Flying & Fighting in the Soviet Tu-142 ‘Bear: aircrew interview

Created at the height of the USSR’s global power, the Tupolev Tu-142 is a maritime patrol developed from the Tu-95 ‘Bear’ strategic bomber. With around 60,000 horsepower – the fastest, largest, loudest turboprop aircraft in the world thundered across the seas surrounding India for 29 years. Protecting the subcontinent this long-ranged beast earned the respect of its crews and the appropriate nickname of ‘Albatross‘. We spoke to those who flew the Albatross with the Indian Naval Air Arm to find out more.

“When we had a joint exercise with the US Navy P-3C Orion, they offered us a million dollars to have a peep inside the aircraft!”

Commander VC Pandey (Veteran)NM,VSM

Credit: Commander VC Pandey

Prior to the Tu-142, I was flying the Ilyushin Il-38. I was trained on the Il-38 in Riga in 1976, I flew this aircraft until 1985 in India and gained a great deal of experience. I was an Instructor and Examiner of Pilots on this aircraft. I was trained in the same centre at Riga to fly and command the Tu-142 in October 1987. Having vast experience of flying the Il-38 was very helpful in flying Tu’s thanks to the similar instrument concept. For example, the Artificial Horizon indicators of both these aircrafts are opposite to those of non-Russian type of aircraft!


To start the main engines, there is a turbo generator on board (similar to an APU) which is started up with the supply from a ground unit. Each engine has an inbuilt mini engine which is started first. Normally, the Flight Engineer starts the engines. The power levers can also be handled by the Flight Engineer in the cockpit.

Credit: Commander VC Pandey

The visibility from the cockpit is very good. We have done a few close formation flights for at air shows. The Short Range Navigation System (RSBN) is very similar to a VHF omnidirectional range (VOR) with distance measuring equipment (DME) and was available on board. However, it was incompatible beyond Russian territories. There was no GPS, INS, FMS, TCAS etc. on board the aircraft, yet it was able to fly around the world and navigate very accurately. The responsibility of navigation was the duty of the Flight Navigator, whose work station was ahead of the Captain’s seat in the nose area. He was required to power the ‘Stars Navigation System’ a couple of hours before the starting of the main engines.

The Star Navigation System known as MAIS in Russian was the main navigation system on board. The almanac of various stars around the globe was available in the computer of this system. After inserting our own position, the system locks on to stars available in the Zenith. The altitude and declination from a couple of stars would give a position accurate to a few metres. Thereafter during the flight, the system would automatically compute its own position.

Cdr. V C Pandey

The ‘Data Link System’ was displayed in the centre on the dashboard in the cockpit and with an electronic screen displaying the deployment of various sensors and some virtual images. This data was could be shared with another airborne or shore station for assessment and information of the current situation for decision making.

What should I have asked you?
Why Russians built the Tu-142 aircraft and from where did they deploy them? The US Navy developed the UGM-27 Polaris, a submarine- launched ballistic missile with a range of more than 1800 kilometres. Polaris became operational on 15 November 1960. The Soviet government consequently ordered Tupolev to study possible dedicated anti-submarine warfare aircraft. Initially they built Tu-95s and later various versions of the same platform modified for different roles, designated Tu-142M. I flew the Tu-142MK-E version. Nuclear submarines need not surface for many months, so Tu’s were positioned in Cuba, Murmansk and Vietnam and were able to track US nuclear submarines around the globe in real-time and transmit their position by data-link system to their operational bases.

“I had noticed that these American fighters were fully armed. In the aft section of the Tu-142 there is a gun with twin barrels and a gunner crew. The flight gunner reported that ‘The fighter is very close to me and almost touching our aircraft ‘. I told him not to provoke him and keep cool, soon they will go away.”

The thing I liked best about the Tu was its speed, ceiling, low-frequency analysis and underwater recording sensors and their armaments for the destruction of underwater targets. It had a unique concept of flight controls. It had a fly-by-computer system. Control columns and rudder pedals in the cockpit were connected by push pull rods to a computer, output of which would deflect the elevators, ailerons and rudders taking into consideration various flight conditions. The movement indications of these surface areas was available in the cockpit.


Air-to-air refuelling system
The fuel capacity of this aircraft was about 100 tonnes. This fuel could normally give about 16 hours of flight. This aircraft was operated by a single crew, therefore provision of this airborne refuelling system was a tactical decision by the Russians. Flexibility to takeoff from a short runway, fuel/ time availability was the deciding factor for this system.


Worst thing about the Tu-142

Credit: Commander VC Pandey


I think the philosophy of Russian aircraft designers in those days was to fill the aircraft with equipment first and only thereafter consider anything else. A rest-room (and even toilet) in the aircraft was not considered necessary. Every operator seat had a portable water bottle for collection of personal urine during the flight. The aircraft did not have any dry or wet rest-room for defecation. The crew member had to leave his seat, go to a corner and discharge urine in that bottle. The aircraft did not have any designated rest area. There was no provision for making tea or coffee in the aircraft, not even a microwave oven to warm up the food. It was very tough and all crew members were male.

Training and ferry flight to India, our aircraft training commenced in the month of October. The temperature had already dropped below freezing in Riga. In the month of December, the temperature was hovering around minus 20 to minus 30 degrees C. Icing was never a problem for this aircraft. In the month of December, every thing in Riga is covered with snow, all is white, including runways. Every landing was radar vectored Cat -1 ILS Approach, nothing visual till approx 500 feet or so. Thereafter , all that one could see was a small strip of black land mass. After landing and clearing the active runway, the runway disappears due to heavy snowfall. My training on the Tu was done under such extreme, difficult, conditions.

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Most memorable flight?
The maiden flight to India, Russians permitted all Indian crew to ferry fly this aircraft from Russia to India. They did all the planning. It was decided that the aircraft would depart from Simferopol, Ukraine, to Goa in India and it would be a non-stop direct flight. The route chosen was overflying Ankara – Larnaca -Cairo – Jeddah – Aden – Mumbai then land in Goa. Russian Air Traffic Controllers cleared the flight to fly at around 36,000 feet and at 0.76 the speed of sound. The moment we contacted Saudi Controllers they requested for Radial and DME from a particular position. We replied that VOR DME is not available on board. The controller became very furious and asked us to immediately descend to around 15000 feet. We had no choice but to comply, we had fully tanked up so fuel was no problem.

Credit: Commander VC Pandey


The Aden Controller was very nice and friendly. He cleared us to climb back to 36,000 feet and to fly direct to Mumbai. We climbed to the designated height, auto pilot ‘ON’. After reaching the level, we handed over the stick of the Auto Pilot controller to my Copilot. Yes, there was a long extendable stick with control buttons for manoeuvring the aircraft and it could be swung between the pilots. We were in an ‘I’m home’ mood – but it did not last long. American naval fighters came from nowhere and started formating and taking pictures of every inch of our aircraft. These aircraft would be with us for about 15-20 minutes, do a vertical Charlie and disappear. Soon another fighter would arrive to accompany us into the Arabian Sea. I had noticed that these American fighters were fully armed. In the aft section of the Tu-142 there is a gun with twin barrels and a gunner crew. The flight gunner reported that ‘The fighter is very close to me and almost touching our aircraft ‘. I told him not to provoke him and keep cool, soon they will go away. It happened so, at exactly 150 miles from Mumbai. The fighter departed and did not return to keep us company. Anyway, we were in contact with Mumbai controllers. Note – This aircraft is now in a museum in Vishakhpatnam in India, which is open to public.

Vinod Bhasin

Credit: Vinod Bhasin

Which types did you fly before and after the Tu-142? When did you start on the Tu-142?
I did my basic training on a single engine tail wheel Indian aircraft known as the Pushpak before moving onto the piston engine Britton Norman Islander. I then got selected for the Tu-142M, or ‘Bear-F’. After leaving the Navy I flew the Super King Air B200 turboprop for five years before graduating on to the bombardier BD700 Globals. Initially I flew the classic BD700 with the Honeywell avionics suite and then the BD700 vision with the Rockwell Collins suite.

Credit: Cdr. V C Pandey

How did it differ from the type you were flying before?
The Tu’s were poles apart from the Islanders which is what I was flying earlier. From a 3-ton piston engine to a 185-ton aircraft – the heaviest and the fastest turboprop in the world – was a humongous change.

First impressions?
We were shocked and awed. Got goose bumps, literally, at first sight.

How would you rate the cockpit for the following:


Ergonomics.
Once we got acquainted we were quite comfortable. It was an entirely novel experience in the beginning because most of the stuff was done by others. The throttles were manipulated by the Flight Engineer who was actually facing aft, his seat located behind the copilot. Both the pilots of course had their own throttles and could override the Flight Engineer. Navigation was done by the flight navigator who was seated in the nose of the aircraft at a lower deck. The Flight Signaller, again facing aft, behind the pilot in command did all the long distance communications. The check list was done by the flight gunner with challenge and response. He was seated at the tail, facing aft, and with no access to the rest of the aircraft. He was indeed a lonely fella and was happy reading the checklist! So you see almost everything was provided on a platter to the pilots.

Being welcomed at a maintenance visit to Tagarog in 1987. Credit: Vinod Bhasin


Pilot’s view
Reasonably good


Comfort
The seats were quite comfortable I thought but other than that not much thought was given to crew comfort. Answering to the calls of nature by a crew of nine in the front crew area in one toilet over long flights was a big challenge

Instrumentation
Very compact for the pilots. As stated above many tasks were done by other crew.

What is the best thing about the Tu-142?
The fastest and the heaviest turbo prop in the world. We would cruise at 0.8 m during transit. Powerful engines each producing 15000 shp. The contra-rotating propellers were fascinating.

….and the worst?
Noise…and fuel consumption.

How would you rate the Tu-142 in the following areas:

Take-off Good except that it required long runways for take off because of its weight.

Landing She handles pretty well during landing and the engine response is pretty good despite throttles being manipulated by the Flight Engineer on command of the Pilot Flying (PF). The last time I flew these was in 2002, but the sequence of throttle orders coming in for landing will stick in my memory always. Outers to flight idle as we flare, inners to flight idle short of touch down, inners zero, unlock all and then outers zero!

Credit: Cdr. V C Pandey


Combat effectiveness.

Pretty effective overall. Avionics and equipment were archaic to begin with, but upgrades happened with the passage of time and this aircraft succeeded in keeping the enemy submarines down. The Western World were always intrigued and somewhat wary of this platform and the world perception of the Indian Navy in general changed once we acquired these planes.

All the co-pilots

Acceleration Great
Top speed Normal cruise was 0.8 and not to exceed 0.82
Reliability Spares was an issue from time to time but the dispatch reliability was well managed.
Weapons Effective
Climb rate Good for its weight
Range Enviable, almost unmatched
Sensors Effective with retro fitment as time went by.

What’s the biggest myth about the Tu-142? Perhaps, that it is an overrated machine.

What should I have asked you? How do the crew feel after taking off at 8pm and landing at about 9am the next morning after flying 400 metres over the sea for most part in a pitch dark night with the auto pilot unserviceable?

Credit: Cdr. V C Pandey

Describe your most memorable flight in a Tu-142

There were a few exciting ones including a test flight wherein an engine would not unfeather after intentional shutdown and the subsequent three engine landing. But the most memorable for me was a ferry flight from Cairo to Taganrog (sometime in 1996/97) wherein the destination was changed from Simferopol to Taganrog at the last minute due to some technical reason. Communication with the ATC controller was a big challenge since he couldn’t speak English. An Indian embassy official who had come to receive us was hurriedly summoned to the ATC to resolve the confusion.

Describe a typical mission

Take off, high level transit to operations/exercise area, descent to lower altitude, dropping of sonobuoys for detection, location and tracking of submarines, climb to transit altitude and return to base

How comfortable was a mission – how loud was it in the cockpit? Long missions by night were tiring. Noise levels were high.

What was life like between missions? Life between missions depended on the level of your responsibility. Adequate rest and recreation for the youngsters and back to the desk for those holding appointments.

Tell me something I don’t know about the Tu-142

Proper parachute deployment of any sonobuoy/weapon drop was confirmed initially by physical sighting by the Flight Gunner who was seated at the tail facing aft.

When we flew these planes from Simferapol to Goa for the first time we did not have GPS or even VOR on board and hence navigation was a challenge. In case the undercarriage did not go down, the emergency lowering was initiated by the Sonic Operator.

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Describe the Tu-142 in three words

The mighty props

What was its role in Indian service? What would the aircraft have done in a full scale war? Can we avoid this question?

How did you feel when it was retired? Sad. Couldn’t hold back the tears. I was part of the commissioning crew, was trained in the erstwhile USSR by the Russians as a copilot, went on to train other pilots and ultimately commanded the squadron.

What is your favourite memory of the type? The Russian instructor pilot standing in between two of us Indian pilots and instructing us to come in for landing in Russian language with the help of an interpreter.

Does it have a nickname in Indian service? The Albatross

Do you miss it? Immensely.

Was there anything unusual about flying it? A couple of unusual things amongst others, were the Flight Engineer facing aft and throttle orders without getting to look out and the flight gunner stuck at the tail of the plane all by himself at his crew stations

What was the greatest potential military threat to the aircraft? Carrierborne fighter aircraft.

Sergey © Photo : Sergey Krivchikov

Cmde MR Ajaykumar NM VSM (Retd)

I was an Observer in Tu-142, therefore I will be answering from an Observer’s perspective!

With which unit did you serve? I served in multiple units, commanded the air squadron, Naval Air station handling multiple air squadrons, I commanded multiple ships including being captain of a missile frigate.  

Which types did you fly before and after the Tu-142? I flew the Il-38 before the TU.

 When did you start on the Tu-142? I went to erstwhile USSR, Riga, for the aircraft induction training in 1987!

How did it differ from the type you were flying before? Both being Russian long-range maritime patrol aircraft, not much difference in terms of cockpit. However, the TU had more advanced systems!

First impressions? Impressive and menacing looks!

How would you rate the cockpit for the following:

Ergonomics Average

Pilot’s view- Comfortable

Comfort

Russians never cater for crew comfort. First, they install the systems and then check where to fit the man behind the machine! Flying at times more than ten hours on missions, were a test of human endurance sitting in an uncomfortable seat. The aircraft did not have a proper toilet also! But we felt proud to fly the highest and fastest flying turbo prop in the world!

Instrumentation 

Not the modern type. More of a second world war look!

