Don’t Replace the A-10, Build New Ones

If the Air Force wanted to be an honest broker, the Air Force would re-start manufacturing of the A-10 and replace the entire fleet.

by Stephen Bryen

The A-10 is a proven warrior, but it is getting old.  Even worse, the Air Force hates it.  They hate it because they don’t really favor the close support mission which is what the A-10 is all about.  In reality, if the Army was allowed to provide its own air cover, there would be no controversy over the A-10.  The Army would control the platform and would drive the requirements and improvements for the platform.  But in the bizarre and intellectually unfathomable Pentagon, things are often Topsy Turvy.


A-10 By SRA Greg L. Davis, USAF ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Air Force, as most folks know, tried to dump off the A-10 in favor the of F-35, or so they claimed.  If the idea was accepted it would mean using a $150 to $200 million airplane to do the job of an airplane that cost about $18 million when it was manufactured, and which costs a fraction to operate.  The F-35 is believed to cost $42,200 per hour to operate (when it is functioning, which is around 60% of the time at best).  The A-10 costs $17,716 per hour and has a decent availability rate.  In addition, the A-10 has high portability meaning it can operate far from home on austere airfields.  The F-35 will never be able to do this as it will need massive support because of its heavy technological baggage.

Originally the A-10 was designed to be used in Vietnam.  But it was sold to Congress on the ground that it could bust Russian armor in any confrontation in Europe. But, as the Israelis learned in 1973 in the Yom Kippur war, a close support mission against missiles and sophisticated gun emplacements is very costly.  The Israelis used A-4s to try and take out Egypt’s missile sites.  The A-4s were badly shot up and Israeli losses were heavy, amounting to some 50 planes lost and a large number damaged.  While the A-10 is more lethal than the A-4, and better protected, the overall picture is not conducive to using this sort of airplane in the early stages of a conflict against a well-equipped adversary.  Thus the A-10 was built for the wrong type of war.

But, happily, the A-10 turned out to be pretty good against poorly equipped enemies like al-Qaeda, the Taliban or ISIS.  That’s because it can pound them with bombs and its big 30 mm GAU-8 gun firing depleted uranium ammunition can destroy just about anything.

It turns out, thus, that the A-10 is ideally capable against terrorist type threats.

But it can be improved.  Better engines would make it quieter and perhaps reduce fuel burn and extend its range.  Better protection against ground fired missiles would make the plane more survivable.  And  improved electronics would make the platform easier to support.  The A-10’s were produced between 1972 and 1984, so the fleet is quite old. But there is no reason why a modern version of the A-10 could not be produced, cutting R&D costs to the minimum and focusing on manufacturing.

Indeed, if the Air Force wanted to be an honest broker, the Air Force would re-start manufacturing of the A-10 and replace the entire fleet.  With 3-D printing now available, producing the airplane, even with modifications, would be easy and the replacement rate can be relaxed, as the Air Force admits that the A-10 won’t be replaced until 2020 at the earliest.

The Air Force should re-start manufacturing now, and  in parallel sponsor an improved engine for the new platforms that can also be interchangeable on the old A-10s.  The Air Force should also consider putting laser-based infra-red protection on the A-10s because the MANPADS threat is growing as these weapons proliferate.

And the Air Force which is never happy except spending more money, could work out a UAV version of the A-10.  This would allow them to remove a lot of weight needed for pilot protection (such as the titanium cocoon that is on current planes) and have fun remotely shooting up ISIS, the Taliban, or whatever threat is out there.  Instead of blowing billions on an entirely new UAV killer platform, we already have one ready and waiting.

Building new A-10s ends the controversy and keeps these flying tanks on station and doing their job for the foreseeable future.

We don’t need an A-10 replacement.  We need new A-10s.



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Not the Time for NATO to Confront Russia

June 8, 2016


Some northern European countries, such as Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, spend almost nothing on defense and their armed forces are incapable of any serious defense of these countries. While NATO may think it has an obligation to defend them, doing so is non trivial because they lack the infrastructure even to support and feed NATO soldiers.  But don’t hold your breath: the chance of NATO coming to the aid of these countries in any real confrontation is close to nil. NATO state political leaders will do for them like it has done for Ukraine, that is to say, nothing much except to get them into deeper and deeper trouble.

A weak NATO is a liability and a danger.  If NATO is not going to be systematically strengthened, trying to claim it is a capable alliance capable of defending Europe is foolish and risky.  Nor is there any real prospect Europe will start to invest in its own defense.  For the most part, European air forces are shrinking, and land forces are tiny compared to what the Russians can muster.  The F-35, when it finally becomes available in 3 to 5 years, won’t help matters.  It is so expensive that there will be relatively few planes to confront Russia, assuming the F-35 performs anything near its advertised capabilities.

