Friday, August 30, 2013

Complementary Weapons

A friend of ComNavOps originated the main points in the following post.  Sadly, this person prefers to remain anonymous so, with his tacit approval, ComNavOps is going to shamefully present the ideas, thereby garnering much personal fame and glory, though largely undeserved!

At its most basic level, the various branches of the military are supposed to procure weapons and systems that allow them to carry out their specific missions and, indeed, this is generally what happens.  Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this approach.  One is that it leads to duplication of weapons among the branches.  Secondarily, in some cases, procurement of weapons by a given service is used as a political maneuver to acquire new mission areas.  Worse, though, this approach results in each service acquiring weapons and systems that do not necessarily complement and support the needs and requirements of the other branches.  As a general statement, the Navy doesn’t care about Army requirements when it designs weapons and systems, and vice versa.

As an example of the problem with the current approach, the Navy is developing deep strike, land attack weapons as is the Air Force and even the Army.  That represents a large degree of duplication of effort and waste of resources as well as lost opportunities for economy of scale.  On the other hand, that degree of duplication is not necessarily a bad thing and may, in fact, be required.  For instance, in a given scenario, the Navy may be better positioned to launch the strike than the Air Force and would, therefore need the same capability as the Air Force.  Of course, that duplication certainly leads to more expensive weapons since, almost invariably, the Navy does not buy the same weapons as the Air Force, Army, or Marines.  Each branch seems to want its own unique version of a given weapon type.  Sometimes this is for good reason – consider the difference between Air Force and Navy planes even when the planes fill essentially the same roles – and sometimes not – as in the differences between communications systems.

Setting aside the issue of duplication of systems, there is the concept of complementary weapons.  The DoD, as a whole, should be procuring weapons for the various branches that complement the weapons and functions of the other branches.  In other words, the weapons and systems that we design and develop should be focused on, and procured because, they support the accomplishment of a military requirement rather than a branch requirement.  The Navy’s weapons and systems should complement the Army’s functions as well as supporting their own.  The Air Force’s weapons and systems should complement the Navy’s functions.  And so on …

To some extent, this occurs but not nearly enough.  The Navy, for example, develops and procures weapons that enhance its ability to carry out its functions and, to an extent, strengthen its position in the budgetary allocation process.  What should happen is that the Navy should develop and procure weapons and systems that support and complement the capabilities and requirements of the entire military rather than the Navy.  Of course, given the existing organizational structure of the military, that can’t happen other than by happenstance.

This may be a bit fuzzy, yet.  What are some examples of either existing or needed complementary weapons and systems?

Close Air Support (CAS) – Both the Navy and Air Force should be providing CAS to the Army and Marines.  The Air Force operates the A-10 which is a very effective CAS platform but they have been trying for decades to eliminate the A-10 in favor of sexier fighters and long range bombers.  They also operate a relative few gunships.  The Navy has no real CAS aircraft although they use various aircraft in that role.  One or both services should develop dedicated CAS platforms as well as small, cheap, slow speed spotting aircraft.

Counterbattery – The Navy should have the capability to conduct anti-artillery and rocket counterbattery support for troops during initial landing and assault efforts.  Similarly, the Army and Marines should have the ability to stop land-based anti-ship cruise or ballistic missiles before they become a threat to the ships at sea.

155 mm Guns – The Navy went and developed a 155 mm gun system, the Zumwalt’s AGS, with zero commonality with the Army 155 mm system.  Who thought that made sense?

Deep Penetration – The Air Force is tasked with deep penetration strikes while the Navy provides airborne electronic support for all the services in the form of the Growler.  Note the range mismatch between the two missions?  The Growler, or some functionally similar notional platform, should complement the deep penetration mission in terms of range, speed, stealth, etc.

Aerial Refueling – C’mon, this one’s just too easy.  Pick a single refueling method and standardize so that any aircraft can refuel from any tanker.

Anti-Tank – This is a good example where the Air Force A-10 complements the Army anti-tank requirement, notwithstanding the Air Force’s repeated attempts to retire the A-10 with no replacement.  Perhaps the Navy should have an anti-tank capability?

Anti-Ship – The Air Force should have a robust anti-ship capability to support the Navy’s surface warfare requirement.

Surveillance (ISR) – The Navy is developing a Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) capability.  This is clearly a DoD level requirement that should be supported across the various services and, to be fair, it is to some extent but not in an integrated fashion.

