Monday, November 19, 2012

Air Force Magazine on the Latest From the F-35 Mavens

Part 2 of How Ever Many It Takes 

Solomon over at SNAFU! posted a piece centering on an excerpt from an Air Force Magazine article “The F-35’s Race Against Time (November 2012 issue). I had read it already, and didn’t see anything ‘earth-shattering’ at the time. But with Sol’s posting, it occurred to me that it would probably become more interesting to people the further you got away from those familiar with the current state of aeronautics, and it may draw secondary comments from the anti-JSFers to boot.

Dramatic Stealthiness (The Air Force Magazine Heading Not Mine)

The F-35’s radar cross section, or RCS, has a “maintenance margin,” O’Bryan explained, meaning it’s “always better than the spec.” Minor scratches and even dents won’t affect the F-35’s stealth qualities enough to degrade its combat performance, in the estimation of the company. Field equipment will be able to assess RCS right on the flight line, using far less cumbersome gear than has previously been needed to make such calculations.
 This will generate a major military culture change. If not, dollars to donuts either wing kings will start having strokes if they are told they shouldn’t touch “minor scratches and even dents” or someone with a paint can just won’t be able to resist making his jet ‘purtier’. The second alternative future already occurred when the Navy first fielded the F-18E/F.

Low Observability: In From the Start or Not At All

Stealth, said O’Bryan, has to be "designed in from the beginning" and can’t be added as an afterthought or upgrade. That means radar, electronic warfare, data links, communications, and electronic attack "need to be controlled" and must be fused from the start to work in concert with the special shapes and materials of the airframe itself.  
And that beauty has to be more than skin deep. You cannot underestimate the requirement to design the low observability into a plane as an integrated whole. Every academic/scientific text I’ve ever read on the subject stresses this point. Which makes Carlo Kopp’s latest as noted by David Axe over at Wired seem even more clownish. (I got a call from a friend and colleague who told me about it this weekend amid hearty laughter. I may slap it down with extreme predjudice in the very near future.)
The F-35A fighter has an active electronically scanned array radar and unique antennas spaced around the aircraft so that it can direct radar energy precisely, with minimal "bleed" in unintended directions. That puts more power where it’s wanted and reduces emissions that can give away the F-35’s position.  
In addition, it uses machine-to-machine communications with other F-35s. Emitters such as the radar and the electronic warfare system can flash on and off among all the F-35s in a flight.
AESA radars have most of this in common. What is intriguing is the question of what is meant by ‘unique antennas’? Could we guess what some are? Probably. Will we? No.
This also lists or hints at several advantages of modern radars with integrated EW suites. They’re not just 'spread-spectrum'. The 'low probability of intercept' idea is reinforced by beam control and short duty cycles, which tend to make the radars appear to be ‘noise’ more than anything else to most systems most of the time (nothing is certain).

'Only' 25% of “Too Much Signature” is… Still Way Too Much

O’Bryan took skeptical note of other fighter makers’ boastings that they have reduced by up to 75 percent the radar signatures of their fourth generation aircraft. He finds the claim perplexing; their original signatures are so massive, he says, that even a 75 percent reduction still leaves a huge radar return. These uprated fighters are visible within the maximum range of adversary air-to-air missiles, he said.  
"You basically haven’t really done anything, in terms of a practical tactical advantage against an enemy," said the Lockheed official. Worse, the RCS reductions evaporate once nonstealthy ordnance, fuel tanks, and other stores are hung on the "clean" aircraft.
"Until you have a first-shot, first-look, first-kill" capability, said O’Bryan, "you’re still at the same standoff [range], hoping that training and tactics are going to overcome a potential adversary." 
The most shocking thing is the fact that those points even needed to be said out loud.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

China and Russia have recognized the fallacy of trying to make a silk stealth purse out of a nonstealthy sow’s ear. That is why China is vigorously pursuing the J-20 and Russia the PAK-FA stealth fighter designs. If their programs pan out as expected, said O’Bryan, "fourth gen airplanes are really going to be at a serious disadvantage" against them.  
In a modern A2/AD environment, no fourth generation fighter can survive, O’Bryan insisted, no matter how much support it receives from jammers. In such an environment, however, the F-35 can fly in relative safety, with more range than the F-16 and with the same combat payload.  
When enemy defenses have been beaten down, and the need for stealthiness is not so strong, the F-35 will use both internal and external stations. That would boost its carrying capacity to a full 18,000 pounds of ordnance—more than triple the F-16’s max load of 5,200 pounds.
The transition to a non-LO configuration will always be situational: a judgment call, based upon a Commander’s weighing of the relative risks and benefits. Immediately after Desert Storm, the assumption was that once the IADS were taken care of, the switch to non-LO assets could be made in short order. After Operation Allied Force, where the Serbs made a decision to shepherd and conserve their air defense assets as much as possible, the thinking shifted away from simply assuming the transition from LO to Non-LO operations would occur.
O’Bryan said the F-35 is an all-aspect stealth aircraft—that is to say, stealthy from any and all directions. 
Now, this is not news. But watch the watchers parse the above as consistent with their current views of F-35 low observability. Expect exclamations akin to “He didn’t say it was all aspect VLO or other such drivel. I can call it drivel because if the F-35 low observability meets the design requirements, it is ‘stealthy enough’. If it were more ‘stealthy’ than it needed to be, the same people would b*tch about it driving cost.