The Russians, meanwhile, are modernizing their forces and have demonstrated the ability to project power efficiently.  Their exercise in Syria has to be admired by military experts, notwithstanding political and moral issues.  Russian aircraft are state of the art, and Russia has invested heavily in sophisticated electronic jamming systems and countermeasures as well as air defenses  such as the S-300. S-400 and emerging S-500 systems.  Russian ground forces are also improving, with the introduction of the Armada tank and IFV now getting underway.

 (Above Photo) Armada Tanks on Parade: Not the Time for NATO to Confront Russia

The main constraint on the Russians is money.  They don’t have much, even though Russia is the world’s biggest oil producer.  The collapse in oil prices and sanctions because of the Ukraine, has taken its toll on Russia and it clearly affects what is available to spend on armaments.  So any real Russian build up is some years away, simple because the money isn’t there.

In fact, we don’t really know if the Russians, even under better economic conditions, will do that much to build up their own forces.  The Russian economy has only three money makers: oil (including natural gas), grain exports* and arms.  Russia clearly wants to build its arms export industry, because it brings in hard currency and underwrites the cost of local defense. Russian arms exports are starting to grow.  But a real conflict could collapse the Russian economy, stymie arms exports, and reorient Europe away from being on the far end of Russia’s gas pipelines.  It is hard to see this as an outcome that is good for Russia.

It is right for Western leaders to worry about threats to the underbelly of NATO –namely the new NATO acquisitions in the North, the Center and the South.  But it is not the right time to play a game of provocation escalation.  In fact, it makes more sense to try and lower the profile as much as possible, taking into account the elemental weakness of NATO.

We also must keep in mind that the deterioration in defense capabilities extends just as certainly to the United States.  For the most part, American forces are worn down and our brave troops are worn out.  We have not even taken care of what we have, and furtive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have drained our military and hurt our economy.  Investment in new systems is way down, troop numbers have been cut back, and equipment has not been repaired.  We can ill afford to act like the big time player we used to be.

In short, time to stop the rhetoric and reconsider what is in our best national interest and in the best interest of our allies and friends.  Pretensions otherwise can cause a self-fulfilling prophecy that we don’t need.


*Grain exports are currently greater than all arms sales from Russia combined.  This is a remarkable turnabout for a number of reasons including the absence of Communism and collective farms that destroyed Russia’s grain production capabilities and in spite of the loss of Ukraine, which was Russia’s breadbasket.  The Russian state is investing in agriculture modernization including beef and dairy production and setting up export hubs as well.

**Stephen Bryen is a defense and security technology expert and ran the Defense Department’s export control program as a Deputy Under Secretary of Defense and as head of the Defense Technology Security Administration.  

Home Made Carl Gustav Gun Used in Tel Aviv Killings by Terrorists Dressed As Ultra Orthodox Persons

by Stephen Bryen

Terrorists in Tel Aviv, dressed as ultra orthodox Jews,  have killed four Israelis, injured another very critically, and wounded another seven.  Two of the terrorists are reported captured, one shot and another is said to have escaped.  The shootings took place in a popular market area in an upscale neighborhood in Tel Aviv.

The gunmen reported used a home made version of the Carl Gustav gun.

These guns are cheap and are locally made.  Haaretz reported that there are shops in the West Bank, especially in Nablus, producing these weapons at near rock bottom prices. The typical gun sells for between $800 and $4500, depending on quality.  This is much cheaper than a Kalashnikov which can sell for $15,000.  Because they are made locally, and can be produced by any competent machine shop, they are a feature of the criminal and terrorist underground.

Producing the guns requires some innovation.  As Ha’aretz reports, ” They’re manufactured from weapons that were originally used in paintball ranges and were subsequently sent to be scrapped. However, weapons-makers in lathe shops affix a 9mm bore to them and fill them with ammunition, creating a deadly weapon.”

It is likely the terrorists hid the weapons under their garments.  How they got to the Tel Aviv market and how one apparently escaped is still uncertain.  The situation is fluid. This attack is consistent with threats coming from ISIS, but there are plenty of other ISIS-type groups on the Palestinian side capable of such an operation. Hamas has praised the killings and shooting.  The fact that the guns are being manufactured in the West Bank area suggests strongly that Hamas and ISIS has established a strong foothold there and can carry out operations, perhaps with plenty of local support.

The idea that leaving the West Bank on its own would make things better is a joke.  It would mean even more guns and greater danger to Israel and to its neighbors.

