Cruise Missiles for HX

From the outset the Finnish Defence Forces have been stating that they are not replacing a multirole fighter (and thus buying a new one), but instead they are replacing the capabilities of it (and thus buying a new one to provide the same capabilities as the old one). This might look like semantics, but was suddenly brought to the forefront when the RFI for weapons and external sensors was sent out.

Short background: the current Finnish Hornet-fleet sport five different weapon types (plus an internal gun). The AIM-9 Sidewinder (in L- and X-versions) provide short-range air-to-air capability, while the AIM-120C provide medium-range air-to-air capability. With the MLU2 air-to-ground weapons have been brought in as well. The JDAM-series of guidance kits are fitted to ordinary 225, 450, and 900 kg bombs (official designations then being GBU-38, GBU-32, and GBU-31 respectively). These use a combination of internal navigation (INS) and GPS to provide accurate hits on the target. The main problem is that hitting moving targets doesn’t really work, which have prompted the creation of other guidance kits sporting laser guidance in combination with INS and/or GPS. These have however not been acquired by Finland. Also, the range is short, and in practice the fighter has to overfly the target. Still, the JDAM is cheap and reliable, and has proved a favourite in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Time will tell if the recent GPS-jamming incidents will cause issues for weapons which rely on GPS for navigation and/or target acquisition.

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Finnish F/A-18C Hornet upgraded to the MLU2-standard displaying AIM-9X and AIM-120C air-to-air missiles as well as JDAM and AGM-158 JASSM air-to-surface weapons. Source: Ilmavoimat
A solution to getting more range out of a bomb is to fit it with wings, which leads to the AGM-154 JSOW. The JSOW feature folding wings which deploys after launch, letting the weapon glide towards the target. Three different versions are found, of which two hold submunitions (‘cluster bombs’), while the third is a single BROACH-warhead. The BROACH feature a two-stage warhead where a small(ish) shaped charge first blows a hole in the target, which the main warhead the flies through and detonates on the inside of (see this Australian clip of a live-fire test, the slow-motion entry is found at the 0:54 mark). For improved accuracy the AGM-154C with the BROACH feature an infrared seeker for terminal guidance. In Finnish service the JSOW is something of an enigma, with both the number of weapons and version acquired being unclear to me. I had originally thought the JSOW had been acquired in a very limited number for test and evaluation purposes only in case the JASSM wouldn’t be cleared for export, but during Ruska17 it was mentioned as part of the Finnish arsenal. It seems likely that a small number of AGM-154C JSOW are found as a cheaper mid-range solutions for targets which might be too well-defended for a JDAM-run. The big problem with the JSOW is that as it lacks an engine, its range is highly dependent on the speed and height of the aircraft when launched.

The silver bullet in the Finnish airborne arsenal is the AGM-158 JASSM. The JASSM feature a 450 kg penetrating warhead in the form of the WDU-42/B, and is powered by a small jet engine giving it significantly longer range than the JDAM and JSOW. The cruise missile is stealthy, and navigates by combining GPS and INS during flight, before switching on a IR-seeker for terminal guidance. It is a smart weapon even by modern standards, and dives towards the target at different angles depending on the amount of penetration needed (steeper for harder targets such as bunkers). All this also makes the weapon rather expensive, with the DSCA listing the Finnish request for up to 70 weapons at an estimated value of 255 million USD.

These are the capabilities to be replaced: the ability to shoot down enemy aircraft at different ranges, and to strike hard but not necessarily moving targets at all ranges.

It is important to remember that the weapons work already before release, in that any potential attacker has to calculate with the Finnish Air Force being able to launch a strike taking out key installations such as bridges and command bunkers deep behind enemy lines without ever being close to these. The psychological effect of the nagging knowledge that when getting inside a few hundred kilometers of the frontline you are always under threat should not be underestimated.

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An F-35C Lighting II conducts separation tests of an AGM-154 JSOW. The white dots are photo calibration markings. Source: U.S. Navy photo by Dane Wiedmann via Wikimedia Commons
The press release on the RFI was rather bland, but Jarmo Huhtanen of Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat had an interesting interview with engineering brigadier general Kari Renko. Renko dropped a very interesting comment, which will have huge consequences for the HX-program.

We won’t go down the route of starting to develop the integration of machine and weapon. We’re buying missiles, their documentation, transportation containers, training, and so forth.

He also mentions that the weapons and sensors will account for roughly a tenth of the total budget, i.e. in the neighbourhood of 700 million to 1 billion Euros. A second interview with program manager Lauri Puranen (retired FiAF major general) in Finnish paper Talouselämä takes a slightly different view, putting the total weapon cost at 10-20% of the total value, i.e. 700 million to 2 billion Euros, though he notes that there is no idea in buying the whole stock immediately upon ordering the fighters, as the weapons have limited shelf life (this might explain the difference their estimates). This sounds about right for providing a small stock of short- and medium-ranged air-to-air missiles and a few different air-to-ground weapons. A short mention of DSCA cost estimates for similar weapons from recent years.

It must be said that this is a very Finnish way of making defence acquisitions. Buying just behind the cutting edge, at the (hopefully) sweet spot where the R&D work is done and the true costs are known while still modern enough to be considered high-tech. The package above comes in at 1.08 billion Euros and would be something of a bare minimum (e.g. 64 fighters would get an average of 4.7 AMRAAMS each, meaning that after the first wave was launched there wouldn’t be any reloads to talk about). The Finnish order is also likely to be more air-to-air heavy than the mix above would be.

It also means that if Renko (who have his roots in the Air Force) is to be taken literally, the HX-field will be turned upside down.

The air-to-air part is no problem, all contenders have sufficient missiles integrated. Guided bombs are also found, though in most cases not JDAM’s but rather laser or hybrid laser/GPS/INS-guided ones. It is questionable if the JSOW is actually needed as the Goldilock-solution between a guided bomb and a cruise missile, and if it is a priority to be bought at the beginning of the project. In any case, it is fully integrated on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, while the Rafale feature the AASM ‘Hammer’-series of modular guidance/propulsion kits which include interesting versions that also exist in the middle ground between guided bombs and ‘true’ missiles.

