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Archive for July, 2008

NATO AWACS to Afghanistan?

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

This article first appeared on Aviation Week’s Ares weblog.

The German government is apparently starting discussions on whether to politically back a one-year deployment of NATO E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft to support the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

But there’s concern the issue could cause political waves. According to the German weekly news magazine, Der Spiegel, the government is trying to defer such a fight past the summer recess by not taking up the issue until September.

German government officials confirm that senior NATO military leaders have expressed interest in the AWACS deployment. But, they add, the request hasn’t formally been blessed by the alliance’s military committee.

The AWACS would be used largely to manage the large amount of NATO air traffic in Afghanistan, ranging from combat aircraft providing fire support to ground troops, to logistics flights, to helicopter operations.

Read the rest of this story, check out some killer Reaper pics, a sneaky read about a VTOL UAV and take a look at White Knight 2 from our Aviation Week friends at Military​.com.

– Christian

Stand By for More Counterinsurgencies

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

New National Defense Strategy posted by the Pentagon.

The BTDTs on the SCAR

Thursday, July 31st, 2008


Well, the snake eaters have come out from their hides and begun to comment on yesterday’s article about a test shoot I participated in with some SF Soldiers who demoed the SCAR.

Aside from the inevitable implication that somehow I was endorsing the weapon myself, the gist of the upcoming debate seems to be leaning toward the idea that the operators I interviewed haven’t spent enough time with the weapon and don’t know what they’re talking about.

In all candor, I would agree. No one is going to make a definitive judgment on a weapon’s capability from one day of firing. But first impressions are important — especially if they’re the impressions of Soldiers who will actually use the equipment — and that’s why I included them in an article for DT readers.

Here’s an interesting response from “CDRODA396” on the Professional Soldiers web forum:

The SCAR was originally a SEAL requirement, specifically they wanted a weapon that would fire immediately upon breaking the surface of water, as stated above it can do.

The main impetus behind the SCAR has not been USASOC, which they have not helped, but the main push has been SOCOM all along. Specifically an Infantry COL who is the PM down at Tampa. More recently, the Dpty G8, USASOC (18A) has been pushing it, going so far as to making the statement, “We are ready to accept the SCAR right now, and turn in our M-4’s to get it,” at the last SOCOM Weapons Integrated Product Team (IPT) meeting.

This is NOT the position held at USASFC, which is more fix its problems, prove it works and then we’ll move forward. MG Csrnko, CG, USASFC was briefed on the SCAR about two weeks ago. The VTC included all the Groups, USASFC, USASOC and USSOCOM, mainly represented by the O-6 PM.

At that meeting the recurring problems, like the butt-stock breaking, identified over three years ago as an issue, and again found most recently in April (I think it was April, maybe May) at the last User Assessment, were highlighted.

MG Csrnko asked some good questions, including, and probably most importantly, has the thing really been tested in anything other than a “sterile range” environment, which the answer was no.

So, it has been requested by USASFC that the current “issues” get addressed, for good, and it get tested in a FTX, CTC type environment, being used, “like we are going to use it.” Until then, we are keeping the M-4A1.

And that’s what I know about that.

Let’s keep track of what these guys are saying. I’m interested to take a look at how others who’ve spent more time with the weapon feel about it. One commenter said: “start posting on this thread your issues with the wonderful SCAR that’s about to be force fed to you in large doses…It’s time to take the SCAR to task.”

– Christian

Iran’s Natanz Tough Nut to Crack

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008


Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is in town this week to discuss with White House and Pentagon officials what to do about Irans nuclear program. Accompanying Barak is Israeli Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz; hes the former IDF chief who set off a firestorm recently when he said an Israeli military strike against Iran is unavoidable. Current IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was here last week and met with his Pentagon counterpart, Admiral Michael Mullen. Ashkenazi reportedly said he favors a diplomatic solution, but also issued the standard declaration that all options must be prepared for stopping Irans nuclear program.

There has been considerable debate about whether Israel could even carry out an effective air strike against Irans nuclear program. Analysts say there are too many factories, labs and reactor sites dispersed too widely across the country. According to a 2006 paper published by two MIT doctoral candidates (one of the most thorough pieces of analysis available), it would be impossible for Israel to knock out the entire Iranian nuclear program but the target set could be narrowed to the most critical facilities. They identify the critical nodes as: the Esfahan uranium conversion facility, the gas centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment facility and the heavy water plant and future plutonium production reactors at Arak.

