Global arms sales reach post-Cold War peak

Large arms supply and demand rose to a new post-Cold War height last year, with the United States and Russia topping the chart as the biggest suppliers, according to research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The study found that global transfers increased over the last five years to the highest volume out of any five-year period since before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Middle East region nearly doubled imports in the meantime.

More than half the world’s arms exports came from the U.S. (33 percent) and Russia (23 percent) alone. They, China, France and Germany made up the five countries responsible for 74 percent of all major arms supplies. India and Saudi Arabia were the main arms importers. India alone received 13 percent of arms transfers globally, outpacing regional military powers China and Pakistan.

Siemon Wezeman, senior researcher at SIPRI’s arms and military expenditure program said Asia was the growth region for arms sales, accounting for 43 percent of global imports since 2012. “With no regional arms control instruments in place, states in Asia continue to expand their arsenals,” he said. “Vietnam, in particular, dramatically increased imports by 202 percent, which puts it in the list of 10 largest importers compared to its hitherto position in the 29th place.”

“While China is increasingly able to substitute arms imports with indigenous products, India remains dependent on weapons technology from many willing suppliers, including Russia, the USA, European states, Israel and South Korea,” Wezeman added.

– edited from an article by Damien Sharkov in Newsweek, February 20, 2017
PeaceMeal, March/April 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


F-35 may never be ready for combat
Testing report contradicts Air Force leadership’s rosy pronouncements

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program — the most expensive procurement program in Pentagon history — has been a fifteen-year saga of schedule delays, cost overruns and performance failures. When Lockheed Martin won the contract to develop the aircraft just weeks after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, they promised that the Air Force and Marine Corps would be flying fully capable new fighter jets in 2008, with the Navy following suit in 2010. They planned for 2,866 F-35s for just under $200 billion. But here we are in 2016 with the revised plan of 2,457 aircraft for just under $390 billion, which means we are paying double the unit cost, ultimately adding up to almost $200 billion more for 409 fewer aircraft.

But most troubling is the slew of underwhelming performance reviews for the aircraft. In August, the Air Force declared its variant of the F-35 “ready for combat,” and most press reports lauded this as a signal that the program had turned a corner. But a memorandum issued by the Pentagon’s top testing official shows that the Air Force’s declaration was wildly overblown.

The latest memo from Dr. Michael Gilmore, Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) is damning. The F-35 program has derailed to the point where it “is actually not on a path toward success, but instead on a path toward failing to deliver the full ... capabilities for which the Department is paying almost $400 billion.” The memo details just how troubled the program is: years behind schedule and failing to deliver even the most basic capabilities taxpayers, and those who will entrust their lives to the F-35, have been told to expect.

Dr. Gilmore warns that the F-35 is in no way ready for combat since it is “not effective and not suitable across the required mission areas and against currently fielded threats.” As it stands now, the F-35 would need to run away from combat and have other planes come to its rescue, since it “will need support to locate and avoid modern threats, acquire targets, and engage formations of enemy fighter aircraft due to outstanding performance deficiencies and limited weapons carriage available.” In several respects, the memo rated the F-35A less capable than the aircraft we already have.

The Air Force stated to Congress that the Initial Operational Capability (i.e., “combat ready”) declaration for its F-35A variant would be based on the ability to perform three basic missions: close air support, interdiction, and limited attacks on enemy air defenses.

But the Air Force’s current configuration can only carry two long range air-to-air missiles (no dogfighting short-range, heat-seeking missiles) and two bombs to attack targets on the ground. This very limited weapons load is the result of ongoing software deficiencies. The next software version, which is suffering major development problems, should eventually allow the F-35 to employ the larger variety of weapons originally specified in 2001, but those planes are still years away from being operationally tested, much less actually reaching the fleet. So for the time being, even if the current F-35 could perform in combat (which Dr. Gilmore’s memo makes clear it can’t), the small and non-diverse ordnance load means any fight the F-35 finds itself in had better be a short one.

Another of the F-35’s basic shortcomings is the lack of a usable cannon because the software needed for it has yet to be completed. There also are doubts that the most recent version of the plane’s complicated helmet, which is the only way to aim the cannon, will be accurate enough to reliably hit air-to-air or ground targets.