What is the best thing about the Tu-142? It is rough and tough! Very forgiving and lots of importance to the man behind the systems!

…and the worst? The crew comfort

How would you rate the Tu-142 in the following areas

Take-off For full weight take-off cannot be done from average runways. Very long take off run.

Landing Long landing run and very high Load Classification Number runway required.

Combat effectiveness

Very effective, despite being from older technology.

Top speed Fastest turbo prop, 0.82 mach!

Reliability 

Very reliable.

Weapons  It had bombs, torpedoes, depth charges and a tail gun. It was later was modified to carry air-to-surface Harpoon missiles.

Range 12550 Km

Sensors – Radar, Magnetic Anomaly Detector, Air early warning radar for tail gun, ESM, Sonobuoys, radar transmission warner.

What’s the biggest myth about the Tu-142? No one really knew about the actual capability of the Tu. It was a well-kept secret! When we had a joint exercise with the US Navy, P-3C Orion, they offered us a million USD to have a peep inside the aircraft! So you can imagine the myth!

Describe your most memorable flight in a Tu-142

The first flight, from Simferopol in the USSR to India, routing via, Ankara, Cypress, Cairo, Djibouti, and Goa in India! Almost 13hrs nonstop flight… In the midst of Iran-Iraq war in full swing. Occasionally the US Navy’s F-14 Tomcats flying with us in formation!

An F-14A Tomcat aircraft of Fighter Squadron 111 (VF-111), bottom, investigates a Soviet-built Tu-142 Bear F maritime reconnaissance aircraft of the Indian navy.

Describe a typical mission

Mostly anti-submarine missions. Drop sonobuoys in the area and locate and track the submarine. Otherwise typical maritime missions.

How comfortable was a mission – how loud was it in the cockpit?

Crew comfort was not really good. The cockpit was a bit loud.

What was life like between missions? There used to be adequate breaks between routine missions. It was generally compressed only during major exercises or operational missions. But generally ensured a 24-hour break after a 10-hour mission.

Tell me something I don’t know about the Tu-142 A Tu has been converted into a walk-in museum in the Port city of Visakhapatnam in India. So, there is no more secrets!

Describe the Tu-142 in three words The Mighty Props!

What was its role in Indian service? What would the aircraft have done in a full scale war? It was extensively used in maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare missions. Also, the ESM was put to good use in electronic snooping.  

How did you feel when it was retired? I felt really sad to see the aircraft being retired, which I saw from commissioning and was the Commanding officer of the squadron!

What is your favourite memory of the type? Lots. Many operational and camaraderie memories. It never failed us!

Did it have a nickname in Indian service? The Albatross!

Do you miss it? Yes!

Was there anything unusual about the aircraft or flying it? The mission commenced almost two hours before the take-off, because the Inertial Navigation System took about 90 minutes to settle down! So, we had to man the aircraft 90 minutes before take-off!

What was the greatest potential military threat to the aircraft? Long range SAMs and fighter aircraft!

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Name          Jasbir Singh

Rank           Commander

Unit             Navy


Before the Tu-142  I flew the HT2, Harvard, Vampires, HJT-16, Alize, Illusion-38 and Tu 142, after Tu-142 I flew the Airbus 310, B747 and B7771A. The Tu-142 was a very heavy aircraft to fly and the first power control aircraft to fly. It was a very impressive aircraft with good anti submarine warfare equipment.

   

How would you rate the cockpit for the following:

Ergonomics Good. Auto pilot could be controlled by both the pilots in the comfort of their seats. 

Pilot’s view Good Comfort Moderate Instrumentation Moderate. No VOR, DME good only in Russian airspace.


Best thing  Very sleek and high speed turbo prop aircraft with long range.

Worst thing  No proper toilet facilities. A bucket was kept with a curtain around.

               

How would you rate the Tu-142 in the following areas: 
A.Take-off 6 out of 10 B. Landing 7/10 C. Combat effectiveness 8/10 D. Acceleration 5/10  E. Top speed 925 Km/h     F. Reliability Good  G. Weapons Torpedoes and depth  H. Climb rate Poor

I. Range 12500 Km J. Sensors  Good 7 out of 10

It was a myth was that Tu-142M is a deadly platform, which was not the case because of poor navigation equipment. However, the Indian Navy made upgrades and improved the performance.

Most memorable mission            

An aircraft Islander crashed near Visakhapatnam. We took off from Goa and the weather en route and in the search area was very bad. It was a night operation. We completed the  mission with CBs (cumulonimbus)all around us. It was the most tense flight we had.

Noise level in the cockpit was moderate.

What was life like between missions?  Great

Describe the Tu-142 in three word Big, fast, good. 

What was its role? In Indian service it performed the role of maritime and anti-submarine warfare. Same maritime  and antisubmarine warfare.

How did you feel on its retirement? Emotional when it came in after its last flight in a grand function which I attended.

Do you miss it? Not really   

What was the greatest potential military threat to the aircraft? Ships anti-aircraft guns, anti aircraft missiles etc.

Re-read this article in forty years time: We predict the future of aviation


Periodically, one comes across technology foresight pieces from the past. The one characteristic they have in common is that they are nearly always wrong – not just a little bit wrong, but both wildly optimistic in predicting the future of, for example, supersonic transport aircraft, and completely blind to transformational technologies, especially in the digital world.


Why would this one be different? Well, obviously, it will not. As a personal perspective on the world of aerospace and related defence technologies, there is always so much going on, particularly in the closely held world of classified research, that one cannot assemble a comprehensive picture. So, there are going to be gaps and misjudgements. Also, there is a lot of guesswork involved in extrapolating from objectives, and visible progress in research and early development, to future capabilities. Guesswork along the lines of – if I really wanted to deliver (a new capability) – what technical infrastructure and technologies would be required? Can the gaps be filled? And if so, with what?


My approach has been to think about a couple of major emerging areas, one from defence, and one from civilian aerospace, and to consider what appears to be going on, and where it might be leading, as a means of identifying key technologies to watch. And to be clear here, this is all about opinion, not fact. Moreover, it is a certainty that I do not have the expert knowledge to do more than speculate in many cases.


Defence and the nature of war
As one considers defence technologies, it is important to realise that perceptions of the nature and conduct of war have changed and are continuing to change – noting that differing societies may continue to have differing points of view. Conventional warfare – the non-nuclear contest of wills between major powers – has, at times, seemed to be an enduringly unlikely prospect. However, history does not support this view, given the succession of actions involving the major powers since the Second World War. The current environment seems to me to feature increasing tension in many areas of the world, and, moreover, to be characterised not only by intractable problems that are not easily resolved, but growing, and unhelpful, competition between the major current powers, the USA, Russia, and China.
Adding to this tension is the increasing capabilities of second tier nations, including, but not limited to Israel, India, Iran, North Korea, and others, as well as the ongoing contest of political ideas and religious beliefs that lies behind terrorist activities in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.


Terrorism is a label applied generally to the nationalist or religious aspirations of others, characterised by the unconventional use of lethal force outside the so-called rules of war. Just as one man’s terrorist may be another man’s freedom fighter, it is important to recognise how successful such actions have been, and how difficult they have been to counter using conventional armed forces. One only needs to consider Afghanistan, for example, where the British, the Russians, and the Americans and Coalition Forces have all successively been evicted by informal armed groups, despite all having conventional air and arms superiority.


Well, you might find all that a bit confronting, but not all defence is defensive, and not all objectives are benign. Sometimes attack is an option, and sometimes annexation, and invasion are used to effect regime change. And this piece is intended to be a general technology discussion, rather than political analysis – even though it is framed from the perspective of a Western democratic nation.


This piece is focused on peer-to-peer conflict, rather than on counter-terrorism or counter-insurgent operations. Nevertheless, the development of the capabilities outlined will need to recognise the complexities of countering hostile forces that may be indistinguishable, much of the time, from civilian populations. Clear opportunities to counter the activities of such groups may only be fleeting in nature, and consequently require rapid, accurate, decision-making, and the ability to generate reactive, yet proportional responses.


Future Air Operations


In previous articles for @Hush_Kit, I have considered the nature of air combat, and written on fighters for 2030, and in thinking about those topics, the US, China, and Russia, all appear to be converging on a system-of-systems approach to both air combat and strike missions. The discussion that follows outlines the capabilities that appear to be necessary to deliver a ‘system-of-systems’ approach to future air operations, whether these be pre-planned strike missions; reactive missions addressing short-term or fleeting targets; or defensive operations reacting to threat attacks or weapons.


We will start with an assumption that the key purpose of air operations is the prosecution (a less direct way of saying ‘attack’) of hostile targets. Here I am using targets in an extremely broad sense, as our air operations should be able to deal with targets ranging from enduring, hardened, strategic infrastructure, to fleeting targets of opportunity, reactive defence against incoming threat weapons and platforms, or even something as ephemeral as Political opinion.


Such a range of targets is a key driver for our system-of-systems, which must be capable of recognising, locating, and countering the full range of targets, with the flexibility to carry out operations from merely monitoring force deployments at a time of tension, to complex pre-planned attacks against hardened and defended targets.
To achieve these effects, our system-of-systems based air combat capability is going to need to be able to:
• Identify and locate targets, varying from the strategic to the tactical, and from static to moveable, mobile and fleeting, as well as characterising the defence systems for those targets;
• Communicate relevant information on the targets either to the higher command structure, or, for targets that must be addressed in near real-time, to other system-of-system elements;
• Collect, analyse, and disseminate information from other elements across the system-of-systems;
• Strike targets, using appropriate and proportional weapons systems, or neutralise by other means, such as electronic attack, cyber warfare or deception;
• Be survivable and persistent for as long as required; and
• Be responsive to changes in the Commander’s intent; the Rules of Engagement; the achievement (or not) of objectives; and to changes in opposition tactics or force deployments.
These capability requirements lead us into a series of technology topics, which are the defence topics we have selected to watch.


As an aside, in thinking about these defence aspects, I would ask the reader to bear in mind not only the thought ‘that’s cool, we’re doing all that’, but also to reflect on ‘OK … so how do we respond if this gets done to us?’ I remind the reader of this, because I recall making a similar comment years ago in response to an Army paper on ‘Manoeuvre Warfare’. This was very gung-ho about the prospect for the future Army but had not a word of consideration about how to respond to being outflanked, or to having one’s own logistic lines cut. My observations were unwelcome.
The paper in question also took an overtly ‘offensive’ rather than ‘defensive’ perspective to operations, which was perhaps counter to the political will of the time. My observation to that effect was also unwelcome, but I mention this because the ‘system-of-systems’ approach I am considering is also intended to allow unfettered operation over hostile territory, is ‘offensive’ rather than ‘defensive’ in nature and appears to be the direction being taken by the US, Russia, and China.


Civil Aerospace
The civil transport domain has, since the age of airborne mass transport began, after the Second World War, been driven by one consideration – economics. Although some might see the appearance of large turbofan-powered aircraft in the 70s as a response to noise regulations in Europe and elsewhere, this was really a side effect. It just happens that the solution to greatly improved operating economics and reduced noise was the same – the larger mass flow, and lower exhaust velocity of a high-bypass-ratio turbofan happens to reduce noise, as well as increasing efficiency and lowering cost.

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However, we are entering a period where there is, rightly, concern about the impact of human activity on the global climate, and attention is falling on the fossil fuel burnt by air transport, and the effect of exhaust gases on the upper atmosphere. Of course, this is, and will become increasingly, also an economic driver. In the longer-term taxes – in the form of carbon-pricing – and cost increases due to diminishing availability, will both drive up fuel costs, and consequently the search has begun for alternative propulsion systems.
So civil aerospace technology needs might be driven by the following capability needs:
• Further improvements in propulsive efficiency
• Further improvements in aerodynamic efficiency
• Air transport systems, at all scales from the personal to mass transport, which minimise, or remove altogether, their impact on climate change
• Innovative solutions to the growing needs of internet-based businesses


Aerospace Technology Aspects


The discussion above has highlighted two principal problem spaces – military air operations in a system of systems environment, and economical but environmentally responsible civil air transport. As we have seen, both problem spaces will require the development and deployment of multiple technologies. Consequently, it does not make sense to assemble a ‘Top 10’ list, because the requirements are likely to be ‘all of the above, and more’. Instead, I shall look at what I consider to be the key areas needed to deliver the suggested capability, and then try to shed some light on some technology directions and programs of relevance.


Elements of a ‘system of systems’ air combat capability
Having outlined the capability requirements for such a system, we can perhaps identify some of the system elements that will deliver this capability.


Persistent Intelligence will be required. To conduct effective operations, it is first necessary to understand what is happening – in the broadest sense. What can we observe that will inform us about threat capabilities, force structure, deployment of men and materiel, sensor and weapon capability, political will and intent, infrastructure, and Industry? A huge ask, and probably only part of the tasking of worldwide intelligence services. If we narrow the focus, and assume a time of tension between major powers, with a high probability of conflict developing, a key need will be to assess potential key elements which might become targets.


