Thursday, March 31, 2016

4 v 1

ComNavOps has frequently pointed out the dangerous trend in current military thinking of believing that everything we do will work perfectly and nothing the enemy does will have any effect.  I’ve mentioned our emphasis on networking while ignoring enemy ECM, as one specific example.

I’ve now read several articles promoting the F-35 by describing how the aircraft will operate in groups of 4 thereby enabling a blanket of sensors to cover the targeted enemy aircraft.  Articles describe how, now matter what the enemy aircraft does, it will always be covered by multiple F-35s and, therefore, be unable to escape detection or destruction.

Of course, this is just another example of the utterly one-sided thinking that pervades modern US military thinking.  Apparently, the enemy will obligingly allow us to operate in neat, tidy, co-ordinated groups of four and will only engage our groups of four with a single aircraft at a time of their own.  I guess they won’t come at us with, say a group of four of their own aircraft and instantly disrupt our group cohesiveness and turn the combat into a wild furball of multiple 1 v. 1’s.  And, of course, it’s utterly impossible that they might come at us with more aircraft than we have!  Apparently, they won’t employ any ECM or use any extreme maneuvering.  I guess they won’t launch missiles at us even for purposes of breaking up our neat little groups (enemy aircraft generally carry more missiles than ours so that would be a completely viable tactic!).  Apparently, their stealth, networks, data links, and sensors won’t be of any benefit to them, whatsoever, while ours will ensure our total domination of the skies.

Almost every air to air combat report I’ve ever read that wasn’t just a simple ambush against inept opponents, demonstrates that the preferred wingman tactics instantly breakdown when combat is joined.  The lead and the wingman quickly get separated and become focused on their individual combats.  There is no reason to believe that a flight of four F-35s won’t quickly deteriorate into four flights of one.

We just recently talked about Infrared Search and Tracking (IRST) capabilities.  The US is well behind the curve on that technology with European, Russian, and Chinese (? – not sure the status of their IRST efforts) aircraft all carrying superior IRST systems compared to ours.  Despite this and enemy stealth, we still assume we’ll establish unhindered long range detection while the enemy will never even see us.

Our A2A tactics sound like they’re heavy on fantasy and wishful thinking and light on reality.  This kind of thinking is going to get our pilots killed. 

Hey, here’s a thought.  Let’s put our invincible 4-aircraft tactical unit of F-35s up against four F-22s (simulating Russian PAK-FA and Chinese J-series stealth fighters) and see what happens.  Let’s also do that with full ECM active and see if our vaunted networking and data sharing functions as advertised.

Another interesting experiment would be to put our F-35s up against some European fighters with IRST systems and see how that turns out.  Will our F-35s operate their radars and give away their positions or will they attempt to operate “blind” with simple IR sensors versus more advanced IRST systems?

We need to stop making up these fantasy tactics and start applying some cold, hard reality to out tactical thinking.


  1. If it's the report I'm thinking it is, the 35 lost to the 16 1v1, won 4v4 and won 4v16

    1. No, this is not based on the A2A maneuverability testing reports. This is based on several interviews with various Air Force personnel who have discussed 4-plane tactical groupings.

    2. Do you have links to those interviews on the 4 plane tactical groupings. I had been looking for such information but without success. Thanks in advance.

    3. I'm sorry. I do not. I've read it in several interviews over the past couple of months. Each was just a small part of larger interviews rather than being the entire subject. I read hundreds of reports, interviews, and testimonies and cannot hope to keep records on every one!

  2. I personally believe(I admit,no prove) USAF has done something like that in the past 2 years with the F35, probably participated in a secret Red Flag or something of the sort and the results weren't pretty. If USAF wasn't worried and results of F35 vs F22 were good, would USAF and USN for that matter be suddenly asking for next 6th gen fighter to appear faster?

    It would only make sense to have it participate in more real trials, we have a bunch of F35s now and even if everything isn't working properly, you still could work some tactics and learn some lessons. What lessons has USAF learned about F35?

