The Vast Potential of Tactical Technology

April 1, 1987

From “neuro computers” that can squeeze the pro­cessing capacity of up to ten huge Cray computers into a system the size of a coffee can to the prospective transfer of the A-10s to the new Special Operations Command, AFA’s Tactical Air Warfare Symposium spotlighted a host of new, diverse developments and hardware issues. The symposium also provided a forum for Assistant Secretary of Defense for C31 Donald C. Latham, who gave the first public description of how the Defense Department is restructuring the acquisition process, as well as for AFSC Commander Gen. Law­rence A. Skantze, who presented an in-depth status report on the B-IB program.

Tacair, General Skantze told the AFA meeting, faces three major integration challenges in the coming decade. “The first is mission integration, meaning our force mix of air-to-air, air-to-ground, and dual-role fighters. The second is integration of tactical and strategic forces. Finally, aircraft design itself is a process of integrating airframe, engine, avionics, and weapons.”

Systems integration of the latter type is central to the design of the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF). Over the next three months, the ATF will be scrubbed by a rigor­ous systems requirements review process, he said. The starting point of the integration effort is “how the crew member fits into the weapon system as a subsystem himself.” Key concerns in this context are G-induced loss of consciousness, temporal distortion, and a “less obvious interference to winning in combat—informa­tion overload.” The object is to “offload whatever func­tions we can from the pilot to expert systems.”

Integrated From the Ground Up

AFSC’s Aeronautical Systems Division has launched a “fighter battle management” program in order to de­sign ATF from the ground up as a true “first-look/first-­kill fighter.” By making man/machine interfaces the ATF’s central cockpit design parameter, the Air Force expects to take a major step toward gaining back “something we lost years ago—the ability to control airspace on the ‘red’ side of the FEBA,” the forward edge of the battle area.

Serving the same end is ATF’s “totally integrated avionics suite,” which encompasses fire-control, flight-control, and propulsion systems. Using the so-called Pave Pillar avionics integration concept, which is based on very-high-speed integrated circuit (VHSIC) technol­ogy, “we will integrate the functions of communications, navigation, and identification through the ICNIA [inte­grated communications navigation identification avionics] program and the functions of electronic warfare through the INEWS [integrated electronic warfare sys­tem] program.”

General Skantze added that “more money is going into avionics systems and prototyping—$900 million—than into either the engines or airframes.” Avionics costs for the ATF are likely to account for about forty percent of the aircraft’s production flyaway costs. Pro­totype avionics systems are scheduled to begin test flight in two years. As a result, when ATF enters full-scale development in late 1990, the avionics systems, along with the engine and the airframe, will have under­gone an extensive design review and prototype check­out, the AFSC Commander told the AFA meeting. Sec­retary Latham reported that “we are hoping to put avionics in the ATF that have 10,000 hours MTBF [mean time between failures]—that’s doable at a reasonable cost.”

Pointing out that “virtually every air-superiority fight­er has been called on sooner or later to become an attack aircraft and drop bombs,” General Skantze suggested that ATF, even though “first and foremost a fighter pilot’s idea of a fighter . . . probably will evolve as its predecessors have.”

This same principle of airpower’s “indivisibility” suggests also that strategic airpower will continue to be called on to perform tactical roles and missions. Citing the B-IB as a case in point, he said it “would be uncon­scionable not to employ the new bomber as we would any other tactical airpower asset” if it can be used to take out high-priority tactical targets and thereby make “the difference between success or failure on the field of battle.”

Rejecting the notion that the B-1B won’t be able to perform conventional warfare missions adequately be­cause of alleged performance shortcomings, he empha­sized that the “new bomber’s Mach 0.85 penetration speed at 200 feet altitude combined with its one-square­-meter radar cross section makes it an [outstanding] airplane” for both strategic and tactical missions. (See also “In Focus . . .” on p. 22 of this issue.)

