American Missile Defenses' Repeated Combat Failures; Implications for East Asia and the Middle East - Part Two
Asia-Pacific , Middle East , Missile and Space , Battlefield
27 May 2018
A military report titled Patriot Missile System Effectiveness During Desert Storm, released in 1992 stated that of the 158 Patriot Missiles fired by the U.S. military during the Gulf War, 45% were launched against false targets. A 1992 report prepared by nuclear weapons expert and Ploughshares Fund president Joseph Cirincione for the U.S. House of Representatives Government Operations Committee on the performance of Patriot Missiles in the Gulf War stated that due to the limited damage caused by Scud missiles the public was mislead to attribute this not to Iraq’s limited capabilities, but to the success of the Patriot Missiles. Meanwhile the substantial “evidence to the contrary was neglected or dismissed.” Patriot missiles were far from a success, and coalition forces were only saved from sustaining more damage by the poor state of Iraq’s missiles and their resulting tendency to land in the desert - rather than the ability of U.S. systems to intercept them. “The Scuds were wildly inaccurate. Most fell harmlessly into the sea or the desert.” Circincione’s report gave substantial evidence proving that Patriot systems were almost completely ineffective. The deception not only benefitted the producer Raytheon - but also had a substantial impact on morale and public perceptions of the war.
Theodore Postol, Amercian professor of Science, Technology and International Security at the Masseuses Institute of Technology (MIT), a leading expert in missile defence technology, himself studied the performance of the Patriot in the Gulf War. He was highly skeptical and critical of U.S. claims as to the effectiveness of their anti-missile defence systems. Postol closely analysed military data from the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In April 1992 after carrying out preliminary studies Postol stated: “The Patriot's intercept rate during the Gulf War was very low. The evidence from these preliminary studies indicates that Patriot's intercept rate could be much lower than 10 percent, possibly even zero." Despite their “miracle performance” of Patriot Missiles being hailed by the US military and by Raytheon, Postol concluded that the system had most likely failed to shoot down a single Scud missile in Iraq, and at most may have possibly shot down a single missile. Postol noted that even “the most primitive of adversaries," even those as basic as the Iraqi Scud B dating back to 1964, could easily evade the Patriot system. Postol’s investigation was backed by evidence from several of those involved in the program and employees of the defence contractor responsible for the system’s production, all of whom alleged that claims the defence system’s test was a success were unfounded.
It remains critical for the United States to give its allies a sense of security against the missile capabilities of U.S. adversaries - be they Iranian, Russian, North Korean or otherwise. Much like the Gulf War, evidence strongly indicated that the missile fired by Yemen's Ansurallah Coalition, thought it was no more advanced than those fired by Iraq, was not intercepted and that the United States claimed a victory for its weapon systems for political gain. Much as had been the case in the Gulf War, 26 years later the the Patriot proved wholly effective against a single extremely dated and primitive missile.
Continued in Part Three
Russia's Other New Fighter; Supermanoeuvrable MIG-35 Begins Final Phase of Flight Testing
Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
27 May 2018
2018 heralds the induction of two complementary new fighters into the Russian Air Force, the Su-57 heavy air superiority fighter and lighter MiG-35 multirole aircraft. The two platforms are expected to replace the Su-27 and MiG-29 respectively, which also entered service simultaneously in complementary roles 33 years earlier in 1985. While the Su-57 has been dubbed a fifth generation fighter, the highly sophisticated MiG-35 has been termed a ‘4++ generation’ platform due to its lack of a stealth profile - a requirement for the sixth generation. The fighter’s airframe shares a number of features with the older MiG-29, but incorporates a number of significant enhancements over its predecessor making it one of the most capable light fighters in the world - surpassed only by the U.S. Navy’s new F-18E Block 3.
