High cost of survival in an air war with China

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marauder2048

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Unread post07 Nov 2019, 06:47

weasel1962 wrote:
The length of time on the ground depends upon the amount of fuel and munitions needed by the fighters. If it needs few munitions, a four-ship of F-22s can be back in the air 60 minutes after landing. In most situations, arming/refueling the fighters takes 60 to 120 minutes (fig. 5).



So an average of an hour and a half. There are crew changes and mission planning involved that are not a
typical component of other FARP types. For reference, typical Air Force turnaround times for combat missions
at well provisioned, permanent bases average 45 - 60 minutes.

weasel1962 wrote:The write ups in RAND and Davis are both consistent and the write up on FARPs are sufficient in length.

The Davis paper actually takes a stab at estimating sortie generation rates, persistence, maintenance intervals etc.
The RAND write up is cursory by comparison.

weasel1962 wrote: USAF fixed wing has significant constraints on FARP operations including legacy operational preferences that favors large base operations.

Because sortie generation rate is a first order approximation of combat power.

weasel1962 wrote:On turnaround times, operationally I understand there are several strategies that have been tested that reduce turnaround times. Some instances have been reported though not posted on this site. They include methods like arming and refueling at the same time during a hot refuel.

Posts like the below are not new
https://www.airforcetimes.com/news/your ... uel-f-35s/


They are contrasting fueling from a hydrant system to refueling from trucks. They aren't taking either of those on the C-17.
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marauder2048

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Unread post07 Nov 2019, 07:19

weasel1962 wrote:On political access, is that really a barrier?


In was repeatedly highlighted as a constraint in the paper you cited. Feel free to defend it.

weasel1962 wrote:The 163 bases cited by Davis is an overestimation. Once one takes out bases in SE Asia and those outside of the likely war zone outside of 800nm, the number of 6000 ft runways will be significantly reduced. Notionally, the F-35B is still the ideal weapon to take advantage of distributed ops, not the USAF. My opinion on this still stands.


With the F-35B you aren't really at the mercy of a runway blockade due to ballistic missile delivered runway penetrators.
The enemy can't really pin you In hardened shelters to be destroyed by cruise missiles or prevent you from
recovering back to the base due to UXO in inconvenient places.

So distributed isn't buying you what it does for the non-STOVL force.
Various CSAFs have talked about acquiring the F-35B over the years. Definitely time to revisit that thinking.
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element1loop

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Unread post07 Nov 2019, 09:16

weasel1962 wrote:With due respect, that's not how a FARP works. What is critical is that FARPs are the key feature of distributed operations. Its to avoid permanent bases that can be targeted. Downplaying FARPs for the USAF is basically saying distributed ops don't work in their context. FARPs, including fighter FARPs are thus not meant to be permanent bases. They are meant to be temporary runways for use from hours to days max.


I know what a temporary FARP is and what it is meant to do.

weasel1962 wrote: As forward points, they are closer to the target i.e. no air tankers required. The set-up of a FARP may require transports but these are transient. They land, offload and take off. Not parked at the base. Otherwise, no permanent basing of support aircraft either...


Maybe I wasn't clear enough. The RAND document you've linked says this:

" ... Since the concepts for distributed air operations are still emerging [published in 2019], this report is necessarily exploratory and conceptual. We synthesize and expand on existing concepts for distributed operations in order to identify possible capabilities for distributed operations as a starting point for identifying implications for force presentation. We focus in this study on presenting forward deployed fighter forces. ..." (page 20)


In other words, there's no right or wrong way to do this laid out in technical formality, it's a developing concept of operating and what makes the best practical, tactical and achievable sense is what will be done, to enable the most effective survivable FARPing with the available geography. Adaptation to what works will be the rule, and nothing will be unchanging in a fight.

So firstly, your initial linked document from 2013 cites using a C-17A as the refueling source for a flight of 4 x F-22A on the ground, so tanking is involved in FARPing, the only question is where and when does it take place? And that ground refuel consumes more time on the ground. Which as I think you said earlier can be as long as 60 minutes. The reaction and flight time of a BM to a FARP is shorter than that, so the main benefit of FARPing is lost if it takes approximately 1 hour to get everything back into the air due to fueling jets on the ground.

Tanking is involved in getting to the FARP Island (at least one refuel). It is involved again on the return to a base, from the FARP strikes.

The 2013 document cites F-22A, with JDAM bombs - not with JSM or JASSM-ER standoff margins added. So Raptors must fly to the Chinese mainland and perhaps over it for a distance before it drops JDAMs. Meaning it would need close coordination with an escorted tanker waiting for it on the way out. Look at the distance involved. You can't do this without considerable tanking support.

To thus shorten the time on the ground, and exposure to BM strikes you could just refuel the four F-35s after they takeoff from the FARP strip, prior to the strike leg, via using a tanker. The tanker has 2 F-35A escorts protecting it, and also detecting any threats to the FARP, while aircraft are on the ground, and providing real time warning data to the ground.

That makes FARPing much more viable as only 4 x F-35 need hot-reload of weapons on the ground and no fuel. But you would not fly all the way to a FARP and perform just one strike. The key benefit of FARPing is to be closer to the action, to enable more strikes per day, not just one of them. FARPs are not usually operated from the very beginning of a conflict. But in this case it would be hoped they can begin early and continue through out the conflict.

But you'd want to get in at least two strikes per FARP mission before the fighters head back to a base further to the west, say to Guam, or perhaps as far as Wake Island. While most of the tankers must head further eastward to Midway or Hickam to survive on the ground.

This is how I see it occurring: 6 x F-35A takeoff from Guam and head west towards China, 4 of them carry long-range strike weapons, two of them carry A2A weapons (escorts). They meet up with a tanker between Guam and China and tank. The two A2A F-35A stay with the tanker and protect it, the 4 x F-35A with strike weapons attack Chinese targets with Cruise weapons, then return to a FARP Island for a reload. Meanwhile the tanker and its escorts move towards this FARP Island, just as the 4 x F-35A have reloaded with strike weapons and are now ready to launch from the FARP runway. They launch and meet up with the Tanker and escorts near to the FARP Island and refuel, then again attack Chinese targets. The two escorts stay with the tanker and refuel off it as needed. Once the 4 strike F-35A return eastwards, they meet up with the escorted tanker and top-off their tanks, and all 6 x F-35A return to Guam, then the Tanker continues on to Midway, to a more survivable parking area. It's easier for the F-35As to operate and park survivably on Guam (off base). Else they can refuel in Guam, and head for Wake Island before staging from there for the next double-strike FARP attack.

i.e. one FARP double-strike attack every two days (the reason is made clear below).

The closer a FARP Island is to the Chinese mainland the shorter Chinese weapon flight times, and the more important it is to refuel the jets in the air, after reload and launching off the FARP Island, refueling from the escorted tanker.

If you do that you don't need a C-17A involved on the ground to operate a FARP, as the weapons for the second strike's hot-reload can be delivered by over-flight and GPS/INS-guided parachute drop, days in advance of the attack.

This sort of double-strike with a FARP reload in between, would be a fairly standard way to do it (perhaps a triple strike is possible) and may require two tankers to deliver at least two full loads of fuel plus a contingency margin to 6 x F-35A.

weasel1962 wrote:I can understand the resistance expressed from the USAF support communities. Do so much work to set up something that's gone in a few hours or days. Is that really efficient or effective use of resources? I think the appeal to the USMC who have expeditionary ingrained cultural thinking and resources are a bit different.


And with equal respect I don't think you're taking the point on board. Are tankers going to come from San Francisco each mission? Of course not. They will be mostly located on Hawaii and West of Hawaii. And not only tankers. I mentioned several larger aircraft types but presume I refer to every large aircraft type used in the theater. They must be parked somewhere and it will be as close as survivably possible to the battle zone.

Can you imagine flying a fighter or a heavy half way across the Pacific, into battle and back each day? It's not possible without constantly rotating in fresh crews. For example; it's 9,700 nm from Hickam to Kadena and return. At 450 knots (ignoring winds) that's 20.8 hours flying to support each FARP double-strike, not including the time for the strikes, plus the time on the ground, before and after the flight.

So each FARP-supporting refuel flight is at least 24 hours of aircrew duty, i.e. you need 2 crews on each FARP tanker to do it, then crew recovery time after the mission. The FARPs predictably must happen at night and with these constraints it implies 1 tanker can probably support one half of a 6-ship FARP attack, only once every two days, if operating from Hickam or Midway for survivability reasons.

And frankly, the heavy loaded FARP tanker must also receive AAR support to the FARP. So this requires at least two tankers per 6-ship FARP double-strike. And that's without contingency needs. So it will probably require at least 3 tankers to launch a 6-ship FARP strike, if large aircraft (i.e. of all types) have to park at Hickam just to survive the first weeks of the fight.

And yes, there are more Islands with >6,000 ft runways in the mid-western Pacific region but these are still very sparse, and parking is still going to be heavily concentrated at those.

So given those numbers the support aircraft are going to be parked closer to the action, i.e. mostly west of Hawaii and closer to PLAAF bomber weapons and PLA BM artillery. As will be everything else that needs to be close to the fight. To get the effects sooner a higher risk of losses must be taken, Distributed Operations paradigm, or not.

The potential will exist for significant support aircraft losses on the ground.

Thus bombers become the platform of choice to pour in strikes when fighters are being held back for a time by the anti-access/area denial implications. Once PLAAF bombers and tankers are dealt with the situation relaxes, and parked aircraft less vulnerable, if Patriot and Aegis can deal with the BMs and hyperbole-weapons.

