Friday, May 02, 2008

Cannons to the left, cannons to the right, cannons above

Bill Sweetman describes at Aviation Week how the Army, having acquired a robot air force in the shape of UAVs, is roiling the waters with the mother of all artillery concepts. And the problem with an artillery weapon that powerful is that no one wants it to be mistaken for one of the Air Force's or the Navy's toys. After all, those are real weapons.

If the USAF is upset about the Army getting its own force of armed UAVs, what about the Army's bid for the long-range strike mission?

In the May issue of DTI I take a look at the Pentagon-wide Prompt Global Strike (PGS) mission, which calls for the ability to hit a target anywhere in the world within an hour of the decision to attack.

A problem is that one of the few ways to do this is with a rocket; but a long-range rocket launch looks the same whether the payload is a J-class guided bomb or what the RAF used to call "a bucket of instant sunshine." Since nobody is anxious to trigger a nuclear exchange, the various PGS concepts are designed to be readily distinguished from an ICBM.

Faced with the need to keep the from using a high trajectory rocket, the Army came up with something even more Buck Rogers: a super-duper Mach 10 hypersonic glider. At least it isn't a ballistic missile.

The Army and its contractors won't talk about it, but AHW is a hypersonic glider launched from the Orbital/ATK booster that's used in the US ground-based missile defense interceptor. Using new high-temperature materials, the vehicle flies through the atmosphere at speeds of more than Mach 10. The system would be forward-based at sites like Diego Garcia and Guam to cover likely targets.

The AHW's big advantage is that its profile can't be mistaken for a ballistic missile. It's launched from a completely different part of the world and reaches much lower altitudes. Because it does not fly in a high ballistic arc, it also gives the target much less warning of its approach.

The reason why the Army wants this system is speed. Attack aircraft, which typically fly at high subsonic speeds, take too long to reach their target. An aircraft sixty miles away can take some time to intervene in a ground battle -- if it is that close. It takes the Army long range guided missile system (GMLRS) about a minute and a half to reach across the same distance.

This video demonstrates the responsiveness of long range rocket artillery. In the scene below, Bradleys and an Abrams tank are engaging the enemy on rooftops. First you see the thudding of the Bradley's 25 mm, followed by the much larger impact of the tanks main gun. Then in the space of a few minutes (there's a time lapse in the video), the building is hit by a 200 pound GMLRS warhead. Long range artillery intervened in a time-critical tactical situation in a way that air support often cannot.

Special operators or their allies operating inside Iran may find themselves trapped by enemy tracker teams. In that kind of tight spot, they may not be able to get manned aircraft to support them inside enemy territory. A missile can be there in minutes. Oops. I mean hypersonic glider.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

When science-fiction author Greg Bear painted his plot for the novel Quantico into a corner by having three trucks armed with biological weapons to be launched using standard fireworks driving around Mecca right in the middle of the Hajj, he pulled out the ultimate deus ex machina:

"...we have decided to utilize a class of kinetic kill projectiles known as Lancets - essentially guided steel telephone poles tipped with a chemical warhead. They're designed to fall from low Earth orbit and punch a hole in the ground, through several hundred feet of dirt, reinforced concrete and even steel. They then incinerate anything within the relatively small but very deep impact crater..."

5/02/2008 05:12:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

The Air Force originally tried to do the ICBM task with a vehicle called the Navaho, which would be rocket-boosted to high altitudes and then switch over to ramjet power, to cruise at Mach 3 autonomously over intercontinental distances. They got one sort of successful test flight out of it, or at least, successful if the goal was to attack Puerto Rico.

The big thing they found with the “No-Go Navaho” was that once you have boosted something up to the attitude where ramjets will work, it is far easier to just keep on going and take it all the way up through space as a ballistic missile. There is very little that can happen to the vehicle once it is on a ballistic trajectory, and Navaho had already developed most of what was required to do it by ICBM.

Meanwhile, today the USMC has come up with an idea for a hypersonic transport that can deliver a pizza or a squad of Marines to anywhere in the world in a couple of hours or less. I applaud their vision, but I think that there are better things to send hypersonically than squad of Marines. For example, the Air Force has put out bids for the design of small robots that would land in an area and set about dismantling enemy installations. I suppose the next step would be to have the robots build our own installations from the debris, so that “all your bases have become us.”

