Sunday, April 13, 2014

F-22 Lessons

As we attempt to understand the JSF (F-35) program and assess the F-35’s role in Navy and Marine operations, it is instructive to look at its closest relative, the F-22 Raptor program and, specifically, the operations and maintenance aspects.  A GAO report (1) offers some insight with the following parameters.

  • The F-22 has an availability standard, defined as the percentage of the fleet available to perform assigned missions at any given time, of 70.6%.  For 2011, the F-22 fleet achieved an availability of 55.5%.

  • The F-22 has a maintenance goal, the mean time between maintenance (MTBM), of 3 hours between maintenance events, excluding routine servicing and inspections.  This was a contract performance requirement but has never been met.  The MTBM as of 2011 was 2.47 hours.

  • The F-22 operational and support costs were estimated in 2005 to be $23,282 per flight hour.  However, updated projected costs for 2015 are estimated to be $49,549 per flight hour.

What do we learn from this?

  • First, and most importantly, modern aircraft are complex machines that are difficult to build, operate, and maintain. 

  • Promised capabilities will only partially be met (depending on whether you consider unconscious pilots to be a drawback, the F-22 fleet may not even be flightworthy!). 

  • Maintenance will be far more challenging, time consuming, and expensive than anticipated. 

  • Aircraft will not be mission ready at anywhere near anticipated or desired levels.

How does this relate to the F-35?

The promised capabilities of the F-35 will only partially be met.  We’ve already seen several performance specifications scaled back (G-limits, acceleration, etc.) or simply not met.  Some capabilities have already been deferred to future blocks or indefinitely deferred.  Some capabilities have been unachievable, thus far, with no sure guarantee that they are even technically achievable (the helmet issue, for example).  Some capabilities depend on the capabilities of other platforms that are having their own problems (the F-22’s communications link with the F-35 has been deleted from the F-22 modernization program – not sure exactly what that means since I don’t follow Air Force matters closely – maybe someone can explain that issue?).

F-22 - Predicting the F-35's Future?

F-35 maintenance will be every bit as challenging as the F-22’s maintenance.  In fact, the F-35 maintenance will be more challenging.  Think about it.  The F-22 is maintained on large, well equipped bases with a large pool of technicians and civilian experts to draw on and large stockpiles of spare parts, spare engines, stealth materials, and diagnostic instruments with maintenance performed under scrupulously clean conditions.  In contrast, the F-35 will be maintained in grimy, salty carrier hangars or Marine bases with much smaller supplies of spare parts and a limited pool of technicians.  For instance, the Navy has noted that none of the resupply (UNREP) ships has the capability to transfer the F-35 spare engines to a carrier and only one carrier, the Ford, has the capability to receive and handle the spare engines even if the resupply vessels could provide the engines.  Stealth maintenance has proven to be a severe challenge for the F-22 and will prove every bit as challenging, if not more so, for the F-35.

There is no reason to expect that F-35 availability will be any better than the F-22.  Even the F-22’s goal of 70% is a very low level of availability.  The Navy’s (and Marine’s) inherent lack of maintenance, parts, and manning will only exacerbate the problem.  The F-35 will be fortunate to achieve 50% availability.

How does all of this help us assess the F-35’s role in fleet and Marine operations?

For one thing, it tells us that the fantasy of stationing a few F-35’s here and there on austere or disbursed bases is just that, a fantasy.  Without access to high tech, well stocked bases with large pools of highly skilled maintenance techs backed by civilian experts, the F-35 availability is going to plummet.  Throw in actual combat conditions (deferred maintenance, combat damage, insufficient spare parts, challenging conditions, etc.) and availability is going to be in the 30% range.  The F-22 is only 50% now so it’s not much of a reach to make that prediction.  Further, the availability, whatever it may start as, will only decrease over time in a combat situation as damage, shortages, and cumulative wear take their toll.  Austere or disbursed basing is a fantasy after the first couple of sorties.  If you think otherwise then you’ll have to explain what miracle is going to elevate the F-35 maintenance and availability over the Air Force’s pampered F-22 levels under wartime conditions as just described.  This is just a common sense exercise.  Layer on the logistical difficulties of supplying multiple tiny bases under wartime conditions when we’ll have enough trouble supplying our major bases (you may have noticed that we don’t have much of a merchant marine fleet anymore) and the whole austere/disbursed basing concept becomes unworkable.

