Sunday, June 10, 2007

Oh Look, I'm Famous...

Wow. 374 visitors today. Either the ABM article or the FC-1 article is generating a lot of attention, because that's way above average for this place.

I wonder which article it could be?

Let's get a few things straight from the get-go. I have nothing against the nation of Pakistan, or its citizens. I do have some issues with the policies of its government, as is my right as an individual allowed to think for myself and have opinions. I have nothing against the people or the nation of China or India either, for that matter.

There are, naturally, people out there that are just not amused, apparently, by my criticism of Pakistan's FC-1 purchase. They take issue with the fact that I am apparently disparaging the aircraft, which I am not, or the Pakistani Air Force, which I am also not.

Here's one of them now, by someone calling himself Fahad H:

First off, nobody has to like what I write. I could really care less, I do it because I enjoy it. The ABM feature? That was really fun. But I do find it funny that anyone not agreeing with PAF fanboys is automatically labeled as some sort of inferior person.

Let's address this guy's points before we move on to the next gem from PakDef.

First off, what does my article have to do with the Indian LCA project anyway? Nothing, that's what. As I explained in the comments, I didn't view the LCA and the FC-1 as likely opponents with the MKI flying around performing air superiority and barrier air defense. If you ask me the LCA is best suited as a point defense aircraft for the most part (a smart poster could potentially twist and construe that as a belief that the FC-1 is superior to the LCA, but no, they went right for the insults). The FC-1 might be suited for that role as well, but it enjoys relatively good range performance and as it will help to replace the Mirages and A-5s in the PAF it will invariably have to be tasked with some strike sorties as well. So, I evaluated the FC-1 against the Su-30MKI, and not the LCA, which is still a little farther behind if you ask me.

Fahad H claims that Indian production of the Su-30MKI by HAL is moving along slowly. That may be right, it's not like they have a lot of experience making modern fighter aircraft. But as of right now it is in service, and the FC-1 is not. Also, what guarantee is there that Pakistan will be able to produce the FC-1 at a faster rate? What was the last fast jet combat aircraft assembled in Pakistan?

The PAF doesn't require that many J-10s because they're getting more F-16s? The last time I checked, Pakistan was getting 18 F-16s, but wanted to buy around 70 more. I won't even touch that issue here for now, but my point wasn't so much to replace the F-16 with the J-10, but the FC-1. The J-10 is a more capable aircraft. The J-10 is not actually all that much more expensive than the FC-1 either. Moving on.

AWACS environment-that'll be present on both sides of the equation before long, but the author seems to think that it will only be of a benefit to the PAF.

And the last line is really, for lack of a better word, stupid. The only reason it is included is because of the Indian reliance on twin-engined fighters like the Su-30MKI and the MiG-29. Let me check...the RAF, the Luftwaffe, the Russian Air Force, China if you consider the sheer numbers of twin engined types in service right now...all of them must be equally as stupid, right Fahad? But why aren't they mentioned?

And I'm the one here that has a problem, supposedly.

Now let's look at another one, posted by someone called Munir:

Wow, now we're really getting scientific. Not only am I immature, but I am also apparently an Indian working in the IT industry. Sorry fellas, but I'm about as American as they come. If you google'd white guy, you'd probably get my picture.

The first paragraph is mostly just a bunch of slander, but there is one interesting point. Munir claims that I believe that anything Chinese is inferior to anything Indian. That is not the case, and I never pretended to take that viewpoint. In fact, there are a number of areas where China has a pretty substantial lead over India. There's jet engines (WS-10 vs. Kaveri), fighter aircraft (J-10 vs. LCA), SAM systems (HQ-9 vs. Akash), ICBMs (CSS-4 vs. nothing), nuclear submarines (Han and Jin classes vs. the still incomplete ATV), and I could continue. Insofar as Pakistan and India are concerned, Pakistan certainly has nothing to be ashamed of with their clear lead over India in the cruise missile field (Babur vs. nothing, BrahMOS is not yet a true land attack weapon, even the official site states it is primarily an anti-ship weapon) and the development of guided air-to-ground weapons (H-4 vs. nothing). So, that part of Munir's argument falls right apart quite nicely.

He then claims that India is doing something wrong by importing weapons and not developing them. OK Munir, are you going to campaign for an end to Pakistani F-16 purchases then, since the FC-1 can on some level be considered a local Pakistani product? The rest of his point is spot on, insofar as that any major conflict would make all of this pointless as it would be nuclear.

Wait a minute...didn't I say the same thing at the end of my article? He must have missed it.

Here's the last one, from someone calling himeslf Sabre, available here:

His first paragraph isn't relevant here, but he gets things going in the second one. See, it's his fourth sentence that eliminates him from the ranks of credible dissenters. If he knew me at all, he'd know that I've served in the US Air Force. So I guess I must be one of the experts, right? Of course not, because I don't share his viewpoint, apparently.

In his third paragraph he claims that I have culled all of my data from Indian websites (again with the disparaging, racist use of the term Indian as an ethnic slur, but I bet you he has no bias himself whatsoever, right?), and have purposely looked for sources to make the FC-1 look bad. Sorry guy, couldn't be further from the truth. Most of the analysis is my own, based in no small part on my operational experience. A lot of the information on the FC-1 was pulled from Chinese language websites, as well as another blog site that was praised by the people at PakDef in the same thread where they trashed me. I tried to actually use PakDef's own website for information, but their FC-1 page is so outdated that the latest update on it is that the 2nd prototype just took off. But the bottom line is that this is primarily an opinion piece. Sure, it's based on fact, but the conclusions are mine alone and represent my personal opinion. Which is that Pakistan could do better than the FC-1. What in the world is wrong with that?