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A Rafale C in flight equiped with wingtip Mica IR air-to-air missiles, 2000 ltr drop tank on inboard station and SCALP-EG (Storm Shadow in British service) cruise missile on the outer station. Source: © Alex Paringaux courtesy of Dassault Aviation
The big dealbreaker is the cruise missile. If Renko means business, that the HX need to have a long-range cruise missile with a serious penetrating warhead ready by the time it reaches full operational capability in the 2029-2031 time span, two of the top-contenders have a problem at their hands.

The Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon both sport the joint-French/English SCALP/Storm Shadow. This is a highly potent weapon in the same class as the JASSM, including a stealthy design, and is combat proven over Iraq, Syria, and Libya. The Rafale already carry the weapon, while the Typhoon is about to get it as part of the P3E upgrade currently underway. As such, both should welcome the news that this is a requirement.

The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet just might get a pass, as it sport the Harpoon-based SLAM-ER with a 360 kg WDU-40/B titanium-reinforced penetrating blast warhead. The SLAM-ER feature many of the same capabilities as the JASSM (though being lighter and shorter-legged), and is the US Navy’s answer to the gap created in their inventory when they dropped out of the JASSM-program. The fighter is also in the process of getting the AGM-158C LRASM, the anti-shipping derivative of the JASSM, which might offer a possibility to fast-track AGM-158A/B integration once complete.

JAS 39C/D Gripen have no long-range ground attack capability. This will be remedied by the upcoming Rb 15F-ER which while developed from the RBS15F anti-ship missile will also have a secondary land-attack capability. However, the weapons main use and roots are shown by the warhead which is a 200 kg blast fragmentation one. Excellent for ships, but despite having delayed fusing options this likely lacks the penetration to be able to take on hardened targets.

The F-35 is the other big question mark, with the JASSM not confirmed for the fighter. It has been cancelled for the Block 4, with one spokeswoman saying they “expect it” in the Block 5 timeframe which “is expected to begin in 2024”. The scope of Block 5 is still undecided, with one aviation journalist describing it’s status as “just a collection of tech that didn’t make the cut for Block 4“. RAF/RN had originally planned for the Storm Shadow to equip their F-35’s, but has since dropped it. As such, the F-35 have no confirmed cruise missile for hardened targets at the moment. The one missile which is confirmed is the JSM, which like the Rb 15F-ER is an anti-ship missile with secondary land-attack capability, and which also feature a 200 kg combined blast and fragmentation warhead. Manufacturing partner Raytheon is happy to call it “the only fifth-generation cruise missile that will be integrated on the F-35”, which is likely more of a marketing line than an indication of the company sitting on information that the JASSM has been cancelled for the F-35.

Taurus KEPD
Taurus KEPD 350 displayed together with the JAS 39D Gripen at the Tour de Sky airshow in Kuopio, Finland, back in 2016. Source: Own picture
The answer to the Gripen’s woes would have been the Taurus KEPD 350. The joint Swedish-German missile is carried by German Tornadoes, Spanish EF-18 Hornets, and (soon) South Korean F-15 Eagles. Preliminary flights have been undertaken by the Gripen (and the Eurofighter for Spanish and German needs), but the missile was never integrated on the 39C/D, and it’s future as part of the 39E’s arsenal is still unclear. The Swedish then-government/now-opposition signalled back in 2014 that they “want cruise missiles on the new Gripen”, though it has never been clear whether this means the RBS15F or some heavier land-attack missile. In any case, no firm order for KEPD 350 integration onto the Gripen has been made, and it is difficult to see a Brazilian requirement for it. The KEPD 350 is however actively marketed as an option for the Gripen by Saab.

While Puranen’s cost estimate of the weapon package might be higher than Renko’s, he is of the same opinion when it comes to integration costs.

Our position is that the aircraft suppliers are responsible for the integration of the weapons found in their offers, and that the costs for this are included in the offer.

This leaves Lockheed-Martin and Saab with something of a conundrum. Unless JASSM or another suitable missile is confirmed for integration before 2030 by another paying customer, and unless this confirmation comes before the final offers are made in 2021, the companies will have to include the complete integration costs when calculating their bids to Finland. Obviously the majority of the costs will be funneled back directly to their HX-bid (TANSTAAFL), while the Rafale and the Typhoon will be able to make their offers without this additional cost (or at the very least with a significantly reduced one). It also raises the question which missile they should choose to offer. While there has been much speculation about keeping the JASSM’s, their shelf-life does in fact end about the time the Hornets are withdrawn.

JASSMed
Gripen E model in Finnish colours displayed by Saab at a Finnish air show. The model is armed with Rb 15F, Irist-T air-to-air missiles, and JASSM. Source: Own picture
Saab has been marketing a willingness to integrate the JASSM if Finland requests so. However, if they are free to offer the long-range strike option in whichever form they want, doing so by integrating their own Taurus instead of Lockheed-Martin’s JASSM might certainly be tempting, especially as the Taurus offer some unique gimmicks such as the ability to detonate at a specific pre-set floor. Another possible solution which might be tempting for both manufacturers would be to develop penetrating 500-lbs warheads for the JSM and Rb 15F-ER, as this might turn out to be a cheaper solution than integrating a completely new weapon. Still, when it comes to penetrating warheads, mass matters, and it is clear that this would be an inferior solution compared to heavyweights such as the JASSM, Storm Shadow/SCALP, or Taurus.

Fall Colours and Bugs

Ruska: (ʁus.ka) noun. 1) Finnish word denoting the leaves changing colours during fall, autumn foliage 2) Finnish Air Force exercise focused on operations in times of crises and wartime, measured in the number of involved servicemen and -women the largest Finnish Air Force exercise of 2017.

War is unpredictable. Some things are however more predictable than others. These include enemy strikes on runways and installations of the air bases used by the only two fighter wings in the country. The solution is easy: to be somewhere else when the cruise missiles strike.

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A Finnish F/A-18C Hornet touching down at the civilian Kokkola-Pietarsaari airport in the evening rain. Source: Author

Dispersed basing is at the heart of Finnish Air Force operations. The concept not only means that the aircraft are spread out, but it also means that they keep moving. Upon the order to disperse, the air force sends out ground units to road bases and civilian airfields. These units are capable of independent operations, not only taking care of the aircraft themselves, but also of handling necessary supporting functions such as providing base security. Having taken up positions, they then wait for word from higher command about if and when they will get customers. Keeping the fighters moving between bases makes it much harder to catch them on the ground, where they are at their most vulnerable.