Once the situation nears actual conflict, or conflict is taking place, persistent intelligence is needed to inform Commanders of the changing disposition of threat defence capabilities, force deployment, logistics and electronic activity, as well as updating similar information on friendly forces, and facilitating battle damage assessment. Depending on the nature of the conflict, many fixed elements of infrastructure will already have been located, and assessed for criticality as targets, so the critical need will be to identify and locate mobile and moveable targets, the nature and capability of their physical and electronic defence systems, and the sensors used by those systems.
The same system will also collect information from other system elements and disseminate and report as necessary to other friendly force elements on threats, targets, Commander’s Intent, and changes in Rules of Engagement.
To achieve this, the following system elements are likely to be required:
• A stealthy, high-flying, long-endurance autonomous platform
• Sensor packages able to collect the information outlined above, which implies sensor capabilities across a wide range of the electro-magnetic spectrum
• On-board analytical capability to transform sensor data into actionable information, including, for example, the identification and localisation of threats and targets; track information on both air and ground moving targets; and indications of operational mission success or failure
• Covert, robust communication capability enabling two-way communication through satellite or other relay systems to either the tactical or strategic command authority.
• Covert, rapid, robust two-way tactical communication to other system elements.
These capabilities are likely to be supplemented by the future Global Air Dominance System, a stealthy manned platform, which is likely to contribute additional sensors and Battle Management capability.
Effectors will be required to impact on and defeat threat targets and defensive systems. Platforms will be required to deliver kinetic effects (weapons), and non-kinetic effects (electronic attack, countermeasures, deception operations, cyber-attack, and defence. Platforms will require their own sensors for targeting, and to contribute to the overall picture of battle, and covert, robust means of communication with other system elements, and in some cases, the weapons they deploy. Additional support systems may also be required to ensure sufficient reach and persistence, and to supplement tactical intelligence collection. Some additional specialist capabilities will be required, for example to counter submarines, surface combatants and perhaps theatre ballistic missile defence.
System platform elements are likely to include:
• Crewed and un-crewed strike platforms
• Crewed and un-crewed air combat systems
• Crewed and un-crewed Electronic Warfare systems
• Crewed and un-crewed air refuelling tankers
• Crewed and un-crewed tactical surveillance assets
Technologies to develop all these systems are maturing, and programs are already in place addressing some of these needs.
Kinetic Effects. The system-of-systems approach is likely to make a wider range of weapons available to Commanders, as any networked platform within weapon range would be available, allowing a wide range of proportional, timely and well-matched solutions to be deployed.
In considering the systems deployed to create the required kinetic and non-kinetic effects, there are generally three major considerations: target-matching; proportionality; and range. In a non-system-of-systems environment, platform sensor matching was also important since platform target detection before weapons release was generally required. However, in the future considered, target information is expected to be pervasive, so that third-party targeting would be the norm, and target localisation would generally be delivered over the information network. Timeliness of response, however, is an important new driver, as this is a potential benefit from the system-of systems approach.
In addition to the full suite of current kinetic effect weapons capabilities, a range of highly reactive and precise solutions are likely to be sought, adding the following capabilities:
• High-speed Air-to-Surface weapons
• High-speed Air-to-Air weapons
• Long-range high-speed systems
• Directed Energy weapons
Non-Kinetic Effects. Clearly, with a heavy dependence on information systems, communications networks, software enabled capabilities, and sensors exploiting a broad range of the electro-magnetic spectrum, attention is going to need to be paid to both offensive and defensive non-kinetic effects.
This will lead to a need for the system-of systems to include the following capabilities:
• Electronic Attack and Protection
• Cyber Attack and Protection
• Ability to deceive and decoy threat sensors, and to overcome threat deception and decoys
Defence Aerospace Technologies
So, having explored the capabilities which might be needed to deliver system-of-systems air combat, what are the key technology developments required. To quote Arthur C Clarke “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. This discussion revolves around identifying where the magic lies.


Cognition and decision-making


Having postulated a persistent, stealthy, high-flying autonomous data collector and disseminator, one of the areas where advanced technology will be needed is in the translation of that data into information, and that information into actions. The volume of data which might be collected is prodigious, and the need for accurate and rapid decision making is paramount.


Conversion of sensor measurement data into location, identity, and track is vital if action is to be taken quickly. The volume of such data is too great to rely on passing back to the Command authority for conversion to information, and for decision-making. For this system-of-systems to work, there will have be an automated system capable of not only converting data to information, but also capable of cognition – that is understanding and acting on the information available.


This implies an extraordinary level of artificial intelligence (AI), and of trusted autonomy, and the development of technologies in this area will be a key, if such a system is to be delivered. This is a key area – while at first blush it seems to me unlikely that such a degree of AI yet exists, and further, in such a form that it could be trusted to act autonomously, I am reliably informed that sonar systems can discriminate up to 400 tracks simultaneously. This is certainly a key area a key area to watch. Management of the risks in this area might involve a half-way house, where proposed courses of action are provided to the Command authority for approval before implementation. Alternatively, the Global Dominance Air System might be used to provide battle management and place humans in the decision-making loop.


Communications and Information Dissemination
For our system-of-systems to work, covert, trusted, un-jammable, impenetrable communications links will need to be established. Some of these will need to deliver two-way information transfer to a remote Command authority, presumably by some form of satellite link. Others will be more local in nature, sharing information around the elements of our system, facilitating third-party data, sharing sensor information to enable the detection of stealthy threats and so on.


How might such a system work? Another area where advanced technologies indistinguishable from magic may play a part? But if Elon Musk has 42000 internet relay satellites in orbit by 2027, there should be a great deal of system redundancy available, along with global coverage. Could such a system be covert, secure, and un-jammable? Well, I assume that would depend on the waveforms used if a conventional datalink were used.


Other possibilities exist, including the use of lasers for optical communication, and dedicated LPI datalinks are already in service, catering to the needs of JSF, for example. The Multi-function Advanced Datalink, MADL, provides communication between stealthy platforms, with frequency-hopping and anti-jamming capability using phased Array Antenna Assemblies (AAAs) that send and receive tightly directed radio signals.


Clearly, establishing secure communication of critical information over a wide geographic area is one of the keys to successful implementation of system-of-systems air combat. Ensuring the communications network is managed to avoid information latency, aliasing of targets, disruption, jamming, or penetration by hostile entities is one area to watch, as will be bandwidth, cyber protection, security, and resistance to detection.
This whole area is going to be difficult when operating in coalition, given the sensitive nature of both collection technologies and analysis techniques.


Sensors and sensor co-ordination


Networking sensors together is one of the opportunity areas of a system-of-systems approach. As an example, if our network were able to access Infra-red Seeker Tracker (IRST) measurements from two separate stealthy platforms, while also having real-time knowledge of their locations, any heat source detected by the IRSTs should be able to be tracked, by triangulation of the two IRST bearings. This capability would provide a passive means of tracking stealthy air targets in real time, although it would be necessary to be able to discriminate between friendly and hostile targets, which might require additional information.


Similarly, it is likely that extensive use would be made of third-party targeting (TPT). TPT is useful because it allows there to be geographic separation between the sensor providing targeting data and the platform which uses a weapon to engage the target. That platform can remain passive and difficult to detect and neutralise, using off-board data supplied over the net to localise the target, rather than active and potentially detectable sensors.
Collection and collation of sensor measurements and tracks from other system elements really falls under the earlier discussion of cognition and decision making. However, our high-flying intelligence and information platform will have its own sensor suite. Given the need for the platform to provide persistent coverage over hostile territory, the challenge will be to generate useful sensor data in a covert manner. Passive sensors, including optical and infrared sensors will provide useful data, and multi-spectral analysis of sensor data may be useful in discriminating and identifying targets in a cluttered environment.
Use of an active sensor, such as a low probability of exploitation synthetic aperture radar, is however, likely to be considered because of the utility of such sensors, not only in ground mapping, but also in providing Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) capability, as well as change detection. GMTI can be particularly useful, not only in locating moving vehicles, but also in determining where they have come from and their destination. This information can be extremely useful in building a picture of threat logistics infrastructure, potentially enabling, for example, the location of fuel and ammunition supply depots to be identified. Change detection may be of particular interest in irregular conflicts, o here there is a potential for improvised explosive devices or landmines to be employed.
The technology challenge here is to deploy an active radar or similar sensor system, while preventing this being used as a means of detecting the high-flying platform at the heart of our system.


Platform Aspects


In attacking targets, and defending against attack, survivability is a key consideration. The degree to which risk is taken in this area may vary across a broad spectrum – a terrorist may have a view where the sacrifice of their own life is considered necessary, or even advantageous, whereas risk to service or civilian lives may be sufficient to prevent some military actions from going ahead. In general, though, if objectives are to be sustained, continuing loss of men and materiel will need to be avoided, and hence combatants will seek survivable options.
Our system-of-systems approach has, as one of its objectives, reducing the risk to human operators. It does this by essentially postulating three forms of vehicle – un-crewed, autonomous, survivable, and persistent platforms, like our intelligence, sensor and command and control platform; un-crewed, autonomous and ‘attritable’ platforms that the operators are prepared to lose if necessary, when attacking strongly defended targets; and crewed, survivable platforms, used only where a human in-the-loop and on-the-spot is critical.

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We can examine what is reported about current projects and programs and see this thinking in action. Alongside crewed aircraft concepts and programs such as the B-21, Global Air Dominance System and F-35, we can see the Unmanned Wingman, the XQ-58A Valkyrie un-crewed strike platform, Neuron, Taranis, as un-crewed and potentially ‘attritable’ platforms. We have the US Navy experimenting with autonomous air-to-air refuelling using the X-47B and no doubt un-crewed electronic warfare, jammer, and decoy projects already in hand. We have at least early attempts in high-flying, difficult to detect autonomous sensor and communication systems like the RQ-170 Sentinel and speculation about the RQ-180. Autonomous manoeuvring air combat is perhaps a little further away, although some might argue that Surface-to-Air Missiles and Cruise Missiles are simply ‘fully-attritable’ un-crewed autonomous air combat and strike systems.
The detailed roles and implementation of the US Global Air Dominance System (GDAS) remains an area for speculation. This is expected to be a manned, stealthy platform, with long endurance, and is likely to feature sensors, command and control and battle management systems. Given the developments in autonomous adjuncts, it is possible that the weapons capability of the GDAS may be limited, although there have been recent suggestions that it may employ directed energy weapons.
Otherwise, rapid development of manned and unmanned aerospace systems of all sorts is proceeding apace in China, and I speculate that the J-20 will be used as a major area-denial asset in the future, with a range of long range air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons. In Russia, a replacement for the MiG-31 strategic defence fighter is awaited, with some ambitious performance targets being suggested. Meanwhile the Su-57 is maturing, and a range of unmanned systems are also in development.


Where are the magic technologies here? Most of these capabilities already exist or are in demonstration, although manoeuvring autonomous air combat, and persistent but undetected platform presence, are perhaps at the challenging end of the spectrum. Developing manned penetrating and survivable platforms is going to continue to push the boundaries of signature reduction technologies, and the consequential impacts on aircraft configuration will demand sophisticated, but achievable flight control technologies.


Weapons – Kinetic and Non-kinetic Effectors

The use of air assets in conflict encompasses a wide range of activities as we have seen. Sensor and networking platforms informing the command and control of the air domain, with electronic protection and attack and decoy and disinformation operations helping to shape the battlespace. Stand-off capabilities like AAR and AEW platforms help in providing reach, persistence, and situational awareness, but the deployment and use of weapons to prosecute targets is the end point of all this activity.


From the earlier discussion, we have seen that a wide variety of weapons are likely to be required to match weapons to the wide variety of targets, and, as far as possible, generate precision effects. Consequently, there is a great deal of activity going on looking to develop weapons that can be deployed in the networked environment of the future.
What capabilities are being sought for future weapons? Some suggestions are:
• Rapid action – short time between a decision to strike a target and the required effect. This is a key attribute for tackling fleeting targets
• Re-programmable – the ability to optimise the fusing, or the nature of kinetic effect, allowing a broader range of targets to be prosecuted with the same system
• Non-kinetic – weapons that can disable a hostile response without collateral damage, for example by nullifying opposition sensors, disrupting information systems, or corrupting software
• Precision – able to produce very local effects
• Long stand-off – a response to operating against very capable air defence systems
• Small – weapons for deployment from stealthy platforms will be internally carried, and internal volume is likely to be at a premium for many platforms
• Networked – data-linked to allow third-party targeting and an indication of effect
Some of the capabilities above are routinely available with current weapons systems, but there are plenty of technology areas to watch in the general area of effectors.
Active programs to develop hypersonic weapons are underway in at least the US, Russia, and China, and this is clearly a technology area to watch. Most of the hypersonic weapons being discussed appear to be aimed at air-to-surface applications, including anti-ship weapons. However, it seems plausible that a long-range anti-air hypersonic system could be useful as an area denial weapon, for example against high-value targets such as AAR and AEW&C platforms.


Another topic which has been examined for a considerable period, at least in the US, is the possible application of boost-glide vehicles. These are powered systems which are (hypothetically) air-launched and climb to near-space altitude, before gliding at high speed to strike their desired targets. An alternative approach is a conventional rocket launch, followed by a series of re-entry skips into the upper atmosphere to achieve extended range. BGV capability would appear to be well within reach from a technology perspective. The technologies required have much in common with air-launched anti-satellite systems, which might also be available to some countries. The capability on offer is essentially short notice global reach.
A third area to watch is directed energy weapons. These are generally in the form of lasers, but other forms of energy may be available. Several issues have been encountered in the development of such weapons, but there is clearly a potential application to air weapons. The provision of sufficient electrical power to achieve a worthwhile effect has been an issue, but there has been a recent suggestion that such weapons might be one possibility for the US Global Air Dominance System. Directed energy weapons are, by their nature, precision weapons, and do not have a conventional kinetic effect. They are already in widespread use at lower power, as counters to imaging infra-red seekers, in the form of Laser DIRCM (Directed Infra-red Counter Measures).


Another form of novel non-kinetic weapon which might appear is the non-nuclear electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) generator – this seeks to disrupt sensors and communication systems by generating an extremely large electro-magnetic signal. While the technology exists, many military systems are hardened against EMP, but significant effects might be expected in EMP is directed against civilian infrastructure or other non-hardened systems.
Where is the magic required for Defence Aerospace?
• Stealthy, persistent, surveillance and communications platforms
• Covert sensors
• Information management systems to turn sensor data into actionable intelligence
• Multi-way communication and information dissemination system
• Unmanned strike and air combat systems
• Unmanned support systems
o AAR
o EW
o Cooperative sensors
• Reactive rapid response weapons
o Hypersonic systems
o Directed Energy
o Boost-glide vehicles

Technologies for economical but environmentally responsible civil air transport
While much of the discussion in this area is going to be about propulsion systems, because of a widely perceived need to reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere to reduce the rate of human-induced climate change, it is important to remember that economic operation remains an enduring driver for commercial air transport. Consequently, there will be continuing pressure for innovations that can improve both aerodynamic and propulsive efficiency. Just as the same economic pressures resulted in the adoption of high-bypass-ratio turbofan engines, and coincidentally dramatically reduced aircraft noise, so improved aircraft and engine efficiency helps to reduce the power required, and the impact on the environment.


Aerodynamic efficiency: biplanes, flying-wings and the return of other zombies


In the cruise, airliners fly at high altitude to maximise propulsive efficiency and minimise fuel burn. Two major routes to aerodynamic efficiency are to increase the aspect ratio of the wing (the slenderness of the planform – defined as (span squared)/wing area) which reduces the drag due to lift, and to reduce the wing area, which reduces zero lift, or profile, drag.


