Sunday, February 27, 2022

Out with the Old, In with the New: NGAD and the US Air Force


Out with the Old, In with the New: NGAD and the US Air Force

    The US Air Force (USAF) has been making significant progress within its Next Generation Air Defense (NGAD) Program, initiated to develop a sixth-generation fighter. The NGAD program is also intended to advance technologies, suspected to include propulsion, “new forms of stealth; advanced weapons, including directed energy; and thermal management.” 

    NGAD has advanced rapidly, with the USAF completing and testing a full-scale flight demonstrator in 2020, despite only receiving funding two years prior. The next generation fighter is projected to replace the F-22 Raptor in 2030 but that could happen sooner than expected. Although specifics of the NGAD fighter remain confidential, some details have been revealed about what the role and capabilities of the aircraft will be. Air Force Chief of Staff, General Charles Q. Brown Jr., has said the NGAD will have multiple roles, including its primary air dominance responsibility, as well as additional strike capabilities. 

    The aircraft will combine stealth technology with artificial intelligence to quickly process information to assist combat pilots. NGAD has been described as being a “family of systems” with a fighter as its core. Ideally, the NGAD should be able to connect manned and unmanned vehicles and improve reconnaissance and data sharing during critical and fast-paced missions. There may also be two different variants of the NGAD. One version would have a greater range and weapons load, designed for the Indo-Pacific. Another would have a shorter range, ideal for potential battles in Europe. 

    The NGAD program supports the long-standing mission of the USAF – air superiority. Developments in air defense technology are imperative to mission success in a near-peer threat environment. However, over 80 percent of the USAF’s current fighter aircraft are dated, based off designs from the 60s and 70s. Despite previous budget cuts, the NGAD program is expected to move ahead in the coming years. As technology advances across the globe, the new threat environment will require extensive modernization that the US must keep up with. But no matter if it can, its adversaries will. 

Amateurs do Strategy and Tactics, Experts do Logistics

    When people think Airpower they immediately think of bomber and fighter planes. Rightfully so, those are the planes that make things go "boom"! Those are the planes that are big and terrifying, do the cool tricks in the movies, and get the credit for winning wars in the air. There's no doubt, bomber and fighter planes are the secret sauce of defense strength. However, cargo planes are also incredibly important in airpower. 

    In the fall of 2021, a C-17 was used to evacuate US troops and Afghan civilians desperate to escape Taliban control from Afghanistan. The C-17 is a cargo plane that is capable of rapid strategic delivery of troops and all types of cargo to main operating bases or directly to forward bases in the deployment area. It can perform both tactical airlift and airdrop missions in addition to transporting patients for medical evacuations. Currently, the US military has many types cargo aircraft both commercial and military. The next most popular to the C-17 would be the C-130 Hercules. The C-130s are used for rescue missions, training, logistics operations, refuelers, special ops and much more. The United States takes the lead with nearly 100 C-130 Hercules aircraft:

United States Air Force operates- 54

The United States Air National Guard- 26

The United States Coast Guard- 6

The United States Marine Corps- 6

And finally the United States Navy- 8

   The C-130J Super Hercules is the latest version in the Air Force arsenal of cargo planes with more modern technology, better engines, and more payload capacity. It is one of the most versatile cargo planes ever, with the ability to support a broad range of missions. It also has the capabilities to land on runways where other airlifters can't go. The 123rd Airlift Wing Kentucky Air National Guard (KYANG) is actually one of four U.S. selected bases to get the new C-130Js. The KYANG is receiving eight C-130Js to replace their C-130s.  

