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Erik is a public policy professional and owner of the online training course in democracy and civic action: www.3ptraining.com.au The Blog …explores ways to create a sustainable and just community. Explores how that community can be best protected at all levels including social policy/economics/ military. The Book Erik’s autobiography is a humorous read about serious things. It concerns living in the bush, wilderness, home education, spirituality, and activism. Finding Home is available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and all good e-book sellers.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Defence Force Pornography Meets the Real World - how Australia lost the war of 2030


In a previous article I speculated that global financial difficulties could impose severe hardship on poor countries that are not self-sufficient in food or fuel. This could, given the right circumstances, lead to war on our doorstep and even invasion. Academics and the military intelligentsia have for more than a decade been warning about future invasion as a serious possibility in the time frames within which defence planning takes place. Most recently Dr Robert O’Neill of the Australian National University Strategic and Defence Studies Centre warned of a “growing threat from large nations with huge populations but diminishing food and resources.” See here.

These are not xenophobic rantings. These are professional academics doing their job and they deserve to be taken seriously. Unfortunately that is usually as far as it gets. When it comes down to what defence equipment Australia needs, can afford, can maintain, and can turn into a coordinated military system, there is plenty of ill-informed speculation but almost no technical analysis. The only place I have found systematic analysis by subject matter experts that joins the dots between technical detail, tactical strategy and strategic policy, is Air Power Australia (ausairpower.net). If anyone knows any other sources please share! The following article, at least as regards air power, draws heavily on their peer reviewed published papers and on personal communication with members of the APA community.

While no one knows the future we can make real world predictions about how a conflict with our northern neighbour might play out based on the current known strategy and the military acquisition paths of both nations.  Due to the length of the article it will occur as a series of postings. This anaysis is based on research over several years, and pesonal conversations with several leading defence engineers and academics.

Nation State Conflict #101

As any student of modern military history knows, modern warfare was invented by the Nazi’s in the 1930’s. Since then there has been exponential growth in technology but no fundamental change in strategy. What Coalition forces did in the Gulf is text book and replicates almost exactly what German forces did during their European and Russian Offensives. The Americans may have used cruise missiles not Stuka dive bombers, but the strategy is the same. It goes like this:

  1. Destroy command and control and information (C3I) networks – radar, radio, digital links etc.
  2. Win control of the air.
  3. Take control of strategic sea approaches.
  4. Bomb everything that moves, drives, floats or has military value according to a priority list of targets.
  5. Weaken opposing defensive lines with artillery, rockets and air assault.
  6. Use mechanised armour lead by tanks to break through points of weakness.
  7. Having ‘broken through’ outflank opposing forces, cut off their supply lines, and force their surrender.
  8. Isolate and surround points of resistance such as built-up areas or rugged terrain.
  9. Drive to the capital and install the new government.
  10. Disarm surrendered forces and send them home (or massacre them).

So let’s now take a systematic look, point by point, at how the Indonesian National Defence Forces – Tentara Nasional Indonesia or ‘TNI’ might do this in the event of a conflict with Australia.

Destroy C3I networks

Given the vast size of the continent and its approaches C3I networks are particularly important to Australia but are greatly underinvested with no forward growth program evident beyond a vague wish list. Nor do we have the kind of low tech C3I that actually works in high intensity conflicts – locally trained people who report on what they see using everything from mobile phones to dispatch riders. Our military is detached from the community rather than imbedded in it and we do not have the kind of national civil defence that New Zealand has. There is no serious impediment to any nation implanting a fifth column of well-armed observers and saboteurs into Australia, or of the TNI landing special-forces across our North. Until recently an operative had only to fly from Tehran to Jakarta, get a three month visa, take a bus ride to the coast, get on a boat, sail just outside of Indonesian territorial waters and sound a mayday. When the Australian government taxi service (aka border patrol) shows up jump in the water and ‘guess what’ – chances are they are or will be Australian. If they get sent to PNG it won’t be long before they get entry to Australia, if not forever, then for long enough.

Picture: Indonesian special forces

This could pose serious problems in a high intensity conflict. That said our better defended installations are not easily reached without submarine launched cruise missiles which Indonesia does not currently possess, or combat aircraft.

Win Control of the Air

Officially in 2030 Australia will have 100 ‘stealth’ Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs) supported by a fleet of airborne early warning aircraft (AEWACs). According to the Department of Defence the Fighters will be undetectable by enemy radar but will have complete ‘situational awareness’ due to advanced sensors and data fusion. Guided by the AEWACs, and perhaps by the aegis radars on our air defence destroyers, these planes pootle undetected to within weapons range of the unsuspecting Indonesian Sukhoi fighters. They release their long range air to air missiles, note the kills on their radar, and fly home for a cool beer. The nation is saved.

That is Department of Defence pornography. For some it gives a certain sense of gratification but has very little connection with anything real. The real world is not quite so ideal.

Picture: Indonesian Sukhois in foreground, legacy RAAF Hornets in background
Enter the fight

Our AEWACs are vulnerable at tactical ranges to long range radar homing missiles carried by the Indonesian Sukhois. In order to protect the AEWACs Australia’s JSFs will have to fly to the edge of the AEWACs’ radar range. That means the AEWACs will not necessarily detect opposing aircraft before they close to the range at which they can engage the JSFs. This levels the field considerably.

