Friday, July 31, 2015

How Should We Assess the New War Concept to Deploy F-35?

F-35 Lightening Joint Strike Fighter is presumed to be a game changer in aerial combat. However, the loss in a dog fight against F-16 Fighting Falcon that is supposed to be replaced by this fighter jet has spurred a nationwide controversy (“The F-35 Can't Beat The Plane It's Replacing In A Dogfight: Report”; Foxtrot Alpha; June 29, 2015). In a mock dog fight, it is not necessarily surprising that a brand new fighter loses against a less advanced counterpart. Though F-15 Eagle is a well known invincible air superiority fighter in real combats, it was defeated by two-generation older F-104 Starfighter of the Japanse Air Self Defense Force in its early days (“Legendary SDF Pilot Shot Down Brand New US Fighter with Aging Jet”; Sankei Shimbun West; December 3, 2014). It is imprudent to judge the quality of the weapon by a single victory or loss.

The Department of Defense defends that the result of the dog fight does not disqualify F-35 as the core of America’s air power. According to the Joint Program Office, the F-35 in the dogfight had no sensors to detect the enemy for the first look, stealth coating to make it invisible to radar, and weapon to hit the enemy plane without turning to and aiming at it (“F-35 fighter makers leap to its defence after it loses dogfight to 1970s jet”; Daily Telegraph; 3 July, 2015). Also, F-35 is designed for BVR combat and ground attack, not for dogfight. It is F-22 Raptor that assumes close aerial combat role, and this is the Hi-Lo mix of the 5th Generation fighters (“Military: Don't Worry If F-35, Most Expensive Fighter Jet Ever, Can't Dogfight Well”; ABC News; July 1, 2015). Furthermore, Retired Air Force General Mike Hostage comments that F-35 may not fly high and fast as F-22, but it is more stealthier. Therefore, he argues that F-35 can get through enemy airspace to destroy their air defense system, and leaves air-to-air combat for F-22. Even so, he asserts that its low observability is a significant advantage over the 4th Generation fighters to defeat them in BVR combats (“F-16 Vs. F-35 In A Dogfight: JPO, Air Force Weigh In On Who’s Best”; Breaking Defense; July 2, 2015).

Despite such positive arguments by defense planners, it is the anonymous testimony of the F-35 test pilot in a blog “War is Boring”, published by a journalist David Axe, that sensationalizes the result of the dogfight. He questions the maneuverability of the F-35, even though it fought “clean”, while the F-16 carried extra drop tanks under the wings. Also, he argues that the helmet, which is designed to help the pilot analyze information, is so large to look back that it is difficult to move the head during the dogfight. Therefore, the pilot grades F-35 inferior to 4th Generation fighters (“Test Pilot Admits the F-35 Can’t Dogfight”; War is Boring; June 29, 2015). Actually, F-35 is in similar weight with F-15E Strike Eagle which is heavier than normal F-15 for more payload and flight range to enhance ground attack capability. However, it is far less maneuverable because of its smaller wings and weaker afterburner thrust of its engine (“F-35 designed for long-range kills, not dogfighting”: Flight Global; 1 July, 2015). Furthermore, Bill Sweetman, Senior Defense Editor of Aviation Week, rebuts General Hostage’s argument for F-35’s stealth advantage over F-22. Aerodynamically, F-22 reflects less electric wave than F-35 does. Also, F-35 is primarily made for export. Besides air superiority, F-22 is more advantageous in DEAD operations, due to speed and larger missile load (“F-35 Stealthier Than F-22?”; Aviation Week – ARES; June 9, 2014).

Such nationwide controversies are largely due to rising costs, schedule delay, and technical problems like software and weapon matching. The total cost to develop F-35 has already exceeded that of F-22, though the price for each is still cheaper. The development cost is more than $200 billion than originally planned, and the schedule is three years behind. Therefore, the number of F-35s to be deployed will fall, and more fund will be allocated to upgrade existing combat planes (“The F-35: Is it worth the cost?”; WBALTV; July 16, 2015). Technological problems also matter seriously. Though the Marine Corps started to deploy the STOVL variant F35B this summer (“F-35 Joint Strike Fighter passes important, live-fire test”; CNBC News; 6 July, 2015), it cannot equip a full load of SDB II, which is the most advanced multi mode guided bomb to attack targets on the ground including moving ones. This is because the weapon bay does not fit, and it will not be resolved before 2022 (“F-35 Can't Carry Its Most Versatile Weapon Until At Least 2022”; Foxtrot Alpha; February 28, 2015). In addition, old A-10 Thunderbolt is more specialized for close air support (“Major Obvious: F-35 Pilot Says A-10 Will Always Be Better At Air Support”; Foxtrot Alpha; April 10, 2015).

