Marc SchanzBUFF Blogging – Kick Out the Jams!

So Marc, you say, what gives? You’ve been hanging out on the couch for days and not one wonky aircraft post?

Fair enough – give the people what they want.

Jeffrey talks a lot about Iran’s nuclear program here, and for some time now the specter of airstrikes on the country’s nuclear aparatus has been hanging around the policy options party like a creepy guest that people don’t really want to talk to.

One of the problems oft mentioned in planning circles for just an eventuality is that Iran—unlike say Afghanistan or Iraq (2003 Iraq, not 1991 Iraq)—is not as easy a nut to crack from the air.

A recent study from MIT suggested that were the Israeli Air Force to try an Osirak Redux, its success would not necessarily be out of the question—granted only one of its F-15s were shot down trying to take out Natanz, each carrying a BLU-113 (props to Steve Trimble for finding that one).

Yeah, about that..


Wow, sweet new swag. Thanks uncle Vlad!

The Iranians are growing more freaked out by the day and have been steadily enhancing their dated but already layered air defense network—radars, anti aircraft artillery and surface to air missiles—with even more effective tools to combat any incursion.

The technology is older, sure, but the question mark remains how well integrated these tools are. Separately, their effectiveness is diminished. Networked, that’s a different story.

While stealth technology is good, many will say, the 1999 shootdown of an F-117 over Serbia proved that it is fallible. Despite the improvements in 5th Generation stealth, any serious attack on fortified and heavily defended targets will turn on the ability to prosecute EA – electronic attack, or the active suppression and scrambling of electronic air defense radar networks.

Which brings us to the first installment of BUFF Blogging—all things relating to the B-52 Stratofortress.

Once the star of SAC alerts and Kubrick films, the B-52 fleet is still in service but aging rapidly. The Air Force is drawing some down in the years ahead to pay the bills, and its bread and butter mission—nuclear deterrence—appears to be leaving town (more on that another time). So what to do with all those Big Ugly Fat Fellows?

Enter the B-52 “Electro BUFF” standoff jammer.

Perhaps due to an overreliance on stealth, electronic attack was somewhat neglected by senior Pentagon leaders over the last few years.

The Navy flies the only active standoff airborne EA platform in the U.S. military in the form of the EA-6B Prowler (several of which I saw doing their thing during my recent foray to the ‘Stan—for small planes those suckers are LOUD). The Prowler fleet will eventually give way to the EF-18G Growler by 2012, a flying computer on a Super Hornet airframe. Since the Air Force retired their EF-111s a few years back, the service has gone into doggy paddle mode with the EA mission – some say, planning completely fell off the table. While still sending crews to train with Naval aviators, the “roadmap” for a new capability went nowhere as recently as last year.

Some senior military leaders are not all that comfortable with this, despite the vaunted capabilities of both the F-22 and the F-35 – the lack of a long range EA capability in a strategic strike situation is bringing up a new use for an old airframe yet again – the “electro BUFF.”

Back from the dead – barely a year after it was killed off due to requirements creep (Pentagon-speak for programs that start as a simple kitchen knife but then morph into elaborate Leatherman tools) an eager Congress wants to find ways to prevent the old iron from going to the boneyard.

Now called the Core Component Jammer, USAF officials will get the thumbs up or down from OSD within a few weeks to keep on plugging at it. In its 2008 unfunded priorities list, USAF asks Congress for $35 million in airborne electronic attack technical work – most of which will be to continue developing jamming pod technology being used on the Growler program. Senior officials claim they can field a capability by 2015, for no more than $3.7 billion.


“standoff electro.. what in the sam hell you sayin’ son?”

It remains to be seen whether or not The Creep will be kept at bay this time.

If so, Major Kong may ride again… only this time, he’ll be flipping switches on emitters. Yee haw.

Comments

  1. john field (History)

    Yeah, networked radars change everything because the lower radar cross section is only in the retro-reflection direction.

    Now, I suppose you could build a stealth airplane that would have a low RCS at a different angle than retro-reflect, but it would do you no good unless you could somehow change that null angle around constantly during the mission(maybe a flying saucer is not such a bad idea after all!). And, I suppose that the mission planners would choose the flight paths of the B-52 jammers to try and put the stealth airplanes between them and the radars of concern through the mission. But, if you’ve got mobile radars, you probably don’t know where the radars are going to be in advance. I wonder if they have fancy computer programs which automatically update the flight paths of the B-52s during the mission to optimize the jamming effect as hostile radar positions become known.

    Nonetheless, the conclusion is simple: stealth doesn’t work very well except against unsophisticated(read: weak and vulnerable) adversaries.

