All warfare is deception according to Sun Tzu. A few millennium later COL John Boyd would come up with the OODA loop to describe information processing speed requirements to win a tactical engagement.
Fundamentally what Sun Tzu and COL Boyd agree on is that controlling the information available to your opponent is key to victory. Deception is all about making your enemy make wrong decisions because he thinks they are the correct decisions. A faster OODA loop is about making the enemy’s correct decisions be irrelevant to the outcome because you are acting faster than he could respond. An example of a pre-Boyd OODA loop example is the German advance into France in WWI. The Germans kept pushing into France faster than the French military could move their reserves into place to block the advance, this caused the front to move closer and closer to Paris where the railway networks were closer and closer together allowing the French reserves to be emplaced faster. Once the French decision to execution speed effectively caught up to the German attack decision speed, a stalemate in the form of trench warfare ensued.
So winning a fight is fundamentally about controlling information. What does this have to do with Russian EW pods? Everything.
Stealth is designed to make the enemy RADAR think that nothing is there the same way visual camouflage makes it look like something isn’t there, just blended into the background. Stealth is nothing more than camouflage against the non-visual spectrum, designed to deny the enemy information about the location, speed, and orientation of a craft.
The downside of stealth is that RADARs are like a flashlight at night. If you have the best camouflage in the world it is meaningless if you throw on your white lights in the middle of the night (there are forms of camo that require lights to blend in during the daytime that can be quite effective). So here is a “thought experiment” for you, “how many dimensions of information can you get from a single RADAR pulse return?” That’s a good question, isn’t it?
Effectively, one pulse (a single emission) can really only carry one dimension of data (you get multiple returns from a single emission), such as distance. You can’t get speed because you would need two distance data points and a time value to calculate speed (from a single pulse the doppler shift analyzed by a signal processor can give you an idea if you are getting nearer or further by some rate). You couldn’t determine direction of travel either, you would need at least two distance vectors in addition to your own location to calculate direction of travel (analyzing the doppler shift could tell you if it is coming closer or further, giving you velocity but you’ll need a second emission to get a second look to determine direction). Some RADARs use angle as the information (like a RADAR guided missile that corrects to the angle of the strongest return signal without worrying about distance). You can actually get more data out of the pulse return than just one, but that is done by combining that with other information you already have such as speed, direction, altitude, etc, and the fact that the pulse is going to come back from multiple points at multiple times giving you information on multiple things, but all that information is extrapolated by signal and logical processors that try to separate the “signal from the noise” to report only interesting and relevant RADAR return signals.
My point is that a RADAR returns very limited data for extrapolation from which all the other data is extrapolated (using doppler shifts, time difference of return, etc). If you know where you are, and what direction your RADAR is pointing you can get a good idea of where the enemy is. In essence distance is the information of the RADAR system (this is really dumbed down, my apologies to the RADAR techs of the world). So what can EW, or ECM, systems do? They can provide false information. This is important because the longest range missile in the inventory, the AIM-120 AMRAAM can be jammed prior to launch, during mid course correction, and if it switches over to “home on jamming” mode then the best bet for continued engagement is for the deployment of a Lobushka towed decoy. Suffice to say, a Su-35 can be outfitted with the tools necessary to defeat the beyond visual range weapons deployed by stealth fighters because it can control the information being fed to those weapons.
And once you are no longer beyond visual range, the quality of the Infra Red Search and Track (IRST) and in the future it will be UV detectors looking for a black spot in the sky (at least during daytime).
Now, how effective is stealth once you are in visual range? Clearly it is not effective at all, unless you are talking about Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet. The visual spectrum does stealth no favors. So simply denying the “stealth fighter” the ability to kill the Su-35 beyond visual range means that the F-35 must close with the bigger, faster, more heavily armed and more maneuverable Su-35 into ranges where stealth is not an advantage to information dominance.
And as Sun Tzu and COL Boyd would agree, whoever has the information advantage at that point is probably going to win. And that is why Russians plan to kill the enemy AWACs as quickly as they can, to degrade the information gathering and distribution capabilities of their enemies http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-NOTAM-060807-1.html. It’s quite simply the best bet they have going to stay in the fight, along with the S-300 and S-400 surface to air missiles knocking down refueling tankers, EW aircraft like Rivet Joint, and breaking apart the “swarms” of aircraft to deny the attackers a numeric advantage in air to air combat.
Now none of this is “new” information. Look at this article from ten years ago: http://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/defense/2006-12-12/jammers-help-keeprussian-fighters-alive and look at this one from two years ago: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/12/04/pentagon-worries-that-russia-can-now-outshoot-u-s-stealth-jets.html and look at this article from last month: https://defenceoftherealm.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/penetrating-the-stealth-barrier/
So if you are an F-35 fan, don’t be discouraged. The F-35 will likely excel at the deep strike mission. Stealth is still useful as a first strike capability. Enemy RADAR detection zones can be well mapped and avoided with a pre-planned route and enemy EW/SIGINT detectors can be avoided by maintaining radio silence. The F-35 was never designed to be a dogfighter, it was assumed that the F-35 would be able to maintain information dominance through sensor fusion and destroy any threats before closing to visual range. However the AWACs supporting that F-35 isn’t stealthy, has a huge emitting RADAR on top, and is the weak link in the information chain at that point. But at this point anyone defending the F-35 as a dogfighter should recognize that the F-35 has never been tested against the best Russia has to offer, but we could test it by outfitting an F-22 with external stores to increase the radar signature and seeing what the kill/loss ratio turns out to be. The F-15 with full AESA and IRST upgrade could simulate most of what a Su-35 can do in high speed maneuvers (the Flanker has an advantage at low speed). Unfortunately for the F-35, the software isn’t ready to push the airframes to the limit just yet (the real reason for such poor performance against the F-16 story).
I hope this article has been food for thought. Comments are open.