Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Navy Punts on UCLASS and Carriers

Well, the Navy has decided the role of the aircraft carrier for the next couple of decades.  Is it a deep strike platform using long legged strike aircraft whether manned or unmanned?  Is it an air superiority platform to carve out large swaths of airspace from enemy control in order to support Air Force deep strike bombers?  Is it an escort platform to protect Burke Tomahawk shooters as they sail to their launch positions?  All of these are potentially viable roles depending on the overall strategy being undertaken.  So, what’s the Navy’s choice?

Ahhhh …….   They punted.  They opted for none of the above.

As reported by Breaking Defense website, the Navy has decided that the UCLASS is dead.  In its place the Navy will pursue a non-stealthy, unmanned tanker, more Super Hornet E/F’s, and more F-35Cs (1).  ComNavOps has no problem with dropping the UCLASS.  I’ve doubted its feasibility and applaud the decision.  The problem lies with the other actions that the Navy is now committing to.  Let’s look a bit closer at what this means.

On the plus side, the Navy desperately needs a dedicated tanker.  Using Super Hornets, the front line strike fighter, as a tanker was an example of stupidity of monumental proportions.  At least now the 4-6 Hornets being used as tankers on each carrier will be able to return to being combat aircraft.

The decision to purchase more F/A-18E/Fs is a place holder decision.  It accomplishes nothing.  It doesn’t move the combat needle forward.  It’s just more of what we have.  The Hornets are a solid, capable aircraft at the moment but will become increasingly outclassed as China and Russia continue to produce new, top end aircraft.  Worse, the Hornet is short ranged and buying more just solidifies the air wing’s inadequacies, especially in the Pacific.

Buying more F-35C’s is doubling down on an already bad bet.  We’ve beaten this poor horse to death but the F-35 has neither the range to operate effectively in a thousand mile A2/AD zone, the weapon carrying capacity to fight other stealth aircraft, nor the maneuverability and combat characteristics to be an air superiority fighter.  To paraphrase, it’s a jack(ass) of all trades – bad at everything and good at nothing.  It’s a misfit for the roles that the carrier should be performing.

We’ll now have a carrier with an air wing that is short ranged, not very stealthy, can’t establish air superiority, and has no long range strike capability.  So what can the carrier do?  Well, that’s the $14B purchase price question for the Ford and subsequent carriers, isn’t it?

These capabilities describe a carrier and air wing that is limited to low intensity, third world operations.  In a high end fight against a peer, our carriers will be marginal contributors with this air wing.  This leads inexorably to the question, “Are carriers worth the cost, anymore?”  I can no longer say yes.

Well, that takes care of the problems but it’s easy to criticize.  What’s the solution?  What should the Navy have done?

The answer begins with the deep strike mission.  After all, strike is how you win wars.  The UCLASS two thousand mile, deep penetration, autonomous, super stealthy unmanned miracle aircraft is just a fantasy that is technologically unachievable, as yet, and would just have become the next F-35 – decades overdue, technologically failing, and utterly unaffordable.  So, where does that leave us?

There are only two sources of long range strike:  Air Force bombers and cruise/ballistic missiles.  We’re talking about the Navy’s role so that means cruise/ballistic missiles which, at the moment, means Burke and submarine Tomahawks with their barely adequate thousand mile range.  Thus, there is no high end combat strike role for the carrier.  That means the carrier exists to escort and protect the Burke shooters and to establish air superiority in support of the Air Force.  To do that requires a top end, long range, air superiority fighter.  Unfortunately, that is not the Hornet or the F-35.  Buying more Hornets and F-35s simply extends the lack of capability further into the future.

What should the Navy do?  The Navy should drop the F-35 and procure the Advanced Super Hornet (ASH).  That would at least move the combat needle forward a bit and provide a bridge to a new design air superiority fighter.  The ASH offers increased range, conformal tanks, improved stealth, better avionics and sensors, etc.  The bits of the F-35 and other aircraft that have been proved out, like radars, sensors, and weapons, can be incorporated into the ASH.  It doesn’t get us to an F-22-like performance but it improves on the Super Hornet and, unlike the F-35, is already available and nowhere near as expensive.  It buys time to develop a new design fighter while improving air wing capability.


