RAND Aug 2008 air combat report briefing slides (1) are a fascinating study. Being slides without the accompanying verbiage, there are many points that are unclear but, overall, the message comes across loud and clear. Here’s a few highlights.
Effective air power requires close, secure bases in order to generate sufficient sorties. Sortie rates decline rapidly with distance from the operating area. This will prove to be a severe problem in a Chinese conflict. Further, given the existence of 1000+ mile range ballistic missiles, base security, even at great distances from the operating area, may be compromised.
The study made the statement that USAF fighter ops are most efficient when bases are within 500 miles of the battle area and then noted that
has 27 airbases within 500 miles of China while the Taiwan has 1. US
The study looked at historical air-to-air missile kill probabilities, Pk, and the pre-combat expectations versus actual combat experience. The US AIM-7 Sparrow was the primary AAW going into
, with a pre-war Pk estimate of 0.70. Combat experience demonstrated a Pk of 0.08 which meant that an enemy aircraft had a 100X greater chance to approach within gun range than expected. Vietnam
This is exactly the issue that I’ve discussed on multiple occasions – that weapons never work as well in combat as they’re supposed to. All of our weapons will significantly underperform and, thus, we must make tactical allowances for it.
The AIM-9 Sidewinder had an anticipated Pk of 0.65 prior to
but demonstrated a 0.15 Pk in combat. The more modern AIM-9L as used by Harriers in the Vietnam Falklands war achieved a Pk of 0.73. Again, many of the targets were not representative of air-to-air combat.
In Desert Storm, the
fired 48 AIM-9M and achieved 11 kills for a Pk of 0.23. US
The current AIM-120 AMRAAM has demonstrated a Pk of 0.59 but that’s based on only 17 missile firings and none of the targets were maneuvering or using ECM – hardly representative of air-to-air combat. The missile firings were, essentially, target drone exercises. Under the circumstances, that’s a pretty poor performance!
The study postulated a combat scenario over
that was intended to examine the relationship between quantity ( Taiwan ) and quality ( China ). The scenario intentionally postulated ridiculous parameters: the US planes were credited with a long range Pk of 1.0 (every shot hits and kills an enemy aircraft) and the Chinese planes were credited with a Pk of 0.0 (no shot hits). Even with these parameters the US forces were overwhelmed. The use of realistic parameters would simply make the situation that much worse. The scenario was not an attempt to model air combat but, rather, to graphically demonstrate the impact of quantity over quality when the US is constrained by sortie rate and manufacturing/cost issues. The scenario is a real eye opener! US
I urge you to take a look at the
RAND report slides for yourself. There are two major takeaways from the report.
needs to seriously re-examine the assumptions that its entire air combat philosophy is based on, especially as it relates to a possible conflict with US . China
Second, the JSF with its limited range, limited weapons payload at distance, and moderate stealth (stealth is addressed in the study) is not going to perform anywhere near the levels claimed by its supporters. We’re betting our future air combat capability on an aircraft that, at best, will be at a disadvantage and, more likely, will be outmatched the day it comes into service.
The obvious issue for the Navy, as suggested by the report, is the role of the carrier given the problems that the Air Force will have due to lack of basing and distance from the battle area (at least in a Chinese conflict). Carriers, potentially, can bring a lot of aircraft close to the battle which makes for high sortie rates. This raises questions for the Navy:
- What would be an effective carrier operating doctrine? Pairs of carriers? Multiple pairs of carriers? How close together?
- Do we have enough carriers?
- Is the size and makeup of the airwings optimized for this type of combat scenario?
- Do we have the type of aircraft needed to operate effectively in a badly outnumbered scenario?
- Do we have the types of ships (BMD, AAW, ASuW) and operating doctrine needed to support the carriers while they fight an air battle?
- Can and how will we integrate submarine support in land attack and ASW/ASuW roles to support the carrier operations?
- Integrated Air Force and Navy operations and doctrine so that the services are mutually supporting rather than just co-existing?
In summary, if one can read the report without falling into a defensive mode (our weapons will work better because … or the JSF will be better because …) the report has a lot to offer and suggests a lot to think about. Do yourself a favor and look it over!