[Blog] Visitors change

I noticed a huge change in my viewership. For reasons unknown I have suddenly astonishingly high viewer counts from France and New Zealand.

I'd like to ask readers from those countries to tell me WTF happened, for I am really curious. 
And yes, I  would also understand a French explanation if it was in simple French. :-)

Both comments and e-mail would be fine.

page views all time, as counted by hosting service

page views last month, as counted by hosting service
(The drop in UK viewers relative to Germany and US may be due to the much-reduced activity of the Think Defence blog.)

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P.S.: Since we're at blog topics just a quick message to Indian spammers:
This is not a good site to advertise for escorts in Mumbai, Hyderabad or whatever in comments.
is how escorts look in the context of this blog!


The usual prioritisation



How to identify room for improvement

This is applicable in general, and thus I'll begin with a simple, but very powerful example:

Think of legislation. How could one identify a need for reforms?

One way is, I suppose, to look at popularity and effectiveness.*

popular & effective policies
are already enacted

popular & ineffective policies
are likely** already enacted but shouldn't be (need for repeal)

unpopular & ineffective policies
are likely not enacted and shouldn't be

unpopular & effective policies
are likely not enacted but should be (need for constructive reform)

... and if you draw this as a matrix don't forget the wide gray cross separating the four cells.

The inability to repeal popular & ineffective policies and the inability to enact unpopular & effective policies is what marks the phase of stagnation or slow development that democracies move into after enacting lots of popular & effective policies and getting rid of lots of unpopular & ineffective policies. That's when people begin to take the achievements as self-evident, become dissatisfied with stagnation and willing to experiment.

Add my frequent remarks about how armed services are bureaucracies that pursue their self-interest over the nation's interests as well as people being guided by their preferences*** and you have a powerful framework for a hunt for inefficiencies and room for improvement in the armed forces.

What ways and means are aligned with the bureaucracy's self-interest or decisionmakers' preferences (popularity)?
What way and means work elsewhere or worked in the past or in experiments, but are not implemented in the armed forces or a specific branch thereof (effectiveness)?


*:Effectiveness regarding pursuit of the nation's well-being.
**: This applies in both democracies and dictatorships. people in democracies underestimate how most dictators are busy building and sustaining the critical mass of support. They don't necessarily seek the popular support, but at the very least the support of influential persons (security apparatus, industry captains/oligarchs, tribal chieftains, high-ranking clerics). Dictators who reign with an iron fist and simply break all opposition by "terror" like Stalin, Mao or the Kims are quite rare. Even Hitler and Mussolini weren't of that kind.
***: Such as generals who were fighter pilots being biased in favour of solutions that involve combat aircraft over solutions that involve missile launch containers.



Air superiority in a European war in the next years (V)

Maybe you found any of the previous parts disappointing. That may be because all but the first one were meant to prepare the ground for this one.

we've come a long way
Let's look at the grand picture of air superiority in a European great war in the 2020's this time.

The assumptions are
  • the probability of kill of active radar-guided missiles is 0.20...0.50
  • both factions are enough in a balance of power that this air war isn't all about one pounding the other as in 1991 and 1999
These conditions might very well be met in Europe, particularly if a strategic surprise attack on airfields knocks out dozens if not 100+ Typhoon fighters.

- - - - -

Air war planners could plan for plenty defensive combat air patrols (CAP) backed up by AEW&C and tankers AND sophisticated, powerful strike packages. The latter may early on be meant for destruction of enemy air defences (DEAD - this acronym is real) missions or the launch of cruise missiles on distant targets. I suppose this is a kind of default assumption for what NATO would do.

There are many problems in this, though:
  • The AEW might be pushed back by 300+ km from the typical forward position of hostile fighters and S-400 systems. They may even end up being worthless over the continent and be re-tasked to serve over the North Atlantic Ocean and North Sea instead.
  • A great many first rate fighters would be needed to maintain a chain of CAPs, likely hundreds. Any weaker such chain would collapse under massed fighter attack too easily.
  • DEAD missions may disappoint against mobile SAM batteries, but more importantly the anti-radar missiles do not outrange the air defences. Even AGM-88 likely hasn't much more than 100 km range. A strike fighter would need to fly into the no-escape zone of several area air defence missile types to reach launching position, and this is made worse if the radiating SAM battery is well behind some missile launchers. The concept of DEAD is questionable if a low air defence missile probability of hit and small stocks of modern air defence missiles coincide, and that may very well be what we have today. The destruction of such batteries may lead to the battery's remaining missiles getting transferred to batteries with surviving radar equipment, and in worst case the launchers are able to participate in the air war without a radar in the battery at all, relying on target information provided by aircraft (maybe even illumination in case or semi-active radar homing missiles) or ground-based infrared sensors instead. SEAD (suppression of enemy air defences) on the other hand isn't sustainable for long because it consumes too many expensive anti-radar missiles.
  • Aerial cruise missile launches aren't a terribly promising activity either. A few priority targets could be hit by naval cruise missiles, and some priority targets at little depth could be hit by artillery. Strike fighters like Rafale could launch two cruise missiles each, but they could exhaust the national supply of such missiles in a day.