Similar dangers exist in Europe, and European authorities are increasingly worried about attacks this summer.  It is clear that the FBI is concerned that the US is also a target.  The latest publication of “lists” of people as targets is one indication of the high profile of the developing threat.  The fact that US borders are, for the most part, open and that Carol Gustav knock offs can easily be produced on US territory, means that what happened in Tel Aviv can happen in New York, Los Angeles of the District of Columbia.  Unlike Israel where there is a much higher security profile, Americans are sitting ducks for such an attack.





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Take Advantage of the Reserves for Innovation

by Stephen Bryen and Shoshana Bryen

Originally Published by Defense News 19 May 2016

With the establishment of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUX), Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is putting a lot of effort into building a relationship with Silicon Valley, hoping some — but not too much — of the region’s entrepreneurial, cutting-edge methods rub off on the US military.

There are many good things to be said for Silicon Valley, its weather and its methods, but it is not known for its patriotism or its interest in national security. Indeed, it is known for its international workforce, which may be directly inimical to national security in certain cases. But mostly, the valley is known for its interest in profits, big multiples on investment and expanding markets.

After a slow start, Carter is doubling down on the bet by starting a second center in Boston.

Instead of “outposts” in locations that have little affinity for national defense requirements, the Defense Department would better exploit capabilities it already has but barely uses. That is, DoD should start redefining its use of the National Guard and reserves, where patriotism, national security, and scientific and technological “smarts” converge.

Over the past decade, the Guard and reserves in all services served in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. While their service has put a considerable strain on the system, it has also exposed thousands of trained and dedicated soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines first-hand to problems that confront our fighting forces. When they return to their civilian occupations, they work in business and industry, in R&D, and in academia. They have skill sets that, if properly channeled, can be a bonanza for the Defense Department. Carter has approached this idea by creating a reserve unit specifically for DIUX, led by a Navy Reserve commander who is also an Apple vice president.

Thus far, however, while there are a few units focused on cyber security and intelligence, there is no direct path for converting military experience into products and technology for national security. We need a coordinated approach to the reserves and Guard that works for the 21st century.

1. Virtual Reserve High-Tech Units

Reserve units are largely constructed by geography but increasingly, we live in a virtual world based on the Internet, high-speed connectivity and Cloud systems. An engineer in Seattle can work with a counterpart in Texas and another in New Jersey with ease. And he can work from his office, from home, or on the road. The virtual model would be a terrific way to organize reserve units by providing secure platforms and secure Cloud connections to reservists investigating specific subjects or jointly working on specific projects. On top of creating collaboration among reservists, virtual high-tech units can also integrate the participation of national laboratories and contractors, creating a holistic approach to problem solving and engaging the best talent regardless of geography. Virtual reserve units don’t have to travel — they could log time spent, and the money and time saved can be wrapped into productive work.

Army IT 12 June 2015

2. Venture-backed Reserve Spinoff Enterprises

Reserve units will inevitably generate new products and intellectual property that can be turned over to a contractor or form the basis of a new enterprise that could be run by reservists. These will often be directly aligned with Pentagon requirements, and the military services or DoD will be an immediate customer, making them very attractive in venture capital circles. The Foreign Comparative Testing Program (FCT) already practices the principle. FCT will support a foreign technology if, in advance, a military service has agreed to buy it if it meets expectations after testing. If this can be done for foreign technology, why not for technology developed by American military reservists?

Venture capital companies can be invited to join into a DoD-approved consortium. In exchange for advice to reserve spinoff startup enterprises, venture capital companies would be given a chance to invest in these enterprises. DoD would ensure terms and conditions consistent with industry standards, ethical, and in DoD’s long-term interest.

3. Special Reservists

There are many patriots in industry with a lot to offer in the form of mentoring and leadership, as well as scientific and technical know-how. In past years, when the US mobilized it often recruited top executives, some of whom were put in uniform and served magnificently.

David Sarnoff, chairman and president of RCA, served in the Army at the start of World War II and was called up three times. He was commissioned a brigadier general in 1945, and performed many services of great wartime importance. He regarded becoming a general as the highlight of his life. When he died in 1971, he was buried with his general’s star, so much did he regard the honor afforded him.