Advanced Super Hornet

 A new design air superiority fighter should be akin to the F-22 but the main design emphasis has to be achievability.  Every function and capability must already exist.  Trying to develop a ship or aircraft that depends on non-existent technology is how we got the LCS, Ford, and F-35 fiascos.  Beyond that, the aircraft must have great range and a large weapon payload.  Payload is paramount given that we’ve already identified that shooting down stealth aircraft will require many missiles per kill.  Limited payload is one of the major weaknesses of the F-35.  As we’ve stated, stealth versus stealth air combat may well devolve into classic eyeball dogfights so maneuverability is mandatory.  In short, a new design air superiority fighter needs to be all the things that the F-35 isn’t. 

If we can stick to existing technology and maintain a sharp focus on the mission and nothing more, we should be able to field production aircraft in 5 years.  The reason the F-35 is taking so long is that its technology is non-existent.  The F-35 program isn’t trying to simply verify existing technology, it’s attempting to develop brand new technology while testing.  Of course that takes forever!

The unmanned tanker is fine if it can be procured cheaply.  That would offer valuable incremental experience in operating unmanned, presumably autonomous, aircraft on and around the carrier.

At the same time, the Navy needs to develop a supersonic, stealthy, longer ranged Tomahawk replacement and an intermediate range (2000-3000 miles) ballistic missile.

Finally, if the Navy thinks long range, unmanned strike aircraft are the way to go (and I have severe doubts about that), then they can work on it as a strictly research project.

A carrier that is only able to operate in low end combat is not worth the $14B price tag.  If the Navy won’t upgrade the air wing then we need to get out of the supercarrier business and revert to small carriers for handling the low end, “peacetime” tasks like plinking terrorist pickup trucks.

If the Navy wants to remain a credible high end combat force then it needs to understand the role of the carrier and being redesigning the air wing to support that role.


(1)Breaking Defense, “Good-Bye, UCLASS; Hello, Unmanned Tanker, More F-35Cs In 2017 Budget”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., Feb 01, 2016,


38 comments:

  1. "Beyond that, the aircraft must have great range and a large weapon payload. Payload is paramount given that we’ve already identified that shooting down stealth aircraft will require many missiles per kill. "

    I think that one of the things that has killed us recently is our desire to turn our aircraft into flying server farms. The electronics and sensor fusion are going to be saviors, performance not so much.

    Stealth comes from materiels and shaping. We already can do this. It requires electronics to make the plane more flyable. We already can do this. Whatever else are the problems with the F-35 it can fly.

    The biggest issues seem to come from the assumption that flight dynamics don't matter anymore, and the code taking forever and the development cycle is taking longer. (Incidently, WTH is this code doing? Millions of lines of code?)

    While all that's happening the shaping and sensors of the aircraft are static, and have to be so the coders aren't shooting at a moving target.

    So you end up with Stealth that was great 10 years ago and sensors that are falling out of date compared to advanced sensor pods on 4+ gen aircraft.

    Why am I bringing this up?

    CNO, I agree with your calls for new aircraft. And with your calls for the ASH. One of the oft cited counter arguments is that 'we can't afford to start another program'. I think we can, if we follow more of a KISS principle.

    The ASH is a good example. It moves the combat needle forward by subtle changes in stealth and more dynamic changes in avionics that make it viable. All this on an airframe that dates back to the early 90's.

    The limitations it has aren't because of the new stuff we put in it, but rather because the airframe was a compromise to begin with.

    If we stick with what we know we can do well: Building good, high performance aircraft with good range, flight characteristics, and reasonable stealth, then allow the avionics to advance over time like we have in the past with the Hornet/SuperHornet/Advanced Super Hornet etc... we hack off the aspect of the aircraft that is so troublesome: the code, sensor fusion, and electronics.

    I think we could build a serviceable aircraft like that. Imagine two airframes with Intruder/Advanced Tomcat specs that had ASH avionics.

    Its do able.

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  2. You do get that with the new Aim-9 high off bore sight and HMD the whole dogfight thing becomes a bit "old days" yer ?

    And I know your going to say "when it all works" but the RAAF ( and RAF ) have actually been doing this for years, pretty much the same moment MIGS became more manouverable than Tornado ( so 1990 ish). The RAAF have hit targets behind the plane with ASRAAM, and that was quite some years ago.

    http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/raaf-kills-over-the-shoulder-asraam-05323/

    Anyway I do find this choice interesting UCLASS seemed to be doing so well ? Are we to assume the new refueler will be the same stealth airframe. If so I think we can assume the UCLASS project for some reason failed ?