The default assumption of NATO simultaneously trying to have a robust defensive effort (defensive CAPs with AEW support) that makes up for its numerical weakness in area air defences AND offensive actions with strike packages ASAP is thus rather questionable. I don't think that close air support right away would even be considered in face of still intact opposing air defences and fighter forces.

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Now let's have a look at what might make more sense. My assumptions for this are
  • increased procurement of modern area air defences
  • increased procurement of ballistic PGMs / quasi-ballistic guided missiles
Neither of these changes would be in the best interest of the pilot-dominated air force leadership of any country, so they would almost certainly not recommend such a path.

On the defence, one would create a layered air war map.

The most forward layer consists of the ground forces manoeuvre brigades. They may be spread out over a large area, but would also have each one area air defence battery attached and have many and resilient organic SHORAD systems. This layer is about 100...200 km deep.

The second layer consists of irregularly positioned mobile area air defence batteries. The increased range (compared to 1980's) allows for a good coverage, and hostile combat aircraft could often be simultaneously engaged by air defences from multiple directions, disabling running away as a defensive tactic. Our fighters would be in this region occasionally, but engage only under most advantageous conditions. They run and thus bait whenever anything goes wrong in their tactic. There's no point in exposing 1st rate (or lesser) fighters much in air combat because area air defences can essentially do the same thing; launch active radar guided missiles with enough energy in the terminal phase to achieve a reasonable probability of kill even against aware fighters. Hostile aircraft could be affected by ground-based radar and radio jammers and be detected and tracked by ground-based infrared and UV sensors in this zone, placing them at a severe disadvantage in air combat. This layer may be another 100...200 km deep.

Pelena-1 AEW jammer
The third layer consists of defensive CAP and AEW on station. Their radars look into the second layer, and AEW is so far behind that it could run away from threats in time at Mach 0.8. Most often it would track threats, but not be the first to detect them. It's also so far from hostile ground forces that ground-based jammers don't affect it any more and even S-400 wouldn't reach the AEW aircraft.

On the offence, sea-launched cruise missiles and quasiballistic PGMs would be the primary means of attack, depending on information from satellites and long range reconnaissance patrols mostly.

This would go on for a while, just as the bloc's forces build-up in Europe takes a while. The influence on air power on the ground campaign would thus be slight even if but a few brigades participate in said campaign so far. The intelligence collection effort would be huge in this phase; tactics and radar & radio modes would be observed, and countermeasures (mostly tactics) would be devised and adopted by the forces.

Most of the alliance's might would be assembled and in various almost satisfactory states of readiness in Central, Southeastern and Eastern Europe two weeks after the conflict begun. There would be no naval cruise missiles left in range, and the supply of quasiballistic PGMs would be mostly expended as well. More likely than not the air war was a Drôle de guerre with little losses of 1st rate aircraft on both sides, but a noteworthy reduction of the inventories of top quality medium and long range air combat missiles and area air defence missiles. The organic air defences of manoeuvre brigades may have suffered at the hands of artillery and land-launched anti-radar missiles (which were pioneered by the Israelis long ago).

Now the map would change a lot, mostly by compressing the 2nd and 3rd layers into one. The best fighters (F-22, Typhoon, PAK-FA, Su-35, Su-30SM) would fly CAPs at high altitudes (60,000+ ft), cooperating and fluidly switching between offensive and defensive. Having near-all-round sensor coverage (as apparently planned for PAK-FA) might help a lot here because support by ground radars and AEW might be unreliable (AEW still far behind and ground radars often switching off in fear of anti-radar missiles). They would be prioritised regarding medium and long range missile supply, so these fighter wings would rather use older missiles than run out of missiles entirely.

I need to break this text up a bit for readability.
Strike packages would be mounted, but typically so for short attacks on opposing forces brigades. Encircled brigades might be bombarded with hundreds of glide bombs (even without any target detected by air) once the pocket is reduced in size enough to limit the choice of buildings and woodland for hiding to an unsatisfactory total. The same might happen to bottleneck roads, which might be ruined at several kilometres length.
Other brigades might be engaged while on the move, when their air defences cannot provide good support. Some brigades might be identified by military intelligence as having lost most or all of their air defence radars, and would be engaged from 15,000+ ft altitude with little risk.
Hostile fighter forces and area air defence batteries (including S-300 & S-400) would be better understood by now, and would have lost much of their lethality due to attrition, reduced missile supply and quickly implemented countermeasures. The numerical relationships would be different than initially as well, since the strategically surprised bloc would have deployed the bulk of its air power into the warzone by now.

