Category Archives: Aviation

Combat Fleets: China Update

Combat Fleets: China Update

CfleetsF1Oct12The ever-growing reach of China’s navy was demonstrated recently when two of its warships sailed through the Turkish Straits and into the Black Sea for the first time. The two ships, the Luhu-class destroyer Qingdao and Jiangkai II–class frigateYantai (pictured here), entered the Black Sea on 31 July. They then veered off on their own separate visits, with the Qingdaotraveling to Sevastopol, Ukraine, while the Yantai made her own port calls at Costanta, Romania, and Varna, Bulgaria, before the vessels sailed back through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles in early August. Both ships, along with the replenishment oiler Weishanhu , had recently completed anti-piracy patrols

Photo courtesy Cem D. Yaylali
in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia. Although the destroyer and frigate entered the Black Sea, the larger 23,000-ton Weishanhu remained docked at Istanbul. Once the ships departed the area, they made a brief stop at Haifa, Israel, before returning home to Chinese waters.

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The Unmanned Iranian Revolution

The Unmanned Iranian Revolution

In an apparent reaction to the recently concluded multinational minesweeping exercise in the Persian Gulf and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance before the United Nations, Iran released film and video of its latest unmanned aerial system (UAS). Iran calls the new UAS Shahed-129 (or Witness-129). The Guardian news website provided the following transcript of Iranian television coverage of the Shahed-129 flight demonstration: “The new drone . . . can carry out combat and reconnaissance missions with its 24-hour non-stop flight capability.” The transcript goes on to report, “home-made aircraft is capable of hitting targets at a distance of 1,700-2,000 kilometers… [and] can be equipped with electronic and communication systems including cameras which can capture and send live images.”

Images from Iranian television of the Shahed-129.

Images from Iranian television of the Shahed-129.

While the Shahed-129’s flight performance claims may be exaggerated, the system nonetheless will join several other indigenously manufactured Iranian unmanned aircraft. For U.S. sailors operating in the Persian Gulf sightings of Iranian-built drones are a common. The fact is, Iran has been manufacturing reconnaissance drones since the 1980s, when they began building and flying the Mohajer systems during the Iran-Iraq War. The Mohajer was followed by a line of indigenously built systems such as the mass produced Ababil. The smaller Ababil UAS has been exported to Hezbollah forces, who used it against Israel in the 2006 conflict in southern Lebanon. More recent reports indicate that Syrian government forces may be using this system to locate and target rebel forces in Syria. The Ababil also made headlines in February 2009 when an Iranian controlled drone was shot down by a US F-16 after making an incursion into Iraqi airspace. So clearly then the, Shahed-129 is just the latest in a long line of Iranian built systems that Iran routinely operates. By all appearances, robotic systems have been part of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s military arsenal since the early days of the revolution.

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Clearing Syrian WMDs Means 75K Troops and Massive Air Strikes

Clearing Syrian WMDs Means 75K Troops and Massive Air Strikes

In July, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Mullalem declared that Syria’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons would go unused in its civil war – unless a foreign power chose to intervene. The threat constituted a rare confirmation of the regime’s unconventional arsenal. The declaration raised serious concerns about U.S. policies in the event the regime did use its chemical or biological weapons. President Obama stated this would constitute a “red line” with “enormous consequences” that would alter calculations for military actions.

Given the various risks concerned with the proliferation or use of unconventional weapons, particularly chemical weapons, understanding the scope and requirements of potential military missions is essential. The first major consideration is whether U.S. and potential allied military strikes would focus on destroying, deterring, or securing Syrian weapons stocks. While a deterrent threat can be made without any military deployment, destroying Syrian weapons of mass destruction (WMD) would require airstrikes and special operations teams. A mission to secure Syria’s WMDs would likely be the most costly and dangerous of all, as it would likely involve tens of thousands of foreign ground troops, perhaps as many as 75,000, according to at least one press report.

