Thursday, October 17, 2013

F-35: Implementing the "Pacific Pivot"

Matt over at American Innovation has begun a series of articles about fighter aircraft employment and the difference among countries.  He deals with the US first and addresses the possible threat in the Pacific.  It's a good read.  Among the points he makes:
The F-35 will comprise a substantial portion of these deployed aircraft over the next decade. Both the USAF and USMC will give the Pacific stationed units priority in the deployment of the F-35. Gen. Herbert J. "Hawk" Carlisle, commander of Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), announced the F-35 will be stationed from four of the most important Pacific air bases: Misawa (J), Kadena (J), Kunsan (SK), and Osan (SK). Carlisle also indicated that the USAF sought to increase its presence in Australia with the addition of a rotational force of bombers, tankers, and fighter aircraft (Defense News, 2013). The presence of F-35 aircraft at these bases would significantly increase the US military's deterrent in the region. Numerous high value PLA military facilities are within the unrefuled combat radius of the F-35 from both Osan and Kunsan including targets within the Beijing and Shenyang military regions.
Take a moment to go read the whole thing.  He makes some very good points about the overall method of employment and he also talks about the F-35's role in executing it.



  1. Left unsaid is that F-35's at Osan and Kunsan are within the combat radius of Chinese missiles and bombers. I'm not too thrilled putting them in such a vulnerable location. Japan is close enough.

    1. I think the idea is that the Patriot batteries would provide air defense against ballistic missiles (with the help of other sensors providing networked information), while the F-35s would provide air defense.

      The Patriot PAC-3 and its upgrade, the PAC-3 MSE, are very capable at intercepting ballistic missiles -- both of them, especially the MSE, were developed specifically to counter maneuvering reentry vehicles, and the low altitude at which the Patriot intercepts RVs precludes the use of balloon-style decoys. I'm not sure how difficult it would be for a mid-course system like the SM-3 to defeat those penetration aids, but the Union of Concerned Scientists seems to think they're unbeatable. I'm not sure how correct they are with that assertion, but whatever the case, the PAC-3 can intercept RVs regardless of those decoys, since it intercepts the vehicles inside the atmosphere. Also, the hit-to-kill warhead should prevent any problems with actually destroying the warhead vs. just damaging the missile -- earlier versions experienced this problem in the Gulf War because their proximity fuses weren't optimized for intercepting extremely fast moving RVs.

      The biggest problem would probably be a saturation attack. I'm not sure how many interceptors each base has, but I believe they have quite a few. I am inclined to believe it is unrealistic to assert that China would use its entire 500+ warhead arsenal to attack Kadena. No military leadership with any kind of intelligence would waste their entire arsenal on a single base, or in the opening salvo -- they would only use a fraction of their missiles in the opening attack, and those missiles would be spread between the bases. However, since I don't know how many missiles they would use against each base, I can't determine whether or not they'd have enough interceptors -- hopefully, someone with more knowledge than me will be able to elucidate the situation.

      All in all, though, the relative ease of attacking fixed, easily locatable land bases is one of the reasons I'm more in favor of naval aviation. That's another advantage the F-35 has -- between the three models, the F-35 has a wide variety of possible basing locations. The F-35A can be launched from defended airbases, the F-35C can be launched from difficult to locate carriers, and the F-35B can be launched from widely dispersed, quickly set up, austere landing strips, which can include road surfaces. This variety of viable launching locations would help to ensure that an enemy attacking with A2/AD weapons would find it difficult to shut down American air power in the Pacific.