Then, he goes on to claim that I said that the FC-1 is inferior because of it's relationship to the J-7. Where did I do that? I did provide a brief history of the program in the first part of the article, and yes, the FC-1 will probably replace Pakistan's F-7s (export J-7s for the uninformed), but nowhere did I state that the FC-1 was inferior because it descends in some fashion from the J-7. English comprehension sorta helps if you want to read something I write and comment about it.

Lastly he goes on to label me as "pathetic and unprofessional". He claims that bias shouldn't enter into something like this, but he is obviously biased himself towards anyone not sharing his viewpoint. I'd love to know how my article is biased. Let's see if one of them can explain that without using the phrase "because you don't like the FC-1" or some manner thereof.

The problem I have with people like this is that they are clearly acting in an overly nationalistic manner without regard to the context or the facts of an argument. Guess what, it happens everywhere, this is not some sort of problem restricted to Pakistani internet posters, not by far. Some of the Indian posters I've come across are just as misguided as these two. I've even seen Chinese, American, and Russian posters just as obnoxious and misinformed.

The other problem I have is that they are purposely acting in an infantile and insulting manner for the sole purpose of attempting to undermine the credibility of what I write, and myself as a person. If you have a constructive argument to make, fine, come here and post a comment and I usually respond to them if I notice (I did go back a few days ago to review some old posts and noticed that someone had posted a comment after that post got bumped from the front page, so I responded late to that one).

At any rate, I guess I should be amused by the fact that there are people out there that are just so irate at what I've written that they take the link to another forum to complain about. What I don't understand is how they completely managed to miss the point. Like I said before, the purpose of the article was not to slag the FC-1 as some worthless aircraft, but to explain why, in MY OPINION, the FC-1 is not the right fit for the PAF.

So, to conclude, let's ask and asnwer a few questions to make this crystal clear for everyone with a working knowledge of the English language.

1. Is the FC-1 a worthless aircraft?
-No. It offers multi-role performance at low cost and is ideally suited for third-world air arms with lower operating and procurement budgets.

2. Will the FC-1 be a failure in PAF service?
-No. The FC-1 is a genuine upgrade in terms of performance and capability over the current PAF inventory, and that includes non-upgraded F-16s.

3. Is there a better aircraft for the PAF than the FC-1?
-Yes. In my opinion the PAF would be better off with the further increased capabilities of the J-10.

4. How does the FC-1 compare to the Indian LCA?
-I have no idea. My interests lie in Russian and Chinese military products. Hence the interest in the FC-1, the J-10, and the Su-30MKI. I could care less about the LCA, but it would seem to me that the LCA is a relatively pointless endeavor given the MRCA buy in the works. It would seem at this point to be a symbol of national pride more than anything else. If you want to know how it works, go find someone interested in the jet.

5. Why do I hate Pakistan?
-I don't have any negative feelings towards the bulk of the Pakistani people or their nation. I take issue with some of the positions and actions of the Musharraf government. There is a difference there, it's like complaining about Bush, even Americans do that. I also take issue with those that are supporting Islamic extremism by harboring Taliban and Al Qaeda remnants in and around Waziristan.

Hopefully that clears up any outstanding issues regarding my opinion on certain issues.

And would you look at that, I didn't even need to call anyone immature or make racist generalizations about their nationality and occupation. What is the world coming to.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The FC-1 -or- A Tale Of An Inferior Fighter Plane (Part 2)

Part one of this article is available here:

The Chegdu FC-1 is positioned to become the backbone of the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) for the next twenty-plus years. Pakistan has standing orders for 150 of the aircraft, which may yet increase to a maximum of 250 aircraft.

Unfortunately, the FC-1, known to Pakistan as the JF-17, is an inferior aircraft, and almost overwhelmingly so when compared with its principal rival, the Indian Air Force's (IAF) Su-30MKI.

The MKI has many advantages over the FC-1 (it should be noted that the two aircraft are not competing on the open market for export orders, so financial comparisons between the two are not included here). The MKI offers much greater combat persistance, with a 12 AAM load compared to the FC-1's 6. An MKI can be fitted with up to 8 BVR AAMs, twice the load of the FC-1. The MKI already features IFR capability, giving greater endurance, although IFR has been mooted for future FC-1 production blocks.

One further distinct advantage is in the radar of the MKI. The MKI's N011M Bars radar set is a PESA, and can detect 20 targets while conducting four simultaneous engagements. Maximum detection range is in the 200 kilometer range, with detection of an F-16 size target being possible up to 160 kilometers. The FC-1's Chinese radar set has been claimed to be able to detect a fighter sized target at 75 kilometers, while tracking 10 targets and prosecuting two simultaneous engagements. Given the larger numbers of MKIs being fielded at present, and their greater radar performance specifically with regards to the ability to engage four targets versus two for the FC-1, the MKI has a distinct advantage in direct air-to-air combat.

This, of course, does not take into consideration support assets and the aircraft's EW suites. The FC-1 does appear to have a comprehensive EW suite, as does the MKI. One internet blogger has surmised that the FC-1's EW suite should have an advantage when combating a Russian-armed aircraft like the MKI as China does have extensive knowledge of Russian air-to-air weaponry.

Here's the problem with that argument.

The Bars radar has Jet Engine Modulation (JEM) technology, allowing for a target to be identified at range by simply analyzing the radar returns from the target's engine compressor face. The FC-1's engine face is currently shielded somewhat thanks to the DSI inlets, but if the inlet trunks are not RAM coated then radar returns will still be able to propagate back and forth through them. Simply hiding a compressor face is not enough.

There is also the passive engagement option for the MKI, something else speculated for future FC-1 blocks. The MKI has a very good IRST system, enabling target prosecution using passive sensors and weapons. The MKI can also act as a "mini-AWACS", passing targeting information to other aircraft operating "blind".