A sailor from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11, adjusts his Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear during a simulated chemical agent attack during a field training exercise in 2008. U.S. Navy Photo

A sailor from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11, adjusts his Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear during a simulated chemical agent attack during a field training exercise in 2008. U.S. Navy Photo

A mission to destroy Syrian chemical weapons stocks could perform a preventive, preemptive or mitigating measure. Effectively degrading the entire arsenal would likely require an extremely wide target set. Syria has roughly 50 sites involved in manufacturing or storing chemical weapons. Its arsenal consists of G and V-series nerve agents, which block neurotransmitters, causing convulsions and death through loss of respiratory control, as well as blistering agents, whose chemical burns restrict respiration and form large, painful blisters on the skin. Both are absorbable through the lungs or skin, requiring a full body suit for adequate protection. Between Syria’s VX, Sarin, and Tabun nerve agents, and its mustard gas blistering agents, this totals to several hundred tons of chemical agents stockpiled for combat use.

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A New Kind of Carrier Air Wing

A New Kind of Carrier Air Wing

Proceedings, September 2012
What types of aircraft will be deployed on tomorrow’s flattops?

What should the carrier air wing (CVW) of the future look like? This rather abstruse topic has taken on new significance of late as a consequence of the article in the July issue of Proceedingsby Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert. The title of the article, “Payloads over Platforms: Charting a New Course,” the discussion in it of the diminishing value of stealth, and the positive mentions of both the F/A-18 Hornet and unmanned systems such as the Scan Eagle and Fire Scout led some observers to accuse the CNO of somehow being secretly opposed to the carrier variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Under intense criticism, Admiral Greenert and his staff appear to be employing the “Humpty Dumpty” defense (“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”), asserting that the article did not refer in any way to the F-35 but instead to stealth in the future. 1

The F-35 non-controversy aside, Admiral Greenert made a profound statement that could have dramatic implications for the character of U.S. air power in general and the future CVW in particular. The CNO declared that “we need to move from ‘luxury-car’ platforms—with their built-in capabilities—toward dependable ‘trucks’ that can handle a changing payload selection.” Why? Well, by definition “luxury car” platforms are expensive both to buy and maintain. In addition, they tend to look good and have great performance but can be of limited utility. A dependable “truck” has a wider range of uses, particularly if one doesn’t mind riding in the back. A payload-centric approach also allows for more rapid technological refresh at lower cost as well as the ability to tailor forces for the conflict du jour.

One conclusion to be drawn from the CNO’s assertion is that the value of the performance characteristics associated with so-called luxury-car platforms is declining. Those include stealth, speed, maneuverability, perhaps even survivability. There are several reasons for the Navy’s tastes in tactical aircraft to be changing. Obviously, two related ones are declining defense budgets and the high cost of advanced manned platforms. Another is concern regarding the anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) threat.

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Pending Congressional Budget Measure Could Hurt Navy and Marines

Pending Congressional Budget Measure Could Hurt Navy and Marines

The Federal government’s fiscal year comes to an end on September 30, and for the sixth straight time, lawmakers will need more time to figure out how they will pay the bills for next year. This is the ninth time in 11 years that Congress has looked to a temporary spending measure, called a Continuing Resolution (CR), to delay decisions on the nation’s funding priorities, 56 times in all since 2001. Last year’s budget debate required seven CRs and took until April to resolve. In August, House and Senate leaders agreed to a longer term approach, announcing that Congress would move forward with a six month package, pushing-off the decision on specific funding levels until after elections are over and a new Congress is sworn-in.

While the CR will allow the federal government to continue spending money into the new fiscal year, it also puts limitations on how that money can be spent, and those limits are especially acute for the Defense Department (DoD). DoD has enjoyed more than a decade of increasing budget top-lines and used those funds to address the changing needs of a force at war, but lawmakers were poised to cut defense spending next year for the first time since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Instead, the CR, approved last week by the House and set for a vote this week in the Senate, will boost the base budget by more than a half-percent to $519 billion. Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) would be funded at proposed fiscal year 2013 levels, a reduction of $26.5 billion.

