Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Tomorrow's Airwing Needs to be my Father's Airwing

This will do well as a companion piece to Bryan's guest-post yesterday. Take some time and read all of David Larter's Page-1 story in the May 6th Defense News, What's Killing the US Navy's Air Wing.

First, look at these glorious flight decks full of tools for all sorts of jobs - just 14-years apart from 1967 to 1981;

Now, today's deck full of lawn-darts and auxiliaries;

... and then ponder this pull-quote;
The carrier air wing of the future will also need to be able to hunt submarines (serving as a replacement for the S-3 Viking aircraft), provide surveillance and targeting, and destroy ships and land targets with standoff weapons, all while fighting at nearly double the range of today’s air wing, according to the study, which was led by retired submarine officer and analyst Bryan Clark.

If the Navy wants to counter China’s anti-ship cruise missiles and increasing naval capabilities, it must resurrect the Cold War-era “outer-air battle” concept, which focused on longer-range aircraft to counter Russia’s bombers. However, instead of fighting at 200-plus nautical miles, the air wing will have to fight at 1,000 nautical miles, the study found.

“The air wing of the future is going to have to be focused less on attacking terrorist training camps and huts in Syria, and more focused on killing ships and submarines at sea — dealing with naval capabilities and island-based littoral capabilities,” Clark said in a telephone interview. “Those are the challenges: Range and the mission set is changing.”
You don't know what you once had until you lose it, eh? We did it by choice.

It has always been about range, something we discussed here for well over a decade - but that lost the argument for ... still trying to figure that out, though I have ideas.

We have wasted so much time with people who have other priories ... still trying to figure out what they are, though I have ideas ... than investing decision making power with those focused on making sure we can project power ashore without being inshore.

Some smart initial steps are looking right;
In other words, the entire air wing, both the range at which it can fight and the missions it is set up to execute, must be completely overhauled. That’s a big ask that can’t be answered overnight. It starts with committing to the MQ-25 Stingray, Clark said, referring to the unmanned tanker aircraft under development by Boeing following an $805 million contract award last year for the first four aircraft.
Build it. Get it to the fleet. Let our Navy work with it ... they'll help you find out how to make it better ... but let's get it to the fleet and start. Would be nice to ditch the "MQ" and get some answers on the "AQ" and "RQ" once we get the KQ working correctly.

We've also addressed over the years the much delayed F/A-XX and how important it needs to be. Range needs to be top of the spectrum. In my alternative universe we would have two programs going - one on the "F" side and one on the "A" side - other generations have done it - but we don't seem to have that luxury. At least the arc is bending my way;
“So now the focus should be on the F/A-XX. If you really want range, that has to be the platform you are shooting for,” Work said. “Because with the Navy buying the F-35Cs, and the Marine [Corps] buying the F-35Bs, and the Navy buying the Block III Super Hornet, you are not going to be able to afford two or three programs. So the F/A-XX is the one you need to focus on. And if the analysis shows you need range, that points to unmanned.”
The next statement of the obvious is most welcome. When the peer battle comes, we will not own the EW spectrum. We won't have unchallenged access to satellite or terrestrial bandwidth. We will need to be in the fight anyway;
But the study also called for retaining a manned fighter for command-and-control capabilities in environments where communications are jammed or nonexistent, Clark said.

“There is still going to be a need for manned fighters to do close-air support, but mostly to do command and control of other platforms that are perhaps unmanned inside a comms-denied environment,” Clark said. “So you send some loitering missiles or you send UCAVs up forward, you would expect them to be managed by someone who is able to maintain comms with them. That would be a human in a fighter that is able to remain close enough to them to stay in comms.”
...and here is where things go off the rails a bit;
For that, Clark points to a retooled F-35 fighter jet, one that switches out internal payload space for fuel.

“The F-35 folks, when you talk to them about what it would take to make it a longer-range command-and-control aircraft, they’re pretty optimistic because most of the challenge in doing these kinds of changes is in the software,” Clark said. “And the software isn’t dramatically different because it’s really just changing how it manages the fuel, not any of the other functions.”
The F-35 is a single seat aircraft. To do the above you need at least a 2-seater - the human mind can only do so much and fly at the same time. We need to look hard at F/A-XX's scalability.
“The near-term fix is to get more tankers,” he added. “The mid-term fix is to start investing in a longer-range aircraft. Because the idea of having to have 12 or so tankers just so your fighters can get to 1,000 miles means you have to have a lot of your deck and hanger space being taken up by tankers and not strike aircraft. This way you can use the tankers you’ve developed for other missions — either strike or [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] on their own — or free up that deck space for other aircraft.”
Welcome to the party everyone. 

Heavy fighters, they're a thing. We are a couple of decades from needing our own SU-34-like capability. 

Get to work.

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