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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Importance of Aggressor Training Part I

Image 1: 65th Aggressor Squadron F-15C with "splinter" camouflage scheme at Nellis AFB. Aggressor aircraft often use the camouflage patters found on Russian aircraft for added realism. Image Credit:  U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. William P.Coleman/Released

Too often aviation enthusiasts debate on the technical statistics of certain sensors and weapons or how a certain aspect of an aircraft's airframe makes it more maneuverable than another. In reality, a fighter aircraft is only as deadly as its pilot. In real world conflicts outside of internet forums, pilots are often the deciding factor in a dogfight. This historical trend is evident in many of the Israeli-Arab conflicts (e.g. The Six Day War) and Desert Storm. The magnitude in which both the Israeli and American forces dominated their opponents is not proportional to the disparity in aircraft performance between the opposing forces. Since the 1970s, the United States is has maintained the best set of training programs for preparing pilots for war. A key component in the U.S training exercises is the use of Aggressor pilots. This article will explain the important role aggressor training and how aggressor training will be important long into the future.

After the Vietnam War, the United States Air Force went through a through examination of its own shortcomings. An extensive series of analysis pointed to a series of factors that contributed towards the poor 2:1 exchange ratios experienced in Vietnam (Source 10). The reports concluded that most pilot casualties occurred within their first ten combat missions. If a pilot survived their first ten combat missions, their chances of surviving subsequent combat missions increased significantly (Source 1). Red Flag was designed to provide U.S pilots with their first ten "combat" missions. Blue force (trainee pilots) fly against specialized aggressor pilots (red force).

Image 2: US pilot from the 64th Aggressor Squadron flying a modified F-16. (Image Credit: image courtesy of source 3)

Aggressor pilots are chosen for their formidable skills. Aggressor pilots flying for the 64th and 65th Squadron are some of the best in the entire United States Air Force (Majumdar, 2009). Each aggressor pilot specialize in flying their aircraft in a manner similar to potential adversaries. For example, some pilots from the 65th Aggressor Squadron fly F-15C's to mimic the Su-30. Aggressor pilots will specialize in replicating the chosen single enemy aircraft and will study the aircraft in detail for an entire year. This process involves consulting various intelligence agencies (e.g. National Security Agency) about enemy tactics and the aircraft handling's characteristics. Aggressor pilots have even been known to play the Soviet National Anthem before an exercise to get in the mood (USAF, 2008).

"It is vitally important to replicate the enemy threat with more than just painting our jets with old Soviet flanker themes...We do our best to replicate every aspect of the exercise, including missiles, information operations and ground operations...We even fly the way they fly" - Captian Hale, 18th Aggressor Squadron

Image 3: 18th Aggressor Squadron decorations at Eielson Air Force Base Alaska. The motto reads: "Have at You!" or Russian (pronounced dai u tebya). Other decorations include Soviet Flags and propaganda  "Glory to the Soviet People--The Creator of Powerful Aviation".

Aggressor aircraft are easily distinguishable from their peers due to the use of old Soviet style camouflage patterns. To further heighten the realism, aggressor aircraft are modified both visually and internally to simulate the chosen enemy aircraft. (Russian, Chinese, North Korean, Iranian and Syrian are the predominate practice opponents)

"Snider’s modified and camouflaged F-15 is fitted with special radars, weapons control systems, and other characteristics of the Russian Su-30 fighter aircraft, drawn from evaluations by US intelligence agencies and firsthand reports from allies.  He works closely with the National Security Agency, the CIA, and other spy units before concluding, as he put it: 'We think this is kind of how the Su-30 would perform.'" - Bryan Bender, 2013

The effort to duplicate enemy tactics and capabilities has been greatly enhanced through acquisition of real adversary aircraft. Through undisclosed means the United States has acquired many Soviet aircraft over the years including the Su-27 and Mig 29 (Bill Sweetman, 2012). Invaluable lessons were gleamed through careful examination of adversary aircraft. For example:

"'The CIA gave us a flare dispenser from a Frogfoot [Su-25] that had been shot down in Afghanistan. We gave it to maintenance – it was just a thing with wires coming out of it. Four hours later they had it operational on a MiG-21...In 1987 we had the AIM-9P, which was designed to reject flares, and when we used US flares against it would ignore them and go straight for the target. We had the Soviet flares – they were dirty, and none of them looked the same – and the AIM-9P said 'I love that flare'"

The effect Red Flag has had on the USAF is undeniable. The improved dogfighting skills of USAF pilots played an important role in Desert Storm. The F-15C scored 32 aerial victories in Desert Storm with no losses (Source 7). Although only eight kills were achieved at visual range, the lack of any casualties is a testament to the quality of training provided at Nellis. After the Gulf War, a pilot said "it was almost as intense as Red Flag".

Part II will discuss the current state of Red Flag and the important role it will serve into the future.




Image 4: Aggressor F-16 at Nellis. (Image Credit: Source 3) 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Future of the USAF Part I

Image 1: F-35A finger four formation. The USAF current plans to acquire 1,763 F-35A aircraft.

This series of articles will outline the planned future composition of the USAF for the next forty years. The average age of an aircraft serving in the USAF is 26 years (Defense Industry Daily, 2013). Future and planned procurement programs will seek to replace many of the venerable but aging aircraft. Subsequent parts in this article will examine in depth particular aircraft and their future/planned usage in the USAF.

Note:  ~ indicates an approximate date which might be subject to change.

USAF Procurement & Upgrade Programs 

2013 - Upgrade for F-15E fleet with new AESA radars and HMD begins. $6.9 billion awarded to Lockheed Martin for F-22A fleet upgrades 3.2a & 3.2b.
2014 - Structural testing begins with goal of extending F-15C service life to 18,000 hours, F-15E to 32,000 hours. Tests set to be completed by 2015. ~ 2014 RQ-4 Block 40 full rate production begins
2015 - F-15C IRST program restarts.
2016 - Increment 3.2a upgrade completed  for Raptor fleet. AESA radars upgrade for 150 F-15C aircraft
~2016-2017 - F-35 IOC  (initial operational capacity). First KC-46A tankers delivered to Air Force.     2018 - 300 to 350 F-16C retained for upgrades, upgrade process begins (+15 year life added to airframes) F-22A fleet begins to reach mid life expectancy (4,000 fight hours)
2020 - Increment 3.2b upgrade completed for Raptor fleet
2019 - IBS/SB-16 upgrade completed for B-1B fleet
~2020+ LSR-B (formerly known as Next Generation Bomber) to enter service
2022 - F-16C upgrade process concluded
~2025 - A-10 set to retire
~2030 - 6th generation fighter reaches IOC
~2031 Raptor fleet approaches 8,000 service hour limit (almost certainly will have structural enhancement program to extend service life past 8,000 hours)
2035 - F-15C set to retire
~2037 - F-16 retirement (15 year life extension from 2022)
~2040 - B-52 Retires
2058 B-2 set to retire

Planned USAF fighter fleet composition 2030:

- 184 F-22A Raptors
- 700 to 1050 F-35A (pessimistic and planned estimate)
- 300 to 350 F-16C
- 220 F-15E
-175 to 249 F-15C/D
- 6th generation fighter (?)



Thursday, February 21, 2013

Raptor & Typhoon Exercise Updates

Image 1: UK Typhoons train with USAF Raptors in preparation for Red Flag (Image Credit: USAF)

The performance concerns stemming from the Raptor's lack of a HMD has become increasingly apparent. These exercises give an interesting look at how 4.5 generation aircraft will stack up against their 5th generation counterparts. If the trend of off-boresight missiles and HMD's continues to play a role in exercises, this will certainly help the F-35 in VR combat. Once again, normal posts will resume next week.

“Raptor’s thrust vectoring not essential” Eurofighter pilot says in last chapter of the F-22 vs Typhoon saga By David Cenciotti
Top U.S. Stealth Jet Has to Talk to Allied Planes Over Unsecured Radio By David Axe
U.K, U.S. Prep for Red Flag By BRIAN EVERSTINE

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Reading List

Due to my busy work schedule, I will likely not post anything for the next week. Here is a list of suggested videos and articles took keep you occupied in the meantime. Let me know what you guys think.