This takes us directly to the Marine’s vision of their future.  The Corps appears to be betting heavily on becoming an expeditionary air force.  Unfortunately, the preceding argues against that unless the Marines want to co-habit Air Force bases (as was done during Desert Storm) in which case one has to ask why we need a Marine air force.  The Marine Corps’ self-vision is truly baffling. 

Now, what about the Navy’s plans for the F-35?  Setting aside questions about the suitability of the F-35 for the Navy mission, the Navy is looking at an aircraft that is going to be largely a hangar queen due to the difficulties of providing the demanding level of maintenance that such an aircraft requires.  Again, to think otherwise requires a belief in miracles that the Air Force has thus far been unable to perform.  To be fair to the Navy, they do seem to be less than totally enthused about their acquisition of the F-35.  They won’t have much choice but to accept the aircraft although they seem to be doing everything they can to delay and, ultimately, reduce the required buy.

You’ll note that this is not F-35 bashing.  Instead, I’m looking at the nearest actual data point, the F-22, and making reasonable extrapolations.  It’s not bashing;  it’s a realistic assessment.  That the assessment is less than favorable is just the way it is.  Kill the program, not the messenger!


(1) Government Accountability Office, “Tactical Aircraft F-22A Modernization Program Faces Cost, Technical, and Sustainment Risks”, GAO-12-447, May 2012

29 comments:

  1. wow. hard hitting article. well done!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Here is where I see things going. The Navy seems to be giving up on the GW refueling. This translates into fewer CVWs thus fewer aircraft required to fill out the remaining CVWs. The Navy can therefore justify buying fewer F-35Cs, and can either continue to SLEP/CBR F/A-18Cs, and/or buy new E/F/A-18E/F/Gs. So the Navy can acquire a small silver bullet stealth force good for Day1-3 and ISR duties, and maintain a workhorse fleet for the long campaign.

    Another potential impact of the impending GW mothballing is removing the requirement of Marine Corps squadrons operating off of CVNs. Their F/A-18s are wrung out, and since their leadership is fixated on the F-35B, and basically held their nose to acquire a few F-35Cs down the road, it gives them an out to purchase an all F-35B fleet - to their detriment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. the X-47 is the silver bullet. as much as the air bubbas like to dream, ain't nobody going downtown on day one anymore. its either cruise missiles or drones.

      we're building aircraft to a requirement that no longer exists.

      in essence we don't need a F-117 replacement because the mission is no longer survivable.

      Delete
    2. Charley, good observations especially about the Marine carrier squadrons.

      Delete
    3. Solomon: "we're building aircraft to a requirement that no longer exists."
      You're right on the money. Maintenance, availability, and operating costs are one aspect; capability and suitability to mission is the other. Because of the exceedingly long developmental times the F-35 may well be obsolete before it enters service.

      Delete
  3. Some reasonable assumptions but aren't you ignoring the difference in time between the development of the two aircraft and the lessons that would have been absorbed into the F35 from the F22 programme.

    I also think maintainability in austere locations are keep performance parameters for the F35

    Perhaps waiting and seeing might be one approach worth thinking about

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Think Defence, this reply is going to come across as snarky or flip and I absolutely don't mean it that way. I have the utmost respect for you and the work you do on your blog!

      One would hope that lessons from the F-22 have been learned and incorporated into the F-35 program. However, the evidence suggests otherwise. When I consider the F-35 program relative to the F-22 program, I ask myself,

      Did we learn lessons about cost control? No.
      Did we learn lessons about program management? No
      Did we learn lessons about acceptable levels of technical risk? No.
      Did we learn lessons about protracted development times? No.
      Did we learn lessons about cost versus quantity tradeoffs? No.
      And so on ...

      So, do I think we've managed to learn lessons about maintenance, operations, and support issues despite not learning any of the other lessons? It's possible but highly unlikely.

      In fact, the sketchy data we have on actual F-35 maintenance and availability suggests a far worse situation than the F-22. Admittedly, this is data based on aircraft that have known problems built in because of the concurrency issues and are representative of early fielding efforts. On the other hand, the built in diagnostic program (ALICE? - I forget the exact acronynm) which is supposed to be the key to the F-35 maintainability is years or decades behind schedule and doesn't work at all. So again, the data suggests a worse problem than the F-22.

      The problem with waiting and seeing is that by the time you're done waiting and seeing the opportunity to act has passed. It's like seeing a small fire in a house. We can wait and see whether it becomes a big fire but by then, what's the point? The house is destroyed. The time to act is before the house is totally burned. The time to stop or restructure, or rethink the F-35 program is before we've purchased 2400 aircraft and found out that it's already obsolete or a maintenance nightmare, or has unacceptable availabililty or whatever other problems have been predicted.

      The LCS problems were all predicted years ago but the Navy chose to wait and see, in a very real sense. Well, now we've spent large sums of money and we see that we have a worthless product that even the Dept. of Defense has judged unsuited for the future Navy. Had we acted years ago to alter or terminate the LCS program we'd have saved a great deal of time and money or we'd have a better product now.

      You stated that the assumptions are reasonable. Isn't that a sufficient basis to take action now rather than waiting until all the money is spent and all the aircraft are built? If you can anticipate a problem based on data and reasonable assumptions shouldn't you act rather than push stubbornly forward?

      As I said, I apologize for how this answer comes across but too many F-35 supporters base their support on nothing more than a blind and historically unwarranted faith that eventually everything will work out. A true supporter should latch on to something like this and say, hey, let's stop for a moment and assess the maintainability and availability before we get too far along and let's make positive changes now, while we can. Heck, I'd support that!

      Thanks for stopping by, TD, and keep up the good work. Loved the 26(?) part piece on ship to shore logistics! I keep going back to it as a reference source.

      Delete
  4. Thanks, I agree with pretty much most of what you said in the original post but I suppose you would need to see the actual data to see whether those maintability KPP's have been met, whether the ratio of maintenance to flight hours is within specification and others.

    The reality is trades offs are always made in complex programmes; they are always late, they are always more expensive and they are always less than the brochures.

    Now I agree that we should not put up with this but on the specifics of maintability, assumptions based on a previous generations aircraft that did not have the specific requirements are perhaps questionable.

    What am I saying, show me the numbers.

    Glad you liked the ship to shore logistics piece :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Think Defence, you say that, "The reality is [that] trades offs are always made in complex programmes; they are always late, they are always more expensive and they are always less than the brochures."

      The F-18 E/F program delivered the airplane that was asked for, doing so on time and on budget.

      How do you account for the fact that the F-18 E/F program delivered on its promises while working under a version of DOD 5000 which is not significantly different from the one in use today?

      Delete
    2. The Super Hornet was easy. No stealth, no sensor fusion, no exceptional performance. Just plus size the existing Hornet.

      And they still couldn't get it right

      Delete
    3. They couldn't get it right ...... how so? (In your own words please -- recognizing that total lifecycle cost, ease of maintainability, and general affordability were the goals given highest emphasis in the SH requirements specification.)

      Delete
    4. First.. people forget the problem of transonic wing drop, they also forget the problems of mass weapon seperation from the aircraft. The loss of top end speed and top range after they fixed the wing drop and weapons seperation problems. By no means a perfect aircraft... A friend of mine who flew Supers, regulars and F14Ds... mentioned that the only thing better for the Supers was the maintenance... roughly 1 flight hour to 5-10ish maintencance manhours vs close to 70 for the F14D.... for that you lose mach 1 off your top line speed and a couple hundred miles off your max range.

      Delete
  5. Does the F22 availability figure include the extensive down time for asphyxiating its pilots?
    Because if it does I’m not sure it’s necessarily a great measure.
    Also, and don’t think for a minute I believe this totally myself, the ALIC software is supposed to somewhat preventative in nature, extending (hopefully) planned maintenance overhauls, by telling you ahead of time which individual ‘bits’ are need when, and ordering and shipping them for you in a wonderful just in time way…. Oh god, your right I just can’t say it.
    But you never know it might work?
    It’s at least a new paradigm in the idea of maintenance which in theory should deliver a higher level of availability.
    Beno

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Beno, I have no idea what's included in the availabililty data but you may be missing the main point on that - the goal is only 70%! Modern aircraft are just too complex to have great availabilities.

      The maintenance software is a great idea, in theory, but is not evenly remotely close to working yet. Interestingly, the LCS has something along the same lines. Onboard sensors are supposed to report back to a base to enable predictive maintenance. That was one of the problems uncovered during Freedom's Singapore trip. The communications bandwidth was insufficient for reporting the maintenance sensor data. Clearly, none of the predictive data prevented the numerous breakdowns and leaks. So, still a work in progress, I guess.