There is an additional problem with the cannon on the Air Force’s variant of the plane. In order to keep the F-35A stealthy, the internal cannon sits behind a small door that opens when the cannon is fired. The drag caused by opening the door causes the plane to turn slightly, possibly enough to cause the cannon to miss. The DOT&E memo reports that the door-induced aiming errors “exceed accuracy specifications,” which will make it difficult for pilots to hit targets. And since the F-35A only holds 181 rounds — as opposed to 511 for the F-16 and 1,100 for the A-10 — every bullet will count.

Furthermore, the F-35A is not ready to provide close air support (CAS) to ground troops, and there are plenty of reasons to doubt it ever will be. As the memo states clearly, “The F-35A ... has numerous limitations which make it less effective overall at CAS than most currently-fielded fighter aircraft like the F-15E, F-16, F-18 and A-10.” The F-35A can only carry two bombs, both of which are too big to be safely used near friendly troops. And even if the bombs could be used in CAS, the plane has to immediately fly back to its base to re-load after only one pass over an enemy formation. For F-35As, that base is likely to be far from the battlefield since the plane needs an 8,000 foot concrete runway, thus seriously slowing CAS response times.

Air support for friendly troops is exactly where the lack of a usable cannon is most distinctly felt— and the F-35 won’t have a usable and test-proven cannon until 2019 at best.

But that presupposes the F-35 will actually be able to stay over the battlefield long enough to be on hand to drop its bombs or fire its cannon exactly when needed. The F-35 is a notorious gas- guzzler that relies heavily on time-consuming aerial refueling to stay on station for the length of time to be useful for ground troops. Obviously, they can’t call a time-out when their air support has to leave the battle to re-fuel or reload.

With the well-documented problems maintenance crews have keeping the F-35 flightworthy, they are flying only one sortie every 5 days! That means a squadron of 12 F-35s deployed to Afghanistan or Syria — such as is typical for F-16s or A-10s — would only be able to put up slightly more than one two-aircraft mission a day to cover the whole country.

The F-35’s sensor-fusion system’s capability to combine data derived from onboard sensors, sensors on other aircraft, and ground sensors has been highly publicized. Like other current fighters, the F-35 has radars, video cameras, infrared sensors, and passive electronic warfare receivers to locate targets and threats in the air or on the ground. One of the main selling points for the F-35 has been that its computer system is intended to merge the information from all these onboard and offboard sensors to create a simple, combined-sensor display (instead of the current approach of a separate display for every sensor) of each target and each threat for the pilot. The single display is shared instantly with every other plane in the formation. This is supposed to provide everyone with a more accurate, less confusing picture of the target and threat environment surrounding the formation — and to do so quickly without the need for time-consuming radio voice ? exchanges. As it turns out, the F-35s have difficulty managing and fusing their own data, let alone that of their wingmen or surveillance assets farther away.

Test pilots have reported their F-35s are creating false multiple tracks when all of their sensors are turned on. For example, when a radar and an infrared sensor detects the same enemy plane, the two sensors display it on the helmet-mounted sight as two enemy planes. The same thing happens when two or more sensors detect the same ground target. So, what has been touted as one of the F-35’s greatest advantages, to the contrary, increases the pilot’s workload.

Another major and expensive component of the F-35 program, the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), is a massively complex computer system intended to automate mission operations, maintenance diagnosis, maintenance scheduling, and parts ordering. But the cumbersome ALIS continues to be a major headache for the program. It also requires a large, heavy footprint of hardware wherever the F-35 is based and takes several days to set up whenever it is moved. This impedes the F-35’s ability to deploy quickly and raises questions about the entire program’s operational suitability.

For example, when it is working, it takes 24 hours to upload data from each plane into a new ALIS ground computer. So, when an F-35 deploys to a new base, an entire day is lost as the data is passed to the new ALIS. And only one plane at a time can upload. So if the 12 F-35’s of Hill Air Force Base’s first “operational” squadron deploy to combat, it will take nearly two weeks to start maintaining the full squadron with ALIS.