A stealth fighter project is costly and technically demanding. Moreover, the Joint Strike Fighter is a multilateral project, which makes the decision making process complicated. This was the case with the Eurofighter Typhoon project. F-35 needs to elaborate to coordinate diversified requirements of partner countries more than Typhoon did. In the past, America pursued a Navy-Air Force joint project to make F-111 Aardvark led by Secretary of Defense-then Robert McNamara. The fundamental idea is to make a common aircraft model carrying long range missiles that would satisfy requirements of both the Navy and the Air Force to reduce the cost for development and maintenance. As a result, F-111 had become too heavy for maneuverable flight and carrier based missions. Is F-35 repeating the same mistake?

Despite cost and technical problems, we must understand new tactical and strategic concepts of F-35, beyond stealth capability. Former RAF Group Captain Andrew Linstead who was a Tornado pilot, comments that it is understandable that people rely on metrics that they are already familiarized with to judge new fighter, like speed, altitude, and agility. However, he says that F-35 has a huge advantage in integrating all field information into one picture to help the pilot's SA to make decisions quickly and properly, and in sharing it with the colleague planes. From his long term experience with Tornado, Linstead argues that this technology is the key to new era combats (“In defence of the F-35: Why future air combat will be different”; Daily Telegraph; 3 July, 2015).

F-35 is not just technological innovation. As we are not pilots, engineers, nor aviation mechanics, we must focus on strategic concepts of the new era for policy making. Eric Adams, Aviation and Military Editor of Popular Science, says that the key to the future of ‪American‬‬‬ ‪‎air power‬‬‬ is beyond ‪new technologies like ‎stealth‬‬‬, ‎UAV‬ and EMP, but the ‪concept‬‬‬ to nullify the enemy without air combat, in "Secret of Future Air Power 2015" of Discovery Channel. See the video below.

Actually, stealth technology itself is nothing new. Nazi Germany had already developed a prototype of current stealth fighter jet. Just reducing RCS does not change the war so dramatically. See the video below.

Nor is BVR combat a new tactical concept. It was already in practice in 1954 when US Navy F-3D Skyknight began to load AIM-7 Sparrow missile. Strategic and tactical philosophy to deploy F-35 is an outcome of such long term evolution. Therefore, it is premature to evaluate a brand new fighter by a single loss in the dogfight. As a Japanese military analyst, Isaku Okabe comments, “It is meaningless to compare fighter jets simplistically from a viewpoint to discuss which is stronger in the battle, tiger or lion” (“How serious Chinese military threat is to Japan?”; Shukan Daiamondo; November 15, 2012). Ex-Group Captain Linstead comments similarly.

However, we have to bear in mind that war makes evolution while maintaining old characteristics. Therefore, excessive obsession with new concepts is quite dangerous. During the Vietnam War, F-4 Phantom relied entirely on BVR missiles without carrying guns against Vietnamese MiG-17, MiG-19, and MiG-21. As a result, American F-4s were completely vulnerable in the dogfight after they fired all missiles they loaded. The United States equipped their fighter jets with guns again to rollback in close aerial combats (“The U.S. Air Force Promised the F-4 Would Never Dogfight”; War is Boring; July 6, 2015). F-111 was obsessed with BVR and ground attack, which made it completely incapable in aerial combat. It was F-14 Tomcat that managed to meet both BVR and close aerial combat requirements, as the fighter was capable of loading heavy weight long range AIM-54 Phoenix missile and agile enough to defeat F-15 in mock dogfights. Unlike F-14, F-35 may fall into early stage F-4, or F-111 in the 21st century. War philosophy may evolve, but the fact that F-35 tested dogfight competence implies that old style combat capability still matters.

Regardless of pro-con debates, F-35 will be the key to air defense for the United States and numerous allies involved in this. Without sufficient understanding of the new warfare concept and the strength and weakness of F-35, it would be difficult to take advantage of this brand new fighter. I wonder whether all the JSF partner and customer governments understand them well. Some of them may have jumped on stealth technology. Also, it is the job of policymakers, not pilots and engineers, to review the Hi-Lo mix of the air power. As General Hostage comments, F-35 will be used for initial stage air strike penetrating through enemy radar. This implies F-35 is a Lo role fighter. It is expected that F-35’s Hi-Lo mix partner by country would be 5th Generation F-22 for the US Air Force, and 4.5th Generation Typhoon for the Royal Air Force. But unlike the United States and Britain, Japan’s Hi fighter would continue to be 4thGeneration F-15. Can the JASDF counter China’s planned stealth Hi-Lo mix of J-20 and J-31? Also, while F-35’s rising cost and schedule delay are controversial issues in the United States and main JSF partners, some countries like Japan, South Korea, etc seem too good customers as to be content with simply buying them. So many things need consideration to start deploying F-35 in a couple of years.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Is China Really Strong as Broadly Percieved?

The rise of China is one of the top issues among the students of international relations. At various international conferences, pundits from all over the world say that we must accept the ascendency of this emerging giant and its “Manifest Destiny” for greater leverage in global issues, regardless of their nationalities, whether Americans, Europeans, Asians, or Japanese. Some of them even argue so passively as to say that established powers like us accept the decline without resisting the trend of global power transition. It sounds very Buddhist to accept the impermanence of all things and whatever happens, whether desirable or undesirable. But in a Hobbesian world, when a state leader takes such self resigned attitude, his or her country will fall into at the mercy of an ambitious emerging power. We have to make a proper assessment of the power of the challenger, and think of the strategy to manage it.