      Delete
  6. I only know a little about this but this is what I know.

    -The F-35 was designed from the ground up to be easy to maintain and work on. How well that actually worked we do not know right now. Prototypes, which is what is flying now, are always finicky and problematic. How good this works out we do not know.
    -The F-35 is supposed to be much easier to maintain the stealth capabilities. The F-22 is an aluminum plane that is coated with the anti-stealth magic stuff like the B-2. The F-35 composites are radar absorbing eliminating a lot of the coating needs. Again will it really work and what will the end results be?
    -ALIS is basically a really beefed up and advanced version of OBDII that is running on comericial heavy duty trucks and some luxury cars. Like the BMW commerical where BMW calls the driver as he is driving down the road and tells him he needs to schedule an oil change. Again how well this will actually work on a 150million dollar plane?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is absolutely no point if the "Easy to maintain" only works on well established, well equipped, with specialized tools and so on. Just like one of those smart maintenance computer where a computer is connected to the car and the mechanics would get all the information and such. Maybe what it takes is a simple oil change, but that "Do not tamper" seal is preventing the street Mechanic to do the job, only "Authorized" mechanic from the manufacturer could do the job, and you can pay the bill.

      Back to the point, As you pointed out those that ARE flying are only prototypes, once landed, I am certain that there are a bus full of Lockheed-Martin crew with computers and sensors and so on collecting data, and actually doing the maintenance. How well can you train thousand of AF/MC/N Mechanics to understand all the complexity without L-M experts telling them what is what is questionable. I highly doubt that is achievable in any reasonable of time, and IOC 2015, FOC Gosh knows when.

      And suppose the F-35 composite skin is so much better than the F-22, Let's not forget it is brand new and the chances of it being spot on is very very slim. It is probably plagued with all kinds of problem from structural integrity, again maintenance issues, stealth degrading and such... It is an endless cycle that's never going to stop.

      Delete
  7. Fair point Scott, perhaps I was being too literal but I think the general point remains, doing complex stuff generally costs more, takes longer and delivers less than predicted

    ReplyDelete
  8. I like USMC0802's mindset.

    The F-35/F-22 narrative mixing of apples, oranges, lug-nuts, structural materials etc, follows a thought-model that would have shut down development of high-performance world-record breaking Interceptor-successors after the F-104 came to be known as the self-eliminating Interceptor e.g. in the service of the post-war German Luftwaffe with 110 pilots lost in peace-time training-missions. The F-104 came to be known as the Widow-Maker, the Ground-Spike, etc.

    Instead of joining the "Chorus-of-Doom", I rather prefer to see F-35B be put through its paces, including in the 'unsinkable island' scenarios CNO brought up just recently.

    USMC 0802 - in this repeat of my posting in that Thread - what do you think of this ?

    “ There is an additional angle emerging that would make the proposal that much more plausible. And it would go a long way towards breaking e.g. Chinese A2AD.

    Study these links, and you'll be up-to-speed to then take the next steps:
    - 1. http://hallman.nfshost.com/bolger/LCU-F.pdf
    - 2. http://snafu-solomon.blogspot.com/2013/07/a-21st-century-landing-craft.html
    - 3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHWy1LIYyjQ
    Big question is now, when will what happen ?

    Assuming this R-&-D process remains on that vector, then consider LCU-F as the island-supply boat hauling 200-tons on to that island's shore.

    The amphibiously-delivered load aboard multiples of these would include.
    - 55,000glas of fuel or what may be about 30 re-fuelings of F-35B (what ?) 13,000lbs internal fuel,
    - tractors and USMC's RTCH, Rough Terrain Container Handlers planting containerized F-35B 'Support-Shops' under whatever tree-cover,
    - a good amount of steel-mat landing-platform |
    - on which F-35B would NOT come down in one 'boiling' spot but in a slow-forward-motion decent-rate, matching its very short take-off with very short-landing - thus preventing the ruin of that limited stretch of runway-material.
    End of Part 1 of 2.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Part 2 of 2

    Now that island-base is established for
    - re-crewing,
    - re-arming,
    and
    - maintenance incl. modest repairs/patch-ups,
    then you use the 55,000gals combat-tanker load (glorified modular fuel-bladders arrangement contained at sea by the hull's steel-structure) to head out towards the A2AD region.