The tactical air challenge of the next decade and be­yond boils down to three key criteria for both the force planners and hardware developers, General Skantze suggested:

• “Deliver a fighter force mix—single and dual-role planes—prepared to clear the air of bandits [and] then take out the enemy on the ground;

• “Apply the lessons of history when integrating stra­tegic and tactical forces; and

• “Design [into systems] the technical advantage needed to fight outnumbered and win.”

General Skantze stressed that stealth technology is and must remain this country’s “high-leverage” tech­nical advantage in the tactical warfare arena and will keep the Soviets from “denying us the low-and-fast sanctuary.” Low-observable technology, he added, can be applied broadly to both manned and unmanned weap­on systems. Other speakers at the symposium cau­tioned, however, against treating stealth as a panacea in perpetuity since stealthy weapons can’t hide from such audiovisual sensors as eyes and ears.

The Dawn of Real-Time Battle Management

“We are on the verge today of going to real-time battle management, something we probably should have crossed over many years ago,” said Lt. Gen. Melvin F. Chubb, Jr., Commander of AFSC’s Electronic Systems Division (ESD), during the AFA meeting. Real-time bat­tle management is made possible by the confluence of several technological advances, he explained. Some of these are of a near-term nature and center on such hardware developments as JSTARS (Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System), which can “provide [battle management] data instantly to the Army and the Air Force in any form they want,” and JTIDS (Joint Tactical Information Distribution System), which makes it possible to disseminate battle management informa­tion instantly to all users on the ground and in the air. Over the longer term, photonics, “neuro computers,” and the associated VHSIC wafer technology point the way to revolutionary advances in real-time battle man­agement, according to the ESD Commander.

Photonics, especially in the form of fiber optics and optical discs, is the key to a new world of data fusion and artificial-intelligence-enhanced decision-making, he suggested. “We are really trying to get out of the world of [electrons] and get into the world of photons, which provide much greater speed,” he added. Photonics makes it possible to have “literally one million gates on a device the size of a dime,” which in turn leads to com­puters that can perform “one million billion operations per second.” A huge Cray computer, by comparison, handles only about 1,000 billion operations in the same time. The “neuro” computer, patterned after the human nervous system, synthesizes these advanced technolo­gies so that the combined processing capacity of be­tween five and ten Cray computers can be compressed into a system the size of a coffee can, General Chubb told the AFA meeting.

Another photonic device of vast potential, he said, is essentially “just a piece of glass into which you can put any number of colors to create a multiplexer.” The resul­tant capacity is far in excess of what could be attained by electronic means. At the same time, the power levels required to drive such a system are dramatically lower than those for conventional devices.

In practical terms, these advanced battle-manage­ment capabilities will serve in both tactical and strategic warfare missions, including advanced surveillance and tracking tasks associated with SDI and air defense against cruise missiles that feature low radar cross sec­tion designs. In this context, he pointed out that by moving to radars operating at lower frequency ranges—such as 0TH-B (over-the-horizon backscatter)—”that’s a help” in coping with stealthy aircraft and missiles.

Sensors Across the Spectrum

In addition, the big change in the shift to multimode surveillance and tracking systems is that “we are not just looking at radar [but also at such sensors as] infrared, acoustics, and electro-optics—all across the spectrum.” The Air Force is doing work in this area at the laboratory level that can’t be discussed because of security consid­erations, he added. Recent progress in IR detection, General Chubb reported, has led to equipment that even at this early stage is a hundred times better than “any­thing we have had before [and] lets us see tanks and aircraft through smoke.”

The ability of advanced multimode sensor systems to detect a hard-to-find enemy is increasing rapidly be­cause we “now can hear him, see him, and listen to him.” Key to these boosts in detection capability are new computer technologies and “smart skins,” which in­volve the use of sensors embedded in the surface of aircraft and other air vehicles. Among the latest devel­opments in smart-skin technology is the “ability to change the wrinkles” of the skin as required to optimize sensor performance.