B-2 bombers would likely be used for diversionary attacks, fixing opposing fighters and air defences far away from European battlefields by hitting distant targets. F-35s are quite short-ranged (and tanker aircraft still couldn't survive far forward, so they would extend the range and endurance of combat aviation by a margin that doesn't justify their peacetime expenses). They could still slip through identified temporary weak spots in the opposing forces' defensive air war scheme. Their sensor abilities might make them more indispensable as target spotters and identifiers on close air support missions and as sensor support for artillery, though.

Still, the influence of the air war on the ground campaign might be too late to be decisive IF the defending bloc provided good air defences to his own ground forces situated close to the frontier and developed so very good mobile warfare ground forces that they could "win" the campaign without much close air support.


P.S.: This was the pre-planned culmination of the series on air (warfare) superiority.  I may continue the series later, but then most likely with an emphasis on the non-traditional realms of air warfare; small aerial drones and exoatmospheric issues.

I have put many assumptions and conclusions into this series. It is most unlikely than any non-gullible reader would follow and agree with me entirely.  That's no problem - I hope readers have instead found some gems that were of interest, maybe some thoughts or even only some information. Maybe my writing shed some different light on long-known facts. Anyway, I wouldn't have come to part V if it hadn't been at least a little fun to myself.


Air superiority in a European war in the next years (IV)

this time: Land-based air defences

NATO used to have two lines of
area air defence in Central Europe
Land-based air defences have changed greatly since the end of the Cold War. Systems that used to be top of the line in 1990 are mostly or entirely obsolete now. They're not completely ineffective, but not really worth the effort of introduction into a modern European military any more.
There were rather few purchases of new equipment in Europe, so the overall quantity of air defences (and especially missile stocks) has diminished greatly. West Germany, for example, used to have really good air defences in the late 80's, but army air defences have disappeared almost entirely and the Luftwaffe's area air defences have become less and didn't age well.

We can categorise air defences in three conventionally accepted tiers (ignoring dedicated ballistic missile defences and tiny drones for now):
  • very short range air defences, VSHORAD
  • short range air defences, SHORAD
  • area air defences*
VSHORAD is almost always an autocannon system (hardly ever a large calibre machinegun any more). These cannot be expected to be really effective past 3,000 m diagonal distance to a strike fighter, and 20 mm guns can even be considered largely ineffective past 2,000 m.

SHORAD is typically a missile system, including the portable missile systems (ManPADS). Heavy anti-air artillery such as 76 mm guns is almost nonexistent on land nowadays, but would de facto fall into this category as well.

VShoRAD and ShoRAD are often combined in a battery or even vehicle.
VSHORAD and SHORAD may very difficult to suppress, particularly if their operation is independent of radars. Their primary usefulness is in forcing hostile strike fighters to fly at a safe altitude, such as 15,000 ft and forcing hostile attack helicopters to stay at a distance and minimise their line of sight exposure. Such systems only begin to kill great many combat aircraft IF their pilots were convinced that (V)SHORAD lethality is the lesser evil to them.

That's what area air defences can pull off, as they famously did during the Yom Kippur War (for a while).
Area air defences used to be incapable of engaging very low-flying combat aircraft. There was a theoretical ability to intercept combat aircraft flying at 100 ft only, but there was hardly ever the necessary line of sight for the radars.
Modern area air defence systems use active radar-guided missiles, though other guidances weren't fully replaced yet (due to costs). Active radar-guided missiles function in the air defence role about the same as in air combat. A booster stage adds the kinematic energy that in an air combat role the altitude and velocity at launch would have provided. Well, either a booster does so or the missile is decidedly shorter-ranged. The missile received radio datalink updates on the target (midcourse guidance), attempts to fly a kinematically advantageous intercept course (especially making use of the lesser drag in the thinner air at higher altitudes and flying to intercept instead of tail-chasing by pointing its nose at the target at all times). Finally the missile activates its own radar close to the target, locks on (after launch) and attempts to collide. With most such missiles there's a proximity fuse and warhead so a direct hit is not required for a kill. The active radar seeker can pick up targets that are not in line of sight with the air defence battery's radars, so the missile could even be launched with targeting data from aircraft or remote ground radars.
The same probability of hit (and kill) issues as mentioned in part I apply.

There were three most important developments:
  1. area air defence missiles may in theory replace (V)ShoRAD missiles because they can engage very low-flying targets now
  2. modern area air defence missiles have become terribly expensive (more than a million Euros a piece)
  3. area air defence missiles are now a very close equivalent and thus substitute to the favoured air combat missiles
#1 touches on the concept of repulsion. An area air defence missile that can engage a target about as easily at 100 ft altitude as at 10,000 ft altitude does not motivate the opposing combat pilots to fly at very low altitude. Area air defences that were unable to engage very low targets did so, and thus drove the hostile pilots into range of (V)SHORAD, but modern area air defence missiles such as SAMP/T would rarely do so (over flat terrain - mountainous terrains are trickier). This is a bit of a loss, especially for (V)SHORAD.