The Indonesian Sukhoi’s fly higher and faster than the JSF, and their air-to-air missiles are longer ranging. The Sukhoi’s have greater range, greater acceleration, greater agility, more missiles, and carry more fuel.

This means the Sukhoi’s can take ‘pot shots’ at stand-off range. They can shoot at the JSF and the JSF cannot shoot at them. Both the radar and the infra-red sensor suite on the Sukhoi are superior to the JSF at long ranges. Further, the Sukhois may be equipped with radars operating in the lower bands that can detect ‘stealth’ aircraft. To make matters worse for Australia, the JSF has the hottest tail pipe of any aircraft which makes it very easy to detect at tactical ranges by the Sukhoi’s forward looking infra-red search and track. The Sukhoi can shoot down the JSF from the rear without even turning its radar on.

If the JSF keep their noses pointed at the Sukhois they might live to enter the fight. From the front aspect the JSF is relatively stealthy. From beam and rear aspect they are far less so. The Indonesian Sukhois are unlikely to be cooperative and attack from only one direction. By sharing tactical data they are able to get a ‘fix’ on the slower JSF.

Now things get really interesting. The JSF only carries four missiles in internal carriage. Carrying external missiles compromises its’ stealth advantage. The Sukhoi carries eleven missiles. Once the JSF launch their air to air missiles their position is revealed. The Sukhoi pilot facing the oncoming missile has the following choices:

  1. Launch a missile salvo in reply then power on. If the JSF is forced into a turning manoeuvre or engages in electronic jamming, it will become more detectable to other aircraft and hence more vulnerable.
  2. Jam the oncoming missile. The Sukhoi comes with a sophisticated cross eye jamming capability that is quite effective against radar homing American missiles operating in the X band.
  3. If that doesn’t work, out manoeuvre the missile in the terminal end phase. The reason why the Sukhoi has thrust vectoring exhaust nozzles is to achieve extreme + + agility. It doesn’t just look good at air shows. They can literally dodge the standard American air to air missile (AMRAAM AIM 120 series).
  4. Turn and run. On many scenarios the Sukhoi has the speed and the fuel to fly out of range of the inbound missile then simply turn around and come back. The JSF will run out of ammo after four shots. With 11 missiles and lots of fuel, this is a game the Indonesian pilots can play quite happily.

Once the JSF run out of ammo they are dead. The Indonesians simply run them down and shoot them down. That was the finding of RAND Corporation when modelling this scenario in a mock conflict between the US Navy and China but using the same aircraft. It was famously said that the JSF were “clubbed like baby seals” by the Sukhois.

If the JSF pilots are smart enough to keep some shots in their weapon bays the Sukhois will merge for a close turning fight. In theory the JSF’s 360 degree sensors means that it will know where every attack is coming from. The pilot simply releases his missile and guides it. The reality is that the standard air-to-air missile integrated into the JSF is not capable of turning tightly enough or of being guided accurately in this scenario. In other words, although helmet queuing allows off-bore sight shots by both sides, the JSF cannot take a ‘shoulder shot’ against a fast turning opponent. At the time of writing, the missile cannot even be released from the weapon bay turning a high G turn. In this scenario the JSF is toast. It has less acceleration, climb, and manoeuvrability than legacy aircraft from the 1960s. The Sukhoi’s have every advantage. RIP RAAF.

Attrition and LER

When professionals model these scenarios they assume that all available aircraft from each side do not meet each other in a single engagement. Rather sorties and counter sorties are flown; surviving aircraft return home to be armed and fuelled then put back into the fight. The deciding factor is the ‘Loss Exchange Ratio’ or LER. Over a number of engagements the side that fares best will attrite the other and win unless the other side has substantially greater numbers. Attrition matters in the air war. In WWII fatal attrition occurred over a number of years. In our scenario it will likely occur over a number of hours. On various assumptions air power planning professionals have modelled a LER of 1:5 in favour of the Sukhoi against the JSF. In other words, over a series of engagements/sorties five JSF are shot down for every Sukhoi.  On that basis the Indonesian air force can fight and win with substantially fewer aircraft. So how many aircraft is each side likely to have?

What will Australia have?

There is no possibility that Australia will in 2030 have 100 fully operational JSF because this platform is now prohibitively expensive and will not enter full production until later this decade. The JSF was originally pitched at USD30M per plane. The cost is now USD160M plus 30 per cent minus 10 per cent, but is climbing steadily towards AUSD 200M. While the costs climb the capability of this still largely experimental aircraft continues to degrade. Those numbers are not sustainable in the economic climate of the next decade. It is during that decade that acquisition and training must occur. In all likelihood therefore Australia will, if it continues with this absurd program, have around 54 JSF. In that scenario in 2030 we will also still be flying 28 Superhornets purchased as a 'stop gap' to cover late arrival of the JSF. The Superhornets are not stealth aircraft though they have some signature reduction. Unlike the JSF they are capable of manoeuvre, carry eleven missiles; and their radar is more powerful than that on the JSF. Although they will be a welcome addition to the fight they are still markedly inferior to the Indonesian aircraft for reasons explained here: http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-NOTAM-060807-1.html  and here http://www.ausairpower.net/DT-SuperBug-vs-Flanker.html

In a rational universe Australia would be flying the evolved F-111 enabling it to deliver a devastating counter strike against TNI bases in Indonesia. However the Department of Defence chose to dig holes and bury the F-111 in the hope that the JSF would one day be made to work.

