Zbigniew Mazurak's Blog

A blog dedicated to defense issues

Yet more proof that nonstealthy aircraft are useless: case studies

Posted by zbigniewmazurak on December 4, 2012


Anti-defense groups such as POGO, TCS, the NTU, PIRG, and CATO, and the anti-defense hacks they employ, falsely claim that stealthy aircraft such as the Next Generation Bomber and the F-35 are not needed and that nonstealthy aircraft like the F-16, F/A-18, B-52, and B-1 are still viable and can survive in enemy airspace.

But they’re dead wrong. They’re blathering nonsense about issues they know nothing about. And by doing so, they’re only proving how ignorant they are. For nonstealthy aircraft are unsurvivable and useless in any airspace defended by even legacy Soviet air defense systems, let alone the modern Russian or Chinese AD systems that American pilots will have to confront or evade in the future. For that reason alone, nonstealthy aircraft are completely useless, irrelevant, impotent, and obsolete.

The best air defense systems expert in the world, Dr Carlo Kopp, founder of AirPowerAustralia, has written an excellent study of the effectiveness of legacy Soviet air defense systems such as the SA-2 Guideline, SA-3 Goa, SA-5 Gammon, and SA-6 Gainful. As my Readers should know, these air defense systems proved themselves very effective at shooting down American aircraft in Vietnam (1964-1973), the War of Attrition between Israel and Egypt (late 1960s), and the Yom Kippur War (1973).

This is not only because of their jamming-resistant, long-range radar and their missiles, but also because of their well trained and highly motivated crews.

Vietnam

In Vietnam, the US military lost 8400 aircraft. While more planes were shot down by anti-aircraft artillery (including the gun that Jane Fonda sat on) than SAMs, losses to the latter weapon type were nonetheless high, and losses to AAA were often incurred because of the need of nonstealthy aircraft to fly at low altitudes.

North Vietnam procured an unknown number (probably 50) SA-2 SAM batteries from the USSR, plus a large number of AAA batteries. SA-2 systems were deployed at strategically important targets such as industrial facilities and military bases in tandem with AAA. While the SA-2 system detected and fired at aircraft flying at medium and high altitudes, AAA was busy shooting down low-flying aircraft. American pilots were thus presented with a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” choice: fly at a high altitude be shot down by an SA-2 SAM, or fly at a low altitude and be shot down by AAA.

Moreover, to the extent possible, the North Vietnamese tried to relocate their SA-2 batteries as frequently as possible, though this was not easy, because the SA-2 is a static system. Packing the entire system onto vehicles takes 6 hours; unpacking it when it arrives at its new site and testing it also takes six hours. The same problem plagues the SA-5 Gammon and static variants of the SA-3 Goa (other SA-3 variants are mobile).

And yet, despite these mobility constraints, North Vietnamese SA-2 SAMs achieved hundreds of aircraft shootdowns. One can only imagine how much deadlier North Vietnam’s air defense network would’ve been if supplied with SA-3, SA-4, or SA-6 mobile SAM systems (which already existed at the time), or the modern, 21st century S-300, S-400, or HQ-9 SAM systems.

Attempts to take SA-2s out with AGM-45 Shrike missiles and to jam them initially succeeded, but ultimately failed, because of both the relocation tactics and the equipping of the SA-2 system with more jamming-resistant radar.

Egypt

After Egypt lost the Sinai to Israel in the Six Day War, Cairo started a War of Attrition against Israel (1967-1970) to get the Sinai back.  During that war, the Soviets began to deploy SA-2 and SA-3 SAM systems to the Suez Canal zone, shooting down many Israeli aircraft. Eventually, the Soviet Air Defense Force (PVO Strany) deployed an entire division to that area.

Soviet SA-2s, SA-3s, and SA-6 SAM systems (the latter two being mobile) proved themselves even deadlier during the Yom Kippur War, during which they shot down 40 Israeli aircraft. This was both because of their powerful long-range radars and long-range missiles and because of the “hide, shoot, and scoot” tactics employed by the Egyptians and the Russians using truck-mounted SA-3 and armored-vehicle-mounted SA-6 SAM systems. They frequently hid in unexpected locations to ambush unsuspecting Israeli pilots, shot at them, then scooted.

This resulted in the loss of 40 Israeli aircraft.

This also showed that even legacy Soviet SAM systems can be very deadly if employed in accordance with “hide, shoot, and scoot” tactics.

Syria, Iraq, and Libya

Some of you may ask: “But the Israelis routed Syrian air defense systems in the Bekaa Valley in 1982, and we defeated Soviet SAM systems in Iraq in 1991 and 2003 and in Libya in 2011, so why should we worry about enemy air defense systems?”