Increasing aspect ratio has been a trend in the evolution of jet airliners. The de Havilland Comet had an aspect ratio of 5.65, and the aspect ratio of the latest variant of the Boeing 777 is 9.96. This increase in aspect ratio has largely been enabled by using advanced composite materials for the wing structure. Reducing wing area demands the use of efficient high-lift systems to meet demanding take-off, landing and single engine climb requirements. While further incremental improvements are possible, dramatic change in aerodynamic efficiency will require a new approach.
Technologies to watch in this space include braced wing structures, reduced or zero wing sweep, and blended wing-body designs. Use of a braced wing design, where a high wing is structurally braced by another lifting surface acting as a strut, might appear old-fashioned and unlikely, but would allow significantly higher aspect ratio wings to be used without attracting a weight penalty. An approach which might facilitate this, is to reduce or eliminate wing sweep. While this would undoubtedly require a reduction in cruise speed, it would not only result in a lighter wing design, but it would also enable laminar flow wing profiles to be used, which have the potential of substantially reducing profile drag.


The first proposals for a jet-powered blended wing body airliner design came not from NASA, nor from Airbus, but from Armstrong Whitworth, and date back to 1943. The proposal materialised at half-scale as the AW52 but was dropped because the swept wing was unable to deliver the benefits of laminar flow. However, with modern design methods and flight control systems, aircraft like the B-2 have shown that aerodynamic efficiencies are achievable, and research efforts to apply blended wing body configurations to commercial aircraft continue. The benefits being sought are reduced drag, through the carriage of passengers in the wing rather than in a separate fuselage, and structural efficiencies because distributing the load across the wing allows a lighter design.


Propulsive efficiency
Clearly, reduced fuel burn is a continuing aim, driven by the operating economics of commercial aircraft, and like aerodynamic efficiency, any improvement in this area will also reduce the impact of air transport on climate change.
Just as improvements in aerodynamic efficiency might take us back to unswept or even strut-braced wings, the search for ultra-high bypass ratio (UHB) engines may lead in the direction of open-rotors – otherwise known as propellers. Solutions involving UHB engines will need to be carefully integrated with the airframe design if maximum aerodynamic and propulsive efficiencies are to be gained while noise in the cabin and outside the aircraft is minimised.


Internal technology changes to gas turbine engines may also increase efficiency, with both geared fans and variable cycle engines being considered as a means of increasing efficiencies. Variable cycle engines provide a means, through internal variable geometry, of altering the by-pass ratio to optimise efficiency under varying flight conditions.
Variable-cycle engines have primarily been proposed for application to military aircraft operating at supersonic speeds. However, a possible future application could be in hybrid powerplants, where, for example, turbofan propulsion could be supplemented by use of an electrically powered propulsor, which would use electrical power from batteries in combination with power generated by the turbofan engines.


Geared fans as an approach which may allow a higher by-pass ratio to be used. By slowing down the fan rotation speed compared to the core, the fan can operate at high thrust while retaining a tip speed that is both efficient and quiet. The technology is not new but represents a trade-off – lower noise and more efficient fan and turbine operation is somewhat offset by the additional weight and complexity of the gearing required.


Alternative energy sources
The bulk of modern commercial transport aircraft are powered by gas turbine engines, burning hydrocarbon fuels. As concern has grown regarding the impact of human activities on climate, attention has also turned to commercial aviation, and the impact of carbon dioxide and other exhaust products on the climate. The presence of increasing quantities of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been linked to climate change, and this is leading to pressure to reduce the burning of hydrocarbon fuels, and hence to reduce the release of carbon dioxide and other ‘greenhouse gases’ into the atmosphere.
There are several ways in which this might be achieved, and each of the technologies involved certainly falls into the ‘one to watch’ category which is the subject of this article. There are three areas of interest:
• Use of alternative fuels, such as Hydrogen;
• Use of electrical power, delivered by alternative sources, with batteries and fuel cells being of principal interest; and
• Hybrid solutions, where gas turbine powerplants are combined with electric power.


Alternative Fuels

The big advantage of using hydrogen directly as a fuel is that the by-product of combustion is water, and hence no greenhouse gas emissions are produced.
Disadvantages of Hydrogen include its low energy density compared to hydrocarbon fuels. This means that, for a given energy content, liquid Hydrogen occupies about four times the volume of current fuels, with significant implications for aircraft design. It does, however, only weigh about one third as much, although this is partially offset by the size and weight of the tanks required to contain the fuel. Because of the increase in volume required to store the fuel, aircraft would need to be designed with greater volume to accommodate fuel, generally either in an enlarged fuselage, or in external tankage, resulting in increased drag.
A further difficulty, which is common to this type of technology transition, is that the necessary infrastructure for bulk storage, transport and distribution does not exist. This is really a matter of the market, and Government intent – if hydrocarbon fuel rises in cost due to carbon pricing, at some point the investment in the required infrastructure to switch to a cheaper alternative will follow. Part of the infrastructure required would be to enable the cheaper, and lower carbon footprint, generation of large quantities of Hydrogen, possibly using wind-generated or solar power.
Demonstrations of current gas turbine engines running on hydrogen have been conducted, and the adoption of this technology is dependent on whether aircraft integration and infrastructure issues can be resolved and can result in a product which is economically competitive.
Use of electrical power
A wide variety of experimentation and demonstration activities have been taking place looking at the use of electrical power for aircraft propulsion. There appear, at present to be three approaches to power generation for this purpose, which are suited to different aircraft sizes:
• Batteries – suitable for light aircraft;
• Fuel Cells – demonstration activities proposed or in place for medium-sized aircraft; and
• Hybrid – Proposed for larger aircraft.


Batteries
The biggest technical challenge to the use of battery electric power for aircraft is the weight of batteries required to generate adequate power and endurance, although aggressive efforts driven by automotive applications are improving battery volume and weight. As a result, although there are many battery-powered projects in demonstration, they are, in general, targeted at small aircraft application. The most popular envisaged application appears to be for autonomous air taxis, which raise several other issues which are discussed below.
Passenger-carrying battery-powered electric aircraft have been successfully flown, but it remains to be seen how far this technology can be pushed in terms of operating weight and endurance. There is, however, substantial progress being made in battery and inverter technology, and it appears only a matter of time before practical applications could be developed, at least for small aircraft.
Certification may perhaps offer greater challenges, particularly for autonomous air taxis, an area of greatest apparent market optimism.
Three issues present themselves. Firstly, if the air taxis are autonomous, the mechanisms for ensuring they are travelling to valid landing places; for controlling and deconflicting traffic at popular destinations; and for ensuring safety of flight in the event of power failure or battery exhaustion will all need to be defined, legislated, and implemented.


Secondly, if the vehicles are not autonomous, but require piloting, then the whole question of licensing and training of operators will need to be addressed in addition to the preceding points.
Finally, operation in an urban environment, with all the clutter of bridges, buildings, powerlines, and perhaps numerous other air vehicles, raises widespread issues of safety and liability which will need to be addressed before such operations could commence.


One area where battery-powered electric aviation does appear to have taken off is the use of small drones to deliver parcels and products as diverse as on-line purchases and fast food. This model is intricately linked to the business transformation resulting from pervasive internet usage, allowing local door-to-door autonomous deliveries to anyone with a mobile phone.


Fuel Cells
A fuel cell is a battery-like device which brings together Hydrogen and Oxygen (although other fuels are possible) to generate electricity. The fuel for the fuel cell is stored separately, and in some cases, oxygen is simply extracted from the air. The technology is relatively mature and has seen extensive use in power generation for space vehicles. It has also been used for fixed power installations, and to power electric vehicles and buses.
Several demonstration aircraft have been flown using fuel cells, and a recent proposal is focused on using a Britten-Norman Islander, with external tanks for hydrogen fuel. A number of technology challenges exist, including managing heat generation and achieving sufficient power at a reasonable weight. As for hydrogen as a fuel, the necessary infrastructure investment appears to be a substantial issue, particularly given the relative success of battery-powered vehicles, which has drawn attention and investment away from fuel cell powered electric vehicles.


Hybrid solutions
Hybrid propulsion solutions appear to represent the most promising path towards larger size commercial aircraft which are at least partly-electric-powered. The concept is that the aircraft powerplant will be supplemented by an electric propulsor at take off and during the climb, allowing the gas turbine engines to be smaller in size, and a closer match to the power required when in cruising flight. The electric motor would be powered by batteries for take-off and climb and would be recharged by excess power available when the aircraft descends to land.
The viability of this concept depends on whether the combination of gas turbine engines, electrical motor, batteries, generators inverter and propellor can be competitive with simply fitting two larger gas turbine engines.
At present, this seems unlikely, but a hybrid solution will offer much more range than a purely electric battery powered aircraft and will offer some fuel savings compared to a conventional solution. One question that may need a little thought is how to meet engine failure after take-off requirements. Unless the gas turbine engines are large enough to meet the climb gradient requirements with the electric motor inoperative it is hard to see how the aircraft could be certified.


Whether or not any of the alternative powered aircraft offers better economics than a hydrocarbon-fuelled alternative may eventually become a moot point, but at present, there seems no solution likely to economically compete with the highly efficient large long-haul airliners of today.


Air Traffic Management


One area where substantial fuel savings could perhaps be delivered is in air traffic management. The bulk of commercial air traffic is generally confined to operating along rigidly constrained airways, largely to ensure separation from other traffic. But with pervasive and worldwide internet coverage now becoming possible, this constraint appears somewhat counter-productive.


If commercial carriers could select the optimum route and height for each journey based on both geography and predicted weather patterns, substantial savings should be possible. To do this safely global monitoring of aircraft transponder information would be required, together with an automated conflict alert system. This might sound difficult, but it also sounds like a problem ripe for solution giving the potential fuel savings, and the efforts being made to provide the required internet coverage.
Where is the magic required for civil aerospace?
• Advanced efficiency measures
o Propulsion – hydrogen fuel
o Aerodynamic – Blended Wing Body configuration
• Electric power
o Batteries
o Fuel Cells
o Hybrids
• Global Air Traffic Management
o Urban area traffic management for UAVs and air taxis
o Exploit global internet capability to free aircraft from prescribed airways

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“The operating costs of the F-35 are high because they are designed to be” interview with Dan Grazier from the Project On Government Oversight

Dan Grazier is a US Marine Corps veteran, journalist and is now part of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), a nonpartisan independent watchdog that investigates and exposes waste. We grilled him on the real cost of the F-35, what went wrong and what can be learnt for future military aircraft projects.

What is the real price of a F-35A/B/C? How does it differ from quoted prices and why does it?

A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), takes off from the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) during a U.S. Air Forces Central (AFCENT) Agile Combat Employment (ACE) event, March 1. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Patrick Crosley)

“The real costs of all the F-35 variants can be found in the service’s budget documents, all of which are available online. The F-35A cost $110.3 million per aircraft in 2020, the F-35B $135.8 million, and the F-35C $117.3 million. These costs differ significantly from the advertised prices. The difference is that all the costs necessary to build each aircraft are spread across multiple budget years. The services budget for advance procurement to purchase components in earlier years, but then claim that the money spent in the actual production year is the total cost which is definitely not the case. This is a deliberate public relations ploy to make the F-35 look better on paper and make it appear as though the program is meeting its cost goals.”

How are quoted cost manipulated?

“Besides the advance procurement budgetary trick, the Pentagon also fails to factor in all of the other costs that go into producing a functional aircraft for the rosy figures quoted so often in the press. They don’t mention the research and development costs that should be distributed across each aircraft purchased, the cost to construct the specialized facilities wherever F-35s are based, and now the costs to “modernize” the F-35. It’s important for everyone to understand that much of the work the program managers claim is to upgrade the F-35 now is really to complete design work that was supposed to be included in the original R&D effort but was deferred in an attempt to stay within their budget and schedule forecasts.

Why is the F-35’s price per flight hour so high?

“The operating costs are high because they are designed to be so. From the very beginning of the program, the F-35 was set up to operate as a “total system performance responsibility” enterprise which meant that the services were intentionally surrendering a great deal of control over the maintenance and operations of the weapon they were buying to the contractors. This incentivised the contractors to design the aircraft in such a way that only their personnel could perform many of the maintenance actions on the aircraft. It is nearly always more expensive to use contractor personnel to perform work for the government, which certainly drives up the cost-per-flight-hour. It also means that the government has only one source bidding for these contracts, so there is little incentive to lower costs.”

“The operating costs are high because they are designed to be so.” so, this is a deliberate thing, did Lockheed know from early on it would not be the ‘affordable’ aircraft promised?

“That is perhaps a better question for them to answer. What we do know is that the real money to be made in a program like this is in the long-term sustainment contracts. It makes perfect business sense for a company’s leaders to take all the steps possible to ensure they receive those contracts.”

Is the F-35 a worse-run programme than other combat aircraft? Which other projects stand out as being badly run?

“That’s a difficult question to answer and probably isn’t the right one to ask at this point. I actually sympathise with the people running the program today. In many ways, they are victims of circumstance. They inherited a deeply flawed program and are now trying to make the best of things. The problems we see today with the F-35 stem from a flawed concept. The total system performance responsibility scheme is an obvious example. The F-35 should put the nail in the coffin on the idea that you can design and build a multi-role aircraft. That really bad idea, and people knew it was a bad idea as they were scratching out concept for the F-35 in the 1990s, was then compounded by trying to build an aircraft that could meet the needs of three different services, and then compounded again by trying to meet the needs of 8 different partner nations. With that level of complexity built into the basic concept of the F-35, the cost increases and schedule delays were absolutely inevitable. The real villains of the F-35 saga aren’t the people in charge today. Rather it is the people who made the decisions two decades ago that the people today have to live with. Of course, that does not absolve the people today who compound those bad decisions by not providing honest assessments about the F-35 to Congress and the American people. There are still decisions to be made in the years ahead about the future of the program. Without the whole truth, more bad decisions will pile on top of those already made.”

Which other military aircraft programmes stand out as well or badly run?

Boeing Flight Test & Evaluation – Boeing Field – KC-46, VH004, EMD2, PDL, Pilot Director Lights test, boom deployed

“At the moment, the KC-46 is a definite standout. The Air Force set out to build a direct replacement for the existing aerial refuellers. They were essentially trying to reinvent the wheel, not produce a design with new capabilities. They even began with a proven airframe in the 767 and still managed to bungle the effort by trying to add futuristic solutions like the remote boom operator station when the existing setups in the KC-135 and KC-10 work perfectly well.”

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Some in the Air Force want a new lightweight fighter to replace the F-16, what are the key lessons that should inform such a projects should it happen?