Where the Su-57 gives Russia an analogous platform to the American F-22 Raptor, the MiG-35 was developed as an analogue to the U.S. F-35. The fighter compares highly favourable to its American counterpart, with significant advantages in payload (8 missiles as opposed to 4), speed (Mach 2.2 as opposed to Mach 1.6) and operational altitude (19km as opposed to 15.3). The MiG-35 carries highly capable air to air munitions, with a maximum engagement range of 130km, and retains an extreme level of manoeuvrability - making it perhaps the most manoeuvrable combat aircraft in the world able to withstand a g load of up to 10. A light airframe making extensive use of composite materials combined with powerful engines and three dimensional thrust vectoring systems, similar to those of the Su-35, are responsible for this.
The MiG-35 was designed with simple maintenance and a high sortie rate in mind, and remains one of the lowest maintenance modern fighters in the world - a stark contrast to the F-35 which has excessive maintenance requirements surpassed only by those of the F-22 Raptor. Indeed, the U.S. platform’s only advantages appear to be its superior range, marginally stronger radar radar and advanced radar evading capabilities - with the MiG prevailing by significant margins in all other fields. One significant determinant of the MiG-35’s performance will be its air to air missiles, as it remains uncertain whether the fighter will field the new K-77 air to air missiles which were designed for the Su-57. The advanced capabilities of these missiles, making use of new technologies to strike with an unprecedented degree of precision even at extreme ranges of up to 193km, makes them potentially a game changer for the MiG-35. Development of a shorter ranged and less costly derivative for the light fighter also remains a possibility.
According to Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation, the MiG-35 has seen high demand not only from the Russian military, but also with a number of unnamed export clients. Middle Eastern states were notably named as the interested parties, and the MiG-35’s combination of low acquisition and maintenance costs, far lower than those of the Su-35 or Western made analogues, and advanced combat capabilites made it an attractive export. Its similarities to the MiG-29, allowing the platforms to share maintenance infrastructure, minimises operational costs for those states already deploying the older fourth generation light fighter. On likely client for the MiG-35 is Egypt, which was initially reported to have placed an order for up to 50 fighters in early 2014. Egypt has since placed an order for 48 MiG-29M fighters, the most advanced variant of the fourth generation platform which incorporates a number of the advanced technologies found on the MIG-35, and acquisition of the more advanced next generation platforms remains a distinction possibility. Other potential clients include a number of longstanding Western partners such as Morocco, Qatar, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, all but the last which have shown interest in Russian air defence systems and all of which have recently increasing their reliance on Russian made hardware. Whether the MiG-35 will see successes in other regions such as Africa and the Asia-Pacific remains to be seen.
The Su-57 is Only as Dangerous as its Best Missile; Why the K-77 Will be a Game Changer for the Russian Air Force
Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
26 May 2018
The Russian Air Force has as of 2018 began to induct its fifth generation air superiority fighter, the Su-57, into active service. Fighters saw deployment to an active warzone in February when deployed to Russia's Hmeymim airbase in Syria's Latakia province, and are set to replace the Su-35 as the country's most capable platform for air to air combat. The fighters are, according to their producers, more capable than the United States' F-22 Raptor and are likely the most sophisticated air superiority fighters yet to enter service anywhere in the world. Nevertheless, one critical factor to determining a fighter's effectiveness particularly in an air superiority role is its ability to deploy sophisticated air to air missiles. Pakistan's JF-17 light fighter for example, while somewhat unremarkable in its combat capabilities, can deploy some of the world's most sophisticated long range air to air missile platforms such as the Chinese PL-12 and has the radar systems to support such a deployment. This could potentially give it an advantage over far more sophisticated platforms such as the Indian MiG-29 in beyond visual range combat should the Indian Air Force fail to equip its own platform with similarly capable missiles. Another key example was the Iraqi Air Force, which despite fielding capable combat aircraft failed to equip them with modern missiles for air to air combat and as a result suffered heavy losses against both the Iranian and U.S. Air Forces - neither of which made the same mistake. For the Su-57 too, the fighter's ability to contend with the most potent enemy air superiority platforms will depend heavily on its ability to deploy capable air to air missiles.
