Archive for the 'Stealth' Tag

(Note: This article appeared at RealClearDefense and is cross-posted by permission.)

On August 18th South Korea selected Boeing’s F-15SE Silent Eagle as the sole candidate for Phase III of its Fighter eXperimental Project (F-X) over Lockheed Martin’s F-35A and the Eurofighter Typhoon. The decision has drawn vociferous criticism from defense experts who fear the selection of F-15SE may not provide the South Korean military with the sufficient Required Operational Capabilities (ROCs) to counterbalance Japan and China’s acquisition of 5th generation stealth fighters.

In hindsight, Zachary Keck of The Diplomat believes that Republic of Korea’s (ROK)preference for the F-15SE over two other competitors was “unsurprising.” After all, Boeing won the previous two fighter competitions with its F-15-K jet. In 2002 and 2008, South Korea bought a total of 61 F-15K jets from Boeing. South Korea’s predilection for the F-15SE is understandable given its 85% platform compatibility with the existing F-15Ks.

The ROK has 60 F-15K Slam Eagles in service with its 11th Fighter Wing based in Taegu.

The ROK has 60 F-15K Slam Eagles in service with its 11th Fighter Wing based in Taegu.

However, the most convincing explanation seems to be the fear of “structural disarmament” of the ROK Air Force should it choose to buy yet another batch of expensive fighters to replace the aging F-4 Phantom and F-5 Tiger fighters. Simply stated, the more advanced the fighter jet, the more costly it is. The more expensive the jet, the fewer the South Korean military can purchase. The fewer stealth fighters purchased, the smaller the ROK Air Force.

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Now the reason the enlightened prince and the wise general conquer the enemy whenever they move and their achievements surpass those of ordinary men is foreknowledge. What is called “foreknowledge” cannot be elicited from spirits, nor from the gods, nor by analogy with past events, nor from calculations. It must be obtained from men who know the enemy situation.

Sun Tzu, Employment of Secret Agents, pp. 144-145

As I observe the maritime domain I see three major evolutions in scouting: electronic, visual, and physical. Electronic scouting is often associated with techniques such as signals, sonar, and radar, but includes any electronic mechanism that allows for the detection of enemy forces based on many various forms of electronic enabled detection technologies. Visual scanning is often associated with image intelligence, and while this form of scouting was previously primarily associated with satellite and manned aviation platforms, growth in this form of scouting is occurring at a rapid pace with unmanned systems including unmanned aviation vehicles. Physical scouting is emerging as a quiet but intense challenge with new focus being given to VBSS operations. Physical scouting requires a sailor physically at the point of contact with the suspected enemy to perform a physical inspection that might require language skills as well as skills for uncovering concealed or smuggled materials which might include anything from weapons to drugs to people. Physical scouting is evolving primarily because of more restrictive Rules of Engagement by naval forces at sea.

Depending upon the challenge facing naval forces, any of the three types of scouting may be more important than the others, which is why all three forms of scouting require diligence in development, resourcing, and implementation in order for naval forces to maintain credible scouting capabilities. Today, the Navy tends to spend more development and resources into the implementation of both electronic and visual scouting than physical scouting, and this weakness in our scouting development requirements are being exploited by inferior foes in the maritime domain.

In his timeless book Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, Captain Wayne P. Hughes Jr. notes a constant in the history of naval battles suggesting “antiscouting and its likely exploitation have become major constraints on enemy scouting effectiveness.” He notes that “antiscouting became possible when scouting started to be carried out at long range to account for the phenomenal growth in weapon range. Antiscouting by cover, deception, and evasion would now aim at limiting detection, tracking, and targeting.” He associates familiar terms with the concepts of cover, deception, and evasion. In the context of Navy forces stealth means cover, distortion and disinformation means deception, and obfuscation means evasion.

The United States Navy has spent a fortune in hull forms towards the development of stealth technology for surface vessels, but I question whether the Navy truly understands what stealth on the sea means. Under the sea a submarine achieves stealth by using water as a means of cover to avoid visual and physical detection, and leverages silence as a way to avoid detection by electronic detection means. In both sky and space our stealth aviation platforms are dark to the night sky and conceal contrails to avoid visual and physical detection, while using special materials and platform design to avoid electronic detection.