David_Sarnoff_becomes_brigadier_general_1945(Above) David Sarnoff becomes a Brigadier General, 1945

More recently, Silicon Valley’s Bob Noyce (sometimes called the “statesman” of Silicon Valley) helped Stephen Bryen when he was director of the Defense Technology Security Agency. In 1982, Bryen visited Intel, which Noyce co-founded, to learn about Intel’s success in microprocessors. But in the wide-ranging discussions held there, Bryen asked Noyce to lend his expertise to help better protect the technology of the Minuteman ICBM program. This he did — as a volunteer — and his help was invaluable. While there was no formal program to support Noyce’s work, the idea of special reservists makes great sense because of what it can do for national security. If properly organized, special reservists can serve by helping evaluate projects and programs, giving valuable management advice and acting as mentors for reserve organizations.

robert noyce

(Above) Robert Noyce

4. National Registry

DoD should create a national registry of the specific expertise of currently serving reservists and retired members of the Guard and reserves. This would allow the Pentagon to enlist their support to cover specific needs, such as artificial intelligence for robots, making weapons smarter, improving intelligence gathering, enhancing cybersecurity, working with new materials such as nano particles, etc. In addition, a national registry could be expanded to include non-reserve experts and managers who are willing to volunteer their services to our country.

One reason the DIUX model is problematic is the security model of the America’s high-tech industry. Silicon Valley and Boston are filled with foreign nationals and much of the development work is outsourced — including to nationals of countries whose national aims may be different from ours, including China. For civilian applications that are nonsensitive this may be an acceptable paradigm — provided it does not shortchange American workers, but when it comes to security it is a nonstarter.

Hiring thousands of people and spending billions to mitigate the security weaknesses of Silicon Valley-produced electronics and software is not the best course of action for DoD. Instead, let’s use the reserves to power America’s innovation in defense systems and enhance the security of products and technology needed for national defense.


Stephen Bryen served as the first director of the Defense Technology Security Administration and is president of SDB Partners. Shoshana Bryen is the senior director of the Jewish Policy Center, a nonprofit organization, and editor of inFocus magazine.


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Evidence that the Egyptian Airbus was Terrorism

RT has posted the following report concerning the Egyptian airbus that disappeared today, May 19, 2016.

The Post confirms what aviation experts and political leaders already are saying: that the crash was a terrorist act.

Here is what RT reported dramatically today:

“The crew of the missing flight were threatened days before the incident, claims Sharif Mehera, a former EgyptAir pilot, who describes himself as a close friend of the captain of the Airbus A320 that disappeared.
“He told (LINK) LifeNews that someone wrote a menacing message on the hull of one of the planes.
“The message was in Arabic, and read: “the next murder will be the flight number SU-GCC,” Mehera said, adding that it was exactly the flight number of the missing plane and that all security services were aware of this incident.
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The Immortal Regiment: A Solid Idea

by Stephen Bryen

In 2012 the Siberian city of Tomsk marked the first time that relatives of Russian soldiers got together to march celebrating the memory of their family members who fought for Russia in World War II.  From that beginning four years ago, the Immortal Regiment marches have become a feature of Russian  parades and patriotic demonstrations.  This week the Immortal Regiment march took on huge proportions in Moscow where tens of thousands of families marched, many garbed in World War II uniforms and most carrying portraits of their loved ones who served.


The Immortal Regiment idea has spread to Russian communities around the world –large and small marches have taken place in 42 different countries including many cities in the United States.

Unfortunately we do not march in memory of the fallen, neither for the Second World War or for every other conflict in which American soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard have given their lives.  Nor do we remember the Merchant Marines who bravely sailed to bring much needed supplies to Europe, to Russia and to our other allies.  1 in 26 Merchant Marine mariners serving aboard merchant ships in World WW II died in the line of duty, suffering a greater percentage of war-related deaths than all other U.S. services. Overall nearly 10,000 died serving their country.

No longer does America have military parades.  They have disappeared, for the most part, or have been confined to special ceremonies on military bases.  On the fourth of July, our national holiday, no tanks clank down the thoroughfares; no boots strike the ground in unison.  While some military bands play, a good thing, you won’t find a military vehicle passing on parade with the President standing at salute.


It is even worse when it comes to our war dead -those we claim to honor but fall short in showing our affection and respect.  Sure we can visit monuments and military cemeteries. The Vietnam Memorial in Washington is one where the names of the fallen are there to be seen and where proud families of the fallen can feel a special kinship.  But most of the other monuments, no matter how grandiose, in fact are abstractions.  Life is not a hunk of marble.

That is what makes the March of the Immortal Regiment so meaningful.  Here the families, the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren turn out showing respect and pride.


There are some things we should learn from Russia, and this is one.  When you watch a Russian military parade you will see in an honored place old soldiers, sailors and airmen wearing their medals, sometimes in uniform; most are men but there are also heroic women among them.  And just after the soldiers complete their march and the missiles, tanks, airplanes have departed then thousands of families take to the streets with their placards, banners and flags to celebrate the sacrifice their loved ones made during World War II.