Communications – Really?  This was identified as essential in every conflict in history.  Grenada hammered home the lesson and yet we still find ourselves struggling with this.

That’s enough examples, for the moment.  Let’s consider a closely related aspect of complementary weapons and that is commonality.  Complementary systems don’t necessarily dictate commonality but they do strongly suggest it when appropriate.  Forced commonality has been shown to fail most of the time (JSF-A/B/C, anyone?), however, there are many areas where commonality does make sense:  communications, refueling, missiles, munitions, etc.  Again, the services tend to want their own versions of everything and that tendency should be very carefully monitored.

I know some of you are going to pound out a reply citing some weapon or other that complements a function of another service and, thereby, “proving” that my entire premise is wrong.  Well, I’m not saying that there are no examples of complementary systems.  What I’m saying is that’s not the normal way of weapons development and complementary weapons tend to be the result of happenstance more than planning.

In summary, we fight as a country and as a Military.  Our weapons and systems procurement should be based on Military needs rather than service needs and our weapons and systems should complement the needs and requirements of the various services rather than supporting only the narrow focus of a given branch.


  1. BAMS will fulfill a "unique" Navy requirement, since by definition the system is conducting ISR in the maritime domain. The Air Force would not be interested.

    I've also seen presentations that indicate a great deal of commonality between MQ-4 Triton and Air Force MQ-4 Global Hawk. They're practically the same airframe.

    1. I am not saying this in a mean or critical way but you missed the entire point of the post. There are no unique needs; there are only Military needs. Scanning the Pacific Ocean, for instance, is a military reqirement not a Navy requirement. There is no reason the Air Force can't develop systems that complement the BAMS requirement. Whether it makes sense to do so is a decision to be made by the Military not the Navy or Air Force.

      Commonality is an occasional byproduct of complementary systems but is not necessarily an indicator of such, in and of itself.

      Reread the post and tell me if I failed to convey my point.

    2. Please don't take this the wrong way, but your view of how the DOD requirements system works is apparently how you think it should work... rather than how it actually works.

      The Services develop their own requirements and capabilities - which must fit into the accepted DOD analytic agenda. This actually works better than you apparently seem to think.

      My view is that when DOD gets involved in setting requirements, pushing "transformational" capabilites and forcing commonality, then things tend to get fouled (see F-111, JSF and LCS).

      The fact remains that if Navy did not demonstrate a compelling need for persistent maritime ISR -- then the capability would never have been fielded. We wouldn't even be having this conversation.

      If you want a historical example of what happens when a Service doesn't maintain control of service-specific capabilites, take a look at with British naval aviation in the interwar period.

      The Royal Navy was forced to surrender carrier-aircraft development to the RAF, and didn't get it back until the late '30s. There's a reason that they were flying Swordfish biplanes in 1942.

    3. Anon, my view of how it should work versus how it does work was the entire point of the post!!! Sentence one of paragraph two stated how the system currently works. The rest of the post was pointing out the problems with that and suggesting how the system should work.

      Your observation that DoD can foul things up when they get involved is perfectly valid. The Navy can foul things up when left alone (LCS, LPD, etc.), too. There is no avoiding stupidity. However, when the services develop their own systems they will never develop complementary weapons other than by happenstance. It will require an overarching authority (DoD) to force a complementary, integrated, and coherent approach to weapons and systems development. Can that overarching (DoD) authority still manage to screw things up? Of course they can!!! But it's the only approach that has even the possibility of producing intentional complementary systems.

      Do you see that?

  2. The problem is how funds are doled out.
    Theres no reward for frugality.
    If the Army and Navy developed a joint 155mm gun, it would by definition be a compromise.
    Lets say its a 90% solution for both, its a bit too heavy for the Army, but doesnt quite fire fast enough for the Navy. But it only costs 160%.
    They have, in effect, saved 20% of each budget, for only a 10% drop in effectiveness.
    But that 20% saving isnt put in a pot for the Army and Navy, the treasury takes it.
    If you lie your arse off and say your new weapon will be super effective and super cheap, the treasury has to step in and cover any cost over runs.

    I'm contracting at a government (British) department at the moment, it has made a genuine effort to reform, not entirely effectively, but they did really try. It'll take a few years to feed through, but they've cut the payroll bill in half. One in seven staff were "director of", now thats one in nine.
    That department has simply had its budget cut in response.
    Other departments like the NHS that just carry on regardless, get protected.

