CHINA BUYS TU-22 BACKFIRES?: NOT JUST THE PLANES, THE ENTIRE PRODUCTION LINE…

Our good friend David Cenciotti over at the Aviationist.com reports that China has purchased at the least a significant batch of Cold War era Tu-22 backfires from Russia, although it appears that this could actually be a deal for the entire TU-22M production line that has been dormant for over a decade, as well as the intellectual property that goes along with it. If, and I stress the if, this report is proves to be true then China has just made yet another massive commitment toward its strategy of area denial vis-a-vis the US Navy and other smaller naval players in the region.

Some would think that China buying a relic like the TU-22 does not represent much of a threat, especially when compared with modern low observable bombers and UAVs currently serving, or being tested, in the US. I disagree with this stance entirely. The Backfire is a fantastically potent long-range anti-ship weapons platform that can also carry around plenty of other gear to do other missions, such as standoff or escort jamming, network relay, and long range radar targeting to name a few. When paired with the modern version of the KH-22/32, or similar indigenously developed supersonic anti-ship missile, with over a 300 mile range, the great utility of the TU-22 to the Chinese Military is clear. The Backfire will add a much-needed anti-access layer of defense against US Naval Carrier Strike Groups operating in the region.

China seeks to create a 1000 mile buffer around its shores that will by and large keep American fighter aircraft and cruise missiles outside of striking range against strategic targets located on their mainland. The TU-22M, loaded with two to three KH-32 (or similar) anti-shipping missiles, has a true combat radius of about 1500 miles. The anti-ship missiles themselves have a range of around 300 miles for supersonic anti-ship variants and up to 1500 miles for subsonic anti-ship cruise missile variants. For this piece we will only talk about the shorter ranged supersonic anti-ship missiles as they pose a much greater threat to American naval flotillas than the lumbering long range subsonic variety. Also, targeting becomes an issue with such a long range and slow flying missile capability.

The pairing of the TU-22M and a KH-32 type of missile gives China a relevant and well established area denial buffer of about 1900 miles. Thus putting US Carrier Strike Groups outside of their offensive striking distance by a factor of two for their Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles and over a factor of three for the F/A-18E/F and F-35C fleet. So when it comes to inter-atmospheric anti-ship missile delivery, China has chosen a credible and commercially available weapons platform, and potentially its already integrated and developed weaponry, to get the job done. Furthermore, the swing-wing giant has considerable room for growth and weight reduction as it was built using 1970′s avionics and construction techniques. If modernized in terms of both its cockpit interface and sensors, as well as its propulsion and structures, the TU-22 would remain as one of the best maritime standoff weapon systems in the world for the foreseeable future, a purpose configured aircraft focused on regional deterrence instead of offensive long-range strike. Additionally the TU-22 Backfire is fast, very fast (tops out at about M1.9 but can reach lower +1 mach numbers with ease). This means that once it launches its suicidal payload it can run like hell to avoid counter attack. This is a big deal, as currently China’s archaic long range anti-shipping platforms are not high performance in nature, although they do possess superior range when compared with the Backfire (see Xian H-6).

All this comes down to a layered strategy of area denial being carefully constructed by the Chinese. There has been a ton of talk about their shadowy DF-21D “anti-ship ballistic missile” program over the last few years, a weapon system that China has already questionably declared operational. Still, I have heard no definitive information as to how accurate or even capable this system is at this stage of its development and clearly China lacks certain components which are very important in making the DF-21D an effective military capability (more on this later). Regardless, America should not discount the ballistic anti-ship missile concept or its potential effectiveness. Even if it has a 15% success rate, this simply means that China will barrage our flotillas with a salvo of these carrier killers in an attempt to score a successful hit. The necessity of salvo attacks actually compounds the US Navy’s force protection and air defense problems as dealing with saturation attacks is still not their strong suit. So does China’s claimed acquisition of a costly long-range, supersonic, air-breathing anti-ship missile delivery system with a lot of room for growth signal that their shadowy DF-21D program is still more of a dream than it is a reality? Possibly, but I would rather classify China’s choice to procure the TU-22M as one of common sense strategy and economic opportunity than a move to temporarily fulfill an unplanned strategic deficiency.