After all, is China really strong, as many pundits and people say? There is no doubt that this country is a rising giant, which could have substantial impact on the world order and global security. But should we assume China an economic giant? For this question, we need to note ambivalence of its economy, extremely huge total size but disproportionately low per capita income. According to 2014 gross national income per capita ranking by the World Bank, China is merely 101st in the Atlas method, and 105th in purchasing power parity. Quite often, businessmen are so impressed with rapid economic growth and urban development that they are infatuated with a rising China like former Japanese Ambassador Uichiro Niwa who was the Chairman of C. Itoh & Co., before entering diplomatic service. The gross size of the Chinese economy is almost dependent on its huge population. A world economic power in poverty has been unprecedented in history, from Spain, the Netherlands, France, Britain, Germany, the United States, to Japan. That makes it extremely difficult to grade the real economic strength of China. After all, it is utterly absurd to assume that China is the foremost and a formidable economic rival to the United States. Actually, it has not overtaken Japan and major European powers. China is even far poorer than Russia. Is China surpassing the United States in the near future? But when?

I wonder why pundits from all over the world dismiss such a simple fact, regardless of their national, cultural, and career backgrounds. The danger of such mis-evaluation of the Chinese power is that the Beijing Communist Party can harness psychological illusion to suppress international norms, in order to win more advantageous positions. It seems to me that eminent people know so much in depth about China as to put aside the basic and simple fact that I mention here. The receptive attitude to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is a typical case of “Buddhistic” appeasement to China’s pushy self claim for the apex great power in Asia. Besides concerns with social and environmental consideration, I can hardly imagine that China has any know how or expertise to manage a multilateral organization. This country has never led regional organization, nor security alliance. It has been isolated from the Western, the Soviet, and the Nonalignment blocs. There are not so many renowned Chinese economists to run a multilateral development bank. Furthermore, can a poor country afford to manage a multilateral bank virtually in a unilateral way? We must understand China’s aspiration to win respect from the United States, Japan, and the global community, but their competence to run a multilateral financial organization is questionable.

Another point that we must question is manufacturing. China is called the world factory, and their competitiveness in low value added products and consumer goods is indisputable. But when it comes to high tech products, China is not a top runner. PLA fighters are mostly copies of the Russian Air Force ones. For example, J-11 is from Su-27, and J-15 is from Su-33. Even China’s indigenous stealth fighter J-31 uses the same engine as that of MiG 29. Actually, Chinese engines are old and weak (“Why China’s Air Force Needs Russia's SU-35”; Diplomat; June 1, 2015). Though J-31 is supposed to be a hacking copy of American F-35, its performance at the Zuhai Air Show in 2014 was graded terribly (“Even Chinese Media Bashed Immaturity of the PLA’s Latest Stealth Fighter”; Iza Sankei Digital; December 17, 2014). However, imitation is no more than imitation, whether legitimate or illegitimate. An interesting example is a German technological transfer of Type 214 submarine to South Korea. Though Koreans were admitted license to build an advanced German submarine, they failed in it, because their bolt connection technology was not developed enough. In other words, technological imitation without a fundamental level of engineering is something like a layman’s cuisine simply dependent on a recipe written by a super cook. Therefore, whether by license or hacking, copied technology is not real technology.

In addition to fighter planes, China’s missiles are also dependent on Russian technology, either imported or copied. In advanced technology, China is so dependent on Russian and hacked American technology. This implies that China’s manufacturing base is extremely poor. In terms of the economy, China is not an irresistible rising power, and it is far from overtaking America, Japan, major European nations, and Russia. The vision of G2 is a daydream. Nor is China a military superpower. China is just a gigantic underdeveloped power. Quite a few people believe that China will make a “declining” Russia their junior partner. That is hardly foreseeable. Applying Susan Strange’s theory of structural power, I would argue that it is Russia that exerts the power to determine the vision of defense, not China. Dependence on Russian technology makes China’s defense system, accordingly. From this point of view, I am impressed with the final line in the article by Kenichi Ito, President of the Japan Forum on International Relations, “Nevertheless, Chinese President Xi Jinping came to such a ceremony, and I wonder whether it was good for China. I am quite doubtful of it”, regarding Xi’s visit to the 70th VE Day ceremony in Moscow (“Putin’s Rule and Russia’s Path to the Future”; JFIR Commentary; May 27, 2015).

Consequently, I would like to ask a question again. Why are pundits from all over the world so receptive to the rise of China, and tolerant to their “decline” in the global pecking order? Buddhistic self resignation is not an attitude of policy making. If there is something undesirable, we have to make it desirable. If there is something desirable, we have to make it more desirable. For this objective, we must make an assessment of the real strength of China, without fear or favor.