    Agree to on the IRST part, US is behind just about everyone on that count, anybody thought about that?

    I like the fact that you say "let's make it real", my first thought was the article SNAFU just posted about F35 being teamed up with an unmanned F16 as a wing-man. Now, I'm not sure who is going to pilot the UAV F16 or be in command of it but I'm guessing the F35 pilot would have some sort of control of it or could command when to drop bombs, etc.....My first thought was: "has anybody ever tried to play 2 video games simultaneously?" because if F35 pilot had some control of the UAV F16, he pretty much is flying/commanding 2 birds at the same time....Now, this sounds great in theory, probably works in the sim, it might, maybe, even work at a Red Flag BUT I have some serious doubts this works when suddenly, at night,middle of the Pacific ocean, you and your F35 wing-man and 2 UAV F16s get a blast of active radar and now have 10 J20s locking on your F16s, maybe even on you in your mighty F35!!! All that nice calculated tactical stuff just went out the window! Now, as you said about A2A combat, once it gets close and missiles flying, it's every man for himself. As the 2 UAV F16s aren't LO and I'm not sure who is the pilot, you probably are going to loss them, oh well, there goes 2 fighters you must have been counting on to do something for you.....

    As Mike Tyson said:"Everybody got a plan until they get hit in f#cking face!"

    Anybody wonder what happens to pilots so used to NEVER being seen on the bad guy radar and OPPPSSSY, today, he got lucky, he's electronics are better than we thought or his IRST picked up the F35 engine?!? What happens then?!? Anybody thinking this is good for our pilots in the long run to never feel threaten by the other guys fighters?

    1. If you team up an F-35 with an unmanned F-16, then the supposed stealth advantage of the F-35 is gone because the F-16 will give it away.

      Another consideration is that the F-16s won't be able to dogfight very well unless manned. Unmanned aircraft can lose their signals very easily. Although that said, the F-35 cannot dogfight either.

    2. "Another consideration is that the F-16s won't be able to dogfight very well unless manned."

      That's a very good point. What will these paired up F-16s do? I suppose they can be a simple missile "barge" for the parent F-35 although how you get targeting info to the F-16 on a real time basis in an ECM environment is beyond me.

      The notion that an unmanned F-16 can fight is ridiculous. The degree of autonomy required is far beyond our current software programming abilities. We can't even make a simple (by comparison) F-35 maintenance program work.

  3. The most obvious scenario is described here:

    Here is the key part of interest:

    The Chinese can easily devastate Okinawa, and the American naval base at Sasebo on the southern end of mainland Japan within an hour. Most of the 72 fighter aircraft and 32 support aircraft would be destroyed on the ground at Kadena and Naha. Perhaps two dozen American and Japanese F-15 fighters would manage to take-off from damaged runways, only to face destruction as hundreds of Chinese fighters arrive. The technologic and training advantages of American fighters cannot overcome massive numerical superiority. A 2008 Rand study evaluated such a conflict, and concluded that even if the USA had weeks to triple its air combat power on Okinawa and Guam, China would easily win, and this based on China's airpower in 2008!

    There is a link to the Rand Study there.

    1. While true, what this really demonstrates is that most air forces are in an absolute fantasy world when it comes to realizing the potential and implications of conventional ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.

      If there is one area where "RMA" has achieved stunning results it is in the marriage of inertial guidance, GPS, and advanced seeker heads to ballistic missiles.

      The USA/NATO response has been to seek diplomatic remedies in the form of IRBM treaties, but our potential advisories have been working hard for more than two decades to develop systems to negate the western advantage in TACAIR (to include carrier air).

      The Department of the Navy at least embraces the idea of "strike warfare", the USAF has yet to even propose a conventional ground to ground missile.

      In the end, the U.S. Army may have the only viable (defined in terms of numbers) tactical interdiction system capable of hitting Corps and Army echelon targets in the contested environment of a major war with a peer competitor!