    Approaching it, you use the same 55,000gals combat-tanker configuration to have LCU-F serve as a very forward-positioned 'Bingo-Platform. But not for F-35B - but for the tanker-function MV-22.

    MV-22 can hover over LCU-F while taking on the maximum of internal cargo-load (20,000lbs ?) 17-20 times out of 400,000lbs aboard.

    With that 20,000lbs of fuel aboard, (K)MV-22 would refuel 2x F-35Bs internal fuel-load with fresh 10,000lbs as the F-35Bs are going under the 3000lbs remain internal fuel alarm.

    All regular procedure for carrier-borne aviation, this model allow significantly extending F-35Bs effective combat-radius.

    And at 22' beam by some 10-11' height, and readily coated with a crude radar-return 'mucking' application over the very low-slung steel hull, LCU-F would be very hard to find by any seeker not already looking at it.

    To summarize:
    - no cooking of short runways,
    - 200-tons of support-gear, ground-prep and aircraft-handling vehicles, container-based F-35B Support-Shops and consumables readily deliverable to any beach via LCU-F at up to 19kts,
    - leveraging LCU-F combat-tanker function to far-forward feed (K)MV-22,
    - which thus supplies one F-35B twice per KMV-22 load (or two once) between refueling from LCU-F for up to 10 in-flight F-35B refueling,
    - before the next refueled LCU-F shows up to take over.

    This could be kept up for quite some time.

    Thus indeed a plausible WW-2 'island-based' defense- and offense-model - this time with Mach 1.5 and advanced stealth."

    This seems productive to think through.
    Reassertion of USMC Amphibious Assault Capability in this emerging mix of high- (F-35B/MV-22 etc.) and low-Tech (LCU-F/LCAC-2-SSC etc.).
    And the Commandant seems highly motivated to see this through via the new Doctrine " Expeditionary Force 21" , just published.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If the island is already held by the enemy we would fist have to seize the island then establish that runway for the F-35Bs to operate from a FARP.

      The idea is that we can establish and move the FARPs fast enough that the enemy will not be able to find us with satellites and then plaster the place with TBMs or cruise missiles.

      The other question is what will the sortie rate be from the F-35B that takes off of LHA-6, lands at the FARP, is armed and refueled, conducts the combat attacks, lands at the FARP, is refueled and flys back to LHA-6? I do not know and neither does anyone else. If uptime does not increase on these all that effort might only get you 6-10 air-craft making 1-2 tactical sorties a day per aircraft. That is a lot of effort for a fraction of what the Navy could be producing from CVN.

      I am with LtGen Van Ripper, that i will embrace a new concept but it needs to be proven in a real experiment first.

      We need to know the following:
      -What is the actual length of runway that we will need?
      -What conditions can the F-35B actually fly in? Can i throw down the slam-mat over sand or does it need to be concrete?
      -How fast can these runways be built?
      -What measures do i need to truly support these F-35Bs? Fuel and armmo are easy to see, but what about C4 systems, force protection up to and including THAAD systems, and possibly water to water down the airfield.

      It might work but honestly my gut feeling is the F-35B is not going to be rugged enough to actually work in these conditions and that too much of the MAGTFs resources are going to be sapped to provide this.

      Delete
    2. USMC 0802 you have hit the nail on the head – how in the world can it be more effective to take the F-35B from the LHA, which is designed to fuel, arm and repair it; move it to an austere shore base that we cobble together and have to improvise logistics, and expect to get some great advantage in operations?

      - F-35s may be able to operate off austere airfields but where will the E-2s and E-3s come from? What about the EA-18s? Tankers (even kC-130, when fully loaded, is going to require a substantial runway)?

      - An island is a static, known target – a fleet isn’t.

      - Resources expended in improving island facilities is wasted when the conflict shifts to a new geographic area or ends – we can move ships at will and they last decades.

      - How long will it take to build up these islands? Where does the construction equipment come from? Current ESGs cannot carry current or next generation MRAPs/JLTVs – how do we add even more heavy construction equipment?

      - Just how many combat engineers and SEABEEs are embarked in an ESG now? Is the BLT commander really going to divert his limited engineer assets to construction?

      - We have spent decades refining techniques to rapidly and efficiently refuel and re-arming the fleet – how do we do this efficiently ashore?

      I am sorry, but I see the whole austere airfield theory as at best a minor capability for the F-35B. I think the whole point is just to sell the plane.

      GAB

      Delete
  10. Thanks for the detailed response, USMC 0802.
    The premise is as CNO stated it:
    " Today’s is the common argument that islands don’t sink. This argument is put forth to justify the F-35 program (and by extension, the Marine’s acquisition of the F-35B) or to demonstrate how we will dominate a Chinese conflict using remote, austere bases. (...)

    The F-35 program is often justified by the idea that F-35s (presumably “B” models) will be dispersed to numerous small airstrips carved out of jungle islands. The idea traces its roots back to the Pacific campaign of WWII in which island airstrips were constructed to provide forward operating bases in support of the march across the Pacific. The modern version of this espouses small airstrips hosting a “few” (half a dozen, perhaps?) F-35s that would presumably wreak havoc across thousands of miles of ocean, secure in the knowledge that their base would either be undiscoverable or, if discovered, be “unsinkable”."

    CNO's discussion is important with indeed far-reaching implications, no doubt worked on extensively at USMC-HQ.

    - Who owns the islands would depend on whether anyone is there, in what numbers, equipped how? Depending upon the defenders' strength, a MEU may well suffice to take one if not several modest 'unsinkable' outposts.

    - Multiple islands with multiple 'bases' and the support gear RTCH-portable and well-distributed, in fact constantly moving from one strip to the other would allow targeting, but with how many missiles with what rate of success, all assuming no counter-battery to at least attempt to intercept these via perpetually-moving systems. And those can be 'seabased', such as on LCAC-2 and LCU-(x)/F.

    Many options between
    - the island(s) serving directly to support F-35B
    - or to support K-MV-22 to feed F-35B on the way to the theater,
    - LCU-(x)/F feeding K-MV-22 multiple times, with two crews aboard the tilt-rotor to keep pumping fuel to F-35B etc. etc.

    Length of runway would be no more than at most 60% of LHD/LHA flat-top flight-deck length, or some 450-500 feet at most for both short-distance landing to not 'cook' the matting and for standard short-take-off.

    If the island(s) being hit by ballistic and other missiles is the issue, then operating a CSG may be more of a challenge than risking dispersed island-bases, only a fraction of which would be active at any given moment in time.
    With 19-20kts 200tons cargo-capable LCU-F on hand, a lot of replacements could indeed be brought in from seabases farther to the rear, including flying F-35Bs in to theses forward-most 'unsinkable' bases beyond their typical range but supported by K-MV-22.

    Expeditionary Force 21 suggests a broad spectrum of thinking to take advantage of the extant, emerging and yet to be built aerial, sea- and land-vehicles hardware profile.

    Obviously, thinking and working this through in war-gaming is the first step. Then actual hardware-performance will either confirm, or modify, or reject the premises. And we know (K)MV-22 flying already, with F-35B being used in a increasing range of conditions, island being 'unsinkable' already proven.
    Now, about that LCU-F...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. TT, you're obviously quite passionate about the LCU-F concept. Nothing wrong with that. However, as regards the remote basing application, you're ignoring or glossing over some serious problems.

      The major problem is what can a few F-35B's accomplish from a tactical or strategic point of view that would justify the effort to operate them in such a mode? They'll be hundreds to a thousand miles from any likely or significant action. Distance aside, you're talking about only a few aircraft. They can't have any relevant impact on anything.

      You're ignorning the maintenance and availability problems. Unless you want to credit the F-35B with some sort of miracle level of maintainability, the aircraft can't sustain any useful availability. These are highly complex aircraft that require many hours of maintenance per flight hour.

      I think you're grossly underestimating what it takes to establish even an austere base. Consider the sheer number of personnel that are required to support the aircraft - technicians, intel, mission planners, security, cooks, supply, facilities engineers, etc. They all need housing, water, food, sanitary facilities, etc. You don't just drop a steel mat and a container of tools on an island and call it a base.

      I have serious doubts about FOD issues. Aside from issues like melting the runway matting, an F-35B on a dirt/mat runway is going to kick up huge amounts of dirt and debris which are going to be ingested into the engines. Modern aircraft, at least modern US aircraft, simply can't tolerate in the tiniest bits of FOD. That's why carriers are constantly doing walkdowns of the deck.

