Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Where's the Escort?

We’ve discussed the highly aggressive (unsafe) intercepts performed by Russian aircraft against US ships and planes.  Yet another one has just occurred with a Russian fighter intercepting a P-8 Poseidon in an unsafe manner by passing within 10 ft of the US aircraft (1). 

Of course, there’s always a chorus of cries for more restraint and appeasement by the timid crowd.  Apparently, there’s no amount of provocation that will elicit a reaction from these people – but that’s not the point of this post.

The point is, where’s the US escort for a high value unit like the Poseidon?  This is our newest and most capable maritime patrol aircraft.  Do we really want to risk having it forced down and captured by Russia, to be stripped of all secrets as happened to the EP-3 that was forced down, seized, and stripped by the Chinese a few years ago?  Doesn’t basic common sense suggest that a high value unit like the P-8 have a protective escort readily available?

P-8 Poseidon - We're Going To Lose One

I’m not suggesting that the escort instantly fire on any Russian aircraft it sees but there can’t be anything wrong with exhibiting some aggressive intercept flying of our own on any approaching Russian aircraft. 

I’ll repeat my past call.  Let’s respond or leave.  If we’re not going to protect our own forces then let’s leave the disputed areas.  There is absolutely no point to having military forces in a region if we absolutely refuse to take action no matter the provocation.


(1)CBS News website, “Russian jet flies within 10 ft of US Navy aircraft”, Associated Press, 7-Sep-2016,


  1. It boggles my mind that after the EP-3 incident we are flying these things close enough to get harassed by other nations fighters, but not providing any sort of escort.

    The P-8 is new, for goodness sake. Presumably it has some of our best technology in it.

    I concur. If a mission isn't worth doing well, or we are only able to do it half way due to ??? considerations, we shouldn't be doing it. We do more harm to ourselves and our allies by acting like roly poly toy.

    I do wonder. Is it Navy policy? Or is it higher up? While the Navy hasn't impressed me recently it wouldn't shock me if the civilian leadership said 'Send the P8, but don't send armed fighters, its too confrontational.'

  2. For decades the military (USN and USAF) has been flying various missions along the border of the Soviet Union or now Russia and along the Chinese border -- and the Russians have been flying their long range aircraft over our forces, all unescorted on both sides. That also included our AGER and their Electronic Trawlers. The Navy in the past used VQ Squadrons for that purpose, but now they call them something else.

    That is the way it is and it has been that way forever. My father spent 30 years in the Navy, retiring as an AMCM. We were on active duty together for his last few years. I recall talking to him in the mid-1960's when he completed a VP deployment to the Med. They occasionally flew their P2V's into the Black Sea (alone) without any escort, as he said just to tell the Soviets that both sides could fly into the others' over water space.

    I've personally been in a confrontation at Sea with a Soviet Electronic Trawler -- and afterwards we communicated and shot the breeze with each other using International Morse Code via Signal Light. They initiated it and they came alongside each day we were on Yankee Station and we chatted -- socially. Our Captain sent them Ice Cream and Milk via Helicopter. They had been at sea much longer than had we. They even steamed by to say goodbye, right after our Task Group received its Orders to depart Station for Home -- what does that tell you?

    Other than flying / steaming along the border of North Korea you are not going to be escorted. And, maybe unescorted when flying close to North Korea. That is the way the game is played. These are not meant to be confrontational missions.

    That is the military -- it may not sound rational to civilians, or even to some in the military, but that's the way it is. And, don't think we didn't harass the Soviet's Bear Bombers used for the same type mission that P-8 was flying. I've seen some fascinating photos taken by one fighter pilot of another flying his plane upside down over the top of a Soviet Aircraft and of the Soviets putting a sign with a written response in the window of one of their aircraft for close flying U.S. fighters. I caught a flight on a Helicopter, the pilot was someone I had known for a while. On the way to where we were going he had a little fun diving on a Soviet Trawler. I never knew that type helicopter could dive like that. I had anchored myself to the doorway (so to speak) behind the pilots catching the view. That's just the way young (and sometimes older) pilots / officers on occasion act. We do just like they do -- or at least did in my day.

    The mission is to show a presence, not get into a confrontation. Again, in the military it is just part of the game. If someone doesn't like that form of mission / adventure, they shouldn't fly those missions and instead find something else to do. It's a cold business.

