The low ALCM inventory is one reason being circulated for the the early combat deployment of the stealth bombers into heavily defended Serbian airspace. The downing of a F-117A Nighthawk by Serbian air defenses clearly shows that manned aircraft are vulnerable.
Robot missiles such as the Boeing ALCM are used in areas where manned fighters would be exposed to dangerous air defenses. Boeing ALCMs are currently launched by the aging B-52 bombers, flying safely outside of enemy airspace.
The B-2, F-117A and other stealth manned aircraft are expensive assets to risk in some heavily defended areas. The recently downed F-117A fighter-bomber has punctured the invulnerability of stealth aircraft and nearly cost the Air Force a pilot.
The F-117A stealth bomber carries special 2,000 pound bombs, designed to knock out installations buried in deep rock tunnels such as the Serbian military command and control network. The F-117A was thought to be invisible to even the most advanced Serbian air defense systems such as the SA-10 "Grumble" surface to air missile (SAM) or the MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter.
The other stealth bomber, the USAF B-2, has been plagued by extra-ordinary costs, a single base and by rain clouds that frequently shroud Yugoslavia. The limited number of the billion dollar planes, and the bad eastern european weather has forced planners to use no more than handful of big bombers per day. The long 14 hour flight time from the single U.S. airbase also forces B-2 planners to limit attacks to fixed targets on a scheduled basis.
In contrast, NATO stealth forces in theatre provide direct fire on very short notice. F-117A jets from nearby NATO bases in Italy are minutes from their targets in Yugoslavia. The NATO reliance on the F-117A pits these tactical aircraft against the teeth of Serbian Army mobile air defenses such as the SA-6 "Gainful" and the SA-10 "Grumble."
President Clinton is being criticized in Congress and the Pentagon for being "bomb" happy. Clinton's policy of bombing with high-tech weapons is rapidly using up U.S. inventories. The shortages, according to DOD officials, can be laid directly to President Clinton's Defense budget shortfalls for the hard pressed U.S. military.
According to Defense planners, the most critical shortfall is in air launched cruise missiles. In late 1998, Boeing was contracted by the USAF to convert the final remaining 130 nuclear tipped AGM-86B missiles into conventional "Bunker Buster" ALCMs with 2,000 pound warheads. After the last AGM-86 is converted no further missiles will be available.
The USAF has no missile that can replace the long range ALCM. The original USAF replacement for the ALCM, the JASSM (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile), does not have the range nor the heavy one ton payload of the AGM-86B "Bunker Buster" missile. The stealthy JASSM is currently being manufactured by Lockheed/Martin and is reported to have only a 1,000 pound warhead and a range of 300 miles.
Late last year the Air Force chief of staff, General Michael Ryan, told his staff to begin planning for a new missile to replace the AGM-86. Ryan told his staff to consider all possibilities, including a heavy version of JASSM with a 1,000 mile range.
In March 1999, General Ryan told the Senate Armed Forces Committee that JASSM cannot be considered a replacement for the AGM-86. General Ryan described the JASSM as a "complementary" weapon with a lighter 1,000 pound warhead.
The Air Force has spent over $3.4 billion and a decade developing the JASSM stealth cruise missile. Not a single JASSM has been manufactured for operational production. The requirement for a new, long range, version could delay the JASSM project. USAF and Lockheed/Martin officials are anxious to complete the stealth missile before taking on any modifications or a new missile design.
Ironically, the USAF answer may lie in a troubled Navy missile project and Russia. One reported Boeing follow on for the ALCM under consideration is a ramjet powered, hypersonic, cruise missile. Such a high speed missile could strike targets at extreme ranges and have the added impact of bullet like speed.
The U.S. Navy is already funding a small project to provide targets that simulate high speed super-sonic cruise missiles. The candidate is required to fly at Mach two just nine feet above the sea for over 50 miles.
One potential candidate is from the Russian Zvezda-Strela State Science and Production Center. The Russian proposal was to supply the Navy with up to 300 modified Kh-31A 'Kripton' (Mod 2) medium range air-to-surface anti-ship and anti-radar missiles over the next five years.
The titanium Kh-31 was built in 1988 by Zvezda-Strela for the former Soviet Union. In 1997, the U.S. Navy test fired four of the ramjet powered, titanium cruise missiles which reached a reported 1,700 miles per hour at 100 feet. The missile, however, suffers from a lack of range and does not meet Navy specifications for 50 miles.