  4. Air Force fighter squadrons are typically larger (~24 aicraft) than their Navy counterparts. From what I've read, the Navy will field 2 squadrons of 10 F-35C's per carrier air wing. And, Marine Corps is fielding their F-35B's in 10 ship squadrons too.

    With fewer aircraft per squadron, the Navy and Marines can only generate 2 4-ship flights per squadron.

    1. One of the reasons why I put a strong emphasis on low maintenance to flight ratios is to maximize sortie rate for a given number of aircraft.

      Otherwise you have a bunch of hangar bound aircraft, the equal to an unreliable and maintenance intensive ship that will spend it's time at the drydock all the time.

    2. When Navy aircraft go back to the manufacturer for their many any many service and overhauls, they are replaced.
      Airforce aircraft arent.

    3. "One of the reasons why I put a strong emphasis on low maintenance to flight ratios is to maximize sortie rate for a given number of aircraft. "

      I just read a blog post about the Tomcat. I'll see if I can dig up the site.

      Anyway, the guys point was that the Tomcat was a good, but often flawed fighter because when it came out, there were several block upgrades that never happened. Things that would make it more manueverable, safer, etc. Stuff beyond the (ridiculous) delay in getting the F-110 engined Tomcats out there.

      His point was that almost every fighter program we've had has been like that, from the Phantom to the Raptor. The specs you read about are with the 'On a perfectly working jet with all the suggested mods/improvements on it' and hence often fantasy.
      Between that and the hornet/Raptor OBOGS issue,
      it did make me wonder if you just go for a simpler aircraft to begin with... you might not have a plane that looks as fancy on paper, but it will do what it was designed to do, up to spec, most every time.

      Ironically the guys post was to point out that because older jets had issues we should just not worry about the Lightning II, so I may have taken the opposite conclusion from what he wanted... :-)

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    1. You're also assuming total aircraft availability. The F-35 is looking to be a maintenance nightmare. Currently availabilities are 50% or less according to the Marine's own operational trial. Of course, availabilities can and should increase over time. However, the F-22 only has around 60%-70% availability, if I recall correctly, after many years of experience.

      So, a squadron might be lucky to generate a single 4-plane flight!

    2. Walt,

      All of this talk of single A2A combat, 4 v 4, 12 v 12, or single carrier duels was never the way anyone employs airpower against competent opponent. The idea has always been to mass in time and space to achieve at least overwhelming local superiority.

      Early cold war carrier aviation doctrine was to operate 4 carrier wings together (on 4 carriers): 3 would generate what are now called strike packages and the 4th would be dedicated to ASW/sea control operations.

      The concept was to hit the enemy with "alpha strikes" - air raids consisting of ~300 aircraft over the target area. These strikes would continue for several days and then the task force(s) would be forced to withdraw due to attrition of aircrew and aircraft.

      BTW, the Navy historically maintained ~20% more complete, combat ready air wings in excess of carrier capacity as a reserve in anticipation of losses. RAGs and other administrative aviation units were not included in this figure.


    3. "All of this talk of single A2A combat, 4 v 4, 12 v 12, or single carrier duels was never the way anyone employs airpower against competent opponent. The idea has always been to mass in time and space to achieve at least overwhelming local superiority."

      It does sometimes come across as arguing that we should compare a single tank to a single tank, or a single artillery piece to a single artillery piece.

    4. Internet arguments typically fall into the reducto ad abserdium trap - what really matters is overall force effectiveness, not merely how a single system works.


  6. Tactics have evolved over the ages based on the nature of warfare and the ability of humans to be aware of a number of people. This ability is fixed in people due to wiring of our brains.

    For example a Centurion could handle 100 people because the formation was tight and the situation only moved at foot speed.

    Modern infantry organization is based on the number 4. Your self and 3 others (fire team, # of Fire teams in a Squad, number of Companies in an battalion etc.)

    Modern Air tactics are based on the number 2. Our flights consist of 2 A/C and they go against 2 enemy A/C. This is all most humans can handle.

