Sunday, December 21, 2008

Naval support - industry implications

One of the contracts Defence awarded recently went to BAE Systems Australia, for in-service support of the upgraded FFG frigates.

You have to feel sorry for Thales, which is just completing the much-delayed FFG Upgrade project. Nobody knows these ships better than Thales and one would have thought they'd be a shoe-in to win the through-life support contract. The company also lost out recently on the AWD sonar contract, and this seems likely to have a significant effect on its payroll over the next few months.

What this shows is that nobody can take defence contracts for granted in these uncertain times, and with contracts now in place for the AWDs and LHDs, there probably won't be too much new ship building work over the next few years. That means the naval contractors will be fighting for market share in the sustainment and support markets on both the east and west coasts, and the first battle has been fought and won already.

Defence repeatedly tells industry to invest in recruiting more people with higher skill levels; many long-established Australian defence contractors such as BAE Systems and Thales have been doing this for years, and have invested also in research and manufacturing facilities as well as in-service support capabilities. They won't continue to make such investments unless they can be sure the workload and opportunities are there to justify them.

The delicate balance Defence must make is between seeking value for money by opening tenders up to all comers, including new entrants to the market whose local footprint is small or non-existent, and honouring the commitments and investment made by long-term players. Plenty of local companies believe Defence doesn't understand the concept of 'value for money', nor the concept of 'sustainability' as it applies to important industry capabilities: I've seen industry executives shake their heads in despair when it appears contracts are going to the lowest bidder, regardless of quality and local employment.

That's not to say the AWD sonar and FFG support contracts want to the wrong companies, more an observation that some Defence planners believe they can treat Australia's defence industry base like an old-fashioned Stalinist-type command economy: that they can turn industry capabilities on and off like taps, and mix and blend colours and temperatures at will. Industry capability is like Defence capability - and I mean REAL capability, not just sheds on industrial estates and bodies in overalls or uniforms: real, effective, enduring capabilities take time to create, they are vulnerable to neglect and are very expensive to resurrect if allowed to atrophy.

It's not clear to me, nor to many industry observers, that Defence pays more than lip service at times to this fundamental truth.

Seasprite update

I've been away again - Melbourne and Adelaide, to catch up with my family pre-Christmas.

Meanwhile, Max and I have had a bit of feedback on our article about the Super Seasprite helicopter; the absolutely final version of this article, incorporating some of that feedback, is now up on the ADM web site:

http://www.australiandefence.com.au/adm/index.cfm/p/special.reports/

The feedback we've had falls into two categories: additional background information, which supports our central thesis; and requests for clarification to ensure the roles and responsibilities of certain individuals and organisations are presented correctly.

With that in mind, I'm very happy to emphasise to readers that the prime contract for Project Sea 1411 was signed by the old Defence Acquisition & Logistics Organisation (Defence A&L); the Defence Materiel Organisation wasn't created until 2000, by recently-appointed Under Secretary Defence Materiel (USDM) Mick Roche. It's been pointed out that Roche and the DMO inherited the problem and tried to deal with it as best they could; among the lessons they learned from this experience was the risk attached to operating an agglomeration of small fleets of different aircraft. One enduring legacy of Project Sea 1411 has been the ADF's helicopter rationalisation program under Project Air 9000 which will see a fleet of no less than ten separate helicopter types and marks in 2004 (Tiger, Chinook, Black Hawk, Iroquois, Bushranger, Kiowa, Squirrel, Sea King, Seahawk and Super Seasprite) reduced to just five: Tiger, Chinook, MRH90, the new training helicopter to be acquired under Air 9000 Ph.7, and the new maritime helicopter to be acquired under Air 9000 Ph.8. The DMO was one of the strongest advocates of this process, and I'm happy to acknowledge the fact.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Super Seasprite - What went wrong?

If you're wondering where the author has been these many weeks, take a look at the Rumour Control web site - www.rumourcontrol.com.au

You'll see there a link under 'Hot Topics' to an 18,500 word article written by myself and Max Blenkin on the demise of the RAN's Super Seasprite helicopter project. This is our contender for the prize put up by aviator Dick Smith and businessman Gary Johnston for the article that best describes what went wrong on this project.