As with any spending measure, there are winners and losers with the CR. Though Congress will provide DoD with more money than previously expected, the Department will lose some of its flexibility in spending it. The Navy is hit particularly hard by funding restrictions and policy caveats that could impact current operations, future readiness and long-term planning priorities.

USS Theodore Roosevelt undergoing a complex overhaul in 2011 at Newport News, Va. U.S. Navy Photo

USS Theodore Roosevelt undergoing a complex overhaul in 2011 at Newport News, Va. U.S. Navy Photo

At the top of the priority list for the sea service is the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). The 26-year old ship is in the final stages of a three-year-long maintenance and modernization period in Newport News, Virginia that the Navy calls a Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH). By the time the TR sets back to sea in 2013, the ship will have new nuclear fuel in its two reactors, upgraded combat and communication systems throughout, and repairs will be made to the ship’s hull, mechanical and electrical systems to keep her viable until at least 2036. The process costs nearly $2.5 billion, but funding for the current phase will dry-up in less than 5 months unless Congress approves new spending for the work. So far, though, this year’s CR does not include funding to finish the overhaul.

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One Giant Leap

One Giant Leap

In preparation of the nation’s first lunar landing mission, Apollo 11, crew members underwent training to practice activities they would be performing during the mission. In this photograph Neil Armstrong approaches the helicopter he flew to practice landing the Lunar Module (LM) on the Moon.

In preparation of the nation’s first lunar landing mission, Apollo 11, crew members underwent training to practice activities they would be performing during the mission. In this photograph Neil Armstrong approaches the helicopter he flew to practice landing the Lunar Module (LM) on the Moon.

Before Neil Armstrong took one small step for man, he was a naval aviator and flew one of the U.S. Navy’s first carrier-based jet fighters the F9F Panther in the Korean War. He left the Navy, went to college and joined NASA as a test pilot before being selected as the second generation of American astronauts, ultimately bound for the moon.

In memory of Armstrong’s passing, we are presenting a Proceedings photo gallery from 2009 on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The Future of the Carrier Air Wing

The Future of the Carrier Air Wing

120729-N-ZZ999-001What should the carrier air wing of the future look like? The topic has taken on new significance as a consequence of an article in the July issue of Proceedings by the Chief of Naval Operations ADM Jonathan Greenert. The title of the article, “Payloads over Platforms: Charting a New Course,” its discussion of the diminishing value of stealth, and the positive mentions of both the F/A-18 Hornet and unmanned systems such as the Scan Eagle and Fire Scout led some observers to accuse the CNO of being secretly opposed to the carrier variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. In response, ADM Greenert and his staff have stressed that the article did not refer in any way to the F-35, but instead to stealth in the future.

The F-35 noncontroversy aside, Greenert made a profound statement that could have dramatic implications for the character of U.S. air power, in general, and the future carrier air wing, in particular. The CNO declared “we need to move from ‘luxury-car’ platforms—with their built-in capabilities—toward dependable ‘trucks’ that can handle a changing payload selection.” Why? Well, by definition “luxury car” platforms are expensive. A payload-centric approach allows for more rapid technological refresh at lower cost as well as the ability to tailor forces for the conflict du jour.

One conclusion to be drawn from the CNO’s assertion that the Navy needs to move toward “dependable trucks” is that the value of the performance characteristics associated with so-called “luxury car” platforms is declining Those characteristics include stealthiness, speed, maneuverability, perhaps even survivability. There are those who argue that the combination of advanced sensors, data fusion, high-performance missiles and directed-energy weapons will bring the era of manned fighters and penetrating bombers to an end. It is by no means certain that the U.S. aerospace industry will be able to design an affordable sixth generation manned aircraft with the combination of range, persistence, stealth, ISR, and payload required to operate in such an intensely hostile environment.