Adding a potent layer of area denial capability via the TU-22 gives China redundancy when it comes to their naval anti-access strategy and clearly makes their potential naval foes in the region much more vulnerable to successful attack. To my knowledge, as it sits now, AEGIS ballistic missile defense ships cannot look for air-breathing and exo-atmospheric threats at the same time. This problem is solved by deploying to troubled regions with multiple AEGIS platforms that can split the duty up during high-risk phases of their mission. Still, this fact highlights the reality that a coordinated strike emanating from the air, inner space, and potentially underwater at a single time can cripple a Carrier Strike Group, especially if such an attack was made with large quantities of munitions. All it takes is one
“expendable” to hit its target to potentially leave a Carrier Strike Group without its primary offensive punch, the aircraft on the deck of the aircraft carrier that serves as its centerpiece. Additionally, an area denial / anti access (AD/A2) strategy is more about deterrence than anything else, so providing another clear reason not to sail within striking range of China’s shores during a time of peer state conflict undeniably strengthens China’s ability to deter such an incursion in the first place. On the economic side of the equation, the TU-22 has not been in production for over a decade and Russia will continue to draw down its aging air forces in exchange for modernization of remaining “legacy” platforms and for replacement of them by newer generation combat aircraft now coming online. In other words, metaphorically speaking, China bought an inventory and a factory that makes something nobody wants anymore. Meanwhile, Russia is all about aggressive military exports and the peddling of its Cold War surplus inventory in exchange for fresh cash infusions whenever and wherever possible. So, in the case of the TU-22 the price was most likely very right and the requirement is clearly very real. In other words, the old adage “some deals just make themselves” is alive and well in the world of weapons exportation and proliferation, “one nation’s junk is another nation’s treasure” and so on…

We all know that China loves to reverse engineer pretty much anything they can get their hands on. Don’t hate the player, hate the game I guess. None-the-less, seeing as they are already building their own SU-27 derivatives, one of which is carrier capable, what is not to say that the technology gained by basically taking over the defunct Backfire program is not valuable to them in ways that are not totally clear to us at this time? As I discussed earlier, if China develops the TU-22 with new avionics, motors, subsystems and structures, they will have an incredibly powerful asset that can be used for many things, even as an air to air arsenal ship for ultra long-range air to air missiles, or as a heavy-duty jamming platform that can keep up with a formation of fighters for medium-range strike and counter air duties. In essence, what China is getting buy purchasing not just a few dozen TU-22s but the actual means of production and intellectual property related to the aircraft is a high performance asset that is uniquely suited for their geography and strategy, as well as technology transfer that can  one day lead to the indigenous development of a much more advanced long range strike platform. China has followed with a laser like focus the crawl-walk-run strategy when it comes to rapidly developing their indigenous aerospace and defense manufacturing capabilities, and the “crawling” and “walking” have mainly been done in “other nations shoes,” or in this case via technology transfer from the importation and eventual licensing of foreign high-end combat aircraft. This strategy has worked on a mind numbingly successful level, as China has gone from manufacturing MiG-21 derivatives to viable stealth fighters in a matter of a decade or so, so why would they depart from this proven model now when it comes to long range strike?

Like almost everything else AD/A2 related it all comes down to targeting. The ocean is a big, big place. Finding even a large US flotilla in it is like looking for a single human hair in a swimming pool. In order for the Backfire to accomplish its mission it needs to know where to go to attack, or even generally where to patrol in an attempt to search for targets. Currently, China’s DF-21D ballistic anti-ship missile system relies on over the horizon radar for targeting, whose accuracy and fidelity is questionable at best. Additionally, these large fixed radar sites will be the first thing struck, even at great costs, in a war between China and the US. So, it primarily comes down to long endurance aircraft, ideally unmanned and low observable in nature, to provide key targeting info to any long-range maritime strike capability. This is an area where China has lagged far behind the US, at least until we lost a RQ-170 Sentinel, in almost totally intact form, over Iran a year ago (please read this popular Aviationintel exclusive on this topic: http://aviationintel.com/2012/01/26/chinas-anti-ship-ballistic-missile-the-lost-rq-170-sentinel/, you may finish reading it with a totally new perspective on the “Sentinel Down” incident and its long-term repercussions). In some ways, investing into a high-performance anti-ship strike force supports my theory that China’s number one technology of urgent need is wide area maritime surveillance of an unmanned variety, especially the type that has low potential for detection when it comes to its radar cross-section and electromagnetic emissions signature (low probability of intercept data-links and radar). America’s lost RQ-170 most likely gave China a large portion of the puzzle pieces they have desperately needed to begin developing such an enabling surveillance platform, and now they can prepare to capitalize on their dawning maritime targeting capability by supporting it with potent offensive weaponry like the TU-22.