You can also download it as a pdf - www.rumourcontrol.com.au/hot_topics/seasprite121208.html

Due to a scheduling problem of the author's own making this article won't be up on the ADM web site, where it belongs, for a couple of days, but check out the site anyway: www.australiandefence.com.au/adm

Max and I both know there are plenty of other strong contenders out there - between us all we should build up a pretty accurate picture of what actually went wrong.

To grossly over-simplify, this is what went wrong: Defence selected the wrong aircraft for the wrong reasons - its choice of helicopter was dictated by the Navy's plan to acquire a small, 1,250-tonne Offshore Patrol Combatant (OPC); but six months after signing the contract for the Super Seasprite, the Navy cancelled the OPC project. Defence then made the mistake of persisting with the Super Seasprite and compounded the error by mishandling the development and service entry of the helicopter, though the people involved generally believed they were doing the right thing, as they saw it.

It's a long, complex and very sad story. And it was all preventable.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

That RAND Corporation report, and my trip to Amberley

I’ve just returned from a fascinating day at RAAF Base Amberley where I and a number of other Australian specialist defence writers got a chance to update ourselves on aspects of the RAAF’s Super Hornet program. Boeing has brought its Super Hornet simulator to Amberley for the three-day Amberley Air Show which was due to start today (Friday); we all got the chance to fly it and experience something of what a modern fighter can do.

For security reasons the simulator represented the Block 1 version of the Super Hornet with the Raytheon APG-73 radar; however, Boeing also arranged for us to talk to a couple of Super Hornet pilots who currently fly the Block 2 version, equipped with Raytheon's APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Antenna (AESA) radar. This was an illuminating experience.

First, however, a bit of context – and for that I’m indebted to fellow-scribe Stephen Trimble of Flight International whose excellent ‘The DEW Line’ blog - http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/the-dewline/ - led me to the RAND Corporation air combat effectiveness study cited on my own blog a few days ago.

The RAND study canvases air combat statistics from 1945 to the present day, including the demonstrated Kill Probability (PK) of various air-air missiles since that time. It then examines the projected capabilities in about 2020 of the F-22A and Sukhoi Su-35M Flanker and their respective air-air weapons, in the case of the F-22A the AIM-120C AMRAAM and AIM-9X Sidewinder.

The context for this study is one of the most demanding scenarios the USAF could face: an all-out war against China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) over the Taiwan Strait.

The study is a ‘what if?'. The USAF has generally enjoyed total air superiority in recent conflicts thanks to a variety of things: secure bases close to the action, superior situational awareness and superior equipment – aircraft and weapons. Translated into 2020, the USAF’s air superiority concept has as its foundation secure bases close to the action (typically less than 500nm), 5th generation stealth, effective and superior Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles and a significant qualitative superiority over the adversary (aircraft, weapons, training, tactics, maintenance and other aspects).

But what if one of those elements is missing in future? RAND analysts John Stillion and Scott Perdue point out that USAF has just one base within 500nm of Taiwan – Kadena, in Japan; the next closest are around 800nm away in Korea and Japan, with Misawa a thumping1,400nm away. After that, the nearest is at Andersen AFB in Guam, 1,565nm away. The PLAAF, by contrast, has 27 bases within 500nm of the Taiwan Strait and many of these are also uncomfortably close to Japan and Korea.

Two scenarios are canvassed: in one, the F-22As are required to operate from Guam; in the other a mixed force of F-22As and F-35s are able to operate from Guam and Kadena and Misawa, both in Japan, with some F-35Cs operating from US Navy carriers.

In the former case the USAF can sustain just six aircraft at a time on combat air patrol over the Taiwan Strait – about 138 sorties a day, compared with the PLAAF’s 1,300 a day. In the worst-case scenario, if the PLAAF were to attack Taiwan with three regiments of Flankers (about 72 aircraft), six F-22As would be totally inadequate. Even if every AMRAAM and every Sidewinder fired by every F-22A destroyed its target, and not a single F-22A was lost in combat, they still wouldn’t have enough missiles to shoot down the invading force, which would also probably succeed in destroying the tankers and early warning aircraft supporting the F-22As.

In the second scenario RAND projects that the US would be able to place 26 fighters over the Taiwan Strait at a time. The worst case scenario would see all 26 shot down and about 10 Flankers breaking through to attack other aircraft such as early warning, tanker and surveillance UAVs.