    1. I don't know if I failed to convey the point ...

      Budget is not the problem. The problem is a failure to design and procure for the overall military needs rather than individual service needs. Budget has nothing to do with that.

      Further, jointness has nothing to do with complementary, per se. Jointness is more often about commonality or duplication. Complementary is a completely different issue.

  3. Instead of the Navy developing, producing, and deploying an anti-tank platform, maybe the Marines could? That seems to fit their job description a bit better, and, assuming that it's a plane of some sort, it could still operate off Navy ships. Plus, the Marine Corps is already more focused on Air-to-Ground weaponry. The Navy, on the other hand, is more concerned with Air-to-Air and Air-to-Surface weaponry (if I'm thinking correctly).

    - Tom

    1. Tom, as with the other commenters, you're somewhat missing the point. The Military should be developing anti-tank weapons not the individual branches. Whether the anti-tank weapons take the form of a hand launched weapon, a specialized aircraft, or some other form will determine which branch operates the weapon.

      Should the Navy develop an anti-tank capability to cover the Marines during initial assaults before they can deploy their own assets? I don't know. The point is that the Navy, left to their own priorities, will never even consider developing an anti-tank capability to complement the Marine's requirements. Only an overarching authority can force that kind of across service lines development.

      Now, before anyone else comments about anti-tank weapons, I don't know about such weapons and don't care. I used that simply as an example. Perhaps we already have all the anti-tank capability we need; perhaps we have nowhere near enough.

  4. I think you're suggesting that there should be some kind of panel at the DoD level that reviews military requirements and then ensures there are weapons systems allocated to the various services to meet those needs, without playing favorites with a particular service. Am I in the ballpark?

    1. It's becoming clear that I failed to clearly convey the point so maybe I can reinforce it in these comments.

      JI, I'm saying that we need to procure weapons based on the military's needs rather than individual service needs. We need something like an overall General Board. So, yes, you're in the ballpark. Thanks!

    2. The requirements / procurement process is intended to work as ComNavOps would like it to work...the JCIDS process includes a Joint Requirements Oversight Committee (JROC) that is supposed to ensure that the requirements of all services are addressed as system requirements are developed and approved. In theory, this should reduce duplication and encourage complementary system development. As I see it, the issue is that the process to get to the JROC tends to be service-oriented, and I don't know if the JROC would "rock the boat" by coming down hard on a particular service.

    3. Anon, that's fascinating! I was completely unaware of that group. I'll have to look into it further or feel free to tell me more. On the face of it, though, the group is clearly not functioning as I envision it should since the military is largely failing to produce complementary weapons and systems. I wonder what their focus really is?

      Even your statement "ensure that the requirements of all the services are addressed" suggests that the focus is not on complementary systems but rather some proportioning of service needs. To be fair to you, I'm picking out a single phrase that you may or may not have meant exactly that way! Forgive me.

      Why isn't the group producing the kinds of things I described in the post? Any thoughts?

    4. The Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS) is defined by CJCSI 3170.01H (1) and the JCIDS Manual (2). The first couple of paragraphs give a decent overview of the intent of the process. I mis-spoke with the's actually "council" vice "committee". My experience with the process is limited, and non-existent with a joint oversight project. Within the Navy, N8 is the "gatekeeper" for requirements development and coordinates with J8 to determine whether a program's requirements documents (such as the CDD) has joint interest, and would go through a joint review. There is also a Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) that has oversight of major defense programs.

      You would think that the JROC and DAB would be considering the items you have described, but I suspect that it may not be done due to protection of service interests (the JROC is comprised of the vice chiefs of each service) and a focus on the validation of requirements. The JROC is supposed to ensure that a service requirement is not already met by another service capabilities, which could prevent complementary capabilities from being developed since a complementary capability could be seen as a redundant capability.


  5. You make some good points regarding duplication that have been made before. I won't try to defend all procurement activity, but there has been movement towards common purchasing. But there is also the truth that the F 35 is not an encouraging indication of the advantages of commonality.

