Wednesday, September 30, 2009

USAF's Near Ridiculous Push for Unmanned Cargo Aircraft

USAF just put out an RFI for an unmanned cargo aircraft. The specifications are: 500-3,000 lbs, 500 nautical miles, 250 knots, V/STOL up to 300 feet runway, etc, etc.

As I see it, that's a pretty ridiculous set of specifications for an unmanned aircraft. If you're going to have a payload of up to 3,000 lbs, you have room for a pilot. The USAF could use a commercial off-the-shelf prop-driven aircraft that would meet all of the specs (other than the unmanned part). They could spend the money saved on a strapped-down auto-pilot unit, later, that could fly the plane. Voila, immediate capability in the field! This is the USAF re-inventing the wheel the USAF-way.

Speaking of re-inventing the wheel, here is a blast from the past: The Soviet Antonov-2 biplane cargo aircraft. 3,000 lb, check [4,700lb "useful load"]. 500 nautical miles, check [456 nm, almost there]. V/STOL, check [30 miles per hour stall speed.] 250 knots, no [139 kn max].

Wiki quotes a serviceable An-2 at $30,000. That is probably cheaper than the salary we paid the USAF people during their RFI preparation.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Thoughts & Re-Thoughts on the Afghanistan Campaign

Since Afghanistan is in the news lately, with the McChrystal report to the President, everybody is talking about Afghanistan, again. I guess I need to join the fray, too. I do not have much new to contribute to the current strategic debate, other than my earlier proposal to focus on refugee camps as an alternative, economy-of-force, population-centric tactic. We do not have the resources to save every Afghan, not to the standards we want. We need to focus on the ones we can help, and build a refuge that people can turn to. A refugee camp, which is self-sustaining (a place that gives inhabitants the means to make money and feed themselves, and allows them to organize themselves to administer shared resources), will give the displaced Afghans a place to live, and oppressed Afghans a place to go to.

In addition, such a refugee camp will provide a wealth of human intelligence for the Coalition.

In 2007, I asked the commanding general of the Joint Contracting Command-Iraq/Afghanistan about their plans for civilian "internally displaced people"; he said there was none. It was a Department of State mission, and the US military is authorized only to assist when State asks. At the time, State didn't ask, so the military didn't prepare. Luckily for the Iraqi people, Iraq kind of sorted itself out. However, Afghanistan is still a wreck. If the military really wants to "win" Afghanistan, then they need to break down the bureaucratic walls and seize this mission for themselves. We can't wait for State to get its acts together.

[Perhaps, with Hilary Clinton in charge, the State Department will do something about this. However, they do not have the money in FY2010 to do this mission. The latest they can is FY2011, and we do not have a year to wait.]

The current Afghanistan strategic debate has two levels: Build the Country vs Disrupt the Insurgents, and Top-down vs Bottom-up. Obviously, we need to go with the Bottom-up strategy, which unfortunately has not been in vogue with the Nation-State-Centric Paradigm crowd. I personally would prefer that we build the Afghanistan state; but that's not realistic, so I'm settling w/ the Disrupt the Insurgent camp.

In terms of strategic location, Afghanistan is in an interesting location. It borders Iran, Pakistan, and China, and close to India, all four states of interest to the US. A US presence in Afghanistan can thus influence nearby events. The only problem is that it is expensive to sustain our presence there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Honduras: The Drama Continues

Heard on the news today that Zelaya is back in Honduras, holding out at the Brazilian Embassy. Brazil's Lula is calling for a peaceful solution to the crisis. Yes, that would be waiting for the planned December elections! Why can't people just wait three more months?!

But anyway, this embassy standoff will be revealing on Brazilian embassies' preparedness procedures. It appears that the Brazilian embassy was not prepared for Zelaya's appearance nor the subsequent standoff. Now that the utilities have been cut off, the embassy has to rely on its stored supplies.

In general, without previous preparation, people can hardly hold out for more than three days. So if the embassy can hold out for more than three days, we can conclude that Brazil has a quite robust preparedness protocol for its embassies. That would be an interesting indicator on Brazil's worldview in general.

Friday, September 18, 2009


USAF's Chief of Staff, Gen Schwartz, has signalled his support for the air-launched missile defense concepts. This is good for missile defense. Additionally, the USAF will have an option to improve its air-to-air capability.

As I have talked about before, the USAF needs new air-to-air missiles to make up for F-35's inferior capabilities. Raytheon's NCADE and Lockheed's ALHTK will nicely address the shortfalls.

NCADE will give the AIM-120 an infrared seeker option. This will address the seeker diversity problem USAF and USN faces. NCADE's booster stage will also extend the range or improve AIM-120's kinematics. Even if NCADE does not pan out, Raytheon can quickly leverage its results into AIM-120 improvements.

ALHTK will introduce new missiles into USAF inventory, if NCADE doesn't pan out. PAC-3's radar seeker operates on a different band from AIM-120, so that will complicate threat jamming efforts. THAAD's IR seeker will address seeker diversity.

If air-launched missile defense progresses beyond the study stage, hopefully BAE will bring on its Meteor in the competition.

May the best missile win!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Army Combat Uniforms: the Nth Go-Around

Matthew Cox of the Army Times reported that two US Army battalions are going to Afghanistan with alternate camouflage patterns, to satisfy Rep. Murtha's congressional inquiry over the Army's "universal camouflage pattern". One battalion will wear Multi-Cam, while another will wear "UCP-Delta".

The UCP-Delta is so unique that I have to use a picture in this blog, for the first time ever!

A few observations:
1.) It took the Army more than 5 years to admit that the UCP is not universal enough.
2.) It took a Congressional mandate for the Army to admit it was wrong.
3.) We will probably end up with the UCP-Delta because it would be too expensive and too humiliating to go with the more versatile Multi-Cam.
4.) How the UCP came into being is still a mystery to most of us.
5.) At least this clothing mistake is way cheaper than the Future Combat System.
The picture came from DefenseTech.
PS: 6.) The big Army will have a reason to strip the Assymmetric Warfare Group, Rangers, Special Forces, and Delta of their Multi-Cam. That non-uniformity of these special people just makes their non-conformity that much more of an eyesore for the brass.
PSS: reduced picture size.

Attack: Helicopter vs OV-10

It's nice to see the return of the OV-10. I know that it's an Army fad to have a fleet of anti-tank helicopters. Hell, we even convinced the Russians and the Chinese to build such a fleet. However, pound for pound, and dollar for dollar, an attack helicopter is much less capable than a light attack aircraft. All armies would be better served to relegate their anti-tank mission to light attack aircrafts.

In terms of the runway requirement, the modern attack helicopter company occupies such a large area that it is simple to plop a runway down the middle. If you think about the payload of an AH-64 (about 2 tons), it is a ridiculously expensive platform for the payload. This article summarizes many of the advantages of a light attack aircraft over an attack helicopter.

The reason the Americans started down the road of an attack helicopter fad, was because the Key West agreement took away the Army's fixed-wing attack aircrafts. So the political agreement steered the Army into the rotary wing CAS alternative. For some reason (maybe Fire Bird?) this political compromise became an international military fad, still going strong. The Israeli have one; the Russians have 3; the Chinese and the Indians are working on it.

This fad proves that groupthink will transcend bureaucratic boundaries. It is so sad it is scary.