The MIT analysts identify Natanz as the most difficult target because much of the facility is buried deep and covered with layers of concrete. Israeli bombs would have to penetrate the earth covering, bore through the concrete layers and then dump enough bombs into the hole to generate blast pressures that could damage or destroy the equipment inside. They figure the strike package would have to drop a combination of roughly 24 BLU-109 2,000 lb. and BLU-113 5,000 lb. bunker busters on Natanz. The facilities at Esfahan are not buried and those at Arak are not hardened, so those targets sets would be relatively simple to destroy with no more than 24 2,000 pound GPS guided bombs.

What does Israel have as far as deep strike weapons? The MIT folks count at least 25 F-15I (the Israeli version of the F-15E Strike Eagle) and 20–50 F-16I, both airframes configured specifically for deep strike missions. Israel also has a large number of F-16s that could be fitted as strike aircraft, Wild Weasel jamming aircraft and over 40 F-15A and C versions to escort the bombers. Developments in precision targeting, specifically GPS guided bombs, means all Israeli aircraft carry bombs considerably more accurate than those used in the Osirak raid. They envision a 50 plane strike package evenly split between F-15I and F-16I aircraft.

Then the question becomes how well can Iran defend its airspace. Iranian aircraft are a mix of the old and the very old. Irans most modern fighter is the Mig-29, of which they have maybe 40. They also have a large number of 1970s era F-4, F-14, F-5 and some newer Chinese built F-7M and F-6. Iranian fighters would be operating over friendly territory, advantageous when they need to refuel or rearm. They could also draw on ground control radar to guide them into favorable attack positions against IDF aircraft roaming Iranian air space. If the Iranian aircraft could get into firing position against Israeli bombers, which is admittedly a big if, they have sufficiently modern air-to-air missiles that they could probably down a few.

Its not Irans fighter jets that could pose the real challenge, as the Iranian air force is more of an antique show, says David Ochmanek, an analyst with RAND who directs an ongoing study for the U.S. Air Force that examines future threats from Iran. The real threat to an attacker, he says, are Iranian surface-to-air missiles. There are reports that the Iranians field some of the newer Russian-built double digit SAMs, such as the SA-10, though not the newer and more potent SA-20 (the newer Russian designation is S-300 and S-400). The S-300 is considered by some accounts to be comparable to the U.S.-built Patriot air defense missile.


SCAR Demo Video

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

Operators Test New Commando Rifle

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008


It’s a rifle designed specifically for the special operations community. Modular barrels, ambidextrous controls, a gas-piston operating system, a host of adjustment options — but you already know that.

So with all the slick marketing language and eye-popping specifications of the SOCOM Combat Assault Rifle, it’s a given that operators will embrace the thing wholeheartedly, right?

Well, let’s ask them.

“This rifle is awesome,” said one Special Forces operator who, like the rest of the Green Berets in this interview, declined to be named for security reasons. “It’s spot on.“

Now you get an idea of how the men who’ll use the weapon in combat felt about it, not just some six-figure marketing guru spewing crafty catch-phrases. But what’s most interesting is why they liked the rifle so much.

In an exclusive, Military​.com joined a group of about a dozen special operations Soldiers from around the country who traveled to Northern Virginia this summer to test fire the SCAR before their upcoming deployment to the Middle East. Ground rules agreed to between the special operators, the rifle manufacturer and Military​.com precluded naming the unit, its members or its deployment destination.

See the Military​.com SCAR Demo Slideshow

The SCAR, which comes in a 5.56mm version and a 7.62mm one, is nearing the end of its field user assessment phase — the final stage before full-rate production and fielding to units under U.S. Special Operations Command, including SEALs, Green Berets and Air Force Special Tactics units.

The entry of the SCAR into the spec ops community comes as the services, Congress and the Pentagon scuffle over whether or not to replace the current M4 rifle and address persistent complaints over the standard-issued carbine’s reported lack of “stopping power” and its need for constant maintenance and cleaning to avoid jams.


Has the Chinook met its FATE?

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008


The first Boeing CH-47, a 33,000lb machine powered by two 1,640shp Lycoming (now Honeywell) T55 engines, achieved first flight on Sept. 21, 1961.

Nearly 47 years and seven major upgrades later, the CH-47F and MH-47G has doubled in weight to 50,000lb, while the engine shaft horsepower rating has tripled with introduction of the 4,868shp T55-GA-714 powerplant.

With only 10% of the CH-47F delivered, however, Boeing is again proposing to radically increase the size of the airframe. The “growth Chinook” would be stretched and widened to accommodate and up-armored HMMWV (Humvee) inside the cabin. This would increase maximum takeoff weight to around 70,000lbs and demand a much larger engine. Honeywell has already proposed a roughly 6,000shp T55-GA-715.

