No Air Superiority, No Quick Win in Wargame
By John A. Tirpak
May 17, 2022
A recent wargame run by the Center for a New American Security followed a 2027 scenario in which China invades Taiwan; as the game played out, neither side achieved air superiority, both sides took heavy losses, and China failed to achieve its fait accompli objective.
The game highlighted Chinese advances in military technology and highlighted logistics as crucial in the defense of Taiwan. Sponsored by NBC television’s “Meet the Press,” the wargame posited a Chinese invasion of Taiwan after a new government in Taipei sought to declare permanent independence from Beijing. China still views Taiwan as a “breakaway province,” even now 73 years after Chinese Nationalists escaped to the island and established it as a separate government. While China has long professed that it wants peaceful “reunification” with Taiwan, it has also consistently warned that it could reclaim the island, located just 100 miles from the mainland—by force, if necessary.
In recent months, many have expressed concern that China would take advantage of the West’s attention on the Russian invasion of Ukraine to move against Taiwan. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told Congress on May 10 that the Intelligence Community doesn’t expect that to happen, saying China doesn’t believe it’s ready.
The “Blue Team” in the wargame was led by Michele Flournoy, chair of the CNAS board of directors, who was a short-list candidate to be Secretary of Defense under President Joe Biden. Also on that team was retired Gen. James M. “Mike” Holmes, former commander of Air Combat Command, now an adjunct fellow at CNAS, as well as Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) of the House Armed Services Committee. Analysts from CNAS and other think tanks populated both teams.
After three rounds of play—representing perhaps several weeks of combat—China had “paid a tremendous cost, primarily in ships … and aircraft, and the crews that are on those ships and aircraft,” Holmes said in an interview with Air Force Magazine. However, China was “able to get a foothold on the island,” seizing much of the northern region and Taipei. The game ended with a ground war about to play out, with neither side enjoying a clear advantage.
Holmes’ takeaway was that “even though China has lots of advantages and proximity to Taiwan,” and a large magazine of weapons, “it’s still a giant effort to get a significant force across that water in the face of determined opposition.” Given the assumptions and rules of the game, “They weren’t able to get it done in that short-range timeline that they hoped.” He also noted that for the Blue forces, the logistics of getting equipment, personnel, and materiel to the fight was overwhelmingly the most important factor.
When the game ended, the U.S. and its allies had set the conditions to bring in more air power, Holmes said, which could have provided an edge in a subsequent ground war, if the game had continued.
“At the strategic and operational levels,” the CNAS exercise “‘rhymes’ with many of the things we see in our more detailed wargaming,”’ Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements, said in a written response to questions from Air Force Magazine. He said CNAS does “outstanding work in this area” and called the exercise credible, tapping “great minds with lots of experience.”
Asked about the result that air superiority could not be achieved by either side, Hinote said control of the air “is likely to be contested over Taiwan in a way we have not seen in a long time. We are used to dominating” in this aspect of warfare, but China has “invested in modern aircraft and weapons to fight us.” He also chalked up the air-to-air stalemate in part to the tyranny of distance in the Pacific, making it hard to “project enough power to establish and maintain control.”
There is “no one silver bullet” that will guarantee control of the air, Hinote added, which is why the Air Force is seeking a portfolio of air-to-air capabilities, including the E-7 Wedgetail AWACS replacement, the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) family of systems with “crewed and uncrewed” components, and an upgraded F-22. With Congress’ help, he said, the Air Force can field new systems within the time frame of the game, “and that would make a difference.”
USAF’s ARRW Finally Goes Hypersonic
By Greg Hadley
May 16, 2022
The Air Force conducted its first successful test of the Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW, on May 14, snapping a streak of three consecutive failed tests and giving the beleaguered hypersonics program a much-needed boost.
The AGM-183A ARRW separated from the wing of a B-52H Stratofortress off the California coast, after which its booster ignited and burned for an “expected duration” propelling the missile at more than five times the speed of sound.
The 419th Flight Test Squadron and the Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., executed the test. “The test team made sure we executed this test flawlessly,” said Lt. Col. Michael Jungquist, 419th FLTS commander and GPB CTF director. “We’re doing everything we can to get this game-changing weapon to the warfighter as soon as possible.”
ARRW’s success comes after three failed booster flight tests in April, July, and December 2021. That led the Air Force to cut procurement funding for the missile in its 2022 and 2023 budget requests. At the same time, the Air Force seeking to shift funding in 2023 to the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile. After spending upward of $300 million in 2021 and 2022 on ARRW, the service requested just $114.98 million in 2023, while asking for $316.89 million to fund HACM.
ARRW is a boost-glide weapon fired into the atmosphere and uses the energy from its rocket to fly toward its target; HACM is propelled by air-breathing engine technology.
