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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Blog Updates and Article Schedule

As frequent readers have noticed, the volume of articles being published in recent months has declined substantially. I have been in the process of applying for graduate schools and studying for the GRE exam. Thankfully, I will be able to resume posting articles as normal in about a week. The next article will be on the state of China's fighter radar technology.

During the research process on the J-31’s avionics, it became apparent that very few credible, verifiable, and non-speculative English based source materials existed on the subject of PLA fighter radars. Basic information, such the proper name or designation of a radar system is utilized by a particular fighter often varies between sources; performance figures associated with domestically produced radars is even harder to verify. This upcoming article's intent was to compile a wide variety of information on currently used PLA fighter radars in conjunction with expected future developments in Chinese actively scanned electronic array (AESA) radars. Furthermore, the current “Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters: Part I Chengdu J-20” is largely dated with respect to developments with the J-20’s avionics suite and this article subsequently provides more up-to-date information on the J-20’s AESA.    

Once the Chinese fighter radar article has been published, I plan to begin work on an article which will list defense related proposals for Taiwan as well as Part II of the J-31 article. In the mean time, the articles below are worth reading. Feel free to let me know if you have any comments or suggestions and thank you for your patience. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters: Shenyang J-31 Part I

Image 1: J-31 at Zhuhai airshow, 2014. Image Credit: Chen. 

The Shenyang J-31 made its official debut at the Zhuhai 2014 airshow earlier this month after images were first leaked of the aircraft in 2012. The combination of limited transparency of China's defense industry combined with frequent disinformation efforts by the Chinese Government makes obtaining verifiable information on the J-31 extremely difficult. This article's objective is to provide reliable information from reputable aerospace and defense publications on the potential domestic use, stealth characteristics, avionics, export prospects, and strategic ramifications of the Shenyang J-31. Any conjecture or educated guesses made by the author are noted. 

Domestic Prospects - PLAAF

The Chinese aerospace conglomerate, Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), maintains the J-31 is officially an export only aircraft and marketing materials at Zhuhai subsequently referred to the aircraft as the FC-31; fighter aircraft developed for the domestic market use the "J" designation in contrast to export aircraft which are assigned the "FC" designation such as the FC-1 fighter (Wong, 2014). However, given the limited transparency of the Chinese aerospace defense industry and the People's Liberation Army (PLA), its plausible that the aircraft could eventually enter service within the Chinese military. As Aviation Week observes, the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has consistently instituted a high-low mix fighter procurement strategy and either the 4.5 generation J-10B or the J-31 could hypothetically fulfill the low end spectrum with the J-20 serving as the high-end aircraft. The author is inclined to believe AVIC's remarks are legitimate given the separate public treatment between the J-31 and J-20. Under the assumption that the J-31 is an export only aircraft, the PLAAF must have a reason for choosing not to procure the J-31:
"What looks like a thoroughly modern stealth fighter is apparently not good enough to serve as China's next medium-weight combat aircraft...The J-20 was revealed in late 2010 and appears to have made its first flight in January 2011. It was not promoted at Zhuhai. And therein lies a key piece of evidence of the status of the J-31. The J-20 was not at Zhuhai because it is not for sale and because China does not want to reveal too much about it. It is intended for the Chinese air force. Conversely, because the J-31 was exhibited at Zhuhai and is promoted as an export product, the Chinese air force obviously does not want it."- Perrett, Hewson, Johnson, & Sweetman, 2014 
One possibility is that the PLAAF's existing 4th generation fighter force of hundreds of Su-27SK, J-10A, J-11B, and J-10B aircraft will be operational well into the late 2020s and likely 2030s; China is still replacing its hundreds of third generation fighters such as the J-7. Therefore, the PLAAF does not have an immediate need for a low end replacement fighter aircraft in the near future and might be more concerned with the development of the high end J-20. Feng from the China Air and Naval Power blog discusses the possibility that the current J-31 design may not meet PLA requirements and it is possible the design could undergo major changes before eventually entering PLAAF service several years from now. 

Domestic Prospects - PLANAF

The only operational J-31 demonstrator's nose landing gear features two side by side wheels, a common feature of carrier operated aircraft (Axe, 2014). Furthermore, a model J-31 was photographed on a Liaoning mock up in 2014. The combination of the nose wheels and the carrier mock up photographs has lead to speculation that the J-31 is being developed for the People's Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF).  

Image 2: J-31 model on Liaoning mock up flight deck, 2014. 

Given the current design of the J-31 demonstrator, the nose landing gear along with photographs of a model J-31 on a Liaoning mock up are insufficient to prove future PLANAF service. Carrier aircraft often feature a host of other design changes necessary for operating on a carrier deck such as foldable wings, arresting gear (tail hook), additional structural support to address the increased stress of carrier landings and take offs, protective salt water corrosion coatings, etc. Furthermore, given China's ongoing difficulty in the development of its first carrier operated fighter, the J-15 "flying shark", the concurrent development of a much more technologically demanding carrier based stealth fighter would be a poor management of risk. 

As part of China's broader effort to reduce US influence in the Western Pacific and implement an anti-access area denial strategy, its future carrier air wings do not have to be as large or powerful as their American counterparts. Bryan McGrath and Seth Cropsey both observe that the purpose of China's carriers would be to weaken the US network of alliances in the Asia-Pacific rather than take on the US Pacific Fleet:   
"China is building the capability to project power from the sea in order to build its strength relative to its neighbors, primarily those with whom it has ongoing territorial seas claims (including Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan). China does not need to build a navy as large or as powerful as the U.S. Navy in order to create fear and uncertainty among its neighbors. It only needs to build a navy with the credible means to project power over those neighbors’ shores.'...the strategic target of the PLAN in building a carrier force is not the U.S. Navy, but the network of alliances that longstanding U.S. economic and security interests in the region aim to preserve. Creating uncertainty and doubt in the minds of regional governments that the United States can continue to assure their security is at the heart of China’s desire to see the U.S. diminished in the region." - Bryan McGrath & Seth Cropsey, 2014 

Image 3: Chinese carrier group in January of 2014 consisting of 12 ships including: Type 051C destroyers, Type 052C destroyers, one Type 071 LPD, Type 054A frigates, Type 093 SSN and a Type 094 SSBN. Note the lack of fleet replenishment oilers or logistics ships. 

