Monday, January 5, 2015

Not enough drone pilots or F-35, oh my!

Daesh has a cash flow of something around $2 million per day thanks to the oil fields that are under their control.  At first, it appeared that the US would be put at a financial disadvantage in fighting Daesh but now another shortfall has raised its head (with no short-term fix in sight).

According to an article in the Daily Beast, there are more mission requests for drones than the USAF has the manpower to meet.  The success of drones during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has meant an increased reliance on their use by theater commanders.  Even though drones are "unmanned"they still require the use of a manned operator.  The demands for these missions have kept the drone pilots from being able to go to the required military schools (PME) necessary for career advancement.  In short, mission demands have killed the pilots careers.

The demand is so high, drone pilots have been pulled out of the school houses (including the Fighter Weapons School, "Red Flag") to fly operational missions.  This short-sighted approach means fewer students can be sent through the pipeline and now the instructors are getting burned out as well.  It won't take long before you see drone pilots doing one tour of duty and then getting out.  Long-term this means there will only be the youngest, least experience pilots operating the drones.

In part, this is what lead Iraqi Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi to complained that US airstrikes were erratic.  "Sometimes, they would carry out airstrikes that I never asked for, and at other times I begged them for a single airstrike and they never did it," he said in an AP article.

Thank God we still have manned fighters, right?  Well the legacy fighters (F-15, F-16, F/A-18) have aged rapidly due to the OPSTEMPO of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  Even the A-10, which is ideally suited for the type of warfare we are engaged with Daesh, is nearing the end of its lifecyle.

These aircraft are slated to all be replaced by the F-35 (the F-35A for the USAF, the F-35B for the USN and the F-35C for the USMC).  The problems with the F-35 are long and depressing but a new issues has now surface.  According to the Daily Beast, the F-35 won't be able to fire is 25mm canon until at least 2019, 3-4 years AFTER it is become operational.

Let's start with the biggest problem.  The F-35 is supposed to take over the Close Air Support (CAS) role from the A-10.   The canon on the F-35 is smaller (the GAU-8 Avenger on the A-10 fires 30mm depleted uranium rounds) and holds only 180 rounds (enough for one tactical burst).  For ground troops, canons are far safer the bombs and rockets since any explosive munition can easily kill or injure friendly forces as well as the enemy.

But it gets worse with the F-35.  Its primary selling-point is to be stealthy.  In order to accomplish stealthiness on a large aircraft, engineers designed an internal weapons bay.  Awesome for being stealth, lousy for any air-to-groud stuff since you need multiple munitions and the F-35 just can't carry that many.

Some of the pilots interviewed quipped that the F-35 doesn't need a canon since it is strictly a beyond-visual-range (BVR) aircraft.  Huh?  Spoken like true Air Force pilots who seem to forget this same aircraft needs to support the air-to-mud doctrine of the USMC.  And while we would like think modern warfare has evolved past dogfighting, we need to only look back to the F-4 when the same thing was assumed.

The F-4 could carry  four AIM-7s and four AIM-9s for air-to-air combat (it could also carry a mix of bombs and rockets for air-to-ground).  The AIM-7 radar guided missile was state of the art and it was assumed air warfare would be fighters shooting missiles at each other.  What fighter ace Brig Gen Olds discovered was the missiles didn't always hit their targets and the fast closing speeds of jet fighters soon had the F-4s face to face with MiGs (which had 30mm canons).  Olds quickly had his F-4s fitted with gun pods to help down enemy aircraft that were to close for missiles.  Apparently, despite every USAF officer having to study the Vietnam War, today's pilots have forgotten that lesson.

The F-35 could very easily find itself engaged at ranges too close to use the AIM-120 (and I've not see mention of the F-35 being able to carry the AIM-9).  Getting rid of the canon is not a good idea.  The next conflict that will see the F-35 used will most likely go against Russian or Chinese made aircraft.  These aircraft are less expensive which means there are more copies than the F-35 has missiles to shoot.    It may just need that canon.

All of this occurs over the backdrop of French President Fracois Hollande asking for sanctions to be lifted against Russia.  France, an EU member. needs the cash from the sail of two French made warships to Russia that the sanctions prevent.  Cracks in the European alliance are beginning to show along with the potential exit of Greece from the EU may cause some other economic hardships for US allies in Europe.  In the meantime, BRICS continues to prosper with Russia now starting talks about selling oil to India (who has benefitted from Russian nuclear technology for years).  Russia seems to be positioning itself to be at a great advantage over the US in a few years (if not sooner).

No comments: