisions, at the point of combat, like a human can … yet.

      They went towards very fast and agile fighters as opposed to the US penchant to hang missiles on a missile truck, the F 35. Now they have different problems to solve so I’m making no judgements as to efficacy, although I would be nervous about that turkey.

      A very fast, agile fighter can slip missiles and get into a stealthed plane’s face fast. Which is what you need in that situation.

    32. Librly Says:

      The ship looks “almost” like a space vehicle

    33. Joe Wooten Says:

      Funny how the Tomahawks were completely missed by the S-300/400 system the Russkies set up in Syria. And consider that the Israelis routinely fly into Syria to bomb Hezbollah/Iranian sites and weapons convoys with impunity.

      That fast agile fighter has to see the stealth fighter before it can “slip” a missile into it. Testing F-15’s, F-16’s and F-18’s against a F-22 resulted in a perfect record for the F-22. F-22 pilots call taking on other fighters as “clubbing baby seals”.

    34. Anonymous Says:

      Maybe if they can get the F-35 in the air long enough, we could get an idea of how it would fare against the F-22, as a surrogate for the Russian and Chinese versions. Would the brass and stuffed shirts such as Gates want that to be known? Don’t hold your breath.

      Just as no one class of ship can perform multiple roles through add on mods, no one air frame will perform multi-service missions. That is only feasible at much lower levels of performance than is required once you are opposing something more than dysfunctional Islamofascists with hand-me-down weapons and no real air or anti-air capabilities.

      Death6

    35. PenGun Says:

      “Funny how the Tomahawks were completely missed by the S-300/400 system the Russkies set up in Syria. And consider that the Israelis routinely fly into Syria to bomb Hezbollah/Iranian sites and weapons convoys with impunity.”

      What was funny was the Russians asking where all your missiles went. Only 23 I believe, of the 59 made it to the target. They have video etc and gave a 17% rating to that combat effort.

      So on very short notice a few very busy Russian fighter pilots shot down 36 of your cruise missiles.

    36. Joe Wooten Says:

      Bullshit Penny, pure russkie propaganda bullshit.

    37. PenGun Says:

      You can watch their vids too, but you would just deny what does not fit your picture. ;) I have been there believe me.

      I’m sure the American command, that knows what happened is sufficiently impressed though.

      A bit of a dissertation:

      The TLAM is very old and subsonic. It’s not stealthy and they can be seen from a long way. They cruise at quite a low altitude so anti air has a tough time with them, well the older stuff anyway, Italian Asters would just murder them, but only if they are in the right place.

      So the planners of these missions just go around places they know have anti air. The path is programmed into em’ and can be changed on the fly. The only way to knock down a lot of em’ is from above, and that’s what undoubtedly happened. This means the vaunted Russian ‘look down shoot down’ capability is quite real.

      YMMV ;)

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