However, neither scenario took into account the presence of Taiwanese (and other allied) fighters and ground-based air defence missiles; neither did they take into account the capabilities of Aegis-equipped US and allied destroyers. For that reason it was a narrow and incomplete examination of a specific scenario: it didn’t set out to appreciate a real situation; rather it situated a very narrow appreciation.

Stillion and Perdue cite Lanchester’s Square Law to ram home an important message. Dr FW Lanchester in 1916 proposed a law based on his own analysis of loss ratios on the Western Front; put simply, to stalemate a force which is three times (or N times) as numerous, you need to be nine times (or N squared times) as effective. This doesn’t necessarily hold true for BVR combat, where effectiveness is determined by things like stealth, sensor technologies, networking capabilities and so on, but is probably the best benchmark available for open source operators.

The RAND study estimates an effectiveness ratio of at least 12:1 in favour of the F-22A, based on the aircraft’s success in a number of increasingly testing air defence and air combat exercises. Stillion and Perdue’s message, as I’ve interpreted it, is this: in the absence of secure bases close to the action (which enable a high sortie rate and the aggregation of sheer numbers in response to a significant threat), stealth had better work, and BVR technology had better work. And the US and its allies need a plan to deal with the counter-stealth and counter-BVR technologies that are emerging in response to the US’s development of 5th generation aircraft.

The other message is that quantity has a quality all of its own: it doesn’t matter how good the F-22A might be – when it’s out outnumbered 12:1 it just hasn’t got enough missiles to shoot down all of its opponents. Furthermore, based on RAND’s figures the USAF needs more than the 180 F-22As it is currently slated to receive. And it needs all the tankers it can get.

This raises an interesting issue for Australian air power theorists: if the RAAF were to buy a small-ish force of F-22As and deploy it in small CAPs against incoming threats, how many aircraft should make up each CAP, how many such CAPS would it need to mount simultaneously (and would this be 24/7 or for a shorter period each day?), and therefore how many aircraft would be required to maintain an effective deterrent, or defence against direct attack in any sort of numbers?

I’d recommend interested readers have a look at the two air power presentation’s on Stephen Trimble’s blog page: they are fascinating reading!

So what does all this have to do with my trip to Amberley? Boeing was quite happy to let its customers do the talking: when asked directly whether the Super Hornet Bock 2 (a 4th generation fighter and so regarded as inferior to the 5th generation F-22Aand F-35A) would survive in combat against a Su-27/30, a US Navy and an RAAF pilot said without hesitation they would choose the Super Hornet every time. To cut a long story short, we were told the key to combat success (and survival) is to be able to get the first shot away – and the Super Hornet is designed to make that possible.

Even though it’s not designed as a stealthy aircraft, and even though the external carriage of weapons, sensors and fuel tanks degrades the Super Hornet’s radar and IR signatures, the operators reckon its low-observable characteristics make enough difference to be worthwhile. Furthermore, its AESA radar is a massive improvement over other sensors that are out there, while its nose pointing ability (which is distinct from but just as important as its sustained turn rate) is outstanding.

However, for the Super Hornet to deliver its full combat potential the RAAF needs its new A330-200 tankers, Wedgetail airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) aircraft and Vigilare air defence ground environment.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Defence R&D

For those with an interest in the arcane business of commercialising defence-related Intellectual Property, I've posted a new paper on my Rumour Control web site on some useful models for technology commercialisation and new product innovation.

The paper is here: http://www.rumourcontrol.com.au/analysis/defenceranddindex.html

This data is all rather generic - it highlights the things successful projects and successful companies have in common, but not with specific reference to the defence industry; the next step is to try and re-fashion some of these models for the defence business environment and see if they hold true.

Watch this space.

JSF Update

I've added a new paper to my Rumour Control web site - this one is a brief and rather unstructured update on the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program and deals with some of the programatics of the project as well as the ongoing debate over what it will, or should, or might cost.

The paper is accessible here: http://www.rumourcontrol.com.au/analysis/JSF_September_2008.pdf

It also touches on what seems to me to be a growing problem: a misunderstanding of the design aims and technologies of the JSF and other aircraft and the resulting tendency on the part of some observers and commentators to use wrong or incorrectly calibrated benchmarks for assessing their capabilities.

There ought to be a Ph.D in this - but I haven't got time.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

...So There!

The RAND Corporation, whose recent involvement in a Pentagon war game has been widely cited by critics of the Joint Strike Fighter program, has grown tired of being mis-represented (see "JSF in the news again", below).

Andrew Hoehn, Director of RAND Project Air Force, made the following statement on 27 September:

"Recently, articles have appeared in the Australian press with assertions regarding a war game in which analysts from the RAND Corporation were involved. Those reports are not accurate. RAND did not present any analysis at the war game relating to the performance of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, nor did the game attempt detailed adjudication of air-to-air combat. Neither the game nor the assessments by RAND in support of the game undertook any comparison of the fighting qualities of particular fighter aircraft."

So where did these incorrect reports come from? And why?

Mortimer - some of the implications of his Review

The Mortimer Review of Defence Procurement and Sustainment is a fascinating document. It makes a lot of sense, and there would be few who'd criticise defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon for implementing most of David Mortimer's recommendations.

Turning the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) into an Executive Agency would be an important step towards achieving the culture change that both its head, Dr Steve Gumley, and Australia's defence industry are keen to see. While this might make the DMO more distant from its principal customer, the Australian Defence Force (ADF), there's no evidence that the current relationship supports their mutual goal of delivering equipment and capability on time and to the required level of functionality.

However, while many will focus on Mortimer's analysis of the DMO, he also makes some very important comments about the Capability Development Group (CDG). This is responsible for identifying capability gaps and setting operational requirements for new equipment, but its people don’t understand the commercial and technical risks associated with military equipment acquisitions, Mortimer believes. “Defence has often pursued a unique Australian solution or modified an existing solution without appropriate understanding of the attendant risks to cost, schedule and delivery. It is important that this be avoided in the future,” he said.

Part of the problem, he believes, lies in the inexperience of ADF officers posted into the CDG. Not only do they lack project management skills, their postings last an average of only 18 months, despite the complexity of the projects they are working on and the lengthy deliberations and analysis required to develop them adequately.

Mortimer rightly points out that many defence procurement problems have their genesis at the Capability Development stage: "It is no exaggeration to say that the work of CDG is critical to the success or failure of the acquisition that follows." Defence acknowledged many of these issues when it implemented some of the recommendations of the 2003 Kinnaird Review, and both the DMO head, Dr Steve Gumley, and his counterpart at CDG, LTGEN David Hurley, emphasised how closely they were working together to improve Defence's capability development and acquisition processes.

But the CDG needs much more expertise in cost and schedule estimation and project management, believes Mortimer, as well as the project management skills necessary to deal with the inherent ambiguities at the early stages of major defence projects: “it is unrealistic to expect military personnel with limited training in project management to plan major acquisition projects,” he said flatly.

Defence has been a founder member of a new College of Complex Project Management, to which Dr Gumley attaches great importance. But the expression 'Complex Project Management' doesn't simply refer to the contractual and and engineering challenges of building and delivering a piece of defence equipment. It also embraces the uncertainties and ambiguities of the project's requirements definition stage: that's where the complexities lie. That is where the systems engineering approach must be applied by masters of complex project management - and that mastery must extend into the DMO also to ensure a continuum from conception to delivery, says Mortimer.

Mortimer recommends buying lots more defence equipment off the shelf; he argues a strong case, but as a separate post on this Blog points out, it is possible to reduce project cost and schedule risks while supporting an expanded role for Australia's defence industry: all it takes is the political will to make it happen, and a bit of enlightened self-interest by the ADF in supporting its domestic industry sustainment base.

White Paper - the industry policy challenge

With public submissions to Australia's new Defence White Paper due to close on 1 October, I couldn't resist making one myself. There's a copy on my Rumour Control web site, if you're interested - www.rumourcontrol.com.au - click on 'Hot Topics'

My submission makes what to me is a fairly obvious point: a technology-dependent defence force requires a technology-savvy defence industry to support it. But if the Australian Department of Defence doesn't help create a more supportive environment for local manufacturers it risks losing the non-manufacturing skills base required to sustain the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

The Mortimer Review -
http://www.defence.gov.au/publications/mortimerReview.pdf
recommends that the ADF make more use of Military Of The Shelf (MOTS) equipment. The reasons for this are understandable and well argued. But I would argue also that if the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) plans to spend $100 billion over the next decade on buying and sustaining equipment for the ADF, then as much of that money as possible should be spent in Australia.

This isn't to say we should try to make all of our own equipment, or that the Australian taxpayer should pay a premium to create and prop up low-value jobs in an uncompetitive defence industry: that way lies madness. But Australia can do more to help its defence manufacturing companies, especially its SMEs, win positions on merit in the global supply chains of the companies which supply the ADF. Defence and the DMO have recognised this and the Team Australia initiative has been fairly successful in programs such as the Joint Strike Fighter.

This is an implicit acknowledgement that the global defence market is not a level laying field: in fact it is deeply distorted and heavily manipulated and governments have an important role to play in ensuring that their defence companies enjoy a fair go. But first they need to acknowledge their self-interest in doing so, and then frame a policy that supports it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Anzac battle group in Germany

On 17 September the Australian Department of Defence announced that 180 troops from 1st Bn Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) had deployed to Germany to take part in a US-led exercise, Co-operative Spirit '08. The exercise is designed to promote and test interoperability between the four ABCA countries: Australasia (including New Zealand), Britain, Canada and America. 

The 1RAR contingent has combined with a rifle company from 2nd/1st Royal NZ Infantry Regiment to form the ANZAC Battle Group, operating alongside 1st Bn The Welsh Guards, US 5th B, 20th Infantry regiment and 3/2 Stryker Brigade Combat team, and 2nd Bn Royal Canadian Regiment in a scenario designed to reflect operating conditions in Afghanistan.

Two thoughts: does this mean the ADF is considering rotating regular line infantry regiments through Afghanistan in the future, instead of the heavily tasked Special Forces contingent that's been there for so long? If the Army can learn and successfully apply the lessons that are coming out of Afghanistan so that any line infantry deploying there are properly prepared, then that's good news. Line infantry (as opposed to the Commandos of 4RAR) and Cavalry personnel have been providing security for the Reconstruction Task Force in Oruzgan Province, and have done a great job, but it's very obvious the Special Forces task group has been the force tasked with taking the fight to the Taliban, and that must be frustrating for the non-Commando elements of the Royal Australian Regiment.

Secondly, is this the first time Australian infantry have been in Germany since the end of World War 1? 


US-Australia treaty 'deferred'

Defense News in Washington has just broken the story that the US-Australia Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty won't be ratified until some time in 2009 - possibly as much as two years after it was first signed in Sydney by President George W Bush and Prime Minister John W Howard.

If I understand the cause of the delay correctly, the US Senate Foreign relations Committee is worried that the treaty (and a similar one signed between the US and the UK) is in breach of the US State Department's International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The only way the treaty can be signed is if the ITARs are amended to accommodate it, and the State Department has been dragging the chain - as it seems always to do on this issue. 

The ITARs inhibit and constrain collaboration and cooperation between the US and its allies. They are actually rather insulting; while they are designed to protect US know-how the way they are applied seems calculated sometimes to create a commercial advantage for US companies. 

A case in point: recently an Australian company teamed with a US partner to bid for a VERY big US defence contract. The partners decided to offer a variant of a successful Australian product; they also decided to develop an enhanced variant of it. Because the prototype of this enhanced variant - designed, incidentally, by Australians in Australia - was built in the US, the IP in that prototype is now covered by ITAR. The Australian company can't sell a product it designed itself, can't even manufacture it in Australia, without getting ITAR clearance. The partners' joint bid failed to win the contract, but the prototype of the enhanced product is still covered by the ITARs.  Ridiculous!

Even US firms operating in Australia have problems. Under certain circumstances if an Australian engineer sends some information to his US parent company, the parent company cannot send it back to him without requesting an export licence to do so under the ITAR regime. 

The US government owes it to its allies, and especially those who've gone out on a political limb over issues like Iraq, to sort this mess out. The US-Australia Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty won't fix all of the problems but it will put the bilateral relationship on a more mature footing. I just hope whoever's in the White House next year will get a grip on this issue and do something about it.

JSF in the news again

There was a brief flurry of JSF-related newspaper coverage in the Australian mainstream media a few days ago - I missed some of it as I was travelling, but the gist of it was that the RAND Corporation held some sort of computer-based exercise in Hawaii which put the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter up against members of the Su-27 family, and it got comprehensively whacked.

More recently, Jane's Defence Weekly ran an opinion piece by Pierre Sprey and Winslow Wheeler charging that the JSF is overweight and underpowered, isn't manoeuverable and lacks payload. Jane's published a response in the same edition by Lockheed Martin's JSF program chief Tom Burbage and General Chuck Davis, the Program Executive Officer for the JSF at the pentagon. 

The exchange was fairly heated and, to me, highlighted a couple of things: first of all, many critics of the JSF don't understand that it shouldn't be assessed the way you'd assess a legacy fighter: it is a very different type of aircraft designed in a different way, to be built in a different way and to fight in a different way. Secondly, the solution many of its critics put forward to the problems with the JSF amount to a combination of the F-22A Raptor - which is extremely expensive - and some sort of legacy aircraft: the F-15, F/A-18 Super Hornet, even (God help us!) the F-111.

The debate over the JSF and its value relative to the F-22A and some of the legacy jets mentioned above has been impassioned, to put it politely. As a specialist defence writer I've been fortunate enough to receive comprehensive unclassified briefings about the JSF itself and the wider program: manufacturing, industry participation and the autonomic logistics system.  

While it's possible to argue that the Australian government could have been more assertive in pursuing Australia's interests in this program, especially in terms of industry participation, the JSF program seems to this journalist to make sense. It actually answers many of the criticisms of fighter programs which have gone before. 

That said, I'm very aware there are huge areas of the program which are heavily classified. Analysts, reporters and commentators (such as myself) simply don't know how much they don't know about the capabilities of the aircraft and how it might be flown in combat.  I do know that if you try to compare only what's known about an aircraft such as the JSF or F-22A with what's widely known about aircraft such as the MiG-29 and Su-27/30/35 family, you're not really making a valid comparison. I don't pretend to know more than that.

It is not my job to mount a case defending the JSF. To do that (or to damn it) comprehensively I'd need access to classified platform, weapon and sensor performance and operational tactics which I know I'm simply not going to see. The only people who do see it are a small cadre of officials and planners in each of the participating nations. It is possible to infer something about the aircraft from their behaviour.

Their ongoing support for the aircraft, especially those whom I know to have been suspicious or downright dismissive until they received classified briefings on the project, suggests a high level of capability that doesn't derive solely from the weight/thrust/payload/range/wing loading of the aircraft. As for the cost of the JSF, thanks to the Royal Norwegian Air Force we're getting a decent handle on what the jet will actually cost to buy and operate through its service life: US$5.75 billion over about 25-30 years for 48 aircraft; that includes a US$2.27 billion through-life support package; not including the US$668.2 million initial support cost, that works out at US$58.7 million per aircraft.

That's a 2008 dollar price; by 2013 or 2014 when Norway starts taking delivery the figure will have climbed somewhat. But it sets an accurate benchmark against which to measure other contenders.

As for platform performance compared with recent legacy platforms such as the F-16 (and it must be remembered that Sprey and Wheeler were charter members of the so-called 'Light Fighter Mafia' which coalesced around the legendary John Boyd during the 1970s and resulted in the creation of the F-16), I'd offer the following thoughts. 

Years ago, a Rolls-Royce test pilot went to Edwards Air Force Base with a Harrier 'jump jet' to carry out some tests on the aircraft's Rolls-Royce Pegasus engine. As is customary, every test flight was accompanied by a chase aircraft - in this case an F-4 Phantom. The pilot reported gleefully that the supersonic Phantom had to use afterburner to keep up with the lighter, more nimble Harrier; it ran out of fuel fairly quickly. On subsequent flights the Phantom had to carry external fuel tanks - and couldn't keep up because of the extra drag.

More recently, an RAF Jaguar pilot complained that he'd been ordered to carry drop tanks when ferrying his aircraft from Lossiemouth in the north of Scotland to Decimomanu in Sardinia (measure it on a map - it's a hell of distance!). Without drop tanks, in 'clean' configuration the Jaguar had just about enough fuel to fly the distance non-stop, though without a safety margin on arrival. With the extra drag created by external drop tanks, he barely had the endurance to reach the middle of France!

