Although this blog’s colleagues are not “crude and bonkers”, “financially illiterate” armchair generals, but rather air force and navy pilots, warship and aircraft designers, and financial analysts, they have understood his message. The Secretary of State for Defence does not wish to have their advice.
Accordingly, this blog will not today attempt to advise him, but will instead pose some questions on subjects of concern, these being  the new aircraft carriers,  the aircraft the Defence Secretary wishes to operate from them, and  the coordinated IED-ambush tactic expected to remain for both ground troops and civilian populations the principal threat in insurgencies. Readers may wish to forward some of the questions to their MPs.
HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales
1. What is the Defence Secretary’s assessment of the vulnerability of the new carriers if they are deployed in hostile waters. Have the dangers posed by the weapons listed here been evaluated?
(a) Supersonic (and soon hypersonic) anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) with semi-armour-piercing high-explosive (SAPHE) or large diameter high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warheads.
(b) Short and medium-range anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM).
(c) Torpedoes. (As the Defence Secretary may have been advised, the carriers appear to have no side protective systems.)
(d) Mines. (The carriers appear to be designed with a simple inner bottom giving almost no protection to under-keel threats.)
2. What tests were completed on the carriers’ Rolled Homogeneous Armour (RHA) plate ability to defeat the kinetic energy of a supersonic ASCM (similar to that of an 11 inch to 14 inch shell)? These tests would have been completed long before the Defence Secretary took office, but was he shown the results?
3. What confidence does the Defence Secretary have in the carriers’ protection against HEAT warheads, bearing in mind the HEAT penetration of RHA by 3 to 6 times its own diameter? (A single HEAT hit could be catastrophic and he will remember how HMS Hood exploded despite the pre-war warnings about the lethality of the kriegsmarine’s biggest guns.)
4. Although everyone recognises the ASTER 15/30 capability against incoming missiles, what is its performance against crossing targets such as the missiles aimed at the carrier the Type 45 Destroyer is there to defend? (The Probability of Kill (Pk) against incoming missiles is said to be around 0.97, which if true is very good indeed, but against crossing targets the accusation of a suicidal 0.15 Pk appears not yet to have been refuted with contrary data.) What is the truth?
5. In the decisions to minimise crew size in our warships (“efficiency savings”?), what allowances were made for the need to replace battle-damaged equipment with humans when the action begins? (All-singing-all-dancing computerised machinery is financially economic and very sexy, but when hits are taken our warships need hands, which is why they are so-called.) We have noted political boasts of the intimidating size of the carriers (although around only half the size of the latest US carriers) and we have been asked if, in view of the tactical impotence of their aircraft, we shall exploit their size by ramming enemy coastlines (preferably, it has been suggested, with Captain Blair in the crow’s-nest and Captain Brown as the figurehead).
The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) ‘jump-jet’ F-35B
1. What is the Defence Secretary’s assessment of the F-35B’s vulnerability in combat? As its weight problems have reduced its performance, and the solution to the recently discovered bulkhead cracks may lead to further weight increases, have the ‘g’ limits been reduced again? Specifically, what for this allegedly ‘fifth generation’ fighter are the ‘g’ limits compared with those of the ‘fourth generation’ Russian Su-35 available for sale to other countries?
2. What are the top speed and service ceiling of the F-35B in comparison with the top speed and service ceiling of the Su-35? Yes, scary, isn’t it? And the third element in the fighter pilot’s holy trinity is … ?
3. Range! Range is the third element. (The first edition of the Joint Operational Requirements Document – the JORD – asked for the F-35B a combat radius of 464 nautical miles, but the associated data were so imprecise that USN representatives in the Pentagon thought it should be reduced to 386 nm – which they believed achievable.) What has the Defence Secretary been told is the combat radius of the Royal Navy’s F-35B when flown by squadron pilots (not manufacturer’s test pilots) on a high-low-high profile with 15 minutes over the target and a return to the carrier with adequate fuel reserves?
4. In defence of the purchase of the F-35B it has been suggested that what is good enough for the United States Marine Corps ought to be good enough for the Royal Navy. Has the Defence Secretary been informed that the USMC has exchanged some of its ordered jump-jets for the longer range F-35C carrier version of the JSF, that when operating the F-35Bs it will eventually buy, the carrier will provide ‘buddy refuelling’ to extend their combat radius and to reduce the amount of reserve fuel the Royal Navy F-35Bs must save, and that the intended USMC and RN operations are too dissimilar to be compared?
5. Has the Defence Secretary been briefed that –
(a) – when flown in “stealth” mode the F-35B’s bombs cannot be heavier than 500lbs (insufficient to destroy, for example, a standard target such as a typical railway bridge)?
(b) – current problems with the “stealth” anti-radar coating restrict the JSFs to one flight in two days? (“Stealth” is the successor to the ‘swing-wing’ or ‘variable geometry’ aircraft as a concept of value only to the manufacturers – not to the operators.)
(c) – the proposed complement of 12 F-35Bs per carrier is insufficient to operate a combat air patrol (CAP) to defend the carrier from ASCM-carrying attack aircraft, leaving no aircraft available for the strike missions (‘Carrier Strike’) for which this absurdly expensive combination has been assembled?
(d) – no one in the MoD knows what the F-35B operation will cost the UK, and neither does anyone at the Pentagon, and nor does anyone at Lockheed Martin? (How, then, can the famous ‘black hole’ have been filled, when no one knows the figures?)
