Sunday, March 3, 2013

Woe is planning

And since the F-35 is in serious trouble, the following theory really means: 60 Super Hornets, grand total, for the fighter fleet.

Writing in The Weekend Australian today, Professor Leahy says the government should reduce its planned $16bn purchase of 100 JSFs and keep the 24 Super Hornets now operated by the RAAF to give the air force a mixed fleet of about 60 fast jets: "This would mean even fewer air combat aircraft, which would result in considerable savings."


"The 2000 white paper team simply got out a pencil and on the proverbial back of the fag packet, added up the number of F/A-18s and F-111s subtracted one and ... hey presto, it equalled 100". White further commented: "The fact that the number we chose as the initial planning assumption has survived until now tells you something rather unsettling about Defence capability planning."

Unfortunately Leahy then goes in to the F-35 faith-based argument mode:

Despite the hysteria and the protestations of long-term naysayers the JSF should mature into a very capable aircraft. As part of an emerging air combat "system of systems" it will be an important capability for the RAAF.

Pointing out massive program management defects is now "hysteria".

Leahy then goes into the hysterical mode by asking for caution,yet not knowing or caring that the F-35 fantasy was based on high-volume production and figure out the problems later.

Despite the ugliness of the current situation, Defence Minister Stephen Smith needs to remain calm. Importantly he shouldn't commit to too many JSF too quickly.

This is a problem worth creeping up on and maintaining as many exit points as possible. In the absence of an imminent threat we should take the time to determine if the JSF is affordable and works as advertised. Most importantly, we need a clear statement of how many air combat aircraft we need.

Then he really gets out of his alleged skill-sets:

A technology leap beyond manned aircraft is becoming a real option.

We are already operating drones and may soon acquire a large and sophisticated unmanned maritime surveillance platform. Unmanned combat aerial vehicles are not that far away and will be in reach if the JSF program keeps limping forward. There will be risk but interim options are available.

Sorry sir. UAVs are only useful for certain things. Certainly not for air defense. That is fantasy. Once you deny the network it is all over. And, network nodes can be located. Great plan sir.

Then there is one small paragraph of gold-plated wrong all tied up in a neat ribbon:

The Super Hornet is proven and capable. We are introducing long range, accurate artillery and attack helicopters to provide intimate support to the army in the field. The Growler electronic warfare system is a powerful force multiplier. Cruise missiles are a proven technology and air-to-air combat is increasingly about long-range missile engagements.

The Super Hornet is proven and capable against one air force that buried their jets in the sand and another that didn't even fly. One great point in all of this: yes, precision artillery should help the guys on the ground very well. And, the cannon pukes don't collect flight pay. Attack helicopters are great for a lot of low-risk war. The Apache, grown for a Fulda Gap need, 30-some of them getting shot to pieces in daylight because of a stupid decision (Karbala), yet redeeming itself as a great night-time, VTOL, net-centric COIN killer with the "Close" in close air support. Too bad we have the rent-seeker approved Tiger. The Growler will be great against legacy threats. Want to refight Allied Force 1999? Great. It will die against emerging SAM threats (not enough jam power/range) and get run down and killed by modern air threats. Cruise missiles are a proven technology. Just that the target better be worth the cost and again, it might not get through with defense threats as much as it could back in the day. And by the way, it is the other guy that has super-sonic cruise missiles. Outmatched in that area. Finally: air-to-air combat is not "increasingly" about long-range missile engagements". It is just one more part of the total tools in the bag. We will have AMRAAM that has a 50pc PK against unsophisticated targets, and against emerging threats may have a PK something like the Vietnam-era Sparrow. And for within-visual-range? We will have high-off-bore-sight, helmet-cued dogfight missiles (HOBS), and so will they (parity). They will have better performing aircraft: another minus in our column. Finally, they will be able to show that claiming the F-35 is a true stealth aircraft in PowerPoint, doesn't make it so.

Great analysis sir.

Prudently we must retain some air combat capabilities, but there is an opportunity to accept some risk and decrease the number of the mixed Super Hornet and JSF fleet from "about 100" to say "about 60" in total of both types and wait for the next technology.

100? 60? What is the difference? Both aircraft will not be able to stand up to emerging threats, yet the Super brings so much more value to a joint operational commander today than hope tomorrow for non-emerging threats. In other words: for non-emerging threats, the Super wipes the floor with the Just So Failed.

So yeah, maybe 60 is better when reality and "anything is possible if you are willing to lower your expectations" is added to the skills-challenged planning of the day.

The second option is to reorganise the Defence budget. Reorganising means focusing on the most likely tasks for the Defence Force and properly funding the capabilities required to meet them. At the moment, with the exception of operational deployments, Defence is being forced to underfund everything and thus introduce the risk of widespread long-lasting damage to a broad range of capabilities. This is the so-called and dreaded salami slicing that Defence should be avoiding. This option would mean even fewer air combat aircraft, which would result in considerable savings for the Defence budget.

Well, OK, but why not look at "savings" in the areas of flag-rank and senior executive service bloat and the dysfunctional DMO?


Anonymous said...

" We are introducing long range, accurate artillery and attack helicopters "
Long range?The M777 is 39calibre,and manually laid and elevated.It is designed for a niche problem.
ROthe rmodern artillery is 52 calibre and like the G5 totally powered,including loading the projectile.
Regarding the Tiger,why were some/all? trucked back to Darwin after their last execrcise at Shoalwater?They have only been around since 2005 in assembeld form in Australia.

Intently Curios said...

The article in the Australian gets to you once you really get to think about it. The analysis poor, the availible facts ignored, and remakes of substantial errors made in the past. Example the F4 and lack or up close and personal capabilities. The f35 won't have the ability to shoot and scoot with out a perceived enemy knowing they are there for long. Numbers and technology (stelth v stelth) will most likely see an engagement decend in to a dog fight, one the f35 is unlikely to survive given current data and base line airframe capabilities.

It's a question to ask, should We even try?, low numbers and expensive hardware with questionable capably is really a burden on taxpayers. Especially when you read some of the (il)logic coming from 'experts' and leaders of AU defence. It makes you womder.
(ladies and gents, I give you the Collins class sub. Good idea, just never got there and far from lets consider doing it again!).
Commit and do it properly (including the federal budget) please.

Peter said...

The F-35 is 7 years behind and priced at 170% of stated initial cost. The only things decreasing are the specs which are going backwards.
And the F-35 are still years from being capable of something, which apparently wont be what they promised a couple of decades ago.

Whats left to buy?
F/A-18 is not enough.
F-15 SE is definetly cheaper the the F-35.
Gripen might be better and cheaper but not enough.
Rafale is in the same league kind of, as Gripen but more expensive.
Eurofighter fulfills a lot more criterias with a pricetag.
Going Sukhoi? I cant imagine a western/US allied will dare to take that step for an air superiority fighter. For a transporter, yes, but a fighter no matter how good it will be? Dont think so.

Perhaps AU should simply cut the loss of the JSF investment and order the Typhoon asap.
But I guess the F/A18 order is already signed for so what about a mixed F/A18 and Typhoon fleet?

Canuck Fighter said...

The latest F-15 would at least make up for not having the F111 in the AUS airforce and would be a more viable air combat alternative.
It has been shown that an F-15 is cheaper than the F-35. Astounds me that it is still being ignored.

Anonymous said...

Ref IC's suggestion that Australia opts for the Typhoon: I would hope that after the last couple of examples of British/European major equipment that Australia has purchased, we will definitely NOT go there.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, it was Peter who made the Typhoon suggestion.

Bushranger 71 said...

Hi Canuck Fighter; agree that 50 or so F-15 would be better for Australia than same quantity of Super Hornets. Maybe Boeing are not pushing the F-15 preferring to just add to their earnings with another follow-on order for SH!

Another aspect is the reluctance of politicians, bureaucrats, military chiefs to change tack on any decisions made. They will usually defend to the death whatever was previously decided.

Another Peter said...

Hello Peter

I still like to give Sukhoi a chance as a suggestion. I remembered they approached Australia back in 2002, offering Su-30 family aircraft, and the Su-35 was targeted as the prime "export" fighter and a cheaper price tag.

The unit cost for the Su-35S is being estimated at US$45 million to $65 million. Compared to the Su-30 the unit cost of this aircraft is US$34 million (Su-30K)

However, by customers request you can put western avionics, APG-77 or APG-82 AESA, supercruising engines, weaponry/sensors etc.

But I totally agree the F-35 is 7 years behind schedule (some others say 10+ years behind) and priced at 170% of stated initial cost and still years from being capable.

I also agree 24 more F/A-18Fs in total 48 airframes are not enough, underpowered, no range and limited weapons load.

The unit cost for the F/A-18E/F
US$66.9 million (2012 flyaway cost)

The JAS-39E/F Gripen NG like you said might be better and cheaper (in price wise) than the F-35/F-15/Super Hornet/Rafale/Typhoon but not enough and indeed underpowered, limited weapons load and single engine which is really unsuitable to Australia's requirements.

The unit cost for the Gripen NG:
US$40–60 million.

I had a look at the unit cost for the Rafale.

Rafale C: €64 million, US$82.3 million (flyaway cost, 2008)

Rafale M: €70 million, US$90.5 million (flyaway cost, 2008)

Unit cost: €64 million, US$90.5 million (dependent on type/variant and can be as high as €90 million/US$124 million, 2009)

Eurofighter Typhoon

Unti Cost:

£64.8 million (Tranche 1 & 2) €90 million (system cost Tranche 3A)
£125m (including development + production costs

F-15E Strike Eagle

Unit cost:

F-15E: US$31.1 million (flyaway cost, 1998)

F-15K: US$100 million (2006)

F-15SE Silent Eagle

Unit cost:

F-15SE: US$100 million (planned average cost, 2009)

Bushranger 71 said...

The 2 engine argument for Australia's needs is just nonsense. Reliability of F-16s in production proves the point.

Canuck Fighter said...

Does anyone have an idea of what the estimated cost per flight hour is for the F-15SE? or the latest F-15SA (Saudi Advanced) model.
Just curious as we always see F-15C or F-15E numbers, however the latest proposed models will be fly by wire only and have significantly upgraded electronics.

Another Peter said...

Hello Bushranger 71

Not really, the two engine argument for Australia's needs is not nonsense. Although most or none of the F-16 or Gripen aircraft suffered any engine failure, (except there were first two accidents for the Gripen occurred in 1989 and 1993; which these were related to flight control software issues, one aircraft was destroyed in a ground accident during engine testing).

Reliability of F-16s in production proves the point. Well yes in some degree, while modern engines are very reliable, the loss of the engine over water or artic guarantees the loss of the F-16, Gripen and JSF, and also requires that the search and rescue assets commit to support any operational deployment of F-16s, Gripen and JSFs.

BTW, Boeing Co. has extended the F-15 production line well into the 2020s to attract and satisfy new and existing customers! I'm not sure if you knew about this.

Bushranger 71 said...

Hi Peter; aircrew recovery warrants consideration.

Years back, the big Sikorsky CH-53/HH-53 helicopter was preferred at the operating level of the RAAF, but 2 non-aviator Air Board members supported an Army push for Chinooks. The big Sikorsky would have given potential for C-130 refuelled long range SAR within Australia's vast area of international responsibility, and of course combat aircrew recovery plus covert submarine support and other special operations functions.

Civilian contractors have provided short-range SAR at some RAAF bases since transfer of battlefield helicopter assets to Army Aviation and the nation still does not have the capacity to adequately fulfil its international search and rescue responsibilities.

Since then, there has been opportunity to upgrade some Blackhawk to USAF special operations/combat SAR capability with parallel enhancement of C-130H for fore-mentioned roles. But my guess is the Air Force did not want to pursue Hercules flight refuelling (probe and drogue) because it was too locked into wanting larger tankers for the top end capability. The C-130H have been given away to Indonesia and shedding of Blackhawk is also intended, if present flawed planning prevails. So, all of the desirable special operations and combat SAR capabilities have really been spurned.

Despite having operated single-engined fighter platforms for decades - and we did lose a few airframes due to technical malfunction - the ADF has now brainwashed itself that twin-engine platforms are essential (albeit plenty were lost in Vietnam). Yet, any objective cost-benefit analysis would reveal the savings in going the single engine route are very significant. Lower acquisition and operating costs would enable more single engine platforms for the same dollar outlay.

The RAAF keeps pushing hard for an overeach in top end capabilities (my view), which may eventually work to its detriment vis-a-vis the other 2 Services. Perhaps 50 or so en toto of whatever top shelf platforms would be adequate for air combat/strike functions and a lower level more cost-effective solution adopted for close air support and training. The 24 Super Hornets could arguably be traded back to the US downstream if F-15s or even advanced F-16s were seen as the best affordable option for top end capability. The hysteria over a capability gap for F-18 replacement is unwarranted in my opinion.

Arguably, a higher priority is acquisition of Global Hawk (Triton) and maybe complementary refurbishment of the P-3s, as being accomplished by the RNZAF. Australia needs to better see and hear what is going on in its near neighbourhood to detect any interference with sea corridors especially.

The economic reality is any significant increase in defence funding over the foreseeable future cannot be justified so all 3 Services will inevitably have to find ways to rationalise their force structures to generate efficiencies. Defence planners, and the Service Chiefs in particular simply cannot escape the responsibility of henceforth having to manage taxpayer funding more cost-effectively.

Bushranger 71 said...

Perhaps obvious, but I omitted to mention in my previous post that an air combat/strike force must have complementary combat SAR support; unless of course aircrew are considered expendable. Air Force Chiefs really need to explain why this capability has been neglected for the RAAF.

Another Peter said...

Hello again Bushranger 71

Since when you mentioned the advanced F-16s. I use to know the guy when he use to be the instructor of the Australian Air Force Cadets, he attended the conference meeting and said Lockheed Martin may develop the F-16 Block 68 variant with bigger wings with extra stores pylons and more range.