Thursday, March 12, 2015

Assault Aviation Support

The Marine Corps has bet their future on becoming an expeditionary air force.  It’s a foolish path but that’s not the point of this post.  Instead, for the purpose of this discussion, let’s assume that the Marines will use their aviation assets primarily in an assault aviation support or close air support role, if you wish to use that phrase.  Thus, the Marines have fixed wing F-35s and some helos to provide support to their ground troops during an assault.  The Navy has gone along with that concept by building large deck amphibious ships including a couple of America class, aviation-only vessels.

It’s a good thing the Marines have their aviation capability and the Navy has built aviation-centric amphibious ships because we don’t have any shipboard gun bombardment capability to speak of, right?  Still, I wonder how useful air power will be in future assaults? 

Let’s set aside the fact that an assault against a peer will see most of the air assets devoted to protecting the fleet and struggling to establish even an aerial no-man’s land rather than conducting ground support.  Instead, let’s assume that we have helos and fixed wing aircraft available for ground support.  The question, then, is how useful will they be?  Everyone assumes that they will be vitally important – perhaps the key to the success of an assault.  Is that true, though?

Historically, air power used to support assaults has been used to provide suppressive effects and precision attacks against identified enemy targets.   However, over the last few decades, we’ve seen a movement away from area explosive effects (which is what suppressive effects are) in favor of precision attacks.  This movement is due to our obsession with minimizing collateral damage even at the risk of failing to achieve our objectives and failing to protect our own troops.  I’m not going to debate the wisdom of that in this post – it is what it is.  What does it mean, though?

It means that air power is going to be artificially constrained and, therefore, far less effective than it might be.  Let’s look at history to see if that statement is true.

The best example is probably the recent Israeli-Hamas conflict.  Israel essentially conducted an assault with total aerial supremacy and yet failed utterly to eliminate or even slightly suppress the Hamas rocket attacks.  Their air force was limited to occasional strikes against the odd target that could be identified.  For all practical purposes, the Israeli air force was ineffective, bordering on useless (setting aside the valuable surveillance capabilities).  Why?  Like us, the Israelis had an obsession with avoidance of collateral damage to the point of accepting daily, heavy rocket attacks on their country and assaults against their ground troops.

Consider the US efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Air power was certainly useful when specific targets could be identified but, as a general statement, did not make any substantial difference in terms of ground support for the various assaults that were conducted. 

Consider the effectiveness of air power in Viet Nam when used in support of offensive operations.  It was nice to have.  It was occasionally helpful.  However, it was not, generally, the reason for success or failure of an assault operation.

Given our emphasis on avoidance of collateral damage, we have to recognize that aircraft can only attack targets which can be seen and positively identified.  History strongly suggests that only a very small fraction of an enemy’s forces can be so targeted.  That means that air power can only be employed sporadically which means that air power will not, indeed cannot, be a decisive factor in an assault.  Thus, we’re pursuing a fixed wing (F-35B) aircraft that will only be sporadically useful (at least, as a strike platform).  When we consider the aircraft, the carrier (LHA), and all the personnel and materiel required to operate and support them, it becomes obvious that a lot of resources and expense are being devoted to an asset with a fairly minimal benefit.

Finally, even if I’m completely wrong, can the half dozen or dozen F-35Bs that might be part of a MEU (or MEB or whatever) really make a significant difference?  The numbers are just too small.  Many people (and the Navy!) will casually state that Hornets or F-35C’s from the accompanying carrier will assist in the ground support, thereby vastly increasing the aircraft numbers.  Again, that’s just fantasy and wishful thinking.  In an assault against a peer, those aircraft will be completely occupied with fleet defense.

Can this situation change?  Can air power be a decisive factor in an assault?  The answer is, guardedly, yes but only if we alter our approach to combat and become willing to accept a significant degree of collateral damage and area effect explosives.  As I’ve said many times, our insistence on precision targeting and avoidance of collateral damage stems from a steady diet of police actions.  We’ve forgotten the reality of war.  We think we can conduct a non-destructive, non-lethal war.  The reality is that war against a peer will involve massive, widespread, and indiscriminate damage and destruction.  We need to relearn, now, how that applies to an amphibious assault or we will pay a steep price in blood to relearn it later.

The next, obvious, lesson from this is that we need a source of area explosives that is available round the clock, is available regardless of weather, is immune to enemy air defenses, is available whether we control the skies or not, and is available in sustained amounts.  Of course, what we’re describing is naval bombardment.  But, that’s another, though closely related, topic.

So, is ComNavOps arguing against air power in an assault?  Of course not!  Air power will be vitally important but not as a surrogate for naval gunfire and not as a decisive ground support element.  Instead, air power’s role should be protection of the assault fleet, establishment of local aerial control to allow relatively unhindered movement of helos, and surveillance.

Air power should function to protect and enable naval gunfire on a massive scale.  Unfortunately, naval gunfire is non-existent.  Hence, aircraft are being pressed into a role for which they are ill-suited.  Even if aircraft were effective as substitutes for naval gunfire, every aircraft so tasked is an aircraft that is unavailable for fleet defense which, against a peer defender, will be a task that requires every aircraft we can muster and then some.

The Navy/Marine assault force needs to re-examine their own doctrine, recognize the gaps, and begin filling those gaps with the proper equipment.

68 comments:

  1. CNO,

    You know my feelings on this, but I'll restate.

    1) We won't perform amphibious assaults without overwhelming air superiority and sufficient margins of air power for the full range of air-to-surface preparation and support. It's just not worth the risks.

    2) Reducing collateral damage was not the main goal of precision munitions. Dramatically increasing effects per strike/sortie was. Before precision munitions it could take dozens or even hundreds of sorties to hit a target. Now a single aircraft can effectively strike multiple targets.

    Reducing collateral damage is a side benefit of precision munitions that has become important in our current COIN fixation.

    Note: Air power can and still does deliver unguided, area munitions. 46% of the munitions dropped during OIF were unguided (mostly 500lb Mk82s). B-52 "Arc Light" strikes are still performed today. Targets for these strikes are often only generally known (e.g. "There's enemy on that ridgeline"). We drop fewer CBU-style munitions now, due to UXO concerns, but we did drop around 300 during OIF and they are still in the arsenal.

    3) Airpower "nice to have"?! "Not, generally, the reason for success or failure of an assault operation"?@ I suggest you ask Gen. Hal Moore if he though air power was just "nice to have" at the Battle of Ia Drang. Ask the Marines at Khe Sanh if they thought air power was just "nice to have". Ask the soldiers in Operation Anaconda...

    3) On the need for a robust naval bombardment capability, I don't necessarily disagree, but we hit up against the Marine's doctrinal desire for deep assaults via STOM/OMFTS, which renders "cheap and plentiful", old-fashioned NGFS worthless. You need super-guided-rocket-bullets (aka LRLAP), which won't be cheap or plentiful. You also need ships that can fire them.


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    1. Correction: 32% of munitions dropped during OIF were unguided. Math hard.

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    2. "We won't perform amphibious assaults without ..."

      The number of "things" that a reasonable person would have stated we would never do and yet we did anyway is staggering. So, while I share your sentiments, the historical reality is that we all too often do things that make no sense. I won't bother listing examples as you know them as well as I do.

      "Reducing collateral damage was not the main goal of precision munitions."

      Who said it was?

      "Airpower "nice to have"?! "

      As I said, airpower was not generally the reason for success or failure. Is it nice to have? Yes! The entire reason for success or failure? No. Even a significant reason? Not generally. Can you find an assault somewhere in history where airpower was decisive? Probably, hence my use of the word "generally".

      Also, your examples are suspect. Ia Drang surely benefited from helo transport and supply support but the type of airpower I address in the post had relatively little effect. Khe Sahn was not an assault and, thus, does not meet the criteria of the post - and it resulted in the abandonment of the base in the aftermath of the battle - an ultimate defeat perhaps. Anaconda benefited from air support of the type I address but certainly was not decided by it!

      I'm not going to debate individual battles. The premise of the post is clear and valid.

      "On the need for a robust naval bombardment capability, I don't necessarily disagree, but we hit up against the Marine's doctrinal desire for deep assaults via STOM/OMFTS, which renders "cheap and plentiful", old-fashioned NGFS worthless."

      Now that's just a great observation! You cut to the heart of the matter. We have doctrine that is out of sync with capabilities. The Marines and Navy need to have an assault spiritual awakening. They need to decide what type of assault they'll master and conduct and then obtain the necessary equipment and train for it. If we want to conduct deep assaults then we need a completely different equipment set than if we want to conduct beach or short range assaults. Either approach can be made to work but, at the moment, neither is supported by our equipment, capabilities, and training.

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    3. Op Ananconda and the Ia Drang valley would've turned out very differently (and very poorly for us), had airpower not been available in quantity. Without "broken arrow" level air support, Ia Drang likely would've ended with the surrender of the surrounded American forces.

      In Operation Anaconda, airpower was the ONLY fires option available to us (aside from a few small mortars).

      There are plenty of examples from Afghanistan to reinforce this. In fact, airpower, along with embedded SF, allowed the Northern Alliance to retake land they were unable to without them.

      Pretty decisive, if you ask me. In none of those cases was it just "nice to have", it was essential, if not pivotal.

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  2. a brief note about israeli's air force and their lack of result in the hezbollah / hamas conflict in lebanon and gaza.. it is because the enemy dont have air defense assets to counter IAF and they blended with local population and/or hiding underground..

    for example, the Israeli signal jammers are totally useless in disrupting hezbollah command / communications , because they use buried fiber optics to communicate with forward units..

    bear in mind that israeli airforce ran out of bombs just 10 days in the conflicts and have to ask for replenishment from US warstocks.. (smart munitions)

    The Israeli realized they are depending too much on Air power to reach their goal (in lebanon 2006) , confident in stopping hezbollah rocket attacks (which failed even until the last days of cease fire).. Their attack helicopters are under threat of MANPADS and thus forcing some IDF attack go unsupported by air.. (the threat of hezbollah MANPADS proved real when an Israeli CH53 got shot down killing everyone on board)

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  3. I think we need to decide what we're going to do. Its like our military/foreign policy is acting completely devoid of the realities of economics. If you only have money to do A, or B, but not both, you have to pick. We seem to be trying to do both in a half manner.

    By that I mean, we're doing a 'Pacific pivot' to engage a peer adversary (China). That's fine, but we're moving and preparing in a manner that's reflective of dealing with a non peer adversary.

    The Marine's prep is fine if they're working on a Libya type expedition. Its totally unrealistic for any sort of real Pacific battle. I'm skeptical of amphibious assault at this point anyway, but jeepers.

    I guess what pacific scenario are the Marines preparing for? An invasion of one of the new Chinese held islands? Attacking pirates bases? What?

    For the first scenario, they can't attack the Chinese on their own. So an America class seems... superfluous. It doesn't have all that much air power, it doesn't have a well deck, and It can't live in/near the chinese home waters, or the waters of any peer with a blue water navy, by itself. So they have to have the Navy. If the Navy has to leave ala Guadalcanal, as seems to be their institutional fear, so will the America.

    It might be fine and dandy for attacking pirate bases. But... is it worth the cost? Would it be better to have cheaper ships that can carry alot of troops, and have a realistic connector, and maybe some mobile artillery, so that you can fight your way ashore if you still want to do the ampibious thing? You'd have to rely on the Navy for the air power....but you don't have the money to do both. So you just have to.

    Sometimes I think a 'benefit' of the cold war was that it kept us focused on fighting really nasty battles. Its hard to make an LCS type ship when you face a crapload of soviet SSN's that can sortie. Or to make a half arsed tank when they have 4000 of them.

    From the Marine's perspective it kept them (more) focused on amphibious assault. And all that stuff was capable for smaller operations, if inefficiently.

    Navy that could control the blue water and hunt soviet subs could also provide cover to invade Grenada.

    When you start out with the idea of invading Grenada, and dealing with a near peer if you have to, it won't work out so well.

    My cousin was a Marine. I have a great respect for the Corps. What I don't have is a clear view of its future given its direction.

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  4. Assault Aviation usually refers to helo lifts in the USMC, so the title threw me a little.
    Like you say, the key during an assault is identifying targets. Target ID prior to an op is a matter of intelligence preparation which relies on very limited recon assets and identifies only part of the available targets. The key to engaging a target once the assault is started is to be as responsive as possible to the assault Marines when they make contact which requires coverage for the whole time of the assault. Aviation is limited by on-station time, making its availability either limited or purely a surge asset with many gaps. A better solution is either naval gunfire or HIMARS on LPDs or barges - focus being long term 24/7 fires availability.
    As for precision vs unguided, the real value of precision fires is how close you can bring the fires to friendly troops - danger close is hundreds of yards away, but you are much more worried about the machine gun position in the next house (which can be easily targeted with precision fires). Precision fires let you be more responsive to calls for support by eliminating the time needed to adjust and also let you bring fires very close to troops in contact without fear of friendly casualties.

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    1. "Assault Aviation usually refers to helo lifts in the USMC, so the title threw me a little."

      Yeah, you're right and I knew that but I couldn't come up with a snappy, short title that conveyed the topic. I tried but as you gently point out, I failed!

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    2. "Like you say, the key during an assault is identifying targets. Target ID prior to an op is a matter of intelligence preparation which relies on very limited recon assets and identifies only part of the available targets."

      Quite right and often glossed over. We implicitly assume we'll ID almost all enemy targets despite the fact that history assures us that we'll ID only a very limited subset of targets, mainly large fixed ones (buildings, bunkers and the like).

      Going back to WWII, every invasion proved that despite massive preparatory bombardment most enemy assets remained untouched.

      The recent Israeli invasion proved that very few enemy assets could be ID'ed.

      Desert Storm demonstrated that even with total aerial domination and completely unhindered surveillance, we were unable to effectively ID SCUDs and we had a marked tendency to stumble over enemy ground units during our advances. Yes, we had very good knowledge of general locations of large enemy units but we frequently lacked precise, targeting quality identification of individual units. Consider, further, that Desert Storm was the absolute best case scenario: total aerial domination, unhindered surveillance, and the enemy scattered in vast wide open spaces with little cover.

      And so on.

      History abounds with examples of ineffective target ID efforts during invasions and assaults. There is no reason to think that the next Marine/Navy assault will be different.

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    3. "History abounds with examples of ineffective target ID efforts during invasions and assaults. There is no reason to think that the next Marine/Navy assault will be different."
      ====================================
      CNO,

      It will be different, but not in our favor as the PRC, NK, and even Iran have (or will have) the capability to jam/knock out satellites, and to otherwise screw with our C4ISR.

      GAB

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  5. people tend to view the next war like the previous wars.. thus the abundance of support for CAS plane like A10 which is rather powerful in COIN situation (along with AC130) but totally useless in a peer vs peer engagement..

    The same people also viewed the lack of efficiency and high cost of high speed jets (fast movers) like F16/F15 close support in COIN environment , yet they are the (relatively safe) method to do CAS in a contested environment between peer nations at war..

    Look at the historical performance of A10 for example , in Desert Storm.. They were barely effective against the barely competent iraqi air defense.. they got shotdown / damaged (thus neutralized) and become useless (ref : Gen Horner USAF)

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    1. "b", how is an A-10 totally useless in a peer conflict? Detractors of the A-10 tend to posit a one-on-one match between an A-10 and a fully installed, comprehensive air defense system. Well, that's absurd, of course, because that's not how an A-10 would operate. A-10's are anti-armor and CAS platforms. In neither case would A-10s be put in the position of going one-on-one against a fully established air defense system. A-10s would be attacking enemy armored forces on the move with relatively simple and scattered air defenses. Further, the A-10s would be supported by ECM aircraft, helos, and ground forces. They wouldn't operate alone, in a vacuum.

      So, you'll have to explain to me how an A-10 would be totally useless.

      I have not heard Gen. Horner's comments. Do you have a reference?

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    2. Look at the historical performance of A10 for example , in Desert "Storm.. They were barely effective against the barely competent iraqi air defense.. they got shotdown / damaged (thus neutralized) and become useless (ref : Gen Horner USAF)"
      =====================================
      This is a very unbalanced assessment and Douglas N. Campbell pretty convincingly debunks the general in his book: "The Warthog and the Close Air Support Debate."

      Cambell is a former A-10 driver, but he gives a pretty balanced account of the aircraft, and he certainly offers his criticisms of the airframe.

      One issue frequently overlooked in the debate is the fact that most effective A-10 tank killing weapon was not its gun but the Maverick missile (of which it could carry a lot). BTW, Campbell did not state this.

      I am not 100% convinced that a "replacement A-10" should be an exact repeat - sure the low speed and armor are great, but the massive cannon - maybe not. Sacrilege to many... but that is for another debate.

      GAB

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    3. Maverick's that could just as easily be carried by F-16s.

      The most important attributes of a good CAS system are pilot training, A2G integration, sensors, persistence, and payload.

      The best thing the USAF could do to improve CAS is push TACPs down to the Army battalion level and assign them habitually to the same battalion.

      The specific aircraft type matters less.

      I would be in favor of a Block 70 F-16, configured as a FAC(A) or COIN mud mover though. Wire up stations 2 and 8 to carry A2G. Include a SABR radar, CFTs, and 600 gallon tank options. Maybe include the -132 engine from the Block 60. Refresh the cockpit(s) with large, multifunction displays. Include the dorsal spine on the 2 seat FAC(A) for EW and comms, ala Sufa.

      With 450 gal in the CFTs and another 1200 gal in a pair of 600s, such an F-16 would have much better range and endurance.

      It could carry 12 SDBs on 3, 5 & 7 and 14 APKWS in 2 pods on 2 &7. Or 8 laser guided Zunis on 2 & 7.

      Keeps the same spares and support pipeline and utilizes a hot production line. Also, it looks cheaper to fly than an F-35.

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    4. "Maverick's that could just as easily be carried by F-16s. "

      Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but It seems to me, just from listening, that we're talking about two different CAS missions...

      One is flying low and trying to wipe out armor in a fulda gap type scenario, the other is trying to support infantry against other infantry.

      The F-16 with Mavericks might be just fine for plugging tanks. For Ground attack it would probably be great for flying low and using missiles/bombs to attack things like bridges. But would it do well against the infantry?

      The A-10 was designed for both, and I can't imagine any scenario where in the fulda gap type mission it was designed to operate alone, or where it wasn't supposed to take heavy casualties. Its just that it would be able to deliver enough of a punch to make it worth it. It wasn't perfect, was never meant to be, but it was part of our strategy for dealing with the holy crap disparities in tank numbers between us and the Soviets in the late 70's. But in that type scenario maybe the F-16 can do just as well, or well enough given it might take less casualties.

      Where the A-10 really excels, though, is in the non peer missions we are facing now. And its hard for me to see an F-16 do that as well. Maybe its not a needed mission, or isn't worth the cost, or could be accomplished by Helo's, but that's another question.

      But I think before we can answer that question we have to clarify the argument. It sounds like when the air force is talking about CAS (and when they aren't jobbing the numbers) they are talking about the first example. When the guys on the ground are talking about CAS they are talking about the second.

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    5. F-16s have flow tons of CAS missions in our current conflicts.

      The biggest gripes about them are lack of legs and endurance, and lack of pilot training and focus.

      F110/F100s are thirstier than TF34s but we can mitigate this by adding more fuel. Once the F-35 is in service, we can dedicate F-16 pilots training and focus towards CAS and interdiction over A2A and strike.

      CAS nowadays is looking through a targeting pod feed and coordinating with TACPs on the ground, not pulling a Stuka.

      When the Air Force talks about CAS, it's a mission performed by all tactical and some strategic aircraft.

      When everyone else talks about it, it only applies to certain aircraft painted green.

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    6. Jim,

      You are on target, the A-10 was designed to operate in a Central/Eastern European battlefield, where the cloud cover was frequently under 4,000 feet AGL, and rain snow was likely to prevent pilots from visually acquiring targets from any altitude - even if the SAM threat allowed for such antics. The mission would be interdicting echelons of entire Soviet tank armies. It also had to maintain high sortie rates while being armed and maintained from unimproved fields as the Soviets were sure to plaster every concrete runway with short ranged ballistic missiles.

      Given the mission, the threat, and the operating environment, the A-10 was a great airplane. The gun was a requirement because the sheer number of targets could not be served even with the number of Mavericks an A-10 could carry.

      For the current mission of bombing brown skinned peoples in third world countries who have no aircraft, no air defenses, and no worthwhile targets; a Piper Cub with an oxygen system, a few hardpoints, and a savvy pilot could do the job just as well.

      GAB

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    7. Smitty,

      I am not convinced that either the F-16, or the USAF mentality is the right on ground attack.

      Fighter pilots are always going to focus training on A2A, and bloody few squadron COs are going to be inclined, let alone physically able to get their behinds in the dirt with the ground commanders the are supposed to support. And how many USAF pilots right now can deliver a 9-line, let alone know when to call it?

      I am even more convinced that the "the usual suspects" are more capable than ever, of leaving every regional air base from Korea to Europe a smoking ruin with short or medium range ballistic missiles.

      Since we lack a coherent national strategy, our current strategic disposition of forces is more vulnerable than the French and British armies in 1940.

      I am not impressed by the F-22, the F-35 or the idea of F-16s filling in as ground attack aircraft. I question the effectiveness in an integrated air defense environment. I am doubtful that these aircraft are suited for the wars we might have to fight.

      And we as a nation should be scandalized by the $1million dollar a day cost of running the current aerial campaign to kill a few Toyota HiLux pickup trucks that ISIS/ISIL or whatever the savages are calling themselves are loosing.

      GAB

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    8. We don't need to use fighters to kill HiLuxes. Predators and Reapers work fine.

      The F-16 has been one of our primary ground attack aircraft for decades. It's not just an idea. It's not filling in. They have been doing it and will continue to do it for as long as they're in service.

      We deployed 130 F-16s during OIF vs 60 A-10s. I guarantee they weren't flying many OCA/DCA missions (only around 14% of total sorties flown by all types were counter air).

      We can focus training however we want, but we have to enforce it. We can't just pay lip service. If we refined the F-16 Bk70 to be air to ground, we can tailor the pilot's training to be as well.

      It's a matter of will and determination.

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    9. Smitty,

      During those decades, we have not faced a peer competitor.

      The F-16 was great for its intended role, and its ability to fill in as a A2G platform is testament to the crews, but again, a Piper Cub could have filled in for many of those A2G missions once the A2A and SAM threats were eliminated.

      In the interim, the "usual suspects" have continued to work hard on refining their capabilities across the board and the F-35 is not the answer.

      GAB

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    11. Well.. Piper Cub, maybe not. No payload, no range, no speed, no sensors.

      The bulk of our tactical air fleet does A2G as one of their primary missions: F-16s, F-15E, F/A-18s, and A-10s. Sometimes in contested environments (Kosovo, ODS, OIF).

      Granted, not against a peer, but we aren't going to have a bloodless war against a peer. There will be losses. Low/Slow aircraft will fair worse, armor or not.

      Against a peer, we will need as many A2A fighters as possible. If we don't gain air superiority, the lifetime of our A2G fleets will be measured in days or weeks, at best.

      The F-35 will actually have more capability against peers than any of the existing F-teens. It won't have as much range as a Strike Eagle.

      Whether it has "enough" capability, or the "right" capability is certainly open to debate.

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    12. Smitty, I suggest the book: "Who won the Battle of Brittain" as a phenominally good assessment of the factors and procurement that affect an aerial combat campaign. Rand also did an excellent analysis of a South China Sea A2A campaign a few years ago.

      As a Layman, there are inevitably many, many capabilities and factors that are concealed from the public, but the for mentioned assessments should raise very serious concerns about U.S. air power.

      And I was not far off reference using piper cubs as an example. frankly WWI biplanes are good enough for to plink mg nests and pickup trucks.

      The USAF admited that it ran out of strategic targets in Afghanistan 2-weeks into the war, but has spent the last 14 years flying B-2s at $160,000 a flight hour, half way around the world to bomb illiterate gomers on donkeys.

      GAB

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    13. B-2s flew to Afghanistan during the first week of the war, but that's it. B-1s and B-52s have flown nearly all of the bomber sorties there.

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    14. "There will be losses. Low/Slow aircraft will fair worse, armor or not."

      I fear you miss the point about aircraft employment. The goal is not survival in combat. If that were the case, we would just keep our aircraft home. The goal is mission success. If the mission requires a blazing fast aircraft, great. If the mission requires a painfully slow aircraft, also great.

      You keep wanting to compare survival of an F-16, or whatever, against an A-10. Hey, there's no doubt that an F-teen blazing through the target area at Mach 17 will be more survivable. On the other hand, the F-teen won't even see the target area and will have no hope of accomplishing the mission. Once the F-teen slows down enough to get eyeballs on a target, understand the terrain and movement of friendly and enemy forces, evaluate and prioritize the targets, and then carefully (it's called CLOSE air support for a reason) deliver ordnance, you'll basically have an A-10, only without the armor and inherent survivability.

      You also want to lump intermediate range strike in with CAS. Sure, any bomber flying at 50,000 ft can drop a LGB if someone provides a spot but that's not CAS or, at best, it's a very limited subset under very special conditions and even then few ground forces are going to want to be under such a weapon release.

      If you want to survive and accomplish nothing, use the fastest plane available (or stay home). If you want to accomplish the mission, you generally need to get lower and slower.

      Can an F-16 release weapons? Yes. Can it conduct effective CAS? Not as well as an A-10, even if the training and focus were the same.

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    15. CNO,

      If you have an extra $10 (Kindle edition), take a read of this book,

      "Danger Close: Tactical Air Controllers in Afghanistan and Iraq"

      http://www.amazon.com/Danger-Close-Controllers-Afghanistan-Williams-Ford-ebook/dp/B005HMNTZ4/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

      These are the guys who actually called in the CAS in both conflicts.

      ALL tactical and most strategic aircraft were used very effectively. A-10s got their fair share of business but so did every other F-teen in the inventory as well as B-1s and B-52s.

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    16. Smitty, thanks for the link. I'm familiar with many of the "campaigns" included in the book but I was unaware of the book itself. It looks well worth the read. I'll see if I can get it.

      I took a look at the preview and encountered this gem.

      "I must hasten to add some caveats, first by stressing what this book does not claim: It does not claim that air power alone won these wars nor even that air power was the decisive element in victory."

      Hmm ... I seem to recall a discussion about air power not playing a decisive role in assaults very often. Admittedly, this is world class cherry picking of a quote on my part!

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    17. Only 24% of CAS sorties in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2006-20013 were flown by A-10s.

      http://aviationweek.com/defense/usaf-eyes-new-era-close-air-support?NL=AW-05&Issue=AW-05_20150330_AW-05_630&YM_RID=%27email%27&YM_MID=%27mmid%27&sfvc4enews=42&cl=article_1

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  6. It seems to me that no small part of the problem comes from combining on the one had the necessity to prepare for all-out war against a peer or near-peer power with on the other hand the reality that what we actually keep fighting are asymmetric engagements against smaller rogue nations and terrorist groups. What works very effectively in one scenario (the A-10 in the asymmetric rogue nation/terrorist case) may have limited or no usefulness in the other.

    Maybe we need two differently constituted forces with two different doctrines. I could make a case for turning the Marines into a commando/special forces arm that focused on the asymmetric scenario and telling the Army to focus on conventional battlefield warfare.

    The resulting Marine Corps would be a much larger version of what the Royal Marines have become, but I could see a future where we might just need that many asymmetric special forces warriors. There would be an argument that organizations like Green Berets and SEALs should fold up into such a Corps, but I think it would be better for many reasons if they stayed put and took on the additional role of liaison link between Marines and conventional forces where the two must operate together or in coordination.

    That Marine Corps would be a highly mobile, agile, and hostile force that was capable of operating on land, by sea, or by air.

    This is one of those top of my head thoughts that may be a really crazy idea. I don't really have the time or resources to scope it out fully. But I wonder if it should't be under consideration. It would define the Marines' role in ways that should help in making some of the strategic and resource decisions being debated here.

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    1. Well, there are a few schools of thought on this. One is that if you are prepared for the high end conflict you'll be automatically capable of handling the lower end stuff. Another, as you suggest, is that we need a two-tier force. Yet another, pursued by CNO Greenert, is that we should focus on the low end since that makes up the majority of military operations.

      Related to your thoughts on SOF and the Marines, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf had a very low opinion of SOF and wanted no part of them in Desert Storm. He only grudgingly accepted some limited SOF participation, probably as an in-service political gesture. Interesting, huh?

      I've argued for a two-tier, peacetime/war force. The problem with such a division of labor is that the military would find it very hard to accept building cheap, low end assets. They inherently want the maximum capability they can get. So, while simple prop driven planes might be perfectly adequate for the "peacetime" scenarios that make up the vast majority of military operations, the military would undoubtedly slowly increase the capability of those low end assets so that they would eventually become very expensive assets. That cost would come at the expense of the high end force. Look what happened when the Navy tried to build a small, simple, cheap littoral vessel. In short order, it became a bloated, expensive, do-everything wonder ship - and a complete failure.

      Delete
  7. Interesting.

    I think the low end focus is clearly the worst possible idea. I think you can prepare for the high end and be capable of handling the low end, but I don't think it works the other way. The reason for my two-tier force is that the only way I can see to afford the force we need going forward is to go high/low with procurement and convert a bunch of active slots to reserve slots.

    As far as Schwartzkopf, some fellow officers in my reserve program were called back for Desert Storm, and two of them ended up on his staff. They had lots of interesting comments about his guidance over a beer or two afterward. The most interesting thing, not really germane here, but still a good story is that he told them that if they ever got to a point where they were stumped trying to figure out how to handle a situation, figure out what we would have done in Vietnam and do something different. Desert Storm wasn't really a SpecOps type mission, we had the manpower and equipment advantages and it was pretty much a frontal battle. I could see some roles for SOF in a different type of conflict, but nothing really surprising about that in this case.

    Again, my preference for the two-tier force in equipment and manning is because that's the only way I can see to afford the size force we need. I suppose that leads naturally to a two-tier force concept. I agree that one thing that needs to happen is that the navy needs to learn how to build something for a limited cost, instead of the standard "elephant is a mouse designed by a committee" effect that we get now. There are a lot of lower cost European models that we could adapt. In some cases, I'd want to see the damage control features upgraded substantially, but we could lengthen out some production runs for some pretty good ship designs and save money both for ourselves and our allies.

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  8. "... my preference for the two-tier force in equipment and manning is because that's the only way I can see to afford the size force we need."

    There is an alternative approach that give us the force we need. The approach is to stop buying do-everything platforms that contain functions and capabilities we won't use. For example, consider the Zumwalt. It's a $8B vessel and it has an ASW suite. Do you really think anyone is going to risk an $8B vessel playing tag with a submarine? That's a set of equipment and manpower (and their berthing, heads, galley space, food storage, etc.) that didn't need to be in that design and simply added cost for a capability that will never be used. Ditto for the Burkes. Or, consider the Ford CVN. We're giving it a high end, dual band radar. Why? A carrier will never operate without Ticos and Burkes. The carrier has no Standard AAW missiles. Why does it need an advanced capability radar?

    The alternative is to build high end but focused ships with only the capabilities necessary for their roles. Build a Burke that is exclusively an AAW platform. Keep it simple and focused. It won't be cheap but it will be cheaper. Then build small, simple, focused ASW vessels (analogous to the DE's of WWII) to complement the AAW Burkes. Conceptually, we get more ships for the same cost.

    Instead of building a Ford CVN that is bigger and more complex than a Nimitz even though the airwings are getting smaller (anyone see a disconnect there?), stick with a Nimitz (or even smaller, as has often been discussed), save several billion dollars, and buy some additional small, focused, ASW vessels or dedicated MCM vessels.

    Instead of buying $600M LCS that try to do everything (but can only do one thing at a time!), buy a small $50-$100M Avenger-ish MCM vessel and small, dedicated ASW vessels.

    This approach gets us greater numbers of ships, more affordable ships, and disburses some of the capability so that we'll be willing to risk the ships and can better absord combat losses. Now, if we lose a Burke, Zumwalt, or Ford, we lose a huge amount of money and capability. The result is that we won't risk those ships and that greatly limits our operational flexibility.

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    1. You're pretty much talking about the low end of my high/low mix there. And you make one very good point. If you load up every ship with all the goodies, you're not going to be willing to risk it. Sandy Woodward makes the point in his book about the Falklands. Lose either carrier and they were done and dusted. So they willingly sacrificed frigates to keep the Args away from the carriers. It was a hard decision, but one that had to be taken. You need some top-end ships because of what they can deliver--just like the RN needed its carriers. But they can be deployed in ways that expose them to minimal risks and still provide value.

      Perhaps an even clearer example from the Falklands is the 42/22 combination, or "Type 64" as it came to be called. Their high end AAW platform was the Type 42 destroyer with its Sea Dart long range AAW missile. But the Args also had Sea Dart, and had figured out that the fire control radar couldn't pick out aircraft over land from the ground clutter. As often happens when new technology hits the battlefield, the highly vaunted AAW platform couldn't defend itself against air attack. To solve the problem, the Type 42s were paired with low-end Type 22 GP frigates, whose short-range Sea Wolf AAW systems didn't encounter the same problem. In this case the low end platform was more effective than the high-end. Hence another advantage of the high/low mix. Having varied weapons systems is an advantage because if the enemy figures out how to counter one of them, one of the others may still work. In particular, having a mix of new technology and old can provide an element of robustness or vigor that you can't get from one system.

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    2. Removing the ASW systems from a Burke won't net enough to pay for another ship with the same system on it.

      According to the Navy's budget justification docs, SQQ-89 costs between $38-52 million each. So at best, you might be able to save $100 milllion per Burke by removing it. There's no way you can build a $100 million ASW ship carrying SQQ-89, so you will have to accept fewer ASW-capable ships and/or much less capability per ship.

      If you're already paying $1.8 billion per Burke, adding another $100 million to give each ship ASW capability makes sense to me.

      Now if you removed the helicopter hangers too, you will reduce the price more, but still not enough to actually build an ASW ship with two helicopter hangers, a pad, and SQQ-89.

      Delete
    3. "Or, consider the Ford CVN. We're giving it a high end, dual band radar. Why? A carrier will never operate without Ticos and Burkes"

      CNO, This is interesting:

      http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/naval/ships/2015/03/17/navy-aircraft-carrier-ford-kennedy-dual-band-radar-dbr-easr-raytheon-huntington-ingalls-newport-news-lockheed-aegis-shipbuilding/24924511/

      Maybe they are trying desperately to slash costs.

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    4. You tend to focus on literal excerpts rather than grasping the concept. You're right that removing a sonar system won't completely pay for another ship. That wasn't the point nor was that explicitly stated. The point was that removing ALL the unnecessary systems would allow us to buy more ships for same amount of money - how many more is unknown.

      A Burke's primary mission is AAW. Fine, let's build strip downed Burkes that only do AAW. Essentially, an AAW barge. No sonar, no significant ASuW beyond self-defense, no hangar (they won't be doing ASW which is the main reason for a helo on a Burke), and so on. That would reduce manning, reduce berthing, reduce stores, reduce hull size, require less powerful engines, and so on. The savings would be significant. Enough to buy a complete, additional, small focused ASW vessel? I don't know.

      Of course, you're already typing out a reply telling how valuable a multi-role destroyer is outside of AAW. I agree! I'm not suggesting that we strip down every Burke. By all means, let's keep a handful as is for independent operations.

      The point is that many of the Burkes are completely dedicated to carrier/amphib AAW defense and their added capabilities are not and will not be used and simply add cost for no return.

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    5. Jim, yes I saw that article. I've pointed out in the past that a Ford has no Standard missiles and, therefore, has no need for a highly advanced radar system especially when the carrier is always accompanied by Burkes and Ticos.

      Delete
    6. Smitty,

      Your price figure seems off to me.
      A 2014 supply-side report seems to indicate that the US government only paid GE ~$47 million for the years worth of SQQ-89 systems (which is to say 3 of them), including the price of components (up to and including the sonar itself) and the installation.
      That comes out to roughly ~$15.7 million a piece; and this was for the Flight III Burkes, mind.

      Have you ever considered the possibility that the Navy is intentionally padding the budget with bloated figures in order to cover up the ever-increasing cost of the super-capitals (Nimitzs/Fords)?

      CNO,

      This may seem a little odd, but what you've been saying here made me start thinking.
      If one considers the Burkes as Light Cruisers (which is what they are in size, capability, and cost), then they start seeming mighty fine as they are; I'd leave them that way with merely a reclassification.

      The problem becomes the fact we have no capable AAW or ASW system on a platform small and cheap enough to be considered disposable in the grand scheme of a prolonged war.
      History tells us that hulls performing either of these missions will be the first things to suffer attrition, meaning that they must be replaceable rapidly, which I think we can all agree that the Burkes cannot be.

      Personally, I think the navy needs to get over its Big Horse Syndrome and get back to the Tin-Can Destroyer model.
      Which is to say that I agree with you, in principle.
      Although, I think that Destroyers MUST be capable of ASW as a requirement, I do not think that they all have to be bleeding-edge Hunter-Killers.
      Personally, I think that we need to revisit the Fletcher/Sumner-Gearing concepts. I could expand more on this, but for the sake of char. limits, I'll refrain. Suffice to say, I'm proposing enhanced and stretched versions of the Sumner-Gearings.

      I'm adamant that such ships could be easily built for the DD role at a 2:1 replacement for the Burkes.
      Seriously, a 463' x 35' x 44' (my Submarine) block of solid Titanium would only cost $143M (0.16lb/in3 @ $8.70/lb), the same in HY-100 Steel would only cost $44M (0.283lb/in3 @ $1.49/lb). Factor in a 100% construction fee (for 2 years on the yard), and you get $286M and $88M, respectively.

      So, for your price comparison to a Burke's $1.843B...
      For your ASW hull. Figuring $88M for the hull, Smitty's price of ~$52M for the SQQ-89 system (which had better include the sonar or I'm crying foul), ~$48M for a 'frigate' grade radar system, ~$62M for the helo hanger and related systems (similar to the Perry's), $30M for the electrical/propulsion system, ~$83M for weapons systems (including CIWS), ~$25M for on-board VLS systems (32 cells), and ~$60M for misc. This gives a price of roughly ~$448M.
      For your AAW hull. Figuring ~$92M for the hull, ~$52M for the SQQ-89, ~$234M for the AEGIS system, ~$62M for Helo, ~$30M for the electrical/propulsion system, ~$120M for the weapons systems (including CIWS), ~$45M for the VLS System (62 cells), and misc costs of ~$60M. This gives a price of roughly ~$650M, or a combined cost of ~$1.098B for both ships.
      ...Sorry for the number rush.
      Long story short: yes, you could replace a Burke with two ships that are each almost as capable as it for the same cost, even if my estimates are 60% off.
      To top it all off, they'd both have BB-style protection schemes, providing them high survivability chances in the inevitability that they're hit, which is more than can be said about the Burkes/Ticos.
      In the end, putting more hulls in the water is comparatively cheap, the problem becomes crewing them. Each ship would require about two thirds the manpower of a Burke for minimum damage control capability (ideally, crews would remain at roughly 300 per ship), thus you'd be increasing the labor costs by half or more.

      - Ray D.

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    7. Ray, you're quite right about the need for destroyers that are expendable.

      If we consider Burkes as cruisers or "battleships" then our force structure is badly out of balance. That gives us lots of cruisers and no destroyers or escorts of any type. Again, it shows the need for a smaller, cheaper, DD and DE.

      You're getting heavy into cost figures and I would offer a caution. The Navy's cost figures are wrapped in accounting manipulations. In addition to whatever cost figures are published, the true cost of a ship also includes government furnished equipment, the type and amount of which varies from ship to ship and the cost of which is largely unknown. Add to this the Navy's increasing tendency over the last decade or two to accept unfinished ships which have to be completed in post-delivery fitting out periods. This post-delivery completion construction work is paid out of the post-delivery outfitting budget which is separate from the ship's construction budget. This post-delivery completion is not trivial. The LPD-17, for example, was delivered with 1.1M man-hours of construction work needing to be done. The LCSs have each been delivered with varying amounts of incomplete compartments. The Navy is now engaged in intentional deferral of construction work for the Ford due to bumping up against the spending cap. Finally, there is, of course, the normal post-delivery fitting out work which has always been part of ship construction and which is paid for out of a separate budget.

      So, the true cost of a ship is the advertised construction cost + GFE + post-delivery incomplete construction + post-delivery outfitting.

      Also, don't overlook the physical cost aspects of manning. For every weapon or system you add to a hull you also have to add the berthing, heads, galley space, stores, HVAC, and propulsive power to man the weapon or system. So, if you add a $1 VLS you need to add $0.25 (or whatever the actual ratio'ed cost figure would be) for the crew to maintain and operate it. That helo and hangar comes with significant crew requirements and all their berthing and support structures and costs as well as spares storage, machine shops, etc.

      So, by all means have fun with numbers and use them to explore alternate force structures but recognize that they are highly suspect and that isolated system costs are even more unrealistic.

      All that said, I completely agree with your concept!

      Delete
    8. [Burkes as Cruisers]

      I've been saying that the US Navy is way too top heavy for years; without a foundation, any force structure will crumble. But note that I ID'd them as 'light cruisers'.
      Historically, CLs have pretty much been one-hit-wonders since they can't trade shots with even equal opponents, pretty much being just overgrown Destroyer Leaders. By the by, I would also rate the Ticos as Anti-Air Light Cruisers...
      If you can't tell, I'm indicating that the US Navy (IMHO) cannot sustain serious sub-capital surface combat either. So, IMHO we actually need a dedicated Sub-Capital Surface Fighter too (such as CVLs, CCs, CBs, or CAs).

      [Cost of Ships]

      All of my figures and estimates are based on supply-side numerics.
      Basically, I tried to estimate the various dynamics required to create each unit, from the competency of the workforce, the availability of the industry, parts acquisition, involved man-hours, skilled labor hours, and so on.
      My conclusion was for these ships as it was for my boats - the cost of construction would be determined by the rate of production (mainly because the more efficient use of salaried skilled labor). My guess is that the costs would bottom out if six of these ships were being produced at the same time and yard on an expedited production schedule.
      This is, of course, assuming that the ship was actually designed with real world construction and operation in mind and was NOT designed on (virtual) paper to be some kind of magical fairy carrier powered by pixie dust.
      Thus, I factored in the use of easily formed shapes and modular Lego-brick construction (where applicable) specifically in order to ease the burden on the shipyard (and speed up production).
      That being said, I disagree with the delivery of half finished goods, so I factor complete construction at the ship yard into my man-hours and applied some wiggle room for the fitting out period. It would actually be a fair bit over what I cited, but well within my 60% wiggle room.
      In the end, it comes down to work ethics. I say ease of production and simple design integrity ensure quality ships which let the crews do their jobs; they say bleeding edge whizzbangs win wars so let's pile all the new techno-bobbles on the hull that we can, production quality be ******.

      [Physical costs of Manning]

      Don't worry, I haven't forgotten them. In fact, I pointed out the manning as the singular problem with the larger numbers of smaller ships. Optimally, the small ships would have the same crew as a larger Burke. The cost of the construction of the facilities to support this manpower is minimal in comparison to actually providing that manpower.
      That being said, the control systems and crew allotment were already factored into my prices. For instance, a 8-cell VLS unit is actually only $4.8M; the figures I gave are actually ~$6M over cost, specifically because of the crew/operation-side issues.

      [Helo Crew/Hanger]

      17. 4 crew for each helo (including 2 officers each), 8 on-ship maintenance, 1 flight officer. This is actually making it easy for the crew considering the type of maintenance performed on-ship.
      Space for this crew (and maintenance) is actually relatively cheap to acquire IF the ship is designed correctly. That being said, this is a significant cost in the ship's construction that was figured as part of the hull (as complexity).

      “So, by all means have fun with numbers and use them to explore alternate force structures...”

      That is pretty much all we can do here on the civilian side, right?

      “...but recognize that they are highly suspect and that isolated system costs are even more unrealistic.”

      You realize that most of the components (excluding the radar/sonar/system control units) that I've been referring to are commercially available, right? Other pieces have been either overbuilt COTS or Civilian-Custom equivalents.

      - Ray D.

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    9. It appears that my posts keep disappearing. I'll try again.

      [Burkes as Cruisers]

      I've been saying that the US Navy is way too top heavy for years; without a foundation, any force structure will crumble. But note that I ID'd them as 'light cruisers'.
      Historically, CLs have pretty much been one-hit-wonders since they can't trade shots with even equal opponents, pretty much being just overgrown Destroyer Leaders. By the by, I would also rate the Ticos as Anti-Air Light Cruisers...
      If you can't tell, I'm indicating that the US Navy (IMHO) cannot sustain serious sub-capital surface combat either. So, IMHO we actually need a dedicated Sub-Capital Surface Fighter too (such as CVLs, CCs, CBs, or CAs).

