Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Unvanquished?

The F-15 Eagle has the best record in the history of air-to-air combat. In 30 years of service with air forces around the world, it has (unofficially) shot down 104 enemy fighters and helicopters, with zero losses. Incidentally, those victories were registered by the U.S. Air Force, the Israeli Air Force and the Royal Saudi Air Force; the totals do not include the accidental downing of two Army Blackhawk helicopters by USAF F-15s in 1993, nor an inadvertent shoot-down of a Japanese F-15 (by another F-15J) in 1995, the result of a missile malfunction.

Obviously, the USAF hopes that the new F-22 Raptor can that surpass the Eagle's combat record, and if training exercises are any indication, then the fifth-generation fighter may be on its way. During its combat exercise "debut" last year, F-22s scored an "unprecedented" kill ratio of 144-0. Twelve Raptors (from Langley AFB, VA) participated in the drill (nicknamed "Northern Edge), which was held in Alaska.

Those numbers create the impression of an almost-invulnerable F-22--something the Air Force doesn't exactly discourage. But more recently, Langley F-22s also participated in a Red Flag exercise at Nellis AFB, Nevada, held in February of this year. The Raptors reportedly racked up an impressive kill total during simulated air combat at Red Flag, but there were also reports that "adversary air" may have scored a victory against an F-22. Aviation Week reported the event in its 5 March 2007 issue, and more recently, Air Force Times reprinted that claim.

Our own inquiry largely confirms the original Aviation Week story, which stated that the Raptor was "killed" by an adversary fighter that had been previously blasted by another F-22. Under engagement rules, "red air" fighters were required to exit the area and "regenerate" before re-entering the fight. The adversary jet did just that; an F-22 pilot apparently thought his opponent was still "dead" and paid for that mistake.

We're also told that the Raptor was definitely "killed" by a pilot from one of Nellis's Aggressor squadrons, not an F/A-18 as some have claimed. The Aggressor units, which fly F-15s and F-16s, are trained to mimic adversary tactics, providing a highly realistic "threat." Our source said the aggressor pilot described the F-22 kill as a "one in a million shot." He also confirmed the assessment of one of his colleagues (an Australian exchange pilot) who said the Raptor "denies your ability to put a weapons system on it," even when you can see it through the canopy.

Our source also tells us that the "favored" time to take a shot at the Raptor is after it exits the fight, and makes its rendezvous with the tanker. We're not sure how that squares with the ROE, but (presumably) the F-22 is less stealthy when its on/near the "boom," making it a slightly easier target. As a combat tactic, that probably wouldn't work; tanker orbits are located well behind the contested airspace (for obvious reasons), and enemy fighters would have to fight their way through other Raptor elements, in an effort to ambush F-22s while they refuel.

By our calculations, a kill ratio of 200-1 (or better) in simulated combat is pretty damn good, and the F-22 seems to be meeting its lofty expectations. But then again, if you're only buying 183 aircraft, the Raptor will have to generate some pretty impressive numbers to ensure air dominance in the decades to come.

7 comments:

Lowly Knave said...

I hate to keep tormenting you, 86, but the thing that sticks out to me in this post is the first test was in Alaska, the next in Nevada in winter. I'm not a pilot, nor do I play on on the internet, but it seems to me that planes get more lift in cold air.

Could that be a factor?

(Excuse me while I go check out those 104 kills by the F-15's) You probably posted about the stealth that was shot down in Yugoslavia, but I must have missed it... Anything on what brought it down?

Papa Ray said...

Well, somebody find out how many fighters the Chinese have, and let us know if 200 to 1 is good enough to overpower China's air power.

How many F-22s will we have in ten years and how many assorted fighters will China have?

Ok, tell me again how much tonage an F-22 can carry for air to ground support.

And how much one F-22 costs us in U.S. dollars.

Can enemy fighters defeat our anti-aircraft missile systems? Can ours?

Somebody please tell me why we spend billions on fighters and more billions on carriers and can't even float one small ship for less that a billion dollars?

Or is the cost and time to completion not important anymore, for anything in the military?

To be honest, our military procurment process is broke, beyond a joke into a disaster and shameful.

Papa Ray

Spook86 said...

Knave--I'm not sure about the influence of cold air; however, the maneuverability of the Raptor is definitely enhanced by its thrust-vectoring capabilities, allowing it to perform maneuvers that older jets simply can't.