      You're also ignoring the fact that we don't own any of the islands. Unless we can persuade other countries to allow us to use the islands in a war with China or we're willing to invade friendly/neutral countries, we won't have access to the islands. China will, undoubtedly, make it clear to the owning countries that any co-operation with the US will invite ballistic missiles attacks on their cities. Few countries are going to be willing to work with us. Even if they did, we would then have to provide ballistic missile defense for them which would only further complicate our overall military effort and dilute our resources - all to get a few aircraft to fly ineffective sorties.

      I can go on with numerous other problems but you get the idea.

      Have fun with the LCU-F, by all means, but be sure to completely think through all the aspects and issues as you describe scenarios.

      You're not alone in your enthusiasm for the LCU-F concept. Gen. Amos, for one, seems quite taken by it. However, he's got a history of questionable decisions during his tenure and some would argue that he has yet to make a good decision so his endorsement may not be a good thing!

      Delete
    2. CNO,
      just working to your original brief for that Thread/Topic.

      E.g. the Philippines have lots of islands, fewest AFB-type runways, and beyond refurbished Subic Bay may feel relatively comfortable offering real-estate in far-flung outer islands to help retain sovereignty in their section of the Spratleys without putting a CSG or even an ARG/MEU in the middle of it al.

      Other scenarios elsewhere are conceivable.

      As to FOD, either non-stationary vertical landing protocols will have much of this happen behind the aircraft, as stated earlier such as via 450-500 foot 'runways', and/or upgraded matting will be necessary designed to retain anything above sand-granules, whatever. The whole landing 'altitude-loss-per-forward-motion' profile could be fully automatic upon extensive testing in the desert etc. And those results would define necessary length of the runway. As with MV-22 landing in forest-clearings, things may have to be done differently than initially reflexively expected, such as not doing a Vertical Landing in primitive settings with a STOVL aircraft.

      As to the Commandant, if he pursues things like LCU-F seriously, that would define his legacy, not minor-league issues/accusations/ruminations here or there.. Those would be long forgotten after Expeditionary Force 21 has been pushed forward with the matching tool-set - many of which are already in place -, with potentially useful tool-options to be explored, such as the actual merits of LCU-F.

      Delete
    3. TT, Gen. Amos has made some pretty big decisions that will affect the future of the Corps for many years to come (assuming the next in line doesn't simply reverse them!). For example, his decision to downsize the Corps by reducing the heavy combat elements (tanks, artillery, etc.) is a significant change. His decision to pursue the F-35B to the exclusion of other acquisitions (such as a replacement LCU!) is an enormous committment to an expeditionary air force path. His failure to decide what AAV replacement is needed, if any, is also monumental. And so on ... You'll note that while Amos has spoken glowingly of the LCU-F he has not actually committed to any serious acquisition program for it. Given that he's leaving at the end of the year, he clearly hasn't got time to pursue the LCU-F to any meaningful extent.

      The Corps is the moral compass of the armed forces so I don't consider allegations of misconduct by the top Marine to be minor league. I consider them to be quite serious!

      While the Philippines might well offer the use of land to the US in the event of war with China, I would think it unlikely given the threat of ballistic missile attack for which they are totally unprepared. Further, as I pointed out, the US would not seem to gain anything from a base for a few F-35's that is hundreds of miles from any likely action. The US would be burdened with protecting Philippines in exchange for a very, very modest gain in capability. Do you see it differently?

      Delete
  11. I think context matters.
    In light of the technical incapacity to actually do most forms of plausible amphibious assault with any current boats/hovercraft and GCE-mix of whatever relative weight, post Iraq and the pre-programmed end of Afghanistan for a while now, our technologists appear to have left the CMC with a number of challenges - with none of his doing:

    - Downsizing the weights appears one (presumed) option to at least find some plausible way towards reassertion of amphibious capability, which, if found unnecessary, seems readily reversible, e.g. if LCU-F should prove reliable and thus useful to haul even MBTs with TUSK-2 atached.

    - The F-35B has been in the works for so long now, that the first flying Marine to become CMC would hardly be a position to shut the program down with all the consequences for all domestic and foreign stakeholders;

    - Together with Secretary Gates, he did shut down the $3-billion EFV because of its technical challenges, and because it would have tied the ARG-MEU for many decades to that very limited distance from the beach dictated by EFV's logistically very serious and thus tactically 'terminal' range issue. Now having EFV would have been the likely death-knell for any ARG/MEU amphibious ventures after the first of the three ships had been hurt hard by 2nd-tier shore-defenses. And yet some Marines are still unhappy about losing this mill-stone around the USMC's neck.

    - No replacement LCUs on the (public) table ever seemed to much cut the mustard since the lart LCU-R competion in the early 2000s with USN amphib folks impatient with 'WW-2 types warmed-over' concepts perpetually on offer , etc.

    - AAV-replacement however depends upon what the new LCU(x) would be able to do, since shore-defense development has long ago outpaced the 'connector' capabilities, and thus any chance of plausible protection of the ARG/MEU by distance. So 'investing' any serious money on a redo of the redo of the AMTRAC was counter-indicated as well, if the assumption was to still trundle along at 6kts across how many hours from where ? Marines in green camo is good Being green in the face it not good for combat-readiness.

    - The same applies to the MCV.

    End of pt.1 of 2.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Part 2 of 2.

    - On 'LCU-F` he stated publicly that he is essentially taking away from USN the next stage of Connector-development, as so effectively pointed out at WEST-2014.
    USMC does not do boats. And yet there he has said that USMC will pursue this idea some further on his dime - effectively taking the matter away from the 'usual channels' to at long last have some control over serious new developments versus redos.
    Amongst Marines and sensible USN-amphib-ops seasoned folks, the options for LCU-(x) did not/do not look promising - if amphib ops are to be the core of the 21st century USMC as now laid out in Expeditionary Force 21.

    It is hard to miss the massive paradigm-shift General Amos just rolled out, moving from 2-hours @ 6kts trundling via AAV-7 from perhaps 12nm inshore all the way to beyond 65nm !

    Utterly unprecedented.
    Radical.
    And yet already indicated in the 2012 Amphibious Capabilities Working Group Report, the 2012 MAGTF Annual Report, the 2013 version, and now the Doctrine, he has understood that Connectors are central to any USMC amphibious future.

    And then, by mid-summer of 2013 LCU-F appears, apparently got explored further on relative technical plausibility/conceptual legitimacy, and within, what (?) something like 6 months the Commandant commits first funding towards something that sounds like LCU-F - we'll see - because something like this would resolve a big bunch of aggravating challenges and painful shortcomings that, so far, have stood in the way of making serious progress towards a redefinition of amphibious capabilities so vital to USMC's long-term mission.

    So he did have to kick EFV off the agenda because it did fail technically, and would have ruined any future of any idea of anything other that 'Blue-Helmet'-duty amphibious excitements.
    And that affected AAV-7 replacement after EFV-type flavors were found not viable. Hence the 'slower-walking' of ACV and the 'other' one.
    And then he did commit in public to pursuing more efforts into folding connectors. You and I may not get any memos in the current state of affairs, but indications are that USMC leadership may indeed see very clearly that without a plausible fast heavy-lift connector, little aggressive amphibious future is in the cards.

    One could spin towards the dark flavors of interpretations.
    Or one could track his decisions as just laid out, and see that in the context of what he found on his desk when he assumed command, this mix of hard decision next to slow-walking others may indeed have been the exactly called-for ones - assuming LCU-F goes anywhere plausibly.

    And that we'll most likely see - whoever will succeed him, since without capable Connectors USMC's long-term amphibious expeditionary future seems unviable.

    As to the 'other issues' little productivity to be found in back-&-forths.
    These level of scandals will die off.
    And if Ballistic Missiles were ruling the day, none of would have seen daylight in over half a century.

    Instead, a robust declaration of amphibious war-fighting ambitions will 'impress' the other armed services with its inherent fundamental reorientation after deserts and mountains, as we enter an age when amphibious capabilities will be called upon more than vast land-armies.

    And that also sends strong signals to allies, quite a few of which are boosting amphibious capabilities.

    And that means no 'neo-isolationism' but rather the hard-edge contrary capability at hand - if and when called upon.

    ReplyDelete
  13. " Kill the program, not the messenger!"
    a very nice closing! :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. didnt LM offered a navalized F22 for carrier operations and the navy refused ?

    ReplyDelete