    With the escalation of Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. will likely use cargo planes such as the C-17 or C-130/C-130J to carry weapons in support of Ukraine or other forms of humanitarian said as events continue to unfold. Cargo planes are going to be essential in this crisis and hold has been a crucial part in many global conflicts. 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Secrets and Airpower: The Bombing of Cambodia

    The six-year presidency of Richard Nixon will go down in history as one of the most controversial and scandal-ridden in American history. The impropriety stretched from illegal actions that attempted to ensure his reelection on the domestic front to the lies told to the American people about the outlook for the Vietnam War, exposed in the Pentagon Papers. One of the most infamous actions by the Nixon administration that caused immense backlash was the secret bombing of “neutral” Cambodia from March 1969 to May 1970.  The bombing, which wasn’t revealed to Congress or the American people until 1973, is often sighted as a low point in the use of American airpower. The broader context of the situation aids in understanding the justification for United States’ actions.
    Critics of the bombing often cite the neutrality of Cambodia as justification for calling it illegal. The Geneva Conference did declare Cambodia a nonaligned nation in 1954, which was still in effect when Nixon took office. Despite this lapel, the Cambodian government severed relations with the United States in 1965, believing the North Vietnamese would win the war. Soon after, the North Vietnamese began to use staging bases in Cambodia for operations to fight the South and American forces. The Cambodian bases numbered at least 15, one being 33 miles from Saigon, South Vietnam’s capital. 
    US military commanders had wanted to destroy Cambodian sanctuary bases for years, but Nixon’s predecessor Lyndon Johnson refused. Throughout his final years in office, Johnson was uncommitted to ensuring an American victory or pulling US troops out of the conflict. Less than two months into office, Nixon’s strategy to bring “peace with honor” included bombing Cambodia. Along with National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, Nixon insisted that the bombing be kept secret from Congress and the press. During the ensuing 14 months, B-52 bombers flew 3,875 missions against Cambodian targets. 
    Looking back on the bombing of Cambodia fifty-three years later, the insistence on secrecy by Nixon and Kissinger was a mistake. The North Vietnamese did not alert the global community either because they consistently denied having bases in Cambodia. The toxic US political environment in the summer of 1973 set the backdrop for yet another example of abuse of power by the Nixon White House. Congress, the people’s representatives should have been informed of the bombing since they approve military spending and approve the use of military force. It is now a fact that the Cambodian government facilitated and housed North Vietnamese forces on its soil. These forces carried out missions that killed and injured American soldiers. The mission to take out these North Vietnamese bases in Cambodia should have been justified to Congress and the American people. The outrage would likely have been less severe if this had been done and American airpower would not have been tarnished as a result. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Rapid Dragon Program

 Rapid Dragon 

    The United States Air Force, in late 2021, launched its first test prototype of a new bombing system. The system is the first of many Air Force palletized weapon systems. The Air Force created the plan in a lightning-fast 24 months. 

The name: Rapid Dragon 

    The term Rapid Dragon originated in ancient China, a siege machine that allowed the ancient Chinese military to launch multiple arrows at once. It can be assumed that the US Air Force took inspiration from the ancient machine and used the name to catch the attention of Xi Xingping, China's president. Along with the catchy name, the program also directly responded to the Chinese military's rapidly advancing technology. The United States proved they could develop weapons from concept to development prototype in just 24 months. The Air Force likes to continue the rapid advancement and bring the program to an operational prototype within two years. 

The system: 

    Palletized weapon systems, simply put, are weapon systems that are compactly attached to a pallet instead of being dropped from a conventional bomber, fighter aircraft, or ship. They are significant because they can be carried by any cargo plane that can handle the system's weight, making operations much less expensive. The Air Force tested the Rapid Dragon from a C-130J Commando II. In the future, the Air Force plans to use C-17 Globemaster. The larger the cargo plane, the more palletized weapon systems can be carried and used in various missions. 

According to the Air Force Research Laboratory, during the test, the C-130J flew to the drop site, released the Rapid Dragon, parachutes deployed, angling the system down. The cruise missiles deployed fell toward earth, released their wings, and engaged their engines to gain flight stability. While flying targeting information was sent to the missile, the missile adjusted course and successfully hit the target. The test was the first-time targeting data was sent to a missile during the flight instead of preloading. 