USAF’s smart-skin technology has progressed to the point where the detection and tracking capabilities of the huge ground-based Pave Paws phased-array radar system could be duplicated by an aircraft with advanced smart skins, the ESD Commander told the AFA meet­ing. The very large Pave Paws radars—four of which will be operational this year—provide warning of Soviet SLBM launches. Since they can’t be hardened or hid­den, they could easily fall prey to a “precursor attack” keyed to decapitating the US national command au­thorities and associated requisite C3 systems.

Another recent advance in battle management—spon­sored by ESD and the associated Rome Air Develop­ment Center (RADC)—centers on rapid software pro­totyping, General Chubb told the AFA meeting. Rather than having to wait three months to change the software, “we now can change displays instantly to meet a commander’s needs and preferences. If he wants to see Soviet attack [options and capabilities], we can do this right up front.”

JSTARS and JTIDS

In extolling JSTARS’s broad utility, General Chubb explained that the system’s data links “permit us to pull off data for both the Army and Air Force to any level they want. . . . We can provide radar images of many targets [and] present SAR [synthetic aperture radar] images in graphics form. By superimposing these im­ages on vast stores of terrain information available from knowledge-based artificial intelligence systems . . . we can predict very easily, [for instance], whether a target is likely to be a tank or not and whether he is likely to be on a road or not.”

A new Army system is already capitalizing on this information bonanza by bringing this “real-time battle management data to the front-line troops, either very detailed in a spotlight mode or in a surveillance mode,” thereby making it possible to scan an entire corps re­gion. The basic design of JSTARS is sufficiently flexible “so that even if the [Air Force and Army] change close air support doctrines in the next ten years, this system can adapt” to new requirements, the ESD Commander said.

JSTARS entered full-scale development in September 1985 with the award of a contract to a Grumman/Norden/Boeing team. That effort is centered on refurbishment and modification of a C-18 test aircraft to serve as the JSTARS platform. A production decision, General Chubb predicted, will be made early in the next decade. He added that the US Army “desperately needs [the system’s corps]-wide surveillance capability.”

Among the host of benefits accruing to the Air Force from JSTARS is real-time targeting for F- 16s. F-16 pilots have proven their ability time after time to drop bombs with extreme accuracy, but, during the fog of battle, they are likely to be handicapped by the fact that they can’t be provided the location of mobile or relocatable targets in a timely fashion. But because JSTARS can detect, track, and transmit exact enemy locations and position update information to friendly attack forces in the air and on the ground, “instead of hitting targets that were targets twenty-four hours ago, we can hit them in real time,” the ESD Commander said.

JTIDS, General Chubb explained, complements JSTARS by allowing commanders to inform operators about the location of both friendly and enemy forces, ingress and egress corridors, and targets. JTIDS must overcome two major design challenges, General Chubb acknowledged. One is to present the data without wors­ening the already critical information overload in the cockpit, meaning “the trick is to make this imagery very clear.” The other “secret behind JTIDS is to bring the [terminals] down in size and cost through evolutionary VHSIC technology. The trick is to get from a cube and a half to about half a cubic foot” in order to use the equipment in small combat aircraft while at the same time to drive the price down and reliability up, General Chubb pointed out.

War in the Shadows

Lt. Gen. Harley A. Hughes, USAF’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations, told the symposium that both the White House and the Pentagon believe that for the remainder of this century, low-intensity conflict (LIC), or “war in the shadows, is the most active threat facing the US.” Defining LIC as a limited politico-mili­tary struggle to achieve political, social, economic, or psychological objectives, General Hughes stressed its paradoxical nature: “While the risk of LIC to vital na­tional interests is relatively low—[compared to full-scale wars]—the probability of [its] occurrence is rela­tively high.” Even though LIC does not threaten the US with the apocalyptic destruction of nuclear war, “it acts as a cancer on our alliances—and continually challenges [this country’s] economic, political, and military cred­ibility,” he told the AFA meeting. The cumulative effect is that LIC challenges this country’s ability to operate as a world power. Concomitantly, “the military view is that we have to maintain world-power status to ensure na­tional security, and that means dealing with LIC.”

