Tag-Archive for » weapon systems «

B1-B training mission

A two-ship formation of B-1B Lancers assigned to the 28th Bomb Squadron, Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, release chaff and flares while maneuvering over New Mexico during a training mission Feb. 24, 2010. Dyess celebrates the 25th anniversary of the first B-1B bomber arriving at the base. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)

Source: AF.mil (full size 2100 x 1236 px)

Hope they’re worth it

Stephen Trimble at The DEW Line notes that by the end of FY 2011, DoD will have paid out USD $67.9 billion for 101 (on-order) F-35 aircraft since contract award in October 2001, with somewhere between 28 and 58 of those being delivered.

Meanwhile, also in FY 2011, the same contractor (Lockheed) will have been paid 66.7 billion for the F-22 program, with 188 aircraft on contract and nearly the entire fleet delivered.

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Nuclear strategies: India vs. Pakistan

One of the reasons I enjoy reading the gentlemen at ArmsControlWonk is that they consistently have decent open-source analysis grounded in realistic assessment of weapon (and development) capabilities.  It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s probably the best online information you can find in a non-classified source.  Although the authors and I are surely on opposite ends of the political spectrum, they do not (usually) go in for easy, empty platitudes.  I may not always agree with their prescriptions, but they do go to some pains to help one comprehend the methods by which they reach their conclusions.  Generally speaking, their writing tends to recognise that nuclear weapons exist for a number of rational reasons, are likely to continue existing as long as those reasons exist, and the only way to actually achieve deterrence and non-proliferation goals is to address the underlying security issues in a realistic fashion.

Earlier this week, Mr. Michael Krepon posted a note at ArmsControlWonk about Indian nuclear strategy, quoting extensively from a book (Crafting peace in Kashmir: through a realist lens, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2004) by retired Vice Admiral Verghese Koithara, Indian Navy.  The admiral’s brief but insightful discussion of the realities driving Indian and Pakistani nuclear strategy is worth thinking about.

The nuclear strategies of both countries emphasise deterrence, but there is a fundamental difference between the two in that Pakistan’s strategy is aimed at deterring a conventional threat from India, while India’s is aimed at deterring a nuclear one from Pakistan. Since a conventional confrontation is easier to develop and must almost invariably precede a nuclear one, Pakistan’s deterrence has to function much more actively than India’s.  This has an impact on force structure, force posture, and the relationship between conventional and nuclear strategies.  As the conventional military balance continues to shift in India’s favour, Pakistan’s reliance on its nuclear capability will increase and so will its effort to lower the nuclear threshold.  Thus Pakistan’s strategy is likely to emphasize not just ‘first use’ but ‘early first use’ in the coming years. The big problem for Pakistan is that not only is the conventional military balance in India’s favour, but so is the nuclear one.  Pakistan was able to maintain conventional operational parity with India for many decades, but is now losing ground rapidly.  Much the same is going to happen in the nuclear field.

— Koithara, Verghese (VADM, IN).  “Nuclear Danger.” Crafting peace in Kashmir: through a realist lens.  New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2004.  p. 113. [Emphasis mine]

Worth reading both the ArmsControlWonk impressions and, for more detail, the chunk of the “Nuclear Danger” chapter that Google Books excerpts.

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The Future was 20 Years Ago

Majors Beth Jones (left) and Kevin Parrish, pilots with the 7th Expeditionary Air Combat and Control Squadron Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) crew members, prepare to take-off on a mission over Iraq on Sept. 1. This flight marks the 116th Air Control Wing’s Joint STARS 40,000 combat hours supporting the Global War on Terror. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon II)

Dilbert author Scott Adams ponders how future iterations of unmanned aerial systems will make COIN warfare more dangerous for the insurgents.

I think the next big leap in drone technology will be artificial intelligence for locating targets. Humans would still have to make firing decisions, but I can imagine drones finding suspicious patterns of movement on their own and alerting humans. For example, any vehicle that stops at night on a road used by U.S. ground forces might be suspected of planting an IED. A human could decide if the suspect was up to no good.