“A new lightweight fighter should begin with the same design principles of the original lightweight fighter program from the 1960s. It should be designed for that specific mission. Every effort should be made to keep the design as simple as possible. The aircraft should be designed in such a way that all but depot-level maintenance can be performed by uniformed crews in the field. The government should not sign a contract for the aircraft that does not include the government obtaining all the data rights. If foreign countries want to purchase the final product, the modifications they want should be made to the aircraft after it goes into production for the Air Force.”

Is the US structurally unable to run a swift economical military aircraft project, if so why?

“I think the challenge is overcoming cultural issues rather than anything structural. The military and by extension the defense industry, have an overall go-along to get-along culture. No one gets promoted by being the person who stands up and says there is a major problem with a pet project of their service or in any way impedes the free-flow of money from the Treasury to the defense contractors via the Pentagon. The defense contractors want to sell products to the military that are going to make them a lot of money, not just at the time of delivery, but throughout the product’s lifespan. Many of the people in uniform want to take their retirement and then get an even bigger paycheck on top of that through a sinecure in the defense industry. They know that if they stand in the way of a project, no nice person wearing a suit is going to come calling when retirement time comes around.”

Dan Grazier
Jack Shanahan Military Fellow, Center for Defense Information
Straus Military Reform Project

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F-20 versus Lavi: The Tigershark, the Young Lion and the Viper

This is a story about US foreign policy and its intersection with aerospace. The relevant period is the ‘80s, but the interweaving of US industrial, trade, defence and foreign policy settings can be observed essentially continuously from the Second World War to today. This interaction has a number of objectives, which might be expressed benignly as a desire to strengthen the military capability of the US and its Allies, or, less benignly, to ensure that foreign competitor systems are, as far as possible, contained, in order to protect the position of US Industry.

No doubt, some will disagree with this latter perspective, but others will note the very few co-development programmes which have led to advanced equipment sales into the US. Leaving the difficulties of collaboration on one side, the US has always adopted a quite hard-nosed approach to acquiring Defence equipment from third parties. The recent history of the KC-135 replacement program is a good example, where the outcome of the competition was overturned on appeal, and the contract awarded to the Boeing KC-46 rather than the Airbus MRTT, a lower risk product which is giving good service with many air arms while the USAF struggles to achieve operational capability with the KC-46.

While this may legitimately be perceived in the US as the acquisition process simply playing out, it could also be characterised as one of a number of instances of the US ‘running interference’ to protect its aerospace industry from competition. Another approach has been the offering of alternative solutions, either legitimately in the hope of winning business, or perhaps disingenuously as an attempt to disrupt a potential competitor. As a couple of examples, which might represent this sort of behaviour, I will offer the F-111K/TSR2 saga in the UK, and, as a delivered solution, the CF-101 Voodoo/BOMARC in place of the Avro Arrow.

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However, I am not going to focus on ‘running interference’ aspects here, but rather on the effects of differences of view within the US Government, and how changes in policy across Administrations, have affected two programs, the Northrop F-20 Tigershark and the Israeli Aircraft Industries Lavi (Young Lion).


This article provides a brief overview of the technical characteristics and programme histories of the Northrop F-20 Tigershark and the IAI Lavi, and also provides some comparative data for these aircraft and the contemporary General Dynamics F-16C, officially named the Fighting Falcon, but frequently referred to as the Viper. The F-16/79, a competitor for the F-20 Tigershark, is also briefly discussed. Through the stories of these aircraft, we shall see glimpses of the complex interaction between the US State Department, Department of Defense, and industry in their efforts to influence worldwide politics and Defence capabilities, while supporting US export sales and industry products.


The Tigershark

“..built at the administration’s suggestion as a so-called nonprovocative fighter, which meant one that was designed to be sold to friendly countries but designed to be vulnerable to our own state-of-the-art interceptors. Arming our friends was good business, but being able to shoot them down if they became our enemies was good strategy. To build this kind of airplane required the permission and cooperation of the administration, which could otherwise block such hardware sales.” –– Ben R. Rich & Leo Janos, Skunk Works


The key strand running behind the Tigershark story is the FX program. FX (Fighter eXport) was a result of a decision by the Carter Administration in 1977 that sales of US front-line equipment would be restricted to NATO allies, Australia and Japan. The intention was for the US to be seen as a force for peace in the world, rather than a promoter of conflict through the export of highly capable weapons of war. Part of the context for this decision would have been the decision by the preceding Ford Administration to sell F-14s to Iran and F-15s to Israel

While this noble aspiration to be a force for peace sounded good, there were a few immediately evident problems. The first of these was that many nations that fall loosely into a political category of West-leaning democracies felt threatened by peers and neighbours who were operating Soviet-built equipment. In order to support these nations it would be necessary to make available capable, but not absolutely top-end, aircraft that would be able to defend against exported Soviet systems, while not making use of the most sensitive US technologies. This was the driving objective behind the FX program. A secondary factor was that, in the absence of US aircraft being available for export, other countries were turning to alternatives, notably the Dassault Mirage 2000, and this was threatening to impact on US Industry.


As may be inferred from the short description above, the FX programme was really addressing State Department and industry objectives rather than US Defense Department needs, and as a result, the two departments had rather differing degrees of interest in the programme. Differences of emphasis between these Departments would later significantly affect FX programme outcomes.


The requirements for the FX programme were rather unusual. The aircraft to be supplied under the programme would have to meet the following requirements:
• Performance, cost & capabilities should be between those of the F-5E and F-16A
• Optimised for the air-to-air role, and with deliberately limited strike capabilities
• Payload/range performance had to be substantially inferior to that of contemporary fighters in the US inventory
• Deployment and maintenance had to be easier.
These requirements defined a second-class aircraft, with offensive (strike) roles limited, and emphasis given to air defence capability. In addition, the DoD took the view that such an aircraft was unlikely to be required by the USAF, and in consequence development of the aircraft would be the responsibility of the selected contractor, although the State Department and Department of Defense would assist with sales efforts.
This approach to the FX programme represented a considerable risk to Industry participants, who would have to carry much of the cost of developing and producing FX aircraft, and in the event, there were only two bidders, Northrop with the F-5G/F-20 Tigershark, and General Dynamics with the F-16/79.


F-5G/F-20 Tigershark technical characteristics


The F-5G was a development of the F-5E, originally intended for sale to the air force of Taiwan, intended as a higher-powered version of the F-5E, offering enhanced performance at a reasonable cost. The F-5G would be fitted with the GE-F404 engine in place of the 2 General Electric J85 engines of the F-5. The result of this engine change would be an additional 60% thrust in an airframe weighing only 17% more than the F-5E.


This aircraft would perhaps have been an attractive option for Taiwan, but for a change in US policy in regard to the People’s Republic of China. President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 had begun a process of rapprochement and dialogue, and in pursuing this, the State Department were made aware of Chinese concerns about US arms sale to Taiwan. As a result of these concerns, President Carter blocked the sale of the F-5G to Taiwan, which then developed its own light fighter, the AIDC Ching-Kuo.


In early 1981, there was a change in administration in the US, with Ronald Reagan replacing Jimmy Carter as US President. In consequence, the attitude of the US to Arms Control began to change, and additional exceptions to the ‘no export of advanced weapons’ policy began to occur. Israel had already been allowed to purchase both the F-15 and F-16; following the change in US administration, a number of additional nations were authorised to procure the F-16A, including Pakistan, Egypt, Venezuela, Greece, Turkey, and South Korea. Other export sales to the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Israel were allowed under the earlier Carter policy.


Taiwan had been the main focus of the F-5G development, but sales to that nation had been blocked. In an effort to make the aircraft attractive to a broader customer base, Northrop approached the USAF and sought approval to re-badge the aircraft as the F-20 Tigershark, while at the same time introducing avionics and sensor upgrades to make the aircraft more competitive with the F-16.


Compared to the Northrop F-5E Tiger II, the most significant design changes for the Tigershark were the avionics upgrade, and the use of a single General Electric F404 engine, which was originally designed for the F/A-18 Hornet. The new engine provided 60% more thrust than the combined output of the F-5E’s two General Electric J85s. This improved the aircraft’s thrust-to-weight ratio substantially, and enabled an increase in maximum Mach to 2.0, with a ceiling over 55,000 ft (16,800 m).


The wing was similar to the F-5E, but had modified leading edge extensions (LEX), which improved the maximum lift coefficient of the wing by about 12% with an increase in wing area of only 1.6% and also reduced pitch stability. A larger tailplane was fitted to improve manoeuvrability, along with a new fly-by-wire control system.
The F-20’s avionics suite was significantly enhanced, adopting the General Electric AN/APG-67 multi-mode radar as the principal sensor, offering a wide range of air-to-air and air-to-ground modes. A large number of weapons, including Sidewinder and Sparrow air-to-air missiles, could be integrated on the aircraft, which was also armed with 2 30 mm cannon. Cockpit instrumentation and layout was brought up to the then-current state of the art, with a head-up display supplemented by two flat screen multi-function displays.


The small size of the F-20 meant that payload range was somewhat limited compared to larger contemporary fighters. Comparative data on the Tigershark, Lavi , F-16/79 and F-16 C can be found towards the end of this article. The F-20 was fast, agile and hard to spot visually due to its small size, but was perhaps less well armed and equipped than some of its competitors, at least partially as a result of the constraints imposed by the Carter administration’s export policies. Nevertheless, there was some interest from Bahrain and Morocco, and also some interest from South Korea.

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F-16/79 technical characteristics


General Dynamics responded to the FX opportunity with a low-risk down-grading of the F-16A in which the Pratt & Whitney F100 engine of the F-16A was substituted by a General Electric J79. This represented a reduction in thrust of some 28%, and came along with other penalties, including additional fuel consumption and additional weight for heat shielding. The reduction in thrust could be alleviated for short periods through the use of a ‘Combat Plus’ power setting, giving a maximum thrust of 92.8 kN, compared to the maximum normal thrust of 80.1 kN, and the 112.2 kN of the F-16’s F100 engine.


The engine required somewhat less airflow than the F100, resulting in a limited redesign of the intake. The rear fuselage was increased slightly in length because the J79 was 0.45m longer than the F100, and a transfer gearbox was added to allow the J79 to drive the engine ancilliaries (generator, hydraulics etc) of the F-16 airframe that had previously been driven by the F100. Overall, the change in engine and the consequential other modifications to the airframe increased its empty weight by 817 kg.

Inevitably, with less thrust and higher weight, the performance of the F-16/79 was degraded compared to that of the F-16. Nevertheless, it was still sufficient to attract interest from a number of air arms, so long as they were excluded from acquiring the F-16, and the F-16/79 was demonstrated to at least 20 air arms.

Robert Kemp, San Diego Air and Space Museum





What went wrong?
The FX , and with it, the fate of the F-20 Tigershark and the F-16/79, was largely derailed by three factors. Firstly, the objectives of the FX were of more value to the State Department than the Defense Department. However, the State Department did not have the knowledge and expertise to run an aircraft development program, and the Defense Department had no intention itself of operating additional, somewhat second tier aircraft. As a consequence, the second problem became the lack of a US acquisition, resulting in an inability to use established Foreign Military Sales procedures to market the aircraft, and reluctance of third parties to procure an aircraft not in US service.


The third major difficulty was that the US administration had changed, and with Republican Ronald Reagan as President, the US significantly relaxed the Democrat Jimmy Carter’s arms control policies, leading to numerous countries being allowed to procure the F-16. As if this was not enough, in 1983, Congress approved funding for the Israeli Lavi program, placing another sophisticated and capable combat aircraft on the table as a potential competitor to the FX aircraft.

In the end, after six years, no sales, and the expenditure of more than $1.2 billion of its own funds, Northrop bowed to the inevitable and cancelled its Tigershark program in late 1986. In the course of the program, two of the three aircraft had been lost in fatal accidents. Both accidents occurred in air display conditions, a demonstration flight in South Korea and an air display practice in Canada, and both were attributed to g-loc – loss of consciousness under high g conditions.


The F-16/79 had, by comparison, been a less risky project for General Dynamics. A key factor for General Dynamics was that the potential lost sales of the F-16/79 were being filled with orders for its ‘full-strength’ product, the F-16 Viper, due to the relaxation of export policies by the Reagan administration. The F-16/79 program seems to have eventually been seen as a distraction by General Dynamics, and efforts to market the aircraft had essentially ceased by 1985. Once it became clear that the US would sell you an F-16, no air arm was really interested in its less-capable brother, the F-16/79. The program is reported to have cost General Dynamics a total of $60 million.


The Young Lion
The Young Lion in this story is, of course, the Israeli Aircraft Industries Lavi. The Israeli Defence Force in the 60s had been a major user of French aircraft, notably the Dassault Mirage III. However, International reactions following the Six-Day War of 1967 had led to Israeli relations with the French cooling, exemplified by a refusal by France to deliver Mirage 5 aircraft to Israel, and the Israeli development of its own advanced Mirage derivative, the Kfir or Lion Cub.
In parallel, Israel successfully positioned itself with the US as a bastion of Western democracy in the Middle East, its existence threatened by its Arab neighbours, particularly the (then) Soviet-backed Syria, Libya and Egypt. This general pitch has continued today, with the position of chief threat being transferred to Iran, and its nuclear weapons program, and the now Russian-backed Syria. This has led to an on-going close Defence relationship with the US, leading to the supply of Defence equipment, weapons and aircraft, backed by strong political lobbying of, and by, the US Congress.


As a need to replace the Kfir emerged, Israel was successful in obtaining the supply of US F-15 and F-16 fighters, while looking to develop advanced technical capabilities of its own. This was partly to avoid a dependency on others, partly to ensure the availability of capabilities uniquely tailored to its geographic environment, and its seemingly unending state of tension and conflict with its neighbours, and partly to complement the capabilities available through the F-15 and F-16.

Israel’s aerospace capabilities had advanced significantly through the Kfir program, through the development of upgrades to other aircraft like the F-4 Phantom, and through the development of its own weapons and other defence systems.


In these circumstances, the time seemed ripe to embark on an Israeli-developed aircraft project to provide a multi-role fighter capable of strike missions, advanced training, and air defence. The scope of the requirements for the aircraft gradually grew, from a relatively simple and low-cost strike platform with some air defence capability, to a multi-role aircraft whose capability would be similar to, and in some areas perhaps exceed, that of the General Dynamics (now Lockheed-Martin) F-16 Viper.