Commemorative 67th Fighter Squadron: Raytheon Award

Danish Air Force F-16 DEMO-FLIGHT HD

Russian Air Force 100th Anniversary Video: 20 aircraft Formation

Meteor Missile Test (2:30)

Lecture Innovations Towards Invisibility The CIA OXCART Project and A-12 Reconnaissance Aircraft

Special Thanks to David Axe, David Cenciotti, and Dave Majumdar for the video references

Suggested Articles:  

USAF Related:
U.K, U.S. Prep for Red Flag By BRIAN EVERSTINE (Raptor and Eurofighter)
AIM-9X Block II performing better than expected By: DAVE MAJUMDAR
F-22 Raptors need helmet-mounted cueing system to take full advantage of AIM-9X By By: DAVE MAJUMDAR
Raytheon and General Atomics team-up to integrate MALD onto Reaper By DAVE MAJUMDAR
Guam Tip of the spear: By Dr Carlo Kopp
Adaptive Engines: By Rebecca Grant 
Simulation plays vital role in building F-35 tactics and aircraft development By DAVE MAJUMDAR
US Acquisition of Soviet Aircraft: "We didn’t know what 90 percent of the switches did" By Bill Sweetman

Russia & China
IN FOCUS: Russian's next-generation bomber takes shape By VLADIMIR KARNOZOV
China Upgrades Iranian Jets By David Axe
Bear Bombers Over Guam By Bill Gertz
How Russia fears being forgotten By Lucian Kim
Obama’s rudderless China, Russia policy By Michael Mazza

German Air Force receives MANTIS air defense system
Sweden’s Military Spending To Rise? By GERARD O’DWYER
Use Patriot missiles to defend Sweden: minister The Local
BAE releases footage of Typhoon Meteor firing By By: CRAIG HOYLE

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Latest in the F-35's Maneuverability Saga

Image 1: Lockheed Martin F-35 (Image Credit: Lockheed Martin)

Author's Note: To all my fellow forever alone aviation enthusiasts, I'd like to wish you a happy Singles Awareness Day (S.A.D)! Despite my busy work schedule I decided it was necessary to post today. Hope it helps, enjoy.

The F-35 program has been subject to constant scrutiny by its detractors. A popular issue F-35 critics love to hate is the ongoing performance issues related to the F-35's maneuverability. Lockheed Martin test pilot Billy Flynn recently struck back against critics with his own assessment of the jet's maneuverability related capabilities. In Flynn's view, the F-35 demonstrates comparable to superior levels of maneuverability performance when compared to advanced 4th generation fighter designs like the Eurofighter and Super Hornet. Flynn is an extremely experienced test pilot who has flown nearly every prominent western fighter aircraft, including the Eurofighter Typhoon and F-22 Raptor. After Flynn expressed his views, other fighter  pilots expressed their skepticism of the F-35's performance. The following image is taken from Defense Industry Daily (who has 100% ownership of the image). The illustration maps the exchange between Flynn and other pilots.

Image 2: All credit and ownership to Defense Industry Daily

  The disparity between Flynn's claims and the views of other fighter pilots makes it difficult to ascertain the F-35's aggregate level of maneuverability performance. Given the assessment of the most ardent F-35 critics, one could believe the F-35 is less maneuverable than a fully loaded C-5M Super Galaxy (sarcasm). As I've explained before, maneuverability is not determined by a single aerodynamic characteristic or statistic. Rather, determining an aircraft's maneuverability involves comparing its: wing loading, sustained turn ability, g limit tolerance, thrust to weight ratio, rate of climb, angle of attack limitations, acceleration performance, etc. to other aircraft.  It is always preferable to test these metrics in real world situations rather than to debate with only paper statistics in a purely academic manner.

