Belmont Club

The central blue

Three news items after the Read More sample some recent military aviation technology developments.  The first two concern two “fifth generation” type aircraft. The Indian effort is going forward at the same time that the F-35 and the F-22 are being questioned as being examples of “wasteful defense spending” The Red State article (which took a lot of work to put together) tries to look at the problem of waste within a government procurement program objectively.  Now it is perfectly possible for a program like the F-22 to be wasteful as well as necessary. Many military programs which are now looked back upon with fondness and affection were probably boondoggles in their own way, and questions over wastefulness and gold-plating are probably going to revolve around degree rather than complete absence.


The third news item describes the new Advanced Tactical Laser aircraft — essentially a ray-gun version of the C-130 gunship — which will zap enemies on the ground with science fiction lethality and precision. This aircraft, together with the burgeoning UAV fleet, raise a different kind of challenge to current procurement programs: whether building 5th generation aircraft really isn’t an investment in the past; a kind of modern obsession with battleships and horse cavalry for the sake of tradition.  Military historians will probably point out that visionaries like Giulio Douhet and Billy Mitchell oversold their dreams.  There is still controversy over the degree to which strategic bombing contributed to the defeat of Nazi Germany vis a vis alternative investments in say, better tanks than the M4 Sherman.

Still there is something horribly irresistible about flying laser gunships and robot killer aircraft. And while the day of the manned fighter plane may come to an end someday, who’s to say that day is now? Nobody knows for sure until the crucible of war settles the issue for good. The problem is that being on the losing side is often too great a price to pay for finding out.

  • DailyTech – India’s First Stealth Fighter Scheduled to Fly in 4 Months
    • New fighter, designed by Russian Sukhoi is reportedly more maneuverable than Lockheed Martin’s designs

      India, one of the world’s brightest emerging technical superpowers — currently, the seventh biggest nation in terms of land area, and the second biggest in terms of population — is preparing to make a major military leap forward.  It will be flying its first stealth fighter in under four months.The new fighter is a so-called “fifth generation” fighter jet.  Currently only two such fighter jets exist, both produced by Lockheed Martin: the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II.  The Indian fighter is being developed by Russian firm Sukhoi and is dubbed the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft or FGFA.  The fighter is being jointly developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), India’s leading aerospace firm and is based on the Sukhoi PAK FA, also currently under development.

  • Citizens Against Government Waste and Payola? – streiff’s blog – RedState
    • The reasoning behind choosing the F-136  (error in previous post) program as an example of government waste can certainly be argued either way. As I understand their rationale, the Obama Administration and Secretary of Defense Gates have asked that the program be killed and if ever a Defense appropriation could be killed this one looked very vulnerable. While this project may put CAGW uncomfortably close to the Administration, Jack Murtha is on the other side of the argument so a lengthy shower is going to be necessary regardless of which position you support. One should also point out the fact that Secretary Gates advocates killing the alternative engine does not mean that it isn’t needed. In fact, it looks like the program director for the JSF, Marine Corps Major General David Heinz,  has been told by Gates to shut up about the perfomance of the Pratt & Whitney engine.
    • The real question, of course, concerns CAGW’s financial links, if any, to Pratt & Whitney. In that regards we have no answers. Pratt & Whitney has issued a blanket “we don’t comment on our donations to advocacy groups” statement and when I asked Williams about donations from Pratt he said that CAGW respects the privacy of their donors and will not disclose them. While CAGW’s position is understandable, except arguably there is a difference between disclosing the identity of a donor and the identity of a non-donor, Pratt & Whitney’s, as a publicly traded company, is less so. I contacted GE and they have stated that GE has not made contributions to CAGW other than observing their corporate policy of matching employee contributions to valid non-profits.
  • Boeing’s New Death Beam Zaps Vehicle | Danger Room |
    • Boeing announced yesterday that the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) — a C-130H cargo aircraft tricked out with a chemical laser — had successfully engaged a “tactically representative target,” i.e., a vehicle parked on the ground.

      It’s a step toward a new capability: A directed-energy gunship that can destroy or disable ground targets with little or no collateral damage. Current ground-attack aircraft like the AC-130 gunship do the job with area-effect weapons like 20mm Gatling guns and 105mm howitzers.

      The recent ATL test took place over White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. During the test, the aircraft’s beam control system locked on to the target – a stationary vehicle – and guided the laser beam to the target. According to a news release, the laser beam “defeated the vehicle” — although what “defeat,” exactly, means, we don’t know. I’m waiting for more details.

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