A new highly specialised long range air to air missile has been developed for the Su-57, which is set to give it an advantage over rival platforms. The K-77, with a range of 193km, is not the longest range air to air missile Russian has developed. It is however in many ways the most sophisticated, and is the longest ranged platform ever developed for an air superiority fighter - with longer ranged platforms such as the 300km range R-33 and 400km range R-37 being developed for Russia's MiG-31 interceptors only. While longer ranged platforms are made to target enemy AWACS, aerial tankers and other large and unmanoeuvrable targets at range, the K-77 combines both a long range with the manoeuvrability and accuracy accuracy to target even small and agile targets at extreme ranges. A sophisticated radar system in the missile's nose , the active phased array antenna (APAA), is key to facilitating its accuracy and denying enemy fighters the ability to evade it by establishing an effective lock and thereby overcoming the radar's radar’s “field of view” problem. Previously, manoeuvrable fighters such as the F-15 were able to evade missiles by swinging out of the range of a tailing guided missile when in close proximity, thus escaping the narrow the scope of the radar’s view. The K-77's APAA system effectively addresses this issue, making it very likely the most capable air to air missile in the world against enemy fighters.
Russia's state owned media outlet RT explained the APAA technology used by the K-77 as follows: “An active phased array antenna consists of a large number of cone-shaped cells installed under a transparent-to-radio-waves cap on the nose of the missile. Each cell receives only a part of the signal, but once digitally processed, the information from all cells is summarized into a ‘full picture,’ enabling the K-77M missile to immediately respond to sharp turns of the target, making interception practically inevitable.”
What makes the capabilities of the K-77 particularly significant is the fact that while the platform will be in service by the end of 2018, no rival powers have shown any sign of developing similar technologies for their own missiles. The U.S. AIM-120D currently under development, while impressive in its capabilities and fielding a 180km range, retains the same weaknesses of older missiles and lacks the accuracy that APAA technologies provide the K-77. China's PL-15 meanwhile, though it has a substantial range likely set to surpass those of both U.S. and Russian equivalents and combining these with record speeds, also lacks the new Russia platform's lethal precision. European producers and Israel meanwhile have failed to develop any long range air to air missiles capable of striking adversaries over 100km away whatsoever. As a result, the K-77 could well be key to guaranteeing a significant advantage for the Su-57 in beyond visual range combat against any and all potential adversaries. Whether other Russian fighters such as the MIG-35, a light platform also set to enter service in 2018, will deploy the K-77 to enhance their own beyond visual range combat capabilities remains to be seen.
American Missile Defenses' Repeated Combat Failures; Implications for East Asia and the Middle East - Part One
Asia-Pacific , Middle East , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
26 May 2018
Amid a concerted 35 month military campaign by Saudi Arabia and several of its allies in Yemen, their adversaries the Yemeni Ansurallah Coalition in December 2017 launched a ballistic missile at the Saudi capital Riyadh. The official story as reported by both Saudi and the majority of Western media was that the Arab kingdom's American made air defence systems, Patriot missile batteries, successfully intercepted the missile and prevented what otherwise would have been a disaster. The following day U.S. President Trump announced victoriously: “Our system knocked the missile out of the air. That’s how good we are. Nobody makes what we make, and now we’re selling it all over the world.” The timing could not have been better, considering that the President's statement was made from Air Force One en route to Japan as part of his East Asia tour.
The U.S. had repeatedly threatened preventative military strikes on North Korea, which would ignite a war in East Asia on a scale unseen since 1945 and very likely surpass even the carnage of the Pacific War. In such a conflict both Japan and South Korea's major population and industrial centres would be subject to retaliatory strikes by tens of thousands of ballistic missiles - modern platforms decades in advance of anything in Yemeni hands. The United States has asked these countries to put a great deal of faith in the very same U.S. made air defence systems deployed to Saudi Arabia. While U.S. actions on the Korean Peninsula threaten to ignite a war that would bring ruin to its two East Asian partners, the Patriot and other systems like it are effectively the only security guarantee America can provide. A reported successful interception in the Middle East by these very same missile systems thus came at an ideal time for President Trump and his delegation.
