13 February 2007

Tuesday's Roll-up of Missile News and Notes

Missile and other news and notes from around the ‘sphere:

MANPADs vs Helos

Lots of concern/interest in countering the MANPAD (MAN Portable Air Defense) missiles in the wake of increased helo loses these past couple of weeks. While the CH-46 loss that has gained so much coverage appears to have been mechanical in nature (Update: DoD confirmed on 14 Feb that the CH-46 was in fact, shot down and did not crash due to mechanical failure), open press reporting speculates others have succumbed to a variety of weapons up to and including MANPADs. Most likely what we are seeing are newer missile variants starting to appear in theater. Small arms and RPG fire, while potentially lethal in certain restricted confines, are less likely to be the source in a more open scenario, and doubly so when considering armored attack helos like the Apache.

Older missiles used a proximity fuze for detonation in the vicinity of the target aircraft, a reflection of the relatively lower degree of sophistication and discrimination capabilities (clutter rejection, counter-counter measures, etc.) OTOH, newer missiles use discrimination features that not only are contact fuzed, but seek to impart the most damage in the most vulnerable areas – to the point they can discern between single/multi-engine aircraft and helos and target the vulnerable areas accordingly. The warheads themselves are increasingly complex and lethal, such as sending a dense stream of high-speed projectiles into the target and having secondary fuzing to detonate any fuel cloud resulting from the initial hit.

Yeah, pretty nasty stuff, and all the more reason to hold helo folks who are working/flying down in the weeds in greater esteem.

What would be the insurgent’s CONOPS in stepping up the campaign against helos? Couple of points – recall the morale boost it gave the Afghans to have something they could effectively employ against the Soviet’s Hind helos (aka “Devil’s Chariot”). It forced the Soviets to change their operating procedures and flight heights. A similar effect in the ongoing battle for Baghdad and other urban areas would force (in the insurgent’s eyes) the US to operate its helos in a more circumspective manner and thereby give back the urban roof top environs to the insurgents. Of course that is a pretty simplistic CONOPS and ignores other variables such as persistent ISR from UAVs operating above MANPAD ceilings, deployment of more effective countermeasures and changes in tactics and employment. Bottom-line – while we haven’t seen the last of these losses, my money is still on our helos and their crews prevailing.

Oh, and for reference, the defenses being currently explored for civilian airliner defense are only up to base-Stinger level – technology that is 20+years old…

North Korean Nuclear Agreement?

The United States and four other nations reached a tentative agreement to provide North Korea with roughly $400 million in fuel oil and aid, in return for the North’s starting to disable its nuclear facilities and allowing nuclear inspectors back into the country, according to American officials who have reviewed the proposed text. While the accord sets a 60-day deadline for North Korea to accomplish those first steps toward disarmament, it leaves until an undefined moment in the future — and to another negotiation — the actual removal of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the fuel that it has manufactured to produce them. Bush administration officials said they believed that the other nations participating in the talks … would consent to the tentative agreement as soon as Tuesday. … In essence, if the North agrees to the deal, a country that only four months ago conducted its first nuclear test will have traded away its ability to produce new nuclear fuel in return for immediate energy and other aid. It would still hold on to, for now, an arsenal that American intelligence officials believe contains more than a half-dozen nuclear weapons or the fuel that is their essential ingredient. The accord also leaves unaddressed the fate of a second and still-unacknowledged nuclear weapons program that the United States accused North Korea of buying from the Pakistani nuclear engineer Abdul Qadeer Khan in the late 1990s … Negotiations had appeared near collapse on Sunday over North Korea’s demands for huge shipments of fuel oil and electricity. … (source: New York Times, February 13, 2007)

No More Chinese ASAT Tests?

In the wake of the firestorm of protest over last month’s test comes this item:

China's National Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan says there won't be a repeat of the Jan. 11 anti-satellite weapon test that scattered more than 900 trackable pieces of debris across the most heavily used satellite orbits in space. (ed: that number continues to grow – some now say over 1140 pieces) Fukushiro Nukaga, the former Japanese minister of state for defense, told reporters in Tokyo that during a meeting in Beijing Cao also repeated past Chinese denials that the test was a hostile act. … (source: Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, February 13, 2007) (ed: Also have to wonder how much internal, um, recalibration has been applied to the armed forces in what appears to have been a test carried out without fully informing senior civilian leadership…)