#2 is a problem for munition stocks IF the probability of hit turns out to be low. A missile priced EUR 1.5 million would still be a cost-efficient munition against a modern combat aircraft with a probability of hit below 0.05 (5%), of course. It's an entirely different question whether air forces leadership (usually officers who used to be combat aircraft pilots) would pursue large missile stocks in preference over a few more sexy combat aircraft, though. I suppose we can expect Western air defences (and quite likely also Russian air defences) to run out of area air defence missiles against a high end opposing force within days of arrival in a war zone.

#3 means that detection of hostile air power is the key for defensive air warfare. You do not really need super-sophisticated and thus super-expensive fighters for interceptor duties any more. All this may be substituted with big missile boosters and missile launch containers dispersed all over the country IF the detection is assured.
Futurists have prematurely believed that interceptors are obsolete in the 1960's already, but now there's a very strong case for the vision because the munitions are almost entirely if not entirely the same. An air-launched missile approaching a hostile strike fighter with a certain energy from a certain distance is almost indistinguishable from a land-launched counterpart flying next to it. In extreme cases they might differ only in serial numbers, as with the NASAMS system that uses air combat missiles as area air defence missiles.
_ _ _ _ _

Readers may have noticed that I treat the still fashionable "network centric warfare" as self-evident. I think it should be so regarding defensive air warfare.
Radio datalinks may be unreliable on offensive (hostile airspace penetrating) missions, but on "our" side of the most forward hostile army brigades we should be able to enjoy sufficiently reliable radio communications. This permits a substitution of 100 m long copper cables by 100 km long radio datalinks (as the pioneers of wireless telegraphy did envision), and thus an aircraft or ground radar or ground-based infrared sensor may pick up a target, some IFF interrogator fails to get a satisfactory reply, a command centre may decide whether to engage and which launchers and munitions to use and then several launchers that ideally encircle the target may launch missiles which would receive updates en route to reach the vicinity of the target and lock on with the own sensor.
Networks like this would be rather too vulnerable 200 km ahead of the most forward friendly brigades to rely on, but 200 km behind them it should work just fine much of the time.

Area air defences can give a huge cost efficiency and general effectiveness superiority over hostile air power in defensive air warfare, and that has always been their purpose.Nowadays they technically are extremely similar to air-to-air missile systems.


*: A term for this that I saw much less often is HIMAD = high-medium air defence


Air superiority in a European war in the next years (III)

The previous (part II) assumption of perfect visibility in air combat eliminated any purpose of AEW (airborne early warning) aircraft (colloquially called AWACS). Such aircraft may have great utility in real air war conditions when fighters are not fully aware of the positions and movement of all other planes, of course.

The importance of AEW stems in large part from the limitations of air search radars on the surface, especially the line of sight limitation which gives the bird's view AEW radar a much superior range against very low-flying targets. 

AEWs also provided area air search & target tracking far into hostile territory on some Third World-bashing expeditions, but that's unlikely to happen in Europe for reasons mentioned later.

AEW's real importance in a European air war would be different; most fighters have but one radar, which can search in the frontal up to 180°, but with AESA radars often only frontal ~ 110°. A radar searching like this is not searching perfectly, and may still fail to detect targets in range and in this cone, but more importantly the combat aircraft will fly at ~300 m/s while being largely blind on the left, right and towards the rear. One approach against this problem is to install multiple radars as was initially done in some late Suchoi fighters with a rear-facing radar, and much more ambitiously in the PAK-FA/Suchoi T-50.

expected PAK-FA radar fields of view
The better-established approach is to use AEW aircraft for this purpose; they stay behind friendly fighters, but their powerful long-range radars may see what's left and right and behind those friendly fighters, and inform the fighter pilot by datalink and/or voice comm.

The AEW approach is usually widened to the AEW&C ("& control") approach, with radar interpreters sitting in the very same aircraft and giving guidance (as well as airspace deconfliction permissions) to pilots as was otherwise done with land-based interceptor command & control centres as famously so in the Battle of Britain already. Only very large AEW&C aircraft provide many such workstations, while smaller ones based on Saab 340, E-2 or business jets provide only very few workstations. In theory it's not necessary to have any such workstations, for they could be replaced with a datalink and workstations in a container on the ground.

The AEW's importance for the situational awareness of friendly fighters is great. It enables them to not fly in a line, but trust that the AEW will keep a look at the regions not covered by fighter sensors. It even enables them to shut down their own radar and stop treacherous emissions for a while, improving their odds of survival and their odds of surprising a hostile pilot.

A loss of effective AEW support would be a severe blow to an air force, particularly to one which trusted AEW survivability and availability so very much that it didn't train much how to fight without AEW support, and didn't equip itself for such conditions.