The Chinese TU-22 story just further makes the case against America’s losing strategy of putting massive amounts of resources into short ranged low observable manned fighter aircraft. We desperately need medium and long-range low observable strike platforms, preferably unmanned for the medium range force (please read this in depth Aviationintel analysis on the chronic need for a low observable long range weapons and sensor truck). Additionally, we need to further invest into building up massive stocks of survivable standoff weaponry to be used in conjunction with these platforms as well as to give lower cost and highly reliable “legacy” platforms survivability during future wars. The pairing of standoff munitions with low observable long-range combat aircraft, especially ones with human beings at the controls, makes sense as risking these assets via flying directly into an enemy’s air defense umbrella during the opening stages of a campaign is lunacy. As key integrated air defense components are destroyed using standoff weapons and low observable delivery platforms, these high value assets can push ever further into the enemy’s territory with a much better chances of survival than attacking directly at the beginning of hostilities while the enemy’s integrated air defense system is fully intact. Once manned low observable aircraft can operate over the battlefield directly, affordable legacy platforms that possess shorter range, and rely on close proximity to vulnerable tanker aircraft, can begin hauling standoff weaponry to the edge of the enemy’s remaining air defense capabilities in an economical fashion. In the end, standoff weapons lowers the risk of losing near priceless long-range first day of war assets during the opening days of a conflict and keeps older and/or less expensive platforms relevant throughout the campaign. The problem is that these advanced standoff munitions are not cheap, but they are much cheaper comparatively than procuring an all “first day of war” fighter force that does not even possess the range to strike an enemy using advanced AD/A2 tactics even when paired with such standoff weaponry. In many ways, when it comes to the modern era of air combat, the munitions make the mission, not their launch platform. There is only so much money to go around, so let’s invest heavier in standoff weaponry and a flexible “high-low” force structure instead of a one-size-fits all manned fighter jet with short range and a huge price tag.

What I am getting at here is that the F-35, especially the A and C models (at least the B model gives the USA 10 more “first day of war aircraft” carriers and can operate from dispersed staging areas), are a massive waste of money when it comes to our future strategic focus, that focus being China and the Pacific Theater.

The F-35 is wasteful jobs and export program dreamed up by fighter pilots with stars on their collars and ignorant politicians who hold the purse strings. It has little applicable utility to any of the wars we are fighting in today, or the ones we are likely to fight tomorrow. For those of you who think this is a big leap from the TU-22 narrative and that I have turned this somehow into a hit piece on the F-35, you are both wrong and right. You are wrong when it comes to discounting the validity of bringing up the F-35 “question” in relation to China’s supposed TU-22 developments, and yes this is piece is now partially an F-35 hit job, and deservingly so.

Take the issue at hand, China deploying an upgraded version of the TU-22 Backfire, seeing as it can launch its deadliest payload some 300+ miles from the Carrier Strike Group it is targeting, and seeing as China would most likely stage such an attack using multiple aircraft pushing towards their launch points from different vectors, the F-35C does not have enough gas to maintain vigilance at that range from the carrier for a useful amount of time, thus the F-35C making it to these multiple event horizons and engaging the backfires with much likelihood of success a questionable proposition. Now take a quartet of UCAVs, loaded with medium/long-range air to air missiles and low probability of intercept AESA radars. The UCAVs can individually loiter for hours in the “four corners” surrounding their Carrier Strike Group, at ranges in excess of 1000 miles, without being detected. Now you have a way to neutralize the TU-22 threat as whole, all in a cost-effective manner. Newsflash!: you do not need a 7.5G fighter jet to swat down a massive anti-ship missile toting bomber with a radar cross-section of a five-story building. To deny such a weapons platform the ability to launch of their targets you need persistence and range, neither of which the F-35 possesses.

In many ways, carrier based unmanned combat aircraft technology can work as its own area denial / anti-access weapon system via extended the view of the carrier group and encasing it in a protective screen that is sanitized from incoming threats. For those threats that may leak through the outer omnipresent UCAV screen, traditional Super Hornets would be just as capable as the F-35 at defending the Carrier Strike Group’s “inner sanctum,” along with AEGIS cruisers and destroyers, as well as the Carrier’s own close in weapons systems and evolved Sea Sparrow missiles. It is all about reaching out as far as possible and denying an anti-ship missile toting aircraft like the TU-22 the ability to launch, this is accomplished through range and presence, not high performance.