To summarize the findings of my Canada and the F-35 article, the F-35 has some decent to good maneuverability characteristics. For example, due to the use of internal weapon bays, the F-35's performance characteristics are not significantly altered when it caries a full load of air to air missiles. Traditional fighter aircraft will experience a hit in performance once weapons are equipped due to the increase in drag (bear in mind the F-35's air to air load is less than a fully laden F/A-18E or Eurofighter Typhoon). It is important not to overstate the degree in which the F-35 is maneuverable. It was designed from its inception to feature less maneuverability than the more expensive F-22 due to both the emphasis on price and ground attack performance. In terms of aggregate maneuverability performance, the F-35 is generally less maneuverable than the most competent 4.5 generation aircraft e.g. Eurofighter Typhoon. The F-35's lower maneuverability does not make the F-35 incompetent in air to air combat situations when other factors such as off-boresight IR missiles, HMD, DAS, etc. are all accounted for. Flight Global's Dave Majumdar does a good job describing how F-35 pilots will compensate for the aircraft's weakness during engagements against more maneuverable opponents.

"Pilots will have to make extensive use of the F-35's stealth characteristics and sensors to compensate for performance areas where the jet has weaknesses, sources familiar with the aircraft say. But engagement zones and maneuvering ranges will most likely be driven even further out against the most dangerous surface-to-air threats. In an air-to-air engagement, for example, tactics would have to be developed to emphasize stealth and beyond visual range (BVR) combat. If a visual range engagement is unavoidable, every effort would have to be taken to enter the 'merge' from a position of advantage, which should be possible, given the F-35's stealth characteristics. Once engaged within visual range, given the F-35's limitations and relative strengths, turning should be minimized in favor of using the jet's Northrop Grumman AAQ-37 distributed aperture system of infrared cameras, helmet-mounted display and high off-boresight missiles to engage the enemy aircraft. If a turning fight is unavoidable, the F-35 has good instantaneous turn performance and good high angle of attack (50°AOA limit) performance comparable to a Boeing F/A-18 Hornet, which means a similar strategy could be adopted if one finds him or herself in such a situation."  

The only way Lockheed Martin and F-35 critics will definitively know the extent of the F-35's dog fighting abilities is to stage a series simulated exercises. Such an exercises should include a mix of 4th, 4.5, and 5th generation opponents. I doubt even basic fighter maneuvering engagement type tests would be possible before Block 2A software is incorporated into the F-35 fleet. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the results of an initial dogfight would be released to the public. Eventually, I would expect the F-35 to participate in Red Flag training exercises when it enters service. My prediction is the F-35 pilots will initially get their collective rear ends handed to them by veteran U.S aggressor pilots. Eventually, the F-35 pilots will learn to capitalize on all the strengths of their aircraft and out preform most of their rivals (except the F-22). Competent F-35 pilots will likely be able to engage and consistently defeat 4.5 generation opponents but they will experience higher casualty rates than Raptor pilots.

Related American Innovation Blog Content (links provided):

Canada and the F-35
Red Flag 2012: Did the Raptor Seriously Get Owned?
The Future of 4th Generation Aircraft in the 21st Century
F-35 Maneuverability Woes
Murphy's Law at Work: F-35 Development and Performance Concerns



Friday, February 1, 2013

Updates 2/1/13

Image 1: RAH-66 Comanche

I know nobody likes these updates but its the only way I have to "speak" to you guys. To help me improve as an author, could you guys tell me what you thought about the Canada and the F-35 article? Was it too long? I do quite a bit of research in preparation for an article but sometimes it can be a bit much. Viewer feedback is really the only way I can tell if people read these (or the 3 options at the bottom: excellent, cool, or needs work), Thanks.

Upcoming articles: The State of the NATO Alliance, The Importance of C4ISR, What Would an American Strike on Iran Accomplish?, America's Next Generation Bomber Part II, The importance of Aggressor Squadrons, The Future of the USAF, Something related to attack helicopters (?)

If you guys have any article suggestions feel free to ask. :)

Article Improvements & Updates (links provided)

Canada and the F-35: Added HMD, supplementary avionics information, and more maneuverability content
Canada and the F-35 PART III: interim purchases discussed, added recommendations, and additional sources added
F-35 Maneuverability Woes: Updated PAK FA avionics info (thanks for reminding me in the comments)

News: IRAN

Iran's "stealth fighter" is a piece of junk (just a mock-up). More Info: