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sábado, 25 de janeiro de 2014

Russia Back to the Artic. A military perspective

The end of Soviet Union was a desaster for their armed forces. Nuclear battle cruiser Kirov see were in very bad conditions was just one manny example how the colapse of USSR reduce the military budget  (that was one third of total anual country ) to minimal and without funds the most part of the ships, aircrafts and tanks were abandon.  Lots of bases were also closed.
Curiosity was that a few Russian programes like for example space, nuclear and conventional Ice Braikers survive, especially  thanks to several ocidental contries. The need to support polar stations, artic navegation and expeditions keep the fleet in good conditions and several ships were also build in last XX decade and the begginin of XXI century.
Remote Islands like  New Siberian were forgoten by the military and for decades only ice and several expeditions were made. Animal and vegetal live were subject for the "men of ciênce" and  mineral prospection. Not many had permanent residents and most of them only in later spring and summer.  All human lives returned to main land in fall.
One of the main atraction of this artic islands is the huge quantuty of ivory. Yes, it's true even without elephants the thousends of mammoths that died in this iced tundra give to the hunters the preserved material over the centurys, and so make from a inhospitable place a very reach (and dangerous) one.
The main problem in this latitude is the weather. Most of the time -40º or 50º degree, 1 or 2 feet of snow and artic night makes impossible to reach this islands. Only by plane and helicopter when there is no storm on the wind is low, like an North or South Pole base, so it is not easy tho someone lives in this conditions.
Most of the instalations were military  in this part of the world and were active in cold war. With the end of Soviet Union only some of the important radar station were active in the years that folow. Even the aircraft base were substitute by Tu-95 "Bears" with fuel probes that fly from the main land and after the mission returned. 
One or another radio stration was still active when artic started to be important again. The return of Russia most powerfull fleet at same time that cience try to understend what was happening to ice in north pole was an important reason to re-activeted some of the older structures. The support to the artic missions deppend on that.    
For many people Artic is a region of only could ice, animal live and nothing more. The crazy ones that explore this lands are fools or cientists,  specially in south pole becouse of the internacional agree that stop the intenctions by several contrys to mining the natural resorces and shere the proficts.
North is diferente, The Greenland and Northwest Territories are just two examples of someone property (Denmark and Canada), and the distance from civilization it is less than in the Antartic. Besides, the exploration is made since the last century.  
So when the oil price was high and Russia had more money ( is one of the most important producers) start to show one fresh interest by the Artic exploration (that was stoped in the 90s). Civil and Military organization bigin in 2000 to have regular presence in the area and the nowhow achived in years with the ocident expeditions give to Moscow one priceless advantaged.

