Air Power Focus
There is no scenario we see – where NATO comes out on top in a military confrontation with Russia at this point in history. Perhaps in the late 1970s to the mid-1980s…but not now. Geographically (and therefore geopolitically) the NATO of 1987 is not the NATO of today. Not only would it be a war that no one wants – it would be the beginning of the end for NATO – as the brink of hostilities, will fracture the alliance.
In a very real sense, NATO faces almost an asymmetric threat when discussing a confrontation with Russia. But it is not asymmetric in the traditional understanding of the term. And it is not something that can be corrected easily – if at all – giving the inertia of US weapon programs and how things work at the DoD, so please keep reading. Below two F-22A and one KC-135 fly to Lithuania from Romania to show political support for an expanded NATO. The KC-135 is part of the 100th Air Refuel Wing, out of RAF Mildenhall, in the UK. Russia has already encountered the Raptor over Syria.
The mighty Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird as seen from its air-refueling tanker. The SR-71 was known to her pilots as ‘Habu’ the spy planes spectacular flight performance was matched only by an equally spectacular high rate of fuel consumption.
A typical ten (10) hour mission for a single SR-71 could see no less than fourteen (14) in-flight refueling tankers aloft and on station, to support the Blackbirds Mach 3+ acceleration runs.
As the events in Ukraine demonstrate – declining American power and influence that includes NATO military capability – is now vividly on display. Far from the ‘End of History’ – rather it is the End of the American Century. In our view, America’s slide accelerated starting in the 1980s.
In the area of aerospace, near the end of the Soviet Union, Russia began to make significant gains with three programs that would at first counter and then usher in – the swansong for American/NATO air power power-projection.
These programs included the MiG-31 ‘Foxhound‘ interceptor series, the GSKB Almaz-Antey S-300/400/500/1000 Surface to Air Missile system series, and the Sukhoi Design Bureau Su-27/30/33/35 advanced ‘Flanker’ fighter series. These three systems more than any others represent insurmountable issues for Pentagon/NATO air power – today – and for the next 30 to 40 years.
Russia would represent a peer adversary. ISIS/L, the Taliban, Gaddafi, Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, and Bashar al-Assad – do not constitute peer adversaries. Russia maintains a long history of continuous improvement and optimization of existing systems. This also keeps costs – down.
[Above / Below] The MiG-31 (Микоян МиГ-31) (NATO name: Foxhound) was a quantum leap for Russian air defenses. The downing of Francis Gary Powers Lockheed U2 over the Soviet Union in 1960 (flying from Pakistan to Norway), forced a reassessment of the American Strategic Air Command (SAC) high altitude doctrine. It would be decided that a LOW altitude penetration doctrine was the answer. This change would eventually produce another Soviet response. Particularly with the development of the American B-1 bomber and cruise missiles, Russian authorities would issue a new requirement for an aircraft that could also counter low-flying threats, with long range, AND be free of GCI limitations. One result was the MiG-31 (Микоян МиГ-31) Foxhound. The Mig-31 is the first aircraft in the world to take what is effectively a ground-based SAM (phased array radar) system and design it for airborne usage in an armed fighter. This large, heavy, and powerful radar system on Foxhound is called ‘Zaslon.’
Any suggestion that Foxhound was originally conceived as an offensive machine would be a Western misinterpretation. The MiG-31 was designed to replace obsolete 1950s era interceptors including (below) the massive Tupolev Tu-128/28 (Ту-128) NATO code name: ‘Fiddler’ long-range interceptor. In the photo below note the size of the man walking on tarmac. Russian air space is simply enormous. Ultra long-range high-endurance aircraft are required – as the size of Fiddler attests.
[Above] The Fiddler remain today – the largest fighter-interceptor aircraft ever built and fielded. Western defense analysts (especially in the United States) have a long history of misinterpretation of Soviet/Russian military aircraft, their technology, and pilot proficiency. This misinterpretation issue persists even today.
The introduction of the MiG-31 had effectively put an end to the American SR-71 reconnaissance flights of the Soviet Union by the late 1980s. The MiG-31 employs an IRST (called ‘OMB’ optical multi-functional apparatus) passive IR sensor that cannot be jammed.
The SR-71 was repeatedly intercepted by Russian MiG-31 aircraft in the late 80s. Lockheed had no answer to Foxhound R-33 missiles using OMB targeting. The Blackbird fleet was soon retired.
[Below] The S-400 SAM series represent an entirely new generation of very advanced mobile Russian Surface to Air Missile systems. Many believe the S-300/400/500/1000 series to be THE most lethal SAM systems in the world.
[Below] Promotional video from the manufacturer (in English). We can’t vouch for its accuracy – however, one can get an idea of the sophistication and complexity put into these systems. Regarding NATO power-projection – these new class of Russian mobile SAM systems are big (big) trouble.