Lavi technical characteristics
The aircraft developed between project launch in 1980 and project cancellation in 1987 turned out to be quite remarkable in its ambition and in its application of the latest ideas in aerodynamics, flight control and weapons systems. The embodied capability was a mix of US-developed and Israeli in origin, with some capabilities initially developed in the US to be transferred to Israel during the course of the programme. The programme was part- funded by the US.


The fundamental leap in technology was the use of an unstable canard-delta configuration, enabled through the use of a digital fly-by-wire flight control system. In addition the structure made extensive use of composite materials. In making these choices, the Lavi adopted a similar approach to the BAe EAP which was broadly contemporary in timescale, the two aircraft making their first flights within a few months of each other in 1986.


The benefits of the use of an unstable canard-delta configuration are the ability to obtain a highly responsive and manoeuvrable airframe, while also being able to minimise supersonic wave drag and lift dependent-drag. Today, the outcomes of fully-developed aircraft with this design approach can be seen in the highly capable Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, although both these aircraft benefit from a higher degree of instability than the Lavi, and greater combat thrust to weight ratios.


Unlike the BAe EAP, which was a technology demonstrator, the Lavi was the prototype of what was intended to be a production weapons system with deliveries expected to begin in 1990. The aircraft was, to quote contemporary material (Janes All the World’s Aircraft 1986) “expected to become the workhorse of the of the Israeli Air Force, which has a requirement for at least 300, including about 60 combat-capable two-seat trainers”.


The requirement for the aircraft was focussed an interdiction and strike, with a secondary air defence role. With these requirements, the Lavi can be seen as complementary to the early F-16 and F-15 fighter aircraft which were in service with the IDF, filling a role close to that of later-model F-16s, which are widely used as strike platforms rather than interceptors. It was intended to replace the A-4 Skyhawk, F-4 Phantom and the Kfir in Israeli service.
The aircraft was powered by the Pratt & Whitney PW1120 engine with 92 kN (20680 lb) thrust. This engine was specifically developed for the Lavi, and offered about 10% less thrust than the F100 engine of the F-16C. Overall performance included a maximum speed of Mach 1.85, and the ability to carry a wide range of weapons.
Comparative performance data for the Lavi, Tigershark, F-16 and F-16/79 are presented after discussion of the aircraft programmes.


The equipment for the Lavi represented the state-of-the art of the time, and included:

• Carbon fibre wing and fin structure
• 4 underwing hardpoints
• Lear-Siegler/MBT quadruplex digital fly-by-wire flight control system
• Elta EW, ECM and IFF systems, computer-based with active and passive countermeasures
• Hughes holographic head up display and 3 multi-function displays, integrated by Elbit
• Lear-Siegler/MBT quadruplex digital fly-by-wire flight control system
• Elta pulse-Doppler radar
• Elbit mission computer and stores management system with Mil-Std 1553 databus
• 30-mm cannon plus Python 3 Air-to-Air missiles.


As a minor sidenote, the PW1120 engine was tested in an Israeli Phantom. IAI showed a developed version of the Phantom at the Paris Air Show in 1987, complete with PW1120 engines, and an advanced avionic suite and cockpit displays. With a thrust increase of 17% over the F-4E, the modified Phantom could supercruise (maintain supersonic flight in dry thrust) and had a combat thrust to weight ratio of greater than 1.0. The potential of this project was not to come to fruition, however, as McDonnell-Douglas refused to sanction the modifications due to its performance being too close to that of the F-18.

Credit: Burkhard Domke


A teething lion cub
The Lavi programme was launched in February 1980, with full-scale development beginning in October 1982. Due to the technologies involved, and the selected propulsion system, there was considerable US industry involvement in the programme, with the involvement of at least 80 Companies. In some ways, the Israeli engagement with the US was the boldest and most innovative aspect of the program. In essence, Israel was launching a cutting-edge fighter program with neither the money nor the technology to do so. Both would be sought from the US.


Quite early in the programme, a problem emerged over the issue of licences to transfer critical US technologies for the Lavi project to Israel, and in the Spring of 1983, this led to a concerted lobbying effort to persuade Congress to provide funding to Israel through the foreign aid program and FMS credits to enable the development of the Lavi. This lobbying activity did not involve the Department of Defense, who had concerns about both the transfer of technology to Israel and the use of FMS funds to support overseas programs. In parallel with a separate effort to get the necessary technology transfer licenses agreed, the lobbying of Congress was successful, and significant US funding became available to the Lavi program.
Between 1983 and its cancellation in 1987, a total of about $2Bn is reported to have been provided by the US to fund the Lavi programme, the bulk of which was spent in Israel. During the development programme, increasing doubts began to be voiced in the US, focused on a number of issues:


• A perception by the DoD that support to Lavi was a mis-use of FMS funding, which was seen as intended to support US Industry;
• A perception by the DoD that advanced and sensitive technologies would be transferred from the US to Israel;
• A perception by the State Department that the programme was absorbing too much of the foreign aid budget, and moreover was seen by many as evidence of a US bias toward Israel in the Middle East;
• A perception that the programme was incompatible with the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction Act;
• A perception by Northrop that the US was unfairly subsidising an Israeli product that would compete with the F-20 Tigershark;
• Similar perceptions by McDonnell-Douglas and General Dynamics in regard of Lavi competing for the export markets of the F/A-18 and F-16; and finally
• A perception by the GAO (General Accounting Office) and OMB (Office of Management and Budget) that Israeli costings were unrealistic, and that the US would have to pay yet more to co-fund the production of the aircraft.
As a result of these concerns, the US withdrew funding from the programme, resulting in its cancellation by Israel in August 1987.


Through the Lavi programme, Israel succeeded in using largely US money and US technology to construct prototypes of a very advanced aircraft, which might have become a very effective weapons system. In addition, Israel gained insights on numerous advanced US technologies and manufacturing capabilities.


As an immediate consequence of the cancellation of Lavi, Israel was able to procure 40 F-16C Block 30, and 30 F-16D Block 40. In 1994 these purchases were followed by the F-15I, a version of the F-15E Strike Eagle. Procurement of advanced US aircraft has continued, including more than 100 F-16I, a version of the F-16C Block 52 in which much of the avionics suite is provided by Israel. With the release of all this defence capability to Israel, the Lavi programme was perhaps more successful in its failure than it would have been had it succeeded in developing a production aircraft.


How do the Lavi, the Tigershark, the F-16/79 and the F-16C stack up?

Comparison between aircraft using published performance data is often extremely difficult. Partly due to the limited data generally provided, and partly due to understandable inconsistencies, as the data is normally presented so as to show the product in the best light. For example, while the Maximum Mach number achievable will be a definite number, defined either by the drag of the airframe and the thrust available from the engine, nozzle and intake system, or by some structural or temperature limit, manufacturers are likely to present this figure at light weight, and with no external stores or fuel tanks. Similarly, range is likely to be presented for an aircraft with maximum fuel, possibly including oversized external ferry tanks, and in a clean configuration. No standard definition appears to exist of a combat configuration which might be used as a comparator


While one does sometimes see 50% internal fuel plus two AAM used, for example, detailed examination sometimes shows that the AAM are only short-range, or the gun ammunition, or the pilot or both have been omitted. Even were a standard combat weight to be defined, and data available, many other aspects of performance, such as radar range, signature, weapons capability and so on simply cannot be encapsulated in a few numbers. Inevitable, what follows is a simple snapshot, rather than a valuable comparison.


A further complication with these aircraft is that the F-20 and F-16/79 had deliberately limited strike performance, whereas the Lavi was intended to maximise strike performance, with a secondary air defence role. For the F-16, the original Light Fighter concept has developed over time from the lightweight air defence fighter of the F-16A, to the multi-role, versatile, and much heavier F-16C Block 50. Comparison of true multi-role aircraft would need to include consideration of mission performance as well, and would be well beyond the scope that can be achieved in unclassified material.


Lavi Tigershark F-16/79 F-16C Performance Wing Loading (Wref/S) 294.6 429.0 390.8 409.0 ITR

LaviTigersharkF-16/79F-16C
Performance Wing Loading (Wref/S)
(lower loading aids instantaneous turn rate)
294.6429.0 390.8409.0
Aspect Ratio (Span2/S) (higher number aids subsonic sustained turn rate) 2.33 3.55 3.03.00
Thrust/Weight (higher number aids Energy Manoeuvrability)0.960.990.87 1.16
Fuel Fraction (higher number aids combat peristence)0.28 0.280.29 0.28
ConfigurationUnstable canard-deltaConventional aft-tail, small strakeRelaxed stability, aft-tail, large strakeRelaxed stability, aft-tail, large strake

The data in this table is relatively firm. The reference weight is the empty weight of the aircraft, plus the maximum internal fuel weight. The same approach is used for all aircraft. As we have seen, the maximum turn rate depends on the lift available from the wing or structural limit (ITR), and the wing aspect ratio, lift, airframe drag and engine thrust (STR). A low wing loading, a high aspect ratio, and high thrust to weight ratio will increase sustained turn performance. A high Clmax will increase ITR, as will a reduced stability or unstable configuration.


On this basis, we might expect the unstable Lavi, with its much lower wing loading and unstable aerodynamics to have great ITR, while the Tigershark ITR would be reduced compared to the Lavi and the F-16. Both the F-16 and the Tigershark benefit from wing leading edge strakes, and, notably, all aircraft claim to be able to operate up to a 9g structural limit. The real issue here is for how much of the flight envelope is this capability available, and how much energy will be lost in such a manoeuvre.

1984 F-16 lineup. From the top F-16C , F-16A , F-16XL , F-16/79 and AFTI/F-16


On sustained turn rate, the trade-offs are more complex, but it is apparent that the F-16/79 is likely to be handicapped by its lower thrust to weight ratio. Note that the thrust used is a short-term power plus mode. At normal thrust, the F-16/79 has a thrust to weight ratio of around 0.75. The low aspect ratio of the Lavi, and its slightly lower thrust-to-weight ratio are likely to reduce STR, but the much lower wing loading will counter this to some extent.
Thrust to weight ratio is particularly important, as a high thrust to weight ratio will enable high energy manoeuvrability. This will allow a turning fight to be readily taken into the vertical, and, in BVR combat will allow rapid cycling between engagement, missile release, disengagement, acceleration and re-engagement. Of these four aircraft, the F-16C has a definite advantage in energy manoeuvrability, and the F-16/79 will be at a disadvantage.
The Table below presents some limited data for the four aircraft. The data reflect what could be gleaned from the web, and is not fully defined, in that aircraft configuration, altitude and Mach number are not generally available to fully define the quoted figures. As all aircraft claim to be capable of generating 9g, the small variation in ITR figures probably reflects differing altitude or speed conditions, although the higher value for the Lavi may reflect both its low wing loading and its unstable aerodynamics. The ITR for the F-16/79 is based on the assumption that the aircraft can reach the same CLmax, and has the same structural limits as the F-16. The F-16/79 would lose energy much faster than the F-16 due to its much lower thrust.

LaviTigershark F-16/79F-16C
Mach max 1.852.002.002.00
Gmax9999
ITR max deg/s 24.3 20(24.9)24.9
STR max deg/s13.211.5 11.822.0

Maximum Mach number claimed for the F-20 and the F-16 is Mach 2.0, and this was also reported to be achievable in the F-16/79, which seems slightly surprising, but may be a result of better intake performance. The maximum Mach claimed for the Lavi is Mach 1.85.


It is notable that the higher thrust to weight ratio of the F-16C gives a significant benefit in Sustained Turn Rate – the figure noted comes from a dataset that suggests the F-16 is structurally limited in STR as well as ITR. The slightly higher ITR figure is at a lower speed, where the aircraft is lift-limited rather than g-limited. The impact of the low thrust of the F-16/79 is evident in comparison of its sustained turn performance with the F-16, and the F-20 Tigershark achieves similar STR, the higher thrust to weight ratio somewhat offsetting its higher wing loading. It should not be forgotten that the Lavi was really well ahead of its time in aerodynamics, control system and mission system design. Its nearest equivalent would probably be the Gripen, which made its first flight in December 1988, some 2 years after the Lavi.


In WVR combat, for example when used in dissimilar air combat training, the Tigershark might well have been a real handful because of its small size and relatively good thrust to weight ratio. Otherwise, the Lavi configuration should have high subsonic agility (through its good ITR), but would perhaps be susceptible to losing energy in turning combat. It should have low supersonic wave drag and could perhaps have developed into a good BVR platform.
From this analysis, we can see that both the Lavi and the Tigershark were very effective designs in terms of achieving their desired performance characteristics. The Lavi had great potential as a multi-role platform, and would have been effective against the threat aircraft of the time. The Tigershark was a small, fast and manoeuvrable light fighter, but was deliberately limited in strike capability.


Neither the Lavi, nor the Tigershark would have been able to match an air-combat-configured Viper, but the Lavi might have been a pretty close match in the strike role, and was certainly a big step forward from the Skyhawk and Phantom it was intended to replace. The F-16/79 was broadly comparable to the Tigershark, but only when able to access its short-term ‘Combat Plus’ engine mode. At the normal thrust setting which offered a maximum thrust of 80.1 kN compared to the short-term setting of 92.8 kN, it would simply not have been competitive.


Policy Considerations
In thinking about the sorry tale of the Tigershark, the Young Lion and the Viper, it is important to realise that, in the period concerned, there were five major players involved, each with somewhat different objectives.
The State Department seem to have had a fairly consistent view that armed conflict between nations was undesirable, and should be avoided. To ensure this, it seemed reasonable that ‘friendly’ Nations (I use the term loosely in view of a number of US misjudgements in this regard) should be enabled to protect themselves, but only to a level which would deter their competitors, and not to a degree which would encourage aggression. This was also desirable from a domestic economic perspective. Business would be generated for US industry, and nations would be able to deter aggression without involving US armed forces. Israel might have to be a special case given its difficult relationship with pretty much all of its neighbours, and the fact that some of those neighbours were receiving support from the USSR (or Russia in contemporary times).


The Defence Department was generally OK with the desirability of not getting dragged into other people’s conflicts, but had reservations about developing aircraft which were only going to be of interest to third parties. It had particular concerns about the potential for the transfer of sensitive technology overseas and the possible use of export fighters in aggressive rather than defensive operations. As the DoD and the Services had no intention of ordering any of these aircraft for USAF use, there was tension between DoD and State, because this would decrease the likelihood of orders. Finally, DoD was opposed to the use of FMS (foreign military sales) funding to develop the Lavi programme, as the funding would largely be spent in Israel rather than in the US. However, participation in Lavi was pushed through Congress, quite deliberately by-passing the DoD.