No Vectored Thrust, No Woe Is Us

Cost and performance trade-offs were made when it came to designing the F-35’s exhaust system, O’Bryan said. Lockheed Martin chose not to employ a two-dimensional thrust-vectoring nozzle, as it had on the F-22 Raptor.  
For one thing, the decision reduced cost. For another, it eliminated one of the larger practical challenges to maintaining the stealth characteristics of the F-35.  
The classified "sawtooth" features that ring the nozzle help consolidate the exhaust into a so-called "spike" signature, while other secret techniques have been employed to combat and minimize the engine heat signature.  
"We had to deal with that, and we dealt with that," O’Bryan said, declining to offer details.
This is kind of funny, because by logical extension, the question of “why not F-22-like thrust vectoring?” could also be logically carried forward to “Why only two-dimensional thrust vectoring?” for the F-22. The answer is of course the same: "insufficient performance return for the investment".
O’Bryan certainly couldn’t go into the subject of the fighter’s EW/EA suite in any detail, or the way it might coordinate with specialized aircraft such as the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System, RC-135 Rivet Joint, E-8 JSTARS, or EA-18G Growler jammer aircraft.  
He did say, however, that F-35 requirements call for it to go into battle with "no support whatever" from these systems.  
"I don’t know a pilot alive who wouldn’t want whatever support he can get," O’Bryan acknowledged. "But the requirements that we were given to build the airplane didn’t have any support functions built in. In other words, we had to find the target, ... penetrate the anti-access [defenses], ... ID the target, and ... destroy it by ourselves."  
O’Bryan said the power of the F-35’s EW/EA systems can be inferred from the fact that the Marine Corps "is going to replace its EA-6B [a dedicated jamming aircraft] with the baseline F-35B" with no additional pods or internal systems.  
Asked about the Air Force’s plans, O’Bryan answered with several rhetorical questions: "Are they investing in a big jammer fleet? Are they buying [EA-18G] Growlers?" Then he said, "There’s a capability here."  
O’Bryan went on to say that the electronic warfare capability on the F-35A "is as good as, or better than, [that of the] fourth generation airplanes specifically built for that purpose." The F-35’s "sensitivity" and processing power—a great deal of it automated—coupled with the sensor fusion of internal and offboard systems, give the pilot unprecedented situational awareness as well as the ability to detect, locate, and target specific systems that need to be disrupted.  
Translation: I’m not ‘saying’, but look at what you know already. Nudge, Nudge, Wink,Wink.

DEAD vs.SEAD

When it comes to electronic combat, the F-35A will make possible a new operational concept, O’Bryan said. The goal is not to simply suppress enemy air defenses. The goal will be to destroy them.  
"I don’t want to destroy a double-digit SAM for a few hours," he said. "What we’d like to do is put a 2,000-pound bomb on the whole complex and never have to deal with that ... SAM for the rest of the conflict."  
At present, that is difficult to do. Adversaries, O’Bryan pointed out, recognize that the basic American AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile has a light warhead able to do little more than damage an air defense array. Thus, they have adapted to the threat by deploying spare arrays with their mobile systems.
 
I’d say 1. DEAD vs SEAD is not new and 2. O’Bryan is somewhat over-simplifying. One 2K bomb’s blast radius wouldn’t take down a double digit SAM complex, He’s obviously talking about going against the control van or other control node with a single weapon. I think more likely would be single pass with SDBs en mass against multiple aimpoints. Basically a scaled down version of what the B-2 did in Allied Force against targets such as the Krivovo Support Base:
Krivovo Support Base, Post Strike, Operation Allied Force
In the photo above are very large warehouses struck in one pass by 2K JDAMs in Operation Allied Force. Note how the bombs were placed at alternate ends of the inside two warehouses for each four building set. The overpressure/blast also damaged the adjoining buildings, staggering and spreading the weapons allowed for maximum destruction in minimum time and aimpoints. Note also how the ends of the buildings that were struck were selected to also impede access to the target by the adjacent road as much as possible.

Since 1999, weapon accuracy and flex target capabilities have only gone up, and while the subject SAM radar, control, and transporter-erector-launchers are smaller targets, they are also "soft" when you find them. And between the EOTS (video) and the AESA(video), they will be found. And we won’t even go into how easy they are to find post-launch when you can track a missile back to the launch point (video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qF29GBSpRF4, link will not embed for me right now). Postt launch detect and destroy is not a trivial point because there are alot fewer TELS than missiles. Destroying TELs early pays off big as you go down the timeline of a conflict.   

End of Part 2

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