In the end, by the Navy focusing its dollars and developmental capacity on the F-35C they are choosing to leave our carrier groups more vulnerable than the high/low  manned/unmanned alternative (Super Hornets and UCAVs), one that also represents the future of combat aviation (make sure to read my popular piece “Tyler’s 10 Thoughts On The Future Of Drone Warfare). Furthermore, because the Navy continues with the F-35C program instead of more aggressively developing and procuring UCAVs they choose to limit our carrier’s direct striking distance to about 500 miles instead of over 1000 (unrefueled), all at greater human and thus political risk. In other words, the F-35C, and A for that matter, are a gift to the Chinese as it further enhances their AD/A2 fortress while sucking up funds that could be applied to more relevant longer range manned and unmanned low observable platforms and associated standoff weaponry. The Chinese TU-22 story, if indeed true, is just another indication that we are choosing through misappropriation of resources to create a situation in the Pacific Theater where we are less capable of dealing a potential Chinese foe significant blows in light of their blooming AD/A2 strategy.

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19 Responses to CHINA BUYS TU-22 BACKFIRES?: NOT JUST THE PLANES, THE ENTIRE PRODUCTION LINE…

  1. Eyebrow says:

    While I enjoy reading your posts, a trend that first developed some time ago, is now a recurring theme in almost every post. Your dislike and outright disdain for the F-35 is known by all. Is it necessary to constantly inject this theme into nearly all posts?

    Please know that I do enjoy your writing, and always look forward to a newly added post. This is not intended as a flame at all, though is likely to be received as such. As a reader, I simply hope for a return to earlier days in this sites history, when articles lacked a near constant theme of F-35 disdain.

    • aviationintel.com says:

      Eyebrow- No worries, I appreciate the criticism. In this case the F-35C is part of the story, as I outlined a scenario where we have the capability or are near to it to deny an attack via a TU-22 KH-22/32 weapon system but instead we continue with a flawed procurement strategy. It was a tough call, but when it comes to defending a CSG in a peer state conflict with China this could not be ignored.

  2. andymaus says:

    If I wanted to build a modern bomber and nobody wanted to sell me one, I guess I’d have to buy a Tu-22Mx assembly line and some examples as a down payment on my own design. Like their baby-steps naval carrier, it’s not what they have now but where they’ll be in 10-15 years that is the issue. When we see them produce a heavy strike aircraft with frontal-aspect stealth and LPI electronics in a decade fewer people will be laughing.

    I will reitterate that one peice of the pie that nobody is calculating is China’s ability to stage a manufacturing sprint that the US can’t match. What happens if they break out of a iterative, low-production development cycle at an optimal point and stage a 3 or 5 year sprint to achieve materiel superiority? When they have weapons systems that are 75-80% as effective as ours and suddenly they have multiples of our numbers fielded? Don’t forget how the US won WWII…

  3. Sterling stroebel says:

    Couldn’t agree more with your analysis. The J-20 and TU-22M3 combination will provide a robust and maturing self defense mechanism spanning well over a thousand miles off China’s coastlines. And just to respond to Eybrows post, I’m not sure if there is anything left positive to say about the F-35. It’s a dismal program that leaves me wondering what kind of projects could have actually been achieved for the same price.

  4. Vibhor says:

    Don’t you think that if the tu 22 got close enough to the carrier to cause damage, it would be intercepted by the f-35C ?
    And plz don’t bring your hatred for f 35 and fascination with amraams on a ucav into every article.
    It’s not as easy as you think to integrate amraams on a ucav.

    • aviationintel.com says:

      Vibhor- To keep enough thirsty fighters in the air along the outer end of their combat radius with no external tanking support would be a big job for the USN for sustained ops. I am updating the article to discuss this. In a swarming attack, no way. Also, why would they even be there if they are too far away from the coast to even hit any targets seeing as they are under directly threat from weapons optimized for their destruction. In other words persistent UCAVs will be a much better option.

      I will bring whatever I want into my posts man, and it is not a fascination it is the future. The advantages of such integration are so large it will take place sooner than you think. And what about integrating AIM-120s onto a UCAV is so challenging compared to other advanced munitions, especially those that will use the aircraft’s integrated sensor suite for targeting (SDB II, latest generation JDAMs etc)? It is not 1992, these missiles will not only rely on the shooters radar for mid-course updates, in fact even third party tracking sources will be enough to get them into their terminal homing stage. Upcoming article on this I have been screwing around with for a couple months. Also, the F-35C has no advantage over an IRM Super Hornet with conformal fuel tanks and a central weapons bay for the “fleet defense” mission profile. I am not calling for them to be replaced by UCAVs.