Industry found itself in a somewhat awkward position. Of course, any programme is a good programme if it maintains employment and a high-quality knowledge base in the US. In some ways, FX was an attractive programme, a bit like Marshall Aid following WW2, where US Sabres (and some other aircraft) were provided under FMS to pretty much every European air force. Good business for US industry, and an equally good means of slowing the development of European competitors.


However, there was much more risk in the FX programme, as the USAF would not operate the product. General Dynamics were OK – they could afford an each-way bet. Development of the F-16/79 was very low risk, and who knows, someone might buy it. Northrop were, however, much more exposed. The F-20 was a much bigger departure from the F-5E than the F-16/79 from the F-16. Much more risk was involved, and a much greater degree of systems development and integration was needed. Then along came ‘exceptionalism’, with many overseas F-16 sales, and to cap it all the Lavi project. Not only as a direct competitor, but as a source of technology improvements for a Super-Phantom which might also win sales. To cap it all, the programme was being lavishly funded using resources intended for US Industry.


What about the Politics? Well, Jimmy Carter’s policy of seeking to minimise conflict by providing friendly Nations carefully controlled capabilities to deter aggressors, while limiting their own ability to take aggressive action themselves, seemed like a good idea at the time. Particularly since there was a prospect of business for US Industry as well. And it might have proven to be a good idea, had the US been able to resist the opportunity to indulge in ‘exceptionalism’ – rewarding some Nations for perceived good behaviour, or exceptional need by provided them the advanced capabilities anyway. Under the Reagan Administration, the export controls were gradually wound back. Pakistan, Egypt, Venezuela, South Korea, Turkey and Greece could all buy F-16s, and Israel could buy the F-15C. And Israel could have US funding to support the Lavi.

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The Lavi story, and the reasons for US withdrawal from the programme have been detailed above. Unlike Jimmy Carter’s approach, which might have been ‘a good idea at the time’ had it been seen through, the decision to fund Lavi and expend some $2Bn of US resources earmarked for US Industry on an overseas program still looks like a ‘What were they thinking?’ moment. The Lavi program remains a lasting tribute to the power of advocacy and lobbying, and the skill with which the Department of Defense was by-passed so that a compliant Congress would pass the required legislation.


Concluding Observations
What were the outcomes? Northrop lost $750M of its own money on F-20, as well as losing 2 pilots in fatal accidents. No aircraft were sold. General Dynamics did OK, only dropping some $60M on F-16/79, and compensating that with increased sales of the F-16 worldwide. Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) took a short-term hit, but in the end had been exposed to significant US advanced technology. Israel lost the Lavi and the ‘Super Phantom’, but gained the F-15 Strike Eagle, Apache Helicopter, and greater numbers of more advanced F-16 aircraft. The US policy of supporting Israel appears fixed in concrete and immutable, assisted by Russia providing support to Syria, and Iran developing towards nuclear capability. IAI and other Israeli companies have become adept not only in manufacturing their own Defence solutions, but also in providing significant capability upgrades to equipment obtained mainly from the US.
Ideally, Nations should follow a path of ‘Joined-up Government’, where Foreign Policy, Defence, Overseas Trade, Employment and Industry Policies are all coherent, enduring and non-Partisan. Such a policy has never been achieved by a Western Democratic Nation, and it looks increasingly unlikely that it ever will. The FX and Lavi programmes are great examples of the consequences of a failure to achieve joined-up government.

In the past, the USSR tried its own variant of a coherent approach, but failed, largely because its economy proved unable to compete with the West in accessing advanced technologies and building the necessary industrial, economic and social infrastructure.


On the other hand, China seems to be giving such an approach a fair go at present, and appears to possess the resources, the technologies, and the will to achieve its aims of becoming a dominant world power.
Joe Biden may well respond “Not on my watch” – the rest of us will have to wait and see.

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Notes

Turning Performance – Sustained Turn Rate
To show some of the difficulties in simply accepting published data. Let’s consider sustained turn rate – a performance parameter of much interest, particularly to those who regard WVR air combat as important, rather than something to avoid. The key factors in determining sustained turning performance are drag and thrust, because the maximum sustained turn rate, STR, occurs when the aircraft drag is equal to the maximum thrust available from the engine. However, drag and thrust can be very sensitive to weight, altitude, aircraft configuration and Mach number.
The drag depends on the configuration and Mach number, through the zero lift drag element, Cd0 – carriage of external stores and tanks will increase Cd0, as will zero-lift wave drag if supersonic flows are present. The drag due to lift depends on weight, through the Lift Coefficient, Cl, squared (Cl2), and weight will depend on the stores carried and the fuel state of the aircraft, including whether tanks are carried. Subsonic lift dependent drag is inversely proportional to Aspect Ratio (the slenderness of the wing planform), so having a higher aspect ratio reduces subsonic lift dependent drag. However, a higher aspect ratio will increase supersonic wave drag. In addition, wave drag also varies with lift, and hence weight and configuration. The propulsion side of this balance also depends on Mach number, which affects intake and nozzle efficiency, and altitude, which affects both air density and temperature. Altitude also affects the drag, as the lift coefficient required increases as air density decreases. It is worth noting that maximum sustained turn rates will generally occur in subsonic flight, because of the absence of wave drag. Turning Performance – Instantaneous Turn Rate The Instantaneous turn rate (ITR) is the absolute maximum turn rate achieved by an aircraft, and, typically, is defined by either a structural or a lift limit. At given conditions, the ITR is reached when the pilot rolls the aircraft to wings vertical and pulls to achieve the maximum lift available from the wing, or reaches the structural design limit of the aircraft (maximum permitted ‘g’). Note that there is no requirement for this to be a balanced turn, and even at maximum thrust, most aircraft will be either losing speed or height when the maximum ITR condition is reached. At lower speeds or higher altitudes, the ITR is generally limited by the amount of lift that the wing can generate. At higher speeds and moderate altitude, pretty much all fighter aircraft will be structurally limited, generally to 9g, which currently represents a physiological limit for pilots. The speed and altitude combination where the aircraft reaches its structural limit and lift limit at the same time is known as the manoeuvre point, and for most fighter aircraft, this will generally be at medium altitude and a subsonic Mach number. From the discussion of turn rates, we can see why performance data is rarely presented for the professional in the form of simple data points. Instead, aerodynamic, propulsion and weights data is prepared, and will be validated through flight test. This data can then be used to predict performance, or to build validated performance models once flight-test proven data is available. These performance models will then show how differing performance measures vary with configuration, weight, altitude and Mach number. This then provides a mechanism to demonstrate that specified point and mission performance requirements can be met. An example of a point performance requirement might be to demonstrate a sustained turn rate of 12 deg/sec at 11 km altitude and Mach 1.4, in a defined air combat configuration. A mission requirement might be to take-off, climb to 11km, accelerate to Mach 1.6, jettisoning external tanks at Mach 0.95, fly out to an air combat, represented by performing 4 360 deg turns in full afterburner and the release of 4 AAM, and return to base at most economical cruise speed and altitude, descend to land, with a 30 minutes fuel reserve remaining. The specification would detail the mission profile, and the distance from base at which the air combat is to take place. None of this sort of data is available for the aircraft under discussion here at a level of detail to make robust comparisons. But this is not the end of the story. Key Parameters We can examine the key data on size, shape and weight of the aircraft and their engines, and consider how this might impact on performance. And we can report the limited performance data that is available, and see whether this is consistent with our analysis. Hard data (i.e. definite figures) is available for parameters such as the aircraft wing area, the aspect ratio of the wing, the planform, the type of intake, and the maximum thrust of the engine. Slightly softer data is available on aircraft empty weight and on internal fuel capacity, as well as information on weapons carried and some (very soft) data on claimed performance. From this data, we can assemble some key parameters, and use these to develop a view of how the aircraft compare with each other. In the absence of any form of mission modelling tool, I am going to look at point performance characteristics relevant to fighter aircraft, rather than considering strike roles, as these would be heavily dependent on the weight and drag of external fuel tanks, stores, targeting, electronic warfare pods and so on. To derive these parameters, I am going to make some consistent assumptions for the aircraft, particularly about their weight. The Table below provides some data which I will then discuss in terms of its anticipated impact on performance. All F-16/79 data assumes the use of the ‘Combat Plus’ engine setting.

Saddam Hussein had a gold-plated jewel-encrusted personal Spitfire aircraft and you can buy it

Former dictator of Iraq Saddam Hussein was well known for his collection of gold-plated Kalashnikov rifles but it has recently come to light that he also owned a flyable gold-plated Spitfire. The World War II vintage aircraft is a Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX formerly flown by the Royal Egyptian Air Force and gifted to the leader to celebrate the announcement of a 1981 trade agreement. The aircraft was apparently not to the dictator’s tastes and it was fitted with an additional 550 kg of gold, platinum and precious stones. After modification the aircraft was still flyable but reportedly limited to flights below 100 mph.

The aircraft was previously last seen in 1988 but until January 2021 its location has been unknown. During building work in the town of Kalam Farigh in West Iraq, contractors uncovered the buried aircraft carefully wrapped in tarpaulin. After display in a local museum the aircraft has been moved to Baghdad and will be auctioned in May. It is estimated to be worth around $34 million dollars.

Flak: myth versus reality with Donald Nijboer

Much feared by military aircrew, flak blew thousands of aeroplanes from the sky across the 20th century. We grilled Donald Nijboer author of Flak in World War II, about the dreaded flak.

What is Flak?

“Flak is an acronym/initialism for the German word, Flugabwehrkanone, meaning aircraft-defence cannon. When the Allies began to use the term is not known. It’s interesting that we continue to use the term today…’catching flak at the office’ as one example.”

How effective was it in WW2? 

“Flak in the Second World War was very effective. Most of the official Allied histories downplayed its role. Many postwar histories accepted the testimony of leading figures within the Luftwaffe that ground based AA defences achieved limited success in destroying Allied bombers.  After the war, the British Bombing Survey Unit (BBSU) continued this line of thinking describing German AA defences as “plentiful” but not “very lethal.” At the same time the official RAF history of the air war estimated that German flak accounted for 37 percent of Bomber Command’s losses between July 1942 and April 1945. Low and medium level flak was even more effective. More American 8th Air Force aces were shot down by flak than enemy fighters.”

How does it compare with fighter interceptors for effectiveness?

“The Germans and the Allies, to a certain extent, used the number of enemy aircraft shot down by fighters and those by flak as a measurement as to its effectiveness. But this was a false metric. It must be remembered that Flak defences were designed, not to shoot bombers down, but to force them to drop their loads from a higher altitude and thus reduce their accuracy. Aircraft shot down or damaged was a bonus. Flak proved a huge benefit to fighter pilots assigned to attack incoming raids. Flak-damaged bombers were forced out of formation, making them easy prey (for both Allied and Axis fighter forces) for marauding fighters. Flak damaged tens of thousands of bombers. These bombers required repair, causing service rates to fall and thus reducing the number of bombers available for new operations. AA shrapnel also killed and wounded tens of thousands of aircrew, significantly reducing the overall efficiency and morale.”

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How many shells are fired to down an aircraft? 

“The figure of 16,000 rounds of German 88mm ammunition being required to shoot down a heavy bomber is often quoted to show just how wasteful and ineffective antiaircraft fire really was. But that number is misleading. While it fits well into the Allied narrative of how the strategic bombing campaign robbed the German army of valuable munitions, it was only partially true.  Indeed when you compare these numbers to the more effective 128mm AA gun the numbers are intriguing. In 1944 the number of 128mm rounds per aircraft shootdown was 3,000, less than one-fifth the number expended by its 88mm counterpart. This doesn’t take into account the number of aircraft that were severely damaged by flak.”

Where was best defended by flak in WW2?

“I would point to the Luftwaffe flak defenses of the Ruhr, their larger cities like Berlin and their oil refineries. Their light and medium flak over the battlefield was also highly effective and took a great toll on Allied fighter bombers. Allied AA defenses were also effective, one example being the battles against the V-1 flying bombs and the fact that they chose to defend Antwerp against the V-1 using AA guns along is testament to their effectiveness.

7. What was the best AAA system of WW2?

The obvious choice would be the Luftwaffe’s AA defenses, but I would point to the US Navy’s development of the VT fuse or radar equipped proximity fuse. Built around a miniature radio transmitter and receiver, the VT fuse overcame the major disadvantage of the “time” and “contact” fuses and was capable of detecting its target and detonating within 75 feet. It was a game changer and fortunately for the US Navy they had it when the kamikaze appeared. Indeed, even before the kamikaze appeared the US Navy made major improvement to their ships AA defenses with better radar direction, improved AA directors and gunsights and most importantly, more guns. In 1944 the battleship USS Missouri bristled with twenty 5 inch, eighty 40mm and over forty-nine 20mm cannon.

What were the big innovations in AAA in WW2? 

“It was the invention of the VT radar proximity fuse. If the Luftwaffe had this shell the Allied bombing campaign would have been far more costly, or stopped altogether. Mention has to be made of the development of gun laying radar. This allowed for aiming at night and in bad weather.”

Which nation was best at using AAA and why? 

“I would say the Germans and the Allies had guns and systems that were equal in effectiveness. The allies had the edge with the VT fuse. The Japanese did not develop a robust AA defensive system. They lacked the guns, effective radar, and the cooperation between the Army and Navy was terrible. They never pooled their resources, instead each would go their own way, often siting individual radars in the same place.”

Tell me a myth about flak

“Two myths about flak: one it was not very effective, from an Allied point of view, and second the Allied bombing campaign against Germany created a ‘second front’ siphoning off thousands of men to man the guns and robbing the German army of valuable men. This was only partially true. You have to remember that the Luftwaffe flak arm played a dual role. Luftwaffe flak batteries could be assigned to the army at any time and thousands were. Shortly after D-Day the Luftwaffe transferred 140 heavy batteries and 50 light flak batteries to Normandy. This process continued for the last 10 months of the war, robbing German cities of vital flak defences. As the war progress and the manpower shortage increased thousands of able-bodied flak men were transferred to the army. In their place were hastily trained factory workers, schoolboys, prisoners of war, older men not fit for combat and by the end of the war they introduced the first batteries manned by women for the defence of Berlin. By April 1945 44 percent of the flak arm was made up of people unqualified for combat, foreign nationals or prisoners of war.”

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Which aircraft type could withstand the most damage? Was armour speed a better defence from flak?