Specifically, LIC poses a host of threats, which in­cludes:

• Curtailed or no access to vital resources;

• Gradual loss of US military basing and access rights;

• Growing threats to key sea lines of communications;

• A gradual shift of allies and trading partners from cooperative relations with this country to positions of accommodation with hostile interests; and

• Expanded opportunities for Soviet political and mil­itary gains.

US policy concerning this often-protracted form of sometimes psychological and sometimes “real” warfare centers On the recognition that indirect—rather than direct—application of US military power is the most appropriate and cost-effective way of countering the LIC challenge. The LIC threat, General Hughes pointed out, continues to grow in a geographic as well as a technological sense. Regardless of whether LIC is an active part of Soviet grand strategy or merely provides occasional targets of political opportunity, the US must be prepared to deal with Soviet activity in this area, he suggested.

The flood of modem weapons into the Third World increases the threat to US forces around the world and expands the risk of US involvement in this form of ambiguous conflict. With shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles becoming ubiquitous throughout the Third World, the threat to US airpower is increasing around the globe, General Hughes warned. Most ominous is the prospect that “some state-sponsored terrorists will eventually cross the nuclear or biological [warfare] threshold,” he added.

Five Criteria

The Joint Chiefs of Staff recognize that military action in low-intensity conflict hinges not only on cautious consideration of the use of force but also on the “technological level of that force.” While neither the definition of LIC nor US doctrine associated with this type of conflict has been settled by the Pentagon, five criteria can probably indicate when the US should—or should not—consider military involvement in LIC, General Hughes explained. These preconditions center on:

• Clearly defined political/military objectives;

• Popular support from the public and Congress;

• The fact that US vital interests are clearly at stake;

• The availability of US forces properly sized and tailored to achieve the objectives; and

• The recognition that US military forces should be committed only as a last resort.

A significant development in terms of the US ap­proach to low-intensity conflict, General Hughes point­ed out, is the recent creation of a Coordinating Board for LIC on the National Security Council that is to include representatives from the Departments of State and De­fense, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the govern­ment’s economic development agencies.

As it has in the past, LIC will continue to rely heavily on the US Special Operations Forces for a variety of reasons. For one, individual SOF groups are oriented to specific regions by dint of specialized equipment, skills, and training. Also, SOF units are trained to operate autonomously in twelve-member or even smaller groups, yet possess a wide range of skills. They can carry out independent operations for extended periods, are able to organize and manage larger forces, know how to coordinate and direct fire support, and hence are well suited for what General Hughes termed LIC’s central military component: security assistance missions. “Whether the task is teaching small unit patrol skills, defense of key installations, organizing freedom fight­ers, or civic/humanitarian assistance to the local popu­lace,” the Special Operations Forces have been trained for all of them.

The importance of the SOFs to low-intensity warfare notwithstanding, there is a clear-cut need for joint mili­tary operations under certain LIC scenarios, General Hughes said. Adjustments in Air Force doctrine have maximized airpower’s effectiveness for LIC applica­tions, he stressed. Key here is the realization that “we can’t apply hardware and doctrine [in a] straightforward [manner], as we would in an attack on Central Europe.”

When the Air Force is called on to protect US interests “using equipment designed for other battlefields, we must apply force with a new approach to tactics and techniques that accounts for the realities of the LIC environment.”

As a case in point, he cited a low-intensity conflict initiative formulated by Tactical Air Command that re­volves around specially equipped A-10s going after tar­gets that the SOFs “paint” with laser designators. This approach meets a pivotal LIC requirement—the ability to perform “precision attack while minimizing the possi­bility of collateral damage,” he explained. General Hughes predicted that the A-10 force will eventually be assigned to the Special Operations Forces.

