2013/02/19

Avionics of doom

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I suppose this title is sexy enough to attract readers. ;)
And now for something completely different:

related text: link

I have the suspicion that the voice in this video kills a couple brain cells of mine per syllable, but let's focus on the content for a while. With whatever grey matter is left.

This reminds me of the ICBM launch-detecting satellites from the Cold War. No power expected to be able to launch ICBMs or SLBMs undetected during the 70's and 80's. You were watched.


A sensor overhead that spots firing large calibre guns (I suppose this might work down to 40 mm depending on distance) coupled with a sensor for identification, a functioning radio link and some quick-reaction artillery on stand-by could have a huge influence on any conventional battle.

The friendlies would be encouraged to make themselves more identifiable from air (remember the flags used in WW2 to identify yourself to aviators?), possibly with morse-coded infrared lights only visible from above. Hostiles would be provoked to make their firing signature less visible from above (using concealment by tree cover, using flash hiders, propellants which trade-off more smoke for less flash) and they would be provoked to create decoys (remote-controlled tiny explosions or even mere IR lights - this could even be small aerial drones flying around and occasionally emitting an IR flash upwards).
The hostiles' reactions would all serve to counter the primary effect of such a system, though: Suppression.

An aerial forward observer who is capable of handling dozens of contacts at the same time (= possible if analysis is done on the ground thanks to a data-link) and direct support fires in a most timely manner would surpass all influence that air power had on battles before. The idea of reducing ground combat to provoking the enemy to reveal himself, then deal with him with sensors and support fires is getting ever more appeal these days.
Such extreme tactics won't work reliably, of course. Countermeasures and Murphy's Law will inevitably reduce any such progress to an addition to the repertoire, not to the thing that replaces all we know about ground warfare.

Nevertheless, it seems evident that combat aviation can now detect much more viable targets than it can handle with its own firepower - even assuming it uses small guided munitions with 100% hits. The combination of air power for target detection and indirect fires (artillery) for destruction appears to be the natural choice for today's top dog military forces (underdogs will struggle to make use of large aviation assets in face of their opposition).

This begs the question; should we force army and air force into organisational unity to ensure that this potentially decisive cooperation will be exploited well?


S Ortmann

P.S.: The F-35 is likely a lemon in regard to airframe performance, but its avionics suite is no doubt impressive. The USAF's interest in air/ground sensors was also evident in their talk about a next generation bomber also being a reconnaissance platform.
I hope Europeans will make good use of these avionics developments with some better airframes, not encumbered by a STOVL version requirement..
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