Monday, January 20, 2014

RAND Air Combat Report

The 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 China has 27 airbases within 500 miles of Taiwan while the US has 1.

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 Vietnam, 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. 

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 Vietnam but demonstrated a 0.15 Pk in combat.  The more modern AIM-9L as used by Harriers in the 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 US fired 48 AIM-9M and achieved 11 kills for a Pk of 0.23.

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 Taiwan that was intended to examine the relationship between quantity (China) and quality (US).  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!

I urge you to take a look at the RAND report slides for yourself.  There are two major takeaways from the report.

First, the US 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 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!



35 comments:

  1. I think the Future is where the UCAV's would operate as wingman for Manned fighters such as the F-22, F-35

    ReplyDelete
  2. The real questions is, in a shooting war, how many of those Chinese bases have been flattened with submarine launched TLAMs?

    I'm guessing all of them.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think they are assuming first strike.
    Although the bases look significantly hardened from the areal recon. Underground hangering is impressive.
    And RAND hasn’t taken account of sea or land based AA defences or a scramble of alert fighters.
    But the engagement time is frighteningly short, and their arguments compelling. I would say virtually undeniable.
    We need more weapons per plane and we need to perfect more multiple target engagement tech for each plane, with I higher hit ratio.
    Very very interesting figures.
    Ben O

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ben, the RAND scenario was in no way, shape, or form a combat simulation. It was purely an exercise in numbers to demonstrate that there is a point beyond which technology can't compensate for numbers. They made their case quite convincingly. To your credit, your comment indicates that you understood what they were illustrating.

      Delete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. B.Smitty, your comments are fine but I shudder to think what a next generation Raptor will cost given the cost of the "cheap" JSF!

      We don't have much land area in the region. Any thought as to where we would locate additional bases?

      You've identified AAR as a requirement. As you know, we don't have anywhere near the tanker assets to conduct a Chinese war. The Navy has no tanker (other than removing Hornets from the already small numbers of combat assets to use as buddy refuelers) and no plans to acquire one that I'm aware of. If the Navy were serious about a Pacific pivot, they need to pivot their thinking and get serious about the Pacific requirements.

      Delete
    2. B.Smitty, that's a great observation about a Pacific NATO although we do have some treaties in place. India is a key to the region and we should be devoting some significant effort towards building relations with them.

      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    4. B Smitty. Actually there should be plenty of room on the carrier. See comparison below between 1983 and 2013 carrier air wings.

      **1983 CVW **
      24 F-14
      24 F/A-18
      6 A-6
      4 KA-6D
      4 EA-6B
      4 E-2
      10 S-3
      6 SH-3B
      1 EA-3B
      2 C-2
      -------------
      85 aircraft

      ** 2013 CVW **
      24 F/A-18C
      24 F/A-18E/F
      5 EA-18G
      4 E-2
      ~5 MH-60R
      ~6 MH-60S
      2 C-2
      -------------
      70 aircraft

      Notice that the 2013 CVW has no long-range interceptor (F-14), ASW (S-3), heavy bomber (A-6), tanking (KA-6) nor dedicated ELINT (ES-3). We’ve given up numbers AND capability.

      Matt

      Delete
    5. Oops substitute "ASW (S-3)" with "long-range ASW (S-3)".

      We don't have any organic capability to find and kill submarines at extended ranges.

      Matt

      Delete
    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    7. B.Smitty, the choices for bases are limited and poor. At a quick glance, Singapore is 1000 miles from any operating area of interest and if the base were tactically or strategically relevant they would undoubtedly be forced diplomatically to remain neutral and deny us use of the base for combat ops. The Philippines is more attractive but also presents a questionable availability during a conflict due to diplomatic pressures that would be brought to bear. Korea and Japan are attractive and would probably support US ops but are vulnerable to attack. The problem from the Air Force perspective is that there just aren't many good bases to operate from. That should force the conversation back to carriers but that hasn't happened, for some reason(s).

      Delete
    8. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    9. Smitty,

      I second your call for *augmenting* CVNs (as opposed to replacing them) with CODLAG diesel-gas turbine-electric powered CVs, but also note that nuclear propulsion is only one factor amongst many driving the costs of carriers through the roof. The radars and other electronic systems on the Ford are likewise extremely expensive. In reality, nuclear power is pretty cost-neutral in terms of life cycle costs. I would go further and suggest that a 21st century version of the CV-67 is probably the right course of action, and that I would ditch the idea of LHAs and LHDs altogether and push the USMC helos out into a fleet of 30 knot LPDs and AKRs based on commercial hulls. It would be better to attach a MAGTF and its sea-lift to a Carrier TF than to keep building multi-billion dollar amphibious ships. The carrier is an auxiliary after all.

