• Darren Lindeman

Weapon aviation; hardware versus software.

Updated: Jul 8, 2019

The idea of a military surplus in hardware over indoctrinated and up to date combat vehicles is partly attributable to the software over hardware leap of the latter, latter half of the 20th century. The entrance of fourth generations fighters for example bought in the technology of fly by wire systems and advanced radar and aerial avionic suits.

This software over hardware emphasis is seen in how America managed it's air domination after the lessons from it's war in Vietnam and also during the Isreali Arab wars. There was a much larger emphasis on the quality over quantity aspect of aerial warfare as seen evident in the Gulf and in the Isreali borders.

The lessons of the Gulf war particularly emphasized the superiority of air domination in dictating a geo political disposition and also highlighted the strategic value of Network Centric Warfare, or in other words simply electronic communications and surveillance superiority. 

With the weapons of war ever becoming more software refined and also the dissolution of the Soviet Union occurring in the 90s, the lack of a powerful foe against the United State's contestable air force was evident. What was also evident was that America's geo political disposition as a super power would remain unchallenged throughout the 21st century.

Countries had no need to have over sized air forces filled with  hundreds if not thousands of planes and instead they relied on key combat assets and their networking with radar and other electronic communication systems. Western Europe for example saw no need to develop a fifth generation fighter as the United States had given the former's geo political threats were somewhat few in comparison to a unified Warsaw bloc in Eastern Europe.

With this being said many countries decided that it was more strategically effective to simply retire unused planes as opposed to continuing it's service and maintenance or even donate them to allied countries i.e the Philippines. Just look at the photo below, this picture is taken in Davis–Monthan Air Force Base and the base is suppose to hold around 5000 retired aircraft and many of them fighters. 



This software over hardware approach therefor might answer why planes are not cheaper as a military industry produces more of them and instead as seen with the upgraded fourth generation teen series fighter gets even more expensive. Although this is beyond my understanding I would assume that newer planes have upgraded avionics, maintenance suites, radar and weapons systems which would add up costs with research and developing by major military industries.

To say this military industry is effective in producing price and utility efficiency aircraft however cannot be said to be fair given the criticism of the Joint Strike Fighter. To put into comparison the Soviet Union was needless to say far more politically centralized when it came to it's military industry even since the Second World War. The ailing superpower's economy was still able to turn out modern fighters even though it's GDP was smaller then that of Japan for example.

Therefore we have a circumstance now that there are much many more hardware produced from the military aviation industry in the past then there is the military economies to sustain them cost effectively. America's military industry has been recently criticized for the high cost investments into weapons systems which are either over priced or lack a practical use on the modern battlefield.

The American plethora with spending can be seen in the development of the F-35 when there was no clear geo political foe which to challenge America's air superiority for the coming decade. Cost into developing the Joint Strike fighter exceeded a trillion dollars and the fighter is comparatively weaker in it's aerodynamic attributes against the F - 22 raptor. 

This all new is better approach is somewhat in analogy like replacing someone's old furniture, old shit still works but new shit is simply better cause its new... One such example is replacing the A - 10 Warthog with the F - 35 for close air support, a move which many critics argue is completely inefficient with regard to resource rationing. This military industrial complex seems to make sense if we consider that these companies operate on a shareholder first basis and also with the United State's government and it's agendas set by DARPA for example.

The United State's should in theory have a military economy that benefits its strategic initiatives rather then on financial limitations from major military companies.  This is a general statement however as the depth of understanding in this topic requires understanding the resource priorities of America's military industrial complex, its financing and economy systems, operational logistics and what not. 

The idea that cost increases are matched by a cause in operation demand or by a demand not yielding a marginal benefit needs to be understood. If the circumstances arises where the marginal cost is higher then the marginal benefit from the cost then this issue should be communicated to policy makers in a clear, transparent manner. Broadly the circumstances of defense procurement should be focused on a demand driven initiative rather then that of supply and buy.

The United State's government procurement should focus on a market approach which favors flexibility and also real utility value of a company offering an economic service. The notion of having technologically concentrated and therefore superior aerial capabilities should also be viewed with respect to the idea that it is political efficiency which governs the practical use of force of military equipment. 

The Mig 21. an asymmetric quantitative advantage. 

According to the federation of American scientists 'The E-5 prototype of the MiG-21 was first flown in 1955' and made its first public appearance during the Soviet Aviation Day display at Moscow's Tushino Airport in June 1956'. The Mig 21 is a second generation fighter similar to the F4 Phantom in it's era of aerial warfare and was used in Vietnam against the said fighter. Although the Mig 21 is very old, the aircraft is still the mainstay fighter of many developing countries, such as Syria, Romania, India and China. 

The advantage of a Mig 21 is the aircraft's speed which allowed it a quasi interceptor role as well as being a fighter and then bomber in later configuration such as the Mig 21 Lancer. The Mig's legacy therefor was further developed by China's military industry which account for the initial designs and conceptual advantages of the model.

 During the 1980s and 90s China was still no means a rich country and it's air force was comprised of many J - 7 variants and J - 8 fighter/interceptors, with both fighters getting electronic and hardware upgrades.  The Mig 21's legacy was in China's J - 8 interceptor, their future low cost fourth generation  the JF 17 fighter , the cancelled J - 9 fighter and arguably in the fifth generation J 20 fighter.

The J 20 fighter's long body length over current fifth generation fighters is very arguably a legacy of the  Mig 21 in Chinese military aviation design. As noted earlier the United State's Darpa initiatives were used to align strategic initiatives to that of the military industry. China's military industry model due to it's Communist roots is likely to be more similar to that of the Soviet Union then that of the United States and we see that in it's newest fifth generation fighter.

The F - 60 Falcon was built not solely as a business venture but on a basis of acknowledging future and current capabilities. The political alignment of the military industry is imperatively important because China obviously does not believe that the free market practices of the United State's own military industrial complex which has as it's base intense self economic interests .

Therefore China's fighter development projects are comparatively cheaper and more cost efficient in terms of military rationing. A good example is China/s reliance on C ++ programming language on the JF 17 instead of cost and technically complicated military programming languages. The fighter is inducted in the Pakistani air force and by all accounts seem to be a success story of military economies. 

This political strong attitude to developing effective solutions to military problems is why China has a cost advantage for it's military equipment even if they have a comparative weakness such as manufacturing modern jet engines.  If the United State's focuses on a more political centralized or aligned,  cost effective approach to it's military economies it may be able to expand it's global a1rms production especially with regard to older fighters and open up to third world markets.

South America for example is highlighted as a potential market of interest due to the majority of it's countries holding no substantially modern fighter jets. The turmoil in the Middle East, and countries who fear China's military prowess may likely fall back to improving their own quantitative or hardware edge over a reliance on key software integrated fighters solely due to it's cost and the options for improvisations as seen in the JF - 17 over the J - 7. 

In this sense China might do the same and acknowledge that improving it's existing fleet of retired hardware may be beneficial for it's still lack of capabilities in having a blue water navy. China may also see this as effectively counter acting the Carrier battle groups the United States would bring on the table in an event of a crisis between the state with it's technologically powerful neighbors like Japan and Taiwan.

At the forefront of this is drones, and not only new drones but drones of existing hardware like the J - 7 or the Chinese Mig 21. As the author I have heard of this asymmetric concept before 2012, an article online concludes this idea as seen here


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