Furthermore, forward-deploying units not only need to lug bulky equipment and facilities to foreign battlefields, they also need to drag around civilian contractors to help set up and operate the equipment. In combat, such needs hamper rapid deployment and limit basing options to locations safe for civilians. That means basing farther from combat zones, slower emergency response times, and increased reliance on scarce aerial tankers.

The JSF program is supposed to have truly combat-capable F-35s ready for operational testing at the end of the System Development and Demonstration process, which is now scheduled to be at the end of 2018. Dr. Gilmore reports the pace has fallen far behind that which is necessary to complete testing of the new capabilities and attempted fixes for the hundreds of remaining deficiencies within the remaining schedule and budget. It will be impossible to complete operational testing by the 2018 deadline.

To complicate matters even further, the program is losing testing personnel right at this critical juncture. Dr. Gilmore pointed out that how “the program will be able to complete the volume of work remaining at the integrated test centers while the staffing begins to ramp down is not known.”

Rrather than budgeting to complete the development phase of the JSF program adequately, JSF Program officials both inside the government and at Lockheed Martin have repeatedly expressed their desire to ramp up from low-rate initial production. They want Congress to authorize a block buy of 465 planes — with commensurate large pre-payments — for the United States and foreign military partners beginning in 2018. But not one official has expressed the need for funding the extra people and extra flight hours essential to keep the development program from sliding farther behind.

Ramping up production means we would be buying more planes that will require ever more fixes in order to be deployable. The Government Accountability Office has already estimated it will cost $1.7 billion to upgrade planes bought early in the program just to fix the deficiencies so far identified in testing. These costs will certainly rise as the services continue buying new F-35s and as the more stressful operational testing gets started in the next few years.

The delivery schedule through 2018 adds up to 355 F-35s that can’t go into combat but will have to go back for major rebuilds when developmental and operational testing has discovered and then designed all the required fixes and then confirmation-tested those fixes to make sure they actually work. Operational testing and evaluation likely can’t be completed any sooner than fall 2021, and that means those 355 F-35s will be non-combat-capable until at least 2023 and more likely 2024 or 2025. In other words, those 355 (plus those delivered after 2018) can’t go to war for another seven to nine years.

Not only has the Joint Program Office failed to create an adequate operational testing plan, it has failed to fund and test the equipment essential to do the testing. The memo states that the simulation facility needed for the most complex and combat- realistic of the operational test scenarios is still not on track to be delivered on time, despite 15 years of promises that it would be.

This is the Verification Simulator, which is supposed to provide multiple, ultra-realistic, thoroughly test-validated pilot-cockpit simulators operating together to enable operational testing of multi-aircraft tactical scenarios with large numbers of advanced threats. It’s the only way to test many of the F-35’s design capabilities because the test ranges cannot realistically replicate the full spectrum and quantity of targets and threats the F-35 combat formations would confront. According to the DOT&E memorandum, the Verification Simulator will not be ready for the currently operational testing and evaluation start date in 2018—and perhaps not until two or more years later.

Unfortunately, Dr. Gilmore’s memo may prove to be one of the last honest assessments of the F-35 program the Congress, White House, Dept. of Defense, or American people receive. Dr. Gilmore’s position as Director, Operational Test & Evaluation is an appointed one, made by the president. He has proven himself to be an independent, principled expert who has resisted the temptation that some of his predecessors failed to resist: to act on behalf of their future employers in the defense industry by signing off on ineffective operational test plans or watering down reports of operational test failures to make it appear as though everything is rosy for the purpose of continued program funding.

In a few months, with a new Administration, there may be a new head of operational testing. Unless a competent and courageous person, one not beholden to industry, occupies that office, the men and women who have to take these aircraft into combat will be in danger of receiving flawed equipment that could cost them victory and their lives. With all the evident foot- dragging that has taken place so far, a skeptical observer could be forgiven for believing that those in charge of the F-35 program may be attempting to run out the clock on Dr. Gilmore’s tenure.

Dr. Gilmore’s message is very clear: The F-35 will not be effective in combat and will place American military lives in danger unless drastic measures are taken now. The men and women who will risk their lives taking these fighter jets into combat deserve nothing less.

– edited from an article by Dan Grazier & Mandy Smithberger, Center for Defense Information, September 9, 2016
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2016)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)