      [Cost of Ships]

      All of my figures and estimates are based on supply-side numerics.
      Basically, I tried to estimate the various dynamics required to create each unit, from the competency of the workforce, the availability of the industry, parts acquisition, involved man-hours, skilled labor hours, and so on.
      My conclusion was for these ships as it was for my boats - the cost of construction would be determined by the rate of production (mainly because the more efficient use of salaried skilled labor). My guess is that the costs would bottom out if six of these ships were being produced at the same time and yard on an expedited production schedule.
      This is, of course, assuming that the ship was actually designed with real world construction and operation in mind and was NOT designed on (virtual) paper to be some kind of magical fairy carrier powered by pixie dust.
      Thus, I factored in the use of easily formed shapes and modular Lego-brick construction (where applicable) specifically in order to ease the burden on the shipyard (and speed up production).
      That being said, I disagree with the delivery of half finished goods, so I factor complete construction at the ship yard into my man-hours and applied some wiggle room for the fitting out period. It would actually be a fair bit over what I cited, but well within my 60% wiggle room.
      In the end, it comes down to work ethics. I say ease of production and simple design integrity ensure quality ships which let the crews do their jobs; they say bleeding edge whizzbangs win wars so let's pile all the new techno-bobbles on the hull that we can, production quality be ******.

      [Physical costs of Manning]

      Don't worry, I haven't forgotten them. In fact, I pointed out the manning as the singular problem with the larger numbers of smaller ships. Optimally, the small ships would have the same crew as a larger Burke. The cost of the construction of the facilities to support this manpower is minimal in comparison to actually providing that manpower.
      That being said, the control systems and crew allotment were already factored into my prices. For instance, a 8-cell VLS unit is actually only $4.8M; the figures I gave are actually ~$6M over cost, specifically because of the crew/operation-side issues.

      [Helo Crew/Hanger]

      17. 4 crew for each helo (including 2 officers each), 8 on-ship maintenance, 1 flight officer. This is actually making it easy for the crew considering the type of maintenance performed on-ship.
      Space for this crew (and maintenance) is actually relatively cheap to acquire IF the ship is designed correctly. That being said, this is a significant cost in the ship's construction that was figured as part of the hull (as complexity).

      “So, by all means have fun with numbers and use them to explore alternate force structures...”

      That is pretty much all we can do here on the civilian side, right?

      - Ray D.

      Delete
    10. ...For some reason, it sent through the first post only appeared after I made the second post (where I removed a paragraph thinking that the char.limit was to blame).
      Sorry about that.

      Delete
    11. Ray, your first post got routed to the spam folder. I rerouted it as soon as I saw it. Posts occasionally go to spam for no reason I can discern and I have no control over it beyond rerouting after the fact. Sorry!

      Delete
    12. ...Today has not been my best day for grammar either, apparently.
      (I'm coming very close to creating an account somewhere just so I can delete/edit some of my err'd comments.)

      -Ray D.

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    13. "Ray, your first post got routed to the spam folder. I rerouted it as soon as I saw it. Posts occasionally go to spam for no reason I can discern and I have no control over it beyond rerouting after the fact. Sorry!"

      Ah. I can explain it then.
      I use a word processor to form the bulk of my texts (so I can see the character count while I'm typing),
      Blogger's filter was probably reacting to the hidden formatting code traces left behind from the copy/paste and assumed it was spam generated by a bot, since the traces are almost identical (the bots were made that way on purpose).
      I'll know this much for next time and just wait, thanks for explaining.

      - Ray D.

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    14. Ray, there are two kinds of cost figures. One is what ought to be. We all indulge in that from time to time and rightfully so. Those figures are typically far less than reality. Nothing wrong with that. We need to have a grasp on what ought to be in order to better discuss what is.

      The other figures are, of course, what really is.

      I'm not completely sure which set you're offering.

      Regardless, it would be a fascinating exercise to take your individual component costs (for a VLS, for example) and subtract them one by one from the known cost of a real ship (a Burke, for example) and see what the result is after all the ship's equipment is accounted for. In theory, if you're using real numbers (which I think is what you're doing?) then the remainder at the end of the exercise would be zero if your component numbers are realistic. On the other hand, if your remainder is significantly non-zero then your component figures are suspect. This is not a gotcha attempt - it would genuinely be interesting and would either validate your figures our suggest that further refinement is called for. Take a shot and tell us how it works out, maybe?

      Note: Of course, this leads back to my previous comment about the true cost of a ship. Do you factor in that Aegis system that was only half paid for up front and was completed during post-delivery via another account line? Not a straight forward exercise but it would still be fun to try.

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    15. Ray,

      I went by the 2016 Navy budget submissions.

      http://www.finance.hq.navy.mil/FMB/16pres/SCN_BOOK.pdf

      (Pgs 8-1 through 8-19)

      The hardware unit costs for SQQ-89 is only $22-34 million each, but when all the extras are included, it's $16-18 million more. (See 8-9 for the breakdown for SQQ-89)


      Delete
    16. CNO,

      My price points were for the most part from various receipts and reports that I could scrounge up off the internet and a select few other places over the course of some years (and adjusted for inflation).
      On other parts, I cheated entirely and asked experts/suppliers/consumers directly (my uncle worked for the Big 4 and a couple of the factories in my area actually use GE's LM series - including the LM 2500 - as generators).
      Thus, I can't provide sources for most of my claims, I admit, and the individual prices can vary quite a bit (which is one of the reasons that I typically attempt to overshoot, but - as you can imagine - that becomes hard when trying to constrain oneself to a budget).

      The VLS' price was one of the old ones that, honestly, I should have checked on before speaking of - especially considering how easy it was to find up-to-date information.
      A Lockheed-Martin press release from June of 2014 indicated that the cost of a “MK41 Vertical Launching System” was $10M per as a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract. Considering how a MK41 is installed, I think it unlikely that that price is not full completion. The release did not, however, indicate if it was speaking of a single 8-cell unit or a 62-cell unit (same as my older reference). I'll again err on the side of caution and say it's the 8-cell. So, my 4.8M/8-cell_unit was off by half, but only by ~$5M each (~$30M total in the case of the 62-cell).
      Still, it's my mistake.

      As for the Burke breakdown... well, I don't have a parts list for the Burke! *Laugh*
      No, in all honesty, I don't have the plans for the Burkes as even the plans for the old Farragut DDs are still classified and the last one of them was scrapped in the mid 90's.
      That being said, I can try to offer some guesstimates based on what I do know.
      In 'short' form (because I'll be rambling enough for one post anyway):

      Hull
      [Steel = ~$5M]
      [Aluminum = ~$260k]
      [Construction = ~$100M] This is because the addition of Aluminum. Most welders will overcharge just for working near aluminum thanks to historical lawsuits about welding steel near structural aluminum weakening it, or something along those lines.

      Powerplant/Propulsion
      [4 x GE LM-2500 GTs @ ~$10M ea = ~$40M]
      [3 x Allison 501KB GTs @ ~$2M ea = ~$6M] I'm not actually sure this is the right GT, but it's close.
      [2 x Shafts with Controllable/Reversible Pitch propellers of roughly ~12' diameter with integrally installed Prairie system @ ~$180M ea = $360M] Probably the single most mechanically complex part of the ship.
      [2 x Rudders = Negligible (included in Hull)]

      Aviation Facilities and Equipment
      [...] Seriously, looking at what it's supposed to have, $250M isn't an unreasonable assumption. There's a reason that I called for the spartan Perry-style hangers (although going full blown on the ASW ship is tempting).

      Weapons
      [1 x 64-cell MK41 VLS @ ~$60M]
      [1 x 32-cell MK41 VLS @ ~$30M]
      [1 x 5” gun (caliber differs)] This one I actually have no idea on. Based upon design principles and the relative cost of manufacturing the individual components of similar equipment, I'd estimate close to $80M for the entire system... but seriously, I honestly have no clue.
      [1 x Phalanx CIWS @ ~$6M] Price adjusted for inflation from 2011 figures.
      [2 x MK32 SVTT] There are no public figures that I could find. Given what it is however, I'd estimate $10M per (there's actually no reason that they should cost as much as a Phalanx, but this was what I figured for the above ships, so wherever I take it from here, I take it from there).

      ...And I'm out of characters. However, we're already at $950M, so I think you can tell where I was going. I haven't even gotten into the sensors and electronics yet, let alone other expensive items like the Hollywood-Shower desalination plant estimate (>$34M).

      - Ray D.

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    17. Smitty,

      I have a feeling that document would make my ship/boat-designing life a whole lot easier.
      Unfortunately, either my ISP or my computer itself appears to have blocked access the site.
      All I get is an Access Denied message saying something about my system denying access to the site.
      I'm beginning to wonder if they (my ISP or Hewlett Packard) are a bunch of commies, considering that appears to be a US Gov site.
      No, all joking aside, I can't get into that document and it's making me a very sad camper, but I'll live.

      However, the figures you mentioned seem reasonable if for some reason they only counted 2 Burkes under the 2014 construction list, which would seem to match other budget related documents (I was sure there were three at that stage last year, but oh well), so I'll accept the numbers. Thank you for clearing that up.

      - Ray D.

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    18. Smitty,

      I just got into that document though a different method (I borrowed someone else's computer).
      It's been VERY insightful, I can't thank you enough for sending me its way.


      CNO,

      Since I got into that document that Smitty referred to, I now have a much better idea of what's going on with my figures, including some errors made in my earlier post.

