Thursday, February 28, 2019

Theory is soft. War games are malleable. Hard truth is found in combat.

OK front porch, let's take out one of our favorite hobby-horses and ride it for all its worth.

We fight this battle all the time; "That scenario is not IAW the CONOPS." "Our wargames show otherwise." "That is oldthink." "Transformational technology has made that obsolete."


The nature of war has remained the same for thousands of years. Tools may improve, time/distance may change ... but the core remains the same.

Today, let's turn to the air side of the house.

In the 1920s and 1930s there were all sorts of theories that were tried and found wanting, from the utility of high altitude heavy bombers against surface ships to non-forward firing interceptors that simply did not play out on the battlefield.

In the post-WWII era, the technologists and futurists who dreamed of speed and magic missiles ignored what those like Robin Olds & Erich Hartmann who tried to convince them otherwise; that all the speed and missiles in the world will not negate the fact that you will have to fight in the merge - you will never live in a pure BVR world. Your fighters and the training of those who fly them must reflect that.

The experience in Vietnam proved Olds and Hartmann right. That is why the F-14/15/16/18 all had an internal gun and later versions of the F-4 did too ... and the F-35A does as well. 

However, the seduction of technology seduces every generation. They fudge their scenarios and assumptions. They tailor their wargames to meet their needs. The longer you go without the hard truth of combat, the further your issued kit comes from an optimal capability.

Our navy has this problem in spades. The land components have - between the experience in the Long War first-hand or quasi-traditional conflicts in Ukraine second-hand - good examples of what is needed (i.e. RPG cages from Vietnam showing up a bit late in Iraq). On the naval side of the house, we can at best look to the early 1980s Falkland Island conflict that showed you need general purpose guns on every warship and you do not have enough AAW or ASW weapons - the exact lessons of WWII, BTW.

So, back to air. We hear it all the time; Beyond Visual Range (BVR) is the key. We don't have to dogfight, the battle will be over before the aircraft see each other.

Well, that argument has been made for over half a century and it never plays out that way when peer-near-peer aircraft meet each other over contested and crowded airspace.

General warning about imperfect information from imperfect sources, but this report from Shiv Aroor meshes with other reporting.

Behold ... the MiG-21 vs the F-16;
the Indian Air Force today declared that a MiG-21 Bison fighter managed to shoot down a Pakistan Air Force F-16D on Wednesday morning over the restive Line of Control that separates Jammu & Kashmir from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The MiG-21, from the Indian Air Force’s 51 Squadron ‘Sword Arms’ is said to have conducted the kill using a Russian Vympel R-73 close combat missile.

The IAF also said it had captured electronic signatures of the aggressing aircraft, concluding that it was an F-16. While the Bison’s pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, two Pakistani pilots who punched out of the F-16D are currently unaccounted for. Pakistan has switched to claiming no loss after first announcing that it had shot down two Indian jets. The abrupt correction has led to the widespread belief that Pakistan initially believed it had shot down two Indian jets, but discovered only later that it was in fact an F-16D that had come down.

While information has been scant and buffeted by a typical hail of claims and counterclaims by both sides, Livefist has learnt from reliable sources that the unprecedented peacetime aerial confrontation yesterday — which came after a group of Indian Mirage 2000 jets flew into Pakistan a day previous to bomb a terrorist facility in the town of Balakot — was much larger than initially reported.
I cannot wait for an open source reconstruct of this engagement.
at least 20 Pakistan Air Force jets, a mix of F-16s, Mirages and JF-17s got airborne from a series of air bases in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, quickly turning south towards Pakistan’s Sindh. They remained in the air for over 30 minutes, possible in an act of deception. Indian airborne early warning assets in the air had picked up the movement, with bases in Srinagar and Punjab alerted. The PAF fighter package then turned north towards the Line of Control, with all but three F-16s turning west towards their airfields, but staying in the air. The 3 F-16s then began the sweep, headed straight towards the Sunderbani sector of the Line of Control. By this time two MiG-21s from Srinagar were airborne and headed straight for the intercept. Two more MiG-21s got airborne a few minutes later, followed by a pair of Mirage 2000s. A pair of Su-30 MKI jets were already in the air on a combat air patrol further south, diverted to provide cover for the intercept. The rare within visual range engagement occured over the Sunderbani sector, with both jets — and all 3 pilots — plunging into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Here's the nut;
...analyst Angad Singh says, “It’s historic, but at the same time I am not too surprised. The Bison is among the most capable of all MiG-21 variants, and I would put money on a capable pilot in a Bison cockpit any day.”

Italian journalist David Cenciotti, who runs he excellent Aviationist blog, writes, “If confirmed, it’s significant, as it would prove once again that when it deals with aerial engagement, not always does the more modern and capable weapon system (in this case the F-16 Block 52) wins. Several factors must be taken into consideration: pilot skills; support from other assets (including fighters and AEW aircraft), ground radars, etc. Above all, RoE play an essential role: if the Rules of Engagement require a positive VID of the opponent, a fighter might be forced to come WVR (Within Visual Range) where a MiG-21 can be particularly threatening. That’s why even 5th gen aircraft regularly train with legacy adversaries.”

He adds, “The MiG-21 Bison is an upgraded version of the Russian-made baseline MiG-21. Although the design is obsolete, its low radar visibility, instantaneous turn rate and acceleration, and the helmet mounted sight combined with high-off-boresight R-73 air-to-air missiles are among the factors that can make the upgraded MiG-21 a threatening adversary, even for more modern fighters.”
Watch the caveats;
Stephen Trimble, defense editor at Aviation Week tweeted, “Don’t forget those same MiG-21s embarrassed USAF F-15Cs at Cope India in 2006.” He later told Livefist, “The F-16 was designed specifically to beat the MiG-21, but AMRAAM, which came later, can be a great equalizer if basic fighter maneuvers are not involved.”

Well, odds are the ROE and JAG will negate your BVR. Then it is the man-machine-training.
Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur, veteran pilot and Additional Director General of India’s Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS) told Livefist,”For the first time, a third generation aircraft has shot down a fly by wire modern aircraft armed with a much better weapons package and avionics suite. Just goes to prove that the man behind the machine counts — and counts massively. And when it comes to the IAF, adversaries should have no doubts.”

Vishnu Som, defence editor with NDTV, says, “While we don’t know the exact circumstances in which the IAF pilot was shot down, let’s not for a moment forget that he shot down an F-16 first (possibly an F-16 Block 50) with an upgraded MiG-21 Bison, a jet which first entered service with the IAF in the sixties.”

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