Wednesday, October 17, 2018

China War - Setting The Stage

War with China appears to be inevitable.  Many people don’t believe that or, rather, don’t want to believe it.  You know what, though?  For the purposes of this post, it doesn’t matter.  We’re going to stipulate that a war with China is coming for the sake of discussion.  You don’t need to believe it but it’s only wise to prepare for the possibility even if you don’t think it will happen.  To totally ignore the possibility would be the height of foolishness.  This somewhat long-winded opening paragraph serves to set the stage for this post and eliminate the inevitable “China is our friend, a peace loving world neighbor, and would never consider going to war” comments.  I’m not going to allow a debate of whether China will or won’t go to war.  Instead, we’re going to discuss and plan for a war regardless of how likely or unlikely you or I, personally, believe it to be.

Whew!  Glad to get that out of the way.

Now, what I’m going to discuss is general considerations associated with a war with China.  Note that most of this would apply in a general sense to any enemy and any war.

Before we go any further, we need to stipulate that the US will not start a war with China.  That means that a war will be started by China.  That initial condition dictates many aspects of the war.  China will get the first strikes, will be able to initiate land seizures, establish the initial location and conditions of combat, etc.  Thus, America’s first actions will be purely reactionary and defensive.

The recognition that our first actions will be defensive should dictate our peacetime posture and raise questions such as,

  • How many and what type of forces we should have forward deployed given that they will be hit hard and likely lost in the opening moments of a war?

  • Should our few forward bases be hardened more than they are given the expected ballistic and cruise missile attacks?

  • Do we have sufficient forward deployed engineering assets to quickly rebuild initially damaged bases?

  • Is it wise to have naval forces based in Japan given the proximity to Chinese ballistic and cruise missiles and the resultant likelihood of their loss?

  • Are our forces positioned so as to quickly respond to initial invasion/seizure attempts?

  • Are we willing to fight for Taiwan in the initial stages of a war?

The issue of Taiwan is one that needs to be addressed.  In any war, Taiwan will be the first (or co-first) objective of China for two main reasons:

  1. China has long wanted control over Taiwan and a war offers the perfect opportunity regardless of the actual purpose of the war.

  1. More importantly, China simply cannot allow an enemy base to exist in its front yard during a war.  Strategically and operationally, Taiwan must be eliminated as a threat.

Thus, the U.S. will have the choice of trying to fight a very difficult battle to support/retake Taiwan, deep in the heart of the Chinese A2/AD zone or to abandon Taiwan and allow it to become a Chinese fortress anchoring the first island chain A2/AD zone.  Neither choice is particularly palatable but the issue must be accounted for in initial war planning.

Moving on, the biggest requirement in any war planning and, ironically, the biggest failing of most people who discuss war plans, is the need to define the desired end result.  Presumably, that means victory, right?  After all, who enters a war with losing being the desired end result?  Ironically, and disturbingly, the US has not attempted to win a war since WWII.  Even Desert Storm turned out to be a tactical and operational victory and a long term strategic failure.  So, what general conditions would constitute a desirable end result, if not victory, in a war with China?  Let’s consider some possibilities.

Conquer all of mainland China – Well, that’s just absurd.  We don’t have the manpower, weapons, capacity, or will to engage in that level of war and, even if we did, it’s highly unlikely that we could successfully (meaning, for any cost that we’d be willing to pay) subjugate a country of 1.4 billion people who have been raised to hate us.  While a conquered China that is no longer a threat to the rest of the world is a highly desirable end state, it is just not realistically achievable. 

This is just an idiotic non-starter of an idea.

Return to pre-war status quo – This is probably the end result that most people would choose.  While this would return the world to “normal” it presents one major problem – we’ll have to fight the war all over again, down the road.  China will learn military lessons, rearm (while incorporating the lessons), and try again.  This is essentially what happened with Iraq and Saddam Hussein.  We returned Iraq to the pre-war conditions and, sure enough, wound up having to fight the same war/country/leader again.  We had the opportunity at the end of Desert Storm to permanently eliminate Iraq/Hussein and opted not to. 

Status quo doesn’t gain anything for the US or the world.  If we’re going to commit to war and pay a horrific price in lives, it’s mandatory that we improve the world in some way – not just return to status quo. 

This is a viable and achievable end result but it produces no net positive gain for the US or the world and ensures that we’ll fight another war.