In 1998, the Clinton administration gave Boeing/Douglas and Zvezda-Strela engineers additional funding to improve the Russian missile's range to over 100 miles. Zvezda and Boeing circulated reports of an agreement between Russia and the U.S. Navy to purchase up to 300 Kh-31s.
Boeing was to convert the weapon Kh-31 into the MA-31 supersonic aerial targets (SSST) for the U.S. Navy (Janes Defense Weekly 14 October 1998). According to Janes Defense, 28% of any sale would go directly into the bank accounts of the Russian Army Generals.
Press reports and Congressional pressure have forced the U.S. Navy to purchase no more than five MA-31 missiles from Boeing in 1999. According to a letter written by Undersecretary of the Navy, H. Lee Buchanan, the Navy plans to only fund $2.8 million for "a limited number of MA-31 targets."
Furthermore, the Navy program has come under fire from Democrats and Republicans in Congress. The Russian MA-31 is inferior when compared to a current missile fielded by U.S. contractor Allied Signal. The Vandal, a modified Talos missile of 1950s design, already exceeds the required Navy Mach 2+/50 mile range specifications.
Despite its age, the Talos/Vandal has beaten the best Navy ship air defenses deployed against it and many of the Navy missiles deployed to replace it. Allied proposes to update the Talos/Vandal design and build a new 1990s package called Sea Snake. The Sea Snake takes the best of the Talos, a giant ramjet engine powered by lighter fluid, and combines it with new lightweight electronics and airframe.
The Sea Snake predecessor, Talos, could exceed Mach 3 in flight and was large enough to carry a huge nuclear warhead. Talos had a long and successful career filling Navy air defense needs until it was retired from service in the late 1980s.
During the Vietnam War a single Talos destroyed two MiGs at a distance of over 65 miles. Talos was also used to strike North Vietnamese radar sites on the ground over 75 miles inland. There is every reason to expect Sea Snake to exceed Talos in all categories.
Allied is not alone with ideas. In addition, several other U.S. defense contractors have expressed interest in supplying proposals for the tiny SSST program. One such proposal is reported to be an exotic hyper-sonic wave rider similar to high speed UFO like vehicles flown from Area-51. These new designs will push aerospace technology to the very limits.
Yet, Presidential politics have interfered with the tiny Navy project. There are open allegations that the Navy project is being given to the Russians. Vice President Al Gore was alleged to support the purchase of the Kh-31 by the Navy. The Russian maker Zvezda-Strela is backed by Gore supporters, Cassidy Associates, a lobbying firm located inside the beltway and IBP International, an arms firm located in England.
Congressman Tim Roemer (D-IN), told the National Security Sub-Committee of the House Appropriations Committee that they should "consider the reliability of a Russian source" for a U.S. Navy missile program. In addition, Roemer warned that "the procurement of the Russian made MA-31 will almost surely terminate the Navy's most reliable existing supplier of targets made in the U.S.A."
Congressional officials are concerned the Sea Snake and other advanced designs need to be fairly considered and not sacrificed for the sake of global politics. The importance of the SSST program goes well beyond a few hundred target drones for the Navy and strikes directly at the heart of our current missile shortage.
U.S. contractors are following the Air Force and Navy missile needs carefully. The Navy SSST requirement for a few hundred high speed targets could well expand into a joint requirement for thousands of new missiles to replenish allied inventories. The loss of the project to a political deal to improve Russian/U.S. relations may set American hyper-sonic development back for years.
The Clinton years in the Oval office have been spent weakening U.S. armed forces. Our weakness, in turn, has given rise to a more unstable world. Instead of maintaining or even building on the Reagan 1980s weapons budgets, so long derided by liberals, Clinton has expended our critical defense stockpiles in futile and useless attempts to sway dictators. The U.S. weakness needs to be addressed at once before North Korea, China or Iraq decide to challenge our bare cupboards.
It may shock some but President Clinton will not be here much
longer. The USAF and Navy, however, will be here in the twenty
first century to defend our nation. They deserve the best
weapons, pay and training on Earth. These values should not be
sacrificed for short term political gains nor historic legacies.
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