Our families deserve a chance to honor their heroes and to do it in the company of other families where such sacrifices have been made.

We have so many to honor in America, but we don’t.  It is time to change that.


All photos taken from RT video of the Immortal Regiment.





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Should You Buy Iodine Pills? A qualified Yes.

by Stephen Bryen*

If you live anywhere near a nuclear reactor, especially if you live or work downwind from a reactor you should consider buying Potassium Iodide (Iodine) tablets for yourself and your family. In fact, that is why Belgium and Holland have now ordered enough pills for their entire populations. And it is why the Department of Homeland Security bought 14 million iodine tablets in 2014.

Officially the reason for buying the pills is the danger of a nuclear accident, caused either by technical failure or a natural event such as an earthquake, tidal wave or flooding like what caused the still-continuing Fukushima crisis. Fukushima involved three nuclear meltdowns; Chernobyl one. Both caused long term evacuations of population.  The authorities created no-go areas. The Chernobyl area has been closed off for thirty years.**

There have been other serious nuclear accidents. In the United States the worst of those reported was, of course, Three Mile Island  (1979) near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

But one of the earliest and worst was the secret Russian reactor built to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Called the Mayak (“Lighthouse”) reactor similar to the US Hanford site*** (which itself remains highly contaminated). Mayak was built between 1945 and 1948. Itself prone to multiple accidents, the worst happened on September 27th, 1957 when a storage tank located at Kyshtym exploded. The Russians told no one, and information about the disaster only became available in 1979, twenty-two years later. The explosion of the storage tank destroyed more than two dozen villages and contaminated a vast area, rendering Lake Irtysh and the Techa River unusable and exposing more than 470,000 people to radiation.


When a nuclear reactor incident occurs, a variety of radioactive poisons are released, some of which become airborne and the rest contaminate the earth and underground and surface water sources. The typical radioactive fallout includes radioactive iodine (I131, I132), Cesium (Cs137, Cs134) and Tellurium (Te132).

Radioactive iodine is a major uranium and plutonium fission product. It has a half life of a little more than 8 days, and it is the greatest immediate threat to populations near a nuclear reactor or nuclear storage site. (The other nuclear contaminants can last from hundreds to thousands of years!)

The human thyroid will rapidly absorb radioactive iodine, which can immediately cause severe radiation sickness and leading to a variety of cancers starting with thyroid cancer. However, if the thyroid is pre-treated with non-radioactive iodide salts, it will have no room to absorb radioactive iodine. Consequently, the best defense against radioactive iodine caused by a nuclear “event” is either a potassium iodide tablet or liquid that can be rapidly administered before an individual is actually exposed to radioactive iodine. These pills and liquids (for infants and the elderly) are what the Department of Homeland Security and the Europeans are stockpiling. They are also readily available for individual purchase on the open market without a prescription in the United States.


Why all of a sudden are countries buying up large supplies of these pills?

There is worry about a nuclear accident or disaster from man-made accidents or natural causes. The Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz has calculated that such events may occur every 10 to 20 years, some 200 times more than earlier estimates. And while Fukushima may have convinced the Germans to consider shutting down nuclear reactors (there are 8 in Germany), and the Italians to reverse a decision to go back into the reactor business, Fukushima does not explain the rush to buy iodine pills.

The real threat is terrorism. In Europe there are 185 nuclear power plants and more are under construction. In addition, there are many “research” reactors and also storage sites for radioactive materials as well as labs that produce radioactive materials for industry and for medicine. In the United States there are 99 nuclear reactors, of which 61 are commercially operating power plants. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of sources of radioactive materials and plenty of targets for terrorists to exploit.

We know with absolute clarity based on the findings that have emerged from investigations in Belgium and France that Islamic terrorists plan (not just planned) to attack nuclear reactor sites and associated laboratories, in one case even kidnap a nuclear manager. We also know that many of these facilities have been heavily penetrated by Jihadists. There is virtually no available evidence that suggests such threats have been removed. And, as far as the situation in the United States is concerned, we have no real idea of the security of US nuclear facilities, either civilian or military.


Jose Padilla( also known as Abdullah al-Muhajir or Muhajir Abdullah,) was arrested in Chicago. He was planning a radiological attack in the United States.

Many questions also arise whether governments are capable of rapidly distributing the pills and liquids they have purchased. Unlike Israel where kits are pre-distributed and renewed on a regular basis (against chemical, biological and nuclear threats), there is no system in the US or Europe that is even marginally comparable. In case of a nuclear  event one can say that it is unlikely that even a fraction of the pills can be distributed in an actual crisis. Thus, a reactor failure in Maryland or Virginia, for example, would create a massive crisis as people scrambled to try to get their hands on iodine pills.