Often this mode of operations is associated with road bases, likely because road basing is only practiced by a handful of countries (Finland, Sweden, Taiwan), and because fast jets landing and taking off in a forest makes for really nice pictures. As important however is the use of civilian fields for military use. “There are no clear advantages in using a road base as opposed to a civilian field. The usability and benefits of a base instead largely depends on the ground units found there”, Lt col Ville Hakala of the Air Force Command explains.

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Taxiing away from the main apron and onto the taxiway used for the exercise. Source: Author

The casual observer would be excused to fail to notice the fact that Kokkola-Pietarsaari airport is a working military base during Ruska17. An ultralight from the local flying club is doing touch and goes, and the passenger flights to Helsinki and Stockholm make their schedules as normal. Minimizing the impact on civilian aviation is not only part of keeping the local population in a good mood, but also how it is envisioned to work in times of crisis. For society as a whole to function, it is important that the airports stay open even if the air force decides to use them. So the ground crew discreetly wait in the background, while the military police patrol the perimeter and politely check up on people who loiter in the area. Especially those who sport a camera with a decent sized tele lens.

Then the call comes, a pair of Hornets are inbound, and the ground crew takes up position by the taxiway. But as the exercise is a complex one with a fully functioning red side operating out of bases in northern Finland and Sweden, things doesn’t always go as expected, and no sooner have the Hornets appeared overhead than an air raid alarm is issued, and the blue force fighters speed away to a destination unknown to us at the airfield. A while later the situation is cleared up, and the two fighters touch down on the rainsoaked runway, and immediately taxi over to the waiting fuel trucks. The fighters stay on the field for a while, giving the passengers arriving with the evening flight from Stockholm something to look at, before eventually taking off into the night sky.

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The fighter is undertaking a ‘hot’ refuelling, keeping the engines running throughout the procedure. Note the black lynx, currently emblem of 31. Squadron of Karelian Air Command, with a heritage dating back to WWII and the elite 24. Squadron. Source: Author

The turnaround is indeed a sight to see. While it is hard not to think of a caravan park or travelling circus when the train of specialised trucks appear, the impression stops as soon as the work starts. There is none of the frantic running or shouting of orders which are often associated with the armed forces. Instead, the small crew made up of conscripts, reservists, and regular staff move efficiently around the aircraft, each confidently handling his or her task. The fuel tanks might not be topped up in a matter of seconds and the wheels stay on, but otherwise the closest analogy that comes to mind is that of a Formula 1 pit stop. When asked about what the biggest challenges associated with operating away from the home base are, Lt col Hakala’s answer is confident: “There are no major challenges when operating from an unfamiliar airfield, our pilots are constantly practicing operations from different airports.” Looking at the refuelling operation, his confidence seems well-placed.

Seeing the fighters being serviced, it is clear that this unique way of operating the aircrafts will have implications for the HX-program. With all infrastructure being truck-mounted and handled by a motley crew stretching from teenagers to professionals with decades of experience, very special demands are placed on the aircraft. When out camping away from home, small details such as the integrated boarding ladder make a significant difference.

Ladder
The integrated ladder of the Hornet folds out from under the port leadin-edge wing extension. Though the Finnish Hornets have taken up the air-to-ground mission following MLU2, the pair arriving sported a light air superiority load with wingtip AIM-9X Sidewinders and empty underwing twin-racks for the AIM-120 AMRAAM. Source: Author

Ruska is a large exercise by most standards. Over 60 aircraft, including roughly half the Finnish Hornet-fleet is taking part, including all three Finnish Air Commands. On the ground, over 5,000 servicemen and -women are taking part, of which 2,900 are reservists. For the first time ever, the Swedish Air Force joins in to practice defending Finnish airspace together with the Finnish Air Force in a major exercise of this kind (though it should be noted that they have done it for real once before). A detachment of JAS 39 Gripen supported by a ASC 890 airborne early warning and control aircraft deployed to Kuopio-Rissala AFB as part of the blue force, with another detachment from F 21 making a re-run of last year’s role as part of the red force from their home base at Kallax AFB (Luleå).

While an important step politically in signalling the ability (and intention?) to fight together in case of an armed aggression, it is a surprisingly straightforward step from a military point of view. “Cooperation with the Swedish Air Force already have long traditions,” Lt col Hakala explains. “The Swedish Gripen is interoperable with the Finnish air defence system. The Gripens participating in the exercise are one part of the complete air defences and work together with Finnish Hornets.”

Huge thanks to all involved that helped me with the post!

Take-off
The fighting doesn’t stop just because the night falls, and the fighters head off into the darkness. Source: Author

HX Update Q1 2017

As usual, there is a number of recent events concerning the fighters involved in the HX-program as well as the program itself.

The Rafale is currently having its F3R standard being evaluated, which will be fully certified during 2018, and last week Dassault got the order for the follow-on F4 standard. The main focus of the F4 will likely be on upgrades to the software, including the SPECTRA EW-suite, as well as a new short/medium-range air-to-air missiles (or possibly new versions of the current MICA). The F4 is slated to fly by 2023.

Saab got an order for an upgraded version of their RBS15 anti-ship missile, the two versions ordered being a ship-mounted RBS15 Mk3+ and an air-launched RBS 15F-ER (including integration onto the JAS 39E Gripen). The weapon is developed in cooperation with Diehl, and according to Saab it features “improved combat range, an upgraded target seeker, and a lower mass compared to the earlier system. It also has an ability to combat a wide spectrum of naval and land-based targets.”.

The Eurofighter is continuing with both the Phase 2 and Phase 3 Enhancement programs in parallels, with the latest milestone having been a series of flight trials with the Brimstone anti-vehicle missile. The Royal Air Force is keen to keep the current schedule, as the Tornado is soon about to bow out. Currently, this seems to hold, which should mean that any capability gaps are avoided.

