by Mordechai Sones
Hat tip: Dr. Jean-Charles Bensoussan
Israeli satellite photographs Russian AWACS.
AWACS escorted by Eurofighter jets
Imagery captured May 3 by the ImageSat International (ISI) Eros B satellite shows the Russian special mission aircraft deployed at the Latakia Air Base in Syria.
The deployment, less than a month after a US Tomahawk cruise missile strike on a key regime air base, significantly augments Russia’s ability to defend the entire airspace over Syria against aircraft or missile attack, said DefenseNews.
Recent reports of Israeli F-35 stealth fighters operating in Syria raise the question of who currently maintains strategic dominance in the theater. A review of these weapons system's history will help us to understand this question more deeply. An excellent analysis is found in the book Arab Reach by Hoag Levins (Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1983), in which he says:
"In the beginning of aerial warfare, planes battled each other one-on-one with guns crudely bolted to their fuselages. Dueling pilots came close enough to see each other's faces as their propeller crafts jabbed this way and that, seeking advantage. This method of fighting changed as rapidly as the shape of the airplanes themselves. Planes became faster and guns became heavier and more powerful, able to hit other planes from increasing distances. This distance - the 'lethal reaction area' commanded by any plane - is the single most important factor in the outcome of most aerial conflicts. Think of it as something similar to the advantage a long-armed boxer enjoys over a shorter-armed opponent - a plane which can begin ripping holes in another plane before that other plane can effectively rip back usually wins.
Evolution of aerial warfare
"The F-15 is a quantum leap over the Phantom. It is not a jet fighter into which computer equipment has been installed but, rather, a space-age computer system of extraordinary complexity to which wings, wheels, and two incredibly powerful jet engines have been attached. The Phantom and similar aircraft were vehicles flown and operated by men assisted by computers. The F-15 is a vehicle flown and operated by computers assisted, when necessary, by men.
F-15 Eagle flying through storm
"One of the most important features of the F-15 is the enormous 'lethal reaction area' commanded by its computer sensors and weapons systems across any given stretch of territory. For a better visual feel of this phenomenon, imagine that a dim aura of a colored light emanates from the plane, illuminating the craft's absolute killing range as it passes over your home in the night sky.
"That illumination would reach out in all directions, ultimately forming a ball of light more than two hundred miles in diameter. Nothing moves inside that space without the F-15's central computer detecting it, analyzing it with radar beacons as 'friend or foe' and, if required, locking it on target and destroying it with a guided missile, all of this occurring in a period of time shorter than that required to read this paragraph."
Before considering what advance over the F-16 is represented by the F-35, let us turn to Levins' description of the AWACS, to better understand Russian hardware now in Syria:
"During the Vietnam War, the United States military began linking individual warplanes into a computer system which then used the planes as moving 'parts' of a larger flock pattern of aircraft being controlled and coordinated from a single command post. By the 1970's its technology became the basis for the development of AWACS - Airborne Warning and Control Systems.
"This is the basic principle: The AWACS's electronic systems provide a picture of the entire region, like a gigantic eye in the sky able to see everything moving everywhere in any given battle region. The AWACS - whose screens and scans and computer consoles look something like the inside of a NASA control center - can track six hundred different targets in the air, on land or across water simultaneously. It can identify and target for destruction 240 targets simultaneously.
"The AWACS command crews then use the F-15's to respond to the entire battleground below, moving the individual planes much like blips across the screen of a large video game to intercept and destroy approaching planes here, bomb a tank corps there or missile a patrol cruiser farther on down the field.
"This development - aerial electronic systems warfare - was perfected and deployed as the new standard practice of the United States Air Force in the late 1970s. It represents a complete revolution of battle tactics and defense systems. Think of it as a sort of electro-assembly of dozens of airplanes - an octopus-like apparatus able to descend and seize the entire sky along a thousand-mile battlefront. At the end of each of its invisible electronic tentacles is an F-15 fighter jet functioning as a direct extension of the mother ship's computer. This aerial constellation of linked airplanes is capable of performing mind-boggling feats of warfare.
"At the same time, such individual constellations are only parts of a larger system of space-age battle machinery connected by the invisible control matrix emanating from AWACS mother ships. This 'electronic womb' or 'electronic atmosphere' is spun across an entire war zone, monitoring and directing armies, artillery brigades and missile-launching armored corps on the ground; flotillas of missile-launching ships at sea; and constellations of missile-launching jets in the sky. This electro-apparatus functions as a single, enormous machine moving whichever of its parts are needed for defense or attack."
Although this description of aerial warfare technology may amaze some, the above history was written way back in 1983. Today, AWACS systems can detect aircraft from up to 400 km (220 mi) away, well out of range of most surface-to-air missiles. One AWACS aircraft flying at 9,000 m (30,000 ft) can cover an area of 312,000 km2 (120,000 sq mi). Three such aircraft in overlapping orbits can cover the whole of Central Europe.
F-35A Lightning II leads other fighter jets
"With regard to the intelligence gathering aspect: the key word with the F-35 is sensor fusion. This aircraft arrives at the target area undetected, and using its built-in cameras (six in each aircraft), sensors and electronics, it can penetrate even areas heavily defended by air-defense systems. The aircraft collects information, photographs and records the input, and using datalink channels it transmits the information and data to other users in the air, to neighboring aircraft or to ground elements – command centers, decision makers – or to naval vessels at sea. Anyone sharing the communication networks (Network Centric Warfare) can receive the information collected by the F-35 aircraft, and it does everything on its own, with minimum involvement on the pilot's part. Admittedly, the pilot of a fourth-generation fighter receives a lot of information from sensors and other on-board sources, but he still has to monitor several display screens and attempt to translate the information and understand it in order to make decisions. With the F-35, the pilot is exempt from all of that, the systems do the intelligence gathering and dissemination work for him and he can focus on flying, on his environment and on his targets."
The F-35 is considered so advanced that its abilities remain untested. Israel's choosing to expose its knowledge by releasing the satellite photograph of the Russian AWACS may hint at Israeli confidence in the IAFs ability to maintain hegemony in its backyard.
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Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.