It would be even worse if a dirty bomb hit New York City or downtown Washington DC.  A dirty bomb basically is radioactive materials that are packed into a conventional bomb and exploded.

cesium(left) A cesium  “dirty” bomb found in a Moscow Park claimed by Chechen terrorists

There are three vital steps that must be taken to protect populations against nuclear disaster.

First, clean up the security around all nuclear facilities. Bring in competent and powerful forces to guard the facilities from external attack and move to clean out security risks inside. In the US this might mean using the National Guard to protect the perimeter of nuclear sites and the FBI to vet employees and validate security systems. In Europe it means using NATO forces for perimeter protection and Interpol to check internal security and validate employees, with authority to remove anyone suspected of a connection to radical Islamic organizations.

Second, set up a real distribution system on the Israeli model for people living in the vicinity of nuclear installations and in sensitive urban areas under threat. This means putting vital supplies  such as potassium iodine in the hands of businesses and families now, not after a terrorist strike.

Third, really crack down on the Jihadists such that they cease to exist. The wimpy approach of the Europeans is not an example of how to deal with an existential threat. America isn’t much better. If we really use draconian force against terrorists, we will finally be a lot safer. If terrorists are under severe pressure, they will run away.  If they don’t run away, run them down so they cannot operate inside of sympathetic local communities.  For this it is justified to give law enforcement and special units special authorization to do what is necessary to liquidate the threat.

Meanwhile, check out where you live and order some iodine pills if you are in an at risk area.


*Dr. Stephen Bryen is the former Director of the Defense Technology Security Administration and a fellow of the American Center for Democracy.  Some parts of this article are from his new book, Technology Security and National Power: Winners and Losers (Transaction Publishers).

**In Chernobyl there are no-go areas and also strictly controlled zones.  In Fukushima there is a 20km exclusion zone.

***A day after this was written there are reportedly seriously ill people as a result of Hanford contamination.



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Reviving the F-22 –Common Sense or Not?

The F-22 is a great strategic aircraft, but we may have other more pressing priorities

The F-22 is America’s premier air superiority fighter plane.  Developed mostly in the 1990’s it entered service in 2005.  It is a pure stealth fighter but, unlike the F-117 stealth fighter jet, it is supersonic and has super-cruise capability, meaning it can operate at afterburner speeds without using the afterburner and without consuming excess fuel.  Thus the F-22 has great range, a superior radar, and beyond visual range (BVR) weapons.  Above all it is a strategic airplane.  Its role is to balance against an enemy air force and provide superior intelligence and kill capability to knock out their fighters and bombers.

F22 Raptor

Stealth reduces an aircraft’s radar signature, sometimes called the radar cross section.  The F-22 looks to a conventional radar like a small grapefruit, if it sees it at all.  This gives the F-22 a massive advantage because it can penetrate an enemy’s air space and both attack an enemy’s airborne assets and provide critical surveillance and intelligence to other US fighter aircraft that are not necessarily as stealthy as the F-22.  In this role it becomes a type of AWACS surveillance platform, but one that can get close.

That is not to say that the F-22 is invulnerable.  In fact, a lot of what can be said about the F-22’s capability is presumptive, or based on simulations and test environments.  The plane has been used to chase some old Russian Tupolev bombers, but it has never been in a layered defense environment.  Its use in Iraq, for example, was more of a demonstration that the F-22 was functional; it had no air adversary or even any ground base threats of significance (in the form of missile batteries, for example).  We also do not know how the F-22 will perform in a heavy jamming environment, something the Russians have and continue to perfect.  Nor do we know how stealthy it is against unconventional radar (for example L-Band) and radio based detectors that do not use conventional radar frequencies, most typically X-Band.  Indeed, no matter how confident we think we are about the F-22’s performance, a lot remains to be proven.


VERA Passive Surveillance System can “see” Stealth

But we can say for sure that the F-22 was not designed against low-capability third world countries.  It was designed as a strategic system to balance what other potential adversaries might have in their arsenal.  In that sense, the F-22 appears to differ fairly radically from what the Russians and Chinese are up to.
The Russians are working on a stealthy fighter the Su-50 PAK.  This airplane is still under development, with some major components still not ready including its engines and radar. Moreover, we do not know the level of integration of the airplane’s systems.  We do know that it has some stealth features, but it is not as complete as the F-22 and has more in common, in that department, with the F-35.  Moreover the Su-50 is both a strategic and tactical aircraft by design, and it is exportable.  The F-22 is definitely not a tactical platform and is not exportable.