In the near term, Chinese carrier groups with the J-15 would be sufficient to pressure US allied or sympathetic countries in the Western Pacific. In the event of hostilities, Chinese naval forces would require substantial land based missile and air support to mitigate which would be available within the first and second island chains.  Furthermore, the addition of carrier based stealth fighters would not address the most significant threat to Chinese naval assets the Western Pacific, US attack submarines.  Thus, China's broader strategic goals do not require stealth carrier based aircraft in the near term and the developmental risks of the concurrent development of the J-15 with a much more technologically demanding J-31 naval variant would be exceedingly high. As with the PLAAF, there is a remote possibility that the J-31 design could be adapted or be used as the basis for a new design for a future aircraft that would serve on China's yet to be constructed super carriers several years from now, but the probability that an aircraft similar to the current design will enter PLANAF service a few years from now is slim. 

Stealth & Airframe Characteristics

Image 3: Frontal aspect of J-31 demonstrator, note the intense smoke generated from the Russian RD-93 engines. The RD-93 is a variant of the RD-33 which was originally developed for the Mig-29 in the 1970s. The smoke from the rear of Mig-29 made it easier to track in visual range combat exercises between between Polish, German, and US forces after the end of the Cold War. 

The J-31 design makes use of planform alignment, the orientation of flight surfaces at a common angle to reflect incoming radar waves away from the source, to lower its radar cross section (rcs). The angle of the diverterless supersonic inlets (DSI) matches the angle of its vertical canted tails. Similarly, the 35° wing angles  match those of the horizontal stabilizers. The use of planform alignment and DSI within the J-31 airframe strongly resembles rcs reduction techniques used on the Lockheed Martin F-35. The current J-31 demonstrator does not incorporate sawtooth engine nozzles or other forms of rcs reduction measures on the exposed RD-93 engines. Given that none of the four more technologically mature J-20 prototypes incorporate sawtooth engine nozzles or specially shaped thrust vectoring nozzles, as used by the F-22A, it is possible China does not value rear aspect stealth. Bill Sweetman explains the exposed engine nozzles for both the J-20 and Russian T-50: 

"The rear-aspect view of the aircraft is not as stealthy, a feature also seen on the Sukhoi T-50. This is clearly an intentional trade, eliminating the heavy 2D nozzles of the F-22. In this respect, both the T-50 and J-20 reflect the philosophy behind the pre-1986 Advanced Tactical Fighter studies that preceded the F-22, based on the theory that a fast, high-flying, agile aircraft is relatively immune from rear-quarter attacks." - Bill Sweetman, 2012

All aspect stealth is critical when disabling an enemy's surface to air missile (SAMs) systems within an integrated air defense system (IADS). If an aircraft with only a forward stealth capability turns after missile release, it exposes its less stealthy rear aspect to enemy radars and it subsequently becomes vulnerable to SAMs. Russia and China field the largest respective SAM forces in the world including the S-300, HQ-9 and S-400 systems as part of their anti-access area denial strategies. Conversely, with the exception of the Patriot PAC-2, the United States mostly relies upon its fighter force to defend air space. Therefore, rear aspect stealth could be of less value to China and Russia relative to the United States given the comparatively few number of US SAM systems. The FC-31 model displayed at Zhuhai does incorporate sawtooth engine nozzles among other slight airframe and design changes from the J-31 demonstrator: 

"The airframe and control surfaces of the two aircraft are similar, comprising the low aspect ratio design and chined fuselage, with forward-swept engine intakes, 35° sweptback trapezoidal planform wings, and similarly-shaped tailplanes. However, the outward-canted twin vertical fins and rudders have now been updated, terminating in tips that are diametrically angled compared with the current design's flushed tips." - Kelvin Wong, 2014

Image 4: Sawtooth engine nozzles on FC-31 display mock up at Zhuhai. Image Credit: Defense Update, 2014. 

As for estimates regarding the rcs of the J-31, no credible figures exist. Without the use of an identical J-31 mock up with rcs reduction treatments and a radar testing facility, its unlikely figures posted online can be verified. In the case of the PAK FA, patent documents filed by Sukhoi indicated the aircraft had a much larger rcs than previously estimated by numerous online sources at between 0.1m^2 and 1m^2; The 1m^2 figure likely refers to the rear of the aircraft and the 0.1m^2 the comparatively more stealthy frontal aspect. In comparison the F-22A has a frontal rcs of 0.0001m^2 or - 40 dBSM and the F-35 has a frontal rcs between 0.005m^2 and 0.001m^2 or - 30 dBSM (Global Security & Kopp, 2011). Given the relative secrecy of Shenyang, its unlikely that similar patent documents will be available within the public domain. However, there is good reason to be skeptical of assessments which assert the J-31 is as stealthy or stealthier than the F-35; Shenyang still has difficulty with basic quality control on its fourth generation production fighters. Low observability is notoriously hard to maintain as small manufacturing discrepancies that undermine planform alignment or the radar-absorbent material coatings can negate rcs reductions. 

"Quality control, in general, could undermine the J-31’s biggest apparent selling point: its ability to evade radar. 'The potential problem with Chinese- and Russian-construction stealth fighters is that if there’s a bolt out of place, it shows up on a radar signature...Russian and Chinese construction is typically much looser.'”- Robert Farley, 2014 

A US intelligence official reporting to Defense News indicated China's domestic built copy of Russia's Su-27SK fighter, the J-11B, has experienced numerous crashes due to manufacturing issues (Axe, 2013). Furthermore, China's efforts to illegally obtain US aviation grade carbon fiber also suggests the Chinese aerospace industry is experiencing ongoing difficulties in the production of high quality aircraft materials. 

