|US-Navy E-2D Advanced Hawkeye with all new UHF-band AN/APY-9|
"All I could do was scream out on the guard frequency (frequency 243.0) “Eagles engaged, King… knock it off, knock it off, knock it off. Friendlies. Knock it off.”
The history is air combat shows that most air combat victories occurred when the pilot shot down never saw his attacker. So it makes sense the USAF would attempt to leverage this 'element of surprise' by investing in stealth fighters. The problem is the USAF never bothered to look at the other necessary element required - IFF (Identification Friend or Foe).
In all these unseen aerial victories, the attacker had clearly identified an opponent as an enemy aircraft in WVR (Within Visual Range). But with the advent of longer-range missiles, everything changed. Now verifying whom precisely you are intending to shoot at with a missile in a BVR (Beyond Visual Range) engagement - becomes (and remains) a serious and systemic technological problem.
|Radar operators inside USN E-2C Hawkeye|
The universal argument made by stealth fighter proponents is that stealth fighters will win any aerial engagement due to their advanced sensors, weapons, and small radar-cross-section invisibility, which allows them "First Look, First Shoot, and First Kill."
Listening carefully to their argument - they also attempt to restrict any discussion to the notion of BVR only. This is because this is the scenario where stealth fighters and their LPI (Low Probability of Intercept) radar are said to have the greatest hypothetical/theoretical advantage. However, in real life under actual combat conditions, stealth fighters will rarely (or more likely never) be able to engage in BVR air-to-air combat due to IFF/fratricide risks. Not only that but ROE/ATO (Rules Of Engagement/Air Tasking Orders) restrictions can hamstring or even take BVR engagements completely off the table. Without BVR, stealth fighters lose their stealth and become traditional aircraft.
So what stealth fighter proponents are doing by limiting the discussion to only BVR scenarios, is committing the Formal Fallacy of Affirming the Consequent.
Form of Affirming the Consequent:
If A, then B; B, therefore A
A = radar contacts are bandits
B = stealth fighter BVR will win.
So we get this:
If radar contacts are bandits, then stealth fighter BVR will win; stealth fighter BVR will win, therefore radar contacts are bandits.
|CIC of the USS Vincennes|
The Formal Fallacy here is that not all radar contacts are 'bandits.' Any IFF transponder that does not transmit after interrogation - read: does not squawk, cannot be designated as a hostile. For a variety of reasons, a friendly military aircraft or civilian aircraft may not squawk. We only need to remember the USS Vincennes shootdown of Iran Air Flight 655 killing all 290 passengers and crew - to illustrate all manner of IFF risks in BVR. So a within visual range ID verification is required.
|Iran Air Flight 655 Airbus A300B2 was shot down by the USS Vincennes on July 3, 1988, in a beyond visual range missile engagement, killing all 290 aboard.|
In a real sense, IFF is a misnomer. Today, IFF really only can affirm Identification of Friend. And no IFF response should never be automatically assigned as a foe.
"... At the tail end of the hostilities, we had a section of VF-2 Tomcats flying TARPS reconnaissance in eastern Iraq. The profile was for them to hit the tanker around Baghdad and then fly low towards Basra, take their pictures, and head back to the USS Ranger in the northern Persian Gulf. Flying above them was a section of VF-1 Tomcats. I was flying in the ACO seat during the mission, casually watching and listening to the E-3 AWACs control a section of capping F-15s. I start hearing its controller spouting out:
“Bogey, Bullseye south, 50 miles”
Me: “Bulldog, King. Negative. Positive Mode 2 (Military IFF). Coalition aircraft.”
AWACS: “Roger, friendly” followed by an affirmative by the Eagles.
Two minutes later:
AWACS: “Bogey, northwest bullseye, 60 miles heading south.”
Me: “Negative Bulldog. I’ve got positive ID. Navy Hornets.”
AWACS: “Roger, friendly.”
Every time the controller called bogey, the Eagles got spooled up. It probably happened five or six times. I looked over at my CICO, Bob Roth, and chuckled “WTF is up with these guys? Bogies all over the place.”
