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Military Transformation Uplink: April 2006

| 6 Comments | 5 TrackBacks
Military Transformation Collage

Militaries around the world are moving to modernize and transform themselves to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Our mission is to deliver a monthly cross-section of relevant, on-target stories, news, and analysis that will help experts and interested laypeople alike stay up to speed on key military developments and issues. Stories are broken down by military category and presented as fast bullet points that orient you quickly, with accompanying links if you wish to pursue more in-depth treatments.

Some of This Month's Targets of Opportunity Include: UAV plans; killer drone swarms; WALRUS mega-blimp extict?; Russian airlift for NATO; Hydras and Hellfire; space challenges; Secret weapon: two-way radios; Nano-sensors; Fighter jets as battlefield surveillance - brilliant or dumb?; money-saving supercarriers?; Littoral Combat Ships; Missile defense updates; Energy conservation now a Pentagon issue.

Your editors Murdoc and Joe Katzman present this monthly briefing as part of a team that includes professional publications Defense Industry Daily, Military.com's DefenseTech, and eDefense Online. To contact us with story tips, email transformation, over here @windsofchange dot net.

AIR & SPACE SECTOR

  • DID covered the U.S. Defense Department's Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Planning Task Force's "Unmanned Systems Roadmap 2005-2030" back in August 2005. It has been followed by "The U.S. Air Force Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Strategic Vision" [USAF release | PDF format], which is not directive in nature. Instead, it lays out a broad vision and provides recommendations for how one would manage the operation, integration, and purchase of a wide variety of UAVs.
  • You want drones? How about a swarm of 600? Meet Boeing's Air Dominator and the Just In Time Strike Augmentation (JITSA) concept.
  • The WALRUS program was a DARPA effort to produce a hybrid blimp/aircraft. The 2008 demonstrator vehicle would lift aim to 30 tons (50% more than a C-130 Hercules) and need little runway. The final version would lift 500-1000 tons, or 1-2 million pounds, and could change warfare if it worked. Yet Congress removed funding for the early-stage R&D project, without ever giving a reason why. DID is puzzled by this decision, given recent combat complaints about the lack of suply options for short runways, and fuel cost concerns that are supposedly rising at the Pentagon.
  • NATO recently updated a lease agreement for 6 Russian AN-124 'Ruslan' aircraft, whose 150 tonne (330,000 pound) capacity exceeds even the US C-5 Galaxy's. DID describes the arrangement, the plane, and the potential for further buys of the C-5 Galaxy's commercially successful competitor.
  • Speaking of the F-14, why build swing-wings when you can build morphing airframes? Talk about "variable geometry".
  • Last month, we covered the "Hellfire Jr." laser guidance add-on kit for the smaller, more widely used, and less-expensive Hydra-70 rocket. DID covers the APKWS II ("Hellfire Jr.") competition and looks how the long-standing Hydra rocket program went from "headed for cutbacks" to a resurgent program that could be a big factor in future wars.
  • The inaugural flight of SpaceX's two-stage Falcon-1 rocket ended in failure on March 24, 2006, as the rocket and its satellite payload was lost just after liftoff. DID explains what went wrong (with photos), and notes that Falcon-1 has implications for the US military's "Operationally Responsive Space" concept.

C4SI DIMENSION

  • After buying about 10,000 PRR radios from the British for use in Iraq, the US Marine Corps is buying $76M worth of hand-held "Intra-Squad Radios" from Motorola. They're similar to the two-way radios that troops were buying on their own at the mall, but have encrypted transmission and more range. DID notes that the USMC's "Urban Warrior 98" article should have told them this much earlier.
  • JK on NTISR: That's great as an incidental dual-tasking, but jet operating costs are very high, airframes have lives measured in flying hours, and replacing America's fighter fleet is a serious budgetary challenge. Last I checked, al-Qaeda didn't have fighter planes. You could put the same pods et. al. under Cessnas (who played this role in Vietnam) or silent Twin Condor aircraft, and get more coverage, for much less money, with video sharing via ROVER to fighters or troops if needed, and much more transferability to allies like the Iraqis. Smart can become stupid in a hurry if capability extensions become an endpoint, instead of a waypoint to further thought about forces, capabilities, and budgets.