    Don't get me wrong this is a nice recovery. Flying wings tend to be able to lift a lot, and should stay nice and stable. I worry that one of the main time CATOBAR needs its refuelers tho is in high sea states, will a drone be able to cope with launch and recovery in this situation ?

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    1. As I stated in the post, the tanker will be a non-stealthy aircraft. The linked article suggested a traditional wing and tail style.

      I believe the "failure" of the UCLASS is simply sticker shock. The Navy probably looked at the expected cost of a UCLASS and realized there was no way they could afford it. You have to remember that the Navy's overriding priority is new hulls in the water, regardless of what the contribute to combat power, if anything. Thus, aircraft are not a priority. That's why the Navy has been lukewarm about the F-35 and why they've allowed the air wings to shrink in order to fund new ships.

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    2. "You do get that with the new Aim-9 high off bore sight and HMD the whole dogfight thing becomes a bit "old days" yer ?"

      Wow, where to begin? We assume that our F-22/35s will nonchalantly cruise the skies, plinking enemy aircraft from a distance without ever having been seen due to their amazing stealth. Well, won't the same thing happen for the enemy? Won't their stealth aircraft nonchalantly cruise the skies plinking our aircraft? If stealth works for one side, it works for the other.

      So, what happens when two stealth aircraft meet? Neither can get a lock on the other at any distance and the fight devolves into a close up affair. That means old fashioned dogfighting.

      Stealth aircraft are not just radar stealthy. They're also IR stealthy. Heat seeking missiles are not going to work well, either. Modern aircraft are also being equipped with various forms of high maneuverability canards and thrust vectoring to defeat IR missiles and guns. In addition, we are developing all kinds of new decoys, both expendable and towed. Presumably, the enemy is, too.

      To blithely believe that our missiles are so magnificent that all we have to do is somehow attach them to any aircraft and we'll win is naive in the extreme. Doesn't the enemy also have off boresight missiles? Of course they do. In fact, the Russians have had them far longer then we have.

      So, what happens when two stealthy aircraft fail to kill each other at a distance and now are up close and personal, each armed with off boresight missiles? Again, a dogfight with each trying to get a lock on the other's reduced IR signature.

      You need to think through the mechanics of a stealth v stealth meeting and reconsider your statement.

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    3. OK nice reply. BUT ;)

      At close range you will not be able to cloak your heat. We now have IRST that can track an F22 at 80+km, in close a jet power aircraft simply cannot cloak its IR when sitting in a background of nice cold air. As we know stealth is simply low observability, not invisibility.

      High off bore sight missiles navigate initially of a queuing system ( simply which way to go ) and inertial guidance.

      Literally they follow the HMD, and as you stated, this is VERY visual range. they launch and position just based on this ( give or take ), then lock on after launch.

      A missile will ALWAYS out turn and out accelerate a plane, this is by definition else they would never hit anything otherwise.

      Pointing your nose at the enemy is no longer necessary and hasn't been for some time.

      This has actually been around for quite a while.

      The only difference actually with F35 is that it constantly track all in close objects 100% of the time 360 * 360 and datalinks weapons to ensure they don't loose said track.

      It does require an advanced dog fight missile like ASRAAM, but Aim-9 Block 3 is passing its tests now for these specific capabilities.

      There is a really good page on this type of air tactic here ;

      http://www.ausairpower.net/API-ASRAAM-Analysis.html

      ( youll like it cos its got F18's ;)

      Ben

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    4. You're still somewhat missing the point. You're focusing on a missile's kinematic performance versus an aircraft's and concluding that a missile wins every time (to be fair, you never said every time). Theoretically, that's true. What you're missing is the need for the missile to obtain and maintain a lock. Modern IR-stealthed aircraft are going to have a much reduced IR signature, making obtaining a lock harder and maintaining it more difficult. If it's harder to obtain a lock (say from frontal aspect) then what does the pilot have to do? He has to maneuver to a point where the target IR signature is strongest - that's called air combat maneuvering or dogfighting! If the lock is weak, the missile will be more easily decoyed by flares and countermeasures. The solution? Maneuver to a point where the target IR signature is stronger (like behind) before launching and wasting a missile on a high off boresight launch. Again, that's called ACM - dogfighting.