A loss of AEW support would be expected when a strike package penetrates 'hostile' airspace deeply. AEW aircraft are typically not the most survivable ones, being derived from civilian platforms or using a dedicated very slow platform (E-2 and its Chinese copy). Nominal AEW ranges are typically claimed to be 300...450 km against fighters (it may be as low as 100 km against so-called generation 4.5 fighters which had some signature reductions in their design, but Russia has none of those), so it's quite safe to assume that a penetration of 'hostile' airspace at more than 300 km depth means a loss of AEW support, and thus becomes very unlikely to be a common occurrence in a European conflict.

This may go a long way to explain the interest in strike fighter-launched cruise missiles (Taurus, Storm Shadow, Apache, JASSM) since the 1990's; they extend the effective penetration by hundreds of kilometres without a strike package needing to penetrate 'hostile' airspace deeply (or at all).

IAI CAEW EL/W-2085, likely the best AEW system to date
with multi-band continuous 360° AESA radar coverage and high subsonic speed.
AWACS is antiquated by comparison. photo (c) "Owen65"
I wrote 'hostile', and that's actually a difficult to define term. I suppose AEW aircraft would avoid getting as close to hostile area air defences as their maximum range. They might survive flying a few dozen kilometres more close to the launcher, but AEW aircraft are expensive and thus few, so avoidable risks to them should be avoided.
This means AEW aircraft may be forced to stay up to about 400 km distant to potential hostile missile launchers, and those missile launchers could actually be with the most forward hostile land forces brigades. AEW might be able to detect normal combat aircraft as the ones currently in Russian service at such ranges, but detection at such a range would likely be unreliable. AEW support may thus be unsatisfactory even over the most forward friendly brigades which may very well be behind the most forward hostile land forces brigades.

Another threat that pushes AEW aircraft back is the threat of sprinting fighters. Many fighters can easily go Mach 1.3...1.8 with enough fuel and missiles to sprint into range with the AEW aircraft, and PAK-FA may even fly at Mach 1.6 "supercruise" speed as its normal speed on air combat missions. Such fighters only need to be within maybe 70 km to the AEW system to  kill it, so AEWs need to commence to run away from such threats ASAP whenever there's a risk of such a sprint, even if the threat fighter is still at a much longer distance.* This may de facto push them back even further during much of the time because of many feints.

Long range air-to-air missiles make this fighter sprint easier (by greatly increasing the range at which a fighter can kill an AEW aircraft), if not even unnecessary. The Soviets have begun the development of such missiles and the Russians have continued it. The MiG-31 interceptor regularly uses particularly long-ranged missiles (R-33) and receives even longer-ranged ones, as will likely PAK-FA (R-37).  The Russians are so very much interested in this concept that they developed multiple such missile types (see KS-172). The published nominal ranges of such missiles go up to about 400 km, exceeding the range of some AEW radars against fighters. The firing solution may even be derived from passive triangulation of the AEW radar by ground-based electronic intelligence units.

Overall it can be said that some threats to AEW platforms are about equal if not superior to the AEW's radar in effective range. A MiG-31 detected by AWACS may already have AWACS within the no escape zone, and it would almost certainly be so with a PAK-FA detected first by the AEW's radar.

There's another very substantial problem with AEW; it hasn't encountered its main dedicated countermeasure/nemesis in a hot conflict yet. That's a ground-based radar jammer**, which is even offered on the export market by the Russians (which almost guarantees that they have a newer generation developed already). My old Jane's Radar and electronic warfare systems 2004/05 book offers multiple examples; Gradient Research Institute's low power jamming system and the Pelena-1 radar jammer, which was also in the 2003 Rosboron export catalogue already. Such jammers can mask aircraft in a large area against tracking by AWACS (larger region the smaller the radar cross section of the aircraft is) and in an even larger region against detection by AWACS. The claimed radii against AWACS are 80 and 250 km for Pelena-1. Again, the Russians likely have successor systems developed already.
Additionally, communications jammers may keep the AEW data from reaching intruding strike packages (the unlikely worst case would be a feeding of wrong info so the strike packages waste their missiles or even engage each other). Drones and civilian aircraft not essential to the war effort may also be used to create false contacts.

This means effectively that AEW would not be as useful for Europe's defence in the 2020's (as a consequence of various countermeasures) as it was for bombing Third World countries since the 1990's. It might end up not being a central pillar of NATO air warfare in Europe at all. We would likely be well-advised to either orient equipment and tactics for an air war scenario without effective AEW support or invest in much higher AEW survivability and thus persistence.***


P.S.: I think much more highly of AEW in a naval context, where more rarely hostile fighters are to be expected and fewer allied fighters might be in the air as well. I even think it's a more sensible approach to anti-air warfare in a naval context than to build dedicated AAW destroyers with huge air search & tracking radars (such dedicated AAW ships usually end up neglecting ASW in design and training). AEW support does allow warships to stop emitting radar signals themselves, and this weighs more heavily than with land-based air defences.Land-based air defence radars give away their own position and endanger themselves by emitting, while such radars on warships give away the entire ship's position and endanger the entire ship. A helicopter AEW is only acceptable out of range of hostile fighters (such as protecting a New York-Le Havre or San Diego-Pearl Harbour convoy against long-range bombers, for example) and a turboprop plane as AEW platform is never advisable. The USN should have developed a Mach 0.9 common support aircraft or at least a Viking AEW version IMO.