The FC-1 also currently suffers from having a highly reflective steerable planar array radar set. This is a major source of radar reflectivity and will compund the RCS of the airframe. In the MKI, the passive phased array set is angled downwards slightly, helping to reduce this effect on the FLANKER's RCS.

Okay, on paper, that might not really be a fair comparison. The MKI is, after all, a heavy fighter, with a larger airframe bestowing a greater number of weapons hardpoints and a larger radar set. But the simple fact is that if the FC-1 were to go into combat, it'd likely have to deal with the MKI, so a comparison is wholly justified.

What about the F-16? Or the other Chinese product, the J-10? The F-16 Block 50/52 being purchased by Pakistan benefits from years of constant tweaking and updating based on countless combat operations, and is a wholly mature weapon system. In terms of paper capability, the FC-1 only really lags far behind the F-16 in terms of stores capacity, and perhaps system reliability thanks to combat experience. The J-10 is a far more advanced aircraft than the FC-1, featuring greater payload capacity, nearly double the operational radius according to some sources (it does have a significantly higher internal fuel load), and a more robust, capable avionics suite.

The real problem with the FC-1 is the fact that it appears to be a cheap, exportable miniaturization of the far more capable J-10. Pakistan has already shown interest in acquiring the J-10. With a possible 250 FC-1s, one would have to wonder why they would feel the need to pursue yet another fighter aircraft, especially when an advanced Block 50/52 F-16 purchase is being made as well. The PAF's infatuation with the F-16 is well known. The J-10 would be a better option than the F-16 from a political standpoint, but mention cancelling an F-16 buy to the PAF and see what happens. There is a far smaller possibility of J-10 support being rescinded should a war break out, after all, given that Pakistan's chief antagonist is no friend of the Chinese government either.

In this analyst's opinion, had Pakistan held out for a large export order of the J-10, things would be a lot different. People will throw out the argument that the PAF needs a high-low mix of J-10s and FC-1s. That doesn't necessarily wash, as one major combat type would prove to be far cheaper to operate over the long run. The FC-1 would be suited in small numbers to serve in a supplementary role as a point defense aircraft given the horrifying lack of a robust SAM network in Pakistan, but the heavy work should be left to the J-10 or a similar aircraft. Unfortunately, with a potentially 250 aircraft purchase of the FC-1, there will not be enough money in the fighter budget for enough J-10s to make a serious difference on the subcontinent, not when the IAF is buying around 250 MKIs.

That is not to say that the FC-1 is without merit. This is a cheap, export-class light fighter capable of BVR air-to-air combat. If it is fitted with a Chinese engine, which is in the works to sidestep the RD-93 issue mentioned in the first half of this article, the FC-1 may enjoy export success around the globe as a MiG-21 and J-7 FISHBED replacement. Production of the FC-1 will also breathe much-needed life into the stagnant aircraft industry in Pakistan. But when compared to the primary threat aircraft in Pakistan's primary antagonist, the FC-1 simply falls short, and as such is an inferior aircraft for Pakistan. It might be a great fit for a nation like Ecuador or even Cuba, but Pakistan needs a capability set that the FC-1, at this point in time, decidedly does not offer.

Much has been made of the FC-1 recently, given that the aircraft is being exported to a nuclear state in a potentially volatile region of the world. Part of the issue is that neither the Indians nor the Pakistanis can wholly separate themselves from a propagandist standpoint when describing their latest purchases. If you believed either side, you'd believe that they would win an air war in very short order. Unfortunately for the armchair generals of the world, and the interweb fanboys, it's just not that simple.

Ultimately, success in the air will be determined by not only system effectiveness and capability, but by pilot skill, and the parameters of the engagement. That being said, it doesn't help to voluntarily go into a fight with one hand already tied behind your back, does it? In reality, a major conflict on the subcontinent will probably end up with a nuclear exchange, and all of this will be rendered moot anyway.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The FC-1 -or- A Tale Of An Inferior Fighter Plane (Part 1)

The Pakistani Air Force (PAF) has been taking delivery of the first few examples of its newest fighter jet, the FC-1 (also known as the JF-17) recently. While other nations have been taking delivery of modern, advanced fighter aircraft recently, Pakistan has settled for a clearly inferior product.

The FC-1 has a relatively long history. It began life in China as the Super-7, an enhanced and modified version of China's MiG-21 FISHBED clone, the J-7. At one point China was working with the American aviation industry to design and outfit the aircraft. The similar PEACE PEARL project was also underway at the same time, which would have seen J-8II FINBACK-B interceptors refitted with AN/APG-66 radar sets. All that cooperation ended when the United States condemned the Chinese government's response to the Tianamen Square incidents, which included running over protesters with tanks. Human rights issues aside, this led to a curtailment of work on both the J-8II and Super-7 upgrade programs. The J-8II would at least end up receiving some attention at the hands of Russia, with the proposed F-8IIM aircraft featuring new Russian avionics and weapons, like the R-27R AAM. Eventually, J-8II upgrades featured native systems and weapons, and today J-8II's can be seen carrying the Chinese PL-12 active-radar BVRAAM, for example. The Super-7 was not so lucky, being consinged to the virtual scrap heap for a period of time. Work was done to update the J-7, but none of it was as substantial as the plans for the Super-7. One of the most advanced designs, the J-7MF, finally featured capabilities similar to those planned for the Super-7, and in some circles has been mentioned as a fall-back should the FC-1 have failed.