This is not to say the J-31 or FC-31 is not a low observable aircraft, but one should be skeptical of extraordinarily low J-31 rcs estimates. As a caveat, its also worth noting that the J-31 does not need to match US 5th generation low observability qualities to be a significant threat to US or allied forces. US fourth generation aircraft, specifically the legacy hornet and F-16C (after the cancellation of the CAPES upgrade program) would likely have significant difficulties in detecting the J-31 from the frontal aspect. Furthermore, as Part II will discuss, many of the countries interested in potentially acquiring the FC-31 would be satisfied with a moderately reduced rcs aircraft. Part II will also discuss the avionics and strategic ramifications of the Shenyang J-31

Related Articles 


  1. Avic Promotes J-31 As An Export Fighter, Perrett, Hewson, Johnson, & Sweetman, 2014
  2. With a Stealth Fighter, China Tries to Gain Attention, Christina Larsonnov, 2014.
  3. Taking Off: Implications of China’s Second Stealth Fighter Test Flight, Andrew Erickson, 2012.
  4. China vs. America in the Sky: A Stealth-Fighter Showdown Is Brewing, Dave Majumdar, 2014
  5. Airshow China 2014: AVIC unveils FC-31 export fighter concept, Kelvin Wong, 2014.
  6. China shows off new stealth fighter, AFP, 0214.
  7. With J-31 Flight, China Makes a Statement, Wendell Minnick, 2014.
  8. What does J-31 tell us about China, Feng, 2012.
  9. Zhuhai airshow and other PLAAF news, Feng, 2014.                                                  
  10. New Chinese Stealth Fighter Relies on Russian Jet Engine, Dave Majumdar, 2014
  11. U.S. Pilots Say New Chinese Stealth Fighter Could Become Equal of F-22, F-35, Dave Majumdar, 2014                                                                                                                     
  12. What We Know So Far About The J-20, Jen DiMascio and Bill Sweetman, 2014.
  13. China Plans To Export J-31 Stealth Fighter, Wendell Minnick, 2014.
  14. Airshow China 2014: Pakistan in talks to buy '30-40 FC-31s', Farhan Bokhari, 2014.
  15. China Airshow Will Unveil J-31, Wendell Minnick, 2014.
  16. China's Selling the J-31, But Who's Buying?, Robert Farley, 2014.
  17. Pakistan & China’s JF-17 Fighter Program, Defense Industry Daily, 2014.
  18. Pakistan Rolls Out 50th JF-17, Block II Production To Commence, Usman Ansari, 2014.
  19. Thunder Resonates as Modernization Inches Forward in Pakistan, Usman Ansari, 2014.
  20. Chinese Airborne Radars, 2014.                                                                                            
  21. JF-17 Thunder Avionics, 2014.                                                                                             
  22. China's J-31 Stealth Fighter: Then And Now, Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer, 2014.
  23. The Chinese Air Force Evolving Concepts, Roles, and Capabilities, Edited by Richard P. Hallion, Roger Cliff, And Phillip C. Saunders, 2012.
  24. Air Combat Tactics among the Fourth Generation Fighters Rong Yang, 2014.
  25. AVIC unveils J-31 Stealth Fighter Jet, Defense Update, 2014.                                             
  26. Which Fighter Plane is the No:1 in the Indian Subcontinent in the BVR(Beyond Visual Range) arena?, fighter planes tk, 2012.
  27. Air Force Systems, Global Security, 2014.
  28. The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems, 1997-1998, Norman Friedman, 1997.
  29. Dose Chinese J-10 Fighter use Russia Zhuk Radar?, 2012.                                                 
  30. First Block 2 JF-17s under construction in Pakistan, Alan Warnes, 2014.
  31. Israeli Technology Transfers to China and India: A Short Assessment, Frost & Sullivan, 2003.,-india.html
  32. EL/M-2032, 2014.                                                                                                                 
  33. Flanker Radars in Beyond Visual Range Air Combat, Carlo Kopp, 2012.
  34. Is China Buying Russia’s Su-35 Fighter?, Wendell Minnick, 2012.|head
  35. F-22 Raptor News New F-22 Raptor performance statistics released, Lieven Dewitte, 2009.
  36. The Real Reason China Wants Aircraft Carriers, Bryan McGrath & Seth Cropsey, 2014.
  37. Just how good is China's new 'stealth' fighter?, Reuben F. Johnson, 2014. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Resurgent Russia - Part III: The US Response in Context

Image 1: M1A2SEP main battle tanks participating in the Combined Resolve II exercises in Germany. Image Credit: US Army, 2014. 

Part I and Part II discussed Russian objectives in Eurasia and the methods it has used to meet its two main objectives: achieving nuclear parity with the United States and establishing Russian hegemony in the near abroad. Upcoming articles will make a series of military, diplomatic, and economic recommendations to the Obama Administration and the Congress with the goal of  safeguarding American interests in Europe. In order to put the recommendations in context, a brief overview of the US grand strategy in foreign policy will be provided.  

The grand strategy of the United States has been to to maintain hegemony in the Western hemisphere by ensuring no great power rivals form within its periphery while simultaneously preventing other powers from attaining hegemony in their own geographic region. 

"The underlying rationale behind this policy is straightforward: As long as Eurasia is divided among many major powers, these states tend to worry most about each other and cannot concentrate their capabilities or their attention on the United States. Nor can they do much to interfere in the Western hemisphere. This situation maximizes U.S. security and makes it possible for the United States to intervene in far-flung regions without having to worry very much about defending its own soil." - Stephen Walt, 2014 

For example, the United States contested the Soviet Union's dominance in Eurasia throughout the Cold War which subsequently forced the Soviet Union to commit the bulk of its forces in Eastern Europe. America's grand strategy is greatly augmented by the unique geopolitical state of North America. Otto von Bismark observed, "The Americans are truly a lucky people. They are bordered to the north and south by weak neighbors and to the east and west by fish". The relative stability of North America is in sharp contrast with the geo-political realities of both Russia and China who are bordered by much more demanding neighbors (from a security perspective). Thus, United States is uncontested in the Western hemisphere and its homeland is secure from nearby state actors which allows the United States to intervene in other regions of the world - namely to contest the hegemony of other powers - by maintaining a robust overseas presence when compared to other states.

