Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Eisenhower is taking on the Pirates

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69)
The piece of the Vikramaditya is finished, but I have decided to put this out first. Right then, I have read a lot of (for want of a better word) garbage written recently about the deployment of the Eisenhower Battle Group to Western Indian Ocean , so this is what I will deal with first. The really important thing for dealing with the pirate problem is watching them/monitoring such a vast expanse of water. The dispatch of carrier group is therefore a collosal bonus for dealing with the pirates, not because (as some people have asserted with great vemhenence) FA-18 Hornets/Super Hornets are going to be diving out of the sky sending a maelstrom of lead at any small boat they see; because that is the way to lose the moral ground that the governments are assuming over the pirates. Why would they lose this ground, I hear so many people ask? Well it is simple because when all you are doing is seeing and then shooting, you end up making mistakes; shooting up fishermen who use the same style of boats as the pirates, or turning the pirates into heroes as they battle the evil inhuman technological lords of war. So in what way will the carrier group be useful; well it is those venerable, beautiful all seeing eye in the sky, the E2C Hawkeye, that are going to be so very useful. This is primarily because they can monitor such a large area of ocean without be seen by the pirates; then the SEAL team and the helicopters, which I am sure have been tucked aboard the Eisenhower, will be dispatched to the pirates; thus providing a truly synergous detection and interdiction force – something which is currently missing from all the deployed forces currently in theatre.
Up till now nations have been sending escorts; not even Britain has sent one of the Royal Navy’s carriers to support the operations against the pirates, and there is a reason for this. Whilst sending regular naval frigates or destroyers to assist the efforts at combating pirates within region, as Europe, Russia, India and China have done, is good for showing the flag and protecting specific vessels or very narrowly defined sea lanes; as well as being relatively cheap. However, you need the AEW system, that can be provided only through a Carrier Air Group (CAG) and therefore a carriers presence to improve the slim odds of being able locate and interdict the pirates when they are at sea; although the idea that such a vessel will allow piracy to be eliminated is preposterous, purely from the point of view that attacks on Somali ports are not allowed, and you will not get rid of the pirates until you provide Somalia with the sea security it desires (from illegal dumping and fishing), and the people of Somalia with a better source of income. However, it is true that before these changes come about, the only vessels that can really enable a naval commander to interdict the pirates effectively is an aircraft carrier. It is even more true to say, that as so often usual the American nuclear-powered ones are actually much easier to deploy and much more effective for the job than smaller, conventionally powered ones such as the Royal Navy’s Invincible class or even the projected larger but still conventionally powered Queen Elizabeth IIs.
The most obvious, and the coincidentally the most pertinent of the reasons for this superiority The obvious reason for this is that American nuclear-powered super carriers, because they are nuclear powered can stay at sea for an infinite period of time without being refuelled. This simple fact vastly reduces the logistical problems of keeping an aircraft carrier operationally active and deployed on station for long periods of time; for example the Eisenhower has been sent to the Gulf for a five-month mission, and has served longer when the situation required it. The other thing they have is a far higher operating speed and tempo, they are capable of maintaining a constant speed of 30-33kts over infinite range; almost double that of the Invincible, which is 19kts for 7000nm (maximum speed is 28kts). It is also far cheaper, over a lifetime of 40 years a nuclear powered carrier will cost less in fuel and engine costs than two Daring Class Destroyers will (sums based on my own bad maths – I did A Level, and official figures) or the Queen Elizabeth IIs which will only have maximum speed of 26kts (less than the Invincible class) and its range and cruising speed are yet to be announced. I also used the word Tempo, and the reason the super carriers have a better tempo than others is that their nuclear power produces not only enough steam to power catapults allowing larger aircraft with more useful payloads to be launched, but also enough energy allowing the future magnetic based catapults to work; all these things cannot be done by a gas powered vessel because it does not create steam or enough energy (unless you really want to ramp up the expense by adding in special plants).
The American carriers also have the advantage that because they are much larger than most of the conventional carriers employed by the remainder of the world’s aircraft carrier operating navies; they can carry a far larger and more formidable complement of aircraft including the E2C Hawkeye. This combined with a far larger air group; which has a far larger space to operate from allows them to patrol far larger areas of sea at the same time as maintain capability launch fast interdictions with potent forces more often and easily than their equivalent conventional cousins.
So all in all, it is the correct thing for this vessel and her attendant group to be deployed; it is also very difficult to see how under peacetime circumstances other nations, with conventional powered vessels which cost so much more for the value they provide on operations, would manage to match this deployment. In the therefore one rule shines through; if a nation is going to maintain a navy with true power projection capabilities, then the nation need to build nuclear aircraft carriers of a decent size and air group, and most importantly that nation needs to build three; for after all what is the point of going to the expenditure of build carriers if the nation the does not have enough of them to guarantee the capability. If any of those criteria are not met then the nation is crippled by false economies, enforced by those who do not understand the true requirements and even truer benefits of sea power.
In clarification, I do not think that a Super Carrier is the right way for Britain to go either, but a 70,000ton nuclear carrier is the upper end of the medium carriers; and in actual fact whilst costing slightly more to procure they actually cost less over the long term due to fuel, ease of upgrade (due to the more powerful power supply), and often a larger more versatile airgroup which means you have more choice in selection of aircraft; finnaly they are far more flexible in operational capability compared to their conventional powered comrades.
The UAVs you speak of quite correctly are maxed out in other theatres, and whilst they do provide a lot of information very far from all American ships (let alone their allies) have been fitted with terminals to directly recive information from them.
Most importantly the supercarrier is actually more easy to absorb the burden economically than foreign bases, as building them in your own yards, maintaining them there keeps the money largely within your own economy; and often have very positive affects on technology and manufacturing sectors. Whereas the foreign bases you are highlighting are nothing but finacial drains which just take money out of the economy, whether in overseas pay for personal, renting the facilities, the extended logistics supply, and upgrading facilities which might in the end be denied to you when you need them because of that countries domestic policys (Kazakstan is a good example of this).
Finnaly I will reiterate a point I made above, which I think has got lost in the weight of other information; "However, you need the AEW system, that can be provided only through a Carrier Air Group (CAG) and therefore a carriers presence to improve the slim odds of being able locate and interdict the pirates when they are at sea; although the idea that such a vessel will allow piracy to be eliminated is preposterous, purely from the point of view that attacks on Somali ports are not allowed, and you will not get rid of the pirates until you provide Somalia with the sea security it desires (from illegal dumping and fishing), and the people of Somalia with a better source of income. However, it is true that before these changes come about, the only vessels that can really enable a naval commander to interdict the pirates effectively is an aircraft carrier
I am not sure why, but I do not seem to be able to comment on your rebuttle, but I was just going to ask how you got the audio player.
yours sincerly
yes it is sea denial, but Somalia is not harbouring pirates, the pirates are the Somalians, they are their response to the complicated situation which has evolved in this failed state. The largest problem is that whilst we can use warships and other methods of 'seapower' projection to minimise the problems of piracy off the somarlian coast; it can not be eliminated until somalia itself is rebuilt and there are far more legitmate opportunities for fiscal renumiration available to the populace.
The carrier group helps, because it is the ultimate in sea control and wide area monitoring. However, possibly its biggest assistance is as a political statement of commitment.
yours sincerly