Enter MiG. The MiG design bureau had designed a lightweight fighter roughly analogous to the F-16, the MiG-33. Powered by a single RD-33 engine, the MiG-33 design, which never amounted to more than a paper project and a few models inside of Russia, has a number of design features virtually identical to those on the FC-1. Namely, the original FC-1's dogtooth LERX fairings, the tailplane-fuselage joint, and the cockpit canopy, to name a few. This does not imply that MiG aided in the design of the FC-1, far from it. But it does open the possibility that the FC-1 is representative of an amalgamation of the Super-7 and MiG-33 designs. Around the time that China was rethinking the Super-7/FC-1 design, they were renewing defense ties with the Russian defense establishment, purchasing numerous SAM systems, aircraft, and naval vessels. Technical advisors could easily have been on the list at some stage.

Regardless of the design history, the first FC-1 prototype took to the air on 25 August 2003. The design was flawed, and in April of 2006 a modified design appeared in the sky in the form of the fourth prototype. The original aircraft had a top speed of Mach 1.6, with the modified fourth prototype being able to attain Mach 1.8 thanks to the incorporation of new divertless supersonic intakes. The wing-fuselage junction was also altered, and the rear fueslage was modified as well. Lastly, there is a new apparent ECM/ESM fairing atop the tail fin. The latest aircraft delivered this year to the Pakistani Air Force are representative of the fourth prototype's aerodynamic configuration, suggesting that the design may have finally been frozen after years of design work and flight test.

The powerplant issue was once thought to be a major problem for Pakistan. Russia, the RD-93's manufacturer, had initially refused to allow China to re-export the engine. In April of 2007, however, the re-sale of the RD-93 to Pakistan was approved, as part of a defense agreement allowing China to market products with Russian components to nations in Southeast Asia and Africa which are typically strong Chinese customers, including Pakistan. Russia's initial reluctance to allow sale of the engine to Pakistan is understandable, as Pakistan's chief adversary India is a major Russian defense customer. However, the Putin government has apparently changed their position on the matter, and their defense contracts with India do not appear to have suffered. At any rate, it is not outside the realm of possibility that an indigenous Chinese engine, or simply an unlicensed copy of the RD-93, will eventually power the FC-1, to enable the Chinese to market the aircraft outside of Southeast Asia and Africa, most notably in the Middle East where Iran could be a potential client despite persistent propagandist spoutings about indigenous fighter aircraft of their own.

Part 2 of this article will address the shortcomings of the FC-1 design, as compared to the Su-30MKI, the F-16 Block 50/52, and the J-10.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Exporting the Raptor

Recently, there has been renewed interest on the part of Japan in acquiring the Lockheed F-22A Raptor air dominance fighter. It's no secret that the F-22A is the ultimate iteration of a fighter aircraft currently flying. The only other nation to be making substantial progress (in the view of the public, at least) on a similar aircraft is Russia with the Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA. Whether or not the T-50 ends up on the same level as the Raptor remains to be seen, however, and at any rate it is still at least a decade from squadron service. The only other foreign aircraft to come close to the level of the Raptor in terms of avionics and LO design is the penultimate European fighter design, the French Dassault Rafale. Rafale, however, isn't a true LO aircraft and as such would be at a disadvantage when facing a true LO opponent, be it a Raptor or a T-50. China has also been rumored to be working on the Chengdu J-XX (sometimes referred to as the J-14), but this is speculation for the most part as the only designs to appear in the open press are fanboy speculations representing everything from near-copies of the F-22A to amalgamations of the YF-23A and Mikoyan's Cold War ATF design, the 1.42.

Why should any nation seek out an aircraft with the capability of the Raptor? Raptor's advantage is a virtual guarantee of first-shot, first-kill thanks to an LPI AESA radar and a full-up LO design. This gives a massive and distinct advantage over a conventional aircraft in combat. With the continued proliferation of the latest iterations of the Russian Su-27 and Su-30 family, perhaps the penultimate example of a non-LO air superiority aircraft, the desire to attain an edge is easily justifiable by any nation which might be facing swarms of FLANKERs along its borders.

There are at least three nations interested in the F-22A. They are Japan, Australia, and Israel. Israel and Japan already operate the Raptor's American predecessor, McDonnell Douglas's F-15 Eagle. Official US policy is that the Raptor will not be available for export in the near future, but there are rumors coming out of Lockheed that this could change in 2008. This would be of great benefit to the US aerospace industry, as an increased Raptor production line brings in more revenue to the industry members involved in producing components for the highly advanced fighter. Increasing the number of Raptors being produced would also serve to reduce the unit costs, opening up the possibility of an increased buy of Raptors for the USAF. This may in fact turn out to be a driving force behind releasing the Raptor for export, provided enough orders can be secured to make a difference.

It should be pointed out that the Raptor is not cheap. The three interested parties would have to justify the purchase of such an expensive aircraft. Let's examine each nation's case for a Raptor buy.

1. Japan: Japan would seem to be the ideal match for an exported Raptor fleet. Their F-15Js will need replacing in the near future, and they will potentially be facing a Chinese military threat consisting of large numbers of various FLANKER variants, including the indigenously upgraded J-11B, and potentially a Raptor-class aircraft in the form of the J-XX/J-14. Obtaining the Raptor would allow the JASDAF to keep a qualitative edge over the PLAAF. A Japanese Raptor buy could easily reach 100, if the funding was authorized. Japan's self-defense posture and firm relationship with the United States would also mitigate the chances of vital technology falling into the hands of her neighbors, Russia and China.

2. Australia: Australia requires both an F-18A and an F-111C replacement. While the flawed Super Hornet has been mooted as a short-term solution to the F-18A replacement issue, that still leaves the matter of the F-111C. The F-111C is a long-range strike aircraft, not an air defense platform, and as such the F-35A would be a far more logical choice for the Royal Australian Air Force insofar as an Aardvark replacement is concerned. The F-35 will not be the cheapest aircraft either, and as such the RAAF would find an additional Raptor buy a hard sell in Parliament. There is the possibility of obtaining only the F-22A, but that would result in a significant decrease in combat capability, as the Raptor's air to surface weapons are limited to GPS aided munitions like the 1000 pound JDAM or the SDB. Australian aviation fan Carlo Kopp has claimed that there is a significant threat to Australia from China that must be addressed, and Kopp has often claimed that the Raptor would be an ideal fit for Australia to replace both the Hornet and the Aardvark. The truth of the matter is that there is no reason to believe that Chinese ALCM carriers or fighter swarms will be descending upon Australia anytime soon. Kopp has also trumped-up the Raptor's air-to-surface prowess, claiming that it has to be a good bomber since the USAF is replacing the F-117 with it. Unfortunately for him, the USAF is simply replacing one LO PGM carrier with another, and Kopp is ignoring the fact that the RAAF would lose Harpoon, AGM-142, and HARM capability by replacing their fighter fleet solely with Raptors. A Raptor might be able to take out surface targets, but not naval targets with any certainty (unless the phantom Chinese supercarrier fleet appears off the coast of Sydney). He mentions the capability gap in replacing the F-111C with the Super Hornet, so he does understand the concepts involved, but is unable to effectively utilize them in a coherent manner to make his argument for an RAAF Raptor buy. His ramblings aside, the "right" answer for Australia is the F-35, and that is only if they feel the need for an LO aircraft is justifiable.

3. Israel: Israel also covets the Raptor as a replacement for their F-15C fleet. They are already showing interest in the F-35 as well, to supplement and replace their F-16 fleet, so the Raptor would only be needed to serve in an air superiority role. Israel is already ahead of aviation fanboys like Carlo Kopp in that regard, insofar as sensible purchasing practices are cocnerned. The problem is that Israel does not need the Raptor. The main threat to Israel comes from various Arab air arms, none of whom will be featuring anything as advanced as even the F-35 in the future (Turkey will probably buy them, and Egypt may be cleared at some point down the road, but neither of them represent serious aggressors at the present). Syria's most advanced aircraft is the MiG-29. Iraq is no longer a threat in the air. Iran is busying itself making changes to the F-5 and passing them off as advanced fighters. The rest of the Arab states are not serious threats to Israel except on the political stage with regards to the Palestinian issue. So, Israel does not seem to need the F-22A. However, it can be argued that they don't need a good deal of what they end up procuring anyway, so they may still attempt to purchase the Raptor, if for no other reason then to show the Arabs that they have the best toys on the block. That being said, the United States would be seriously lax in its judgement if either the F-35 or the F-22 were sold to Israel. Israel remains a US ally only because of the strength of their lobbysits and a general feeling of guilt in the Western world, one which I must say is completely asinine and unfounded (how many British or American concentration camps were in operation during WWII? Zero? Thought so.) Israel has a substantial military relationship with China and as such has transferred a good deal of technology to the Communist state. The Chinese PL-8 is a license-built copy of the Israeli Python 3 AAM. The J-10 fighter jet shows a marked similarity to the cancelled Israeli Lavi fighter jet, an aircraft designed with American assistance and derived from the F-16. The list goes on, and there is no reason to expect that the Israelis won't do whatever they feel serves their own interests, including transferring technology from the F-22A to China...maybe in return for the new Chinese ASAT weapon, which could target Iranian satellties launched by Russia? If the USA feels that it just has to continue to deal with Israel (and for those of you keeping score in the Middle East Terrorist Bombing Olympics, retabulate your scores: the original terrorist bombers in the Middle East were Zionists in British-controlled Palestine), then it would be wise to ensure that its military edge is secured by not filtering critical technologies to China via Israel.

So who should be cleared to receive the F-22A? At one point a case could have been made for various European nations, but they went their own paths and developed the EF-2000, Gripen, and Rafale, so there is no real justification that can be made by any of their governments in support of a Raptor buy. The only logical fit for an export fleet of Raptors is Japan. Japan has the need, they have the money, and they have the political reliability. The United States would be wise to clear the Raptor for export to Japan. Bolstering the defensive capabilities of a key ally in the Pacific and potentially securing a larger Raptor fleet for home use are two significant advantages to exporting the Raptor to Japan. One can only hope that Lockheed's premonitions are accurate and that 2008 brings the first news of a Raptor sale to Japan.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Iranian Nukes and U.S. Middle Eastern Policy

By now everyone should be aware that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. If not, then you've been living under a rock for the past year or so, so you really need to get out more. It is Iranian long-range ICBMs that have precipitated the latest fit from Russia, after the United States decided that it would be a good idea to preemptively place anti-missile systems in Poland before Iran gets ICBM technology, after all.

Here's the problem: Iran has every right to possess nuclear weapons.

First off, Iran does not have a history of being overly belligerent in the Middle East during the modern era. Sure, they can talk a big game, but they rarely, if ever, walk the walk anyway. The last major Iranian military operation was against Iraq from 1980-1988, and that was in response to a war that Saddam Hussein started. There have been minor issues since then, but for the most part Iran has actually remained relatively peaceful militarily, with the exception of nonsensical political rantings put out by Ahmadinejad (who, in reality, has next to no real power over the government or military as he isn't a senior cleric).

As far as I'm concerned, a nuclear Iran wouldn't be the end of the world. In fact, a nuclear Iran could be turned into a valuable ally in the Middle East and force us to realign our foreign policy for that part of the world for the better. Face it, if Iran had nuclear arms, we'd have to actually engage them on some diplomatic level. It's in our best interests to foster a positive relationship with Iran.