Over the coming two years, the Air Force is allocating about $2.5 billion to its special operations forces, while the US Army will spend about $1.9 billion for this pur­pose. Except for high-tech intelligence-gathering and communications equipment as well as some standoff weaponry, the Air Force’s existing inventory of conven­tional warfare weapons is fully suitable for LIC mis­sions, General Hughes said. In the case of airlift, he said the upgrading of the some forty existing H-53s to Pave Low status “will give us . . . the ability to perform the long-range infiltration and exfiltration mission for the foreseeable future.”

Modernizing Tacair’s Munitions

The Air Force is taking a major step forward in air-to-­ground weapons with the Autonomous Guided Bomb (AGB) program, the first launch-and-leave munition de­signed for ground attack. Maj. Gen. Richard E. Steere, Commander of AFSC’s Armament Division, explained during the AFA meeting that this munition uses an IR seeker that can recognize targets and guide the bomb to the target. “It does not require a data link or designation by another aircraft, as [do all existing tactical air-to-­ground munitions], and provides a true launch-and-­leave capability while substantially reducing the pilot’s work load.”

The Autonomous Guided Bomb program is a candi­date for the congressionally mandated Conventional De­fense Initiative (CDI), a conglomerate of high-payoff technology programs that in combination could bolster US conventional warfare capabilities across the board, he explained. The key challenge associated with the AGB program is to make the weapon “affordable and available for fielding as quickly as possible.”

Another munition program of high promise is the joint-service Hypervelocity Missile (HVM), a small, fast, low-cost, laser-guided munition that makes possi­ble multiple-vehicle kills on a single pass. Armament Division’s work on the HVM technology demonstration program, General Steere pointed out, has been limited in scope and in the number of test firings, however, because of developmental problems. One of the difficul­ties is getting the guidance signal to penetrate the rocket plume and into the vehicle at those velocities.

The HVM is a 5,000-feet-per-second, sixty-six-pound missile costing about $8,500. It can be used against all vehicles, including armor. Initial HVM tests at Eglin AFB, Fla., showed the theoretical feasibility of getting signals through the exhaust plume, but, because of time and funding constraints, did not deal with the challenge of getting multiple signals to multiple weapons, the AD Commander acknowledged. The Division is now work­ing on HVM technology demonstrations that “are a little more sophisticated than the last one, but by no means are all that is necessary for us to say we are ready to go.”

The Division’s single largest program—AMRAAM, the advanced medium-range air-to-air missile—entered its initial production phase last year. This high-perfor­mance launch-and-maneuver missile, General Steere explained, makes possible multiple kills per pass due to its active radar guidance. The pilot launches the weapon without need to illuminate the target and can shift his attention to another quarry immediately. This all-aspect, all-weather follow-on missile to the AIM-7 Spar­row will be deployed on the Air Force’s F-15s and F-16s as well as on the US Navy’s F-14s and F/A-18s. In addition, the missile is compatible with such NATO aircraft as the Tornado, the Sea Harrier, and Germany’s F-4E

AMRAAM is also a candidate weapon for ATF, Gen­eral Steere pointed out. No firm decision has been made yet on how to “armor ATE” Depending on how that decision goes, AMRAAM might be provided with fold­ing fins to permit internal carriage by the supersonic aircraft, he said.

In discussing the host of munitions programs AD has in progress, General Steere hinted at the possibility of extending the range of the AGM-130, a rocket-assisted version of the GBU-15 glide bomb guided by either IR or TV sensors. Advanced propulsion concepts are under consideration to increase the AGM-130’s present range beyond twenty-five miles, he said.

Probably the most telling message to emerge from the AFA symposium’s comprehensive preview of tactical air warfare trends—in marked contrast to the upbeat tone of the R&D forecasts—was Secretary Latham’s warning of congressional budget cuts that might lead to a para­lyzing “procurement squeeze.” The Administration, he pointed out, requested a modest real growth of three percent a year for both the FY ’88 and FY ’89 defense budgets. Even these levels, he said, “in no way [allow the US] to play catchup” with growing Soviet defense investments. If, as Congress has already indicated, de­fense spending will again be reduced to below the cur­rent level, “the situation in the outyears becomes ominous. The whole procurement account [because of fixed, inflexible levels in the O&M and pay sectors] goes to zero if Congress [perpetuates] the no-growth or nega­tive-growth budget trends of the past few years,” he warned.