"I couldn’t get the comment out when I heard “bandits, east bullseye 40 miles. Flight of two flying low heading south!” Shit! The Eagles turned on a dime and started calling their sorts, determining which F-15 would shoot which target. Dash 1 had the lead F-14 and his wingman had targeted the second Tomcat. In combat terms, “bandit” meant confirmed bad guy. Shoot first, ask questions later. And the frequency got jammed between the E-3 calling out the “bandits” and the Eagles sorting their targets.
All I could do was scream out on the guard frequency (frequency 243.0) “Eagles engaged, King… knock it off, knock it off, knock it off. Friendlies. Knock it off.”
"Thankfully, the F-15s heard the calls and immediately disengaged. A few minutes later the voice from the E-3 changed as a new controller took over. I think someone got their ass chewed."
|E-3 Sentry AWACS|
"What was funny is that the TARPS F-14s never knew what was happening. They were on a different frequency talking to the RO in my aircraft. It wasn’t until we were back on the ship when I asked one of them “hey, did you guys get some tones?” “Yeah, briefly. Came and went, quick.” We told them the story, and everyone laughed. “Holy Shit! Really?” Nobody thought anything of it, but someone overheard us talking. From there it made the Admiral’s briefing and got elevated further to General Schwarzkopf who put out a “let’s not go crazy” message to the entire theater. I got a “good job” from above, which made me feel good."
|Interior of the E-3 Sentry|
"On the flip side, a week or so previous the quick thinking of AWACS crew prevented a Navy blue-on-blue when an F-14 mistakenly identified an A-6 as hostile."
|US Navy Hawkeye|
Here is another excerpt:
"As an example, during our transit to Desert Storm, our CAG (the Carrier Air Wing Commander) became obsessed that coded Mode 4 IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) transponder worked in every airplane for every mission. If we were going to fly combat, he wanted to ensure no friendly-on-friendly engagements occurred. To prove his point, any aircraft that launched without operable Mode 4 was sent to the “penalty box”—an area 20,000 feet directly above the carrier—and forced to hold in a pattern until the end of the cycle. Usually 90 minutes or so. It sucked and the crews hated it. After each airplane launched, its IFF was interrogated by the ship looking for positive Mode 4 response. If it was “sweet,” the aircraft could proceed to its mission. If “sour,” to the “box” they went."
"Of particular importance were ROE (Rules of Engagement). As the “eyes in the sky” and battlefield commanders, we were expected to know the complicated ROE cold! Again, we spent hours discussing it and working through hundreds of scenarios. We knew our shit and became the air wing experts. It was our job to be just that. At one point I was sent to Saudi Arabia to fly with an E-3 Sentry AWACS crew with the goal of understanding how the E-3 operated. The night I got there, there was a USAF General discussing ROE and the crews didn’t know it nearly as well as us. It wasn’t necessarily their fault. The USAF had been on station for several months and were highly tasked. Highly tasked meant little time to do anything but fly. Seeing that I did know the ROE, the General made me do an hour training session and then asked me why I knew it so well. My response was simple: “If we’re not flying, we’re training.”
Even during a WVR (Within Visual Range) engagement, wrestling with IFF risk remains ever-present.
"As I came off this bandit I saw Kluso high and to my left. I saw another fighter bout 5 miles off his nose and called it out as a bandit because J.B. and Willie had already egressed the area. At the same time, Kluso got an Autoguns radar lock on the guy that was in a very offensive position on him Kluso was not real comfortable with who this guys was because it looked a lot like an Eagle or a Tomcat with its size and two tails. It definitely had a large burner plume coming out the back so Kluso asked whether or not anybody was in burner. When nobody answered he launched an AIM-9 followed by an AIM-7."
Above is an excerpt from "... And Kill MIGs: Air to Air Combat from Vietnam to the Gulf War"
|American fighters in 1991 featured some NCTR (Non-Cooperative Target Recognition) capacity but the technology is still far from perfect so ATO/ROE and AWACS/AEW support is required. Today, NCTR still cannot be used in isolation for aerial BVR target ID under actual combat conditions.|
More from Lou Drendel:
"Because of the differential turns, I ended up about a half a mile in front of Rico, and I locked up the second guy right away. He was in a lazy right turn around the fireball that had been his leader! As I locked him up in 'Auto guns' he breaks back hard left into me. I am down around 8,000 feet and he is at about 10,000 feet. All of a sudden I get a friendly indication on my IFF and my heart drops into my boots. I think we have waded into a couple of F-15s and shot one of them down."
