INDIA DEFENCE CONSULTANTS

WHAT'S HOT? ANALYSIS OF RECENT HAPPENINGS

IAF TO TAKE ON  F-16s

An IDC Report

 

New Delhi, 14 July 2004

We had posted an analysis of the excellent performance of the Indian Air Force Pilots in Cope India 04 and here is another testimonial from Pittsburg, USA as 16 Indian Jaguars with 2 IL 78s and 2 IL 76s at the Elson Air Base in Alaska are all set to show their prowess and pit themselves against advanced Air Forces like those of USA, UK and Singapore.

Indian Mirage-2000 and Sukhoi-30 multi-role jets are also set to match their combat skills with the F-16 fighter aircraft. No, the IAF is not going to fly across the border and take on the F-16s of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). The IAF fighter aircraft, instead, are now all set to hold a joint exercise with the F-16s of the Singapore Air Force at Gwalior in September-October, say sources. The IAF has been desperate to size up the F-16s ever since Pakistan acquired them from the US in the mid-1980s. IAF officers were, in fact, quite keen that US field the F-16 Falcons during the 'Cope India-04' joint Indo-US exercise held in Gwalior in February. But, in the end, the USAF took part with F-15C Eagles, disappointing many officers. "The details are still being worked out for the exercise with Singapore. Their aircraft will also practice live bombing missions at Pokhran," sources said. Incidentally, Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong was in New Delhi last week to strengthen bilateral ties, including finalisation of a mutual legal assistance treaty on criminal matters.

India can well be proud of its Top Guns.

Junior Warrant Officer Kumar attaches a bomb pod to the bottom of a GR-1 Jaguar at EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska. The Indian air force is just one group participating in Cooperative Cope Thunder 04-01 which began on July 15.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

 

Is New Military Fighter Jet Already Out Of Date?

By Jack Kelly

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In a joint exercise in February, U.S. Air Force pilots flying the top U.S. fighter, the F-15C, got chewed up by Indian military pilots flying new, and not so new, Russian fighter planes.

The Air Force won't disclose exactly how the mock engagements turned out, but Gen. Hal Hornburg, head of Air Combat Command, said afterward, "We may not be as far ahead of the rest of the world as we once thought we were."

Part of the reason for the strong Indian performance could have been superior training, Air Force officials acknowledged. But the main reason, they said, was that the F-15C, first fielded in 1979, is showing its age.

"The major takeaway for the Air Force is that our prediction of needing to replace the F-15 with the F-22 is proving out as we get smarter about other countries' capabilities," said Col. Mike Snodgrass, commander of the Air Force fighters that took part in the exercise with the Indian pilots. "We've taken the F-15 about as far as we can and it's now time to move on to the next generation."

Critics acknowledge that the F-22 is far and away the finest airplane of its type ever built. But they say its primary purpose -- to shoot down enemy fighters and protect ground troops -- is a mission that is vanishing.

The long-gloried, dog-fighting fighter plane might soon be obsolete, they argue, thanks to the proliferation of highly accurate surface-to-air missiles that can shoot them down and to advances in drone, cruise-missile and bomber technologies that can better perform their offensive missions. They see the F-22 and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, another new plane the Air Force is working on, as classic examples of weapons designed in one era that are no longer relevant by the time they are ready for action.

"Our existing capabilities are overwhelming," said retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, who now teaches international relations at Boston University. "We are purchasing for billions and billions of dollars capability we don't really need. At least some of the money would be better spent on systems relevant to the struggle we are in now."

One thing that happened in the war in Afghanistan, and another thing that didn't, have military experts like Bacevich doubting that the Air Force needs the F-22 or the F-35 -- at least not in the quantities the Air Force is seeking.

What happened was that thanks to the accuracy of satellite-guided bombs, the venerable B-52 bomber could provide close air support to ground troops from high in the sky. Bombers are now superior to fighters in that role because they can carry a larger amount and a greater variety of ordnance, and can stay on station longer.

What didn't happen was Air Force fighters playing a major role in the Afghan war. There were no air bases close enough to Afghanistan from which they could operate, and no Afghan planes capable of challenging U.S. air superiority.

The difficulty in obtaining foreign basing rights and an aging tanker fleet mean there are many possible situations in which Air Force fighters could not make a timely response, said retired Army Lt. Col. Andrew Krepinovich, now head of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, D.C., and retired Air Force Col. John Warden, who planned the air campaign in the first Gulf war.

In addition, Krepinovich and Warden said, overseas bases need to be protected against terrorist attacks and are lucrative targets for short- and medium-range surface-to-surface missiles.

"It's not clear that there are countries out there salivating to take on the U.S. Air Force in air-to-air combat," Krepinovich said. "You would have to invest an enormous amount of money over a protracted period of time in order to take on the American Air Force. If we are faced with a more conventional enemy, what would make sense for them is to invest in missile forces. That's what you see countries like North Korea and Iran doing."

Future combat aircraft should be very fast and able to operate over a very long range, Warden said. The F-22 is fast but it can't travel far, he said.

Its relatively short range is illustrative of the consequences the come from the extraordinary length of time it takes to get new airplanes from the drawing board to the field, Warden said.

"I got a briefing on the F-22 prototype when I was at Bitburg [Air Force Base in Germany] in 1986," he said. "I told [the contractors] that it sounded like a swell airplane, but they shouldn't base it here, because Bitburg wouldn't be open long once a war [with the Soviet Union] started. They should base it in England, I said.

"They said they couldn't, because one of the specifications for the F-22 was that it fit in a NATO generation shelter. And if it were small enough to fit in a NATO shelter, it wouldn't have enough range to strike targets in Eastern Europe if it were based in England."

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The F-22 won't be operational until 2005. But it's already been crippled by a requirement to fit into a shelter that is no longer being used, against an enemy that no longer exists, Warden said.

The Air Force is trying to give the F-22 more relevance by calling it a fighter attack aircraft and has designed a special 250 lb. explosive -- the small diameter bomb -- for it to carry.

The small diameter bomb will have both satellite and close-in guidance systems, so it will be able to strike within 10 feet of a target from 60 miles away, said Jake Swinson, public affairs officer for the Air Force Armaments Division. The current satellite-guided bomb that can be dropped by long-range bombers at high altitude, the JDAM, is designed to strike within about 40 feet of its target, although it's doing much better than that in combat, Swinson said.

Swinson acknowledged that the technology going into the small diameter bomb also could be applied to the larger bombs that other fighters and bombers can carry, but that the F-22 cannot.

The Air Force has a "minimum requirement" for 381 F-22s at an estimated cost of $72 billion. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps plan to spend $200 billion more on the F-35, which won't be fielded before 2007. In addition, the Navy plans to spend $51 billion to acquire 460 F/A -18 Super Hornets, an upgraded version of a fighter bomber designed in the 1970s.

Warden said the Air Force should cancel the F-35, buy only 100 F-22s and challenge the aerospace industry to develop within five years a hypersonic bomber that could strike targets anywhere in the world from bases in the United States.

"Why go out and buy an airplane that is significantly behind the technology that's available?" Warden said. "Nobody has challenged the aerospace industry for a long time."

The Air Force currently has no plans to build a new bomber before 2037, although that is being re-thought in the wake of events in Afghanistan.

Fighters have played an important role in Iraq, where they have roamed virtually unchallenged. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have permitted U.S. and British fighters to operate from bases nearby, and Iraq is close to an ocean, from which Navy fighters can operate. But if a crisis erupts far from an ocean where neighboring countries will not cooperate, U.S. fighters could prove of little value.

Gen. Richard Hawley said in a magazine interview in 2001, when he was commander of Air Combat Command, that fighter bombers wouldn't be much use in dealing with some of the most dangerous threats to the United States, such as renewed Russian aggression toward Europe, a Chinese threat to its neighbors or a threat from Iran.

"The common challenge posed by all these threats is strategic depth..." Hawley said. "A bomber-centric attack force has much more relevance in all these scenarios."

Loren Thompson, an analyst for the Lexington Institute, a think tank funded chiefly by defense contractors, said the results of the Cope India exercise make it plain that the Air Force needs a new fighter. And Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Calif., a former naval aviator, is a big fan of the F-22 Raptor.

"I had the opportunity to fly against the F-22," he said. "The only way I could catch it in my F-15, even in full afterburner, was in a turn. The F-22 is an amazingly capable fighter that is going to insure America's air superiority in the years ahead."

Thompson figures that "without air superiority, we can't do anything else." But he conceded that "you can probably do without hundreds of lower-end fighters."

Krepinovich, on the other side of the argument, made a concession, as well. He acknowledged that the Air Force probably should develop a small, "silver bullet" force of F-22s.

"It has an intimidation effect," he said. "It tells the rest of the word: don't even bother challenging the U.S. in air superiority."

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