The Finnish Defence Forces’ Logistics Command sent out a preliminary RFI for weapons and other external stores for the HX. This is to be followed by a ‘proper’ RFI later this summer, The idea isn’t as far-fetched as it might first seem. The capabilities of the aircrafts are tied to their weaponry (and external stores), the cost of which also makes up a significant part of the whole project. For a fair comparison of how the fighters will perform in Finnish service, the evaluation need to be performed only with the weapons which are likely to be acquired by the Finnish Air Force. E.g. the Eurofighter feature both the ASRAAM and the IRIS-T short-range air-to-air missiles, but no user has adopted both. In other words, the final cost and capability is highly dependent on which weapon is used in the evaluation. The RFI is also set to investigate the integration cost in the cases where an aircraft doesn’t yet have a suitable weapon integrated.

The Finnish Air Force Command (ILMAVE) has confirmed that the possibility of the HX getting an anti-ship capability is being looked into. This is in line with the recent Finnish defence white paper.

The air show-season, also known as ‘summer’ amongst non-avgeeks, is fast approaching. BAE and Saab have confirmed the presence of the Eurofighter and JAS 39C Gripen respectively flying on both Kaivari and Seinäjoki Air Shows, with Boeing/USN having confirmed that the Super Hornet will come to Kaivari. So far Rafale and F-35 is missing from both, though Lockheed-Martin has promised to show up with some kind of a stand.

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#BringTheNoise2017

 

HX Trumped

The HX-program is moving forward, and several of the programs have seen significant changes, in many cases caused by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’s new resident.

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

Things are looking up for the ‘Rhino’ (or ‘Super Bug’ if you want) for the moment. The Kuwaiti deal is finally looking like it could secure a second export order for the aircraft, and the Canadians seem like they could actually lease or buy  a small amount as a stop-gap to cover for the cancelled F-35 buy. This move has been discussed for years, but in the last year it has moved from speculation to government policy.

But the twist that has caused most buzz is without doubt the announcement that the new US leadership has ordered a review of the carrier-based version of the F-35C against the Advanced Super Hornet concept. While I find it unlikely that the ‘all-inclusive’ most advanced form of the Advanced Super Hornet would be ordered, this review will likely provide an updated concept (with price tags) that can be employed for future (more limited) USN updates as well as for export drives such as the HX.

Boeing, somewhat surprisingly, has kept a low profile in Finland. It remains to be seen if this will change with this summer’s air shows.

F-35 Lightning II

The F-35 has been under quite some pressure following the tweets of President (then elect) Trump, who was happy to trash the cost of the program.

Lockheed Martin quickly recovered their posture (though not their stock price), and explained that they will certainly look into this, and that they have a plan ready to reduce costs further.

Now, it is uncertain to what extent Lockheed Martin and (especially) Trump are honest and to what extent they simply figured out that this theatre is just what they need. It is no secret that the unit price of the F-35 is on a healthy downward trend following the troubled early years of the program. It is also no secret that Lockheed Martin has been pushing for larger block buys, as these would make it possible for the company to achieve higher efficiency in their production lines. This is an excellent opportunity to enlist the support of the White House for the larger block buys, and in the meantime the president can happily boast about getting a better deal by getting the low-rate lots cheaper than his predecessor. Win-win, at least until some troublesome aviation journalists starts looking it…

Regardless of the politics behind it, the F-35A is now officially and for the first time below the 100 million USD threshold. This came as part of the LRIP 10 agreement, and Lockheed Martin indeed thought it prudent to credit ‘President Trump’s personal involvement’ with accelerating the negotiations and sharpening Lockheed-Martin’s focus on driving down the price. Despite the recent issues with the landing gear of the F-35C carrier-based version, the F-35A version is moving forward and meeting milestones according to plan, and the above-mentioned F-35C review against the Advanced Super Hornet will likely result in yet another paper explaining the need for stealth and sensor fusion on the modern battlefield. In other words, the mid- to long-term prospects for the F-35 look good, perhaps even slightly better than they did before Trump got involved.

Eurofighter Typhoon

In January BAE (finally) launched their official Finnish Twitter-account, quite some time after BAE Systems Belgium got theirs. On the whole, BAE has significantly heightened their profile, and isn’t the least bit shy about the fact that they thinks the Typhoon would be the best answer to the needs of the Finnish Air Force.

While BAE still hasn’t explained exactly why they think that’s the case, they have been happy to announce that the acquisition could be funded through the UK Export Finance.

What is often forgotten is that the Typhoon does indeed have an impressive service record in the harsh semi-subarctic climate of the South Atlantic, having been responsible for the air cover of the Falkland Islands since 2009. Of note is that while the aircrews assigned to RAF Mount Pleasant have been rotated, the aircrafts haven’t. The original four aircraft maintained a constant 24/7 QRA flight for over five years, before finally being relieved a while back. Honouring the traditions of the Hal Far Fighter Flight based in Malta during World War 2, the Typhoons wear tailcodes matching the names of the Gladiators of the original flight.

Dassault Rafale

Eight months ago I sat and listened to a presentation by a representative of Dassault, who happily explained the value of the fighter and (almost) all of its subsystems being French. I smiled and nodded politely, thinking to myself that while I understand the value of this from a domestic point of view, I am unsure whether this is a plus or minus in the case of HX. My worry was based on the sometimes volatile state of French politics, especially compared to the relatively stable state of US ones.

Let’s just say I have revised that opinion.

While France certainly has their share of pro-Russian politicians of different colours, Donald Trump has very efficiently demonstrated that the political risks associated with buying French is no larger than buying from the US.

#MAGA.

Saab JAS 39E Gripen

The first flight of the ‘Dash Eight’ prototype is still some time away. Though this was originally slated for Q4 2016, representatives of Saab are adamant that the program as a whole is still on track, and that the delay is due to moving around different parts of the test and development program.

While this might be true, and not flying for the sake of just flying might be the proper decision from a program point of view, this is still something of a PR-loss for Saab, who has been pushing the “on time and budget” narrative. 2017 will be an important year for Saab’s new fighter.

