Friday, November 07, 2014

By Volley, Fire

In commenting on a RAND simulation of an air battle between heavily outnumbered American F-22s against Chinese fighters that had us losing despite assuming every F-22 missile hit a target and every Chinese missile aimed at our F-22s missed, this article wonders if drone "missile trucks" could be the answer:

The RAND study emphasized that improvements in forward basing infrastructure were necessary for U.S. airpower to achieve its objective effectively.

But in a new report from CNAS, “Robotics on the Battlefield Part II: The Coming Swarm,” Scharre offers another solution to mitigate China’s numerical advantage – an unmanned “missile truck” fighter:

An uninhabited “missile truck” that brought additional air-to-air missiles to the fight to supplement human-inhabited F-22s could tip the scales back in the United States’ favor.

I tend to discount anything from the Center for No American Security, but that's my bias.

But I did bring up the idea of an air gunship to help Taiwan hold off China's aerial horde in light of problems getting new fighters:

It occurred to me that we have gunships that turn large transport planes into ground support aircraft. They work very well. Couldn't Taiwan use the same concept for air defense?

Taiwan has AWACS-type planes to watch the Taiwan Strait and Chinese air bases near their coast.

Would it be possible for Taiwan to pair up air missile-planes consisting of a large transport plane carrying lots of long-range radar-guided missiles?

If Taiwan's E-2s spot a Chinese air armada heading across the strait, the "air gunship" could fire off volleys of air-to-air missiles even as Taiwanese fighters were scrambling. Given that the Chinese aircraft would be closing with Taiwan at high speeds, the air gunships could fire while well out of range of Chinese missiles, counting on the Chinese aircraft to close within the missile range even if the missiles are fired while the Chinese planes are out of range.

If air-to-air volleys and then anti-aircraft missiles fired from the ground disrupted the Chinese air armada before it reaches Taiwan, Taiwan's outnumbered planes would have a far better chance of inflicting damage and surviving to continue the fight.

If the air-to-air missiles have a long enough range, they could inflict losses on the Chinese before they get to our F-22s, meaning the F-22s could screen the withdrawal of the missile ships. Then we don't need the added complexity of drone aircraft.

Yet when you think about "missile trucks" or "gunships" you have to remember what the RAND scenario was. It wasn't so much that China overwhelmed our aircraft but that China knocked out so much on the ground (from my summary of the study in this post):

Let me just say that the study relied on the Chinese striking our air bases (on Okinawa, I believe) and knocking out all but 6 F-22s that proceeded to shoot down 48 non-stealthy Su-27s only to see the Chinese survivors fly on and shoot down tankers and other soft targets. That's not a condemnation of our planes but of geography and ground defenses.*

Whatever I read, I was a bit off on the set up but not the air combat scenario. This slide show indicates that the assumption is that because of Chinese ability to attack our Okinawa air base, we are forced to rely on the ability to put just 6 F-22s flying from the more distant Guam over Taiwan.

Those 6 planes were not enough to protect the supporting planes from the Chinese Su-27s that race through our F-22s even if all our missiles hit Chinese planes and all the Chinese shots at our F-22s miss.

If the idea is based on the notion that China can swamp 6 planes, well, duh. We'd be better off working on getting more than six planes into the fight, I'd say.

But I won't dismiss the CNAS thought. Although I'll always suspect it will be paired with a proposal to greatly reduce the rest of the Air Force fighter inventory to buy those missile trucks.

And I still think Taiwan could use the weapon.

*I must have mis-linked because I can't find the study from that post. I linked to a related study but not the one I wanted. I'm glad I at least summarized the scenario.