Negotiated settlement – This allows China to achieve a portion of its goals in exchange for peace – essentially, we “sell” various countries, locations, rights, and controls at the negotiating table in order to avoid continued fighting.  China gains, to a degree, undoubtedly a significant degree, and we and the rest of the world lose. 

This also sets a horrible precedent that China can initiate a war, seize what it wants plus a bit more, and then return the parts it didn’t really want and keep the parts it did want while looking like it is negotiating in good faith and desires peace.

This guarantees future wars.

That pretty much covers the common end results.  See what I mean about the disturbing lack of actual victory conditions?  Only conquering all of mainland China is an actual victory and it’s unachievable. 

So, where does that leave us?

There is one, and only one, other logical end result and it happens to result in an actual victory with actual long term improvement in the world condition.

Military and Academic Annihilation – This results in the complete defeat of China’s military but does not require occupation of China.  We simply, systematically, destroy China’s military and destroy China’s military industry.  This, alone, however, is not enough.  That end result would leave China’s leadership in place and the country intact.  China would learn lessons and rebuild its industry and military and we’d have to eventually fight the war all over again at some point in the future.  To prevent this, we need to go a step further and utterly destroy China’s academic capability.  We need to destroy every university, every think tank, every study group, every research facility, every school.  We need to eliminate China’s ability to produce new engineers and scientists that can eventually design new military factories and new weapons.  That’s how you prevent a repeat, future war.


Having set the desired end result, we now have to set the initial conditions and, most importantly, our initial force disposition.  Having already stipulated that the first strike will go to China, we have to consider a force disposition that allows us to absorb a first strike without crippling damage – in other words, not another Pearl Harbor.

For example, having a single carrier based in Japan is inviting a first strike, immediate loss of a carrier.  We should reconsider the wisdom and benefit of a single carrier in Japan versus the risk of immediate loss.

Guam is a Pearl Harbor waiting to happen.  Again, we need to reconsider the benefits versus the risk.  At the moment, Guam is not host to a lot of naval force so a strike would not represent a crippling blow.  On the other hand, we have seen a slow but steady increase in the number of ships based there and we should consider the risk carefully.

Hand in hand with risk assessment, we should carefully review the defendability of Guam and make major improvements if we want to maintain it as a viable and survivable forward base.

Pearl Harbor is also a Pearl Harbor waiting to happen and all the same considerations apply.  While Pearl Harbor has the advantage of greater distance from China, it is not beyond the reach of a first strike.

For both Pearl Harbor and Guam, we need to establish a continuous anti-submarine (ASW) barrier around and between those sites and China

Beyond absorbing the first strike, we also want to have forces positioned to enable us to hit back hard and quickly in response to the first strike in an attempt to produce a pause in combat which will enable us to “set” ourselves for continued combat.

Thus, we need a combat ready surge force.  Unfortunately, our military leaders have produced a hollow force that is far from ready.  Returning carrier groups, for example, are scavenged for aircraft, personnel, and equipment to transfer to deploying groups.  The remaining aircraft and pilots barely get enough monthly flight hours to remain flight qualified.

Our aircraft availability rates are barely 50% across all services and aircraft types.

Our ships are barely seaworthy with multiple equipment failures, training lapses, and personnel shortages.

And so on.

As previously discussed, we need to end deployments and move to a mission based system in which we can reset our forces, catch up on maintenance, and train rigorously.

Hand in hand with initial kinetic strikes, China will launch massive cyber attacks.  We need to ensure that we are prepared to defend our networks or function without them.  Our crippling dependence on networks and our na├»ve assumption that we will always have them is a critical vulnerability.

This discussion leads to questions like what force structure and numbers do we need to implement the victory conditions but that’s a post for another time.

We now understand the initial conditions of war with China and the challenges we will face.  Now, before the shooting begins, is the time to plan, prepare, and train.  We need to adjust our force structure, reposition our forces, build up our bases, and train for the initial actions.  There is no hindsight required, here.  The initial conditions are easily anticipated.  We need our modern War Plan Orange.

Regarding comments, I’d like to have a reasoned, logical discussion about this. 

