I'm working on the next installment of the How Best to Employ Fighter Aircraft series, The American Perspective. In the meantime, here are a few of the more interesting articles I've read over the past week, I'd recommend you give a few of them a quick look over if you have the time.
(1) ANALYSIS: Industry concerned about US Navy UCLASS requirements - By Dave Majumdar
"Concerns are being raised within industry about the new direction mandated by the Pentagon for the US Navy’s unmanned carrier-launched surveillance and strike (UCLASS) aircraft programme. The reason for the concern is because the Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) has fundamentally altered the requirements for the UCLASS from a long-range penetrating strike platform to something akin to a modestly stealthy carrier-based Predator."
At present, UCLASS would essentially be a somewhat stealthy predator drone that would be reserved for only nighttime operations when manned aircraft activity is considerably lower. UCLASS was originally intended to play a vital role in Air-Sea Battle alongside other carrier assets such as the F-35C and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The recent changes made to the UCLASS program are in part due to funding constraints imposed by sequestration and safety concerns stemming from operating large numbers of manned and unmanned aircraft from a carrier flight deck simultaneously. Despite the recent setback, a number of influential individuals are trying to restore the UCLASS program to its original aims. Congressman Mike McIntyre and Congressman J Randy Forbes from the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces recently wrote a letter to the secretary of the Navy outlining their concerns over the recent UCLASS developments. Furthermore, MIT researchers are exploring how better to safely coordinate manned and unmanned assets on a carrier flight deck.
(2) China Says J-31 Fighter Will Compete With F-35 for Sales - By Zachary Keck
"Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong told the People’s Daily this week that the J-31 was never built with China’s military in mind, and it was highly unlikely that the PLA would ever operate J-31s off of its aircraft carriers. Instead, the J-31 was designed for export to China’s strategic partners and allies, particularly those that couldn’t purchase the F-35...With so little known about the J-31, it’s hard to gauge how credible China’s claims are that the J-31 is a low-cost alternative to the F-35. In a report in Defense News last August, shortly after the first few images of the plane surfaced, Project 2049 Institute’s Robert Cliff dismissed the notion that the J-31 would pose a serious threat to the F-35 in terms of overseas sales. 'India won’t buy it. Russia won’t buy it,' Cliff noted, adding: 'That pretty much leaves countries like Pakistan, Brazil, some Middle East countries, none of whom [the U.S. is] likely to sell the F-35 to anytime this decade or next.'"
The claim made by the People's Daily, "Experts predict that the J-31 will make rapid inroads in the international market in the future, and will undoubtedly steal the limelight from the F-35" is categorically false in every sense possible. As Cliff's argued, its likely that the J-31 will not hinder F-35 export sales. Arms sales are often heavily dependent upon political ties, which greatly favors the United States over all other arms exporters. China has very few regional allies aside from Pakistan and possibly the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (Burma) and North Korea. In comparison, the United States has strong national security ties with a multitude of Asian, European, and Middle-Eastern governments. The importance of political ties to arms exports is substantiated by the fact that Chinese aerospace firms have yet to make major gains against competing against European, Russian and American firms in the global fighter aircraft market. The only exception is the sale of JF-17 aircraft to Pakistan, an allied or at least "friendly" country to China.
(3) Gunboat Diplomacy Prevails in Syria - By Galrahn, Information Dissemination blog
Many, including myself, believed the US Navy had an Ohio class nuclear submarine armed with conventional cruise missiles to support of American destroyers near Cyprus while the Obama Administration deliberated military action against Syria. Apparently that was not the case:
"...the prevailing assumption in open source was that the submarines has been operating off the coast of Syria. Apparently not...Having a SSGN off Syria is, in my mind, the prerequisite for the American way of war when applied to the proposed Syrian military strike. Everyone assumed the SSGN was there. I wouldn't be surprised if even the Russians assumed the SSGN was there. What the picture at the top of this post tells us is that since the crew swap, USS Georgia (SSGN 729) has stayed in 5th Fleet, and has not at any time since the August 21 chemical attack been in the Mediterranean Sea. That means only two things, the President of the United States was bluffing on military strikes all along, and the decline of the US Navy is so astute right now the 6th Fleet is an empty shell and was never prepared for the war it was being asked to conduct."
(4) Six Planes Industry Wants DoD (and Other Militaries) to Buy - By Marcus Weisgerber
Even in the midst of sequestration, the USAF has high hopes for its T-X program. The current T-38 Talon trainers have been in service for half a century. The T-38 has proved to be an immensely valuable and versatile trainer and aggressor aircraft but its age is becoming apparent. Saab and Boeing will potentially offer the Gripen for the T-X program but they will face stiff competition from KAI & Lockheed Martin's T-50 trainer as well as BAE's Hawk trainer.
"In a time of constrained budgets, new military aircraft programs are rare. But that hasn't stopped defense industry design teams from coming up with new ideas for military aircraft. Below are six aircraft models that were on display this week at the annual Air Force Association convention in National Harbor, Md.
Some of the planes are candidates for the Air Force’s T-X program, an effort to replace the Northrop T-38 Talon jet trainer (It’s the plane student pilots fly before getting in the cockpit of a fighter jet.) The Air Force has been unable to find money in its budget for the T-X program, despite it being a top priority for service brass."
(5) Special Report: Hezbollah gambles all in Syria - By Samia Nakhoul
The Iranian backed paramilitary terrorist organization, Hezbollah, is largely responsible for changing the momentum of the civil war in Assad's favor. However, the cost of maintaining Hezbollah's offensive is considerable to Iran especially given the crippling international sanctions. I'd wager the recent change of tone from the Iranian leadership regarding its nuclear program is partially due to the combination of the sanctions and the strain of supporting Assad under the aforementioned sanctions.
"The war is imposing huge costs on both Hezbollah and Iran, which is already under crippling international sanctions because of its nuclear ambitions. A regional security official with access to current intelligence assessments put Hezbollah's annual income at between $800 million and $1 billion, with 70-90 percent coming from Iran, the amount partly depending on the price of oil."
If my assessment is correct, Drezner's Syria policy seems to be paying major dividends for the United States.
(6) USAF Eyes T-X, New JStars Projects - By Amy Butler
"Is there hope for a program's future if it is not in the sacred Top Three priorities of the U.S. Air Force—the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the KC-46 aerial refueler and the long-range bomber?...Aside from his Top Three, Welsh says he would like to start projects to replace the aging E-8C ground-surveillance and T-38 fast-jet trainer fleets. Industry is already prepared for both—with primes and subs pairing off to pursue these projects. But first, Congress must provide a funding profile that will support them, Welsh notes."