      Until stealth, air combat was moving to longer and longer ranges. With the advent of stealth, long range locks are less likely and air combat is moving back to close range. Close range means maneuvering which is dogfighting. The specific aerial maneuvers may change slightly to allow for off boresight launches but the maneuvering "dance" remains.

      Turn this around, the enemy has the same (probably better) off boresight missiles. Are we going to simply have our pilots eject the moment they enter the enemy's missile range because the missiles can't be defeated? Of course not. The pilots will maneuver and use decoys and countermeasures to evade and then attempt to get their own shots - again, that's dogfighting!

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    5. I think we are probably in the same place here. I 100% agree with everything you have said there.

      Take your point on Stealth possibly leading to more close range dogfights. I wont get into the "Meteor missile" debate on stealth BVR engagement. Lets just say yes its likely. And move forward.

      When you had to literally get the nose on the target to lock - kinetics was defining, absolute. The fighter with the best turn rate is going to win.

      Now - a level of manoeuvrability IS required.
      To get lock this level of manoeuvrability is going to be defined by the quality and angular coverage of the aircrafts sensors in conjunction with the geometry of the dogfight and the kinetic performance of the aircraft. (In that order of importance)

      This is why F35 has very good sensors at 360*360, and a not too shabby kinetic profile. It doesn’t need to outperform a Flanker in a turn, because it can still get the lock (keep the lock [by following the track continuously]) and get the kill first.

      In addition to all this by data-linking the weapon we enhance the ability to ensure the weapons sensors are enhanced by the F35’s to ensure the lock on after launch and keep that weapon on target regardless of decoys by employing 2 sets of eyes watching the scene from different angles.

      Right now of course it’s 3 sets of eyes as 2 F35 share sensor data, and if they ever get it working it should be 5 sets of eyes, as F35’s hunt in a pack of 4.

      It’s something of a new concept, and does change the nature of dogfighting. It’s a bit like those first gun turrets on warships I tend to think.

      I like your point about the missiles kinematics; obviously it’s not a straight forward equation. However it’s much easier to upgrade a missile than a plane, so pushing the challenge this way is generally a good idea if only in terms of budget.

      Flip side, incoming missile, you deployment of countermeasures and manouver can only be improved as the F35 warns and tracks the incoming missile. Presumably recommending course change data ?

      A lot of stealth is actually about sensors and computing to calculate how to orientate your aircraft to minimise detection. Something I belive the call the "blue path" (or something similar. ) even all aspect stealth planes arnt ALL ASPECT.

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    6. That is some seriously optimistic assessments of the F-35. First, that the magic 360 deg sensors will even work - they haven't yet. Second, that the 2/3/5 way data linking will work flawlessly. You've been reading the blog so I know you know about the concerns I have with blind faith in data links, networks, and transmissions in an electronically challenged environment. You're starting to fall into the trap of believing that all of our stuff will work perfectly and none of the enemy's ECM measures will work at all. We can't get a single F-35's own sensors to talk to the pilot's helmet but we believe that we'll seamlessly and flawlessly connect 2/3/5 systems in the face of enemy ECM????? I guess you also assume that the enemy won't be doing their own 2/3/5 networking - that they're just going to obligingly fly around as single aircraft in a neat parade waiting to be picked off by our overwhelming new concept of nature-changing dogfighting? It sounds like all we need is four F-35s instead of 2000+. The four, being unbeatable, will sweep the skies! OK, that was a bit snarky but I'm just trying to make sure you credit the enemy with as much magic as you do us.

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    7. Hahahaha. Yes. Of couse your right. It has to work first.

      And it was the USSR invented the whole HMD system. So in a sence we are playing catch up.

      The PAK FA is currently boasting 360 AESA as is the ARMATA main battle tank. Luckly they are both suffering with the curse of the F35 too.

      I just wanted to highlight that wing loading and relaxed stability isnt necesarily everything.

      Nice piece btw. And a very very good move by the USN. I wonder if this re fueler can land unarrested in 299 feet or less ? Cos the RN could sure use it :S

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  3. I'd think they could roll off a K-18 tanker off the current hornet assembly line at half the price of a fighter. It would use the same airframe and engines and wings. Leave off the gun and lots of the systems. If they try to "develop" a new tanker, that will somehow cost billions.

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    1. How much fuel could the S3 carry?

      A new tanker could cost a ton, but a carrier capable aircraft like an improved C2, but with turbofans, might be the mythical common carrier delivery vehicle that could use the same airfame for similar things (COD, tanking).

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  4. Another nice thing about the ASH is that much of its stuff can be retrofitted to existing Hornets.

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    1. "In the future, the Advanced Super Hornet also may incorporate an enhanced version of its current GE F414-400 engines. General Electric Aircraft Engines has introduced modular upgrades to the motor that boost its power to 22,000 pounds of thrust and reduce fuel consumption from 3 to 5 percent. For combat missions, the enhanced engine could be operated at higher temperatures than previously allowed, providing an additional 20 percent thrust, a critical improvement for its air combat role. The enhanced powerplant is also more durable and maintainable. “The time on-wing for these new engines is significantly greater, so the cost of maintenance is significantly less,” Gammon says. Technology changes extend the time between overhaul from 2,000 to 4,000 hours for the hot section, and from 4,000 to 6,000 hours for the turbine fan.In the future, the Advanced Super Hornet also may incorporate an enhanced version of its current GE F414-400 engines. General Electric Aircraft Engines has introduced modular upgrades to the motor that boost its power to 22,000 pounds of thrust and reduce fuel consumption from 3 to 5 percent. For combat missions, the enhanced engine could be operated at higher temperatures than previously allowed, providing an additional 20 percent thrust, a critical improvement for its air combat role. The enhanced powerplant is also more durable and maintainable. “The time on-wing for these new engines is significantly greater, so the cost of maintenance is significantly less,”

      http://www.abdonline.com/news-analysis/defense/the-fa-18-advanced-super-hornet/#.VrFHELIrLtQ

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  5. CNO - I agree with your premise but not your conclusions. Advanced Super Hornet will still be too limited in range and survivability to keep CVNs relevant. And a new clean-sheet design will realistically take 15-20 years to enter service.

    So, I’d reluctantly say that going all-in on the F-35C is the best option. Fix the bugs, push hard on the software schedule, roll in upgrades to the EOTS system to match current standalone targeting pods, etc.

    And boost F-35 range by:

    - moving aggressively on a follow-on adaptive cycle engine. Ideally you’d get some more thrust for better air-to-air performance, but the main focus should be increased efficiency for greater range. Incentivize GE and P&W to compete hard for this.

    - creating an external fuel tank that detaches with its pylon, leaving the F-35 wing clean and stealthy. Punch these EFTs off before entering enemy radar coverage.

    I'd guess these changes might get the F-35C up to a 1000 mile combat radius, but I’m no expert.

    Cost (and thus quantity that can be bought) is definitely a factor here. But for arguments’s sake, let’s say ASH cost will be $80mm each, and F-35C $100mm. For each CVN, I’d rather have 2 squadrons with 20 total F-35Cs than 24 total ASHs.

    Separately, I would fill the need for tanking as cheaply as possible, through some combination of reactivating the mothballed S-3s (let South Korea have surplus P-3s instead of S-3s), deploying Marine MV-22s with aerial refueling capability on CVNs, adding a buddy tanking pod to P-8s, etc.

    Creating a new unmanned platform for the tanking role doesn’t make sense. Instead, I'd continue to invest in long-term R&D for a stealthy unmanned long-range strike plane, with a service entry date targeted for the 2030s once the technology matures and budgets allow. AI will ultimately be good enough to make it work.

    BTL

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    1. Two main rejoinders ... First, note that I stated the ASH was a temporary bridge to a new design. It would not be intended to be a long term solution to keep CVNs relevant.

      Second, if we can't build a new fighter in 5 years time then we aren't following the plan I laid out: narrow focus on existing technology. You (and the royal we) have become so used to screwed up programs that we've come to think a "normal" acquisition program is 15-20 years. Look back at the F-14 and other programs. The time frames were much, much shorter. That's what we've done in the past and can do again.

      You're also being very, very [unrealistically] optimistic on the F-35C cost and completely ignoring the operating costs which are looking to be crushing.