LAND SECTOR

  • If transformation neglects the importance of firepower overmatch on the ground, it will fail. An ethic of learning in and from battle is also critical. The cool-looking "Ahnold ought to have one" M-32 multiple-shot grenade launcher isn't transformational by itself, but it's part of some trends that are.
  • A gun that can fire around corners? The British put it to the test along with other innovations, and were surprised: "Cornershot, a novel system to accurately fire a weapon round a corner, was initially considered a gimmick. Putting it to the test in combat scenarios at Copehill Down, however, proved it to be hugely useful, and it is one of the areas that the Department will be looking at closely in the future."
  • The common thread in these 3 items? The trend toward urban combat, and shifts in systems and doctrine that will help troops cope.
  • The Israeli Trophy Active Protection System knocked out an inert RPG fired at a moving Stryker. It's being hyped as a 'Star Trek' Shield For U.S. Troops, and some articles and newscasts have actually called it a "force shield". This is not true - it's a radar + anti-missile system made possible by shrinking electronics size, plus some clever anti-missile technology that creates less hazard to nearby troops et. al. when fired. Talk about exaggerated expectations.

MARITIME SECTOR

  • Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter's recent address to the annual meeting of the Navy League focused on the problem of US naval shipbuilding costs, which he notes are headed to "prohibitive levels." It's a fascinating speech that takes a hard look at industry issues, Pentagon issues, and where to go from here.
  • Paint it black? Bad idea, say the British, especially if you're a submarine. Black is currently the standard color, but the British are testing a new "steely blue" color on their attack submarine HMS Torbay. Read all about the problem, and see "before and after" pictures.
  • The shipbuilder and US Navy estimate that the first CVN-21 aircraft carrier will cost $200 million less than an additional Nimitz-class ship and save $5.28 billion over the 50-year life of the ship. The latest budget request calls for one new CVN-21 every four years starting in 2008.
  • The second Littoral Combat Ship will be named USS Independence, the fifth US ship to bear that name. The Independence is a fast, stealty trimaran under construction by the General Dynamics/ Austal team; like all LCS designs, it will carry swappable "mission modules" that will let it reconfigure itself for specialized missions in about 24 hours.
  • Israel may want a few LCS ships, and a preliminary investigation contract has been issued to the competing LCS team led by Lockheed. Rumour has it that the Saudis are interested too.
  • The Phalanx Close In Weapons System (CIWS), the Navy's last-ditch defense against anti-ship missiles, has been upgraded to better engage slower aircraft and surface targets. It was also deployed to Iraq last summer as a land-based defense against rockets and mortars, though actual performance has been a closely-guarded secret.

STRATEGIC WEAPONS & MISSILE DEFENSE

  • One of the systems involved is called MEADS, the Medium Extended Air Defense System. This US-German-Italian program is producing the successor to the Patriot missile systems. Representing next-generation technology and easier deployability, MEADS will be designed to kill enemy aircraft, cruise missiles and UAVs within its reach, while providing next-generation point defense capabilities against ballistic missiles.
  • Meanwhile, directed energy weapons like lasers and microwave cannons remain on the wish lists of missile defense planners and others. The 747-based Airborne Laser, a long way from actually working, is a flying toxic dump. It's been a long and winding road, but some anti-missile laser pioneers have stuck with it. And, despite the technological hurdles, other programs and pies in the sky lumber on.

SUPPLY AND SUPPORT

  • The truth is that no military can't live without fuel, but every gallon of it is both a logistics burden and a financial burden. The U.S. military consumed 144.8 million barrels of fuel in 2004, spending $6.7 billion. In 2005 consumption dropped to 128.3 million barrels, but it spent $8.8 billion. For 2006, the DESC estimates the military will need 130.6 million barrels, and pay more than $10 billion. In the wake of a sobering Army Corps of Engineers report, energy conservation is rapidly moving up the Pentagon's agenda, with a number of initiatives underway. The goal is to reduce energy consumption by 2% each year, while increasing renewable energy use to 7.5% of total demand by 2013 and 25% by 2025.
  • The Army lent a prototype hybrid-powered Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort with great results. Hybrids have additional advantages besides just better mileage.
  • C-130s keep convoys out of the Sunni Triangle by flying in supplies. Sure, it's tough and expensive. Sure, we wouldn't want to always have to do it. But it's the supply convoys that are most vulnerable in Iraq, so effort and expense can be spared. Keeping the old birds in the air is no treat, though.