      Give me a bit to type this one up, if you would. This could be fun (for me, at least).

      - Ray D.

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    19. CNO (part 1/2),

      Since I 'briefly' went over that document Smitty referred me to, I now have a general idea of where the costs are going on the Burke AND can give a much better explanation of how my stated prices keep ending up so much different than one would expect.

      That being said, I was off on several of my figures (apparently, the Government has access to a lot of technology much cheaper than its civilian counterparts).
      I had guessed a price of ~$80M for the gun, when it's actually only ~$26M.
      I had calculated the price of the 96 VLS cells as ~$90M. Well, it's actually only ~$55M (although they included the Tomahawk system as a separate line item when I included it in the price of the VLS, which makes the difference only $19M).
      I assumed a cost of ~$10M each for the Mk32 SVTT. It's apparently only $3M for both of them.
      In fact, there are only a few things that I managed to undershoot on.
      First off, the Phalanx unit appears to cost ~$8M instead of the $6M I had assumed.
      Secondly, the cost of the AEGIS was reported as ~$253M, instead of the ~$234 that I had figured. (I'm guessing this is the post-delivery costs you mentioned?).
      The biggest slip up was the Controllable/Reversible Pitch propellers. They're not mentioned in that document, but the spirit of honesty demands that I cover them anyway. I was talking to my source who pointed out that I made a massive mistake in the prairie system's construction, the end price is probably closer to ~$10M for BOTH propellers.
      ...Yes, that much of a slip up is highly embarrassing.
      (The price I guessed for the desalination plant is also embarrassingly over what it must actually be.)

      All this being said, after going through that document, I fiddled with the earlier mentioned DD schemes and still only ended up with a ~$638,047k design (before construction costs).
      Unfortunately, I estimate the construction costs as roughly ~$500M per ship (2 years construction), which would put the price at roughly ~$1,148,484k per unit, which in turn is only $426,367k less than a Burke (on a good year).
      Of course; considering that my design called for a ship that was better armored than some WW2 Light Cruisers, had a fairly massive CIWS suite, and performed pretty much similar to a Spruance-class DD (which the Burkes replaced); it's actually a sizable saving. In fact, if it had another 32 VLS cells, I'd say it was pretty much a Burke Flight IIA's parallel.

      /That/ being said, I was halfway being entirely silly with that particular design (seriously, who ever heard of a DD that's better armored than a Cruiser?). Being realistic, I'm fairly certain that streamlined DDKs and DDAAs are VERY possible for under 800M each - total - depending mostly on the specification limits placed on the design.
      Me sitting here designing ships on my own whims incurs the same problem as giving Gibbs and Cox (for the really good designs they do produce) bottom limits and otherwise telling them to go crazy. I throw absolutely whatever catches my fancy into the design if I think it would be beneficial in the mission of the ship, even if I should know better.
      Yeah, I have self-control issues.
      Honestly, if I cut out everything that didn't absolutely need to be there in a DDAA/DDK/DE/FF (including the armor and the 5” gun, mind), the price drops to somewhere around ~$765,800k (naturally, it differs on the role – DDAA/DEs don't NEED flight capabilities), AFTER construction (slightly more than a LCS, but it's a NGFS incapable DD). Meaning, yes, you could build two of them for the price of a Burke on a Burke's bad year (which was apparently 2014).

      -char.limit snip-

      - Ray D.

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    20. CNO (continued, part 2/2),

      With that out of the way, I can give an idea as to how my price estimate (in above post) was so much lower than the Burkes even though I ripped more than half the parts list from them.

      Each Burke seems to spend 40 or more months on the yard.
      That's longer than it took to build the Iowas, and they where a whole lot more complicated.

      This means that the yards are going to be charging ~150%+ of the cost of the components (that they actually have to manhandle themselves) for each ship's construction. Possibly more since they have to pay the high salaries of aluminum welders.
      Seriously, each Burke is costing the US Taxpayer $700M+ in the shipyard's fees alone.
      I'm going to go ahead and make it a point that if the Burkes' design would have been oriented towards construction - and not bleeding-edge poppycock (AND if they hadn't used aluminum for the funnel superstructure [they only saved ~112 l.ts!]) - they would have probably saved roughly ~$400M per ship (partially in parts, mostly in construction), since the yards could have cranked them out in only 30 months or less (and they would have charged less per month as well, since complexity).
      That being said, doubling the construction rate would likely shave off another $100M to $300M in the production line payoff, looking at the variance between years where only 1 Burke is being procured as compared to 2 (or 3).
      This not mentioning the cost of the Main Reduction Gears (part of HM&E costs), which is $42M on its own. Entire FIEP systems can cost less than these components alone!
      I could also complain about the costs of some of their chosen componentry, since COTS equivalents would seem to cost far less, but I'm willing to let those slide on the grounds of Grade A Shock Tolerance issues (which I have no way of knowing or testing).

      While on the topic of prices.
      Looking over that document, you may note that the LCS - which is so much smaller, less capable, and somehow even more fragile than an armorless Burke - still manages to cost over $350M (over 100% of the value of its parts) in construction costs alone.
      This is because they're mostly aluminum - my hatred of which I've already expressed - and they manage to spend 38 months sitting around on the yard.
      Seriously, if the LCS' would have been designed for rapid and cheap construction, made out of steel, and had 3 times the production rate, each one would only cost ~$340M... as in, right now, before the production lines get fully ramped up.
      But they can't do that, because the Independence-class is a heinously complicated beast and they're passing the construction costs off onto the Freedom-class (which in turn is also ridiculously over-complicated, but still much simpler in comparison).

      ...If I may posit conjecture, it's beginning to appear to me as if the navy is doing this on purpose.
      I almost think they're scared of justifying (to congress) why they're not putting out 12+ ships a year, since they wouldn't be able to justify (to congress) scrapping relatively current ships with 15+ years still left in them meaning that the production and age-attrition would balance each other out at over 600 combat ships in the fleet.
      They don't want to have to pay for the manpower to crew that many ships, but are scared of potential cuts to their budget if they aren't able to claim they're using the budget for shipbuilding.
      Part of me thinks that thought is insane, the other part isn't quite so sure anymore.

      Also, going over the budget (other documents included), they seem to imply that only some of the Burkes have post delivery budgets, but not all of them.
      I'm assuming it's because the other ones were fully funded since the totals are equatable, but am not sure.
      What is your opinion on this, if I may ask?

      - Ray D.

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    21. Well, you seem to be on the right path in discussion of costs. So many people quote manufacturer's component selling prices without recognizing that the equipment has to be installed and that's a major cost factor.

      Regarding post-delivery, all ships have budgeted post-delivery periods. No ship is delivered complete - and the trend is towards less and less finished upon delivery.

      You asked for my opinion but you covered a ton of stuff! What, specifically, are you asking for an opinion on?

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    22. "You asked for my opinion but you covered a ton of stuff! What, specifically, are you asking for an opinion on?"

      I was mainly asking your opinion as to how the post delivery is factored into the budget column items, considering that the 2014, 2015, and 2016 FY worth of Burkes are equal in total costs with the 2010 - 2013 FYs worth of Burkes, even though the latter has 'less cost to complete' budget lines (which sound a lot like post delivery costs) spanning all the way to 2018.
      I was assuming that the totals (post 'cost to complete') equal the actual cost of the ship after post-delivery, but was wary enough of that assumption to be asking about it.
      Since I was off on my estimates, I was trying to refine my total cost evaluation scheme (as you suggested); thus I was attempting to better understand the cost breakdown of the ships that I'm trying to compete with.
      ...If that makes any sense at all.

      I'm not going to ask for your opinion on my vapor-ships until I at least have a plan drawn up for them (and I'm still working on the submarine, so drawing up a DD design could take a while), although that doesn't stop me from childishly ranting about the cost differences; and, although I'm highly interested in your opinion on my claim of waste in the Burke and LCS programs (specifically, if how much slack I claimed could be cut off appeared to be an assertion of the first kind of costs [fantasy/what should be] or legitimate criticism [actually sounds reasonable]), it's pretty much just my conjecture/accusation at this point, so I question the point in critiquing it.

      - Ray D.

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  9. I think there is room for some do-everything platforms. You might have to send a Burke out by itself for some mission, and it would be nice if a ship operating independently could protect itself against sub or air or surface attacks. But not every ship needs that capability because not every ship is going to operate independently.

    Having a variety of systems across the task force to deal with a particular threat is good. Not depending entirely on unproved state-of-the-art technology makes that even better.

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  10. The obvious, and unmentioned alternative is to stop screwing around with wars of choice, and focus our resources on wars we have to win.

    I could free up 100,000 human resources at ~$120K per year if unleashed (looking at EU/EUCOM, AFRICOM, SOUTHCOM, the Pentagon...) - plenty of fat to cut and the hog won't butcher itself.

    GAB

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    1. McKinsey published an interesting study that is no longer on their web site, looking at defense expenditures for the developed (OECD) countries. OECD has whole spends 14% of defense budgets on combat, 23% on combat support, and 63% on admin/overhead. That's bad enough, but the US is worse--9% on combat, 14% on combat support, 77% on admin/overhead. Yes, GAB, there are tremendous cuts to be made.