Su-35 demonstrator #709 displays a mix of R-27 Alamo and R-77 Adder BVR missiles (KnAAPO). (Air Power Australia & Dr. Karlo Kopp)

We don’t know how many Su-50’s the Russians plan to build, but given the state of Russian finances and the intrinsic capability of Sukhoi to build these platforms, the best guess is considerably less than one hundred airplanes; probably more like 50 to 60.  From a purely numbers game approach there are already 184 F-22’s in inventory.  Congress is asking whether the F-22 fleet should be over 380, a massive expenditure if the production line was restarted because these planes used to cost over $400 million a copy (and over $600 million each counting non-recurring R&D).  They are also fabulously expensive to operate.  The cost per flight hour is $68,362 (the costly F-35 comes in at a fat $42,200 to operate per hour).  An inventory of 380 F-22’s would incur an annual cost that is budget busting if the planes are really flown.
Now it is true the Chinese are also working on stealthy airplanes and they have showed one of the prototypes off.  It is easy to get excited about, but until we know a whole lot more about the Chinese planes, it is hard to calculate them into any strategic assessment.  Japan is buying the F-35 to counter Chinese air power, but Japan’s first choice was the F-22.  It is probably the only viable customer that could afford the F-22.  Would we restart a production line for Japan?  Hardly.  A better solution would be to base a significant number of our F-22’s in Japan and ask Japan to pay the cost.  That may sound like Trump (sorry, but he is right), but it makes sense.
There is also a serious issue in the idea of restarting a production line.  Before that can be done two things are needed: the tooling for the airplane and the upgrades that are needed since some of the F-22’s systems are in need of improvement.  While there is only speculation about the tooling, most experts think most of it was trashed to make room for F-35 manufacturing. Recreating it is a big and expensive job, and where to put such production is also up for grabs.
Because of the costs, and the fact that Russia is still some years away from finishing the Su-50 PAK, it is unlikely anyone can justify producing the F-22.  Indeed, given the many trade offs, a better area for investment might be in jamming and other countermeasure equipment and improved radars and other types of sensors that can track a stealth airplane.  Like anything else, stealth has a half-life and there is little doubt we are on the right hand side of the bell curve.  Unfortunately we don’t know what the actual half life will be, but it can’t be much more than 10 to 15 years.  That is not good news for a re-start of the F-22.
ECM “Khibiny” wing tip module on Su-34
There is yet another factor of serious importance: should be prepare for regional conflicts or for strategic ones?  Obviously we need  the ability to deal with all kinds of threats, but priorities are important.  Looking at the US aircraft inventory, we are in rather bad shape (notwithstanding the arrival in depth of the F-35).  Our airplanes (F-16’s and F-15’s especially) are close to worn out.  The Marines tell us their F-18’s and their helicopters are more than 80% used up.  Maybe the F-35 will fill the hole  –that is what Lockheed and the Air Force are claiming.  But it is a risky bet.  The F-35 lacks a lot of the combat characteristics desirable for regional conflicts, and it is not a strategic aircraft.  It does not have super-cruise, and its weapon’s portfolio is old.  The F-35 would have a hard time against Russia Su-35 and even many of the earlier Sukhois and MIGs.  And worse yet, it is a very expensive platform to use as a (poor) close support aircraft, something the Air Force is pushing.
If we must focus on strategic platforms, then the F-22 or an evolved F-22 makes sense.  If we are thinking about regional conflicts, the F-22 is unnecessary, and so maybe is the F-35.
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Taiwan on its Own

It is important not to allow the civilian component of the Pentagon and RAND to dictate measures that are suicidal for Taiwan and harmful to security in the Pacific and American credibility.

Source: Taiwan on its Own

Taiwan on its Own

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 10.01.56 PM

By Stephen Bryen* and Rachel Ehrenfeld*
Wednesday, April 20th, 2016 @ 10:03PM

Originally published by the American Center for Democracy


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It is important not to allow the civilian component of the Pentagon and RAND to dictate measures that are suicidal for Taiwan and harmful to security in the Pacific and American credibility.

The assumption for many years has been that that if China attacked Taiwan, Taipei would hold off China until the United States brought its power to bear and helped Taiwan survive.  The theory is no longer valid because the US lacks both the resources and the will to reliably intervene in time. Taiwan will have to save itself, and it is in the U.S. strategic interest to help Taiwan have the defense equipment and technology it needs to protect its territory.