*: This is a huge problem with the Erieye's non-360° radar field of view and with the use of slow aircraft as AEW platforms in general. 
**: Emitting radar jammers can be engaged with anti-radar missiles just like emitting radars, but this would only be practical against a 'rear area' jammer in the context of a strike package, and would make said strike package even more challenging.
***: An increase in AEW effective range would not be very promising, since the radar cross section reduction by PAK-FA would largely counter it anyway. A nominal 350 km range and Mach 2 AEW platform might be much more promising than a nominal 500 km range and Mach 0.8 AEW. A Mach 2 running AEW could switch its radar off (leaving the active emissions to another AEW on station elsewhere), run and let the pursuing long-range missile miss because no sufficient midcourse guidance updates reach the missile by datalink. Both datalink jamming (by jammers on the ground) and generally running out of range of hostile sensors would enable this.


Air superiority in a European war in the next years (II)

Topic this time: Pure fighter vs. fighter combat
(no AEW&C, no air defence assets on the surface)

First, a few basics.
Missiles have a no-escape zone / engagement envelope. A target aircraft in this envelope won't be able to run away from the missile or (I'm actually not sure about the exact definition) not even be able to dodge the missile if its guidance works fine.

This no escape zone becomes larger the higher the launch platform flies at the time of launch, the faster it flies towards the target, the longer ranged the missile is (which is an intricate topic, but published ranges are unreliable info anyway) and the lower the target is. It helps if the target moves towards the launch platform, but that may change during the engagement sequence. It also helps if the target is slow (such as an AEW aircraft that cannot run away at supersonic speed; the E-2 Hawkeye and Saab 340/2000 Erieye systems are worst at this).

Fighter pilots prefer to have a range advantage, for this keeps them quite safe as long as they have situational awareness and stay cautious. Let's assume perfect visibility (both friendlies and hostiles see all aircraft) and exactly equally-ranged missiles in use with both sides (a kind of ceteris paribus case).
A fighter pilot would strive to fly fast and as high as possible towards his target to give his missile the most possible kinetic and potential energy, and he would turn after the missile's launch and run as quickly as possible away from the enemy so their missiles don't catch him. Such a technological and information symmetry situation would lead to an excessive consumption of munitions, as pilots would launch missiles at the limit of the engagement envelope (rarely within the no escape zone) for their own safety,and equally cautious behaviour of the enemy fighter pilots would set the missile's probability of hit to about zero. I discussed this earlier already
Reality is not quite as extreme, but might come close if the opposing fighter forces are similar in quality and quantity. 

Such ranged combat makes flanking important. A close two-plane formation that gets pincer attacked by two individually flying fighters would be at a severe disadvantage, being able to run away from both threats' missiles at the same time. Well, there are two methods against flanking attacks; all-round defence (won't work here unless the fighters can defeat the missiles without outrunning them) and line formations.

So fighter forces may set up a line of individually flying fighters, maybe 20 fighters spaced over a 500 km front. To maintain such a fighter line 24/7 would require about 80-100 fighters.
But a single such line wouldn't be enough. You would want to have two lines behind each other, or in other words one line of two-fighter formations with each one advancing fighter (looking to the enemy with his radar) and one withdrawing fighter. Essentially, the two aforementioned activities of a single fighter, with phase shift. This way the advancing fighter could turn and run immediately or a while after launching missiles, while the second fighter then turns towards the enemy, picks up the target with his forward-facing sensor and gives the missile midcourse updates by radio so it gets close enough to the target to pick it up with its own tiny radar.
Breaches in this line could be closed by increasing the spacing, reorganising the pairings and temporarily giving way a bit (maybe 50-100 km) until reinforcements make up for the losses.
Now we're at about 200 fighters needed for nothing but maintaining a maybe 500 km wide 'front line' in the air 24/7. Add reserves for attrition in the air, reserves for attrition on the ground, reserves just in case the opposing forces switch the tactic and try to overrun with 100+ fighters in the air at a time. And of course, you also have a scenario with obscene consumption of missiles costing a million Euro or more apiece. Even NATO would be hard-pressed to amass a force of 300-400 top modern fighters (Typhoons and Raptors - multi-role missions would likely be preferred for the other modern combat aircraft) to maintain such a tactic for a week. Such a 'front line in the air' is thus rather unlikely even though it might be the outcome under specific circumstances. A single line of interceptors is sensible in scenarios such as MiG-31 advancing against incoming B-1B bombers deep in Russia, though. Another reason are the influences of two more air war factors, AEW & air defences.