The point of these anecdotes is this: most combat aircraft today, except for the JSF and the F-22, carry their stores and additional fuel externally. It's unusual to see TV footage today of an F-16, F-15 or Hornet/Super Hornet that isn't carrying at least two external fuel tanks and half a dozen external weapons. The JSF carries all of its fuel internally - and carries more than the F-22, indeed more even than an F/A-18 with external tanks. The difference this makes is huge. To illustrate this, on a recent test flight, the F-35A took off for the first time with its maximum internal combat load of two 2,000lb JDAMs and two AMRAAMs. Naturally, these were carried internally; the chase aircraft was an F-16 carrying two external fuel tanks, but no other external stores. 

JSF test pilot Jon Beesley describes the sortie thus: 

QUOTE I had the opportunity yesterday to fly the F-35 for the first time with the INTERDICTION COMBAT load of  two GBU 31 (2,000lb JDAMs) and 2 AIM -120 missiles. In current fighters there is an expectation of performance degradation when carrying 5000lb of ordnance but the internal carriage made any degradation hard to discern.


The acceleration in MAX AB (afterburner) takeoff was very quick and interestingly there is an increase in the acceleration rate above 120 KCAS. The takeoff roll was very near to the 3500’ prediction. Once airborne I came out of AB relatively soon after lift off and continued to climb and accelerate in MIL power in a 10 deg to 15 deg climb attitude. There was plenty of performance. The climb out with full internal weapons carriage was particularly impressive to me. The climb rate seemed to be only slightly hindered by the stores carriage with climb angles near 15 deg in MIL power while in a 30 deg bank turn back over the field. Very pleasant to see clean fighter climb rates and angles while carrying a combat load. The chase aircraft still required brief inputs into AB to keep up with me. This is especially impressive because the 325 KCAS climb speed is well below the optimum climb speed profile for the aircraft.

We only did a brief handling qualities test point on this mission but the handling qualities with this combat loading were indistinguishable from the aircraft with no stores.
Landing occurred with 4500lb of fuel and was easily stopped inside of an 8000 ft. runway length with brake temperatures cool enough to taxi straight back to the hangar. END QUOTE

Do you see the point? An F-16 carrying only two external tanks and no external weapons had to use afterburner to keep up with a JSF which was using military power (ie no afterburner) while carrying a full war load of weapons internally. Think what that means for fuel consumption, for combat acceleration, for energy management in air combat manoeuvres, for sortie endurance and for range. 

The point I'm trying to make here is that it's a huge mistake to make comparisons on the basis of imperfect knowledge - and Sprey and Wheeler should know enough about fighter design and performance to appreciate the difference internal fuel and stores carriage can make.

I'm not saying I know better than these two gentlemen or anybody else engaged in the debate, but I try to listen critically to what I'm told, and base my conclusions on facts (as they're available to me) and rational analysis. 

 





Saturday, September 6, 2008

Friday, September 5, 2008

NCW - avoiding a capability gap

Anybody who has read Major General (Ret'd) Jim Molan's riveting account of his 12-month stint as Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations to General George Casey at the Multi-National Force - Iraq headquarters in Baghdad in 2004 and 2005 would be familiar with the force multiplying effect of UAVs.

The cancellation yesterday of Defence's contract with Boeing under JP129, and the current lack of an operational TUAV system within the ADF inventory, highlight a rather alarming capability gap. Notwithstanding the Army's successful use of Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ADF's inventory is surprisingly low.

The ADF is acquiring precision-guided weapons, both line of sight (such as the JDAM, Javelin and Hellfire) and stand-off, such as the JASSM and JSOW. This is a welcome increase in its offensive capability, but the ADF currently lacks certain capabilities which may prevent it getting the best from these weapons under the sort of circumstances in which they're being used by the US and UK, for example, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) require that force is used with precision, discrimination and humanity, and only where there is a clear military justification. Precision-guided weapons which can hit pinpoint targets very precisely and accurately are increasingly essential for compliance with the LOAC, especially in urban-based counter-insurgency operations where there is a high risk of casualties among civilians and non-combatants.

Precision guided weapons are also vital in conventional operations where battle lines are confused and there is a real risk of fratricide: the ability to take out the enemy in pin-point strikes at low or zero risk to friendly forces is critically important.

But does Australia have the Intelligence-gathering, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Command and Control (C2) capabilities necessary to use these new weapons to their full potential?