The Navy has attempted to design a ship incorporating silence, special materials, and special platform design characteristics as a way of avoiding electronic detection. The Navy paints the platform a special color to imply concealment in darkness against visual detection. At 14,500 tons and with a hull form straight out of a science fiction movie, I have no idea how the Navy believes they will achieve physical or visual detection avoidance with the DDG-1000 regardless of paint color, so clearly the concept of stealth was only applied to electronic detection only, and being that Captain Hughes defines stealth as cover, it raises the question why the concept of stealth is applied to the DDG-1000 at all.

The point is that the Navy has spent billions of dollars developing a design that will be so visibly strange to every seafarer in the world that absolutely nobody will fail to note what they are looking at, whether via a long range visual scouting tool or physically with the MK0 eyeball. When the Navy decided to put one of the most power intensive thus detectable radars in the world on the DDG-1000 platform, how the Navy believes they can avoid electronic detection in any high threat environment is questionable.

What really bothers me is that Captain Hughes book is one of the gospels of littoral warfare, and when designing a series of littoral warships the designers apparently disregarded what stealth, or cover, meant in the populated littorals. For a blue water force, low radar cross-section is an important form of cover because electronic detection is the scouting capability most often utilized in a blue water environment today, but for a littoral force, defeating visual and physical scouting are much more important for antiscouting stealth solutions, and both the DDG-1000 and LCS are absent any charactoristics that would provide a stealth solution against either form of scouting. How were the designers of the SC-21 platforms allowed to so clearly disregard the definition of stealth as cover in the requirements planning process for littoral warfare? Clearly, something went terribly wrong in the requirements planning process, and unless something has changed, that flaw still exists today.

Does the Navy still believe the same design techniques for aviation platforms and submarines apply for surface vessels to achieve stealth in the littoral, or have we evolved our requirements planning process enough to distinguish why blue water requirements are vastly different than the requirements that will be necessary in the complex littoral environment? I believe the Navy has blown billions of dollars attempting to achieve stealth on surface vessels for littoral warfare when, right under our nose, the antiscouting tactic of exploiting the cover of a populated littoral (exploiting cover is also known as stealth according to Capt. Hughes) has been the bane of international naval forces in attempting to deal with pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Without a single dime spent on research and development, it turns out that blending into the environment that makes up the populated littorals is how stealth is achieved on the surface of the sea. US Navy warships and aircraft utilize the most advanced electronic and visual detection capabilities in the world off the coast of Somalia, and yet our naval forces are being flanked. By blending in with the local population in plain view of both electronic and visual detection, both of which represent the long range scouting capabilities the US Navy emphasizes with development, resourcing, and implementation, the US Navy finds itself absent the necessary physical manpower centric scouting capabilities in any credible number to exercise the physical scouting requirements necessary to counter the enemies stealth advantage of achieving cover by blending into the populated littorals. Why is it the US Navy has spent billions to develop an incomplete stealth capability while our enemy has spent nothing and exploits stealth in every hijacking off the coast of Somalia?

The exploitation of antiscouting through stealth by Somali pirates has become a major constraint on our scouting effectiveness. It isn’t just us though, the rest of the world who also operates naval forces off the coast of Somalia has demonstrated they have the same constraints. Perhaps it is in our best interest to close the gap, so that we can both neutralize our weakness that is being exploited, and also adopt lessons as necessary in case we desire to exploit realistic stealth in the littorals of our enemies.

I believe the only way to effectively counter the exploitation of stealth in the littoral is to increase the US Navy’s physical scouting capabilities to better identify enemy forces that blend in with the local population. That means the US Navy needs more manpower distributed in the complex littoral environment. To counter this weakness in the US Navy’s force structure in an affordable way, the US Navy needs to invest in more smaller ships in larger numbers, rather than the larger ships in smaller numbers approach the Navy has demonstrated repeatedly to favor since the end of the cold war.

It is one thing to note the necessity of cooperative partnerships in solving difficult challenges in the littoral, but it is another thing completely to ignore our own tactical shortcomings and believe some other country will always be there to fill these gaps, particularly as the pirate problem proves other countries are being exploited by the same tactical weaknesses. Ignoring the problem is not the solution, and believing that a helicopter is a credible replacement for a small ship on the sea in meeting physical scouting requirements disregards the persistent presence requirement central to the necessity to limit the enemies ability to exploit the constantly evolving littoral environment that gives the enemy cover.



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