But it is a strange situation indeed in which the Army and Marine Corps are the main advocates of hypersonic flight….

5/02/2008 05:42:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

I applaud their vision, but I think that there are better things to send hypersonically than squad of Marines.

The idea of dismantling robots is keen, but we already have squads of Marines that can do that; developing robots for the job is going to cost just that much more.

5/02/2008 06:12:00 AM  
Blogger newscaper said...

*Somebody* needs to be thinking this ambitiously, but isn't this reasoning likely ass-backwards in a sense?

Once you have a hypersonic cruise missile, THAT becomes the optimum way to deliver the *nukes* too, therefore undercutting the original assumption.

About Greg Bear's plot device... Jerry Pournelle, among others has supported real work on the concept. He called it Thor, others somewhat mockingly "rods from god".

5/02/2008 07:12:00 AM  
Blogger El Jefe Maximo said...

The institutional issue is going to be a big deal. The creation of such weapons (and the evolution of technologies generally) is creating the Mother of All Interservice/Intraservice rivalries: as you say, the Air Force isn't going to like the Army getting a bigger fleet of UAV's.

Moreover, within the Army, there are sure to be disputes as to whether this is "artillery" (before we even touch the tube or rocket question) or Army aviation, etc., etc. The German Army, as I recall, had a bitter Second World War dispute over whether assault guns were Artillery or Panzers.

We have had these issues before, and it eventually gets worked out, but this is going to add a good deal of stress in an era when budgets are under stress already.

5/02/2008 07:55:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

Rods from God, Crowbars from Space, Smart Rocks, Brilliant Pebbles, or my own name for it, Genius Gravel. And another name I can’t mention. Kinetic energy kill vehicles come in many guises. And they can do a lot more than hit fixed targets. An airplane going 600 mph is hardly more a challenging target to something descending from orbit than is a tank. The novel David’s Sling goes into this better than anything else I have read.

But the Army is making a big mistake. Read Kagan’s excellent book, “Finding the Target” in which he describes how the Army decided in the post-Desert Storm era to focus on its version of airpower to fight wars, leaving it ill prepared strategically for its role as a ground combat force. And even after OIF, they are still doing it!

5/02/2008 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

The real issue is institutional. The separation of Army and Air Force was made after WWII. Whatever validity it had during the cold war, it is probably past its sell by date.

The real question is how the military establishment should be organized?

5/02/2008 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

The real question is how the military establishment should be organized?

Army - take and hold land. To the extent that the AF does ground support poorly, transfer those assets to Army, much as is the case with Marines, now.

Air Force - Air superiority and hopefully then air supremacy over the battlespace. Tactical and strategic targets. Killing people and supplies, logistics past the ground-pounder's range.

Navy and Marines - Same as before.

What is most needed is ability to rapidly expand the volunteer military with people that trade help for college with Reservist commitment, and requirement that any refugee accepted do military service when and where asked as a price of being allowed in.
(Thinking of 300,000 Iraqi refugees and "family reunifications" now almost completely sitting on their asses or trying to make big bucks as translators or wheeler dealers siphoning taxpayer money to create "New Iraq")

5/02/2008 03:05:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Back in the early 1990’s there was a real, serious attitude in the Pentagon to the effect that the USAF absolutely HAD to have the B-2, because its existence as a separate service had been based on the success of strategic bombardment in WWII. The argument went that if you did not have a strategic bomber force that the rest of the USAF could become part of the US Army.

This was nuts. Never mind what was used to justify things in 1947, the importance of airpower had been demonstrated quite thoroughly since then. In fact, while the strategic bombing effort was and is a subject of some controversy, the tactical support provided to the ground and sea forces was not. Clearly, you need a Service focused on airpower. But such is the inertia within the military that no one could throw away the old argument.

Desert Storm put a stop to that nonsense. It was not the total victory for airpower that some portrayed, but there was no doubt it was a victory. Even one of the civilian analysts who was saying the need for a separate air force was questionable in the aftermath of the Cold War after Desert Storm said, “Face it. The U.S. cannot fight a war without extensive use of airpower.”

5/02/2008 06:04:00 PM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

I blame Hugh Trenchard

Billy Mitchell

Hap Arnold

Clark Gable

Gregory Peck

and Enola Gay Tibbets

5/02/2008 08:30:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

"but AHW is a hypersonic glider launched from the Orbital/ATK booster that's used in the US ground-based missile defense interceptor."
Wouldn't this be an incredibly expensive way to deliver the payload?
(in this case 200lbs worth)

5/02/2008 08:31:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Wright to Offer Prayer Rebuttal at Democrat Convention

(2008-05-01) — The Democrat National Committee (DNC) announced today it would allow the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Official Disavowed Pastor of the Obama for America campaign, to deliver the “invocation rebuttal” at the party’s convention in Denver this August.

After the traditional opening prayer and the singing of ‘God Bless America’,” said an unnamed DNC source, “the Rev. Wright will have five minutes to call on the Almighty to reject our plea for blessing, refuse to shed his grace on us, and to give our nation what it really deserves.”

Sen. Barack Obama, who this week rejected his pastor’s racially-charged preaching, protested the DNC move, noting,

I would sooner wish to see my racist, white grandmother on the convention stage doing a minstrel show routine, than to allow that bigoted America-hater even one more minute in my spotlight.”

- Scott Ott
ht - al-Bob

5/02/2008 08:34:00 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

It was technology that necessitated
an Air Force as a separate branch of service. Putting the new kinds of airplanes under the ground-pounders chain of command precluded the more effective use of airplanes.

Technology can undo a lot of that as well. Letting an Air Force control artillery just because the artillery is airborne is also a no-no.

And when space travel becomes routine, all responsibility for strategic services will be (space) Navy. An atomospheric force using airplanes will be as obsolete as the smoothbore musket.

Things change and man has to be able to accurately adapt----or else.

5/02/2008 10:19:00 PM  
Blogger Donald Sensing said...

The whole notion of separate services has no meaning in the operational theater, commanded by a unified commander with a unified staff. It does not matter whether the USAF's ground-attack jets say USAF or USA on them - they will be tasked and deployed the same.

The service chief and secretaries have no warfighting authority at all. They are not in the operational chain of command. So to transfer A-10s, etc from the USAF to the USA makes no sense at all. It won't change a thing as to how they are used.

USSOC is basically a separate service all its own, since its components from the USA, USN, USAF and USMC are all directly commanded by CINCUSSOC. He even funds them.

5/03/2008 05:33:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

RWE said:

"Meanwhile, today the USMC has come up with an idea for a hypersonic transport that can deliver a pizza or a squad of Marines to anywhere in the world in a couple of hours or less. I applaud their vision, but I think that there are better things to send hypersonically than squad of Marines..."

There are people in the federal government spending lots of money on hypersonic drones but I'm clueless about the actual application. Hypersonic drones require scramjet propulsion. Scramjets won't light up until Mach 6 (minimum Mach number). Scramjets fueled with hydrocarbons flame-out at less than Mach 8. Scramjets fueled with liquid hydrogen flame-out at around Mach 10 (they're no good for orbital injection). Liquid hydrogen fueled scramjets are hard to do so it is reasonable to assume the current scramjet work is hydrocarbon based. So what do you do with a drone that operates between Mach 6 and Mach 8? The old SR-71's operating point was Mach 3.4 at 110,000 ft. I assume the old D-21 drone had the same operating characteristics as the SR-71 (Years ago, I saw a bunch of D-21s at Edwards AFB and they're very cool!).

So someone wants a drone that's twice as fast as the old D-21. Low altitude photo-reconnaissance is not the obvious answer because the Mach 6-8 shockwave would play havoc with the optical system (an orbiter is easier to do but constrained by orbital mechanics). Maybe the hypersonic drone is intended as a weapons system? Again it doesn't add up. Why such a fancy weapons platform if your enemies are typically Islamic fascists hiding behind the burkas of their women? Technological sophistication seems unwarranted. It's a mystery...

5/04/2008 07:17:00 PM  
Blogger Alexander Fulks said...

Its only a mystery if its Earth-based enemies you are planning to fight...When's the Mayan calender end again? 2012...

5/04/2008 07:55:00 PM  

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