  5. Vibhor says:

    Don’t you think that if a carrier group was attacked by a squadron of j 20s, they won’t even be able to detect them before the carrier is ripped to shreds??
    Can you suggest how we can defend ourselves from such an attack.
    Also instead of cursing the f 35, could you suggest how to improve the aircraft that doesn’t include cancelling it or redesigning from ground up??

  6. Vibhor says:

    I read an article somewhere about six amraams internally stored on f 35 and also 8 sdb twos along with 2 amraams. This capability should be quite intimidating for any potential enemies!!

  7. Vibhor says:

    That’s 8 sdb2s per bay for a total of 16!

  8. aviationintel.com says:

    Vibhor- Attacked by a squadron of J-20s? They cannot carry supersonic anti-ship missiles with a 300+ mile standoff capability capable of inflicting heavy damage on a carrier. The J-20 is not invisible it can be detected just like all aircraft, whether it is via inter-networked multiple band radar surveillance, high power search capabilities via AEGIS radar systems and processing or ESM equipment carried on those same ships, and the Super Hornet and especially the E-2D Hawkeye. It is a question of how far out can you detect it not if you can detect it. If you are worried about a J-20 putting a 1k lb dumb bomb on the deck of the a CVN then we are living in two entirely different realities. That is not the aircraft’s intended mission and it was not designed to do so. Also, under the circumstances why would our CSGs be operating during a time of war within the J-20′s area of operations without a dense combined arms effort underway. Shore based cruise missiles and submarines alone will keep our carriers at the very far end of the J-20s envelope at best during the opening stages of such a conflict.

    Cursing the F-35? Man, please read through the close to 200 posts I have on the subject where I present alternatives in great detail and even give the program praise where it is deserved. I am not going to rewrite all that here. Click the “F-35 Saga” tab under categories and hot topics and enjoy! As for making it better? The concept was fouled from its inception, the aircraft is a giant compromise, alternatives are everywhere, if they can fix its issues it is as good as its gonna be, I have nothing to fix. As for the AMRAAMS, four internal at this point, there was talk that Skunkworks had a plan for six but it did not pan out. I even called LockMart for comment on this about 6 months ago. The F-22 carries a reasonable load-out plus two AIM-9s and it has a lower radar cross section, features super maneuverability and it can super-cruise etc for about the same cost as an F-35 at this point. You could design a UCAV and stuff that sucker full of SDBs if you so please. The right mix is legacy jets, F-22, UCAVs, Next Generation Bomber (sensor truck and tanker transport potentially, see the linked post in this article on the next generation long range strike platform) is the way to go.

    You know what is more intimidating than the F-35, a swarm of networked UCAVs that can fly over 2k miles without refueling, risk no man on their dangerous mission, and work together at super computer speed to overwhelm and obliterate the enemy’s integrated air defense system and fracture their command and control capabilities and decision cycle. The world has seen how we use drones even rudimentary drones over even our friends airspace, can you image the threat advanced UCAVs would present a peer state enemy? Why try and play a game that has already ended for us but has continued for enemy? Being at the cutting edge is not improving you strategic position it is fielding technologies that dramatically leap you far in front of the enemies capabilities as a whole. With drones we get enhanced capability, expandability, relatively low cost and high numbers. Mixed with manned assets such as the F-22 and upgraded Super Hornets, F-16s, F-15s, B-52s and B-1s and you have the most flexible air combat force for decades to come at a lower cost and lower risk than the Joint Strike Fighter can even come close to providing

  9. Vibhor says:

    Now that u have explained it thoroughly I agree with you.
    Thanks
    Now that you have brought it up, what exactly does it take to sink a cvn?
    Also there are no planned replacements for the Ticonderoga class cruisers? What’s gonna happen when they eventually retire?.
    Also why is the navy only buying 3 of the ddg 1000s while I think they are extremely capable ships far more capable than any current destroyer.

  10. Vibhor says:

    Please read this link:
    http://ericpalmer.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/the-beginning-of-the-end-of-u-s-dominance-in-the-pacific-rim/
    It’s says here that the j 20 may make the AMRAAM obsolete!
    Which will make the entire us fighter fleet mostly obsolete!