TACTICAL WEAPON IMPROVEMENTS

1970s

TODAY

FUTURE

DAY/VFR

TARGET

OVERFLIGHT

LIMITED KILLS/

SORTIE

DAY/NIGHT

SHORT STANDOFF

MAN IN LOOP

IMPROVED LETHALITY

DAY/NIGHT/WEATHER

STANDOFF

AUTONOMOUS DELIVERY

MULTIPLE KILLS/PASS

IMPROVED EFFECTIVENESS/SURVIVABILITY

REDUCED MANPOWER INTENSITY

OSD’s New Acquisition Structure

In line with the recommendations of the White House Blue Ribbon (Packard) Commission on Defense Management, the Ninety-ninth Congress created the new position of Under Sec­retary of Defense for Acquisition (USDA), leading to significant changes in how the Pentagon and the services develop and buy weapon systems. (See also “In Focus …..on p. 22 of this issue.) While some of the details concerning the new structure are still under review, the key elements, Secretary Latham told the AFA symposium in Orlando, have been approved by De­fense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger.

The position of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisi­tion (occupied by Richard P. Godwin, a former top-ranking industry executive) is at the same “Level II” as the Deputy Secretary of Defense and the service Secretaries. The USDA’s principal deputy slot is a Level Ill position, on a par with the Department’s Under Secretary for Policy.

The USDA serves as the defense acquisition and procure­ment executive as well as the principal assistant to the Secre­tary of Defense for acquisition management. His portfolio in­cludes all activities relating to acquisition, including research and development, production, logistics, command control communications and intelligence activities to the extent that they relate to acquisition, military construction, and procure­ment. In addition, the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Atomic Energy reports to the Pentagons new acquisition exec­utive. So do the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Defense Communications Agency, the Defense Logistics Agency, the Defense Nuclear Agency, and the Defense Systems Management College.

In a departure from the original plan, the Under Secretary does not have direct line authority over the service acquisition executives and their subordinate structures. Such an arrange­ment would be inconsistent, in the view of the Defense Depart­ment’s General Counsel, with the statutes that established the service Secretaries as the heads of their military departments. Nevertheless, the USDA has the authority to “direct” the ser­vice Secretaries on all matters falling under his cognizance, which leaves him with “ample authority to carry out his respon­sibilities and to oversee the service acquisition executives and the acquisition programs of the military departments,’ even though the service acquisition executives continue to report directly to the service Secretaries.

A number of boards and committees are part of the new structure, which entails some changes in nomenclature. The Defense Systems Acquisition Review Council, the venerable DSARC that underwent a metamorphosis to the Joint Require­ments Management Board (JRMB) recently, becomes the De­fense Acquisition Board. Two other bodies are being formed—the Research and Development Council and the Production and Support Council. Ranking below these organizations will be a series of specialized committees, Secretary Latham told the AFA meeting. The current total of some 120 committees involved in acquisition matters will be reduced to about ten panels.

The USDA organization will include the Director of Defense for Research and Engineering the C31 Assistant Secretary, with various defense agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and National Security Agency (NSA), under him; the Assistant Secretaries for Research and Technology as well as for Acquisition and Logistics; and, possibly most signifi­cantly, a “program operations shop.”

The latter organization, he explained, will maintain and coor­dinate the R&D and acquisition activities of the services and DoD agencies. The program operations office is to perform two other main functions, he added. It will contain a plans and resources element that carries out programming and budget­ing and develops an “acquisition operations plan” that trans­lates service and joint requirements into a cohesive entity. Also, there is an acquisition systems management organization that manages the new complex board structure and provides ana­lytical support for the USDA.

The Air Force, along with the other services, was in the midst of setting up its corresponding acquisition organization and policies as this went to press.