    I am not sure if the pilot of the P-3 which the Chinese Fighter collided with near Hainan Island did or did not get himself into trouble, quietly or otherwise, for not ditching his plane in the water, before or after the crew would have bailed out. You can correct me if I am incorrect, but if I recall correctly the Chinese pilot was killed as a result of that collision. He flew to close. Sometimes one screws up and pay the price.

    1. You've missed my point. The issue is not whether some pilot wants to have fun and show off. The issue is the protection of our technology, computer software, etc. It's one thing for both sides to push the boundaries of little bit but it's another to create a situation in which we could lose a P-8 and all it carries to the Russians.

      Also, although I didn't bring this up, it's one thing for aircraft to play chicken. Losing a $30M-$200M aircraft really doesn't matter. However, when a Russian aircraft is buzzing a US Aegis destroyer we run the risk of losing a $2B ship if the pilot miscalculates or has a mechanical problem and crashes into the ship.

    2. Actually, I understand your underlying point, which is well taken. One would believe that the Navy, et al. should be concerned about losing secrets, etc to the Russians or any other opponent nation. However, the Navy and, the Air Force which engage in those type of situations just don't view it that way. Recall that about two or so years after the Pueblo was seized by the North Koreans (actually surrendered to them) an EC-121's were flying unescorted VQ type missions along the coast of North Korea -- and one was shot down without any U.S. response. They are not going to potentially set up a confrontation over those types of missions. It's the price of doing business in that world.

      The most the Navy will do / may do is get perturbed if the pilot lands his damaged aircraft at an Opponent's Air Base to save the crew. Protect the secrets first and worry about yourself and the crew later. They may even give the pilot a medal for public consumption, then wreck his career with a rather bad fitness report -- or maybe not. But they probably won't love him.

      I remember in the 1950's my father losing some friends who flew Navy PB-4Ys unescorted along the border of some Warsaw Pact country. Their mission was to draw out the Russian radar. They were unescorted and shot down. Like he said, it was the mission, that's the way it is. In those days, they just kept it quiet, no internet so no one heard about it.

      Your concern is well taken, but other than some Secretary of Defense like Carter complaining to the news, absent a sea change in attitude, in culture, in mentality things will go on as before. It's the culture. And, if a ship is damaged, that will be the end of the Captain's career advancement along with some other Officers -- no matter the Navy's public persona. Your concern is logical and correct, but the Navy has its own unwritten rules of operational behavior and we learn as Junior Officers logic no matter how sound is not going to change them. But, for all that you have the civilian's benefit of being correct in your concerns.

    3. I have the utmost respect for tradition. Most traditions are beneficial or, at worst, harmless.

      I have the utmost disdain for stupidity. Stupidity all too often disguises itself as tradition.

      One of the reasons this blog exists is to call out stupidity in the Navy.

      Thus, your explanation thoroughly documents the current situation but it's a case of stupidity disguised as tradition and has to change. In the days of PBY's, no one but the affected crew cared whether the aircraft was shot down or captured. Now, with the plethora of advanced technology and software on every ship and plane, we have to care. We're losing enough secrets to cyber/hacking without giving up entire working models of our most advanced stuff. I'm probably preaching to the choir on this so I'll stop.

      The point of this comment is to let you know that I understand why we do what we do. However, as I said, one of the reasons for this blog is to try to shine a light on stupidity and prompt changes. Being outside the Navy, I'm in a position to criticize and offer alternatives that serving personnel may not be. I get lots of email feedback from active duty personnel so I know this gets read. How much effect, if any, it has is an open question. My hope is that my writings can have at least some small positive impact eventually.

      So, I'll continue to highlight stupidity and call for change while understanding why it exists and the difficulty inherent in changing it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got another windmill to tilt at!

    4. How much more money are we going to have to spend to pay for the escort flights? Flight time isn't cheap and we will either have to fly our planes more or cutback on flight time elsewhere. In addition, what is a fighter escort going to do if an unfriendly plane comes close? Is it really the case that a fighter escort would stop an aggressive pilot from getting close to the P-8?

    5. Well, let me ask you, what's the cost of a lost P-8?

      What's the cost of the lost technology if a P-8 is forced down on a Russian base?

      What's the cost if our complete, working multi-static array technology is captured by the Russians?

      What's the cost if we lose our ability to track Russian and Chinese subs because they have our P-8 technology?