  2. Steeljaw Scribe (History)
  3. Caitlin Talmadge

    Really enjoyed this post. Stealth has been overestimated for a long time, and the procurement decisions made on the basis of this assumption are beginning to pose problems for us. Two minor points—1) There is a more recent version of the Long-Raas MIT study cited in the post. It appears in the current issue of International Security.

    2) The Iranian air defense purchase mentioned isn’t such a big deal, in my view. According to Jane’s, the Tor-M1 (SA-15) is a low to medium altitude system with a max. range of about 12,000 m. My understanding is that this sort of system is unlikely to pose a threat to our strategic attack platforms, which can launch weapons from well outside its range. It is very telling that Russia has sold only this system to the Iranians and NOT the SA-10 (S-300) ordered in 1998, as far as we know. If this happens I’ll be more concerned. Also, Iran bought only 29 of the Tor-M1 to cover a country 3 times the size of Iraq. They are going to be spread thin. Furthermore, as the post notes, it’s unclear Iran has the networking capabilities to form a true IADS, especially given the varied origins of its many air defense weapons (France, US/Israel, USSR).

    In short, the press made a big deal about this purchase, but I’m not sure the hype is warranted when examined in context…. Still agree with the broader point of the post, though—we are behind where we need to be with SEAD.

  4. RS (History)

    I would also be concerned about the SA-10s in the S300 system. Of all the “networked” defence components, the S300 can be a deal breaker all by itself.

  5. RS (History)

    Caitlin,

    The question is what form the planned strike will take. Will it be a long range strike using prescision munitions or will it be a more traditional bombardment of the targets from aircraft? If it is the latter, it would make sense that the attak would be somewhat similar to Opera, utilizing aircraft that will approach at a low altitude, in which case Tors will certainly be a problem. As for the numbers – I dont think that they will be spead out through the country. Instead they will be concentrated around the high value targets.

  6. Andy (History)

    I think some people here are misinformed about what so-called “stealth” technology is supposed to accomplish. A couple of points:

    1. It’s not meant as the “be-all, end-all” for defeating all types of radars. It’s a technology designed to increase survivability by complicating enemy targeting. It works by compressing the amount of time an enemy will have to acquire, track, and engage a friendly target.

    2. Stealth works best as part of a total package to defeat an enemy IADS (integrated air defense system) including jamming, anti-radiation missiles, decoys, saturation and long-range weapons.

    3. Even by itself stealth works against advanced adversaries. The RCS reduction is a key factor for why the F-22 consistently bests the F-15 with skilled pilots. The F-22 is able to “see” the F-15s before the F-15s detect the F-22’s – a huge advantage in aerial combat. A similar situation exists with respect to ground radars.

    4. Jamming is not an ultimate solution either. In some respects, jamming is a more difficult prospect than “stealth” as all modern radars are inherently designed with anti-jamming technology.

    In short, “stealth” is not a Hollywood technology but neither is it only useful against unsophisticated opponents.

  7. hass (History)

    Lets not forget that the attack on Osirak was a failure that backfired by actually speeding up the Iraqi nuke program.

  8. Austin Long (History)

    RS,
    I don’t believe the IAF (or USAF) would conduct a low-level attack against any Iranian facilities. As the IS version of our assessment (available from http://www.mitpressjournals.org) tries to show, one can very likely engage the Natanz facility from outside the SA-15 envelope with modern LGBs such as Paveway III. Why would you willingly place yourself not only in range of SA-15 but also lots of AAA by conducting a low-level attack if you don’t have to?

  9. Andy (History)

    It should be noted that the Tor system has an advertised capability against some types of PGM’s, specifically cruise missiles. So while it would not pose a serious threat to LGB delivery from medium altitudes, it could if Israel decided to use standoff weapons in any attack.

    I would also like to know if the MIT authors considered the possibility of an all-water route (Red Sea – Arabian Sea – Iran) and looked at the tanking requirements for such a long-range mission.

  10. Austin Long (History)

    Contra Richard Betts and others, it is not true that Osirak sped up the Iraqi program(sorry, Professor Betts- I have mad respect for your work other than that article). Nearly a decade after Osirak Iraq had no fissile material other than that which had been given to them and then held under safeguard. Further, they had only limited prospects for getting a domestic supply as neither of their calutron plants was operational nor were they likely to be for at least a couple of years. They were barely able to spin single centrifuges. I believe this is all pretty clear in IAEA report 779.

    SA-15 might even be able to engage LGBs but as we note a modest EW/SEAD effort should be able to limit that. Also forgot to mention in earlier post that penetrating bombs rely on kinetic energy to penetrate and so cannot be effectively used at low altitude.

    We eyeballed the all water route and determined it is probably not feasible without some forward basing given IAF assets.

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