The US has been able to maintain hegemony in the Western hemisphere, in part, due to its extensive system of alliances spanning from Europe to the Asia-Pacific. The United States has been largely able to avoid the historical trend of many countries that have ascended to great power status: 

"The fundamental pattern of international relations is that as a country becomes powerful and asserts itself, others gang up to bring it down. That's what happened to the Habsburg Empire, Napoleonic France, Germany and the Soviet Union. There is one great exception to this rule in modern history: the United States. America has risen to global might, and yet it has not produced the kind of opposition that many would have predicted. In fact, today it is in the astonishing position of being the world's dominant power while many of the world's next most powerful nations--Britain, France, Germany, Japan--are all allied with it." - Fareed Zakaria, 2013 

Thus, frequently discussed factors such as the size of the US economy, technological advantages, size and quality of the US military, etc. cannot fully account for American hegemony. The robust network of US alliances has the dual effect of not only increasing the number of countries willing to assist the United States, but also the alliance system significantly decreases the number of states who seek to oppose the United States.

The common critique of the Obama Administration's foreign policy, which asserts the Administration lacks a grand strategy or an underlying organizational principle is largely unfounded. The Obama Administration is clearly continuing to enact the post-World War II US grand strategy of maintaining hegemony through a system of military and diplomatic alliances. The Pivot is among the best examples of the Administration's continuation of the aforementioned policies (Walt, 2014). Applying the US grand strategy within the Russian context will be crucial for protecting US interests in Europe. The following objectives are derived from promoting American hegemony as per the grand strategy within the context of dealing with Russia after the Ukraine crisis: 

(1) Protect existing US allies from both conventional and unconventional military forces from Russia
(2) Contest Russian economic, diplomatic, and military hegemony in Eurasia, principally within the post-Soviet states in the near abroad
(3) Do not facilitate further cooperation between the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation 
(4) Establish a compartmentalized relationship with Russia such that critical issues to the United States which require Russian assistance (principally the enforcement of Iranian sanctions) can continue
(5) Do not commit to new major unilateral security commitments in Eastern Europe    
(6) Continue existing nuclear modernization programs 

Many of these objectives are inherently contradictory with one another to varying degrees which made formulating an appropriate foreign policy response difficult. However, a response which meets these objectives is possible and will be discussed later in the series; the US has a number of diplomatic, economic, and military tools to accomplish the objectives listed above. Part VI will discuss the role between the US and other NATO countries within the context of meeting US objectives. 

Author's Note: I apologize for the comparatively short article but the complexities of NATO merited an entirely separate article e.g. the disparity in political will to use force between NATO member nations, issues related to the level of aggregate member defense spending, the type of defense spending some NATO countries prioritize to the detriment of the force, etc. 


  1. U.S. Collective Defense Arrangements, Department of State, 2014. 
  2. What Has Asia Done for Uncle Sam Lately?, Stephen Walt, 2014.
  3. America the Isolated?, Fareed Zakaria, 2013.,9171,2143560,00.html 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

News and Updates October 2014

The American Innovation blog has undergone a few changes since the last update including: new additions to the blog articles by topic tab, corrected images which originally did not display properly for the "Should the US Sell Taiwan New F-16s?" article, and added new blogs I recommend to the reading list on the right side bar.

I apologize for the lack of articles in recent weeks. Midterms will be over soon and I will be able to resume publishing articles again shortly.

Upcoming Articles

Assisting Taiwan: How the US Can Realistically Improve Taiwan's Military Posture

The Chinese military's modernization since the 1990s has been nothing short of remarkable. In nearly every respect, from equipment to training, the disparity between the Chinese-Taiwan military balance has shifted in China's favor over the last decade. China's growing economic, political, and military influence in the Asia-Pacific region has triggered a strong US response via the Rebalance. The US has sought to expand ties with several countries nervous of China's growing territorial ambitions but Taiwan remains a difficult case. China opposes any and all US weapon sales and other forms of support to the island nation. China's growing lobbying efforts against the sale of new equipment to Taiwan is evident in the Obama Administration's decision to offer an upgrade package for Taiwan's existing F-16 Block 20 fleet as a compromise rather than granting their initial request for 66 new F-16 C/D Block 50/52+ aircraft. The author will discuss methods in which the United States can support Taiwan with reduced political backlash from China, and the extent in which the US should value military to military contacts with China given the apparent lack of change in Chinese behavior with respect to territorial issues.

Resurgent Russia Part III 

Despite the ceasefire in Ukraine, the US-Russia relationship will likely be marked by a new sense of animosity and rivalry for years to come. The United States must adapt to the strategic reality that the Russian Federation cannot be counted on as a "partner nation" or "responsible stakeholder" in the international system. However, Russia's new found confidence to assert itself in world affairs must be viewed in context in terms of other US strategic priorities. Frankly speaking, a purely hawkish approach to Russia will not be conducive to promoting global US interests. The United States sill requires Russian cooperation in enforcing international sanctions against Iran and intense US pressure on Russia will only drive Putin to expand military, political, and economic ties with China. While inherent geo-political factors make a formal alliance nearly impossible between Russia and China, the two countries still could expand cooperation in ways that would pose a significant challenge to the United States. At the same time, the US must prevent the formation of a Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe while many NATO member states continue to slide into strategic irrelevance.

Recommended Media

SS-N-22 Sunburn hits derelict ship 1:20

China Deploys A Mechanized ‘Peace Mission’ - By Richard D. Fisher, Jr

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Quick Thoughts: F-22s in Syria

UDPATED 9/24: Revisions reflect new information on Arab forces and corrections on Tomahawk launch locations

Image 1: F-22 taking off from Al Dhafra air base in the UAE to participate in operations over Syria. Image Credit: USAF, 2014.