Consider the following:

1. Iran wants nuclear power and nuclear wepaons. The USA agrees to aid Iran in the production of both, provided we are allowed to maintain on-site inspectors. This allows us to identify the characteristics of Iranian nuclear material. That way, we would be able to determine if a nuclear weapon was sourced in Iran, and if one was used against the United States, we would then detonate a nuclear device in Q'om in retaliation.

2. Nobody wants us over there, so pull all of our forces out of the Middle East, with the exception of a carrier battle group in the Gulf to ensure that the free passage of American merchant shipping and oil carriers is not interfered with. Democracy in the Middle East isn't important, the oil coming out of it is. That's the cold, hard reality of the situation. And if anyone else wants to ensure the safe passage of their own goods and oil, then they can take care of it themselves.

3. A withdrawl of US forces allows us to send them to places where it makes sense to send them, like Pakistan, to take down the corrupt regime that is harboring Al Qaeda and Taliban elements, and the US border with Mexico, to cut off the invasion of illegal noncombatants.

4. Keeping the US out of the Middle East will allow them to sort things out for themselves. We'll ensure that American oil gets through, but they can pretty much live life how they see fit otherwise. We have no real right to impose Western values or political beliefs on other nation states anyway. If Saudi Arabia wants to keep their women under wraps and deny them basic human rights, then that's their prerogative, and the responsibility of the people in their own society to effect any change they see fit, for example.

5. The big kicker: eliminate all US political and military support for the state of Israel. We get nothing from the relationship whatsoever. It's time to cut bait and let them take care of themselves, both in the Middle East and on the floor of the UN Security Council. No more free vetos, sorry. And no more wasted taxpayer dollars aiding a nation that likes to aid potential aggressors like China and Venezuela, sometimes by sharing American technology without our consent or approval. They made their bed in 1947, now let's see if they can really lie in it.

Take those actions, and our overall relationship with the governments of the oil-producing states and their Arab and Persian neighbors will, over time, improve dramatically. This will lead to an eventual lessening of the rampant Anti-Americanism that invades these societies and fuels suicide bombers and other idiots. But that leads me to the last point: blackmail. If this is going ot work, these nations need to understand that we will no longer tolerate any actions by their citizens against the United States under the banner of Islam. If we want to make a serious dent in Islamic extremism, we need to convince those nations to do something about it themselves. That requires motivation. The best way to do this? Put out a statement to the leaders of the nations in the Middle East calling for a complete end to militant Islamic attacks on American citizens and soldiers (the latter group being in the process of leaving the AOR anyway). The first time an American citizen is killed by a terrorist attack directed against the United States or it's interests such as an embassy on foreign soil (i.e. if a suicide bomber blows up a market in Tel Aviv and a vacationing American is killed, we would not be obligated to respond in this serious manner), we will put a missile into a madrassa. If it's okay for them to use religion against us, it's okay for us to use religion against them. Madrassas are where a lot of the religious education and the anti-Americanism stems from, so they are a valid target. We'd have to repeal the Laws of Armed Conflict, but that's a great idea in and of itself, as it would allow us to fight wars on the level of our enemies, transforming the US military complex into something that would actually be feared, acting as a much more credible deterrent. Really, anyone who goes into a war with one hand voluntarily tied behind their back deserves to get a beating, anyway.

And that, people, is how you get America out of the Middle East, keep the oil flowing, and put a serious dent in Islamic extremism as directed towards America and Americans. The rest of the world? They can figure it out for themselves. We're the evil Americans who aren't supposed to be interfering and imposing our will on the rest of the world, remember? All we're doing here is protecting our direct interests and our citizens, and leaving the rest of the region to handle its own affairs.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

China, Pakistan, and the FC-1

A few weeks or so ago, China delivered the first two FC-1 fighter jets to Pakistan. The FC-1, also known as the JF-17 to Pakistan, is a Chinese designed single-seat fighter jet. It's powered by a Russian-made engine and equipped with Chinese avionics and weapons (although the prospects of Pakistan incorporating Western kit isn't out of the question).

Now, the idea of Pakistan receiving a modern, lightweight fighter jet would seem to be ideal, as their air force is severely lacking in terms of quality equipment. Their current air arm relies mainly on comparitively ancient aircraft like the Mirage III, A-5 (a Chinese variation of Russia's MiG-19), and F-7 (a Chinese variation of Russia's MiG-21). Sure, they've tried to keep up appearances by continuing to operate a small fleet of early-block F-16As and upgrading their other aircraft with newer systems, but truth be told, the PAF has some serious shortfalls to address. Pakistan even lacks any sort of BVR AAM, internet propagandist spoutings to the contrary. So reequipping with a modern fighter would seem to be a logical step, given that Pakistan's main rival India has an air force festooned with modern high-performance aircraft (the Mirage 2000, MiG-29, and Su-30MKI, to name a few).

That all being said, the FC-1 is clearly viewed as an inferior product by Pakistan. If the FC-1 was a top-tier fighter jet, then why in the world would Pakistan be consistently pushing for the acquisition of more F-16s from the United States? FC-1 fanboys will allege that Pakistan wants to replace the old Mirages, A-5s, and J-1s with a mix of both FC-1s and F-16s. Okay, sure. Then why is Pakistan also trying to acquire China's other new fighter, the J-10? Do they want a three-jet fleet? Or is the J-10 intended to backstop a potential failure in the F-16 acquisition plans? Something is clearly amiss here. If the FC-1 was the superfighter that some Pakistani aviation fans would want you to believe, then why aren't they clamoring for more FC-1s in place of those F-16s? Or is Pakistan's infatuation with the F-16 just so intense that not even the vaunted FC-1 can break it down? But enough of that, let's examine some of the FC-1's current problems.