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    2. I guess we all pick and choose what to be unrealistically optimistic about ... :)

      BTL

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    3. 100 million for the F-35c??? Not a chance, especially when putting a new engine on it. The program is a mess, so many major crippling bugs yet to be addressed - engine instability, helmet being too large for cockpit, helmet not working, fuel being too hot to cool the electronics, fuel tanks susceptible to catastrophic fires from lightning strikes... Just the fact that the F-35 is nine years late for IOC and counting as well as vastly over budget. You could make the argument that the Navy could procure a small number for missions where stealth is mission critical; however, the DOD has no idea what the marginal cost is for the aircraft as the development has not been completed. With no idea how much the F-35 will cost and no idea if it will ever be a capable combat aircraft the risk is too great to wit five to eight years to find out.

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    4. I do wonder about some of the unmanned stuff. At this point is it even cost effective for something like a tanker.

      Sure, we can do it....

      But might it not be alot easier and cheaper to sit a guy in the cockpit and just design a boring, hum-drum, reliable plane?

      We have nothing now in terms of dedicated carrier tanking. Why do we always have to reach for the bloody Buck Rogers button.

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    1. I agree that the tanker idea is odd. It caught everyone by surprise. I think it's purely a budget limitation issue and they're trying to at least salvage a tiny bit of unmanned-ness out of it.

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    3. Honestly, I'm puzzled. Maybe the Navy sees this as a way to get some developmental experience in autonomous unmanned operations?

      You know I'm often a proponent of single (or, more accurately, primary) function platforms. However, this makes no sense. A pure dedicated tanker that requires a complete new spares and maintenance system is terribly inefficient. Old Hornet C/Ds that are no longer fit for front line service would make a better choice to convert to a tanker.

      There's something else at play here and I'm missing what it is.

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  7. 1) Cancelling the UCLASS is a good move, as it seemed to be going nowhere, and the intended mission kept changing.

    2) A dedicated tanker is needed. Using vikings as tankers was never optimal, but using hornets is much less so. But..

    3) Why make it unmanned? UAVs are great when you can make a platform lighter, single engined and/or expendable. But a tanker does not need to be expendable, and the human operator is a tiny part of its take-off weight.

    4) A tanker aircraft is also a transport aircraft, a highly useful dual-purpose capability that comes free of charge. But you don't want a transport aircraft to be unmanned, as it has to land at other airfields than where it takes of.

    5) If the navy wants to go UAV, why then, is there no carrier based predator equivalent? It would be a low risk project, and would not take up much hangar space.

    6) Getting more Super Hornets is a good move, and I do think that it moves the combat needle forward. You get more aircraft and waste less money on pipe dreams. The hornet is a solid, mature and capable platform. Not every problem has a technological solution.

    7) I would not be that worried about russian and chinese stealth aircraft. Stealth has been a thing for more than 40 years, and still no really succesful stealth aircraft has been produced. Most has been cancelled early.

    Stealth is a difficult, expensive and fragile technology, and the russians and chinese are slowly finding that out. It reminds me a bit of the Soviet Space Shuttle clone that was flown into space once and then put into storage. And today Astronauts and Kosmonauts are still being launched into space by the same 1960-ies rocket technology that launched Jurij Gagarin.

    8) I am a bit dissapointed in Boeing, for coming up with the bland acronym ASH. They could have called it the Super Duper Hornet. Would have been the perfect opportunity.

    But noooo, it always has to be some thing like the "Joint Advanced Winged Multirole Combat System", sigh.

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    1. All in all, a very good comment.

      I would disagree with your assessment of stealth - that there has been no successful stealth aircraft. The F-117 proved its value in Desert Storm. The B-2, by all accounts, is formidable. The F-22, in mock combat training, seems to clean up on all opposition. Stealth seems highly effective. The question is how effective is Russian and Chinese stealth? Simply building an airframe that looks stealthy is only a part of the answer. Coatings, materials of construction, internal construction, radar emissions, electronic emissions, IR signature, etc. all contribute to overall stealth. The verdict on the Russian and Chinese efforts is still out.

      We already have the Super Hornet. How does more of them move the combat needle?

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    2. http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2016/02/f-35s-terrifying-bug-list/125638/?oref=defenseone_today_nl

      F35 bug list

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    3. I've already given my views on this matter.