American F-22s entered combat for the first time in the early morning hours of September 23rd. Roughly 200 munitions were expended on 22 targets by a mix of B-1B, F-15E, F-16, F/A-18, and F-22 aircraft along with 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from the USS Arleigh Burke and USS Philippine Sea from the Red Sea and Arabian Sea respectively. A total of 48 US aircraft were joined by aircraft from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain which all served in direct combat roles. Qatar abstained from bombing targets in Syria but graciously provided logistical support and access to its facilities. According to Tyler Rogoway from Foxtrot Alpha, the following Arab aircraft participated in the strike:

four Jordanian F-16MLU Vipers
four Saudi F-15S Eagles
four UAE F-16E/F Block 60 Vipers
two F-16C Vipers from Bahrain

The F-22s participating in the strike were likely from the 1st Figher Wing (FW) based at Langley-Eustis Virginia; A group of six block 35 F-22s from the 1st FW were sighted in transit to Al Dhafra air base in the UAE earlier in April (Cenciotti, 2014). The F-22s participated in the second of three waves of aircraft bombing ISIL, Al Nusra Front, and Khorasan Group targets.  Below is video from an unidentified aircraft recording an F-22 strike against an ISIL compound.

It is unknown if the aircraft participating in the strike were upgraded to the increment 3.1 standard which offers a host of significant improvements including: synthetic aperture radar (SAR) modes to the AN/APG-77, electronic attack capabilities, geo-location of electro-magnetic emitters, and GBU-39 Small-Diameter Bomb (SDB I) integration. If the aircraft were not upgraded to the 3.1 standard, it can likely be assumed the Raptors used 1,000 pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM). However, in the author's opinion, the effects of the four of munitions used on the structure (two munitions can be observed hitting the structure at the 9 second mark and another pair of munitions can briefly be seen impacting the structure at the 11 second mark prior to the cut towards a farther distance perspective) in the video above are more consistent with the effects of four 250 lb SDB Is rather than four of the much larger 1,000 lb JDAMs.

Increment 3.1 aircraft would be significantly more useful to American forces striking targets in Syria relative to increment 2.0 aircraft given the SAR, SDB I, and geo-location capabilities; increment 3.1 upgrades allow the F-22 to become a potent suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) aircraft. F-22s over Syria were likely assigned to protect other coalition aircraft in the event the Assad regime activated its integrated air defense system (IADS) or launched what remained of its air force in addition to preforming an air to ground strike (Mehta, 2014). The Syrian Air Force is equipped with Mig-21 and Mig-29 fighter aircraft but the combat readiness Assad's fighter fleet is questionable. However, the Syrian response was minimal in terms of actions despite the strong protest in rhetoric. Both Iran and Syrian officials were informed shortly in advance of the strikes and given assurances Assad regime forces would not be targeted. Syrian radar acquisitions on US aircraft were passive, indicating that Assad's forces sought to avoid confrontation (Pande & Babb, 2014).

It is notable that no report mentions the participation of of  Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) or similar "gateway" aircraft in support of strikes against ISIL. The F-22's intra-flight data link (IFTL) can only transmit and receive signals to other F-22s or specialized gateway aircraft which in turn translate the signal for other aircraft. Without a gateway aircraft, F-22s would only be able to receive Link-16 tracks (the standard data-link for many US-NATO equipped fighter aircraft ) and would be unable to transmit its own Link-16 tracks to other aircraft particpating in the strikes such as the F-16s (Majumdar, 2012). Until the Raptor fleet is upgraded to the 3.2A standard, F-22s will lack two way Link-16 capability. Raptor pilots might have resorted to using unstealthy radios in order to communicate with other coalition forces (emitter locator systems could theoretically detect transitions via conventional radios). However, given the deactivated state of Assad's IADS, the use of radios likely wouldn't be a significant issue.

As for the selection of targets, David Axe and Robert Beckhusen recently wrote how US signals intelligence assets have provided invaluable information to US forces in Iraq (and likely in Syria as well preceding the American air strikes).

Related Articles: 

The Benefits of Stealth and Situational Awareness
The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors - Part I Introduction
The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors - Part II Adaptations to Budget Cuts
The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors - Part III Upgrades

Image 2: F-22 pilot refuels from a KC-135 tanker after participating in operations over Syria. Notably, the pilot has an American flag in the cockpit, a customary practice during real combat operations (Cenciotti, 2014). Image Credit: USAF



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Japan's Domestic Stealth Fighter Ambitions - Assessment of the Proposed F-3

Image 1: ATD-X aircraft

In June Japan's Technical Research and Development Institute (TRDI) developed ATD-X was first unveiled to the public. Japan initially launched the program as part of an effort to persuade the United States to export the F-22 Raptor which was banned for export by Congress in 2004 (Axe, 2011). However, Japan currently has three principal uses for the ATD-X: a testbed for the development of counter-stealth technologies, to assist in the development of both fifth fighter technologies in tandem with the sixth generation i3 concept in an attempt to gain access to co-development of the next sixth generation American fighter program, and - if Japan cannot gain co-development rights - then proceed with a domestically produced sixth generation F-3 aircraft (Perrett, 2014). Former defense minister Onodera has indicated Japan will decide whether to proceed with domestic production in 2018 upon reviewing a potential partnership with the United States. The most probable outcome will likely be similar to the following:

  • The United States will rebuff the Japanese offer for sixth generation co-development 
  • Japan will in turn proceed with its domestic development program under significant diplomatic pressure from the United States to terminate the program
  • Japan's low defense budget and limited defense aerospace industry will either force Japan to cancel the program after few years at which point: 
    • The US will likely attempt to co-opt Japan with an offer for a much more limited role in the American program sixth generation program than originally desired by the Japanese Government (to eliminate competition in the fighter export market) 
  •  OR Japan will continue with development of the F-3 despite the high opportunity costs with only a few dozen F-3 aircraft produced    
While the plausible series of events described above are certainly bleak from Japan's perspective, one cannot reasonably conclude Japan's defense aerospace industry could mass produce a sixth generation aircraft by 2030. Not only will the inherent limitation's of Japan's own defense industry constrain the development of the F-3, but also the United States will exert immense diplomatic pressure on the Government of Japan to cancel the F-3 program. Part I will detail the prospects for the joint development of a sixth generation aircraft between the United States and Japan as well as examining the inherent weakness of Japan's defense aerospace industry. Part II will examine how the US will pressure the Government of Japan should it continue with the development of the F-3, how the F-3 program would unfold if unhindered by the US and given budgetary priority by the Japanese Government, and the strategic impact the F-3 would have in the Asia-Pacific region.