“All aircraft were susceptible to flak. There were a few that were specifically armoured like the Russian Il-2  and German Hs 129 ground attack aircraft to withstand light flak hits. Most Allied bombers and fighters were armoured against fighter attack, but not flak. Speed was a factor, and most fighter pilots knew that when strafing a target you never made a second pass.”

When did radar guided AAA arrive? 

“At the beginning of the war, the first British gun-laying Mark I (GL I) radars entered service with several AA batteries. In many ways the term gun-laying was a misnomer when applied to the GL I. It was more of a gun-assisting radar with limited capabilities. Although it gave accurate ranges, it could not produce good azimuth indications or elevation figures.

By the summer of 1941 the Germans introduced their Wurzburg gun laying radar.”

Why should people buy your book?

“The story of flak in World War II is one of those forgotten stories of World War II. There was a reason the official histories downplayed the effectiveness of German flak. It took away from the narrative of how successful the Allied bombing campaign was and the heavy price they paid.

Thousands of aircraft were shot down, and tens of thousands were damaged, not to mention the horrendous cost in lives and those wounded. Flak in World War II takes the reader from the invasion of Poland in 1939 right to the last Japanese aircraft shot down by AA fire in August 1945. It examines heavy flak defences, flak over the battlefield, the failure of ship AA defences early in the war; specifically the Bismarck and the sinking of the Prince of Wales and Repulse in 1941, AA defences against the world’s first cruise missile (V-1), right up to the human guided missile that was the kamikaze in the Pacific.”

What led you to write about Flak? 

“I was inspired after reading Edward B. Westermann’s book Flak: German Anti-Aircraft Defenses 1914-1945. His in-depth and comprehensive study of German flak defences clearly showed how effective they really were. This led me to thinking of how AA guns and defences played a role in the air war over Europe and the Pacific. Most, if not all, of the histories deal with the great air battles strictly in terms of aircraft vs. aircraft; the great fighter aces and how many bombers were shot down by Spitfires, Bf 109s, Fw 190s and Me 110 and Ju 88 night-fighters. And when I started digging deeper, the number of aircraft shot down by flak was astonishing. German flak defenses were responsible for more than half of all Allied aircraft losses. Allied AA guns were equally effective. The Marine heavy AA guns on Guadalcanal, for example, in 1942 forced Japanese to bombers to fly higher reducing their accuracy to a great extent, but you never hear or read about it. The story mostly centres around the fighter defence and how the F4F Wildcat matched up against the vaunted A6M Zero-sen. Both AA guns and the defending fighters played a role in the defence of Guadalcanal. It not just one or the other.”

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Russian Air Power* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) with Guy Plopsky: Part 1- How good is Russian air force training?

How good is Russian air force training?

A good question. It’s a complex topic and it is difficult to give a straightforward answer given that detailed data often isn’t available. The average number of flight hours per year per Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) pilot pales in comparison to that of the U.S. Air Force (USAF) in the late-2010s, but it markedly exceeds the abysmal yearly flight hours that Russian Air Force pilots averaged in the early and mid 2000s. It is also higher than Russian numbers from the late 2000s. The marked increase in average yearly flight hours in the 2010s certainly helped improve pilot proficiency. Recent statistics released by the Russian Ministry of Defense show that VKS pilots averaged “over 100” flight hours during the 2018 training year (junior pilots averaged “over 120” flight hours). In the 2020 training year, Military-Transport Aviation pilots averaged “over 140” flight hours (junior pilots averaged “approximately 120” flight hours), Long-Range Aviation crews averaged “over 100” flight hours, and Army Aviation pilots averaged “approximately 100” flight hours. It is important to note that average yearly flight hours for Russian pilots have differed substantially across Russia’s four (now five) military districts. Pilots in the Western Military District have typically averaged more flight hours per year than those in other districts. For example, according to Russian Defense Ministry statistics, during the 2012 training year, pilots in the Western Military District averaged 125 flight hours (Military-Transport Aviation pilots based in the district averaged “no less than 170” hours).

Going over the various training activities that Russian airmen conduct during VKS exercises would take up too much time, so I’ll only very briefly mention several things with a focus on combat aviation. VKS exercises vary in size and complexity. Some exercises are conducted at night and/or in adverse weather conditions (particularly in cold temperatures). Exercises can, among other things, include relocating and operating from alternative airfields. For some aircraft types, exercises can also include operating at very high altitudes and speeds or at low and/or very low altitudes (including in mountainous terrain for some units). In air-to-ground training, many VKS long-range aviation, operational-tactical aviation and army aviation units train to employ both guided and unguided weapons (some long-range aviation units train to employ only guided weapons). However, air-to-ground training for operation-tactical and army aviation is still heavily focused on executing missions with unguided bombs and rockets given that these weapons are expected to be used extensively in the event of conflict due to the limited availability of guided weapons. There are inherent disadvantages to conducting suppression/destruction of enemy air defenses (SEAD/DEAD) and other missions with unguided weapons even if crews are well trained in their employment. As for air-to-air training, fighter aircraft crews practice air combat maneuvering, carry out interceptions of targets flying at various altitudes and speeds (including conducting simulated/live missile launches), practice escorting other platforms, etc.

Larger VKS exercises can include two or more different types of aircraft, including supporting platforms such as airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft and tankers, giving crews the opportunity to practice aerial refueling and train with/against other platforms. They can also include VKS ground-based air defenses, which allows aircraft to train alongside air defenses to repel adversary air attacks and/or to practice air defense suppression and penetration. The VKS also participates in joint exercises with other Russian military service branches and/or the air arms of a number of other nations. Aggressor training for the VKS is done by the 116th Combat Employment Training Center, which is part of the VKS’ 185th Combat Training and Combat Employment Center. The 116th operates MiG-29UBM trainers and relatively capable MiG-29SMT (9-19R) fighters. Lastly, it’s important to note that the war in Syria has allowed many VKS air and ground crews to gain experience operating under real combat conditions and has led the VKS to implement changes in training. One apparent change includes greater focus on the employment of unguided weapons from medium altitudes by operational-tactical aviation during exercises. This change was driven by combat experience in Syria, which showed that Russian operational-tactical aviation largely had to avoid carrying out tasks at low altitudes due to the threat of man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) and air defense artillery.

Given that information about VKS exercises provided by Russian Defense Ministry media outlets and press releases is typically quite vague, it’s difficult to assess how good and realistic Russian Air Force training is. Based on what we can gather from press releases and media, the Russians appear well-trained in attacking pre-planned stationary targets. Training to conduct dynamic targeting – traditionally, a weak point for the Russian Air Force – is improving as well, in part due to the integration of relevant new technologies into training exercises. The Russians also seem well-trained in ground/air controlled interception; however, training to intercept a large number of targets without the support of ground-based assets or AEW&C aircraft has traditionally been another weak spot for them and the extent to which this has improved is unclear.

What about the quality of Russian air force student pilot training?

Today, the average flight time that a Russian cadet accumulates prior to graduation is drastically higher than in the early-mid 2000s, and considerably higher than in the late 2000s. In the case of the VKS’ Krasnodar Higher Military Aviation School for Pilots (fixed-wing aviation) this number is “over 200” fight hours per graduate, including, on average, 60 flight hours as part of the advanced flight training program (“over 200” flight hours is similar to USAF numbers from the mid 2010s). In the case of the VKS’ Syzran Higher Military Aviation School for Pilots (rotary-wing aviation), this number is “no less than 150” flight hours per graduate. Looking solely at these figures, however, will tell you little about the actual training quality of Russian cadets. Indeed, while flight hours are much higher than a decade ago, there are several major interrelated issues concerning the state of Russia’s trainer aircraft fleet that have hampered the quality of Russian cadet training over the past decade. These include a relatively limited inventory of trainer aircraft (particularly modern trainers), and low availability rates (even for modern trainers).

Credit: on image

News about Russian trainer aircraft availability issues occasionally surface. There are examples from the early 2010s and from more recent years. Notably, in December 2019, it was revealed that the availability rate of the VKS’ Yak-130 fleet at the time was a mere 56%. The Yak-130 is the only modern advanced/lead-in fighter trainer in use with the Krasnodar Higher Military Aviation School for Pilots (KVVAUL). The school has also been using it as a basic trainer aircraft (it is the only modern jet trainer available for this role, too). Due to the Yak-130’s low availability rate and small fleet size (The VKS’ entire Yak-130 fleet totaled only about 100 aircraft at the time), the school was still using its aging Aero L-39Cs jet trainers for its 4th and 5th courses (basic and advanced flight training programs, respectively). This was negatively impacting the quality of training that many cadets were receiving.

Why is that? Can you elaborate on the situation with Russian air force trainer aircraft?

You see, the L-39C has long been considered grossly inadequate for the 5th course; its avionics are rudimentary and dated (it lacks a glass cockpit), and its performance is lacking (for example, it is incapable of supersonic – or even transonic – speeds). Due to the absence of modern avionics, the L-39C has also been viewed as ill-suited for the 4th course. Consequently, cadets who got little or no flight hours in the Yak-130 ended up graduating pilot school inadequately prepared for subsequent combat training on modern high performance combat aircraft (Su-30SM, Su-34, Su-35S, etc.), with some graduates reportedly requiring a long time to qualify on their assigned aircraft type. To alleviate this problem, KVVAUL has been introducing modern simulators; however, these cannot fully replace real flying. The school also still operates a relatively small number of high performance jet trainers such as the MiG-29UB and Su-25UB which are used for the 5th course, but only the top performing cadets get to fly them. Moreover, like the L-39C, they, too, lack glass cockpits.

At present, it is unclear whether (or to what extent) L-39Cs are being utilized for the 5th course, but they certainly continue to be widely employed for the 4th course due to the ongoing shortage of modern trainer aircraft. Indeed, although the current availability rate of the Yak-130 fleet has not been publicized, the total size of the fleet has increased only marginally. In 2020, only four additional Yak-130s were delivered to the VKS and, according to some reports, these four were still not being employed for flight training as of early 2021. The Yak-130 was initially intended to replace Russia’s aging fleet of Aero L-39C jet trainers. It is a much more capable machine than the L-39C, and its service life is more than double that of what the latter was designed for. To replace the L-39C fleet, the Russian Defense Ministry previously planned to procure some 250 Yak-130s; however, just over 135 have been ordered to date, of which a little over 110 have been delivered since deliveries commenced over a decade ago.

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How many more Yak-130s might be ordered in the future is unclear. Whereas the twinjet Yak-130 is well suited for KVVAUL’s 5th course, it has long been deemed too complex and expensive to replace the single-engine L-39C in the 4th course. The aging L-39C fleet, however, has also seen low availability rates. Notably, in September 2019, Izvestia reported that aviation repair plants were struggling to repair L-39Cs in a timely manner, and that components were not being supplied on time in the required quantities. According to Izvesita, just one out of every three repaired L-39Cs was being delivered back to the VKS within specified timeframes. Based on various estimates, the number of L-39Cs in service with the VKS at the time stood at only 120-150 aircraft, with many not available for use at any given point in time.

Concerned by the situation with L-39Cs and other trainer aircraft, Russia’s Defense Minister instructed the problem of low availability rates to be resolved. Already in early April 2020 he announced that the availability rate of the VKS’ trainer aircraft fleet had risen from “about 50%” in September to “almost 90%,” noting that cadets will now be able to receive quality training. However, this should be taken with a grain of salt. Indeed, no details were provided as to what specific measures were undertaken to increase the availability rate so rapidly. It’s quite possible that, as some in Russia have suggested, in addition to improving the state of the aviation industry, many unserviceable trainers were simply written off. They were likely also stripped for parts.

In any case, to provide cadets with quality training, Russia will need to procure additional modern trainers, including new aircraft that are more suitable for replacing the L-39C in KVVAUL’s 4th course than the Yak-130. Aware of this, the Russian Air Force has been looking at options for a modern basic trainer aircraft for some time now. In the mid-late 2010s there was quite a bit of talk about the possible procurement of the forward-swept-wing SR-10 developed by Sovremennyye Aviatsionnyye Technologii (SAT) Design Bureau. A prototype of this modern single-engine jet trainer first flew in 2015; however, the Russian Defense Ministry hasn’t placed an order for the SR-10 and it’s unclear if it will. Indeed, in mid 2020, Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation announced that work was nearing completion on a modernized L-39 which features modern Russian avionics, so it is possible that the L-39C fleet will be modernized to this standard instead if testing is completed successfully.

In addition to having a shortage of modern trainer aircraft for the 4th course, KVVAUL is also still waiting on a modern replacement for the L-39C in the 3rd course (primary flight training program). It is planned that this role will be fulfilled by the Yak-152 primary trainer. The Yak-152 is a single-engine piston aircraft with a low operating cost (notably, its fuel consumption is far lower than that of the turbofan-powered L-39C). Unlike the latter, the Yak-152 also has a glass cockpit – a feature which will enhance the preparation of cadets for the transition to the Yak-130 (and to other modern trainers that may be introduced in the future). According to reports from the mid 2020, deliveries of the Yak-152 to the VKS are supposed to commence this year. It is not yet clear how many will be procured; however, this figure is likely to be in excess of 150 aircraft.

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As part of other efforts to improve the efficiency and quality of training at KVVAUL, the school has taken delivery of modern, glass cockpit-equipped Austrian Diamond DA42T piston twin trainers (assembled in Russia) and decided that some cadets will begin flight training at an earlier stage. Training at KVVAUL lasts five years and, until very recently, all cadets began flight training only in their third year (3rd course). In the 3rd course, cadets fly on either the L-39C or the twin-turboprop L-410. They then progress to the 4th course in which they fly on either the L-39C and/or Yak-130, or the L-410 and/or the twin-turboprop An-26, respectively (the An-26, by the way, is also used for the 5th course). Recently, however, the school has decided to begin flight training for some cadets (such as those training to become Military-Transport Aviation pilots) on their second year (2nd course) using the new DA42Ts. This approach allows for much more efficient use of time and funds because initial flight screening can now be done on the second year using the DA42T rather than on the third year using the much larger L-410, which has a higher operating cost. It also increases the availability of L-410s for other training tasks. So far, two contracts for a total of 55 DA42Ts have been signed by the Russian Defense Ministry. The first – for 35 aircraft – was reportedly completed in 2020, and training on the type at KVVAUL likely commenced that same year.

Guy Plopsky is the author of a number of articles on air power and Russian military affairs. He holds an MA in International Affairs and Strategic Studies from Tamkang University Taiwan.