Friday, 20 February 2009

Carriers; Fully Loaded - Admiral Kuznetsov

I am building up to a full report on all aircraft carriers, comparing them with the aim of finding a forumla for future carrier design/operations.

here is the first entry;

Admiral Kuznetsov

Figure 1 RFS Admiral Kuznetsov at sea
The Soviets never built just aircraft carriers; they built Heavy Aircraft Carrying Cruisers. This was questioned at every turn by western navies, but it does make sense, perhaps even more so in the modern world, for it provides the ship with its own defences, in the age of shrinking fleets the capability for self defence is far greater on the Admiral Kuznetsov, and its ascendants the Kiev and Modified Kiev (to be examined next) classes, than any other carrier. Their powerful arsenal means that with or without their air group they are potent vessels, most importantly it means that the aircraft of its air group, and to an extent the carriers escorts, are not so tied to its mother ship allowing a freedom of movement no other navy can achieve without deploying a significant number of escorts to defend the carriers.
2.1.2 Outline of Design
Figure 2 RFS Admiral Kuznetsov (artistic drawing)
Unlike many of its American counterparts the Kuznetsov is conventionally (oil) powered with eight boilers and four steam turbines driving four shafts with fixed-pitch propellers; whilst the maximum speed is 29kt, the range at this speed is 3,850 miles. However, at 18kt, Kuznetsov has a more useful range of 8,500 miles. It is also far smaller than its counterparts it terms of size and weight, being only 58,500 tons (full load – according the Jane’s 2006), with a length of 304.5m and breath of 70m.

Figure 3 RFS Admiral Kuznetsov Flight Deck Operations Plan
It was also the first carrier built by Soviets/Russians which had a conventional deck arrangement (Figure 3); achieved by mounting the weapon systems flush to the deck, rather than as they had on the Kiev’s where a large amount of the deck was taken space was taken up by weapons. This also has the addition of allowing far more flexibility for helicopter operations at the same time as fixed wing operations as compared to the Kiev class – something that operations with the previous mentioned class had shown was requirement for its operations in fleet protection/projection roles.
2.1.3 Weapon Systems/Sensors