Lockheed’s F-22A and F-35 can have no tangible effect on this shift.
[Above] F-22A during actual operational missions require the use of non-stealthy external drop tanks. The Russian Flanker and MiG-31 have yet to be observed using additional external fuel tanks. True the F-22 can jettison these tanks for “stealth” – but there is no guarantee it can get to a friendly air-tanker on the trip home in a peer adversary environment. Short-range aircraft utterly reliant on in-flight refueling – remains the Achilles heel of NATO and American fighter fleets. This problem is far (far) more pervasive and acute – than has been revealed to people.
That NATO currently might field more combat aircraft than Russia misses the point entirely. The three Russian systems discussed here put at risk NATO’s core assets – and the backbone of NATOs power projection doctrine – these are NATOs AWACS command/control aircraft, and in particular, the NATO air-tanker fleet.
[Above] The backbone of American/ NATO power projection is represented here. Its command and control aircraft and especially its air-to-air refueling tankers. If they are unable to affect the battle because they are lost to – or simply harassed by – Russian aircraft and/or air-defenses – the war for the Americans and NATO – is over.
Not only that – but both Foxhound and the Flanker have unrefueled combat radius and flight endurance that far exceed any fighter in Western inventories. This gives MiG-31 and Flanker series unprecedented tactical flexibility.
If NATO is a collective defensive organization why the need for an expanded endurance and power projection? Think about it. NATO has now “recognized” is doesn’t have enough air tankers. Why the shift regarding power-projection? This is because NATO is effectively an American entity. Also, operation Unified Protector revealed one of the very issues this writing discusses. However, what is also true – is Russian apprehension regarding military-block expansion up to its borders. The more NATO pushes for air-tankers the greater it plays into the Kremlin argument. Expect the number of air tankers NATO may possess to be part of future arms control negotiations between Moscow and Washington.
The idea that Ukraine is to become part of NATO is reckless and dangerous. Ukraine has had insufficient history with democratic institutions and also has not learned from the Budapest Memorandum that the Americans (among other signatories) are not to be trusted. Ukraine joining NATO will only increase the probability of a direct confrontation with Russia.
The United States is now going to war (asserting a sphere of influence) in Iraq (against ISIS) as a result of a weak-derisive central al-Maliki government in Baghdad. Ukraine’s situation is similar. After the fall of the USSR, Ukraine devolved into a non-functional state with a ruined economy (thanks no less to a toxic shove from the Americans in the form of yet another Wall-Street Crash in 2008-2009). Indeed, we predicted in the summer of 2014: “If Kiev proceeds with austerity measures – we doubt the modern state of Ukraine will survive the end of the year.” There are also powerful entrenched interests in Ukraine who want to protect their current Kleptocracy.
Allowing Wall-Street to help propel Ukraine into an economic crisis – is neither “American Leadership” nor is it underwriting global stability and security. Ukraine’s economy had completely imploded during the crash 08-09. Crimea was even worse. People looking for a better life elsewhere that includes taking up arms – as a result – is not unknown to history. Besides the Ukrainian central government has already cutoff pension payments to pensioners’ in separatists areas in the east. So Kiev is not seeking unification anyway. Ukraine simply is not important enough in the larger strategic context to shred our relationship with Russia over. “Imagine the outrage in Washington if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico in it. ” History tells us a shooting war with Russia will not go well for the NATO-alliance and will serve no useful purpose. Neither did it for the most powerful militaries in their day: Napoleon and the Panzer armies.
This NATO deployment on the Russian border is reckless, blustering swagger to impress Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Kiev, while causing circa 1987 members apprehension. The idea that the US is to go to war with Russia to protect these countries – would never be accepted by the American public and key NATO members. Thankfully the White House does not appear interested (yet?) in calls for ‘lethal’ military assistance to Kiev. The Kremlin would simply counter any such move with ever more sophisticated weaponry.
NATO and Sweden will improve their situation somewhat when they beginning fielding the European designed ‘Meteor’ long-range missile beginning in 2015. Meteor is similar to the American AIM-120 (terminal active-homing class) but with range of over 100km. Meteor rounds will still be vulnerable to friendly-mid-course-update data-burst detection and counter measure by adversary. Under actual combat conditions we expect Meteor firings to be closer to 1/2 to 1/3 of published range.
[Above/Below] Su-30SM of the RuAF. The Su-27/30/35 series of aircraft are a ‘orders of magnitude’ leap for Russia. Designed to counter the F-14, F-15, F-16 and F/A-18 – the Flanker is so obviously superior to Western designs that assertions to the contrary – frankly strain credibility. We believe Flanker to be the most significant combat aircraft – in the world – in the last 70 years.
The aircraft’s range without extra fuel tanks categorizes Flanker and a strategic platform. NATO can field nothing of the sort. This capability is unique and was a function of USSR vast airspace of some 11 time zones.