It is true that the resorces, territorial questions and military strategy, are all reasons to Russia fight for Artic land but for me, the main reason to re-activate Tent base and New Siberian Island is the north passage. Like Suez or Panama Canal, the country have a very important  passage from Atlantic to Pacific Ocean, that for several centurys was impossible to use becouse of the ice.  Today with the climatic change the navegation it is possible in the end of Spring, in Summer and bigining of fall, with the support of an Ice Breaker. 
But the North Route is dangerous. First, the Russian Navy had to clear the minefield from WWII, than make the planifications to stop points in the navigation. Of course, New Siberian that is in the midle was the natural chose for an advanced base in this epic work. The problem was how to make it, and get there with staff, machinery and supplies. 
In the first attempt in 2012 the helicopter crashed with no casualties. It was a prove that this was not the right way to do it and probably the solution is by the sea. But the North Fleet in the winter is in Mediterranean sea and with the civil war in Syria and the need for a reinforcement of Black Sea fleet  make only a few ships in Severomorsk. Caribe cruisers to Venezuela and Cuba and the need to sea presence to americans see make several delayed in Putin plans to back to Artic.
Last days of summer it is a risk and Putin nows it. The Russian are not the American and to organize a rescue mission in the Artic if anything goes rong it´s only possible with the help of international community. The Kursk tragedy was probably the most significant demonstration of Russia decadence and if another acident like that heapens it will be a set back to Kremlin expetactions not only in the reigion but in the World to.
So the plans are carefully study and it is important that no mistakes were made. After all is the prestige of Russia that is on stage. The  basic lines of this important mission is to carry men and equipment in a fleet of war and civilian ships from Severomorsk (the North Fleet Base) to the Kotelny Island. First priority is recover the aerodrome, next is to make one security place for ships to stop (a improvised port). The objective ins that in the bigining of October that planes can land there.
When it's supose that the ships arrived at 29th of September the time is very short. It´s a long journey for man and equipment in rush conditions with no garanties of good weather. The history of Murmansk is rise again, but this time the voyage is much more at north and the Russians are alone. Theres no allies and the Warsaw Pact is finish so help is not possible. 
Peter the Great his leading a fleet that gives to Russia the domination of the North Route and after they reach New Seberian Island is time to recover the Temp base.  It is September and ice is present, so it is a ice Breaker that just in precaution makes the way more soft. Propaganda or not the world first impression is that Artic power is possible for a few nations, but only Russians have the land bases for doing it. 
No suprises with the weather and fleet advanced.  The objective is again getting there in day 29 to start working in the instalations for the first planes land there in the biggining of October. With an air bridge it's more easy to bring man and soft equipment before the real cold came. Thats the plan and the Navy repeat over and over again, in Tv, Radio and in the ships.
Siberian Islands are a tundra place with not a one single tree in the midle of the Artic (Laptev and East Sibeream sea). Only in summer theres no ice but theres is cold temperature all year. Strategic place for the Artic conquest the conditions that we see in the pictures is not a problem for the Kremlin. Besides the russian trops are equiped to rush conditions and the equipment like in the past is capable of utilization in low temperatures. 
But theres a few problems: The main is the erosion not only by the ice mellting but also by the sea. Several pictures in 2 or 3 years revell that the islands are srinking, not only a litlle bit but a lot. It is possible that the army engineers try to do something about that but the impact is big and the cause is that the clime is changing. 
The second problem are earthquakes. In a group of islands farway from civilization, with a few structures and in artic conditions it could be mortal for the man. Siberia is not in the corner and it is dificuld to organize a rescue mission bad weather. Support bases have poor conditions and to have a helicopter or a plane it is ver difficuld. Prevention in this case is the best. 
I think that the Russians now all the risk but the true is that the ships were at Siberia Islands in the last days of September. Man and heavy equipment were landing in short time. Structures were prepared and the works started at time.  The impossible is now possible. 
The troops could see what one decade done to equipment and other stuff left behind. But the work must be done for when the fist snow came the planes and helicopter land.  Man are now protected by the construction that they have done, with all the basic needs and comunication. Probably in the future they will try to recover some of the older houses, but for now the basic is done. 
Old Bear is in the artic again. Propaganda is good for the regime but the main reason is the North Passage, a natural way for ships between Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. With less ice probably not only Siberia coast but also several islands in this route will be important enterpresis and thats why at lest one more base will be recover in short time.     
 For now are no military reasons, besides propaganda tho Putin and the Russian Regime.  In the future we don't now. With USA, Japan, China in the pacific, India, Nato, Omã and Iran in Indic and British and Americans in the Atlantic to the Russians the most chance of sucess is the Artic, military and economic. So, only future will tell if one comercial enterprise it will be transform in another east/west confrontation. 

quarta-feira, 15 de janeiro de 2014

Aircraft Carrier Gerald Ford with problems? I don't undestand why.

This report that Boston Globe quote is really a big mess! The confusion betwen the importance of the Electro Magnetic catapult, AAG, and all the rest to the possible fail of a US $12 billions ship it's pretty ridiculous. First, we are talking about a Carrier that have 60% of componets from the 40 years old Nimitz class, so how the hell this can give problems? 

Second, there is a problem with weapons elevators? Really? It is only an elevator for guns, bombs, rockets and missiles. If there is a inteligent system to carry the weapons from the ammunition storehouse to the elevator without humans, that is what is giving problems, and it's all different from a single elevator (today the automate luggege bags system in airports like Dubai are quite similar, but ok).
Third, the radar system of Gerad Ford CVN-78 is similar to DDG-1000. But if in the future gives any problem it´s possible to replace him like the AN/SPS 32 and 33 in Enterprise (by the AN/SPS 48 and 49 or other more advanced). And when a Aircraft Carrier is sorrounded by several AEGIS cruisers that can transmite data link information to a carrier sensors and have 4 AEW E-2 in survaillence, how it´s a catastrophe if the radar is not at 100%?

Four, if the EMALS and AAG fail it´s different and if they don't work propperly in active duty it could be a great problem. But the Navy have 2 years to see the resolution of working problems by General Atomics and the situation in the report is that the two sistems had a low rate of success, specially the AAG with only 20 engaged when the technicians expected 4950 without any fails (the EMAILS success is a litlle better with 240 launchers against 1250 expected).   

It's true that the most part of new american systems give development problems and that both at least work. Today most of the component in a Aircraft Carrier can be replace if they don´t work in conditions but in  USS Gerald Ford, besides the $ cost and the time need in the shipyard, is the real propose of all Ford Class that is in risk. The US Navy expected it this new class to launch and recover much faster the planes that in Nimitz class thanks to EMALS and AGG but if the 12 Billions giant return to older systems the all objective will compromise. And that's the real tragedy that the report only talks in a few paragraphs.