It’s still unclear what the army thinks about all this. After all, the army is planning to buy another 400 CH-47Fs. It’s also still debating how much it needs a Joint Heavy Lift rotorcraft that would be more than twice the size of the CH-47F.

On top of all this, the army has also started a program to replace the venerable T55 with an all new engine in the 6,000shp to 7,000shp range after 2018. Last week, I confirmed that Honeywell, Pratt & Whitney and General Electric are each participating in the earliest stages of the Future Affordable Turbine Engine (FATE) program.


New PLA Armor and Mech. Infantry Brigade Structures

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008


The Soviet Operational Manoeuvre Group in 1986 was looking at creating a ‘Shock Division’ of three regiments, with each regiment containing two tank and two mechanised infantry battalions. Armoured divisions are too unwieldy in complex terrain and an armoured battle group (battalion sized) is easier to control and execute its mission.

The Peoples Liberation Army, following on from their experience with the Operational Manoeuvre Group, can now deploy the new mechanised infantry division and using modular forces have created a composite cavalry brigade for use in complex terrain.

Utilising the deep operation theory, they can employ am air mechanised and/or fast wheeled force as a ‘lance’ followed up by the mobile force (tank heavy) to exploit the breach in an enemys defences followed by a holding force (heavy mechanised), that is the dozer blade.

An article in the 1/2008 issue of Tanke Zhuangjia Cheliang (Tank and Armoured Vehicle) is titled ‘News From Overseas– Chinese Built Many Light Type Mechanised Units.’ The article was written to correct the mistakes that appear in non-Chinese media about the structure and equipment of these new light mechanised units.

The mechanised infantry brigade has four mechanised infantry battalions, one armoured battalion, one fire support battalion, one engineer battalion and one communication battalion. Each mechanised infantry battalion has three mechanised infantry companies, each of three platoons with each company having 13 infantry fighting vehicles; four in each platoon and one headquarters vehicle.

Each armoured brigade has four armoured battalions for a total of 132 main battle tanks, one mechanised infantry battalion, one artillery battalion with 18 self-propelled guns and one air defence battalion of 18 AAA guns. Each armoured battalion has three armoured companies, each of three platoons with each company having 11 main battle tanks; three in each platoon and two headquarters vehicles. A complete brigade contains 4,000 soldiers.


Polmar on Sinking the Zumwalt

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008


While no “final” decision has been revealed, the indications “inside the Beltway” are that the Navy’s long-gestating DDG 1000 Zumwalt–class destroyer program will end with only two ships.  Indeed, there are also rumors that even those two ships will not be constructed.

Contracts have already been awarded for the first two destroyers — authorized in the fiscal year 2007 budget — to General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works (Maine) and to Northrop Grumman (Pascagoula, Mississippi). Originally the Navy planned a class of 32 of these DDGs, but, as previously reported here, last year the Navy cut the program to seven ships, although the 32-ship requirement was still “on the books.” 

The Navy’s leadership, both uniformed and civilian, has been lackluster in its support of the DDG 1000 class. Indeed, the current Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Gary Roughead, when recently asked by Congress what he believed the new ships’ most important feature would be, he told of the reduced manning for the ships.

The new “destroyers” are to have a full-load displacement of almost 15,000 tons and an overall length of 600 feet — the dimensions of a cruiser by most standards. Armed with two 155-mm rapid-fire guns (with a range of more than 75 miles firing guided projectiles) and 80 Standard and Tomahawk missiles or their equivalent, and fitted with a large manned– and unmanned helicopter facility, the ships would be highly capable, multipurpose units.

The price has become a “deal breaker” for some involved in the shipbuilding process. The Navy estimates that the first two ships will cost $3.3 billion each, with follow-on ships to cost $2.5 billion.  This compares to the last of the 62 Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) destroyers having a cost some $1.2 billion each.


What do you Think…?

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Over the past several months, this blog has carried a number of posts on the efforts of the United States to prepare for and defend against a cyber attack or war. In addition, we have posted profiles of other nations and groups who are adversaries of the U.S. and are building cyber attack capabilities. In May, U.S. Strategic Command referenced one of our posts in its testimony before Congress. The hearing was about the security and economic situation as it relates to China.

All this is based on open source intelligence coupled with input from contacts throughout the global security and intelligence communities. Given the vast readership this blog has seen, we thought it prudent to assess your feelings on the state of readiness of the United States for a cyber conflict. You will be able to view the results as you vote.

– Kevin Coleman