      What other comm technology, sensors, software, and protocols are on board a P-8 and what's the cost of losing all those secrets?

      Come up with a cost for all that and then compare it to the cost of operating a fighter escort and tell me what you find.

      And, yes, a fighter escort, operating as aggressively as the Russians do can certainly make harassing a P-8 not worth the effort and risk. And if the Russians persist then, yes, shoot them down. The Russians aren't going start a war over one downed aircraft but it will stop them from being so aggressive. You'll recall that Turkey shot down a Russian aircraft and Russia did declare war. They would be even less likely to do so over an incident with the US where they were clearly in the wrong.

  3. First off let me put this in perspective. I know CNOPS knows this, however I will preface. During the Cold War, up to the demise of the Soviet Union, we expected to be intercepted and to intercept in a high stakes Democracy vs. Communism game that was dead serious...I was there. This goes both ways. We were intercepted and expected it in return. Did unsafe intercepts and escorts happen in the olden days? Yes. EP-3 incidents from mid air collisions- yes, although probably not as shocking to folks of the 50,60,70's..

    The incident itself- 30 ft is fine. 10- ft is too close. I do not know what the reportable rules are for our forces. Unprofessional by the Rooskie?- probably. Unfortunately, one has to assume the intercepting fighter crew doesn't want to die. Any showing off like that CHICOM pilot did off Hainan Is. will end in a Darwin inspired death.

    To the Russians, the Black Sea where this occurred is their home ground. Front line fighters are going to take a look, especially something as new as the P-8. Count on it. Not that it matter but Black Sea US intercepts from open press reports on intercepts have recently been KC-135 EW aircraft from my reading. Sort of odd a P-8A ASW bird would be in there. In the Cold War days we didn't go flying much over there, definitely no carrier aircraft. I remember a Small Boy cruiser/destroyer would take a tour once in a while for freedom of navigation through there. What I'm saying is if your are reconnoitering the Black Sea expect to be intercepted.

    The pilots of P-3/P8/KC aircraft can't see very well what is happening aft and they get nervous. Next we hear of it we are claiming victim status. I am NOT doubting our folks reports or calling them wankers but it would be nice if someone would release some video showing us what's happening. Like I said if you go there expect to be intercepted.

    As far as providing fighter escort, IMO that would defeat the purpose of why we fly ISR aircraft near our adversaries territories under international norms, and also be a huge drain (unsupportable) on tanker/fighter resources that are not always worldwide like the movies portray. Plus, don't you think that taking that action would be even more provocative?

  4. Its an old game where we harass the Russians. The P-8s cruise just outside the 12-mile limit, and violate it by a few miles, to see how Russian air defenses react. Then when the fighters respond, they scoot back outside the 12-mile limit. The Russian fighters get annoyed. Nothing new, but why must we play this game? Is someone planning bombing runs? Or in this case, looking for "The Russians are Evil" press to boost budgets. We don't know if this really happened. An Admiral can just announce it.

    1. I'm with you. I don't believe the Earth is round. A teacher just announced that one day in class.

  5. IMHO US should use more militizied airframes for such missions, even a modernized B52 which would not offer improvements in speed or stealth or other such things to increase suitability would be an improvement due massively increased range.

    Russia built recon variants of it's beer bombers. I think we could have had recon variants of the B1, or a similar plane. An AWACS/MPC (the kind without the tail boom) based on a B1R type plane, i.e. B1R with large Radar at front, and conformal radar like gulfrstream plane would be much better suited for that threat environment.

    In reality since production dead and B1 is expensive plane to maintain, not feasible now, unless we are talking about converting existing planes, and dual purposing them, i.e. running patrols with armed bombers.

    New build is still viable, either reduced signature and/or speed would help survivability. Jamming and other defensive measures could also be included. IMHO such planes should be able to buddy tank escorts.

    IMHO I think Bomber/Patrol fighters are very good for this purpose because they skirt around outside of A2AD, and have weapons needed to attack. Imagine B1R/F22 supercruise patrol in east asia?

    1. A new build would be quite expensive and would take money away from other key priorities.

      It may be easier to militarize a civilian airframe than anything else and upgrade it so that it can become more survivable. The problem is that the aircraft has to be large enough to carry the necessary equipment, so a fighter may not work.

    2. Also, keep in mind that the F-22 is not as long-ranged as some of the longer ranged patrol craft. It would be dependent on refueling tankers.


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