Figure 4. Ganit VLS
When starting on this class, the operational flexibility provided by its weapon outfit, something which is very similar to the Kirov class cruisers; especially in the case of the weapon system which provides the potency whether the air group is present or not is the P-700 Ganit or as NATO calls it SS-N-19 Shipwreck SSM 12 of which are carried (Figure 4) flush to the deck right in the middle of aircraft run ups. The missiles have a speed of Mach 4.5, a range of 625km, and capable of pulling manoeuvres of 16g; it is possibly the most dangerous anti-ship missile in the world; it packs the standard issue 750kg high explosive warhead, this is not a weakness as it is a very good warhead, and certainly can do what its intended for. Of course the real threat of this weapon is that like almost all soviet weapons it can have a nuclear warhead fitted, providing the vessel with its own strategic action capability. However, it is not this system which provides its air group with the flexibility; it is its air defence system.
Figure 5. Kinzal VLS
The Kinzal (based on the SA-N-9 Gauntlet) system is mounted, unlike the Granit; of to the side of the air deck (pictured right) each of the launchers contains 8 9M330 missiles. There are 4 clusters of launchers comprising of six modules, totalling 192 missiles. Fire control is handled by the 3R95 multi-channel FC system (Cross Swords). This system is comprised of two complimenting radar sets a G-band target acquisition radar and a K-band target engagement radar. This gives the system a good degree of flexibility because the G-band is constantly scanning the area even when the K-band is focused on a target. To maintain its 360 degree view it the G-band part of the system is actually two mechanically scanned (so quite a slow system when compared to Aegis) parabolic mounted radars. However, the K-band is electronically scanned phased array reflection type antenna, which is closer to the Aegis, the best thing about this technology though is that it can track and guide eight missiles to four targets simultaneously. These missiles have a maximum range of 12km, but a speed of 850m/s – 950m/s (depending on source), not as fast as some but with its accuracy and the capability of taking up to 30g it is not a system a pilot or an officer planning a missile strike can treat with disdain.
Kashtan Close-In-Weapons-System a combined gun, missile - 9M311K (Figure 6), and semi independent fire control system; all put in one module. Whilst there is some disagreement over how many of these modules, Jane’s states 8, so does the Russian navy website and Wikipedia, however naval-technology.com claims 4; personally I would be more likely to believe the 8. Principally because of the size of the Kuznetsov, after all if 6 are necessary for the Kirov class cruisers it would seem common sense that for a larger vessel, with the added complication of air operations limiting fields of fire, more systems would be needed. Therefore 8 is by any measure the more probable figure. Anyway, on to the facts of the system; the 9M311K missile has a currently a range of 8km, although the newer version would seem to have had this increased to 10km. Its speed of 900m/s means that the missile will reach maximum range in a little less than 8.9s. In its land form the missile is actually radio controlled, but the operator has their own radar display combined with a display from a wide angle zoom camera (which is focused by the radar data). However, the naval version is even more automated, perhaps reflecting both the longer time of service in the navy and also the greater space for computers, power, and sensors. Most importantly for dealing with saturation attacks, is that whilst the launcher includes just 4 missiles, it can automatically reload from the rotating magazine which stores 24 reloads. The gun used is the GSh-30k (AO-18K) six-barrelled 30 mm gatling guns which are fed by a link-less feeding mechanism allowing for a very high rate of fire. This combination makes the Kashtan CIWS far better than any other; as all others are either missile or gun, thus have the limitations of one or the other (missiles have a minimum range, guns are not that accurate past a certain distance); whereas the Kashtan has no minimum engagement range, from 8km out it will engage ceaselessly until the target or targets (each command module can deal with up to 6 at a time). Added to this already large weight of fire are another 8 AK-630 AA guns, which although not being part of the Kashtan system, certainly do add to the ability of the Kuznetsov to project a ‘wall of steel’ in front of oncoming aerial attacks.
A continuation of this theme of layered protection and firepower prevalent throughout the Kuznetsov’s design is the addition of a RBU-12000 UDAV-1 ASW rocket launcher this fires up to 60 rockets in a salvo at either submarines or torpedoes. It would seem absurd for most navies for the vessel which is the most important and presumably going to be at the centre of any battle group it is a component of, to carry an anti-submarine armament of any level. However, it does make sense if you are banking on fighting outnumbered wherever your fleet goes, if you are sure that ships you send out to the furthest range are going be beyond easy resupply and repair, then it makes perfect sense for everyone of them to pack as biggest punch as possible, and most importantly to be able to deal with as wide a range of possible foes as it can.
2.1.4 Aircraft Carried
Figure 7. 2 Su-33 preparing to take of from the Admiral Kuznetsov
Due to its size, it was never going to carry as many aircraft as its far larger American counterparts, but it comes with a perfectly respectable fixed wing compliment of 12-15 × Sukhoi Su-33 fighters (18 according to Jane’s), and up to 5 × Sukhoi Su-25UTG/UBP aircraft (4 according to Jane’s). Its Rotary wing compliment is either 4 × Kamov Ka-27LD32 helicopters (SAR/ASW), 18 × Kamov Ka-27PLO (ASW) helicopters, and 2 × Kamov Ka-27S (SAR) helicopters or 15 Ka-27PL (ASW) helicopters and 2-3 Ka-31 (AEW) helicopters. It is therefore obvious to discern the anti-submarine focus of the Kuznetsov.
Sukhoi Su-33
The Sukhoi Su-33 fighters are a navalised version of the Su-27 – the soviet answer to the F-15. However the Su-33 is carrier fighters, and compared to American carrier-borne fighters, of similar age, like the F-14 Tomcat, the Su-33 uses a ski-jump instead of catapult for carrier takeoff. This method thought does have the advantage of avoiding the massive stresses produced by the catapult method, and provides the aircraft with a positive pitch and climb angle upon launch. Unfortunately though, when using a ski-jump, the Su-33 cannot launch at maximum takeoff weight – so it cannot carry the same weight of munitions as the Su-27.
It does differ though in ways from the Su-27 which give it advantages over its sibling, for example the Su-33 sports canards that shorten the take-off distance and improve manoeuvrability. The wing area was also increased, though the span remained unchanged. The wings were fitted with power-assisted folding, and the vertical tails were shortened to allow the fighter to fit in the typically crowded hangars of an aircraft carrier. The rear radome was shortened and reshaped to allow for the tail hook, as well as to save space inside the hangars. The IRST was moved to provide better downward visibility and an L-shaped retractable refuelling probe was fitted to increase range; all things the Su-27 didn’t have.
The Su-33 carries guided missiles such as the Kh-25MP, Kh-31, Kh-41, and the R-27EM which provides it with the capability to intercept anti-ship missiles.. The plane can be used in both night and day operations at sea. It can operate under assistance of the command centre on the Kuznetsov, or in conjunction with a Kamov Ka-31 (a variant of the Ka-27) early-warning helicopter.
Figure 10. Su-33 about to land on the Admiral Kuznetsov
Sukhoi Su-25UTG
The Su-25UTG is a variant of the Su-25UB which is modified for the training pilots in takeoff and landing on a land-based simulated carrier deck. It first flew in September 1988, however only 10 were produced, these had to be added to as such a small number of aircraft were insufficient to serve the training needs of event Kuznetsov’s limited carrier air group; so a number of Su-25UBs were converted into Su-25UTGs, these aircraft being distinguished by the alternative designation Su-25UBP. They are quite serviceable and there appears to be no apparent rush to replace them in their training role, whilst the current carrier is in service.
