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.
hammered home the lesson and yet we still find ourselves struggling with this. Grenada
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.