The Future: 

    The Air Force will attempt to launch multiple different weapons from the same pallet in future tests. Meaning the pallet, or as the Air Force calls it, "box," could house one cruise missile and three different guided bombs or other systems. The Rapid Dragon proves the concept of shared air targeting data, which furthers combat communication. Friendly troops on the ground or in the sky could send cruise missiles launched from Rapid Dragon systems and send the most current targeting data to the missile making real-time adjustments. The Air Force plans to test again in the Spring of 2022 from a C-17 Globemaster.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Building a navy


In our most recent class we were given an exercise that involved creating a ship building plan for a hypothetical navy. This navy was to be made up of three different kinds of ships: large, medium, and small. This navy was given a budget of $4 million per year. It would start with 1,000 personnel and increase by 50% each year until it reached a maximum of 20,000. Large ships would take 3 years to build, cost $2 million, have a lifespan of 30 years, and require 1,200 personnel to operate. Medium ships would take 2 years to build, cost $1 million, have a lifespan of 20 years, and require 700 personnel to operate. Small ships would take 1 year to build, cost $.1 million, have a lifespan of 15 years, and require 100 personnel to operate. This navy had 4 construction slips for large ships, 8 for medium ships, and 16 for small ships. If ships were dry docked, they lost only .5 a year off their lifespan instead of a full year. 

The screenshot above is my 30 year plan for this navy. My goal, especially in the beginning, was to create a plan that would maximize the usage of personnel and budget. But to best achieve this maximization, I first had to figure out what I wanted the end state of this navy to be when it reached its maximum personnel. I decided that 6 large ships, 12 medium ships, and 44 small ships would be a good composition. This would allow for six strike groups composed of 1 large ship, 2 medium ships, and 7/8 small ships. Once I figured this out, the first 10 years were important to building up to this composition as quickly as possible as the navy would reach its 20,000 maximum in year 9. 

I was largely pleased with my plan as I was able to get to my desired composition in year 10, just one year after reaching the maximum personnel limit. The ships were constructed in a time frame that would have spread out replacement in later years so it didn't stress ship building capabilities or the budget. In those crucial beginning years I was mostly able to use the maximum amount of personnel available to the navy and maximize the $4 million dollar budget. However, I did face issues in years 8 and 9 where I wasn't able to fully maximize personnel usage due to ship building and budgetary constraints. I felt this was an acceptable trade-off though as it set up full usage going forward and reaching the desired composition in year 10. In years 8 through 19 ship building largely drops off because the navy was built. One could argue that I could've continued building new ships and cycling out older ships during these years that theoretically could be outdated, but I would contend that military ship technology is not changing at a pace that requires that level of replacement. The money in these years could have gone towards other things a navy needs like building out or improving infrastructure at bases, research and development, or maintenance costs. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Rule Britannia? The Decline of the British Seapower

    The cornerstone of the British military and most prominent service for centuries has been the Royal Navy. The fact that the United Kingdom is an island nation, separated from the rest of Europe and the world, necessitated the creation of a first-class navy to ensure security, facilitate trade, and dominate its once global empire. Stretching from the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 to taskforce secured victory in the Falklands War, the Royal Navy played a vital role in shaping British military successes. Despite this long tradition of domination of the seas, today’s Royal Navy is a shadow of its former self.  
    The height of British seapower was reached during the Second World War. In 1945 the Royal Navy included 280 fighters and destroyers, 66 submarines, 29 cruisers, and 12 carriers. As of April 2020, the Royal Navy had a fleet of 70 total vessels. Another staggering comparison is the number of enlisted personnel in the Royal Navy. At the end of World War II, 861,000 service members were enlisted; by 1955, the number was 128,000. In 1991 the Royal Navy was made up of 62,000 personnel; in 2017, the total is 29,280. 
    An incident in January 2018 illustrates the current state of the Royal Navy. Three Russian naval vessels going through the English Channel were intercepted by a British minehunter rather than a frigate. The minehunter was deployed due to a shortage of vessels and personnel. Stories such as this one depict the decline of the power of British naval forces, which once were the envy of the world.
    The drastic decrease in vessels and personnel in the Royal Navy over the past several decades can be explained in various ways. Since World War II, the method of fighting a war has changed dramatically and has the United Kingdom’s standing in the world. Following World War II, the British Empire was disbanded as countries gained their independence, meaning the UK treasury suffered. The decrease in Naval spending was also not a partisan issue since the decline continued through Conservative and Labour governments with very different philosophies. The overriding theme of this observation is that as countries and ways of fighting change, so can the sentimental parts of military forces.  