Probably must of the problems with the expensive aircraft carrier will be resolved (like with their main plane, the or the first refit will bring more common systems in a old "Enterprise model", so Gerald Ford the Aircraft Carrier is indeed save. But if EMALS and AGG that are the heart of the new Class don't be fully operacional it is quite possible that one of the significat true of the report will hapening, or in other words that Aircraft Carrier USS John F. Kennedy and USS Enterprise never will see the day light.

segunda-feira, 6 de janeiro de 2014

In the XXI century make sense a COIN/FAC aircraft?

Absolutely. And the LAS programe who saw the Super Tucano victory for Afghanistan proves that.

In Korea lots of propeler planes were used in close suport and FAC operations, but if the F-51or the A-1 show that make sense slow planes for a suporting close to the US militarys (and minimize the risk of kill own troops) the number of aircrafts lost for AA justify the use of jets. But was a problem dropping bombs or rockets from a fighter with high velocity, so for the first time the FAC not only give the radio location to fast planes but also signal the target position with rockets to jets (the At-6G was one of the first armed FAC).  

Vietnam saw the jets take the control of the majority of the missions. The props were considered obsolete and only the US Navy and VNAF (who fly the Bird Dog and the Trojan we see in the down picture) had such "reliquary" in support roles dreaming to see their substitution soon by the A-4 and A-37. The Army was testing the helicopter in assault and atack and the USAF think that fighters like the F-105 will dominate the "poor" equiped Vietcong and North Vietnamese trops. All discovered in a few years that were terrible wrong. 

The US military intelligence don't evalueted properly the enemy who fight and won first the Japonese and then the French. Soon the americans realised that in the jungle was very hard to see the vietnamese and even when they were descovered the distance of 10-15 meters from US trops make impossible the used of fast aircraft.  

Once again the FAC was need. The controlers were training in emergency and the planes were all that US and Allied forces had that could make such role (like the Bird Dog or the trainig Trojan showed in the two pictures). 
But several times the FACs were shooting down or the jets intervention was not possible (whether condicions, poor visuallity of the combat field, very close fight, etc), so the closed support was made by a  Korea veteran "flight tank" named A-1 Skyraider.
Probably the best plane in Vietnam War, the heavy armour "Spad" manage to carry 3.600 Kg in 15 external hardpoints plus four 20 mm internal guns with a cruise speed of  319 km/h (basically doesn't need a FAC to see the targets). All US troops appreciated the abillity to close support for severall hours (the range was 2,155 km), with unguided bombs, rockets and several pods of machine guns righ in the enemy.
Was famous in the role of the "Sandy", escorting helicopters on the rescue missions and for two times he manage to shoot down the North Vietnamese Mig-17. The price was high with 266 aircraf lost, but the success in diferent roles manage to leave the last Skyraiders with VNAF and sponsored  the development of his sucessor, the A-10 Thunderbolt II.
It is interesting fact that A-10 was a COIN aircraft for Vietnam, not a Anti-tank, FAC or Close Support plane. The project was so good that today Tunderbolt II is to stay in USAF, doing all the missions and beeing upgraded for allmost 40 years. So, the COIN/FAC it make sense in modern war, but not all the projects are the A-10 and can carry with success so many missions.

Two examples: 1- Several OV-10 Bronco (the plane was made for LARA/FAC missions in a guerilha war) in FAC missions were lost against Iraq (everybody nows that was a convencional war). That was a big mistake becouse with so many AA guns and missiles in Gulf, use a slow plane (without anti-IR missiles devices) when was a role for A-10 or FAST FAC like biplace F-16s and F-18s (there were no problems with the more powerfull OV-10D of the MARINES). So, the problem was the type of misson not the aircraft. 
2- Puccara is a COIN aircraft used by Argentina in 1982 Malvinas/Falklands covencional war (once again there was no flares, chaff or electronic contramesures), with napalm has main weapon in two islands without one single tree. Of course it was a disaster. Once again the problem was not the aircraft, one of the best in is class.   
So, in resume, the concept of COIN and FAC missions is still on. The problem is the aeroplane to chose. Brasil make Super Tucano (who sell to lots of nations and see how he figh good in Central America) from Tucano, Colombia still uses the Dragonfly (who was born from the T-37) but USA (who fight since 2001 in Iraq and Afeganisthan) only when Embraer won the LAS programe make the AT-6 fly (developed in a flash from the Beechcraft T-6).

So it is a "mind thinking" problem not a concept or mission obsolence. If all the aircraft company developed the COIN / FAC variant from the training version, maybe the sucessor of A-10 was flying today and the good military were relax about the future in COIN/FAC/LARA and other missions (since the UAV is still a "litle baby").