So what will the Indonesians have?

Their stated intent is to have a strike force of 180 Sukhois with additional second tier aircraft and ground attack aircraft. If they achieve this, the maths is pretty stark for Australia. While Indonesia has the money to acquire the planes, training pilots and ground crew in sufficient numbers will take time, and they appear to be progressing steadily but not rushing. 


F-16 in foreground and Sukhoi’s of the modern and diversified Indonesian air force.

What we do know is that Indonesia has budgeting and is shopping for a combat air force comprising 64 Sukhoi fighter jets and 32 F16 fighter jets to comprise their tactical combat tier 1 and Tier 2 aircraft. In addition The TNI are shopping for a diverse and numerous force of ground attack/dual purpose training aircraft; namely 36 Hawk 100/200 fighter planes, 12 F5E fighter jets, 16 Super Tucano fighter planes, and 16 Yak 130 fighter planes. Add to this 36 unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and 64 Hercules transport planes and you have a modern, diversified, balanced and deadly air force. See further here.

This is not the third world air force imagined by contemporary defence planners in Australia, but a balanced modern force structure that emphasises support of ground forces with top cover provided by cutting edge combat aircraft. In addition this structure will have significant C3I capability and the capacity to move large amounts of people and kit to distant locations quickly. In short the TNI is building a cost effective air force capable of challenging the RAAF and of sustained assault against ground and naval systems. These will likely be supplemented by modern surface to air missile systems protecting airfields and key installations.

Based on a LER of 1:5 against the Joint Strike Fighter, this force allows the TNI to hold Australia at risk, allows coercive diplomacy, and enables the TNI to blockade Australia’s northern sea lanes without fear of retaliation.

What about variables?

There are a couple of variables in our scenario. One is that the Americans might develop a longer ranging and tighter turning missile (which the Europeans have but which are not integrated into the JSF). This would increase JSF survivability but will not overcome the limitations inherent in the design (can’t turn, can’t climb, too slow, too little ammo, airframe too small for modification, radar too small).

As a Sukhoi customer, Indonesia is next in line to receive the next generation stealth Sukhoi currently designated the PAK-FA. This radar evading aircraft will be at least as stealthy as the JSF. However unlike the JSF there has been no compromise in kinematic performance or weapons load making it vastly superior. A small number of PAK-FA thrown into the fight would be a substantial force multiplier for the Indonesians and tip the balance decisively in their favour.

What about the Americans?

According to current strategy in 2030 the USAF fighter force will be comprised entirely of JSF and Superhornets with a handful of aging F-22 air superiority stealth fighters. Any American forces based in Australia will therefore have the same difficulties outlined above unless the USA fields the F-22 in Australia. Given a LER of 1:5 there would have to be very large number of USAF aircraft stationed in Australia requiring construction of entirely new air bases or the stationing of at least one aircraft carrier battle group if a coalition force were to prevail. Of course, Indonesia may not wish to attack US forces for all sorts of reasons. However that didn’t stop the Japanese, and I would prefer that my children’s future was secured by Australia’s domestic defence rather than the inscrutable intentions of future diplomats from other countries. It takes a couple of months for an aircraft carrier battle group to sail from northern hemisphere deployment to Australia and our war will be won or lost in a matter of days. Further, if the Americans are busy in the Taiwan Strait or the South China Sea for example, and if they lose, Indonesia will have little to fear.

Editors Note: this article has not attempted a full explanation of just how flawed the Joint Strike Fighter Program is since a comprehensive account would be as long as the article itself. However the following sponsored link provides a good summary: http://newaustralia.net/defence_airforce.html

There is also a fairly comprehensive research site on what a social and financial disaster this aircraft is for the US. See here: http://f35baddeal.com/

For a summary of recent revelations published in Vanity Fair see here http://www.businessspectator.com.au/article/2013/9/20/politics/us-deep-throat-destroys-jsf-cover

Additional up-to date discussion can be found at this sponsored link: http://elpdefensenews.blogspot.com.au/p/f-35-reading-list.html

One of my own submissions on this topic can be found at this blog here: http://findinghomebookspace.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/submission-to-joint-standing-committee.html

Tag line: Australian defence policy, Australian strategic and defence policy, TNI, ABRI, Kompassus, Sukhoi export, stealth fighter, JSF, Joint Strike Fighter, PAK-FA, T-50, NACC, Air Power Australia, food security, Pacific Rim defence

1 comment:

  1. A very good article. The situation is even worse when Australia's Naval forces are taken into account, in particular are continued investment in vulnerable surface naval platforms. LHD and AWD have minimal chance of surviving sustained attack from above mentioned air forces and ASM-equipped kilo subs.