While the Patriot was reported to have successfully intercepted the Yemeni missile, a relatively primitive platform using technology from the early 1980s, it would hardly be the first time that a near complete failure of the U.S. air defence system was reported as a victory and great success. The Patriot Missile system's most prolific combat test, after which it was labeled a 'miracle system' by U.S. officials, was during the 1991 Gulf War when the weapons system was relied on to intercept Soviet made Iraqi Scud-B missiles - antiquated systems by modern standards operated with questionable skill. The United States government claimed that the Patriot Missile defence system had an effectiveness of 80% when targeting Iraqi Scud missiles, while the system's manufacturer Raytheon claimed a 97% success rate. The facts on the ground however indicate that these estimates were far too generous towards the Patriot despite the primitive nature of Iraq’s limited missile capabilities and the relatively small size of their arsenal.
The Scud-B entered service in 1964, and lacked any form of countermeasures to evade a modern missile defence systems. They should have been very basic targets for the Patriot system - a platform designed decades later to counter far more sophisticated threats from platforms such as the Korean Rodong-1 and Soviet OTR-21 Tochka. Nevertheless the American House Government Operations Subcommittee on Legislation and National Security themselves reported on government coverage of the Patriot Missile defence and its capabilities: “The Patriot missile system was not the spectacular success in the Persian Gulf War that the American public was led to believe. There is little evidence to prove that the Patriot hit more than a few Scud missiles launched by Iraq during the Gulf War, and there are some doubts about even these engagements. The public and the Congress were misled by definitive statements of success issued by administration and Raytheon representatives during and after the war.”
Continued in Part Two
Afghanistan’s Taliban Sees Resurgence in its Combat Capabilities; Deploys High End Equipment and Lasers
Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Ground , Battlefield
25 May 2018
Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgent group, having waged a protracted war with the U.S. led Western bloc and the Western aligned Afghan government, has after seventeen years of war reportedly seen a significant resurgence in its combat capabilities. Long considered an ill equipped movement relying primarily on captured Soviet era arms from the 1980, Taliban forces have recently obtained and made use of modern equipment including night vision goggles and lasers. The insurgents have used this equipment to conduct effective night raids, tracking enemy vehicles, firearms and even personnel and more precisely coordinating their strikes on Western and Afghan government targets. Modern night fighting equipment has allowed the Taliban to more than double its nighttime operations.
Former Lieutenant General David W. Barno, who previously led the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan from 2003, stated regarding the Taliban’s new capabilities that they would significantly complicate operations for the U.S. military and its partners. “It’s going to be a problem, and it’s going to change how we operate,” Barno said. Infantry units on patrol have been forced to avoid using certain marking devices which can be easily detected by night vision equipment, while helicopter crews have been made aware that their aircraft are no longer cloaked by darkness and are as a result highly vulnerable to being targeted at night.
U.S. forces reporting on the Taliban’s new capabilities have only speculated on the origin of the insurgents’ equipment, noting that it was either captured or purchased on the black market. It remains a distinct possibility that the notoriously corrupt Afghan government security forces could have provided the Taliban with night vision, sold either directly or through a third party intermediary. The U.S. military is thus left with a dilemma, in that should they continue to provide Afghan security forces with night fighting equipment they risk continued proliferation to the Taliban but should they deny allied security forces access to such equipment they would leave their partners at a distinct disadvantage when engaging Taliban forces armed with increasingly sophisticated technologies. According to U.S. military officials, the military has regulated provision of advanced night fighting equipment to elite Afghan commandos and police special mission units to reduce the risks of proliferation.
One of the very the first batches of night vision equipment provided by the U.S. to conventional Afghan military units served as a valuable example. The equipment was sent to to the 215th Corps in Helmand province, and approximately one quarter of the devices went missing. Afghan troops reported the lost equipment as “battle losses,” but could not support their claim with any proof or records to explain why, where or when the equipment was abandoned.