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Importance of SOF

     The special operations force has been around since the mid 40's, but didn't gain public support until the late 80's. Special ops were originally formed as an assistance to the military. Most notably, frogmen created during WWII were designated to going in before the conventional army to destroy enemy obstacles. Since then, some special ops have developed into their own branch known as the Joint Special Operations Command. Under JSOC is SEAL team 6 and Delta Force, representing some of the strongest, fastest, and deadliest people in the world. 

    JSOC has come a long way since it's original missions back in the 1970's-1980's. Instances of Operation Eagle Claw reflected a massive failure for the Delta Force, resulting in multiple mechanical malfunctions and 8 service member casualties. Following Eagle Claw in 1983 was the 3 day failure of the Grenada mission. Before even attempting the rescue of political prisoners at Richmond Hill Prison, multiple aircraft batteries caught fire and a crossfire attack resulted in 3 helicopter crashed and 13 special operator deaths. At this point the funding and support of government officials felt pointless and a death sentence to the top 99% of America's military. 

    The Delta Force received a surge of support after the influx of terrorist threats in the early 2000's. The attacks on 9/11 to the world trade center developed into a Special Operations mission to execute the leader of this terrorism. Massive improvements were shown after Delta Force took down al-Qaeda leader Bin Laden in 2011 with 0 U.S casualties. Years later in 2019, Special Ops completed a similar task of taking down then ISIS leader Baghdadi. A reflection of more success shown through as current ISIS leader Qurayshi was also taken down just last week, February 3rd. All three instances totalling in 0 U.S casualties. The switch from helicopter malfunctions and multiple operator deaths to near perfect executions of missions created massive support of the government and the public. Hundreds of special forces movies can be found in every search, and the support for SOF is now almost unanimous. 

    The failures of these previously mentioned missions were necessary to reflect the improvements needed amongst the Military and its special forces. The rise and presence of terrorism isn't going away any time soon and neither is the support for SOF. The funding and support for these commands its limitless and the constant adaptation of branches will reflect the continued success of operations. 

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

SOF Challenges Today

    Prior to WWII, the general attitude towards SOF (Special Operations Forces) was rather negative. Not many people saw a need for an elite group of trained soldiers. That all began to change as the SOF began to expand during the Vietnam War and into the 1980s. Today, most soldiers and civilians have a sense of respect and admiration for SOF. While each branch still maintains their own version of SOF, as a whole, SOF has had a lot more positive attention and spotlight since their creation. This can be seen through detailed movies such as The Lone Survivor, and video games such as Call of Duty. However, even with the recent improvements in training and more success stories, the SOF still has a list of hurdles to address. 

    U.S. SOF still needs more Cyber Soldiers. A lot of present day battles are fought online which saves lives that would've been lost on a battlefield. There has been an increasing demand of Cyber SOF to bust down virtual doors in addition to physical ones. Much of this is in reaction to the increasing amount of cyber attacks through spies and coders. Perhaps in the coming years in addition to the creation of the Space Force, respective branches can build a stronger Cyber Force. 

    Another problem that has been getting a lot of attention is the sense of entitlement among SOF. Military wide, there has been a reoccurring issue of leadership in Spec Ops Command having issues of misconduct and ethic violations. A 2020 report found that some SOF members were taking their "special" title a little too seriously which has lead to a huge sense of entitlement. While it is good that most Americans applaud and see the value of SOF, that "cool" persona might be consuming our soldiers' minds a bit too much. 

     PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) has also been a continuous problem. Yes, these special soldiers are well trained, maintain a sense of entitlement, and are generally successful in their missions. Nonetheless, PTSD has been a giant problem among SOF. SOF has handled the majority of modern warfare in the past decade under very harsh and often traumatizing circumstances. Most soldiers are expected to go on back to back missions with little to no recovery time. While overall suicides for the military have decreased, suicides within the SOF have increased significantly. This is problematic not only for the soldier, but for the force as a whole.