There are probably a number of movement patterns followed by insurgents and terrorists. Maybe drones could learn to detect children in any outdoor group, based on their relative size, and assume such a group is not looking for a fight. Perhaps combatants follow routes less travelled by enemy ground forces, or travel only at night, or have more metal objects with them. The point is that drones will someday do a good job of identifying suspected bad guys automatically.

— Adams, Scott.  “Drone War.” Dilbert.com / Scott Adams Blog, 17 December 2009.

It’s not uncommon for tech-loving geeks to get hung up on the hardware or software, assuming that is what will drive the innovation.  What Mr. Adams does not realise is that the technology he is describing exists today—and has existed for about twenty years—albeit not aboard an unmanned platform.

The capability was designed back in 1985, to track the movement of Warsaw Pact armour and troop formations in the event of an invasion.  It is known as Ground Target Motion Indicator (GTMI), and it flies aboard the E-8 Joint STARS.  A single E-8 can monitor up to 600 targets at ranges up to 250 kilometres; Predators and Reapers must be much, much closer than that, and can only track a fraction as many targets simultaneously.

Two prototype E-8s earned high marks from AFCENT during the 1991 Gulf War.  In that conflict they were used to detect and track Scud launchers, convoys, vehicle marshalling areas, routes of retreat and so on.  They also contributed in a similar capacity for NATO missions in the Balkans, including 1999’s Operation Allied Force.

In 2003’s Operation Iraqi Freedom, the E-8s were initially typecast as an armoured unit tracker once again, but they have since developed new roles in our ongoing COIN conflicts.

Typical data includes distance and heading, plus a depiction of the size of a column. Analysts on the aircraft can also give a strong characterization of what they believe the vehicles may be. It’s not positive identification, but over time, analysts grow skilled in judging whether a trail of dots are people or different types of vehicles

…Buried in the billions of pixels of data are complete information sets on movement in the battlespace. With its unique wide area coverage, the Joint STARS radar archives weeks of enemy activity.

Jewels of data jump out from the wide area scans. Properly refined, the data creates a revealing picture of enemy movement around known locations and uncovers new sites through monitoring unexpected volume of traffic. Dots that pop up out of nowhere can tip off analysts to new insurgent routes, tactics, and hideouts. It is battlespace preparation—in reverse.

Pattern analysis was first used like crime-scene forensics. Analysts can call up old moving target indicator data and focus on the site of an improvised explosive device attack or the compound of a suspected terrorist. If analysts know where to look, Joint STARS can fill them in on the patterns of movement over the time preceding an attack. By comparing tracks day after day, enemy routines come into focus.

Joint STARS coverage is so wide that as long as the aircraft’s orbit was in the right country, the old logs would reveal practically all the movement to and from a site.

— Grant, Rebecca.  “JSTARS Wars.”  Air Force magazine, November 2009.

Two years ago, the Air Force started reviewing and analysing the JSTARS tapes nightly, to aid ground forces in planning their operations the following day.  That effort has paid dividends and continues today.

Next up are refinements to the radar and software which will—eventually—permit JSTARS sensors to reliably resolve individuals and waterborne targets.

Recent tests conducted on dismounted targets—people—suggest that Joint STARS moving target indicator may be reaching a new level of refinement. It may be possible in the future to characterize the moving target indicator “dots” as sheep, people, cars, trucks, or other types of targets. With upgrades, “I think they can get it down to actually being able to track a relatively heavily laden human,” said Grabowski.

— Grant, Rebecca.  “JSTARS Wars.”  Air Force magazine, November 2009.

1st Lt. Nathan Sukolsky, 7th Expeditionary Air Combat and Control Squadron Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) air weapons officer, tracks suspected movements on radar during a mission over Iraq on Sept. 1. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon II)

UPDATE: This is one of the modern C4ISR systems that are indispensable to modern warfighters, but tend not to be reflected in Hollywood’s depictions of contemporary or future warfare.  I am betting that no wide area GMTI makes an appearance in Avatar, for example.