TRANSFORMATION: POLICY & DOCTRINE

  • Algeria is embarked on a transformation program of its own, and recently signed a deal for $7.5 billion in advanced Russian weapons on land, sea, and air. Note that this compares to annual Russian weapons exports to all customers of $5-6 billion per year over the last couple of years. Russia, meanwhile, structured the deal in ways that enhance its natural gas market leverage over the EU.
  • Could Secretary Rumsfeld's greatest success - creating real change in the Us military - become his greatest failure? Greg Scoblete explains, and offers his views.

Contributors to this issue included: Murdoc, Defense Industry Daily, Military.com's DefenseTech, and eDefense Online.

Thanks for reading! If you found something here you want to blog about yourself (and we hope you do), all we ask is that you do as we do and offer a Hat Tip hyperlink to today's "Defense Transformation Uplink".

The Comments section can be used to brief us on new developments, or contribute your thoughts. Note that WindsofChange.NET has earned a reputation as a site for grown-up debate, where argument is often strong but participants demand quality. As back-up, designated Marshals are on hand to enforce a baseline level of order and civility. Their approach is generally diplomatic, but they have other options at their disposal if need be. If you have what it takes to be part of such discussions, you are more than welcome here!

5 TrackBacks

Tracked: April 26, 2006 10:49 PM
Monthly Military Summary from Non Partisan Pundit
Excerpt: WindsOfChange.net has a great monthly summary of news and happenings in the military, especially in regard to procurement and technology. It's a great read.
Tracked: April 27, 2006 8:00 AM
Defense Industry Review - 26 Apr 2006 from Security Watchtower
Excerpt: Each Wednesday, Security Watchtower presents the Defense Industry Review, a glance at the stories and news items as they relate to the defense industry in the United States and abroad. This feature is not intended to be a comprehensive overview of the...
Tracked: April 28, 2006 7:15 AM
Military Transformation Uplink: April 2006 from Defense Industry Daily
Excerpt: Militaries around the world are moving to modernize and transform themselves to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Our mission is to deliver a monthly cross-section of relevant, on-target stories, news, and analysis that will help both experts...
Tracked: April 28, 2006 7:17 AM
Excerpt: Militaries around the world are moving to modernize and transform themselves to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Our mission is to deliver a monthly cross-section of relevant, on-target stories, news, and analysis...
Tracked: May 25, 2006 4:42 PM
Excerpt: Militaries around the world are moving to modernize and transform themselves to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Our mission is to deliver a monthly cross-section of relevant, on-target stories, news, and analysis...

6 Comments

what happened to the Canada's bid to buy some heavy lift aircrafts?

Nothing, yet. It's going to create signficant friction with the defense staff,though, because it ignores their requirements.

See DID coverage.

re: Drone Swarm... holy cow, they're doing it...
I took a sci-fi riff on this nearly a year ago by completely fudging the logistics, but combining this tech with functional T-hel and beowulf processing ("Schlieffen never had it so good," tiny-url proxy url: http://tinyurl.com/ho5em)...

If the AF won't go for it, I have to imagine that the Army's 96U guys would be all over it.

Wow, there is a ton of interesting updates here. I find myself puzzled by what role the LCS would serve for Israel however.

Robin, same role as its present Saar 5 Eilat Class corvettes. A modular LCS would be more flexible and easier to keep up to date. A fixed multi-role ship would be more modern, and allow Israel to use aid dollars to purchase the basic platform and key components (while using a lot of Israeli electronics and weapons).

That's the problem Joe, the missile corvette really just provides a longer endurance version of missile boats for Israel. The role seems to me to have always been one of sea denial - that of being able to prevent Israel's classic enemies Egypt, Syria, Lebanon from obtaining control of the sea approaches to Israel.

Israel has never really deployed a naval force capable of projecting any significant power. So I don't see what the modular system of the LCS buys them unless they intend to dramatically increase the missions of their naval forces. And I just don't see the purpose in that at the moment.

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