Figure 11. Ka-27 Helix in flight
Kamov Ka-27LD32 / Kamov Ka-27PLO / Kamov Ka-27S
The Helix helicopter was developed as naval helicopter from the outset; due to this it’s designers focused on its capabilities as a ferry and anti-submarine warfare. Design work began in 1970 and the first prototype flew in 1973. It was intended to replace the decade-old Kamov Ka-25 Hormone; in fact the Helix bears more than a passing resemblance to it, primarily I am sure due to the primary requirement of fitting in the same hangar space. The largest similarity though is that like all the other Kamov military helicopters it has a co-axial rotor, removing the need for a tail rotor. The most common variant currently in service is Ka-27PL or "Helix-A", the Anti-submarine warfare version, the current generation of the PL is the Ka-27PLO; which carries a truly wide array of weaponry, the studying of which would take up a whole new chapter. The Ka-27S variant is the Search and Rescue helicopter; this is equipped with very powerful searchlights as well other aids in order to assist with the extraction of downed pilots, and seaman from burning ships. The Ka-27LD32, is actually the experimental replacement of the PLO and could be in full production soon; however at the moment its membership of the air group is a constant but in small numbers.
Figure 12. Kamov Ka-31 Helix (AEW)
Kamov Ka-31
Like all Kamov helicopters, except for the Ka-60/-62 Kasatka (Orca) family, the Ka-31 has co-axially mounted contra-rotating main rotors; thus like the rest of the Helix family has no need for a tail rotor. Visually the only distinctive feature of the Ka-31, compared to Ka-27, is the large antenna of the early warning radar(taken from the cancelled An-71); this whilst it is working rotates(Figure 12, note the landing gear has to retract to allow this to happen); however when not working it folds up under the fuselage for stowage. It is thanks to this radar that the bulky and rather unwieldy electro-optical sensory suite beneath the cockpit which allows it to be wider and more spacious.
Some of the less obvious changes engineering changes from Ka-27/29 are; the upgrading of the engines/power plant (additional Auixlary Power Units APU were added) in order to power both the secondary Hydraulic system and the radar which it is turning. Operational variants of Ka-31 include a command and control variant; sometimes confusingly termed a Ka-29RLD, but often now just termed a Ka-31 as all of these have been upgrade to make them ever more capable AWACs rather than the AEW they were first delivered as. Later batches of these aircraft have featured major navigational equipment improvements, for example digital terrain maps, ground-proximity warning, obstacle approach warning, auto-navigation of pre-programmed routes, flight stabilization and auto homing onto and landing at the parent the Kuznetsov and information concerning the helicopter's tactical situation. All these upgrades have been designed with the intention of making the Ka-31, a very important piece of kit, more survivable in combat situations; as well as a more operationally flexible aircraft.
2.1.5 History of Service
It was as “Tbilisi” that the carrier that is now known as Admiral Kuznetsov (it was renames in the 1990s) was launched in 1985. It was initially outfitted with a wide variety of aircraft, in order to test the new carrier’s deck capability (although this did cause some damage in testing). This aircraft included specially configured Su-25UT Frogfoot B, Su-27 Flanker, and MiG-29 Fulcrum conventional jets landed on the deck of the Kuznetsov in November 1989, aided by the strongest arresting gear the Soviet/Russian navy have ever put to sea. However, even though the Mig-29K passed its test flights from the deck of the Kuznetsov it was not ultimately not selected for use on Russia’s own carrier. After all the testing was complete, and it was finally ready for service, political turmoil prevented the ships official commissioning until 1991, and it further delayed it becoming fully operational until 1995.
The Kuznetsov made a very short Mediterranean training cruise early in 1996. However, by the end of 1997 the carrier remained immobilized in a Northern Fleet shipyard; awaiting for funding for the very necessary and extensive repairs; that had been stalled when only 20% complete. It was In July 1998 that the Kuznetsov emerged from this ‘two-year overhaul’ and after another period of testing it was once more declared active in the Northern Fleet on 03 November 1998. It was in autumn of 2000 that the Kuznetsov took part in covering the rescue operations off the Kola Peninsula after the loss of the submarine Kursk; this use had the knock on effect of delaying a planned return of the Russian Navy to the Mediterranean; something which was eventually cancelled for the then immediate future.
In early 2001 there were reports that the dozen Su-33 Flanker fighters assigned to the Kuznetsov were slated to be supplemented by another dozen modified to the attack role, capable of carrying air-to-ground ordnance. In 2003 150 million roubles were allocated from the budget to repair the aircraft carrier. The floating dock PD-50 was used in 2003 for repairs on the Kuznetsov; however, the aircraft carrier did not finish the repair program – primarily because of the floating docks rather limited facilities. It was therefore rather unsurprising that the Murmansk Shipyard received a military order from the Russian Navy on 26 April 2004 to repair eight gas pipes on the Kuznetsov.
On 24 July 2004 RIA Novosti reported that the Admiral Kuznetsov would begin performing missions after it emerged from the preventative maintenance, and the headquarters of the Northern Fleet stated that the ship would be released from repair on 06 August 2004. By coincidence the emergence from scheduled repair coincided with the 100th anniversary of Admiral Kuznetsov’s birth. Its equipment and armaments were reportedly in a good state (Jane’s, Russian Navy site, Telegraph), and after some careful preparations the Admiral Kuznetsov started to perform operational missions again. The ship's carrier-based aircraft began their training shortly thereafter, and have since been seen to maintain a high level of capability.
Following repairs, the ship participated in exercises in the Atlantic Ocean together with its deck based aviation and other ships. This was only the vessel’s second major operational mission in a decade. In October 2004 the Admiral Kuznetsov participated in one of the most ambitious naval exercise performed by the Russian Navy to date. It sailed with the Northern Fleets flagship, the nuclear-powered heavy cruiser, the Pyotr Veliky, the cruiser Marshal Ustinov, the destroyer Admiral Ushakov, a tanker and two support ships. This group set out for and arrived at an area approximately 20 nautical miles off Iceland on 05 October 2004 and returned home on 01 November. This may seem rather small, but what it demonstrated was the ability of the fleet units to work together, especially the big units around which any future naval power projection will be based.
On 23 February 2005 Rear Admiral Vladimir Dobroskochenko, the Deputy Commander of the Northern Fleet, announced that the Admiral Kuznetsov would embark on a voyage around the oceans that summer. That was, however, just the first benefit of a growing significant increase in funds allotted to the Russian Navy within the defence and military budgets which also provided the benefit of allowing both further repairs and upgrades to be initiated in 2007. At that time the ship's naval aviation component was comprised of elements of the 279th Ship borne Fighter Air Regiment. The carrier was equipped with more than 20 Su-33 fighters and 16-18 Ka-27 and Ka-31 helicopters. Upgrades in the aircraft’s detection and weapons systems that are (this would seem to be obvious but is not always the case) generally considered to have enhanced the ship's overall attack capabilities.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Type 45 & PAAMS/Sea Viper