Also, the F-117 shot down in the Balkans was nailed by an SA-3, a surface-to-air missile dating from the early 1960s. Without going into a lot of details, the shoot down was the result of several factors, including predictability on our part, an exceptionally experienced/trained SAM crew (on the Serb side), and a little luck that befell the SAM operators.

The F-117 incident reminds us that no stealth platform is truly "invisible," and effective tactics only enhance the employment of LO aircraft.

sferrin said...

I wonder if Knave is aware that cold air would effect ALL aircraft not just the F-22 ;-) As for how much "tonnage" an F-22 carries for air to surface that's pretty much irrelevent. How much does the F-15C carry?

SMSgt Mac said...

Great and timely post. I had expressed some of the facts in comments at one of the more prominent blogs that were bouncing that F-18-shooting-F-22 pic around, and then the comments were cited on another. It's good to have more official cover on the facts.

billmil said...

Papa Ray makes a good point. Is 200-1 good enough? This high claim number by the Air Force goes hand in hand with other distortion over the years. One of the better articles to read on this is Col Everest Riccioni’s paper on the F-22. http://www.pogo.org/m/dp/dp-fa22-Riccioni-03082005.pdf
Detractors will say he is nothing but a hack for POGO, fine comments to make for a man who was one of the Fighter Mafia. Read the article and judge for yourself. I especially like his comments about the AIMVAlL – ACEVAL tests run at Nellis years ago. I have yet to see were the Air Staff has refuted anything that he talks about in his paper,
Most of our testing and exercises are canned with the results already mapped and expected. What I love are all the folks who believe the latest silver bullet claims. Unless IFF has changed in capability in the years since I retired, ROE to allow BVR engagement is laughable except in our exercises like Red Flag or Northern Edge.
Another thing no ones talks about is aircraft availability. When you have a squadron of lets say 20 A/C you will have on average one for phase, one for munitions/maintenance training, one for K-ball and at least 2 that are hard broke (down for over 24 hours). These numbers only get worse as more complicated avionics get involved. MTBF on the avionics will be another lie that is put out, in over twenty years as an avionics technician I never saw one system on the jets I worked on that actually met is projections
We have the F-22 we are stuck with the F-22. The F-22 has cost the Air Force dearly in the sense that whole squadrons of F-15, F-16, F-4G and F-111 aircraft have been retired to pay for it. In addition modernization programs for these and other aircraft have been cancelled or delayed so we can have 179 silver bullets. The F-22 program is another example of military procurement that has run off the rails and in service today has actually decreased the number of available airframes in essence we are disarming ourselves just to have the latest air to air fighter that has very limited air to ground capability until such time as the SDB can be integrated at high cost to the airframe. A lot of good when we are fighting terrorists who fight like light militia and don’t have any fighter aircraft.

SMSgt Mac said...

Spook86 also has a substantial post or two on the F-22 in his archives that really should be read as well.

Not to pile on about the F-117, but let us also remember that the F-117 that was shot down was a first-generation 'modern' stealth design that, as Spook mentions, was being ineffectively employed - OPSEC and tactical deception anyone? (SR-71 afficionados and Horten brothers fans please note the use of the inexact term 'modern' before pinging me).

I agree with almost everything Riccione has to say about fighters and aerial combat....as long as there is no stealth or netcentric warfare involved. If there is true LO and modern sensor and comm systems at work, 90%+ of Riccione's assertions are kaput.

Any chance I get (hey this is one!) I highly recommend to people that they absorb - not just read - Carl Builder's "The Icarus Syndrome" and "The Masks of War". Read these two works and you will see 'Smash and Vector' mentality is going to kill the AF someday.

I must respectfully disagree that newer/more complex = more failure and down time for the latest generation of aircraft, all of which were developed with higher R&M design emphasis than the F-15/16. The phase intervals of all the latest plastic airplanes are or will be far longer than their sheet metal ancestors, among other more complex quantum improvements.
I wrote a paper (very poor one- but that is another story) in SNCOA titled "R&M 2000 vs. Quality Force" lamenting the approach to R&M the AF was taking. R&M 2000 had the stated goal to double the reliability and halve the maintenance on new systems. That effort is paying off in spades as far as workload and task difficulty goes, but it will doom the AF to mediocrity in the long run because the AF will not be able to (on the whole) attract and keep as a rule the very best people. The AF could have done it 'smart', but it was conceived and executed by manpower beancounters.