 Prospects for an American Partnership

Image 2: F-X sixth generation fighter concept by Lockheed Martin

Japan has indicated a preference for American co-development route over the domestic production and development route. However, it is unlikely the United States will allow Japan to participate in the development of either the USAF F-X or USN F/A-XX sixth generation fighter programs at an early stage (Japan is likely soliciting entry in the USAF program). The first USAF sixth generation aircraft will be a high-end air dominance platform designed to replace the F-22 Raptor while the USN intends to procure a sixth generation replacement to the F/A-18E Super Hornet; both services aim to field the aircraft in the early 2030s.

In a similar manner as the Raptor, the first USAF sixth generation aircraft will incorporate numerous sensitive and revolutionary technologies not initially available in other platforms. Given the sensitivity of the technologies incorporated in its design, its unclear if the US would be willing to allow for co-development - or even export - given the recent history with the F-22 program. While the USAF and USN are in the process of defining which key technologies will constitute sixth generation capabilities, the US maintains a competitive advantage in all of the most likely technologies including: variable-cycle engines, gallium nitride based radar arrays, directed energy weapons, multi-frequency band stealth, "artificial intelligence" (more likely a form of data management software), and limited "self-healing" capabilities such as the vehicle system network (VSN) in use on the F-35.

It remains unclear, from the American perspective, to what extent the US could benefit from Japanese participation in development of the F-X aircraft. The US maintains a comparative advantage in all the aforementioned technologies a result of its significantly greater Research Development Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) budget which is $63 billion for FY 2014, larger than Japan's entire $49 billion  FY 2015 defense budget.

Image 3: Lockheed Martin Falcon 10 test aircraft equipped with Aero-Adaptive/Aero-Optic Beam Control (ABC). Solid state lasers have made substantial advancements in recent years under US Navy, Air Force, and DARPA programs. Directed energy weapons such as Lockheed Martin's ABC have the potential to intercept enemy missiles and aircraft. The 150 kilowatt High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) could also be employed against ground targets. Image Credit: Air Force Research Laboratory

While Japan is certainly a stalwart ally of the United States, Washington has credible reasons to be protective of the American defense industry. Even if Japan were unable to be in a position to credibly compete with the United States in arms exports, which is largely the case as detailed in the next section, Japan has had several incidents of leaks related to sensitive US systems. In 2007, a Japanese officer was arrested after leaking radar and transmission frequencies for the US Aegis system. The incident prompted the US to temporarily halt shipments of components related to upgrading Japan's Kongo-class destroyers. The US concern over the limited ability of Japan to retain US sensitive technological secrets promoted Japan to enact a new state secrets law in 2013 which details harsh new penalties for those who leak classified information (Lucy, 2013). While the new law will assuage Washington's concerns to some extent, its unlikely Washington will fundamentally shift its position toward co-development (counter intelligence remains a concern, particularly against Chinese intelligence services).

The US has only shown a consistent willingness to co-develop systems that incorporate technologies already in use by the US military such as the SM-3 Raytheon-Mitsubishi partnership or to some extent the F-35 (though largely co-production rather than foreign assistance in early R&D work with the exception of BAE Systems and Elbit Systems). In summary, the US Government remains wary of the possibility that sensitive US produced technology could be obtained by foreign companies and nations from both an economic and national security perspective and it is unlikely that concern will change in future decades.

Limitations of Japan's Domestic Defense Aerospace Industry 

Image 4: Japanese F-2 fighter 

Upon being denied entry into the American F-X program, Japan will likely pursue a domestically produced 6th generation aircraft. However, the inherent limitation's of Japan's defense industry will either result in the eventual termination of the F-3 program or a limited production run of only a few dozen aircraft. The Japanese defense aerospace industry has been unable to cost effectively design and produce military aircraft in large quantities for the last three decades. Until recently, Japan's self imposed arms export ban limited sales to the domestic market. Furthermore, Japan's annual defense budget for the last decade has equaled approximately 1% of GDP with the FY 2015 budget allocating $49 billion toward defense. The result of comparatively low military budgets combined with limited production orders from the domestic market has historically resulted in Japanese defense aerospace firms being unable to achieve economies of scale production (Axe, 2011).

The net effect being Japanese domestically produced fighter aircraft are much more expensive than their international equivalents and few Japanese aircraft are produced. For example, the flyaway cost for a Mitsubishi F-2 is $136 million in 2014 dollars, more than three times the cost of the F-16C Block 50/52+ from which the design was based and more than the flyaway cost for a current F-35A under the recent LRIP 7 contract (Defense Industry Daily & Butler, 2014). While the F-2 incorporates modest improvements over the F-16 C Block 50/52+ design, the improvements are not proportionate to increase in cost. Similarly, Japanese produced F-35s are expected to cost 27% more than their American manufactured equivalents due to the incorporation of Japanese made components (Defense Industry Daily, 2014).

The Government of Japan has been consistently willing to support its domestic defense industry at the cost of potentially greater defense capabilities, which would result from the deployment of more numerous imported systems, and will likely continue to do so. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries, and other domestic defense firms have strong ties with both the Japanese Diet and are the source of tens of thousands of jobs within the Japanese economy. However, the development of the F-3 will cost more than any other Japanese aerospace program to date.

Image 5:Japan is in the process of upgrading its fourth generation fighter force. License built F-15Js and F-15DJs compose the majority of the Japanese self defense force;s (JSDF) fighter aircraft fleet with 223 in Japan's inventory. Japan's fleet of F-15s are undergoing mid-life upgrades which include improvements to the central computer, electronic counter-measures system, radar, Integrated Electronic Warfare System (IEWS), and the inclusion of new weapon systems (IHS Janes, 2013).