As I have said before the type 45s are in form a very well designed modern destroyer, they have lots of good points which have to born in mind when considering them; for example their striking stealth design. However, they have a glaringly bad point that they whilst they carry the brilliant Aster missiles (the equivalent of the SM-2 Block IV, but not the exceptional SM-3 ABM) – the primary reason for this entry, and are fitted for but do not carry the stalwart Harpoon SSM. They have the great new deck gun the 4.5in Mk 8 mod 1 gun, the decent if not exactly new or what I would have selected with the same decision to make combination of 2 Phalanx 20mm (instead of BAE MK110 57mm) placed flanking the ship (even if I had selected these, I would have put them fore and aft like they are fitted to the USN’s Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers, pictured left, and the RNs own Bulwark Class LPD– as this allows both to cover either side of the ship; thus providing a measure of insurance if one goes wrong). To my mind all the weaponry puts too much faith in the air defence capability of the missiles – they are very good, but they will also run out – the Royal Navy is not building enough of these destroyers (only 6) to not have to deal with that as a possibility. The lack of the long range land attack capability from the stowing of Tomahawks in a Type 41 or Type 53 VLS; or even perhaps the Storm Shadow Cruise missile which can be taken by the Sylver A70 VLS. However, if this does eventually become the case, then it would be advisable to have a large VLS than 48, perhaps a 64 or even 80 would be more useful. Another system, which I would certainly support, would be the addition of a rocket torpedo, either by the adaption of the Subroc (technically possible due to size of rocket and size of launcher - as shown in chart below), or the creation of a new one; more importantly the inclusion of any torpedo would be useful – as I am constantly saying the Royal Navy is not large enough to afford to have specialists, they need very good generalists; the insistence on such ships by the Civil Servants in the Ministry of Defence/Treasury is crippling them.
However, back to Sea Viper or Aster as everyone else calls them; there are two variants the Aster 15 - the Short/medium range surface-air anti-aircraft and anti-missile missile, and Aster 30 - the Long range anti-aircraft and anti-missile missile. Both have proximity detonated directed fragmentation warhead, fused to a solid propellant two-stage rocket. The operational range of the two types differ, the Aster 15’s range is 30km, whilst the Aster 30’s in 120km. The speed is also different being Mach 3 or 1000m/s for the Aster 15, whilst the Aster 30 is Mach 4.5 or 1400m/s. The real asset of these missiles though is their manoeuvrability. They achieve this through a new control system, where the control flaps are associated with four powder manoeuvre rockets at the centre of gravity of the missile, sometimes referred to as PIF-PAF, this system prevents a rupture of the missile under high-g manoeuvres during trajectory corrections (by placing less strain on the body). Thus, allowing violent manoeuvres to be performed without risking the missile and thus improving the precision of the missile and chances of impact on target. The one area of weakness perhaps, is the missile guidance, in its terminal it lacks the addition of an infra-red secondary homing system; something which is standard in both the newer American and Russian missiles.
Broadly speaking therefore the Type 45 is a very well armed Area Air Defence Destroyer; unfortunately what the Royal Navy really needed was a GPGMD or General Purpose Guided Missile Destroyer. The Royal Navy needs the anti-ship SSMs, it needs the Land Attack Missiles, it most definitely needs the torpedoes – Helicopters do break occasionally after all, and it’s just nice to have a backup when faced with modern submarines with their quiet engines, anechoic tiles, and countless other tricks. The Aster, or the Sea Viper, though is really good weapon, okay compared to SM-3 its lacking, but no one has the Americans development budget, and that is built upon the history of possibly the most successful lineage of medium and long range missiles so far; whereas the Sea Viper, well its rather similar to the Sea Wolf lineage – the most successful short range missile so far. Fast, manoeuvrable with a decent range, they are what they are; very good area air defence missiles. The same is true for the Type 45s, unfortunately unlike the missiles; the Royal Navy needs the destroyers to be so much more.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Joint Force Harrier