1-it has a limited weapons load, and to tote a large payload it needs to waste hardpoints with fuel tanks. This is somewhat curtailed by the fact that the FC-1 would not have to go very far to find its targets in or over India, however.

2-the FC-1's flying ability is at the mercy of Russia at the moment, given that Russian engines are used to power the aircraft (as of right now Russia is apparently turing a blind eye to China's re-export of said engines, but that could always change).

Then there's the issue of the FC-1's true effectiveness in combat on the subcontinent. Pakistan wants about 150 of them. Unfortunately for them, India is buying and license building a similar number of a true 4.5 Generation fighter jet, the Su-30MKI. TVC, a PESA, and a robust long-range weapons fit for both A/A and A/G combat make the Su-30MKI a world-class fighter jet, and pretty much hands air superiority over the subcontinent to the Indian Air Force, easily. Sure, people will argue that "the FC-1 is smaller so it'll be able to get really close before the Indian pilots see it". Wow. Ignorance reigns. As if it worked that way. By that logic, the B-2 should be really non-stealthy as it is rather expansive. Oh wait, it's not, claims by bitter anti-American internet ranters like Venik (who, amusingly enough, apparently lives in Philadelphia...) about Serbian B-2 shootdowns over the FRY notwithstanding. Read up on RCS, aspect angles, and PESA before assuming that just because Pakistan bought it it has to be just fabulous and the best of the best, geniuses. Lots of corner reflectors, external weapons carriage, and other features of the airframe make the FC-1 a pretty decent radar target. For that matter, they make the Su-30MKI a decent target as well, and then it comes down to avionics fit and weapons load, as well as pilot ability.

Let's put the whole force into perspective. You've got FC-1s and F-16s on one side, with Su-30MKIs, MiG-29s, MiG-21BISONs, and Mirage-2000s on the other. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize that it's not the numerical advantage that gives India the edge here. Inserting the FC-1 into this environment is foolhardy; the J-10 would be a far better option, being more capable of dealing effectively with other truly modern fighters. The J-10 is part of that peer group, while the FC-1 is the cheap alternative. So, if Pakistan wanted to make strides towards being able to actually combat the Indian Air Force, they need something better than the FC-1 and something more politically reliable than the F-16. That would be the J-10. They won't be able to match the IAF on a 1 for 1 basis, but they'll be far more capable than an FC-1 force would be. Of course, they could always plan on sticking to the nuclear deterrent option, in which case they could justify the cheaper FC-1 as merely attrition and life-cycle replacements for their older legacy aircraft. This of course is contingent on Pakistan's actual firing off of a nuclear weapon in the event of a conflict, otherwise they'd pretty much have had it. Not that they wouldn't go down if they did start lobbing nuclear weapons around, falling themselves under the Indian counterstrike, but at least in that case they'd take India down with them. That all depends on the fortitude of the leadership in Pakistan, I guess. They had no problem taking over the nation and harboring Al Qaeda and the Taliban after ENDURING FREEDOM though, so I would think they'd have no issues with unleashing a nuclear exchange.

Now, in reality, both India and Pakistan need to learn a thing or two about actual air defense. Neither one of them has a real air defense network. India has a small edge by having numerous S-125 SAM sites around major airbases, compared to Pakistan's solitary HQ-2 site in Islamabad. An actual air defense network with a few modern, long-range SAMs like the S-300PM-1 or HQ-9 would make a lot of difference and help even things out a bit, since Indian air combat aircraft would have a new issue to contend with beyond how many FC-1s they can shoot down at range.

Personally, I think China should just back off of the FC-1 project. Granted, the cheap FC-1 represents a potential export success as a J-7/MiG-21 replacement across the globe. But there are better options. For a little more cash, a nation could have China's real fighter jet, the J-10. Dropping the FC-1 would enable Chengdu, the FC-1 and J-10 manufacturer, to concentrate more on improving and perfecting the J-10. A mixed force of J-10s and various FLANKER iterations would be a very effective combat force to replace the older Q-5s, J-7s, and J-8s. The FC-1 just doesn't have a place in the PLAAF except as a token political buy to give faith to Pakistan and other export customers. If the PLAAF truly desires a short-range fighter for point defense, to replace the J-7, then the Hongdu L-15 supersonic trainer provides a far more logical basis. For one, it keeps another type out of your inventory, cleaning up your logistics. Also, it provides an export product to take the FC-1s export niche if foreign nations cannot afford the J-10.

Remember, the FC-1 is the final iteration of a US-Chinese project in the 1980's that would have modified and updated the J-7 design to feature a large nose radar and side-mounted intakes. Tianamen Square ended that partnership, and China turned to Russia for a time for advanced fighter jets, buying Su-27SK and Su-30MKK/MK2 aircraft. At some point the Chengdu team began work on the new design, possibly with help from Mikoyan, and the FC-1 was born. However, it still represents a sub-par fighter jet, clearly targeted for less propserous buyers who can't afford top-tier kit like the J-10. It might end up with a great avionics fit, and decent Chinese weapons, but the aircraft is still not on par with the rest of the world's latest fighter aircraft. Especially the J-10 and the Su-30MKI.

So, China should give up the ghost and drop the FC-1. Yes, they view Pakistan as an ally against India. But there are other products much more suited for Pakistan, like the HQ-9 long-range SAM and the J-10 fighter jet. But that's alright, Pakistan wanted to go for the inferior product, and that's their prerogative. Maybe they just don't have the revenue to make a large enough J-10 buy, what with their lack of recent exports of nuclear technology and their love affair with the F-16.

And really, why we want to sell F-16s to a nation that is clearly neither democratic nor an actual ally (have they rounded up the Al Qaeda and Taliban remnants in Waziristan? No? Sheesh...) is beyond me. We picked the wrong ally in that fight. Better to cut ties with Pakistan and move on to a better relationship with both India and China. Perhaps increased diplomatic and economic ties with both nations could lead to a mending of fences, helping to further isolate and marginalize Pakistan.