Seinäjoki International Air Show 2017

Contrary to what usually is the case, the Finnish Aeronautical Association’s air show will receive some competition for the Finnish aviation crowds, in that another major air show will take place in Helsinki the day before. Still, the organisers are clear with that they try to get as many HX-competitors attending as possible, and that they hope to see them “both in the air and on the ground“. Last year the JAS 39C Gripen was flying, with the Eurofighter Typhoon being found on static display. Hopefully this year will bring some new players to the Finnish airspace.

 

AAR – Operation Gudrun

For some Friday night off-topic, I’ve played a game of Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations. The game is best described as Harpoon on steroids, though the developer doesn’t think that catches the huge improvements found under the hood (“Only in the sense that each new FPS is a new version of Wolfenstein3D”). Anyhow, if it’s good enough for RAeS to blog about, it’s good enough for me.

The scenario in question is the later two-thirds of Swedish author/blogger Lars Wilderängs techno-thriller “Midvintermörker“, a Swedish “Red Storm Rising” set in Gotland during the last shivering days of 2012. This post will certainly contain spoilers, so if you are a Swedish-speaker who hasn’t read the book, go do so before reading any further.

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“Midvintermörker” was Wilderäng’s debut novel, and while the grand story might not be that innovative, it is still a very enjoyable battlefield description. The sequel “Midsommargryning” features a more complex and interesting story set in a ’round two’-scenario a few years after the first book, and the only real downside of the book is that the storytelling suffer a bit from the author taking the opportunity to sneak in a few political visions (those who have read Clancy’s later works knows what I’m talking about), such as an updated model for how conscription could work. On the whole, I personally find Wilderäng’s style of writing enjoyable, though I wouldn’t be surprised if some are irritated by his continued use of irony.

Still, the novel’s greatest achievement isn’t its literary merits, but the fact it played an important part in lifting the Gotland-question out of the #säkpol-blogosphere, and into the everyday political discussion in Sweden.

Operation Gudrun

(Gudrun was a storm that caused widespread destruction in Sweden during the early days of 2005, let’s hope that this time around the destruction is amongst the Russians and not the Swedish forces)

When we roll in, the Russians have landed in Slite, a small town on the eastern shores of Gotland, and are starting to unload their heavy equipment from a 18,000 DWT ro-ro ship. Our main objective is to sink this vessel, which should seriously delay the invasion. As the invasion took us completely by surprise, our radar networks are down, and the air force has suffered considerable losses. Our main forces are as followings:

We have a mechanised force (including Leopard 2A5’s and CV 9040’s) on Visby airport, which also holds two JAS 39C Gripen which was the islands QRA detachment before the outbreak of the hostilities. A number of infantry recon platoons are found on the island, as well as four mortar platoons, equipped with heavy mortars and STRIX anti-tank mortar rounds. On a wartime base (with practically no reloads) we have a number of Gripen’s armed with AIM-120B AMRAAM’s and IRIS-T missiles, and the main Gripen force is found north of Stockholm. Here we also have three Gripen’s armed with RB 15F anti-ship missiles, which will be my best bet in taking out the ro-ro. Outside of Slite one of our submarines lurk. I also have two C-130 Hercules transports loaded with special forces for an air drop, and some CB 90 H fast assault craft with Hellfire-armed marines aboard.

The enemy currently has air superiority (or to be precise, we have no idea what is found in the skies above the Baltic Sea, as our radar network is down), and two batteries of Tor (SA-15) SAM’s are in the area. In addition, they have superior ground forces, so we can’t just throw them out by racing headlong into Slite. This leads to a complex plan, given by the in-game objectives:

Objectives:

  1. Secure Tingstäde with ground units in order to stop any Russian ground forces from passing this point.
  2. Secure the airspace on and around Gotland enough to for a safe air drop. The drop may have to be done even if the airspace is not 100% in our hands.
  3. Bring the Tp 84’s* over the designated landing zone to the west of Slite.
  4. Find SA-15’s and have them destroyed using STRIX mortars or other weapons available.
  5. Destroy the RoRo ship before it is able to unload the majority of the landing force.

*Tp 84 is the Swedish designation for the Hercules.

While the plan is complex, it probably represents my best shot at getting things done, so I start by sending all mechanised units securing the airport towards Tingstäde. My forces are so small, I decide that keeping some units at the airport probably means spreading them too thin. Two of my three infantry recon platoons starts to head for the LZ, to check that the area is clear and, hopefully, get the location of the SAM’s even before we bring in the lumbering Hercules. My submarine meanwhile gets orders to patrol outside of Slite, and the CB 90’s start moving to take up position west of Fårö. If the sea outside of Slite is cleared, we might be able to sneak them close enough to get to a landing zone just north of the harbour, from where they can target the landing force with their Hellfires.

AAR first moves.JPG

The sub quickly locate three contacts outside the port, and identifies the southernmost (SKUNK #61) as a light frigate. Since we are talking about a non-Swedish naval ship just outside of an occupied Swedish port, I decide to manually mark it as hostile. Shortly thereafter, my northernmost recon infantry spots the other two contacts, and can confirm that SKUNK #62 and #67 are Parchim-II class light frigates. These have some ASW capability, with suitable sensors as well as weapons (torpedoes and RBU-6000). It seems the Russians have set up a picket chain of light frigates to protect the beachhead from unwanted visitors. Still, if there are no further surprises awaiting closer to shore, we should be able to handle them.

AAR Parchim.JPG

Our Norwegian friends decides to supply us with AWACS-data from the NATO-network over Link 16. Mange takk!

The infantry also makes another sighting, a single Su-25SM and two attack helicopters, a Mi-28N and a Mi-24V respectively, are airborne. As I completely lack any kind of ground based air defences, these could potentially make short work of my troops and plans. I decide to launch Gator #1 and #2, the two Gripen’s I have based in Gotland.

The plan is simple: get airborne, fire of all of my eight AMRAAM’s, and then land as fast as possible before enemy fighters or SAM’s wake up.

AAR anti-CAS.JPG

The result is a disaster. The aircrafts can’t get a single shot to connect, and while trying to get back to base, Gator #2 is brought down by a Tor, followed by Gator #1 by a R-27R launched by a Su-27 circling over the southern parts of the island (how did AWACS miss that one!?!). In the meantime, the Mi-24’s and Su-25’s target the mortars with missiles and bombs, wiping out one platoon completely and causing losses to another. The only positive thing with the sortie was that the aircraft identified the approximate location of the Tor-M1K’s, as well as the ships in Slite harbour. We also got confirmation that there are in fact two each of the helicopters, and a total of three Su-25’s over Gotland.