Okay, in another break from the series of entries I have up till now been following, this piece is going to focus on the Royal Navy’s/Royal Air Force’s Joint Force Harrier. This force is under threat in the forthcoming budgetary battle, an annual event which has been made worse by the current economic climate. So here are some reasons this force is under threat, and the reasons why in my mind it should not only be saved, but if at all possible expanded by at least one if not two active squadrons.
Why it is under attack;
  1. Whilst this probably has not gone through the minds of the officers involved, a bonus of removing the aircraft which provide the strike element of our carrier air groups would, although removing only two squadrons from the RAF would remove the RN’s only fixed wing squadrons from service. This would critically undermine the RN’s ability to involve itself in the JSFs and perhaps even the whole Queen Elizabeth Class carrier project – something which would perhaps free up money to provide the RAF with all the Eurofighter’s it loves so much.
  2. To Quote Mr Mark Lancaster MP “What does that actually mean? I am not going to draw the Minister into debates on Treasury cuts and the fact that the RAF is having to find ways to save money next year. A lot of money seems to be splashing around, but if the MOD needs more money, that is a point for him to argue with the Treasury. It is pretty clear that if the Harrier stays in Afghanistan, it will not be subjected to the programme review. If, however, the Tornado is pulled out of Iraq—it soon will be, hopefully—what exactly is it going to do? It will not be on operations, and it will not have an operational role. I am assured that the RAF is concerned that, all of a sudden, the Tornado fleet is beginning to look exposed. It believes that by ensuring that it has a role in Afghanistan, we can give the Tornado fleet and its future a degree of protection.” Now I have copied the whole paragraph, not just the salient point, for reasons which I will explain later; but it does raise a very important point to be considered – are operational requirements being put second to doctrinal belief? The Tornadoes are fast aircraft, the most successful ground support aircraft are (in order) the A-10 Warthog, Apache Gunship and the Harrier – all these aircraft are significantly slower, and more manoeuvrable at low altitudes were all the tactical ground support required by the troops takes place.