    I am VERY concerned that some paper analyst is increasing the number to 4 A/C because it makes sense to him/her. This is a change in 100 years of aviation tactics and needs to be tested before adopted.

    Remember it made perfect sense to Aristotle that heavier objects would fall faster than lighter one. He set us back 1000 years until some Italian tested it.

  7. It's interesting to consider how ideas about aerial combat got this way. I suspect much of it is due to a specific flavour of US patriotism ("Of course we're the best at everything!"), the remarkable ease of convincing politicians with such arguments if it gets them appending in their home areas, and recent experience. All the aerial combat US forces have done since 1990 has been against sub-peer opponents, some of whom don't have any aircraft or meaningful air defence. People who've taken part in that know the opposition was substandard, but it's hard to decide that the most exciting events of your life, for which you got medals and promotion, weren't actually meaningful.

  8. I think you have 2 big misconception ( i used to think the same to be fair ) :
    1) " turn on radar will let enemy located F-35 and make it useless "
    actually geolocate aircraft by RWR is very hard work and alot less effective than you may think

    2) "4th gen fighter can easily match 5 gen with ECM system "
    actually stealth and Jamming have a synergy relationship , low RCS make Jamming alot more effective

    3) " F-35 have no IR suppression measure "
    that is wrong too

    1. Assuming your comment was directed at me, I'm not sure what misconception you think I have or why you would come to that conclusion. As an example, the RWR article (nice little reference, by the way - thanks) tells me nothing to indicate that RWR is anything other than what I believed it to be - a good, reliable, fast way to passively detect a) the presence and b) the general location of an emitting target. Thus, an F-35, or any aircraft, using its radar is broadcasting its location. That location may well not be adequate for a shooting solution but I never believed that to be the case except in unusual circumstances. However, a general location is enough to vector interceptors to the general target location thus negating the aircraft's stealth. Further, in any likely scenario there will probably be multiple sensing platforms which make locating even more precise.

      In short, I'm not sure what you read that leads you to believe I have misconceptions but, rest assured, I do not - or at least none that you have described.

    2. If you dont have the targeting solution then directing interceptor toward that location isnt exactly a good thing, these interceptors will be put in danger themselves
      Secondly, stealth fighters such as the F-35 have directional datalink as well ( as opposed to omi-direction datalink on older fighter ) , so one f-35 can turn on radar and share information with others secretly ,the interceptors that rely on RWR may think there is only 1 F-35 on sky , but there are actually much higher number , that bring significant advantages to F-35 side

    3. I'm sorry, your contention is that having a pretty good location on a target and vectoring interceptors towards it is a BAD idea?

      Are you suggesting that the F-35 is so good that even while broadcasting its location it will still remain completely hidden (a contradiction in terms) while seeing and destroying all enemy aircraft in its area???? So, the enemy's stealth, IRST, RWR, radar, etc. will be absolutely useless and totally unable to detect an F-35 that is broadcasting its location by using its radar? Not even the most optimistic F-35 supporter is making that claim. I must be misunderstanding you?

    4. No I never sad the F-35 will be completely hidden , dont try to change my words , what i said is : the F-35 broadcasting it's radar will only give aways the angular direction on enemy RWR ( if we assumed that enemy RWR can detect LPI signal ) , but , angular information alone isnot enough if you want to guide your missiles at a moving airborne target , to guide missiles you would need others information such as distance to target , target velocity and altitude. So the interceptors that you send toward the F-35 direction will have the exactly the same problem as the SAM on the ground , they know the general direction of the F-35 , but they dont know how far is it ( 10 km or 100 km ) , they dont know how fast it is ( mach 0.5 or mach 2 ) , they dont know the altitude ( 10K feet or 50K feet ) ...etc , without these information these interceptors wont be able to generate firing solution for their missiles , hence they cant attack until visual range
      Another problem is that modern fighter can share data , which mean if you rely on your RWR as the main form of target detection then you will just fly into trap , because more often than not only 1 or 2 aircraft in the whole formation broadcasting their radar and then they share information with the rest of the group