A four-ship JAS 39C’s from Aquila flight on the warbase is dispatched to take up the anti-CAS mission while I still have some mortars left…

The Mi-24’s then go for the Leopard’s, and knocks out one while another is hit but survives. The Mi-28’s in turn engages the remaining mortars with rockets but misses, and I send the mortars east into the LZ to get within firing range of the SAM’s approximate locations. Having expended all their munitions, the helicopters return to Slite and the Sukhoi’s depart for Kaliningrad.

In the meantime, our submarine has fired on FFL #61, the southernmost of the frigates, but misses. This causes the other Parchim’s to move north, away from Slite, but into the path the CB 90’s have to take if they are to attack the harbour.

However, while Gator flight was ultimately unsuccessful, surprisingly few enemy fighters are in the area. I decide that now is as good a time as any to dispatch my special forces. The Hercules pair depart for Gotland, ordered to fly as fast and as low as possible to the landing zone just west of the SAM sites.

AAR Aquila.JPG

One of the few Su-27S airborne over southern Gotland has turned towards the approaching Aquila flight, and come in over the Swedish mainland. The first AMRAAM salvo misses, but second finally brings it down.

The submarine takes a max-range shot at the north-eastern Parchim, while the northernmost recon infantry manages to report on ships in Slite. Seems it is a single ro-ro surrounded by four Ropucha LST. A pair of Su-24MP ELINT planes that have been flying west of the island are intercepted, with the first being brought down by an AMRAAM. The second turns east and tries to escape out over the sea.

The Parchim outruns the two torpedoes. Ought for four shots so far.

Two ground units are spotted to the southeast of the mortars. If these turn out to be anything more serious than light infantry, they will crush my mortars if they start moving north. One of the mortar batteries is sent further northwards to avoid having my whole stock of STRIX-grenades knocked out in one go, and a tank platoon supported by a mechanized infantry platoon are dispatched from Tingstäde to intercept the enemy forces. I keep most of my forces at Tingstäde, as I have a gap between the mortar units and my recon unit on the northern flank, and I don’t want some unspotted enemy platoons to sneak through there and take Tingstäde in my rear.

The second Su-24MP is finally brought down by an IRIS-T after having evaded several AMRAAM’s. In the chase one of the JAS 39C’s actually overflies the Tor-batteries (despite my effort to try and route them further south), but the radars are silent. Out of missiles?

AAR CAP.JPG

Turning south, a minor air battle evolves between two Su-27S and all four Gripen’s currently operating over Gotland. The Sukhoi’s make a clean sweep, including in one instance dodging an IRIS-T, and then downing the JAS 39C at close range with a R-27R…

AAR ground battle.JPG

In the meantime, the advancing tank platoon locates the position of the two SAM batteries, and identifies the two mobile contacts as two armour platoons (T-90A).  STRIX are called in on both batteries (knocking out one and damaging the other) and one armour platoon (damaged). The Leo’s then get permission to fire, and make quick work of the T-90’s, with the mortars finishing off the last SAM battery with traditional HE-rounds.

More CAP aircraft are slowly inbound, which hopefully should get to Gotland in time before the Herc’s do, and I decide to finally authorise the anti-ship mission. Three Gripen with Rb 15F anti-ship missiles will target the ro-ro, while three Gripen with Mjölner stand-off munitions dispenser will target the four Ropuchas. I have no idea what kind of damage the Mjölners will do to the ships, but it is worth a try.

A mechanised infantry unit is spotted on the outskirts of Slite, followed by two more units closer to the city.

AAR Parchim

The submarine has finally started to line up some shots, and bags two of the Parchim II’s.

In the next air encounter, a Su-27S dodges eight AMRAAM’s, and while another Su-24MP is brought down by an IRIS-T, a Su-25SM manages to bag Aquila #8 with an R-60T. There seems to be something wrong with our missiles today.

AAR Endgame

However, the first two RB 15F hits the ro-ro vessels, and the ships is a total loss.

Conclusion

With the ro-ro ship destroyed, the primary invasion force has been significantly reduced, and the scenario ended.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about the scenario. It was great fun to play the storyline from the book, but there was a few issues with the implementation. The main problem was that the Russian ground units didn’t fire upon my forces. I don’t know if this was caused by limitations to the game, it is called ‘modern air/naval combat’ for a reason, or if the scenario designer had forgot to mark a checkbox somewhere. The Russian naval force was also markedly weaker than in the book, and I believe it might even have been possible to just launch the air attack without first taking out the SAM’s. I also couldn’t get the ‘Hercules over the LZ’-trigger to fire, but this might have been due to the Tor’s already having been taken out, and when starting the mission some Russian mission areas were set up wrongly. Other than that, and ‘Romeo’ being misspelled ‘Romio’ in all instances, it worked out rather nicely.

On my part, my single largest mistake was sending Gator straight for the enemy, which lead them to having to overfly the SAM’s on their way home. A better idea would have been to send them out west over the sea, turn around and fire, and then land on the airport without actually overflying the battlefield at any point. I also was unable to take advantage of the fact that I had local numerical superiority in almost all dogfights, as well as having active medium-range missiles against an enemy equipped only with semi-active ones. In a perfect world, I should have been able to use my AMRAAM’s to force the Sukhoi’s to turn away before the R-27R’s could impact. For those wanting to try out the scenario, it is found here

For the game itself, it is a blast to play! Granted, the learning curve is quite steep, and such seemingly simple things as setting up a patrol zone can be daunting if you have many border points. The execution is however good for the scale, and small touches like actually showing the probability of hit, modifiers, and RNG roll for each weapon engagement makes a surprisingly big difference for accepting outcomes that goes against what one feels should be the case (such as AMRAAM’s consistently missing ~50-75 % PH shots). There are some (minor) issues, especially with the ground units. The Leopards were able to identify boogies as fighters at longer ranges than the Gripen, which doesn’t feel right. Also, as the player sees everything his or her forces see, this gives too much information to certain units, and the possibility to game the system. Note however that while this helps with tactics, all platforms have their individual sensors modelled, so for the most part platforms still need to get the proper sensor lock (which can be anything from Eyeball Mk.1 to a specific radar) before they can target hostile units within range. For recommendations regarding what scenario to play, I recommend this one, where the player gets to command the Finnish Navy and Air Force in defense of the Åland Islands against the approaching Baltic Fleet. 