The explanation is that these systems were defeated solely due to crew incompetence and a failure to employ well-known, proven Soviet air defense system tactics (the “hide, shoot, and scoot” tactic). Neither the Syrians nor the Iraqis and the Libyans tried to employ them, and their air defense system crews were poorly trained and poorly motivated. Had they been well trained and highly motivated, and had they employed “hide, shoot, and scoot tactics” – lying in ambush, shooting and then scooting, relocating often – they would’ve inflicted heavy damage on Israeli and Western militaries.

The systems used by the Syrians, the Iraqis, and the Libyans (the SA-2, SA-3, SA-5 and SA-6) were the same as the ones used by the Egyptians and the Russians in the Suez Canal zone during the late 1970s and in 1973, and the SA-2 was also used to a deadly effect by the Viets, shooting down many B-52 bombers, even though these bombers were heavily loaded with jammers.

No, technology was not at fault here. Tactics (or rather, the lack of proper tactics) and people were at fault.

As Dr Carlo Kopp rightly writes, the mobility of a SAM system is worth as much as its missiles. And the problem for the US is that, with the exception of the SA-2 Guideline, the SA-5 Gammon, and some variants of the SA-3 Goa, ALL Soviet, Russian, and Chinese air defense systems (SAMs, SPAAGs, and SPAAGMs) are mobile, and this is no coincidence, as all of these except the SA-2/3/5 were designed from the beginning for mobility and for “hide, shoot, and scoot” operations. See this table by Dr Kopp. The vast majority of them can relocate in minutes rather than hours or days. Moreover, the vast majority of them have a much longer range than the SA-2.

This is especially true of the modern S-300, S-400, and HQ-9 systems, all of which are vastly superior to legacy Soviet systems, have even longer ranges and more powerful radars, and enjoy the following advantages over legacy systems:

  1. Modern SAM engagement and acquisition radars are designed from the outset to be highly resistant to jamming, and typically deliver higher peak power-aperture performance to engage lower signature targets;
  2. Some modern SAM engagement radars are claimed to provide a basic LPI (Low Probability of Intercept) capability, making their detection and tracking difficult;
  3. Nearly all modern SAM systems and supporting radars are highly mobile, engineered from the outset for “hide, shoot and scoot” operations;
  4. Modern SAMs are all kinematically superior to their Cold War era predecessors, by virtue of better rocket motor technology, and digital guidance, yielding greater engagement ranges and terminal endgame manoeuvre performance.

Contemporary SAM systems in these categories include the Russian SA-20 (S-300PMU1, S-300PMU2), Chinese HQ-9/FD-2000 and Russian SA-21 (S-400). These are modern systems with highly jam resistant radars, and if the Chinese are correct, basic low probability of intercept capability.

These systems will be difficult to locate, jam and guide anti-radiation missiles against. No less importantly they have modern highly automated digital fire control systems, not unlike Western SAMs of this era. The demands for proficiency and technical understanding of operation by crews seen in early Cold War SAM systems no longer exist – operators have sophisticated LCD panel displays with synthetic presentation. In deployment, these systems are heavily automated, using mostly hydraulic rams to elevate and unfold key system components, and thus little operator skill is needed to set up or relocate a battery – most can shoot and scoot in five minutes.(…)

As a result, a modern IADS equipped with current Russian and Chinese SAM systems will be very difficult to defeat by non-lethal and lethal suppression or kill techniques. A large fraction of guided munitions launched will be shot down, or their guidance defeated.

In conclusion, the perception that contemporary Russian and Chinese SAM systems can be defeated as easily as Syrian and Iraqi systems in 1982 and 1991 is nothing more than wishful thinking, arising from a complete failure to study and understand why and how SAM defences failed or succeeded in past conflicts.

These three systems (S-300, S-400, and HQ-9) are all superior to the MIM-104 PATRIOT. Russia, Belarus, Venezuela, and China all operate them. Syria is very likely to acquire the S-300, and Iran has sued Russia in an international court to have S-300 batteries delivered. Iran also has the SA-3, SA-6, and the Raad (Thunder), a copy of the Soviet SA-11/Buk mobile SAM system, all of which would be very deadly to any nonstealthy aircraft if the Iranians applied “hide, shoot, and scoot” tactics.

In conclusion, these facts all show that even legacy Soviet SAM systems such as the SA-2/3/6 would easily survive and shoot down any nonstealthy aircraft if used in the “hide, shoot, and scoot” manner, while modern Russian and Chinese SAMs are even more deadly. Any airspace defended by even so much as legacy SAM systems is closed to any nonstealthy aircraft; any airspace defended by the S-300, S-400, or HQ-9 would be a death zone.

Thus, any notion that nonstealthy aircraft are still viable and useful is absurd and ridiculous. POGO, TCS, NTU, PIRG, ACA, and CATO anti-defense hacks, as usual, don’t know what they’re talking about.

The only Western aircraft which can survive in such airspace are the F-22, the B-2, and the planned Next Generation Bomber.

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