(e) – who advised the Defence Secretary that ‘Deep Strike’ (or ‘Deep and Persistent Offensive Capability’) would be possible with the F-35B? (See this blog dated September 24th.) If the carrier stands so far off-shore it has a fair chance of not being hit by shore-based ASCMs, will its aircraft (if the CAP is abandoned) have the range to reach a target and return to the carrier? And if the F-35Bs are launched as strike aircraft from the carrier, will they survive air-to-air combat with a ‘fourth generation’ aircraft? (The answer to that, of course, is probably not, and if they meet a ‘fifth generation’ fighter they will have no chance at all, having neither escape speed, nor height, nor agility — and the vaunted “stealth”, if it truly exists, is neither all-aspect nor all-wavelength.)
Well, that is enough for starters. These questions are intended to publicise the reality that a group of independent and objective designers and fighter pilots (not “crude and bonkers”, “financially illiterate” armchair generals) have recognised that the carriers and the F-35B aircraft chosen to operate from them are too vulnerable to give ‘Carrier Strike’ any credibility. The Secretary of State for Defence will have heard the common claim that the magnificent electronics (computers and sensors) of the F-35B will allow the pilots to know exactly where and when they will die but, of course, this will only be after all the lines of computer code have been written, and that is many years away – which he may not have been told. The priority question he must now ask is about the SAPHE and HEAT tests against the carriers’ armour, the RHA.
‘Buddy Cover’ for troops facing IED-ambush threats
More than half the British casualties in Helmand arose from IEDs and/or sniper fire which could have been deterred or detected or destroyed before the troops were hit. Against such threats the US Army in Vietnam used small military aircraft ( SMAs) such as the O-1 to accompany, at low level, foot patrols and road convoys. The British did the same in post-colonial conflicts, in Korea and in WWII, with British Austers and American Pipers and Stinsons. However, despite a long campaign to persuade the MoD to provide ‘Buddy Cover’ with SMAs (and to protect perimeters such as that at Camp Bastion, successfully penetrated later by the Taliban), this low-cost, economic defence was consistently rejected for demonstrably fatuous reasons.
1. Why were the recommendations presented by the MoD’s own professional experts, the Boscombe Down test pilots, for the use of the Dragoon SMAs in the role of the earlier and now obsolescent Austers rejected and their evaluation report suppressed?
2. Why were the proposals presented by the MoD’s own professional experts, the Advanced Research & Assessment Group (ARAG) analysts rejected without any trials.
3. Why was the request for Dragoon SMAs made by the recently retired Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) vetoed by a Permanent Under Secretary who could not understand the principles involved and who was unqualified for her job as the head of the MoD?
4. How many lives, limbs and senses were lost in IED-sniper coordinated ambushes that if not initially deterred would have been detected and destroyed by SMAs? How much will the damage to mental health arising from these ambushes cost the UK?
5. Why are the Afghan Forces being left without simple and economic air assets capable of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), resupply, casualty evacuation, ‘Buddy Cover’, perimeter patrol and border patrol, despite the ARAG proposals presented consistently since 2007?
Obviously, these questions would not have been asked if we had not known the answers, but this blog asks them anyway because there is some doubt about whether the Secretary of State for Defence appreciates the importance of the questions and has been briefed on the answers.
Postscript dated 25 October 2013
The MoD has today said of the penetration of Camp Bastion’s perimeter defences, the two US Marines then killed in action, and the loss of six Harriers destroyed and two seriously damaged, that –
“Following the incident we contributed fully to a number of US and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) reviews as well as carrying out our own thorough investigations. These processes were undertaken to assure the force protection of ISAF personnel and equipment and to prevent a similar attack happening again.
“As such, the UK’s consideration of the US review was primarily focused on whether any new material had been brought to light that would warrant additional UK action. We have now considered the US review findings in detail and are confident that we have identified all significant lessons and acted upon them. Consequently, we are content with our earlier assessment that no further UK action is required.“
ARAG consistently emphasised the danger to Camp Bastion and Kandahar perimeters from 2007 and recommended, in line with the Boscombe Down evaluation report, the economic use of Dragoon SMAs by day and night. What, we wonder, has the MoD done with the ARAG papers? What does the MoD intend to do with those papers now they have been validated? How thorough are “thorough” investigations in the MoD?
An American colleague writing in a private email today has contributed this –
Basically an ASCM warhead attacking the British carriers will have to penetrate multiple decks or bulkheads in order either to mass detonate stored ammo or to cause the hull to sink or capsize. So the question is not just the RHA but the array of decks and bulkheads. The flight and hangar decks have to be about 30mm and 20mm respectively in thickness in order to withstand aircraft wheel loads when landing or parked. This is not armor. Most decks/bulkheads will be 7-10mm. It requires about 30mm of steel to defeat most fragments. It requires about 325mm of steel to defeat a SAPHE warhead on a missile at Mach 2 plus. It requires about 1,400mm of conventional steel to defeat a first generation ASCM’s HEAT warhead …. and double that for the current state of the art design. Obviously, on the battlefield modern tanks use advanced armor which is more effective then steel. Relative to the required weight per square metre these are perhaps 3-7 times as effective as steel …. but this is against darts or smaller diameter HEAT warheads. I do not believe anyone has studied defeating big warheads. As a matter of fact, the US can no longer manufacture ballistic steel armor thicker then about 100mm. My guess is that the British carriers will have fragment protection, but not ballistic protection designed to defeat penetrating warheads. (By the way, the issue for the ASTER 30 is not just Pk against crossing targets …. but a very limited engagement envelope owed to the limited kinematics of the missile.)
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