      - High fuel fraction
      - Radar stealth isn't worth it
      - Instead go for aerodynamics with high L/D ratio
      - Maximize transient performance
      - Go for austere aircraft not heavily laden by electronics
      - Minimize flight to maintenance

      Actually the verdict on US stealth is still out too. The F-22 has an unfavorable flight to maintenance ratio, which will make it hard to get enough sorties in a war against a competent nation state.

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    4. ComNavOps

      The way I see it, if you have a carrier wing of 60 aircraft, with 40-44 Hornets of various types, then adding more Super Hornets will improve the combat capability of the entire carrier group. Especially if 4-6 of the Super Hornets is used as make-shift tankers. Adding more Super Hornets and dedicated tankers is a very sensible move.

      As for stealth, I am just lukewarm on the concept. I agree that it is useful and valuable, but what are the costs in terms of affordability, drag and serviceability? Is it really worth it, if you end up with smaller amount of aircraft?

      And yes, the f117 proved itself during desert storm. But so did most other allied aircraft, largely because of superior leadership, tactics and training.

      And again, I am not saying that stealth is worthless. But when stealth leads to fewer and dearer arcrafts that are harder to maintain, then I am not sure that stealth is worth it.

      Regards

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    5. One of us is misunderstanding the Navy's statement that they will acquire more Super Hornets. As I read it, they will not be increasing the size of the air wing. That will stay as it is. What they will be doing is buying more SH's as replacements for the aircraft that are being retired. I've read nothing about increasing the size of squadrons or air wings. Thus, more SHs simply maintains what we have. Yes, if some of the legacy C/Ds are retired and E/Fs take their place then their is an ever so slight uptick in combat effectiveness but not in the terms I'm discussing.

      The F-117 proved itself by flying over the defended cities. None of the other aircraft were able to do that. Stealth very much proved itself.

      Now, is stealth still viable to the same relative degree? Probably not, however, stealth is the bare minimum price of admission to the battlefield. While stealth may no longer confer that Desert Storm degree of advantage, a non-stealth aircraft is simply not survivable over the modern battlefield. Stealth is now the minimum standard. Uber-stealth may not be worth the cost but a baseline level of stealth is mandatory. For example, the B-2 may or may not have enough stealth to freely roam the skies with impunity but a B-52 wouldn't last thirty seconds.

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    6. "For example, the B-2 may or may not have enough stealth to freely roam the skies with impunity but a B-52 wouldn't last thirty seconds."

      While I do think that is true if used conventionally, I think there is still alot of room for the use of B1's and B52's as stand off weapons firing stealthy munitions. There is something to be said for setting up a B52 with a smart internal weapons carriage, and the ability to communicate with F-22's. The F-22's could then give targeting information to stand off B-52's.

      The enemy will of course respond, you can't do it all the time, but as an early part of the war it could help deliver a bigger munitions punch than just relying on stealth attack aircraft.

      I'm also curious (really don't know), we used to have nape of the earth flying to help avoid radar. Now it seems we just rely on stealth. Is a fast strike at high speeds not tenable any more? Why was that abandoned?

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    8. In theory. In practice, a low level jet is very difficult to spot and target before it has passed out of range.

      Flying low renders the aircraft completely immune to all of those high-altitude threats.

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    10. - High fuel fraction
      - Radar stealth isn't worth it
      - Instead go for aerodynamics with high L/D ratio
      - Maximize transient performance
      - Go for austere aircraft not heavily laden by electronics
      - Minimize flight to maintenance

      Sounds like an F-16! Channeling your Col Boyd?

      I agree completely!

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  8. @CNO, regarding your idea of the B2 being powerful:

    https://medium.com/war-is-boring/guess-how-many-times-per-month-a-stealth-bomber-pilot-actually-flies-e62189128a63#.6a5zy3ji0

    The entire B2 fleet would struggle to sustain 1 sortie per day at that rate.


    Then there's this:
    https://medium.com/war-is-boring/the-air-force-totally-lied-to-you-about-the-fiery-fate-of-its-stealth-bomber-4ce54d59124b#.ui4urstn3

    My guess is that when the USN suffers a serious incident, they will scapegoat someone. Note that I used the word "when" and not "if".

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    1. Alt, I was addressing stealth effectiveness, not maintainability or sortie rate.

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