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An MQ-1B Predator from the 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron takes off in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, July 9, 2008. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sabrina Johnson)

The Wall Street Journal has reported that our medieval enemies in Southwest Asia are able to grab live video feeds from unmanned aerial systems operating over Southwest Asia, using a cheap and readily available software package.

“Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations.

Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes’ systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber — available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet — to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter.

…Last December, U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered copies of Predator drone feeds on a laptop belonging to a Shiite militant, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter. “There was evidence this was not a one-time deal,” this person said. The U.S. accuses Iran of providing weapons, money and training to Shiite fighters in Iraq, a charge that Tehran has long denied.

…The difficulty, officials said, is that adding encryption to a network that is more than a decade old involves more than placing a new piece of equipment on individual drones. Instead, many components of the network linking the drones to their operators in the U.S., Afghanistan or Pakistan have to be upgraded to handle the changes.

— Gorman, Siobhan, Yochi J. Dreazen and August Cole.  “Insurgents Hack U.S. Drones.” Wall Street Journal, 18 December 2009.

If you are wondering how in the world this is possible, it is because the MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers use unencrypted civil, not military, SATCOM links.  Earlier this year, when SecDef Gates and his acquisition czar John Young were busy putting the boots to the AF for failing to have 31 UAS CAPs over Iraq and Afghanistan, they were also busy killing funding for next-generation SATCOM upgrades, such as the Transformational Satellite (TSAT).

You see, USAF does not have the SATCOM bandwidth to host the UAS data feeds in-house, and it won’t until it has a full WGS (Wideband Global SATCOM) constellation on orbit.

The Predator and Reaper rely on commercial, unencrypted links, which could potentially be intercepted by someone. Much of the UAS control is also done on Ku frequency bands, a frequency intended for satellite control, not air-to-ground communications. As a result, UAS control is a low priority—and the Air Force risks not having assured access.

To overcome these problems, the Air Force recognizes that the future Wideband Global SATCOM satellite or similar technologies can provide the secure communication links. In addition, the service is looking at potential surrogate satellite networks using high-altitude aircraft, such as lighter-than-air vehicles, to provide a data link network node.

— Isherwood, Michael W.  “Roadmap for Robotics.” Air Force magazine, December 2009, p. 34.

The question I asked (back in April 2009) was “will it still make sense to flood the sky with an ever-increasing number of UCAVs if your ability to see their output is constrained by your network?”  Well, we now know that DoD’s solution to the constrained milcom network was to use civil assets instead.  And as we are finding out now, there is a cost to that.

(Hat tip to Neptunus Lex for spotting the story.)

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Northrop Grumman takes KC-X ball and goes home

I can hardly believe they would give up a prize as lucrative as the KC-X contract, so this must be one hell of a tactical threat. Of the kind you only get to put in play once—make a habit of it, and you look like a spoiled brat.

In the words of NG’s President and Chief Operating Officer, Wes Bush:

“…I must regrettably inform you that in the absence of a responsive set of changes in the final RfP, Northrop Grumman has determined that it cannot submit a bid to the department for the KC-X programme,” he said.

EADS has said it stands by team partner Northrop Grumman’s decision.

Bush added that the DoD has shown a “clear preference” for a smaller aircraft than Northrop Grumman’s KC-45 offering – which is based on the Airbus A330 commercial aircraft – “with limited multirole capability”, and that the “imposition” of this “places contractual and financial burdens on the company that we simply cannot accept”.

— Wagstaff-Smith, Keri. “Northrop Grumman declares it will not submit KC-X bid unless RfP is changed.” Jane’s Information Group, 03 December 2009.

Presumably NG hopes a legion of congressmen will ride to its rescue, and demand the Air Force re-examine its request for proposal.  Otherwise, Boeing wins by default…?