Some suggest that Russian pilots lack the flight and training hours to match Western aircrews. If the unmarked Russian forces that appeared in Crimea are any indication (and we think it should be) then this too has changed.
[Above] Russian air-to-air super-long range anti-AWACS weapon called K-100 or KS-172. There isn’t much known about these weapons – but their intent is clear. [Below] The Vympel R-73 AA-11 NATO name ‘Archer’ series would be a nasty shock to Western analysts. Its exceptional maneuverability is exceeded only by its lethality – as the missile can be directed by a connection to the pilot’s helmet. So wherever pilot looks – that’s where the missile goes. With the appearance of the R73 – the West has been playing catch-up for 20+ years.
When introduced in mid-1980s, even a small number of R-73s would have had strategic implications. After encountering the R-73 (the later version of the MiG-23 could also employ the weapon) in the first days of hostilities – NATO aircrews would have been forced into ‘BVR-and-run’ combat tactics, anytime Soviet aircraft were encountered – because NATO aircrews would not know which Russian aircraft had R-73s – and which did not. Kill ratios for BVR will not exceed 50% of total weapons fired. So other words, if six (6) missile rounds are exhausted – no more (no more) that three (3) might (might) hit their targets. This response to the R-73 threat is therefore, incompatible with NATO air supremacy.
By the mid-1980s the introduction of helmet-sighting with the R-73 by the Soviets (especially employed on MiG-29 and Su-27) had war broken out – would have inflicted losses on NATO aircraft in a manner as to totally alter NATO aircrew tactics – as force the West into a political settlement to end the fighting. NATO was to have no idea how good some Soviet equipment had become until German reunification.
Russia would represent a peer adversary. ISIS/L, the Taliban, Gaddafi, Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, and Bashar al-Assad – do not constitute peer adversaries.
[Above/Below] Su-27SM2 and Su-27SM3.
A peer adversary means – after 10 days NATO has no air tankers or AWACS assets that can affect the battle. No drones or satellite guided munitions either (as these signals will be jammed or thwarted in orbit).
[Above/Below] The Su-35S. The astonishing handling of the baseline Su-27 has been vastly improved on Su-35S with the addition of independent fully-articulating 3-D thrust-vectoring engines.
Without air tankers and AWACS, America/NATO can no longer power project and will not risk forward base deployments deemed too vulnerable to attack. NATO is resigned to its long-range bomber force with own targeting capability and/or long-range air-breathing guided munitions [like cruise missiles] that have internal inertial navigation. So for NATO – the war is over.
[Above] Russians new PAK-FA / T-50 fighter is under development however its future is far from certain. As with anything as complex as fighter aircraft design and as the Russians have learned all too well – it is easy to ‘make it worse.’ In our view, the Russians are experimenting with some stealth concepts and using the T-50 program as a technology development vehicle. They freely admit the design exhibits an array of compromises not advantageous for a fighter (outward pilot visibility is worse than Flanker). We predict if (if) fielded the T-50 to only supplement Russia’s current fighter fleet. Also, keep in mind Russia has a long history of keeping weapon system costs – down.
This NOVA documentary raises a some interesting questions. One being – who is the better disciple of air-combat history? Russia or the West? (American narration):
[Below] Another documentary of American aircrews training against Luftwaffe flown Russian fighters (acquired by Germany after reunification) during ‘Red October.’ What one comes away with is whatever NATO military superiority exists (if it exists at all) is far more tenuous than is understood by (or communicated to) Western policy makers.
This false understanding of the substance and risks by Western leaders can produce (and has produced) exceedingly dangerous geopolitical calculus as we believe unrestrained and expansion of NATO to Russian borders – demonstrates.
[Below] Su-30M2 of the RuAF.
During a previous ceasefire in Ukraine, thousands of eastern Ukrainian families streamed into Russia vowing never to return to Ukraine. This point has been forgotten from Western reporting and in US/NATO statements. This omission is either intended to shape public opinion or indicates a poor grasp of the facts. While we do not condone Russian methods in its acquisition of Crimea and its involvement with separatists in eastern Ukraine – an honest discussion how we got here – would be best.
We need an immediate ceasefire. Ukraine is not important enough in the larger strategic context, to shred our relationship with Russia over.
– All media found here is for scholarship and research purposes and protected under U.S. Internet ‘Fair Use’ Law –
Posted 1 week ago by obrescia
See details of F-16C/D: HERE
See details of F-18E/F: HERE
See details of F-15E: HERE
See details of F-35: HERE
See details of F-22: HERE
See details of MiG-29SMT: HERE
See details of MiG-35: HERE
See details of MiG-31: HERE
See details of Su-30: HERE
See details of Su-35: HERE
See details of PAK FA (T-50): HERE
Note: Not including European fighters