General Hideyuki Yoshioka estimates the total program cost will be $100 billion over the service lives of the aircraft, assuming a few dozen are produced (Axe, 2011). Richard Aboulafia, an aviation expert from the Teal Group, estimates the development costs alone for the F-3 program will be at least $20 billion. The enormous funds required to develop, produce, and maintain the F-3 are incongruent with Japan's aggregate defense expenditures. In order for the full production and development of the F-3 to be plausible, Japan cannot continue to spend merely 1% of its GDP on defense without massive cuts to other Japanese weapon programs.


  1. Japan to encourage universities to develop military technologies, Jon Grevatt, 2014.
  2. ATD-X Emerges Amid Japanese Fighter Choices, Bradley Perrett, 2014.
  3. Japanese MoD denies reports of 2015 first flight for ATD-X prototype, Kosuke Takahashi, 2014.                                                                                                                                       
  4. Japan's indigenous stealth jet prototype 'to fly this year', Kosuke Takahashi, 2014.
  5. Japan to develop stealth-detecting long-range radar, Kosuke Takahashi, 2014.
  6. Onodera says Japan may buy more F-35s 'if price is right', Kosuke Takahashi & James Hardy, 2014.                                                                                                                         
  7. F-35 Deal Targets Unit Cost Below $100 Million, Amy Butler, 2013.
  8. Japanese MoD Budget, 2014.                                                                                                 
  9. UCLASS Requirements Shifted To Preserve Navy’s Next Generation Fighter, Dave Majumdar & Sam LaGrone, 2014.                                                                                                 
  10. Air Force Seeks Laser Weapons for Next Generation Fighters, Dave Majumdar, 2013.
  11. Navy’s Next Fighter Likely to Feature Artificial Intelligence, Dave Majumdar, 2014.
  12. Next Generation Engine Work Points to Future U.S. Fighter Designs, Dave Majumdar, 2013.
  13. GaN Revolution, Dave Majumdar, 2011.
  14. Israel Sells Arms To China, U.S. Says, Michael R. Gordon, 1993
  15. Report: Israel Passes U.S. Military Technology to China, Bryant Jordan, 2013.
  16. Japan Aims To Launch F-3 Development In 2016-17, Bradley Perrett, 2012.
  17. Japan military school raided over Aegis data leak, Martyn Williams, 2007.
  18. Intelligence: Japan Plugs Aegis Leak, Stragegy Page, 2007.
  19. Japan's State Secrets Law: Hailed By U.S., Denounced By Japanese, Lucy Craft, 2013.
  20. Japan’s New Fighter a $100-Billion Program?, Kyle Mizokami, 2011.
  21. DARPA Plans to Arm Drones With Missile-Blasting Lasers, Allen McDuffee, 2011. 
  22. Navy to Test-Fire DARPA's Hellads Laser, Graham Warwick, 2013. 
  23. DARPA testing planes with a 'Star Wars'-style laser cannon, Eric Mack, 2014. 
  24. Defense Industry Daily, 2014.                                                                                               
  25. F-15J, Global Security, 2011.                                                                                               
  26. Japan Responds to Regional Threats With Air Power Boost, Chris Pocock , 2014. 
  27. Lockheed's New Laser Super Turret Could Change Air Combat Forever, Tyler Rogoway, 2014.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Resurgent Russia Part II

Client States - Objectives in the Near Abroad

Image 1: Graphic of the conflict in Ukraine. Russian backed separatists launched a counter-offensive against Ukrainian forces in late August 2014 and are believed to be heading for Mariupol. Image Credit: Swedish Defense Ministry

"Much in Russian foreign policy today is based on a consensus that crystallized in the early 1990s. Emerging from the rubble of the Soviet collapse, this consensus ranges across the political spectrum — from pro-Western liberals to leftists and nationalists. It rests on three geostrategic imperatives: that Russia must remain a nuclear superpower, a great power in all facets of international activity, and the hegemon — the political, military, and economic leader — of its region. This consensus marks a line in the sand, beyond which Russia cannot retreat without losing its sense of pride or even national identity. [emphasis mine] It has proven remarkably resilient, surviving post-revolutionary turbulence and the change of political regimes from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin". - Leon Aron, 2013

The current crisis in Ukraine is often discussed as the latest in a series of events responsible for escalating tensions between Russia and the West which were marked by extensive economic ties and varying degrees of political cooperation only one year prior. Furthermore, President Vladimir Putin is often described as irrational given his refusal to arm Ukrainian separatists destitute the enormous financial and political costs incurred by Russia as a  result of Western sanctions (Judah, 2014). However, a more comprehensive view of the crisis in Ukraine indicates Russia's current actions are consistent with the Russian Federation's long held post-Soviet foreign policy aims and Russian objectives in Ukraine would not have been significantly impacted by more assertive EU or American actions. Maintaining significant influence in Ukraine is a non-negotiable Russian foreign policy interest, a Western aligned Ukraine with possible future EU and NATO membership would have been intolerable.

"'Coercion requires finding a bargain, arranging for him to be better off doing what we want—worse off not doing what we want—when he takes the threatened penalty into account.' However irrational it might seem to the rest of the world, there is no feasible penalty that makes the desired Western outcome in Ukraine acceptable to Moscow." - Samuel Charap, 2014

In relative terms, Russia's interests in Ukraine vastly outweigh American and EU interests and Russia is subsequently willing to go to extreme lengths to pursue what it considers a critical component to its national security policy - establishing Russian regional dominance. No amount of Western punitive action short of war can realistically alter Russian objectives in Ukraine including the often discussed minimalist provisions of arms, intelligence support, etc. that the West could provide to the Ukrainian Government. Russia's support of the separatists and the annexation of Crimea must be put into the context that the ousting of former President Viktor Yanukovych was a major blow to Russian interests in Ukraine and the new pro-Western elected Government threatened long-term Russian influence. The annexation of Crimea and the continued support of Ukrainian Separatists are frantic attempts to secure long term Russian influence in reaction to the rapid deterioration of Russia's regional posture.  