A lack of a 'front line in the air' means that relatively forward ground forces could not feel well-protected by friendly fighters even if there's air superiority. Air superiority would rather be regional and temporary. Brigade commanders might request air cover for periods of great vulnerability (such bas a road march), but short of one bloc mostly annihilating the opposing air power one couldn't expect the ground forces to be safe without them having effective air defences of their own. This is similar to "rear area" support forces being compelled to provide 24/7 360° security for themselves if there's no defended front line on the ground and hostiles can infiltrate to the rear at acceptable risk.



A simple recipe for good organisational culture.

Imagine a model:

Everytime a unit is stood up it has a 50/50 chance of having an above average or below average organisational culture. Once stood up, its culture may change over time but only randomly so - 50/50 chance to improve or worsen in a period.

Now how could a(n armed) bureaucracy systematically pursue good organisational culture and thus high performance under such conditions?

The answer is simple, but it goes largely against a bureaucracy's instincts and preferences:
Disband bad units or at least exchange their management and lower-ranking employees (NCOs and enlisted personnel in case of the military).

This is actually done in some extreme cases that became unbearable, such as a couple years ago with the German Wachbataillon (the supersized battalion that protects the ministry of defence etc.). It was known in all of the Bundeswehr as drunkards' central and disciplinary action hot spot for decades until all the water in the tank was exchanged. It happened in the last years of conscription, and they added only conscripts with Abitur (highest school degree) after kicking out all previous enlisted personnel to solve the persistent and embarrassing problem.

There is a huge difference between doing this in the most extreme cases only and doing it regularly as a standard scheme of personnel management.

A certain rule of thumb surfaced in the context of police shootings in the USA; a few per cent (IIRC ~ 15%) of policemen are bad apples that do bad things until kicked out, a few percent are good cops that won't do bad things in any case and the rest turns into more or less bad cops if the organisational culture tolerates bad behaviour. The key difference between trouble law enforcement departments was thus the behaviour of leadership; do they sanction bad behaviour or not, do they kick out bad apples or not?
It's very hard to reverse a bad organisational culture, but the tainted apples moved to a new unit may prove unproblematic if the leadership there doesn't fail. The corrupted department may meanwhile be reset to a good organisational culture with new personnel.

Back to the model. We can add as a rule that the worst 10-30% of units would have their personnel exchanged entirely every year, with some bad apples even kicked out of the service entirely. This would insert a bias towards improvement of organisational culture average over time, and this doesn't even include the incentive effect. Officers would understand that having led one of the units that were found sop bad that full exchange was necessary would  be embarrassed* and see their careers badly hurt if not ended. They would be additionally motivated to not tolerate bad behaviour.

Meanwhile, after a while the (armed) bureaucracy as a whole would take pride in its good culture rather than perceive the common personnel exchanges as embarrassments. The bureaucratic resistance to the policy would wither away.


*: I believe in humiliation of bureaucracies as a tool of oversight and disciplinary action against their pursuit of self-interest.


Air superiority in a European war in the next years (I)

I'm hesitant to write much about naval or air force affairs because both these domains are heavily coined by technology and thus fairly easily hidden secrets. Published information is often behind the actual state-of-the art by a decade or two (though not necessarily so behind the technological standard of the actually employed equipment) or simply meant as deception (often directed at the taxpayer, not potential adversaries).

Still, I'll finally lay out my thoughts on the topic of high-end conflict (opposing conflict parties are well-equipped and competent) air superiority in a series.

Let's look at the very central missile probability of hit issue in part I.

There are basically two important types of missiles in Europe nowadays. One type uses an active radar seeker as the primary terminal homing seeker. This tiny radar can pick up low reflexivity targets at short range only and its ability to identify, track and almost correctly measure (angles, distance) the target aircraft in face of countermeasures is very much in doubt. Countermeasures include onboard jammers, towed jammers/decoys, free-flying jammers/decoys, emitters on the ground and distant aerial jammers.
Missiles can also be countered by evasive manoeuvres, and most missiles with this kind of guidance are not among the most agile missiles (MICA RF being the exception). A good fighter's pilot may detect an incoming missile with his radar warning receiver and infrared and UV spectrum missile warners (these can even be fitted as upgrades, and there are even payload pylons doubling as missile warning sensor and countermeasures pods). IR/UV missile warners are not really effective once the missile's rocket burnt out, but then the rocket typically hasn't much agility left either, and its radar would still have treacherous emissions. One can give such an aware fighter pilot a very good chance to dodge the first such incoming missile, but the aircraft may have lost too much speed for a good chance to dodge another missile only seconds later.

Few missiles will hit-to-kill (impact in the target), so defeating the proximity fuse (typically either a radio frequency fuse or a laser fuse) is another countermeasure, and chaff may or may not be effective at this. Onboard radar jammers might at least affect radio frequency proximity fuses.
The missile type from this category (active radar seeker missiles) that's the most famous is the AMRAAM. Its track record in actual combat situations is small (statistically not really meaningful), but disheartening. Much less of the fired missiles did hit the target than in tests, and many of the targets were very easy ones with no means to counter the missile; such as aircraft without a functional radar warner.
It's important that this kind of missile is also becoming the area air defence missile type of choice for both land-based and warship area air defences (SAMP/T and Aster 15/30, ESSM Block 2, SM-6, CAMM).
Western air superiority hopes rest very much on this kind of missile (examples AIM-120A/B/C/D, MICA RF/EM, Meteor, R-77). The USAF rests on it especially much. Most of its dedicated fighters (F-15A/B/C/D) are old 1970's designs built in the 1980's. It has less than 200 modern fighters (F-22), and they aren't nearly as special at short ranges as at long ranges (and thus at high altitude), so they depend greatly on the lethality of this kind of missiles (AIM-120C/D).
A Western strength is that it has two different approaches to defeat such missiles. The F-22 stays at a distance and has low radar reflexivity, whereas the Typhoon, Rafale and Super Hornet/Growler depend much more on decoys and jamming.*

A second category of missiles uses passive infrared seekers and would typically be used at short range (usually within visual range, though such missiles can be shot at beyond visual range and lock on after launch). These infrared seekers have their window heated up too much if flying Mach 3 or higher for long distances, so they are typically slower and shorter ranged than active radar seeker missiles. MICA (a missile with exchangeable radar and infrared seekers) is the contact point between both categories. Infrared missiles are (save for maybe a RF fuse) immune to radar jammers and chaff, but additionally susceptible to the sun, flares and directional infrared countermeasures (the latter are blinding lasers and typically installed on transport aircraft).
The agility of these missiles (examples IRIS-T, AIM-9X, MICA IR, ASRAAM, R-73, Python 4/5) is high, but depends greatly on a still burning rocket engine (most of them use thrust vector control and/or large and high drag canards & stabilisers). This makes IR/UV based missile warners effective against them.
To use these IR-guided missiles is not preferred because it requires to get up close and personal with the enemy, and that's more risky than staying at a long distance. Such missiles had a mixed track record in the past, but this has become largely useless because very few of the modern types/versions were used in combat and no modern missiles were used against modern countermeasures in combat.

The first conclusion is thus that the air superiority expectations are incredibly uncertain because the wartime probability of hit of the main air combat and area air defence munitions are very much unknown. Anything from 0-90% probability of hit is imaginable, and I guess anything from 5-50% is realistic against modern fighters.
Even our air forces are most likely ignorant about the real probability of hit. They know their munitions and their countermeasures, but they have most likely no full understanding of the best non-allied countermeasures.
Air combat may see  fighters expending thousands of air combat missiles with very little fighter attrition to show, but they might also be supremely deadly. "Our" fighters may win an air superiority campaign with huge kill ratios, they may lose it with terrible kill ratios or have about balanced kill ratios. I don't know and every air force leader who's certain to know would be an arrogant fool because he doesn't know what he doesn't know - and he should at least know this.

The probability of hit will be rather higher against older, not heavily upgraded aircraft and against poorly maintained aircraft and against aircraft that were not designed for air combat. AWACS aircraft could carry heavy and voluminous countermeasures, but would likely still have very much below-average odds of survival against missiles. It is thus also possible that the newest fighters of both warring parties/blocs expend most of the the respective air combat missile inventories, and constitute an ever-growing share of their party's air force aircraft inventory in the process.

It needs to be noted that the inventories of modern air combat missiles are very small in many countries, even wealthy ones. The inventories could be exhausted within days of intense air battles. Older missiles would then need to be used, if they are still in stock and ready for use at all. Their probability of hit would be even worse.**

 S O

*: I actually don't know what countermeasures exactly the Russians rely on the most other than the classic radar warning receiver, jammer, chaff and dodging. Su-3x series aircraft are excellent at evading Russian-made missiles (Ethiopia-Eritrea combat reports).  One problem is that the Russians publish their countermeasure gadgets only once they're available for export. The PAK-FA/T-50 is the first Russian aircraft design to reduce the radar cross section much and thus become more difficult to lock on with tiny missile radars. This means the missiles would need to be led by course updates by radio datalink to the PAK-FA's vicinity - much more closely than against a Su-3x, for example. This emphasises the datalink as another vulnerability to countermeasures (radio jamming) and makes it harder to direct missiles with targeting data from very distant radars that have a large measurement error.
**: To build up huge stocks of modern missiles would be very expensive and might be wasteful if your fighters don't survive long enough to make use of these stocks. I wouldn't advise to build up large air-to-air missile stocks unless they could also be used by air defences.