Monday, June 27, 2011

How can the RAAF fast-mover community avoid being an overly expensive flying club?

Charting out any kind of an air power roadmap for Australia has to go with the idea that anything is possible if you are willing to lower your expectations.

There was a very good plan submitted to government with the F-111 and F-22. That opportunity is now over. And, with that, so too goes the possibility of fielding anything other than a second-tier air arm that will still need F-22s deployed by the U.S. to deter any large threats.

What kind of fighter aircraft do we have today? What kind are available for the future?

First, we need to bring something close to long-range strike back into our ability. The replacement for this won’t have quite the range of the F-111 that was retired prematurely.

Along with that, our plan for air-launched stand-off weapons needs to be re-evaluated.

And then there is the attitude of how we do long-range strike. First, any ship or submarine will always be a sub-standard solution for using long-range strike as a deterrent. Any aircraft can drop a stand-off weapon within hours and return to base for more; rinse and repeat. A submarine or ship cannot do this on a strategically useful scale.

Defence made the decision to get the JASSM cruise missile. This system has some problems in a number of areas yet we may just have to accept it as a “good enough” solution. The goal of the JASSM was to be an “affordable” weapon around $400K U.S. per war-shot. What happened for the U.S. is that (not counting research and development) it has ended up being a weapon over $1 million U.S. each.

So if the targeting and fusing issues with this weapon get solved, that is what Australia is looking at for an air-launched cruise missile. A huge problem here is that Defence wants to drop this weapon from the short-legged Hornet family. There has to be another way.

Australia should consider getting a squadron of 24 F-15E strike eagles. This aircraft as sold to Korea and Singapore (convenient allies to joint exercise with) has a lot of range and capability. Here is a look at the specifications for the Korean F-15. It could carry the JASSM a long way. It could also carry the HARM and SLAM-ER a long way. The HARM and SLAM-ER are currently not in the Australian inventory but would make a nice compliment in strike capability. HARM, while not used by the USAF F-15s, is cleared on this aircraft. There are even menu setups in the USAF aircraft; just that the HARM mission is not on their training schedule.

How would we pay for a squadron of F-15s and their associated weapons and support? Easy. First ; by using money slated for the F-35. The F-35 has no tactical relevance for Australia. The F-15 would replace F-18s in one of the current squadrons. This would also allow the RAAF to retire its worst (in age and sustainment problems) legacy F-18s.

The idea that the RAAF needs only one kind of fighter sounds nice, but given that the F-35 plan causes more problems than it attempts to solve, a proper fix means this is just not going to happen.

What other air power assets does Australia need today? Predator/Reaper class UAVs. This would be to have a better surveillance over our waters to the North. This would allow us to have a better tactical picture of illegal boat traffic near Christmas Island and other locales. It would also give extra eyes to our P-3s and other patrol assets.

Next, Australia needs to get involved in performing a study to stand up a squadron of Avenger UCAVs and if possible, the UCAS-N class of UCAVs planned by the U.S Navy. These can also be given strike instructions from aircraft like the F-15 and Wedgetail-or even the Super Slow Hornet. A warning about UAV; they still have a higher mishap rate than manned aircraft. A balance has to be reached in this respect.

The above layer of UAVs would provide excellent IRS for not only Australia but a coalition effort. With good sound thinking, this can be not only affordable but practical.

Any sensible decision maker has inherited a mess with the fast-mover RAAF road map that is for sure. Working our way out of that mess and becoming something other than a very expensive flying club will be the challenge.


Distiller said...

Why do I have the feeling that you desire a strategic strike capability?

Then look at a BGM-109G look-a-like land based cruise missile, and targeting by UAV. That'd give range and punch. And it should be well within Australia's capabilities to build a modern LO version of the BGM-109G, if you can't buy it.

Anonymous said...

the storm shadow and KEPD-350 are both LO (or VLO). the former has a range of ~300, the latter of >500km.
that's a bit less then the tomahawk, but wouldn't be they restricted to the MCTR?

on the other hand, a force of tomahawks is primarily an offensive weapon and very good at that, so that would make your neighbours very unhappy (read: tensions, arms race, even preemptive strike if the shit hits the fan).

Traitorsgate said...

Avoid being an overly expensive flying club? The RAAF has been that for some time now, even before the retirement of the F-111. Since 9/11 Australia has had two Governments representing both sides of the political spectrum both of which have demonstrated an alarming lack of foresight into where Australia should be headed vis-à-vis big ticket Defense purchases.

Combine that with a general unwillingness from both aforementioned Political parties to really get in and get their hands dirty when supporting the latest 'US Foreign Policy Exercise'. As a consequence this leaves Australia in a position that is akin to being likened to the girls with pom poms on the sideline cheering on 'their men' as they run onto the field.

Until Australia is represented by a Government with a clear view of where Defense should be directed then the 'headless chicken' approach is likely to continue at least until latest big ticket 'wet dream' becomes a political hot potato that gets the Government of the time booted out of Office.

Mike M. said...

If Australia is really interested in unmanned maritime surveillance aircraft, buy into BAMS.

Bonza said...

Australia is planning on buying both Tomahawks and an extensive standoff weapons suite. We already have JASSM as Eric pointed out and we have JSOW too, with the Rhinos. In future years I can see Australia getting -ER variants f each weapon.

The Tomahawks are going onto the Air Warfare Destroyers, Future Frigates and the replacement submarines, if they ever eventuate. What sort of war stock we'll have is unknown but even a frontline holding of Tomahawks equipping up to 8-10 vessels at sea at any one time would provide around 100 weapons, a number that provides a pretty formidable precision standoff strike capability and one that is politically attractive to a politician as it incurs no risk of blue force casualties and the current versions are pretty accurate.

I can see a future Australian Government becoming more inclined to use missiles such as a Tomahawk or some other long ranged missile of a similar ilk as a strategic panacea in future years. Not necessarily a good thing, mimicking the Clinton years of limited missile strikes which did nothing to really address any problems and in fact in all reality made the world a more dangerous place...

ELP said...

For the RAN, putting Tomahawks on ships only works for a low threat environment. Since there is no plan for regional air supremacy those ships will only be targets. Note also that the USN has an obsolete air wing against large threats too. So, no help there. You also need some form of air supremacy so enemy ASW aircraft don't operate whereever they want. Looks like no help there either.