    You are on thinner ground when you criticize the services for thinking parochial lay (my word, not yours) and not as a Military. There is no real Gosplan possible since threat determination and national strategic priorities must still be translated into capabilities, then force structure, then more specific arms and technologies. All of these stages evolve at different rates: technology cycles are 1 to 5 years force structure takes several budget cycles, procurement lead times are a factor, new Administrations have new priorities, etc. you can't just stop everything and say, "all right everyone, just hold that pose while we take your picture".
    I will admit the. Services jockey for roles and responsibilities. The marines are probably best when it comes to delineating their role narrowly, but even they have been tempted to rationalize their success in Afghanistan and Iraq as the development of a deep strike capability.

    1. Rob, you've missed the point. Commonality has nothing inherent to do with complementary though it could, and in some cases should, happen as a side effect. I also pointed out that the JSF is a stunning example of the failure of forced commonality. I encourage commonality WHERE IT MAKES SENSE but not as a goal, in and of itself. If we focus on complementary, commonality will take care of itself.

      I'm sorry but I'm completely missing your second point. I'm on "thinner ground" about something but you lost me as far as what that is. Try again, if you would.

  6. This is a good post. I don't necessarily agree with all of your specifics (e.g. the Navy and USAF have plenty of CAS and anti-armor capability outside of the A-10), but there is far too much of service priorities outweighing military and national priorities.

    Unfortunately, I'm not sure how to fix this. Congress people are only interested in how much money will be spent in their state, so they are worthless here. Maybe we need to give all the money to a joint service board instead of doling it out to each service.

    1. B.Smitty, thanks. Out of curiousity, what is the Navy's CAS platform? If one looks at the requirements for optimized and effective CAS, the Hornet isn't it. Merely being able to drop a bomb doesn't make a plane a CAS platform.

      The point, of course, is that an authority above the Navy needs to make the decisions about weapons procurement. You suggest that the AF and Navy have plenty of CAS and anti-armor capability. Maybe yes, maybe no. My purpose is not to debate that question but consider combat in the China scenario (Pacific) where we probably won't have much AF support (A-10s, for instance, wouldn't be able to reach many islands to provide support). Does the Navy have sufficient CAS without the AF or should they develop a dedicated CAS platform? I don't know but the Navy will never go down that path if left on their own. That's why we need a higher authority to make those calls.

    2. CAS is a mission, not a platform.

      Not sure where you're getting your info. Hornets have provided tons of effective CAS, especially over Afghanistan. IIRC, some 70-80% of strike/CAS sorties during OEF were flown by carrier aircraft. Many/Most of those were Hornet sorties.

      The Super Hornet can carry a Rover-compatible ATFLIR pod, a wide variety of munitions, has a good cockpit and comms, and has decent range/endurance. Assuming sufficient pilot training, it's a very capable CAS combo.

      Elements of Power has a good series of posts on CAS Myths. Well worth a read.

      A dedicated CAS aircraft for the Navy makes even less sense than it does for the AF. The Navy has limited hangar/deck space on carriers. It needs every aircraft to be as multi-role as possible.

      I'm not a huge fan of the F-35, but it should be excellent at the CAS mission as well. It carries a lot of fuel, great electronics, and has six heavyweight pylons for munitions.

      How much CAS are we really expecting in a China scenario? That would imply we have ground forces fighting Chinese troops somewhere.

      We should expect far more air superiority, strike, ASuW and SEAD/DEAD sorties in a conflict with China. NavAir really needs a top-end, long-range, multi-role, air superiority aircraft to be relevant in the Pacific. They need NGAD.

    3. B.Smitty, this is what I don't want to do - get caught up in a specific example. The post isn't about CAS, it's about complementary weapons. Maybe the Hornet is perfectly adequate in the CAS role, maybe not (hmm ... should I do a post on naval CAS?). Likewise, specific combat scenarios in a China conflict are not the point. I'm merely trying to illustrate the concept of complementary weapons.

      I think you indicated up front that you more or less agreed with the premise. If so, we're good. If not, we can discuss further. Let me know.

    4. We're good. I definitely agree with the premise. ;)

  7. Unlike DOD, most nations have a single/unified authority responsible for military procurement. Services are limited to war fighting roles. This approach won’t eliminate duplication entirely, but at least it reduces wasteful spending and/or service rivalry to a degree.

  8. To get specific a moment, there seems to be very little coordination between the Navy and Coast Guard, in identifying where Coast Guard vessels might complement the Navy. In many cases a very small additional investment in Coast Guard platforms could make them much more useful in complementing the Navy.

    1. (Note in terms of personnel, the USCG is already larger than the Royal Navy.)