Why it should be saved;

  1. This point is perhaps a continuation of the end of point 2 of ‘why it under attack’, but as it is to do with why it should be saved it is here. The RAF does not have the A-10 Warthog, neither does it have Apaches although the British Army does; the only ground attack aircraft it has is the Harrier. The Tornado was originally designed as an air superiority aircraft designed at the height of the cold war that was adapted to the role; and has always had difficulty fulfilling this role.
  2. Then there is the problem of combat capability and reliability, a point which Mr Lancaster MP has also raised;
    a) “For example, from a weapons point of view—I will not go into detail, as it would not be helpful in a public debate—of the six weapons systems that are carried on the Harrier, four cannot currently be carried on a Tornado. Indeed, one of the biggest impacts that we will see is on the degree of proportionality. The Tornado, which is due to replace the Harrier, seems very much to be an all or nothing option. Also, the Harrier has a series of close air support options fitted to it. In fact, of the eight specialist items on a Harrier for close air support, four will not be available for the Tornado.”
    b) “I will not go into the details of ground abort rates, but suffice to say that at the moment the Harrier is operating at a 0.34 per cent. ground abort rate. That means that only about four in every 1,000 times that we call on a Harrier to go on a mission in Afghanistan it cannot take off, because of some technical problem. By comparison, the Tornado GR4 is operating at a ground abort rate of 11.6 per cent. That means that more than one in 10 times that a Tornado is scrambled on operations, it simply fails to get off the ground. If that is the case, why are we replacing eight Harriers with eight Tornadoes? Why are we accepting that one in 10 times a Tornado will not get off the ground and therefore one in 10 times it will not get to serve our soldiers on the ground on the front line? Is the Minister really happy to take that risk? In fact, the ground abort rate for Tornadoes peaked last month at 12.7 per cent., so this problem is getting worse, not better. I would also like to pass this summary to the Minister so that he can confirm or deny this information, which apparently is not held centrally.”
    c) This sub-point is not raised by Mr Lancaster MP, I would like to think because of parliamentary nicety rather than not realising. Why in the name of all things logical and common sensical would any sane person withdraw an aircraft which is so capable and provides so much of a life line to those brave men and women risking their lives every day and night they serve this country in Afghanistan and then replace it with an aircraft which is not as good? In an echo of a point I made to a friend recently such actions seem almost criminal if considered in the light of modern health and safety laws relating to the employers duty of care to their employees.
  3. If they do retire the Harriers, what will we fly from the carriers – the Invincible class can certainly not carry Eurofighters, or the Harriers projected replacement in Afghanistan the Tornado; incidentally neither can the new Queen Elizabeth Class carriers – they will carry the JSF, the Harriers projected replacement, which will not begin to enter service till 2012. So, if the Harriers were withdrawn from service now, with even the most optimistic projection of full service work up time, would mean a 4.5 year or 54 month gap of capability in close support fixed wing aircraft organically available to British Forces on operation; more likely it would be 6 years or 72 months capability gap, i.e. 2015.
  4. This whole situation is strikingly similar to something described by Chalmers Johnson in his text ‘America Is Completely Broke, And Here We Are Funding Fantasy Wars at the Pentagon’ – a text which I disagree with much of, but does raise many salient points;
    a) “Instead, in military terms, the most unexpectedly successful post-Vietnam aircraft has been the Fairchild A-10, unflatteringly nicknamed the "Warthog." It is the only close-support aircraft ever developed by the U.S. Air Force. Its task is to loiter over battlefields and assist ground forces in disposing of obstinate or formidable targets, which is not something that fits comfortably with the Air Force's hot-shot self-image.”
    b) “Some 715 A-10s were produced and they served with great effectiveness in the first Persian Gulf War. All 715 cumulatively cost less than three B-2 bombers. The A-10 is now out of production because the Air Force establishment favours extremely fast aircraft that fly in straight lines at high altitudes rather than aircraft that are useful in battle. In the Afghan war, the Air Force has regularly inflicted heavy casualties on innocent civilians at least in part because it tries to attack ground targets from the air with inappropriately high-performance equipment.”
    c) So here is another case where the very capable ground support aircraft is being sidelined in favour of an aircraft which has been designed in the cold war mould of high speed air superiority mission primacy; ground support mission somewhere below the visible horizon. I have a solution for this, for some reason – Unknown and still unexplained to me a Brigadier of the Army was put in charge of ordering and building the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers, so why can’t a brigadier be put in charge of order the new ground support aircraft – this makes far more sense than the carriers, as they have the knowledge of what they need as well experience gained through Apache operations of what an aircraft can do. > I wrote this (on the night of the 4th Feb 2009) having not read the Telegraph on the 4th of Feb 2009, and it seems that this has already been done with a Major General being put in charge, who suprisingly and much to RAFs chargrin agrees that the Harriers should be kept on....I wonder why?