Other possibilities for the sources of Taliban arms include Iran and Russia, both of which have in the past been accused by the United States of aiding the Taliban to undermine the Western bloc’s war effort. With both Tehran and Moscow currently engaged in costly wars with Islamic State and other Islamist militant groups in Syria and Iraq, which both have alleged Washington has directly assisted, it remains possible that one or both of these parties has provided the Taliban with some form of non lethal military assistance - perhaps as a signal to Washington that should it fail to cease supporting Islamist forces in the Middle East it could see reprisals including the further strengthening of insurgents in Afghanistan. The recent rise of Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan, considered a significant security threat by both Iran and Russia, is potentially another factor which may have influenced their decisions to strengthen the Taliban and thus prevent it from losing ground to IS in the country. Ultimately the origin of the Taliban’s new capabilities can only be speculated, and it remains possible that the insurgents have looked to a number of sources to provide it with modern combat equipment. Whether the U.S. and its allies will see a significant rise in casualties in Afghanistan as a result remains to be seen, but it remains a distinct possibility.
China’s New Sharp Sword Attack Drone; An Unmanned Bomber in All But Name
Asia-Pacific , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
25 May 2018
With a number of lethal new Chinese stealth aircraft currently under development, including the H-20 strategic bomber, J-31 fighter and Star Shadow drone, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is set to induct a highly sophisticated long range attack drone into active service - the Sharp Sword. The platform was designed with a flying wing body, similar to that of the U.S. B-2 Spirit bomber and RQ-170 recon drone and maximises range and payload to allow it to function as a long range strike platform. The Sharp Sword is set to serve as an unmanned bomber in all but name, and has been designed to penetrate enemy air defences for strike and interdiction roles.
With an Iranian variant of the U.S. RQ-170 having recently proven all but invulnerable to the latest American made air defences during an incursion into Israeli airspace, the more sophisticated Sharp Sword is set to be significantly more survivable still and its larger airframe and intended role indicate it may well be designed to operate at extreme altitudes. The drone won second place in the country’s National Science and Technology Advancement competition, and is set to make use of cutting edge precision guided munitions. The aircraft has two bomb bays carrying an estimated 2 tons of ordnance, compared to the U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s 2.5 tons, and is the first stealth drone to enter service outside the Western bloc and Iran.
China’s Stealth Sword’s final role remains unclear, and whether it will be developed for a maritime strike role to engage enemy warships and protect China’s territorial waters remains to be seen. Deployment of the platform from island military outposts in the South China Sea, carrying Beijing’s latest stealthy anti ship cruise missiles, could well be a lethal combination to strengthen an already potent defence network in the region. Striking U.S. military facilities in Okinawa, South Korea and Afghanistan during a potential war remains another potential role for the advanced UAV. The platform could also be deployed from China's future aircraft carriers, which equipped with electromagnetic catapults could prove invaluable as launch platforms for the Sharp Sword. Potential for the drone to be equipped with a basic combat AI has also been considered.
Built by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, with much assistance from the Hongdu Aviation Industry Group, the Sharp Sword saw its first flight in November 2013. This was notably two years after Iran’s downing of the RQ-170, and the platforms’ close resemblance has led to some speculation that Tehran could have provided Beijing with the American drone after successfully hijacking and landing the cutting edge platform. China in turn could have assisted Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps in developing an indigenous variant of the UAV, which was considered well beyond Iran’s capabilities at the time. The Sharp Sword has a length of approximately 10 meters and a wingspan of 14, and makes use of a non afterburning WS-13 turbofan engine with serpentine inlet to improve its radar evading capabilities. Whether like the Sky Shadow the UAV will be marketed for export, or whether the Sharp Sword will like the J-20, H-20 and a number of other recently inducted highly sensitive defence products be reserved for Beijing’s own defence needs, remains to be seen.
- The Su-57 is Only as Dangerous as its Best Missile; Why the K-77 Will be a Game Changer for the Russian Air Force
- American Missile Defenses' Repeated Combat Failures; Implications for East Asia and the Middle East - Part One
- Corruption Probe in South Korea Over Park Administration's Selection of Troubled F-35A Over Elite F-15 Silent Eagle
- Syria May Look Elsewhere for Modern Air Defences to Replace Russia's S-300; Part Two - KN-06, North Korea
- A Nuclear Equipped Shah as a Western Asset; How the United States Started the Iranian Nuclear Program