      All of this covers the reality that the costs, as well as the utility of an aircraft carrier lie in the air wing. Here we find that the crushing costs of JSF (which is really an attack aircraft) are driven by stealth and gadgetry. As the Rand study shows, the value of stealth in a high intensity war is of limited value. Sadly the costs of stealth very much impact the number of aircraft you can buy and operate. As the study shows, numbers do matter, and being able to buy two-to-four highly capable, but stealth-less fighters, for every F-22 seems to be a worthwhile trade off. I caveat this in saying that having a small percentage of stealth aircraft is a great capability.

      Finally, in addition to an air superiority fighter (non-stealth), CVWs need a follow on to the F/A-18 with longer range. This probably means reverting to a single engine design (once the norm in naval aviation). We can also add the requirement for a tanker and MPA. Frankly, a very large aircraft like the “Whale” (A3D Sky Warrior) might be the cats meow. The whale could simultaneously carry more fuel (for tanking) farther than the KA-6, carry more EW gear than the EA-6, *and* still carry 6,000 lbs of ordinance! A modern version should be able to perform the MPA, tanking, and heavy ASuW strike mission nicely. A pickup truck indeed!

      GAB

      Delete
    10. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    11. B.Smitty, I don't follow Air Force escapades closely but my very vague impression of the costs is that the F-22 was around $140M per while the F-15 was around $40M. Give me some real numbers!

      You suggest a need for a conventionally powered CV. Why? I'm neither agreeing nor disagreeing, just curious about your rationale. What benefit does a CV offer other than (perhaps?) cost? How does the benefit of a CV offset the advantages of nuclear power, cost notwithstanding?

      Delete
    12. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    13. B.Smitty, you were comparing the F-22 to the F-15. The F-22 is a pure air superiority fighter. The F-15E is a two seat strike bomber. The F-15C is the comparable version to the F-22. What was the cost of the last F-15C produced? Also, the F-15E purchase you mention was for two aircraft with, apparently, none produced in the prior year (or more?). That's hardly an example of serial production costs. I'm not sure what the buy of two aircraft was. So, if you want to make a valid comparison it would be between the last full production F-15C and the full production F-22. Let me know what those numbers were.

      Delete
    14. B.Smitty, OK, you say that the reason for building a conventional carrier is cost savings. What do you think the cost savings would be? 10% cheaper? 50% cheaper? X% cheaper?

      Delete
    15. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    16. The whole nuclear power debate for CVNs is a wash: Friedman makes the case that nuclear power enables the carrier strategic freedom to manuever at high speed between theaters or within a theater, but her escorts and aircraft are still limited by conventional fuel (2-3 days of operations).

      With respect to cost - the value is that you pay for 20-40-years of fuel upfront. That works well in peacetime, but in war, if you lose the ship, you lose the ship, her crew, the airwing, the munitions she carries, and 20-40 years of fuel.

      GAB

      Delete
    17. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  6. Smitty: “The RAND study doesn't show limited value of stealth. It shows that numbers still matter, and overwhelming numbers matter more than stealth on a handful of aircraft. Stealth is still a huge advantage and not that much more expensive.

    Having only one airbase in the region accounts for our limited numbers of aircraft there, and makes them severely vulnerable. We need several more air bases, and we need them to be at least somewhat hardened. Don't make it easy for Chinese IRBMs and cruise missiles.

    The CVW needs an F-22+ class, stealthy, air superiority/strike fighter. Non-stealth fighters need not apply. There are limited deck spots on a carrier, and every aircraft has to count. Note, the RAND study still gives the F-22 a 3:1 kill ratio using more pessimistic values for missile Pk. And that's still heavily outnumbered.
    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Smitty, you failed to closely read the Rand study, and certainly did not look at the P(k)s used for missiles on both sides. The study clearly questioned the value of stealth, the effectiveness of BVR missiles, and yes showed the value of numbers. The historical analysis of Jagdverband 44 was particularly telling.

    - The assertion that stealth is not that much more expensive is hogwash. Bottom line is that the F-22 program cost a whooping 11-times that of the F-15 program cost per aircraft in FY2012 dollars. Pages 7 and 8 of GAO’s April 2012 study: TACTICAL AIRCRAFT, Comparison of F-22A and Legacy Fighter Modernization Programs show the relative costs of the F-22, F-15, F-16, and F-18 programs. Note that these are total, cumulative program costs in constant FY12 dollars. Also note the development horizons of the F-15, F-16, and F-18 programs (5-7-years from start of development) versus the F-22 (14-years). http://www.gao.gov/assets/600/590505.pdf

    -The idea that you can harden facilities against a conventionally tipped ballistic missile moving at mach 8+ is nonsensical.

    -The idea that carrier air wings need a stealth air superiority fighter, particularly given the cost growth of JSF and F22 is highly questionable.

    GAB

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. GAB: "The idea that carrier air wings need ..."