Image 2: Russian Black Sea Fleet stationed at Sevastopol Crimea. Image Credit AP 

In order to facilitate continued Russian influence in Ukraine inspite of the currently hostile central Ukrainian Government, Moscow desires a federated Ukraine in which eastern provinces would be semi-autonomous and more sympathetic to Russian interests (Gates, 2014). Furthermore, the continued support of armed separatists based in Lugansk and Donetsk effectively prohibits Ukraine from NATO membership; NATO does not admit new member states with ongoing territorial disputes (Vandiver, 2014). The annexation of Crimea secures Russian access to the Mediterranean from Sevastopol and ensues Ukraine will be unable to achieve energy independence. When Russia annexed Crimea, it gained access to 36,000 square miles of territory in the Black Sea adjacent to Crimea which are rich in natural gas deposits.

"Now not only does Russia now control that, Ukraine does not. That was potentially the secret to greater energy independence for Ukraine somewhere down the road. That's now not going to be possible. So, it's kind of been a win-win for Putin in that respect, both security and economically. And so I think -- I think it'll be very tough for a Ukrainian government to move westward given the economic leverage that Russia has." - Robert Gates, 2014

Net Effect of Russian Actions  on Russia's Strategic Outlook

While Vladimir Putin has secured long term Russian influence over Ukraine, the Russian Federation's aggregate strategic position in Eurasia has largely been compromised as a result. Many post-Soviet states such as Moldova, Georgia, and Kazakhstan have openly voiced concern over Russian actions in Ukraine and have reinvigorated their efforts to increase diplomatic ties with the United States. While US options for realistically altering Russian involvement in Ukraine in the short term is limited, the US has been presented with significant long term opportunities to shore up diplomatic and military relationships with other post-Soviet States with the objective being to contest Russian regional hegemony.

"[many post-Soviet states] had taken risks, done things that were of politically unpopular to support the United States whether that was sending forces to Afghanistan and Iraq whether that was signing energy deals favoring US allies, and in response the US wasn't doing enough to protect them either diplomatically or militarily...The ability of Russia's effort to court these states will have a lot to do with how they perceive US interest and commitment to them. Many would like to see a deeper security relationship with the United States including: weapon sales, temporary rotations of forces, and training. Even countries that have very different relations amongst themselves like Azerbaijan and Armenia both seem to have an interest in a higher level of US military support for the other as long as it does not disrupt the balance...The issue for a lot of these countries is that they see they have entered a new world with Russia and they are very much looking to the United States and NATO but toward the United States in particular for some kind of leadership to reassure them that this new world is not going to fundamentally threaten their sovereignty and independence."  - Jeffrey Mankoff, 2014

Image 3: US F-16's prior to training mission at Lask Air Base, Poland. Image Credit: DOD 2014. 

Russian actions in Ukraine have not only reinvigorated the efforts of neighboring countries to pursue ties with the US but also it has severely weakened the Russian economy. While the $100 to $200 billion dollars in capital flight as a result of Western sanctions have certainly contributed toward Russia's downgraded future economic outlook, Russia's self imposed food ban against the US, EU, and Australia is likely to inflict even greater damage toward the Russian economy; Inflation is expected to rise to 7-8% if sanctions continue into 2015 (Filatova, 2014). Russia's planned $720 billion dollar military modernization program through 2020 has only been made possible as a result of continued economic growth over the last decade.

In summary, the crisis in Ukraine has actually constrained Russia's ability to assert regional hegemony rather than promoting it. Members of the United States Congress continue to lament at the relative inaction of the Obama Administration with respect to Ukraine but Putin has clearly established the entity that can inflict the greatest possible damage toward Russia's future strategic prospects is Russia itself. An appropriate response from the United States, detailed in Part III, must be cognizant of the self defeating nature of Russia's Ukraine policy and the desire of many post-Soviet states to pursue closer ties with the United States. 

Author's Note: Future articles will be published on a weekly basis unless otherwise noted (generally every Monday or Tuesday). 

Sources (In addition to Part I)

  1. Ukraine’s Army Slogs Through the Merciless Donbass - Blood, borscht and BTRs, Robert Beckhusen, 2014.                                                                                                                    
  2. Ukrainian military moves to endgame, Tim Ripley, 2014.                                                            
  3. The "Near-Abroad" Factor: Why Putin Stands Firm over Ukraine, Hilary Appel, 2014.
  4. Special Operations: All Glory To The 45th For Conquering Crimea, 2014.
  5. Analysis: Crimea intervention - The increasing sophistication of Russia's military resurgence, Tim Ripley, and Bruce Jones, 2014.                                                                                               
  6. Is NATO Back? That Depends on Germany, Emily Cadei, 2014.                                             
  7. Is NATO a Bulwark in Need of Reform or a Relic?, Hanna Kozlowska , 2014.                       
  8. How NATO Could Confront the Putin Doctrine, David Francis, 2014.
  9. The 'Putin Doctrine' And The Real Reason For Russian-American Conflict, Mark Adomanis, 2013.
  10. Russia Lies About Invading Ukraine as It Invades Ukraine, Anna Nemtsova, 2014.
  11. NATO: These new satellite images show Russian troops in and around Ukraine, Dan Lamothe, 2014.
  12. Why Obama's Coercion Strategy in Ukraine Will Fail, Samuel Charap, 2014.
  13. Arm Ukraine or Surrender, Ben Judah, 2014.                                                                            
  14. Putin's Goal for Ukraine, Nikolas K. Gvosdev, 2014.                                                                 
  15. Kissinger on Russia's global integration, 2014. 
  16. Food imports ban backfires on Russia's economy, Irina Filatova, 2014.                                      
  17. Putin’s new model army, The Economist, 2014.                                                                         
  18. Polish MiGs deploy as NATO steps up air defenses, Bartosz Glowacki, 2014.
  19. The Putin Doctrine Russia's Quest to Rebuild the Soviet State, Leon Aron, 2013.
  20. NATO rejects Russia’s ‘hollow denials’ of Ukraine intervention, John Vandiver, 2014.