  11. Todd Frohwirth says:

    ^ Ticos: We don’t don’t know yet. Probably some CG(X) based on the lessons learned from DDG-1000, which is more of a technology demonstrator than a new class.

  12. Praetorian says:

    Vibhor: The Amramm has had some problems already for quite some time now.

    http://azstarnet.com/business/local/fixing-a-key-missile/article_75c8ae7d-0b9d-59e7-a9ee-9cc9894fedb3.html

    Looks like we need to put more money to convert the Ohio class subs to SSGN’s
    or a new class of SSGN-X. Loved this show of force awhile back.

    http://defensetech.org/2010/07/09/u-s-sends-tomahawk-missile-filled-subs-to-western-pacific/

  13. Todd Frohwirth says:

    Vibhor, I read that link. I think it was posted right after the first J-20 images came out, and everyone was over-dramatizing the significance. I don’t understand how he arrives at the conclusion he does, and he shows a poor understanding of how our debt works. I’ll leave the AMRAAM analysis to someone else.

  14. Glen Towler says:

    I do think that the TU 22 is a great bomber but maybe it is past its prime if a country like Georgia could shoot one down and it was flown by some of the one best pilots of the Russian air force. Then what hope would it have against the most advanced Naval air force in the world the some of the best airborne early warning aircraft in the world.

  15. Vibhor says:

    I have a very important question:
    Why is the USAF buying1763 f 35s when they only 1100 f16s?
    Also the marine corps has 100 harriers and are buying 340 f 35Bs?

  16. Jerry says:

    Interesting analysis, but, there’s one thing missing here; if the U.S. and China are in an all-out shooting war, long range strike against carriers won’t happen in a vacuum. The full spectrum of systems will be used by both sides. So while I think your analysis is valid in some ways, it ignores the fact that war is not a monolithic threat analysis – it’s not a Tu-22 vs F-35 fight. It’s a Tu-22 vs CVBG and supporting systems fight. (And nobody has seriously proposed that air wings of the 2020s and 2030s will consist solely of F-35s.)

    In other words, your “medium and long-range low observable strike platforms” already exist – they’re called Ohio SSGNs with Tomahawk missiles. :)

    Besides, the F-35 is a boondoggle of a program, but, scrapping everything in favor of undeveloped UCAV technologies seems to be an invitation to an even bigger boondoggle. Electronics is electronics, and software is software – doesn’t matter if the pilot is sitting in the cockpit, or in a control center several hundred miles away. (In fact, it’s worse with the pilot in the control center, because you have to then worry about reliable, minimal lag uplink/downlink issues that you don’t have to worry about with a pilot in play.)

    You’re right, the future of air combat is UCAVs. Is that future close enough to immediately cancel the F-35 program and completely change the tactical and operational doctrine of USN CVBGs? I remain unconvinced. It brings to mind the whole ‘Generation After Next’ programs of the early Rumsfeld Defense departments. I have no security clearance, so I would assume (I would hope!) that a ton of basic research and concepts were tested and validated. But, in terms of useable and affordable hardware, a decade later? Not much, at least publicly.

    There’s a reason why military procurement tends to stick with the past; because, if they guess wrong, people die. Everybody likes talking about the times when sticking with the past was the wrong call – but that ignores all the times (a majority of which) when going with the past was the right call. The Chinese, by trying to acquire Tu-22s, is going with a Soviet Russia defense doctrine of the 1970s and 1980s. If the USN thought they could beat it with F-14s armed with Phoenix, I’m guessing they think that F-18 Super Hornets armed with AMRAAM-D could prove just as effective, if the CVBGs actually do have to get in close and personal.

    JGH

    • aviationintel.com says:

      Jerry, good thoughts but you must understand, I can only pack so much into a piece like this until it starts reading like a RAND report and people lose interest, and frankly, so do I. There are certain assumptions when it comes to a combined arms threat analysis that must be made by knowledgeable readers when it comes to writeups like this, there are many weapons systems, orders of battle, and infinite circumstances to address, so I try to take key examples and make an argument without losing the reader in techno-babble hell. I do talk about the CVBG, AEGIS capability and the threat horizon etc, including the layered defenses around the Carrier, including its own CIWSs and ESSSMs. I can elaborate a potential scenario you are interested in in regards to these capabilities if you wish. Also, dispersed operations will be key winning/surviving a peer state conflict, even a limited one, with China. Stacking combined arms in a relatively tiny geographic area will have little effect in a conflict like this, especially against a country as geographically large as China, such a strategy also introduces huge vulnerabilities. In other words, the CVBG may be more “isolated” and on its own then we would like to admit during such circumstances…