Suffice it to say stealth fighter proponents not only engage in Formal Fallacy - but operate in a fairytale world of assumed premises and conditional claims.
1. Robust IFF capacity
2. Clear and advantageous Rules Of Engagement and Air Tasking Orders
3. No defender DRFM/ECM/Expendables
4. No defender Doppler Turn/Beam Turn
5. No weapons malfunctions
6. Better than 50 percent historical missile-hit probabilities
7. Unfettered access and use of friendly AWACS and air tankers
8. No high closure rate of jet-combat
9. No friendly midcourse update data transmission sequence detection
10. No defender RWR detection of LPI
Friendly high-value assets like AWACS and AEW aircraft, as well as aerial inflight refueling tankers, will be primary targets (in the air and on the ground) in any future peer or near-peer confrontation, and LPI radar warning receivers are already commercially available. See here: https://www.indracompany.com/sites/default/files/indra_alr-400_rwr.pdf
[Editors Note: The most recent American aerial engagement that involved the air-to-air shootdown by an American piloted fighter of another piloted aircraft occurred over Syria on 18-June 2017 - and simply underscores the point. It is the first US aerial victory in 18 years and involves non-stealth aircraft, is WVR (Within Visual Range), sees defender using countermeasure expendables, sees weapons malfunctions, (the vaunted hi-tech AIM-9X combat debut fails to kill the target from 6'oclock at point-blank range), and sees no greater than 50 percent missile hit probabilities. All elements we have been discussing at length.
During 1991 Desert Storm which many deem an unqualified technological success; according to Air War College research published in 2005 - of the 41 claimed American air-to-air victories over Iraqi aircraft, only 5 of these are high confidence BVR (Beyond Visual Range) kills. This means the remaining 36 Iraqi aircraft are WVR (Within Visual Range) victories. This works out to 87.8 percent (nearly 90 percent) of the kills are in WVR - and not in BVR.
These American 2005 findings certainly do not support funding of exotic BVR-dependent manned stealth platforms for air combat use.
Even when Iran-Iraq War data is examined. Assuming total kill claimes by Iran of ~ 165 Iraqi aircraft destroyed and assuming all Sparrow/Phoneix kill claims were BVR (which they are not) then we get ~ 44.2 percent BVR vs ~55.8 percent WVR. Even here we know the actual ratio is lower for BVR/higher for WVR]
Radio spectrum NCTR (Non-Cooperative Target Recognition) could also face increasing challenges because of the proliferation of high-speed DRFM (Digital Radio Frequency Memory) countermeasure. And that's just the start. DRFM can also occupy the L, S, and C, bands where it could potentially cause complete mayhem.
Under actual combat conditions, the utility of stealth fighters for air-to-air combat is actually quite limited. Anyone still attempting to promote exotically expensive stealth fighters as omnipotent force-multipliers that unseen, surgically sweep the sky of enemy fighters from BVR distances - is either an industry mouthpiece or grossly uninformed about aerial warfare mechanics - or both.
Whatever the case, best to ignore these voices.
Cilliers, Jacques Étienne. "Information Theoretic Limits on Non-Cooperative Airborne Target Recognition by Means of Radar Sensors", University College London, 2018, discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10049414/1/Cilliers_ID_thesis.pdf.
Drendel, Lou. ... and Kill MIGs: Air to Air Combat from Vietnam to the Gulf War. N.p.: Squadron Signal Publ., 1997. Print.
"Non Cooperative Target Recognition Information Technology Essay." ukessays.com. 11 2018. UKEssays. 05 2021 https://www.ukessays.com/essays/information-technology/non-cooperative-target-recognition-information-technology-essay.php.
Rogoway, Craig Picken and Tyler. “Confessions Of An E-2C Hawkeye Radar Operator.” The Drive, The Drive, 19 Dec. 2018, www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/25572/confessions-of-an-e-2c-hawkeye-radar-operator.
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