13 February 2006

Defense Updates.


Reacting to the Defense Department's Quadrennial Defense Review:

9/11 should have educated even the more learning-disabled parts of the Pentagon that we face determined networks of 12th-century fanatics who don't intend to play by our rules. As Winston Churchill was unkind enough to point out, it is occasionally necessary in war to suspend one's preferences and actually consider the enemy. The QDR has not done that for one simple reason: It says little or nothing about the need for soldiers. And how they can best be provided, trained, protected, and sustained to meet an enemy that thinks in generational rather than technological timelines--which is why that enemy thinks he can win and why he may be right.

- Col. Ken Allard, (U.S. Army, Ret.), former dean of students of the National War College, current NBC News military analyst.

Long Range Strike

The U.S. Air Force has set a goal of increasing its long-range strike (LRS) capabilities by 50% and the penetrating component of long-range strike by a factor of five by 2025, according to QDR documents. It also calls for a new land-based, penetrating LRS capability to be fielded by 2018. About 45% of the future LRS force is to be unmanned. . . . But top-level planning is still murky.

As explained in considerable detail by Aviation Week, nobody really knows what "Long Range Strike" means.

Some people think it means "a fleet of 100-105 unmanned, stealthy aircraft" based on the now cancelled X-45 unmanned combat aircraft program. Others put the figure closer to 50. Others, think that the new aircraft will look more like the Predator UAV's which now carry attack helicopter class missiles in support of ground troops in Iraq.

Another official speaking on background says:

One school wants long persistence [a day or more] as the primary feature. They're looking at an unmanned aircraft with limited payload and some level of stealth.

The other is looking at a manned bomber with the range for 4-5 hr. of loiter, but with a heavier payload, Mach 2 speed and very low observability so it can penetrate deep and strike heavily defended targets. They also believe it must be nuclear-capable to replace the B-2, and that means a crew. They want each bomber to be capable of hitting 100 individual targets.

Hypersonics and space launch are not players.


A parallel program will involve a small number of ICBMs with conventional warheads developed for the Precision Global Strike program. The policy issues involved with using ICBMs for conventional strike are still not resolved. There also would be a shrinking core of manned bombers including 56 B-52s, 67 B-1s and 21 B-2s.

The virtue of conventional ICBMs is that they deliver a big bomb to a fairly precise target, very far away, faster than any human pilot on the flight could survive, without putting any U.S. military personnel in harm's way. The big problem with conventional ICBMs is that some nuclear armed nation, like Russia or Pakistan or China (at least one of which is reasonably close to any plausible ICBM target), might mistakenly think that they were facing a nuclear attack and try to strike back at the U.S. with their own ICBMs before they discover that the attack is aimed at someone else, or that it involves only conventional weapons. One ICBM looks pretty much like another until it hits, and the decision making time frame is on the order of half an hour to an hour and a half. Moreover, even if we tell the Russians or other nuclear powers that our ICBMs aren't nuclear and aren't aimed at them, why should some nation who we might be somewhat crosswise with believe our statements.

Also, as background, the B-52 is a 1950s era bombering with a decent payload, able to carry nuclear weapons and cruise missiles, as well a ordinary bombs. The B-1 is a 1980s era supersonic, very large payload bomber currently restricted to ordinary bombs (whose early history was plagued with technical problems that have been largely worked out now). The B-2 is a 1980s era superexpensive, stealth bomber, with a payload comparable to the B-52 and an ability to carry nuclear weapons, as well as a smaller crew. All three bombers have a very long range. But, the Air Force is dying to shed it aging B-52s, while recognizing that they have played an important part in all of the recent conflicts which have involved sustained periods of massive bombardment prior to moving troops into the field. Congress has so far resisted cuts in these forces, in part, because no alternative has been presented.

Meanwhile, the Navy thinks it can do the LRS job with cruise missile carrying submarines and carrier based aircraft and drones.

Creating a hugely expensive new program like LRS wouldn't be so frightening, if it weren't force the fact that it isn't tied to any clear plan or any clearly defined cuts in anything else. While a hundred new unmanned bombers might make sense, if they replaced much of the existing bomber fleet and a good share of the Navy's cruise missile capabilities, based on a careful analysis that showed that they could accomplished the missions of the systems they replace better, this level of careful analysis and planning, indeed, any serious analysis or comprehensive planning, seems to be missing at the highest levels of the Pentagon in the case of this ill defined program.

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