      As for air wings consisting solely of F-35s in the 2020s and 2030s- No, the Super and Growlers will soldier on past 2030, the F-35C may be procured in smaller numbers than planned or greater depending on the Hornet’s ability to remain cost effective, but if you honestly thing a new fighter will be in design, or even production during this time period you are wrong. THERE IS NO MONEY. All these F/A-XX stories are NAVAIR wishes that are not based in economic reality. Furthermore, the UCLASS will continue to be delayed as the Navy still cannot define what they want as they have not tested the X-47B enough to know what is really possible in a “block 1″ configuration, additionally there will be funding issues. The current goal, to have an UCAV developed from UNCLASS program emerge as semi-operational by 2020 will most likely not become a reality both due to funding and timeframe. I have offered thoughts how to get the Navy into the unmanned game sooner and to allow them to test and try different ideas in a relatively low risk manner, we will see if anyone at NAVAIR takes notice. http://aviationintel.com/2012/12/20/need-an-interim-uav-solution-for-american-aircraft-carriers-take-a-good-hard-look-at-the-mothballed-s-3-viking/

      As far as TLAMs being my medium-long range low observable strike platform- not nearly. It is not reusable and we have a finite supply. Regardless of our inventory, it takes time and serious logistics to restock out Cruisers, Destroyers and SSN/SSGNs with these weapons. In this piece I actually make a clear point that we need to invest in procuring greater stocks of standoff weapons like the TLAM, but it is by no means a weapon we can expect to make a massive impact against China during a protracted conflict, there are simply to many targets. Now this on the other hand makes much more sense: http://aviationintel.com/2012/07/16/lockheeds-minion-the-secret-reusable-stealth-cruise-missile/

      On your comments about the F-35 and drones and secure datalinks. Please read more of my writing on these issues. We are talking about semi-autonomous or fully autonomous UCAVs here which do not require a continuous channel with their command and control element, quite the opposite. And software is not software when it comes to manned and unmanned systems, in fact this is so far from reality that its mind boggling. We proved to have incredible AI software in place for autonomous attack drones back in the early 2000s, trust me, now we have incredibly mature systems that allow high performance UCAVs to work as teams to “come up with solutions” to complex tactical problems. I am preparing a piece on this but I still have not finalized it, mind blowing info really. Don’t think of man in the loop drone interfaces today, think of a system that is sent deep into enemy territory to degrade the enemy’s IADS, hit key strategic targets and take out targets of opportunity on their own. This is not a counter insurgency, close air support system, instead it is built to operate radio silent while strictly over enemy territory. Totally different game than what you are discussing.

      As far as where are the platforms if the tech is so good? This is in the upcoming piece as well. You realize that unclassifying a operation UCAV system that has serious advantages for 80% of the F-35s mission set could destroy the F-35 program, the largest defense program in history when it comes to dollars? A large proportion of deep cover black budget systems that make it to relative maturity stay classified to protect them from Congress and the DoD brass. Its about money, jobs, and pet projects my friend, not my opinion but proven fact historically, and now more than ever.

      Sure some time going back in time gives you a great solution but for overall strategic superiority this is a losing doctrine. Maybe the Super with the AIM-120D can get close to the F-14s capability of days long gone, even exceed it in many ways, but imagine if you took and F-14 and gave it the Super Hornet makeover, what could such a system be capable of today, well a few things: High end supercruise, greater range than ever imagine for the tomcat, increased sortie rates, the largest radar apature of any US fighter aircraft for a HUGE AESA array with hundreds of more miles range than the APG-79 and the ability to pack even updated and fully networked AIM-54s (or a ramjet missile) with much greater range, probability of kill, and engagement flexibility. More on this here: (really old post, excuse errors and such, I have to go back over it) http://aviationintel.com/2011/05/08/it-could-have-been-the-attack-super-tomcat-21/

      Also, having a Super Hornet being as effective as a fighter designed in the late 1960s is a sad picture of America’s military edge as it stands today. Remember, the enemy’s weaponry is improving exponentially and the fleet defense role of yesteryear will not be the same as today, longer range and high speed standoff weaponry has changed the game.

      TR

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