27 September 2011

Defense Updates

Stopping Domestic Air Terrorists

* An NYPD helicopter has air to air missiles. I can't say that I fault them for that, given what they've had to face.

* The Homeland Defense Interceptor concept, of giving the Air National Guard an air defense aircraft based on a training aircraft or foreign military light air fighter as a platform for a lower cost way to protect domestic airspace for terrorist and crazies than the F-15 and F-16 designed for "near peer" dogfights isn't dead yet. The AT-6 training aircraft is competing with Embraer’s Super Tucano light attack aircraft for the job. Earlier consideration given to a light jet fighter for the role that could completely replace the F-16 in this role were scrapped.

Air Force (ANG and Reserve) F-16s and F-15s have been flying Air Sovereignty Alert (ASA) patrols around major U.S. cities since 9/11. Less known is that the skies around DC are also patrolled by U.S. Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin choppers tasked with intercepting small, slow targets like the Cessna intercepted by the AT-6. . . . the Dolphin’s primary mission with the Coasties is search-and-rescue.

Insiders think the program has a good chance of being cut despite the fact that it is far cheaper than the status quo or plausible replacement aircraft for the F-16 like the F-35 that is even more dear.

The upgraded AT-6 will get new avionics and communmications similar to the upgraded A-10 close air support fighter still in service since the Air Force has been reluctant to develop a replacement for the Vietnam era standby ground pounder. In its domestic air defense role, the AT-6 would carry .50 caliber machine guns and AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles that will be tested in live fire exercises in 2012.

These inexpensive, nearly off the shelf light attack planes have also been discussed as partial replacements for existing aircraft like the A-10 in precision bombing and close air support roles in low threat environments like Iraq and Afghanistan where asymmetric forces lack advanced anti-aircraft defenses.

Defense contractors unfortunate enough not to have a contract to build the F-35, the only major fighter aircraft program in the works right now, are willing to support the program, despite the fact that it has a high risk of being cut by the fighter mafia in the Air Force, because the platform, if proven and adopted even at a low level by the U.S. Air Force would be an attractive product to sell to second and third world Air Forces that can't afford state of the art supersonic jet fighters who face ill equipped insurgencies or poor neighboring nations. The fact that that the planes themselves use yesterday's technology also makes it unlikely that they will be prevented from selling them to less reliable allies.

The Air Force brass are afraid of programs like these because they strengthen the case for making a smaller buy of the Air Force F-35A replacement for the F-16 that is behind schedule, dramatically over budget for what was supposed to be a low costs multipurpose fighter aircraft, since cheaper modified AT-6s could carry out some of its less technology demanding missions. One doesn't actually need stealth fighters to patrol Chicago. In their view, the more F-35As they can get, the better, in their view, as it increases their peak capacity against a near peer competitor. The concept is also a poor fit for the notion that specialized aircraft can suit the Air Force's needs than a one size fits all fighter and the Air Force and Army's reluctance to see the Air National Guard in a distinct domestic role of its own as opposed to merely serving as an understudy for the active duty force. The Air Force brass see the ASA mission more as a way to keep reservists and guardsmen trained for "real" war missions than as a mission that deserves to have resources committed to it in its own right.

Osprey Finally Working As Designed

The CV-22 Osprey hybrid plane-helicopter is being used for the long range, large number of individuals combat search and rescue missions for which it is ideal in Afghanistan. Software upgrades that improve the angles at which the rotors are titled during operations are also allowing it to go 20 knots faster and lift 1000 more pounds.

Bloodless Missiles

It has long been known that electromagnetic pulses can disable electronics without harming anyone else, except that the old school way of doing that was to set of a nuclear bomb which wasn't so benign. Now, the Air Force is testing a missile designed to do the same thing without the explosion - keeping airmen out of harm's ways while opposition electronics are disabled and preventing civilian casualties. It may also be cheaper to buy electronic warfare missiles than to refit late model manned fighters to do similar jobs as the U.S. military has traditionally. And, an inbound missile may trick opposition forces into activating radar systems that allow them to be targeted in a way that electronic warfare fighters may not.

The downside: Sooner of later someone else is going to figure out how to use one on us, and our military is highly dependent upon its electronics.

Air Force Still Not On Board With Cuts

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz gave a speech September 20, 2011 that was classic obsfurcation.

Basically, tightening budgets mean that the service is going to be smaller and might not be able to perform numerous major operations at once. As for future weapons buys, the Air Force is going to have to be realistic about what it wants from it’s new weapons and list requirements that are based on operational needs and nothing more. It’s also going to have to scale back on certain mission areas that it doesn’t deem critical to its role in projecting U.S. air-power around the globe.

He then promptly set out to list everything that shouldn't be cut: New 767 based air tanker planes, a new long range bomber made with existing technology, and the F-35 program. Maybe he means to cut the Air Force marching band or something.

1 comment:

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