Mastery of the electronic spectrum using sophisticated jammers will undoubtedly deny enemies a first shoot opportunity, i.e. they may be able to see us but there is nothing they can do about it…
I certainly do not think this broad statement suggests that jamming will deny detection, obviously not. I am simply saying that modern, sophisticated and up-to-date defensive electronic warfare (EW) equipment should deny the enemy a first-shoot opportunity. Effective offensive EW should remove the radar threat.
In the end, the F-35 may be a good aircraft. It does represent the next generation of fighter aircraft but the leap is not as extensive as many may think when compared to 4.75 generation fighters like the Block II Super Hornet or F-15 Silent Eagle. Pair that with all the cost and development problems of the F-35 and one really has to question this direction.
If we agree that Canada is a good coalition partner then we should show up to the dance with a solid capability in numbers we have committed to. If the Conservatives stick to their nine billion dollar envelope then I would suggest that it is extremely likely that the 65 acquisition will be reduced to something around 40.
Seriously, what do we expect to do with 40, or even 65, of anything? The 138 CF-18s originally acquired were justified by considering our commitments, attrition, training requirement, and long term serviceability. The decision to modernize 79 aircraft was purely an economical one and did not coincide with a permanent reduction in aircraft committed to either NORAD or NATO. My understanding of the government’s plan to distribute 65 aircraft includes 24 aircraft at each of the two fighter wings and the remaining 17 at a training facility most probably located in the United States. Assuming the RCAF gets all 65 aircraft, the 48 aircraft available for operations would not be enough to cover both our NORAD and NATO obligations concurrently even assuming all aircraft were serviceable all the time. Reduction in aircraft availability due to maintenance requirements and statistical attrition will quickly drive Canada in a direction where it will be unable to provide even a token contribution simultaneously–let alone its declared commitment.
Let’s face it. Technology breeds technology. That’s to say that it’s reasonable to assume that anything we buy in the short term will most probably be marginalized sooner rather than later. What version of the iPad do you think will be around in 2050? The F-35 does not come with a completely different propulsion system or a cloaking device.
I think the smarter move would be to buy something that is affordable, interoperable, supportable, and upgradable. In numbers that are respectable. Something that, out of the box, will satisfy the Canada First Defense Strategy and our commitments to both NORAD and NATO. Realistically, the F-35 will not achieve the former without additional monies thus further exacerbating its already ugly financial outlook. Oh, and it will never have two engines.
I also would like to pass on the following observations from a very knowledgeable serving RCAF officer:
I don’t agree with Eric Lerhe on the following points:
1. The inability to rely on ground alert when detection ranges are inside 250 kms. This is very two dimensional thinking. It is a correct statement if the detection device is located a the spot you are trying to defend (along with your fighters). If the detection device or array of detection devices are geographically dispersed, put “up threat” or in the ultimate high ground - space, ground alert becomes a possibility again. Fighters aren’t the only aircraft with radars and sometimes it makes much more sense to run one airborne warning radar for a long period of time than a bunch of fighters airborne with fire control radars. Additionally, depending on the type of threat, a change in search spectrum is beneficial.
2. Ground defences aren’t another option; they should be considered a complementary aspect. Any comprehensive defence plan requires the use of a host of unique systems. It makes solving the problem that much more difficult for the adversary. If we just use (fill in the blank), it will soon be characterized, understood and defeated. A complex set of capabilities make it far more challenging to defeat and overcome as an individual system’s weaknesses will be covered by another system’s strength and so on.
3. The point about the US not wishing to have something with 1000 time larger RCS anywhere near it is not true or just a leading overstatement. I don’t believe I’ve read anything about stealth tankers anywhere and I’m pretty certain we will still intend to refuel in the brave new world. The USN is also planning on running F-35 and F18-E/F/G tactically as their capabilities are complementary. It is quite obvious that we wouldn’t want to hazard a formation attempting to penetrate defences purely based on their low observable characteristics by drawing attention to them with high RCS fighters but we still need higher RCS, lower cost fighters, too. There are far too many targets to rely on ultra-expensive, unescorted fighters to win the war. This is the fighter version of the USAAF argument to become the USAF - except for the Army Air Force it was that strategic bombing would save the day. Now it is stealth fighters. Either way we need a range of capability. Although I don’t have the exact stat, probably over 90% of conflict falls within the “small wars” category. We don’t even need F-18As for these and much has been written about the US bankrupting itself by flying B-1s and F15-Es to chase insurgents around the desert. In these cases, armed Harvard IIs make more sense tactically, economically and therefore strategically.
4. Stealth is important but perhaps not the way Lerhe means. Stealth enables surprise - a key principle of warfare. Stealth has been employed for centuries to gain advantage, initiative and decisiveness in operations. As we become more aware of other spectrums of observation, stealth falls into many varieties. Regardless, surprise can be achieved with very low technology by applying strenght to adversary weakness. Additionally, history shows that low observable technology always takes longer to develop than to counter. Once a stealth aircraft is characterized and understood, very simple and inexpensive methods are developed to negate the advantage. Secrecy becomes very important. The F-22, F-117 and B-2 have had the benefit of limited fleet sizes and limited exposure to foreign scrutiny. I argue that despite every nations’ best intentions, when 2400 F-35s are flying all over the world, the jet’s stealth aspects will be quickly characterized. As a force we can’t rely on this static “stealth” based on superior technology. We need to purchase our “stealth” via combined operations incorporating information superiority, cyber operations, space control, uncompromising C4ISR, diplomatic power, economic power, direct action and Electronic Warfare to only name a few of our wingmen when planning the package flow. Many elements can keep radar energy off my aircraft in combat. Additionally, interoperability is a high intellectual hurdle, not a high technological one.
Major (ret’d) Steve Fuhr is a former CF-18 pilot and was CF-18 Fleet Manager at 1 Canadian Air Division for five years
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