    5. BVR missiles ( both SAM and AAM ) ) do not fly a direct path at target , they follow a ballistic path ( lead intercept ) : climb up to high altitude after launched , cruise in very thin air ,then dive down at the point where enemy aircraft is predicted to come there , as a result , information like target velocity and range to target are extremely important for them , both things that RWR are really bad at ( IRST got the same problem but at close range they can use LRF to measure range and velocity )

    6. You seem to be extremely one-sided in your assessment.

      We will have multiple F-35s just waiting to pounce while the enemy will only have a single aircraft. Why won't the enemy have multiple aircraft generating multiple RWR bearings that would result in an exact location? Why won't the enemy have AWACS? Why won't the enemy have multiple land based radar sites?

      We will see every enemy aircraft and no enemy will see our F-35s? You indicate that enemy interceptors will have no hope of seeing our aircraft. Apparently, the enemy IRST, radar, RWR, AWACS, land based radar, etc. will be unable to spot our F-35s while we will see them no matter what degree of stealth, ECM, etc. they have. You even say the enemy can't attack until visual range.

      Our stealth seems perfect while the enemy's stealth seems totally ineffectual.

      I'm really puzzled where you got the notion that I've said that an enemy can launch based on a single RWR bearing only. Feel free to quote the passage where I said that because I'm pretty sure I didn't.

      While I'd like to continue a discussion, I really can't given the one-sided nature of your views. Oh well, you're welcome to your views. Enjoy the blog!

    7. Dude , you totally misunderstood my point , i never said there is only one 1 enemy aircraft while our side have multiple aircraft .
      how about this , let think of a specific scenario :
      enemy have 10 Rafale , 1 AWACs and 1 support jamming aircraft , our side have 10 F-35 and 1 support jamming aircraft
      enemy side will have the AWACs transmitting and share information with the Rafale
      our side will have 1 F-35 transmitting and share information will others F-35
      Both side will have their support jamming aircraft ( or decoys such as MALD-J ) transmitting screen jamming too
      So practically speaking ,what each side saw on their RWR is 2 enemy aircraft transmitting , rely on their RWR they will be oblivious the others 9 aircrafts that remain silents
      Now stealth come to play, if an aircraft have smaller RCS , it will be detected at a shorter distance , and if they have smaller RCS the burn-through range ( the distance at which radar can neutralize the ECM effect ) of enemy radar is shorter too
      take the Rafale and F-35 as example : the F-35 RCS is 100 times smaller than Rafale ( -30dBsm vs -10 dBsm ) so according to radar equation : to achieve similar jamming effectiveness , the jammer on F-35 side only need to be 1% as powerful as Rafale side to achieve equal effectiveness , alternatively if they use similar kind of jammer , then the burn-through range of radar again F-35 is only 10% as big compared to Rafale ( which mean if a ground radar can see pass Rafale jamming from 400 km aways , it can only do so again F-35 from 40 km ),So yes sending none stealthy aircraft again stealthy one will lead them into a really dangerous situation

      about IRST , it is extremely weather dependent system , practically useless the moment adversary decided to fly into cloud , and it still have the great disadvantages of a passives system , it very hard for IRST to determine range or velocity without LRF , and LRF range are often not go pass 20-30 km
      another problem is : when you see an IRST system have advertised range as 200 km , it doesnt mean anything fly within 200 km will be detected , it mean in perfect weather , maximum zoom , tail on aspect , the system will be able to detect a target from that distance . Take the OLS-35 ( IRST system on Su-35S) as example : detection range again tail on aspect target is 90 km , again head on target that value reduced to merely 25-30 km , and the LRF range of that system is just over 20 km
      Obviously, if enemy also have stealth aircraft like PAK-FA , J-20 , J-31 then it a different story , winner will be decided more by tactic than the aircraft characteristics , but to think that 4.5 gen fighters can gain significant advantages again VLO fighters is just ridiculous

    8. There's nothing I can productively respond to in that. Your welcome to your views. Enjoy the blog!


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