With this successful test of ARRW, Brig. Gen. Heath A. Collins, Air Force program executive officer for weapons, released a statement projecting confidence about the Air Force’s hypersonics efforts.
“This was a major accomplishment by the ARRW team, for the weapons enterprise, and our Air Force,” Collins said. “The team’s tenacity, expertise, and commitment were key in overcoming the past year’s challenges to get us to the recent success. We are ready to build on what we’ve learned and continue moving hypersonics forward.”
Images Reveal Advanced F-22 Capabilities
By John A. Tirpak
An artist’s concept of the F-22 posted on Instagram by Gen. Mark D. Kelly, head of Air Combat Command, offers an official glimpse of new capabilities for the Raptor, including a possible first look at the highly classified AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile.
The image, released April 27, shows three F-22s flying in formation, each carrying what appear to be stealthy extended-range fuel tanks and slender outer wing pods with a chiseled aperture at their leading edges. In the picture, one of the F-22s has launched a missile, which is neither an AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile nor an AIM-9X Sidewinder, the two air-to-air missiles already known to be qualified for the fighter.
The tanks seem to be the same ones described in new Air Force budget documents, while the pods are likely infrared search and track and/or electronic warfare systems. The only new missile publicly identified for the F-22 is the JATM.
The Air Force has spent more than $12 billion to continually upgrade the F-22 since production of the fighter ended in 2010. Revelations such as Kelly’s image usually precede new systems operating where they can be seen publicly.
Kelly did not comment on the new features. The post accompanying the image noted the 15th anniversary of the first 12-minute airshow demonstration of the F-22, flown by demo pilot Paul D. “Max” Moga, now a brigadier general and Commandant of Cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Back then, the F-22 was the only operational fifth-generation fighter in the world.
Separately, aviation photographer James Reeder captured a photo of an Air Force F-22 Raptor from the 411th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., flying with mysterious pods hanging from underwing mounts. That image, taken near Lockheed’s Palmdale, Calif., facility, home of its Skunk Works advanced development shop, recalls that Lockheed’s early 2000s proposal for an FB-22 bomber variant of the Raptor included stealthy external fuel tanks and stealthy outer-wing pods that could open to release a non-stealthy munition. The potential for stealth aircraft carrying stores externally while preserving their low observability thus dates back at least 20 years.
The Air Force’s justifications for the fiscal 2023 budget request identify the new fuel tanks as the Low Drag Tank and Pylon system (LDTP), which USAF calls a “critical capability” to maintaining air superiority. The new tanks and pylons extend the F-22’s range while preserving its “lethality and survivability,” USAF said. They allow the F-22 to fly supersonically yet stealthily, but can also be jettisoned using “smart rack pneumatic technology,” apparently producing a stealthy-smooth surface after the tanks have been released.
Providing the F-22 with an infrared search and track (IRST) system has been an Air Force priority almost since the Raptor entered service, as such a system provides an important way to spot an adversary whose radar cross section has been reduced.
In 2017, Lockheed F-22 program manager Ken Merchant told Air Force Magazine, “We really don’t have the real estate” inside the F-22 for a system like the F-35’s electro-optical targeting system, or EOTS, noting at the time, “we’re looking at other options.” Because an IRST cannot be placed on the F-22’s nose or under the chin of the aircraft—as they are on most fighters that have them—the two pods would provide full coverage to the front, as well as expanded capability to the sides.
It’s also likely that the pods have some kind of electronic warfare function. Lockheed’s “Legion Pod” IRST, which has flown on the F-15, has considerable unused internal space that the company has said could be used for other sensors, functions, or fuel. In fact, company literature mentions that the Legion Pod has “other sensors” but doesn’t describe them.
The JATM, the existence of which was first revealed at an Air Force Life Cycle Management Center industry conference in 2019, is also being developed by Lockheed Martin, and is set to begin replacing the AIM-120 AMRAAM sometime soon. When it was first mentioned, the Air Force said it would achieve initial operational capability in 2022. The JATM has been described by USAF officials as having sharply expanded range over the AMRAAM, to match or exceed the capability of newer versions of China’s PL-15, which outranges the AMRAAM and has diminished the F-22’s “first look, first shot” capability.
It’s also believed the JATM, which will be adopted by the Navy as well, has a multi-mode seeker, with both radar and infrared capabilities, with heightened resistance to jamming. Industry observers have speculated the missile will have a novel propulsion system, but the ACC artwork doesn’t show an air intake or unusual propulsive apertures, as on Lockheed’s “Cuda” advanced missile.
The artwork published by Kelly suggests the new missile will fit inside the F-22’s weapons bay, meaning it will not be appreciably larger than AMRAAM. The artwork may be deliberately misleading, however. The image also suggests a modular, “stacked” propulsion system, meaning the missile could be configured for longer- or shorter-ranged missions.