I will admit that this is not the most balanced piece I have ever written, that is because this is such an important topic in my point of view that I feel I have to drop the academic niceties of life, and be, well, more forthright than those conventions would traditionally allow. The Harrier is a combat necessity in the modern era, especially when it’s only visibly capable replacement in the role of close combat support is so far away. 6 years might not seem so much to a civil servant sitting behind a comfortable desk in the Treasury, but trust me; my friends regularly reiterate the point that 6 seconds seems like lifetime when waiting for air support to arrive in close quarters action in the heart of Helmand province – just imagine when they get told, sorry the aircraft cannot take off due to mechanical failure, or it can’t carry the right weapons to assist you, or even worst it can’t help you because it cannot go slow enough to operate at low level in valley – a not unknown occurrence with the not do dissimilar to Tornado F-15s currently deployed by the USAF in Afghanistan.
So here is my plea, please before anyone decides to withdraw these aircraft, consider those personal we have on operations, not the ones in future operations, not the ones Cold War battle which thankfully have so far never come true; but those deployed in Afghanistan, on carriers deployed to support far flung obligations signed up to so easily by the current government, carrying out tasks in areas where there are no big airfields – where a Harrier is literally the only aircraft which can be operated from the facilities available. The final point I have to make is this, why is Britain considering withdrawing an aircraft from service 6 years before its replaced is probably going to be operational, when the Americans who will operate the same types of aircraft, but will not withdraw the Harrier for 10 years – in other words 2019 in order to avoid losing those capabilities which would be so glibly dispensed with in the Harriers own nation of birth.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Chinese SuperWeapons and Submarines

This is a break from the run of entries brought about by repetition I have kept viewing on so many other sites; namely that the Chinese have managed to out technology all other nations and can now precision attack carrier groups with ballistic missiles; and that due to the only useful warships in modern warfare are submarines. Well I will start with the beginning:
1) The Chinese are developing such a system; but even they do not think it will be ready for 50 or more years, due to requirements of technology and more importantly the creation of the required infrastructure to support such a system. For example a comprehensive real-time satellite intelligence network, supported by a central command centre equipped with a computer core capable of processing and analysing the vast quantities of information gathered by such a network - none of the things on this list are beyond the Chinese, but they will not be built quickly or easily.
2) Just as the Chinese are developing such a system, the Americans are actually further ahead (in visibility of project anyway) with the counters to such a system; I of course referring to the very capable SM-3 and SM-6 missiles coupled the current SPY-2 or the future SPY-3 Aegis radars. These systems are designed to deal with saturation level air attacks and ballistic missiles - as well as having the capability of targeting satellites. That being the crucial part of the equation, and what so many other writers have missed, the projected Chinese system would be rendered impotent if the satellites which will provide it with much, if not all, of its targeting capability are destroyed; then the weapon would cease to be a major factor in influencing operational parameters.
3) Submarines - are not wonder machines, some writers talk of these very complicated, very potent machines in such terms, one could almost be excused for wondering why navies build anything else; one has even described them as the modern capital ships and being the only useful craft. A reader, may even be excused from reading the start of this point for believing I feel the same, unfortunately I don't, and they are overstating the evidence a lot - in words of one of my former lecturers; 'restating your argument ad-infinitum does not make it real, neither does shouting it at the top of your voice'. Submarines are useful, but they did not provide 90% of the tactical air support used in Afghanistan and the Second Gulf War - that was the carriers; neither did they provide 86% of the cruise missiles fire in support of these operations - that was cruisers and destroyers. Another argument made in their support is that they are immune from air attacks; well last time I checked there were lots of aircraft which specialise in the hunting and destroying of submarines - and many of these are quite good. In fact so good the Russians have been fitting Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) in their Submarines since the 1970s; yet even with this addition their chances were not considered that good. It is in fact a basic tenant of NATO doctrine that submarines would always operate under at least a neutral sky if not a friendly sky (weather by land bases or carrier groups), unless the operation was important enough to warrant the sacrifice of a submarine.
So here is my conclusion, submarines are useful, but as part of an overall naval package, they cannot do nearly as much at the moment as their proponents would seem to suggest; in fact I wonder those proponents actually know much about them at all. As for the Chinese weapon system, every time a new weapon, which is longer range and more accurate comes out, the same argument appears - 'this renders all others before it useless'; in reality this is never the case, after all the missile replaced the gun; but ships still have guns, which very useful, some are in fact very useful at destroying missiles! So, here is my advice, before you sell the bath to pay for the shower - think, sometimes a bath is more useful than a shower, sometimes it is what you need for that situation and it covers most of same situations as the shower does; even though it as an idea predates the founding of Rome.