Thus using a logistics type, as a supplemental 'bomber' (ramp-shooter), to speed up taking out PLAAF bombers and C4 sooner, means support aircraft and FARPs can operate much more efficiently thereafter.
Accel + Alt + VLO + DAS + MDF + Radial Distance = LIFE . . . Always choose Stealth
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madrat

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Unread post07 Nov 2019, 13:20

With F-35B the dispersal is not a problem. Battlespace management is the big picture problem.

You can drop bladders and do all sorts of rapid deployment accommodations to scatter forces. There are quite a few short haul V/STOL options for getting F-35B near an enemy. What you cannot afford to do is over-extend beyond the limits of communications, datalinks, and intelligence gathering.
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element1loop

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Unread post08 Nov 2019, 00:58

madrat wrote:Battlespace management is the big picture problem. ... What you cannot afford to do is over-extend beyond the limits of communications, datalinks, and intelligence gathering.


Another reason support aircraft have to remain as far forward as possible (with the risk of losing them in large numbers). The sooner PLAAF bombers, tankers, C4 and targeting data are degraded, the sooner you can get information dominance and air superiority in place, well into the Chinese hinterland, supported by comms-relay aircraft, such as MQ-4, tanker, AWAC, etc., to provide the real-time area SA and enable battlespace management.

HALE MQ-4 and RQ-4 (plus MALE types) have the range, endurance and landing options elsewhere to overcome the anti-access effect, and provide continuous data-relay services. While tankers and AWAC/C2 provide same by their presence. But tankers and AWAC crews are going to have to do a lot of flying to get to and from their station.

Which makes clear why PLAAF put the emphasis on A2A J-20 to disrupt data relays and tankers, rather than VLO strike (which is coming with their long-range VLO bomber development). They would love to have F-35B in this situation, their bases are facing the same OCA problem, it's just they have so many more bases and off-base operating options to compensate.

The biggest problem with being forced into Distributed-Ops by anti-access is this large drop in efficiency and the rising cost, complexity, coordination management and resources, to develop a much enfeebled strike-capability every 24 hours. And that's without considering the effects of Chinese counter-air strikes.

Bombers are so much more attractive (B-21 as C4ISR plus OCA/Strike platform) but it makes clear why an all new very long-range and fast Penetrating Counter-Air aircraft is essential in future (like now!).

In the meantime we really would be screwed without US and Allied F-35B and the ability to seed the whole western Pacific region's Islands with them, and on LHD (or light carriers).
Accel + Alt + VLO + DAS + MDF + Radial Distance = LIFE . . . Always choose Stealth
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element1loop

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Unread post08 Nov 2019, 05:33

I've identified most air bases in the West Pacific region US air forces have Joint access to (including South Korea). There are some further air bases on Okinawa that I've not bothered to list here (given within the link below). The unrefuelled coverage of China by US F-35A and F-35C using a VLO cruise weapon like JASSM-ER is daunting for Chinese air bases, C4, and IADS. Most fighter and bomber bases can be readily reached and could be repeatedly hit (even if F-35s operate away from such bases). There's not much that makes a difference which can't be hit by F-35s without using a tanker. A lot of strikefighter pressure can be applied parallel to USAF bomber strikes, even if FARPing were stymied during the first week or perhaps first two.

US Bases in Japan:
https://militarybases.com/overseas/japan/

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I see no reason why USAF F-35A and USN F-35C could not operate from Japan, even if these airbases were hit. It's not just the F-35B that can beat-back the horde in such a fight. And this serves to make the inability to FARP in the early stages a bit "meh". And represents a variation on the 'Distributed-Ops' theme of operating from more locations to enhance options and survival.

Once naval air forces arrive in greater numbers in the western Pacific and higher-tempo FARP triple-strikes get rolling the pile-on of airpower would break the back of PLAAF and PLAN. As that occurs tankers can move into Japan and apply air dominance over China.

Distributed-Ops may be an ideal concept in a contested western Pacific but geography is going to interfere with the degree to which the paradigm can be applied. It will be more effective in areas with geography and diplomatic access more suitable for it. It would be easy to utilize the concept if regional political support was widely available, but much harder to make use if political support isn't forthcoming. Distributed-OPs can help with survivability and keep China off balance, from more directions, if able to be fully implemented, but it's not a real game-changer, it's just a survivability aid that leads to time imposts, costs and necessary inefficiencies. But frankly, anti-access weaponry has made those imparted inefficiencies unavoidable anyway.

VLO bombers, VLO strikefighters and modern VLO weapons with a secure comms relay network through support aircraft will be the game-changer in that fight, when combined with a comprehensive missile defense and protection of support-aircraft and naval units. Comms-relay and tanker support aircraft are the soft underbelly, sure to be high-priority item for SLCM attack throughout a fight.
Accel + Alt + VLO + DAS + MDF + Radial Distance = LIFE . . . Always choose Stealth
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element1loop

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Unread post10 Nov 2019, 00:41

Non-refueled strike radius operating from surrounding countries.

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Accel + Alt + VLO + DAS + MDF + Radial Distance = LIFE . . . Always choose Stealth
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