Admittedly, watching blue and red symbols move over a map isn’t everyone’s idea of a nice pastime, but for the readers of the blog, this might be one game simulator to look into!

Final score card

SIDE: Sweden

===========================================================

LOSSES:

——————————-

5x 120mm Mortar [STRIX]

7x JAS 39C Gripen

1x Leopard 2A5 Main Battle Tank

EXPENDITURES:

——————

8x Tp 613

9x RB 98 IRIS-T [AIM-2000A]

40x RB 99 AMRAAM [AIM-120B]

4x Generic Flare Salvo [2x Cartridges, Single Spectral]

4x Generic Flare Salvo [4x Cartridges, Single Spectral]

15x Generic Chaff Salvo [8x Cartridges]

120x 120mm STRIX Mortar HE

16x 120mm Rheinmetall APFSDS-T

180x 120mm Mortar HE

2x RB 15F Mk2

 

SIDE: Russia

===========================================================

LOSSES:

——————————-

1x Su-25SM Frogfoot A

2x Su-27S Flanker B

4x Su-24MP Fencer F

3x SA-15b Gauntlet [9A331] TELAR

8x T-90A Main Battle Tank

2x SKR Parchim II [Pr.1331]

1x Commercial RO/RO Vessel [18,000t DWT]

EXPENDITURES:

——————

16x AA-10 Alamo A [R-27R, MR SARH]

5x Generic Flare Salvo [4x Cartridges, Single Spectral]

37x Generic Chaff Salvo [4x Cartridges]

384x S-5K 57mm Rocket

8x AT-6 Spiral [9M114 Sturm-V]

3x AA-8 Aphid [R-60TM]

10x SA-15b Gauntlet [9M331]

8x RBK-250-PTAB CB [30 x PTAB-2.5 Anti-Tank Bomblets]

8x AA-10 Alamo C [R-27RE, LR SARH]

The Canadian connection – Hornets in need of replacement

In 1980 Canada declared the F/A-18A Hornet the winner of their New Fighter Aircraft program, which meant it would be brought into service as the CF-18 to replace three different fighters as the country’s sole fast jet. In doing so it beat a number of other fighters, crucially the F-16A. It is important to remember that the F-16 back in those days wasn’t a multirole aircraft, but rather a within visual range fighter with a limited secondary ground attack capability. The F/A-18 with its AIM-7 Sparrow medium-range missiles was arguably the more competent aircraft, and one of the main worries of the Canadian air force was Soviet bombers and cruise missiles swooping down over the Arctic. Canada is also a large and sparsely populated country that include large swaths of land were bailing out does not necessarily mean you’re in for a happy landing. This combination of BVR capability, longer range, and twin-engine safety in the end meant that Canada went with the more expensive option of the F/A-18 over the F-16 (it has to be mentioned that the government did claim that the economic incentives was better for the Hornet, making it cheaper for the Canadian economy. However, these kinds of arguments usually have a tendency to depend upon who’s making the calculations).

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CF-18A visiting Farnborough during its early years of service. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Andrew Thomas

Thirteen years after Canada received their first F/A-18’s, the first four Hornets for Finland landed at Tampere-Pirkkala. Finland, though markedly smaller than Canada, had a largely similar set of requirements, including cold-weather capability, twin-engine safety, long-range, and focus on the interceptor role. In the end, both Canada and Finland have been very happy members of the Hornet club, but the end of that era looms at the horizon.

Now the alert reader interrupts, if Finland has to replace its Hornets by 2025 due to their lifespan being up, Canada, having bought theirs ten years earlier, by the same logic should have replaced theirs already?

Yes and no. Finland operated the Hornet up until now as a single-role fighter, have placed a higher focus on traditional dogfighting maneuvers, which are extremely taxing on the airframe. In other words, not all flight hours are created equal, and not all aircraft fly the same amount of yearly hours. Also, the Canadian Hornets have been through a number of upgrade programs. Currently they seem to be looking at another set of programs which will take the aircraft up to and past 2025, not bad considering that the original lifespan was envisioned as 20 years (i.e. up to 2002). Canada also did have the replacement figured out, having been a partner of the F-35/JSF program since its beginning, and is currently a Level 3 Partner, i.e. the ‘normal’ level of partnership (only the UK, the Netherlands, and Italy are ranked higher).

Canadian Hornets in operation against ISIL as part of Operation IMPACT

Still, the F-35 has been beset by delays, and the project has been something of a hot potato in Canadian politics. The latest major turn was when Justin Trudeau led the Liberal Party to a victory in the federal elections last year, with the party’s position having been that they will ditch the F-35 and instead launch an open tender for a new fighter (with the F-35 being banned from participating). However, Canada have continued to make the required payments to stay a partner in the program while reviewing how the Hornet should be replaced.

Enter July, and amidst it becoming increasingly clear that there is an urgent need to replace, or at least supplement, the Canadian Hornets, the Canadian government launched what can best be described as a non-binding Request for Information. The aircrafts under consideration are the usual suspects: Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed-Martin F-35 (which is back in the running), and Saab JAS 39 Gripen.