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ROKN the Boat: South Korea Expands its Naval Bases

ROKN the Boat: South Korea Expands its Naval Bases

U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus visits the wreckage of the Korean ship Cheonan in April, 2011[U.S. Navy Photo]

U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus visits the wreckage of the Korean ship Cheonan in April, 2011
[U.S. Navy Photo]

Living next to a touchy neighbor can be trying. When that neighbor has enough emplaced artillery pieces in range to level your capital city, managing those relations is a matter of life and death. This situation has vexed South Korea for decades, and North Korea is its only concern. With its northern border effectively closed and half its GDP generated through exports, The Republic of Korea (ROK) is heavily reliant on maritime trade. That, coupled with a neighborhood of aggressive fishing fleets backed by technologically advanced militaries and economically powerful nations make it easy to see why South Korea seeks to expand its naval defenses. Over the past month, the ROK moved forward with plans for two new installations that have respectively set its northern neighbor and southern most citizens on edge.

The first is a tiny new facility in the region just south of the disputed maritime border with North Korea — or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — established in 1953 by the United Nations Command as the Northern Limit Line (NLL). In late June, ROK announced the construction of an installation for up to 100 troops, featuring a small dock, barracks, and training grounds on the island of Baengnyeong. Baengnyeong is one of five islands west of the Korean peninsula in the area that saw the sinking of the ROK Navy (ROKN) warship ROKS Cheonan (PCC-772) by North Korea in 2010, killing 46 South Koreans. While the islands are not themselves claimed as part of North Korea’s own Inter-Korean Maritime Demarcation Line, they are often targeted as the outposts upholding the NLL; the DPRK in 2010 shelled another of the islands, Yeonpyang, killing four.

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Pigeon Holes or Paradigm Shift: How the Navy Can Get the Most of its Unmanned Vehicles

Pigeon Holes or Paradigm Shift: How the Navy Can Get the Most of its Unmanned Vehicles

Proceedings, July 2012
The U.S. Navy must combine innovation with tested ideas to make the most of its unmanned aerial vehicles.

110930-N-JQ696-401The process of assimilating a new technology is a complex one for any organization. Besides facing the resistance of those who view it as a threat, the technology’s full potential often remains unrealized because of a failure of imagination. Instead it is forced, at least initially, into existing functions and slotted into established intellectual “pigeonholes.” Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been subjected to this sort of thinking. The U.S. Navy should consider them as more than mere unmanned versions of existing aircraft and take full advantage of this new tool.

In the original version of the film Star Wars , Luke Skywalker piloted an X-wing fighter with his trusty droid R2-D2 in the back. Single-seat aviators of the 1970s noted with some glee the allegorical reference to an automated naval flight officer. It appeared that the function of piloting was inherently human; system management was something a robot could handle. However, even at their current stage of development, the flight of unmanned aircraft is considerably more automated than, say, radio-controlled model airplanes, which indeed must be “flown.” UAVs such as the Northrop-Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk are capable of autonomous takeoff, navigation, and landing. It is the pilot function that has been automated; the naval flight officer function still requires a human to make decisions.

This is the leading edge of a “paradigm shift”: pilotless aircraft operated by pilotless squadrons or perhaps by no squadrons at all. The shift may go further, possibly obviating the need for any kind of winged specialist. After all, the Navy has been operating a large fleet of highly lethal unmanned aircraft since the 1950s, controlled almost exclusively by surface warfare officers. These aircraft are called missiles.

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An Unmanned Joint Strike Fighter?

An Unmanned Joint Strike Fighter?

f-35

F-35 Simulator
[Northrop Grumman Photo]

CRYSTAL CITY, VIRGINIA — Three nautical miles from an amphibious assault ship, I toggled a small button labeled “STOVL,” or short take-off and vertical landing. The abbreviation “REDY” flashed in green and I could see thrust vector angles change on my heads-up display in my F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter. I adjusted what my instructor called the cruise control and set my airspeed to 80 kts. All of a sudden, my flight controls changed as the “REDY” turned solid. I had transitioned to vertical flight.

With minimal coaching, after two minutes I had landed safely on the flight deck of a U.S. Navy ship. Though I briefly felt pride after my landing, I quickly realized that a computer had done all of the hard flying for me.
Computers and cockpits are nothing new, but with the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles and the degree to which computers control piloted aircraft today, policy makers and military leaders are asking when pilots can be removed completely from combat aircraft.

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