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    2. CDR,

      I prefer to think of this as reprogramming - I am happy to chop tail, but loath to axe troops at the pointy end of the stick.

      In fact, I would like to man every infantry unit, warship, squadron,etc. at 105% and use that figure to guide the cuts.

      But staffs and contractors are generally the place to start.

      GAB

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    3. "But staffs and contractors are generally the place to start."

      I get your general meaning and agree. I note, though, that contractors are often vital for maintaining our more advanced equipment. The Navy has nowhere near enough Aegis techs with sufficient training to maintain the system. Aegis is already degraded fleet-wide and would be nearly inoperable without contractors. The LCS maintenance system is largely based on contractors. Of course, Navy techs could take over much of that but then the cut in contractors is simply offset by additional Navy personnel. Contractors ride our ships and maintain our equipment because the Navy has opted not to develop the required expertise.

      I'm not offering a blanket defense of contractors. They certainly have their faults but we can't simply eliminate them without severely degrading the operability of the fleet. And, to be fair, I doubt you're advocating total elimination of contractors.

      Our dependence on contractors makes one wonder what will happen when combat comes. Will we expect civilian contractors to ride into combat on ships and occupy forward bases? Have we neglected our technical skills to the point where we have a crippling weakness in the event of combat? Are we developing systems that are too complex and advanced to maintain in combat with our own naval personnel and should we be accepting somewhat less advanced systems that are actually maintainable? Perhaps a fully functioning NTU radar system would be preferable over a degraded Aegis? So many questions!

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    4. "... 77% on admin/overhead. Yes, GAB, there are tremendous cuts to be made. "

      CDR, we all look at admin and assume it's mostly waste and fraud and should be cut. And, in a perfect world, I agree! The reality is that despite the waste (and there is plenty!), the bloated admin exists for a reason. As one small example, when was the last time you read about a contract award that wasn't challenged in court? Those legal challenges are what give rise to ranks of lawyers and halls of bureaucrats whose job is to spell out the number of rivets on weapon in excruciating detail in an attempt to avoid lawsuits. We need gaggles of lawyers and bureaucrats to comply with the hundreds of gender, minority, equal opportunity, safety, environmental, diversity, and whatever laws that impact procurement and military practices. How much money has the military spent so far on gender equality studies?

      Is there waste in admin? Yes! Can we eliminate admin or even significantly reduce it? No, at least not without completely overhauling our laws. A bloated admin is a self-inflicted consequence of our desire for ultimate "fairness" in our society and, by extension, our military. Now, some would argue that the military has such a unique role that they should be exempt from some or many of the "fairness" laws the guide (or handcuff, depending on your perspective) our society at large. The reality, though, is that our military must mirror our society for the time being. This requires a large admin.

      I don't like it but an objective person recognizes it for what it is. Much as we would like to, we can't just eliminate admin to any significant degree, sadly.

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    5. "The obvious, and unmentioned alternative is to stop screwing around with wars of choice, and focus our resources on wars we have to win."

      On the mark!

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    6. CNO,

      I understand your point. I see the same things in the private sector every week. But I think there's still a lot of fat to be chopped.

      What happens is that a request comes up the chain. One officer could probably produce a competent response in 20 minutes. But s/he has a room full of 20 people to justify when budget time comes. So s/he devises a process where all 20 have to touch that piece of paper before it moves on. Nobody adds any value. In fact, there's probably a net loss of value because everybody can blame any mistakes on somebody else so nobody is accountable so nobody asks the obvious questions.

      There is a lot of that going on, and we can and should get rid of every bit of it.

      So some admin is inevitable. But a lot of it isn't, too.

      My boss my middle two years got orders to the Pentagon. Two years later, I had completed my active time and was drilling in the reserves. My two weeks ACDUTRA was in DC, so he and I met for lunch one day. He told me that he was retiring. He'd have his 20 in a couple of weeks, and he wasn't interested in working for half pay. In anticipation he had gotten a position on faculty at GWU (navy had sent him to Ohio State for a Ph.D. in HR management), and so he did not come into the office Tuesday and Thursday. His wife was starting an import/export business, and he was taking off Wednesday and Friday at noon to work with her. When he took his retirement paperwork in to his boss, his reply was, "Oh, no, I've got to talk you out of it. I can't let you retire. You're indispensable." He asked me, "If I'm working two days a week and I'm indispensable, what does that tell you about how hard everybody else around here is working."

      We can get rid of that.

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  11. " The Marines and Navy need to have an assault spiritual awakening. They need to decide what type of assault they'll master and conduct and then obtain the necessary equipment and train for it. If we want to conduct deep assaults then we need a completely different equipment set than if we want to conduct beach or short range assaults"

    For me, that is the biggest challenge of the marines. The army now has striker brigades that are mobile and plenty of light infantry. If they were to acquire lighter expeditionary tanks they would be even more mobile. Perhaps the marines should move in the opposite direction.

    Heavy armour and APC's -I'm thinking Merkava tanks and Namer IFV like vehicles- along with combat engineers plus artillery versions.

    The marines would also maintain the ability to deploy AAVs.

    Basically, a force that is focused on seizing and securing a beach-head or port and then pushing out a shortish distance.

    During WW2 landing craft proved to be extremely versatile. Rocket carrying landing craft could provide effective fire support. Such a vessel could be semi-autonomous and be unmanned for the most dangerous part of the mission. I would like to see plenty of landing craft forward based and capable of self-deploying, being carried internally by naval ships or towed into position.

    Combined with tank landing ships, the marines would be able to put a lot of hardware ashore fairly quickly.

    In low intensity warfare, marine heavy armour would be moved up to support the army in built up areas. Marine AAV units would leave their vehicles and act as light/ air-mobile infantry.



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    1. Dave, we struggled getting heavy armor ashore during an assault throughout WWII and we've all but given up doing so today. Our "solution" has been to go light - fewer tanks, lighter personnel carriers, lighter "IFVs", less artillery, and so on. Ominously, the rest of the world is gearing up for heavier fighting. There's a disconnect between us and the rest of the world. When we meet China's heavy tanks or NKorea's heavy artillery or whoever's heavy forces with our Stryker brigades, we'll wind up regretting our move towards lightness.

      I completely agree that the Marines should have heavier tanks, artillery, HAPCs, IFVs and whatnot so that we can conduct opposed landings with a chance of success. Remember, the Navy has no significant gun support and air power will be tied up defending the fleet so the Marines are going to have to make do with whatever they can bring ashore. If the extent of their armor is AAVs with 0.50 cal MGs, they'll be in a world of hurt!

      The Army should be even heavier. They are the slower responding but immensely more powerful hammer. Nothing wrong with having a few lighter airborne, air assault units but the bulk of the Army should be armored overkill.

      The Marines need heavier armor and they need to figure out how to get it ashore in the initial waves.

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    2. I was thinking a combined army/ marine seaborne force. Marines aboard the assault ships making the initial landings and securing the beachhead with the more mobile army then leapfrogging ahead to secure inland objectives.

      If the marines are given limited objectives - in terms of distance - then why not have armour that is heavier then the army? Merkava style tanks and IFVs with large internal volumes and auxiliary power units would be largely self sufficient for several days if they didnt have to move too far.

      Getting heavy armour to the beach in an initial assault has to be a combination of tank landing craft and LCAC. Some of the new European designs look like they have the potential to self deploy if used from forward bases. Use the well deck space for the LCAC's.

      I feel the landing craft has the potential to provide not only a means of getting vehicles to the shore but also to be able to provide rocket fire support and possibly air defence. Why not load up some old landing craft with chaff/ infrared decoy mortars and send them remotely ahead of a landing force? The marines need to be war gaming ways of doing this rather then waiting for industry to come up with ever more expensive ways of getting lighter troops further afield.

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  12. CNO,

    This topic has spun in many directions (sort of like the USN and USMC...), but one issue left critically unexplored is the absolute mess that is troop vertical lift in USMC.

    The USMC H-1/H-46/H-53 was suboptimal, but at least workable at a tactical level compared to the Army H-60/H47 program, but the USMC insistence on the V-22/H-53K is both foolish at the tactical and strategic (procurement) levels. And this does not take into account the impact of the FVL programs which will leave the Marine Corps with inadequate numbers, of technically inferior airframes, that cost 3-5 times as much to procure and maintain as their Army counterparts- and if that was not bad enough, the corps will be left with airframes that are ill suited for “full spectrum” vertical envelopment while *maximizing* blue casualties.

    I have said it before, but right now the USA can assemble a much more effective and flexible vertical envelopment force for ship to shore forced entry operations than the USMC, and the army can do it with existing force structure and equipment. This debacle started in late 1980s when the Corps decided to double down (twice!) on its fetish with the V-22 and CH-53, even as the Army converted to the H-60/H47. I am putting down a marker that the CH-53K is going to cost almost $150Million per copy by the time it enters LRIP - 2014 projections are $126M, but we know those costs are going to climb. When that happens, two (2) CH-53Ks are going to cost about as much as ten (10!) of the latest H-47s and will not even offer any real practical advantage at the airframe level.

    GAB

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    1. Unexplored, indeed! So many topics, so little time. One can only hope that an enterprising and knowledgable person will come forward and offer a post on the topic to follow up on your excellent lead-in.

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