Now, the interesting thing here is the schedule, with the answers to the questionnaire having been requested within three weeks (compare to the eight months allocated for the RFI issued by the Finnish HX). The details are rather sketchy, mainly because the questionnaire is “neither a Call for Tenders nor a Request for Proposals”. The background information provided also emphasises that “no procurement decision has been made“ and that “no summary or final report will be issued following the collection of information from industry”. The schedule for replacing the Hornets is literally given as “as soon as possible”, which ought to make things interesting. The whole thing feels like it is done under extreme time pressure. 

lockheed_martin_f-35_lightning_ii_28mock-up292c_canada_-_air_force_an1753011
A F-35 mock-up in Canadian colours. The only way the Lightning II will ever wear the maple leaf? Source: Wikimedia Commons/Alan Rioux

Interestingly enough, the flight scenarios in the attached file requires the respondent to use “actual aircraft configuration (utilize systems which are operational with Armed Services today only – non-developmental)”. This requirement pans out very differently. While Saab currently is the only one to sport the Meteor operationally, they only operate the 39C Gripen and not the longer-ranged 39E which would add considerably to their odds when flying intercepts far out over the Arctic. On the other hand, the F-35 is currently only operational in the V/STOL F-35B version, and if the Canadians decide to interpret the requirement literally, this is effectively a way to make certain the F-35 is a non-starter without explicitly writing so. Another problem for the F-35A is the bases used in the scenario. As fellow blogger Doug Allen noted over at Best Fighter 4 Canada, the 6,000 feet runways are too short for comfort. The Typhoon in turn is designed for exactly the scenario described in the evaluation, transiting high and fast to meet an enemy aircraft far out, but is a few years from getting an AESA radar and the Meteor. The Rafale does feature supersonic drop tanks and a potent AESA set, but the repeated requests for “seamless” integration with Five Eyes ISTAR and other tactical and strategic assets might not play to its strengths. The weapons are also uniquely French.

a44-203_boeing_f-a-18f_super_hornet_raaf_281167627322429
The only non-carrier operator of the Super Hornet, Australia bought a batch of F/A-18F Super Hornets to supplement their ‘legacy’ Hornets while waiting for the F-35A. Sounds familiar? Source: Wikimedia Commons/Robert Frola

Enter the Super Hornet, which features the AN/APG-79 AESA radar, is seamlessly integrated into the US-Canadian NORAD air defence network, and carries the same munitions and missiles that the ‘legacy’ Hornet does. The last part is explicitly asked for in the questionnaire, something which is not the case in any documents regarding the HX which are openly available. The Super Hornet manufacturing line is also struggling with having too few aircraft to produce each year, so quickly ramping up to supply the RCAF with a limited number of stop-gap aircraft would be *relatively* easy. Boeing also has an established partnership with the Canadian defence forces and aviation industry. All in all, the stage seems set for Boeing’s fighter, and Canada is indeed one of the countries for which stealth isn’t necessarily a big deal, at least not for their homeland defence/NORAD contribution. Noteworthy is also that the questionnaire does mention cost for 100 pilots being trained, which would imply that the information could serve as a base for the complete Hornet replacement program (though one should remember that there isn’t a procurement decision for anything as of yet).

Another possibility is that, despite his continued official anti-F-35 view, Trudeau is trying to set the stage for a F-35 purchase, by creating the foundations for a competition, which the F-35 then can sweep clean (compare to Kampfly in Denmark). For Canada, a mix of Super Hornets (or Typhoons) for NORAD duties combined with F-35A’s for expeditionary work under NATO and UN commitments might actually be the ideal solution. Only time will tell if this will be the final outcome.

A big thanks to Karl Rieder for the link to the Canadian source material! Do follow him on Twitter if you don’t already.

Tour de Sky 2016 -Return of the ‘Balalaika’

This year’s main flying event in Finland has just been held in the form of Tour de Sky at Kuopio-Rissala, a joint civilian and military airfield. In the later form, it is home to half of Finland’s fast jets as the legendary 31 Fighter Squadron resides there.

LanceR

Bearing the traditions of the wartime 24 squadron and their Brewsters, post-war the squadron operated the MiG-21 in the F-13 and Bis variants for several decades up until they were withdrawn from Finnish service in 1998. This year the MiG returned in style, with two Romanian MiG-21 LanceR C being present (together with a supporting Alenia G.222), one of which performed a very spirited flying display. The LanceR C was an upgrade program launched by Romanian Aerostar and Israeli avionics company ELBIT, and included amongst other things fitting the aircraft with a modern multimode radar in the form of ELBIT’s EL/M-2032, installing two multi-function displays in the cockpit, and clearing the aircraft for the carriage of new short-range missiles such as Python 3, Magic 2, and R-73. Still, the program was completed in 2002, so even with the upgrades the aircraft is on the verge of obsolescence. However, considering that the fighter first flew sixty years ago, it is hard not to be impressed by its longevity. Looking at the lifespan and capabilities upgrade of the LanceR compared to the original MiG-21F is also sobering when considering that today’s new fighters will have a lifespan at least as long, with all the changes that entails.

LanceR II

Gripen

Saab’s ‘legacy’ Gripen was well-represented as usual, with two 39C (solo display plane and backup), as well as a 39D at static display opposite one of the Eurofighters. The 39D sported an impressive array of inert display weapons, including the imposing Taurus KEPD 350 cruise missile. Also interesting was a scale model of the 39E in Finnish colours which Saab had mounted on the wall next to the entrance to their Skybar. As kindly pointed out by their representatives, what was featured on the model’s inner wing station was decidedly not a Taurus…

JASSMed

Rafale C

Dassault was heavily present throughout the weekend, as, despite not bringing an aircraft, they brought a serious amount of brightly orange baseball caps, whit my guess being these easily outnumbered the total amount of caps handed away by all four other HX-hopefuls together. There will be more info on the Rafale with regards to the HX in a later post (as will be the case for Lockheed-Martin’s offering as well).

Hornet

The solo-Hornet was another crowd-pleaser, with the wet conditions providing for an impressive amount of vapour during its hard turns. While the IOC for HX might still seem far away, there isn’t too many air shows left before the F/A-18 will be relegated to second place.

OH-HVP

The first of the Finnish Border Guards new AS332L1e Super Puma helicopters demonstrating the Bambi-bucket.

TRD

The Eurofighter Typhoon returned to Finland for what is only their second visit here so far. The unremarkable looking pod on the wingtip actually holds, amongst other things, two Towed Radar Decoys, which can be streamed after the aircraft to fool radar-seeking missiles. Contrary to my first guess, the system is actually robust enough that deploying them does not incur any kind of restrictions to the aircrafts flight envelope. The deployment of these can be controlled either manually or automatically by the integrated DASS EW-system.

Choppers

The Swedish Hkp 14 next to its Finnish cousin the NH 90 TTH.

MC-130J

The weather…