Trump buys that but adds more. Sovereign states observe rules of the road ...read more
All Things Pentagon
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it's…a network? SCO’s Will Roper wouldn’t name a current platform to be converted to the arsenal plane. “If the Secretary of Defense won’t tell you what the arsenal plane is, I won’t,” was his response to ...read more
What is Trump's Principled Realism in US Foreign Policy
Trump buys that but adds more. Sovereign states observe rules of the road and engage in peaceful competition over trade and territory. 20th Century realism was was a counterweight to Soviet world communist expansion. Realism was also a warning not to reach too far with the Wilsonian spread of democracy.
In the Saudi Arabia speech Trump made clear he’s not there to tell other countries how to live or worship. That’s classic realism. So is “We will get along with all nations wiling to get along with us,” again from his campaign speech.
Old-school realism barred a statesman from applying domestic principles to international conduct if they might rock the boat. Of course, Trump is going to rock the boat.
Trump’s principled realism – no doubt a speechwriter phrase – adds a twist. Values come back. Trump wants to keep American principles up front including broad religious tolerance and per his campaign speeches, LGBTQ rights.
Trump in Saudi Arabia said: “This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it.”
So he’s inviting Persian Gulf and all Muslim-majority states to acknowledge selected common principles – boys and girls growing up peacefully, ancient cultures, modern achievements, opposing barbaric criminals – and band together.
Principled realism, version one.
Pentagon's Arsenal Plane Relies on Network
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it's…a network? SCO’s Will Roper wouldn’t name a current platform to be converted to the arsenal plane. “If the Secretary of Defense won’t tell you what the arsenal plane is, I won’t,” was his response to National Defense Magazine’s specific question.
An arsenal plane is a plane supporting another, more forward platform. An arsenal plane may stay back from the hottest air defenses but lob in missiles on signals from other platforms like F-35 or unmanned vehicles which are closer to targets. Washington has long speculated that the arsenal plane is either a modified B-52 or B-1 but it could be a "new start." Roper said at CSIS July 13 that the arsenal plane conops is like NIFCA – the Navy’s integrated fire control counter-air. Under NIFCA, Navy aircraft like F/A-18EF, E-2D and soon F-35 share target track data with surface ships so the ships can fire missiles at targets using data handed off from the airborne planes and vice versa. Presumably, an “arsenal” plane is the cruiser in the sky. Weapons stocked on the plane await launch signals through the network of other rovers in the engagement area. That’s my take, anyway.
Little wonder then that Roper says the arsenal plane could be a workhorse in the fight. If, the platforms can all be networked at affordable cost and with resilience and reliability (not the same things.) It’s a risky prototype that could have a big payoff, according to Roper. He’s also proud that it didn’t take long for SCO to pull the trigger on an arsenal plane initiative. “From idea to prototype in a year,” he speculates. Bear with us on the operating concept.
Syria Attack Options for Cruise Missiles and Airpower
The Pentagon is rightly saying little about potential options for strikes in Syria. Based on past operations, my sense is that options fall into three categories:
Punish regime targets, lite version. Shaping up as the most likely option now, the US and allies could use sea-launched TLAMs to hit targets dear to Assad as retribution for the alleged chemical attacks. US destroyers USS Gravely, USS Barry, USS Ramage and USS Mahan are perched in the Med for this possibility. The regime targets would have to be in areas with low or zero collateral damage, of clear military or regime importance, and light enough to impact with the relatively small TLAM warhead. Think airfield headquarters buildings or control towers, communications sites, or a remote Assad family dacha in the countryside, if they have one.
A supersize option could add B-2s, and F-22s to the TLAM strikes. The stealth bombers and fighters bring heavier satellite-guided weapons to hit bunkers and selected air defense sites short of a full campaign, for example.
Destroy air defenses and set up no-fly zone. The US and allies can do this but its a big, big step. First, it would not be as quick and easy as Libya in 2011. Syria is stuffed with Russian military equipment. Also, Russia upgraded Syria’s defense over the last 5 years following Israel’s attack on a suspected nuclear site. The key will be finding and destroying the radars and launchers in Syria’s integrated air defenses. There’s a catch. Syria reportedly has over 4000 man-portable air defenses, which basically will never be fully eliminated. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the Coalition swept the skies clean. Syria will retain a low-to-medium but persistent air defense threat.
An air campaign will use B-2s, B-1s, B-52s, F-22s, F-15Cs, F-15Es, the air defense destroying F-16CMs, and a host of command and control platforms like AWACS, JSTARS and Rivet Joint plus US Navy carrier-based F/A-18Cs, and F/A-18EFs as available. The Coalition will need full NATO participation for base availability and forces, with special emphasis on Italy’s airfields and the ever-useful RAF base on Cyprus. Expect massive KC-10 and KC-135 tanker support plus in-theater basing of combat search and rescue. The big question is whether the US and allies will want to commit the number of forces necessary and for the time it may take.
Hunt and Deny Chemical Weapons. A third possibility is using airpower to destroy or isolate chemical weapons stockpile sites or launchers such as tactical ballistic missiles and aircraft. Coalition partners could use a combination of strikes on fixed targets and even air-dropped mines to keep people away from a weapons bunker. The trouble here is the use of chemical weapons so far seems to have been a hand-crafted operation involving very short-range launchers or perhaps even remote detonation. Difficulties in finding and denying access make this the least likely option.
The list of options is not a very appealing one. Action is feasible but its larger purpose is not yet clear. Gulf friends Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia in July urged the UN to break the siege at Homs and prevent Syria and its allies from committing massacres. But TLAM strikes are unlikely to break any stalemate on the ground.
And what about Russia. No solution in Syria is possible without the cooperation of Putin-istan.
Americans should keep asking questions about Syria. A good one is, simply, who benefits from US-led strikes? For now the case for strikes is based on meting out justice as retribution and perhaps, deterrence. But Americans are right to ask: who benefits? Are there factions in Syria who want us to intervene badly enough to use chemical weapons to force our hand?
One hope seems to be that by the use of military force we will make ourselves feel better about the human tragedies in Syria. If we intervene, I hope our leaders make a clear link between military force and our national security objectives.
Whatever that objective is, it probably won’t be to “end the war.” JCS Chairman General Martin Dempsey pointed out on Aug. 19 that even decisive military action may not decide the conflict.
Queen Elizabeth II Unveils RAF Bomber Command Memorial
This morning, Queen Elizabeth II unveiled the memorial to RAF Bomber Command. The queen was a teenage princess when she and her family lived through the Blitz and other bombing attacks on London during World War II from 1939 to 1945.
After the fall of France in 1940, RAF Bomber Command stood alone in its ability to attack Nazi forces in Europe. Neither short-range fighters, soldiers or sailors could take the fight to the enemy on the continent in those dark times. Britain was all but cut off. America was neutral. This is why Winston Churchill said in September 1940: “The fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means of victory.”
After 1942, America joined in, and the Combined Bomber Offensive depleted the Luftwaffe, attacked deep strategic targets, and dropped bridges to set the conditions for landings in Italy and then at Normandy in June 1944.
But for long years, Bomber Command truly was “alone.” They paid the price. 125,000 men volunteered for Bomber Command. 55,573 of them lost their lives on service with Bomber Command. Most were only a few years older than the young Princess Elizabeth. Their age averaged 22.
For comparison, the United States Marine Corps lost 19,733 KIA in World War II. See the source here.
The Bomber Command memorial was a long time coming. Efforts to build it ran afoul of controversies over strategic bombing. The controversy started with Nazi wartime propaganda and the Soviet Union liked to fan the flames, too, in the decades of a divided Germany. Bomber Command’s combat record is a reminder of how unique and vital airpower really is. The long wait for the memorial is a reminder that airpower will always have its detractors. Looking at the men depicted in bronze, little of that matters. They had a job to do. And they did it.
Read more about RAF Bomber Command and the June 28 ceremony from the UK Daily Mail's excellent coverage.
Oops, Navy Global Hawk Down
Oops, a Navy Global Hawk is down! No shock, really. The test range around Pax River has seen plenty of wrecks and relics over the decades. What's good is that the Navy is getting serious about unmanned, high-altitude surveillance. This oops in the marsh should be treated as a minor hiccup only. Crashes are par for the course while the Navy learns to fly its first big, unmanned planes. And the Global Hawk is big: wingspan of 130 feet, over 47 feet long, with capability to fly up to 65,000 feet. Ten years ago, the Air Force crashed a few Global Hawks, too, when it first flew the planes.
Another good thing is that the actual Global Hawk down in the Chesapeake Bay marsh is not a new plane. It flew several years with the Air Force, who recently turned over several old Global Hawks so the Navy could practice on them.
The Navy is buying a fleet of about 68 Global Hawks for Broad Area Maritime Surveillance – aka watching for everything from submarines to pirates and perhaps taking a swing over coastal foreign military sites, too. The Navy is making huge investments in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and they'd better not use this crash as any excuse to slack off. The US will need plenty of surveillance in the years ahead to sort out low-intensity and high-end threats and Global Hawk for the Navy is a big part of the plan. Carry on!
F-22 Pilot Complaints Mark Safety First USAF Culture
Be glad the two F-22 pilots detailed their complaints to 60 Minutes. What you saw even in the stylized TV format was a glimpse into the intense, safety-obsessed culture that is USAF fighter aviation.
Fact is, USAF pilots are taught to “complain.” It's a necessity in their line of work. The air dominance mission of the F-22 is so exacting and complex that it demands maximum flow of information. Pilots huddle with maintainers before every sortie and as soon as they slide back the canopy after taxiing. The F-22 is a single-seat cockpit. That pilot must report every little thing that happens with the jet while in flight. Compiled information saves lives.
Then comes round two. Imagine yourself in their place. Flight leads or squadron leadership debrief aka criticize you on everything you did wrong on that flight. Drifting in formation. Off glideslope on landing. Bad radio discipline. Or a thousand other items. It's a cold, unemotional process and there is no privacy in fighter aviation. Everyone in the squadron knows how good you are or if you are screwing up on any given day and the reputation you make follows you for life. As it so happens, these men and women aren’t much on talking about it outside their world.
Flying fighters is dangerous. Just flying is dangerous when aircraft are pushing into unknown performance zones. Orville and Wilbur nearly killed themselves on several occasions. Their journals detail how they talked over problems like stall and skid and devised solutions in a brotherly way…i.e. with unsparing criticism. And plenty of Orville’s French press coffee.
Complaining goes with the territory. Here’s an old joke about their traits: what’s the difference between a fighter jet and a fighter jet pilot? The fighter jet stops whining when the engine is shut off.
A fighter pilot I know thinks any tiny rattle in his 2000 Tundra pick-up truck could be a “safety of flight” issue. Yes, they are that sensitive. Even before the F-22, there were plenty of powerful jets that killed their share of pilots. Military aviation developed a culture of strict candor as a way of mastering advanced technology in flight and keeping crews alive. Complaining is their form of scientific inquiry.
The Air Force is pursuing the F-22 oxygen system problems. And truth be told, the incidents are a tough data set. Many F-22 pilots have never experienced the problem in years of flying the Raptor. It reminds me of the debates over Gulf War syndrome. People had real symptoms, but root causes were elusive.
The F-22 has speed, maneuver and altitude capabilities far, far beyond any other aircraft ever flown. These pilots are truly going places no one has ever gone before. With time – and candor – they will work out the oxygen system problem.
USAF Should Keep Global Hawk Block 30 Unmanned Reconnaissance Plane
Why is the Air Force seeking to scrap its Global Hawk Block 30 unmanned reconnaissance planes? A new white paper Global Hawk Block 30 and Defense Strategy suggests the move is out of step with the Asia-Pacific strategy.
Global Hawk Block 30s fly as high as 65,000 feet and collect optical, infrared and radar pictures plus other intelligence. As you guessed from the soft tropic thunderclouds and wet runway, the Global Hawk Block 30 shown here is operational at Andersen AFB, Guam. The USAF stationed a detachment there in September 2010 to beef up strategy reconnaissance.
Scrapping Block 30s would be a shock. Just last year, the USAF insisted Global Hawk was essential to national security and said it planned to complete retirement of the U-2 by FY 2015. The USAF also spent $3.4 billion on these Global Hawks, according to a Feb. 6 report in Aviation Week.
Congress is taking note. On March 28, 2012, Rep. Jim Moran said “the taxpayer is best served” by continuing funding for Global Hawk Block 30. House marks point toward keeping Global Hawk Block 30 in the inventory.
Really, it's a strategy issue. Global Hawk Block 30s are currently tasked with important surveillance objectives in the Pacific. Keeping an eye on China demands regular monitoring of a wider arc from the East China Sea through the Taiwan Strait and on to the South China Sea and Straits of Malacca. The distance from Guam is substantial and no other aircraft has the endurance of Global Hawk.
“If you look at the map of the Pacific,” said General Gary North, Commander, US AIr Forces, Pacific, “Guam is in the perfect location for this platform."
Former Air Force Vice Chief of Staff General Carrol H. Chandler said the Air Force wouldn't be trying to eliminate Global Hawk Block 30 if it wasn't for the budget. He pointed out that high-altitude ISR is the Air Force's job.
Back to the USAF throwing away new unmanned planes. The Global Hawk Block 30s were bought from 2009 to 2011 and average about 25 months old. Toddlers they are. The newest pair were delivered 7 months ago. Heck, my family has a kitten older than those Global Hawks. The kitten (a rescue) was born in early August 2011. The two newest Global Hawks arrived in the USAF inventory in November 2011. And so far we have only invested $452 in the kitten.
Seriously, dumping Global Hawk Block 30s for the U-2 feels all wrong. Its like a perilous first step back from relying on unmanned systems. Its a complete reversal for the USAF. Another example of spending on innovative research and failing to buy in mission quantity. Why bail so soon after the painstaking 2011 Nunn-McCurdy recertification? Most of all, why leave the Pacific and other regions uncovered? Let's hope stakeholders don't let this hasty decision turn into a major blunder.
May 1, 1960 Gary Francis Powers Shot Down in U-2 over USSR
A wrecked drone? No, this pile of wreckage is said to be from the CIA U-2 flown by Gary Francis Powers and shot down by the Russians on May 1, 1960. The U-2 was hit by an SA-2 -- and air warfare was never the same. Powers survived and was held captive for a time, greatly adding to the diplomatic turmoil caused by revelation of the flights. The U-2 became a household word. And after GPS made it possible in the late 1990s, the USAF worked hard to build unmanned capabilities like Global Hawk to take the U-2's place. What a good idea....and a reminder that the USAF should think hard before gutting its Global Hawk reconnaissance fleet, as described in this paper Global Hawk Block 30 and Defense Strategy.
Case for a New Stealth Bomber
A new stealth bomber is a top national priority. The new Obama Administration strategy for sustaining US global leadership singled out the need to build "a new stealth bomber" for deterrence and crisis response, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
Read more about a stealth bomber and national security in this new paper from the Washington Security Forum, The Case for a New Stealth Bomber.
Panetta Will Be a Hawk at Defense Department
Moving Leon Panetta from the CIA to the Pentagon is another canny move by the Obama Administration. Don't be fooled by his California roots and commitment to the environment. He's a hawk. Panetta is a steely insider linked tightly to the group of ex-Clintonites now leading DoD for Obama. He may steer the Pentagon closer to threat-based planning. Take his tough talk on Iran. He said last year Iran could build two nuclear weapons by 2012, as reported by Colin Clark of DoDBuzz. Focus on threats is a good way to whittle down the growing heap of military requirements and get to those that matter most. There are more reasons to like Panetta as SecDef. You know the retired Congressman should sail through confirmation and get a firm grip on the Pentagon budget from day one. He's up to speed on Afghanistan and his choice may signal a growing to commitment to more of an asymmetric, counterterrorism strategy. Panetta served in the Army, always a good background for SecDef. Panetta is also a senior statesman who can step aside sometime after 2013 if desired, assuming a second term for Obama. Next up, Michele Flournoy?