'Time-sensitive targeting' is a bit of a buzz-phrase at present - it suggests the ability to react quickly when a fleeting target presents itself: a mobile missile launcher, or air defence radar, or terrorist chieftain. However when such fleeting targets appear (and especially in urban or settled areas with a civilian population) commanders cannot legally launch an immediate strike without doing enough first to satisfy themselves (and any subsequent inquiry) that they have done so in compliance with the LOAC.

This means having persistent ISR assets such as intelligence-gathering networks, surveillance UAVs and manned observation posts which can watch targets continuously for extended periods (possibly for days at a time), both to ensure the targets don't move and to ensure that civilians aren't in the vicinity already, or unexpectedly gather at the spot just as an attack is launched.

Aside from the Special Forces, for whom this type of operation is part of their strategic strike role, the ADF still lacks any organic ability to carry out this type of persistent ISR.
The ADF's current NCW Roadmap and DCP address this issue, but the new Defence White paper, and Defence's current financially constrained position, mean the next DCP could be very different from the last. This will tell us a great deal about Defence's priorities: the ISR capabilities required to help the ADF's new inventory of smart weapons deliver its full potential aren't that expensive; the White Paper and the new DCP will tell us how important the government thinks they are.

Where is JP129 going?

Defence has cancelled its contract with Boeing Australia under JP129 - Tactical UAV Capability. No word as yet on what will replace the Boeing/IAI MALAT I-View 250-based solution, but Defence sources are talking about getting an alternate solution, possibly a Military Off The Shelf (MOTS) purchase, up as quickly as possible.
A Rapid Acquisition (RA)? Possibly - but they could also go back to the unsuccessful bidders for JP129, BAE Systems/AAI and Thales/Elbit and ask them to refresh their bids. One industry source suggested that the ADF could have a TUAV system flying some time in the second half of 2009 if it pursues a genuine MOTS option, but it would need some help from a friendly government to achieve this.

Whatever acquisition strategy is selected, the operational requirement hasn't changed and the government's sense of urgency is driven by the fact Australian soldiers are currently operating in harm's way in Afghanistan and Iraq. And who knows what else might happen over the the next 12 months within our region or further afield?

Which makes it all the more astonishing and disappointing that we've come to the present situation. Does anybody remember when JP129 was originally part of Project Air 87? That was back in 1993, when I first started writing about it. That in turn was two years after the ADF and DSTO conducted its first (apparently inconclusive) trials of a UAV system - the IAI Scout, from memory - up in northern Australia, and some 11 years after the Israel Defence Force's mastery of UAV operations came to light following the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

The ADF is good at learning lessons from the operational experience of others; and everything we've seen or read over the past decade - DCPs, NCW Roadmaps, Hardened and Networked Armies - has emphasised the centrality of UAVs to the future of the ADF.

But what is the ADF's current inventory of UAVs? Apart from a few Tadiran Skylark handheld UAVs, it is zero. Even the ScanEagle UAVs supporting the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan are operated on a fee for service basis by Boeing. DSTO alone has a small fleet of UAVs which it uses for experimental purposes. This despite the 17 years that have passed since the first ADF trial in 1991, and the extensive use by many of Australia's coalition partners of UAVs in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Army's own exploitation of borrowed Aerosonde UAVs in the Solomon Islands two years ago.

When tenders closed for JP129 in 2006, Defence had a quality field of bidders, including two - BAE Systems Australia/AAI and Thales Australia/Elbit - offering systems which were either in service with one of our key allies in Afghanistan, or ordered by the other for use in Afghanistan and elsewhere. But despite its lack of experience of UAV operations, Defence chose a developmental solution. The Australian Army was to be launch customer for an all-new, developmental UAV model supported by a developmental ground control and exploitation environment.

How are the ADF's operational requirements so different from everybody else's that an off the shelf solution - better still, one that's already in service with or on order for one of our key allies - isn't good enough? What does the ADF know about UAV operations that qualifies it to pursue a developmental solution? When TUAVs are practically a commodity (certainly on the scale and at the tactical level we're talking about here) by what measure was the development risk justifiable? 

And how did the Kinnaird Process allow such a decision to leak through, with such embarrassing consequences for all concerned?

I've written often enough that the ADF has all the pretensions and processes of a super power, but lacks the substance to justify them. The example of JP129 would seem to illustrate my point perfectly.