Until they start selling nuclear technology again, of course.

Russia vs. America, Take 2

1991: The USSR loses the Cold War, and collapses.
2007: Russia wants to start it all over again.

And you thought Ali-Frazier II was a titanic rematch.

Here's a story that doesn't get near enough play in the news (doesn't involve one missing American out of a few hundred million, I guess). Let me begin with some background info for the less-informed of you out there.

As many people know, the United States is developing a missile defense system to defend against a potential ICBM attack by a rogue state like Iran or North Korea. Sounds like a plan, right? Well, we had to pull out of the ABM Treaty to put missiles into Alaska to cover the North Korean angle, and that made the Russians kinda irate. Of course, we did pull out of the treaty legally, in accordance with Article XV (that's "fifteen"). The Russians were a little distressed, fearing that a massive ABM system buildup could lead to the United States gaining a first-strike capability. They must have forgotten that the Cold War was over and neglected to realize that the prospects of the USA ever raining an ICBM salvo down on Russia are pretty much nonexistant. They also must have forgotten that they violated the treaty back in the 70's and 80's by developing the S-225 mobile ABM system, but that's another story.

Fast forward to present day. North Korea has demonstrated, through a spectacular launch failure, that their rocket scientists are not exactly world-class. What do we do next with the ABM system? We look for other rogue states that are high on the "potential future problems" list. Number one on that list is Iran. So the next logical step was to defend against an Iranian ICBM. So, we have been discussing with Poland the idea of basing an ABM site with 10 missiles inside of Poland, to counter just that sort of threat from the Middle East. Now the Russians get REALLY testy. Why? Because they claim that the ABM system is really aimed at taking out their ICBM strike capability. And that, people, is where the flawed logic comes into play on an epic scale.

Let me start by stating that I will have an MS in Space Warfare in about three months, and that I have a professional knowledge of some of these concepts outside of that, so I am not another random American orating from his posterior. Oracles like that make ME irate. Moving on.

The system in place in Alaska and proposed for Poland is the GMD, or Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. It uses a hit-to-kill vehicle to intercept ICBMs (meaning it takes a small object and slams it really fast into the missile, leading to a large explosion) during their midcourse flight stage. This is the bulk of the missile's flightpath, where it is arcing towards the target, mostly outside of the Earth's atmosphere. Now, the GMD system is claimed to have a 3500 mile range. This is likely part of the cause of Russia's irateness. There are Russian SS-19 and SS-25 ICBM sites about 500 miles from the Polish border. Looks like they have a case, right?


First off, consider that a Russian ICBM fired at the United States will travel in a northwesterly direction to come in over Canada and strike its target. This means that any GMD vehicle will have to take out the ICBM with a tail-chase shot. Now, ICBMs travel around 15,000 mph. It's pretty much impossible for the GMD system to detect a launch, get a track established to compute an intercept, and successfully take down an ICBM in a tail-chase engagement due to the massive speeds involved. Yes, Mr. Skeptic, it won't be a PURE tail-chase shot, but the GMD interceptor will have to play catch-up the whole way, and that just isn't going to happen. 1. It's not physically possible for GMD to do that. 2. GMD wasn't designed to do that in the first place, it's designed for a head-on kill shot.

Secondly, the Russians and their fanboys like to state that placing GMD in Poland is obviously intended to take out Russian missiles because it is placed so close to Russian ICBM fields, and because it's just so darn far away from Iran. Wrong again. An Iranian ICBM fired from, say, the missile silos outside of Tabriz at 37 58' 18.66" N 46 10' 40.99" E (plug that into Google Earth!) and targeted on Washington, DC, will fly a distance of around 6,000 miles. And, oh wow, will likely pass within fifty miles of the Polish capital of Warsaw if it's a straight shot, give or take a little for the deviation due to the Earth's rotation. The whole GMD in Poland thing now makes a lot more sense! You can detect a launch, set up a track, and engage with the GMD system in a nice, head-on fashion, even if the Iranian weapon takes a path a few thousand miles off to one side or the other. There went that argument. As for why isn't the system placed closer to Iran, well, you want to give yourself enough time to set up an accurate track to make sure you have optimum parameters for the intercept. Putting this thing in Turkey, for example, means you get to probably deal with the whole tail-chase concept again, which we already know isn't going to work.

So, despite the logic that says otherwise, Russia has decided to view the GMD system being placed in Poland as a threat. Their response? Talk about pulling out of treaties, developing new weapons, and whatnot. They even rebuffed Bush's idea of a joint missile defense system. Looks to me like they're determined to find an enemy to justify increased defense expenditures, but that's just me. At any rate, we're likely going to head down the road to another arms race and potentially another Cold War if cooler heads don't prevail.

Now, opponents also claim that this must be directed towards Russia as Iran has no ICBM capability as of yet. The thing is, they view the United States as a threat, and probably rightfully so. They are continuing to develop longer-ranged missiles, as is their right. If they really want to hit the USA, they need an ICBM, and there is no reason to assume they won't keep going until they get one. In this case, the United States is taking a preemptive defensive action. If Poland goes for it, there is nothing wrong with the idea. Just as Iran has the right to develop weapons, we have the right to defend ourselves. And come on people, be serious for a moment. Waiting until your enemy has a new weapon to decide to defend against it is asinine. Sometimes you have no other choice but to act in that manner. This isn't one of those times, and as such, given the preponderance of evidence that the system won't work against Russian ICBMs and the fact that America has no desire to start a nuclear war with Russia, placing GMD in Poland is the right course of action.