Unfortunately, a RAND’s study of Taiwan’s air defenses, which was commissioned by Office of the Secretary of Defense, is more political than analytical. The study starts with a deeply flawed assumption – but one that the Pentagon and State Department politicians appear to favor – namely that Taiwan should all but abandon its air force and defend itself with its cache of air defense missiles, after China’s airplanes and missiles attack.

While the study talks about options, it aims at getting Taiwan to keep only a small number of upgraded F-16’s and get rid of all the rest, which means scrapping 275 fighter jets including all of Taiwan’s home built IDF jets and all its Mirage 2000’s!

RAND’s thesis is quite outlandish: When China decides to attack Taiwan with missiles and an overwhelming number of aircraft, Taiwan, with little air defense and early warning capabilities, will not be able to defend itself. Instead, it will have to watch how its planes are destroyed on the ground, and its airfields blasted away by Chinese missiles.

This is a strategy that no other country in the world would entertain. It is not NATO’s strategy vis-a-vis Russia; Israel’s facing Iran, or Japan facing China. Among these, Israel has good air defense missiles.  But why would Israel, which has good air defense missiles or Japan, or NATO put their military assets and their population under threat by waiting for the enemy? Suggesting that Taiwan becomes a sitting duck is preposterous.

Taiwan’s air force is competitive in size and capability to Japan’s. But the Pentagon is not advising the Japanese to scrap their airplanes as the RAND study and the Pentagon are advising Taiwan.

Of course, Taiwan is not Israel or Japan.

The U.S. sells Israel, Japan, and many others the means to defend themselves. Why then the refusal to sell Taiwan the weapons it needs to counter the growing threat from China? The last time Washington sold an airplane to Taiwan was 1992 when George H.W. Bush’s decided to provide them with the early model of F-16. Since then, his successors refused to sell upgraded versions of the F-16 with better range and capability to penetrate China’s airspace.

Fighter bombers (as opposed to purely air defense planes) have been absolutely out of the question.  Thus, Taiwan never got F-15’s or F-18’s, which would have helped ward off the Chinese.  Australia, Israel, and Japan got F-15’s, (Australia also got  F-18’s) and are now getting F-35’s.  Why not Taiwan?  The RAND study did not even consider this issue, and therefore offered no change in policy.

The RAND analysis misunderstood or ignored Taiwan’s home-produced fighter plane, known as the Indigenous Defense Fighter or IDF (technically the CK-1).  Although the IDF will soon be upgraded, it is already a prodigious dog fighter.  While it is not stealth, it can hide in and around Taiwan’s mountainous terrain and pop up and hit any Chinese fighters venturing into Taiwan’s airspace. Taiwan, of course, has no plans to scrap these planes or the 60 French Mirage 2000-5 fighter aircraft as RAND recommended.   Instead, it is planning to replace them.

As for the IDF, Taiwan should consider extending the range, equipping it with improved BVRweapons and better radar, and consider reducing the plane’s radar signature wherever possible.  The new government in Taiwan, which will take office in late May, is now evaluating options either for an entirely new aircraft or improving the IDF.  It would be sensible to do both.

To offset China’s move to stealthy aircraft Taiwan needs to improve its surveillance radars and expand the types of radars it uses to track enemy planes. Some experts, including Carlo Kopp from Air Power Australia, have studied developments in Russia and China, and the spread of stealth technology globally. Kopp sees a definite need for the U.S., Australia, and others to put in place a new generation radar sensors that can pick up stealth aircraft and attack it with long-range air-to-air and ground-to-air weapons.

When Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir refused to preempt the Egyptian and Syrian military build-up in 1973, Israel learned that waiting for the enemy to attack first could be a near-death experience.  Her refusal to act preemptively cost the lives of hundreds of Israeli soldiers and airmen, allowed the Egyptians to cross the Suez Canal and blow away the Bar Lev defensive line that was supposed to protect Israel. Meir mistakenly believed that not shooting first would earn her important political support and military assistance from the U.S. But the U.S. resupply of weapons to Israel was dangerously tardy, and the delay almost led to a nuclear war.

RAND’s recommendation to solely rely on ground-based missile air defense – though these missiles are not easier to protect than Taiwan’s air bases – is a prescription for failure.

Democratic Taiwan is a U.S. ally and an asset in Asia. The civilian component of the Pentagon and the RAND Corporation should not be allowed to dictate measures that are suicidal for Taiwan and harmful to the security in the Pacific, and the U.S.  Stripping Taiwan of its fighting capabilities would send the wrong message to China.



* Dr. Stephen Bryen is the author of Technology Security and National Power: Winners and Losers(Transaction Publishers) and Fellow at ACD; Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is Director of ACD.

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