      I just want to expand on this a bit. What air wings need is dependent on what we want them to do. Do we want the carrier to sit off the coast of China and slug it out? Do we want the carrier to stand 1500 nm off and enforce a blockade? Do we want the carrier to conduct deep penetration strikes? Do we want ...?

      This takes us back to the strategy issue. Without a defined military strategy, we don't have a defined requirement for the carrier and its air wing. Sure, we have some generic needs like a fixed wing ASW aircraft, a carrier based tanker, and such but when we are severely constrained by budget, as we are now, we have to make difficult decisions which means we need clearly defined requirements so that we spend our limited money on only those characteristics we really need. What do we want the air wing to do? The days of answering "everything" are gone.

      So, do we need an F-22-ish carrier plane? Maybe. Or, maybe more Hornets are sufficient. It depends on what we're asking them to do.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    4. B.Smitty, the cost of an acquisition program is the total cost of the R&D, production, spares, and all the other things that go into it. Only in a very narrow type of discussion is the unit production cost, alone, relevant.

      If we build one ship and spend a dollar on R&D and a dollar to build it, the total cost was two dollars. Trying to compare the one dollar production cost to some other platform is misleading under all but a narrowly defined set of discussion parameters. If we hadn't built the one ship, we'd have two extra dollars. The ship cost two dollars. Lately, people have been discussing acquisition programs as if the R&D and other costs never happened. For some programs the R&D cost is a huge portion.

      Similarly, whether a program produced 2000 aircraft or 150 simply is what it is. That a program only produced 3 Zumwalts or 195 F-22s or a thousand F-15s is irrelevant. The cost is what it is.

      If we're not going to acknowledge the total, real costs then we might as well say that a Zumwalt only costs $100M per ship, assuming we had built 10,000 of them. Well, we didn't. We built three and the cost was $12B plus $XB for R&D plus whatever other costs.

      If you want to discuss the incremental cost to have built one more of something, then take the last production contract amount.

      The tendency for people to dismiss actual costs in favor of theoretical serial costs that never happened is a topic on my waiting list of posts.

      Delete
    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    6. B.Smitty, so what do you base your conclusion that stealth is relatively cheap on, if not a comparison of the F-15 and F-22? I have never seen any documentation that breaks out the cost of stealth for aircraft. My "feeling" is that the cost increase of the F-22 was mostly due to stealth but that's not based on anything factual. I attribute better engines and radar and whatnot with a 20% cost increase, perhaps, but the rest is stealth. I'm willing to be convinced on this if you have any data.

      Delete
  7. CNO - well said!

    Another huge issue is to compare the cost of munitions versus the cost of the training, infrastructure, etc. required to put the ordnance on target. The cost of a JDAM is nothing compared with the cost of training the pilot, paying the pilot, buying the aircraft, and so on. This is why shooting a $500,000 cruise missile can be a bargain compared to deploying a USMC Rifle company in order to kill one jihadi with a $0.10 bullet...

    GAB

    GAB

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. GAB, your point about costs of ordnance on target is well taken. Unfortunately, it borders on undiscussable(??) because it all depends on what factors one chooses to include or exclude. In your example, the $500,000 missile (assuming it was launched from a ship, for sake of discussion) required a ship which has its own costs, plus a crew of hundreds that had to be trained, plus a shoreside support/maintenance/warehouse organization for the missile, plus ... So, your point is completely valid, well taken, but virtually impossible to discuss other than in the most general terms. It does, however, serve as a good reminder that cost-effectiveness entails much more than the munition cost by itself.

      I sometimes think that all of us, myself included, can get too wrapped up in costs. Yes, they're hugely important but combat effectiveness is more important. I understand the lure of cost numbers. They're concrete (though we seem to have a hard time agreeing on costs!) as opposed to combat effectiveness which is more nebulous and highly dependent on the circumstances of employment. Any of us can look up costs but none of us can look up combat effectiveness.

      Delete
  8. A comment was removed. Personal attacks will not be allowed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Would you at least respond to some of the points raised in said comment?

      Delete
    2. If you're interested in a discussion rather than an argument for argument's sake, I'll gladly discuss the issue(s). Otherwise, I'll drop it.

      At the heart of your comments, I fear you may have misread the post and the linked report. The RAND report was NOT a model or simulation of air combat and did not claim to be - neither did the post. The report, and subsequent post, were examinations of the effect of numbers over quality. By making ridiculous assumptions about weapon effectiveness, which you pointed out, the report demonstrated that there comes a point beyond which quality cannot compensate for lack of quantity.

      If I might suggest, take a quick re-read of the post and report and then tell me what you'd like to further discuss.

      Feel free to discuss or argue ideas but do so in a respectful and non-personal manner!

      Delete

Comments will be moderated for posts older than 30 days in order to reduce spam.