I am specifically not going to allow comments suggesting that we can’t even sneeze in China’s direction because they might begin using nuclear weapons.  That’s absurd beyond belief.  Yes, there could be a point where, in extremis, China would use nuclear weapons but it’s not going to be because we shoot down a plane or some such trivial action.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Not Enough Escorts For Convoys

Defense News website has what I’m sure they believe is an eye-opening article about the Navy not having enough escorts for convoys in future wars. (1)  I have no doubt that the article will cause a brief sensation and then fade into the realm of the forgotten as all such eye-opening revelations do.  Before it fades, however, commentators will, no doubt bemoan the state of the Navy and suggest that we have no hope of winning a future war.

Here …  read this quote from the article.  You can’t help but be alarmed, right?

“The Navy has been candid enough with Military Sealift Command and me that they will probably not have enough ships to escort us. It’s: ‘You’re on your own; go fast, stay quiet,’” Buzby [Mark Buzby, the retired rear admiral who now leads the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration] told Defense News … (1)

This sounds like just the kind of thing that ComNavOps will jump on, right?  Wrong.  I have zero interest in the fact that the Navy does not have enough escorts for convoys.  What’s more, the lack of escorts is meaningless and – hold on to your hats for this – probably a good thing.  Wait, what now?!  How can a lack of convoy escorts be meaningless and a good thing?

Well, military observers and commentators have a consistent problem with their analyses and that is that they analyze from the perspective of being able to wage an instantaneous, full on war from day one.  If we don’t have all the escorts we need on day one then the Navy has failed.  If we don’t have all the minesweepers and minelayers we need on day one then the Navy has failed.  If we don’t have all the logistics support auxiliaries we need on day one then the Navy has failed.  If we don’t have all the cargo/transport ships we need on day one then the Navy/Merchant Marine has failed.  And so on.

The reality is that no one has all the things they need for a war on day one.  It takes time to gear up for war.  Factories need to convert to war production.  People need to be inducted and trained.  Ships, tanks, and aircraft need to be built.

We know the Navy had thousands of ships in WWII but what did the Navy start the war with?  Let’s look at, say, 1935 which was just before we began the gradual build up to war (by 1935 it was obvious that war was coming and the US began a slow build up).

Carriers        4
Battleships    15
Cruisers       25
Destroyers    104
Submarines     52
Mine Warfare   26
Patrol         23
Auxiliary      71

Total         320

If you subtract the ‘Patrol’ ships, whatever those are, which are probably not combat vessels, we had only 297 ships.

A 297 ship Navy???  That’s nowhere near enough to fight a full on war!  That’s nowhere near enough escorts for all the convoys!  All is lost!  We can’t win a war with that Navy!  …  …  Except that we did.

It just took time to build up.  By 1944 we had over 6000 ships in the Navy and every convoy had escorts.

The lesson is clear.  The lack of escorts, today, is meaningless.  We’ll build what we need, when we need it. 

In fact, the lack of escorts is probably a good thing because it means we aren’t wasting ships, crews, and budget on a task that doesn’t exist.

Now, there are some aspects to this that I will jump on.

Shipyards – The most important aspect of this is our lack of shipyards.  Before WWII we had dozens of shipyards which meant we had the capacity to quickly build whatever we lacked when we entered the war.  The same applies to factories.  We’ve sent so much of our production capacity overseas that we may lack the factory capacity to build the required tanks, aircraft, munitions, etc.  This is a very serious issue and is one that the nation should be addressing as a strategic national interest.

Institutional Knowledge – One of the responsibilities of the military/Navy should be to maintain institutional knowledge about operations, tactics, and capabilities that we may not use frequently but which we can anticipate needing when war comes.  Escort tactics is an example.  When was the last time you heard of the Navy training to escort a merchant convoy?  The answer is never.  How many escorts do we need for a given convoy?  How should they be deployed to counter modern air and subsurface threats?  What kind of command and control structure is needed?  I have no idea (understandable) but neither does the Navy (unforgivable). 

It’s not a problem that we don’t have all the escorts we need for a war but it is a problem that we don’t maintain a small group of dedicated ships that train constantly for the escort role so as to provide a fully competent training cadre when the need arises.

Simplicity – Gearing up when war comes is greatly facilitated by being able to build things that are relatively basic and simple.  An F6F Hellcat, for example, is a lot easier to build quickly and in large quantity than and F-35.  This is not to suggest that we revert to Hellcats but we should factor complexity into our design criteria.  In other words, a state of the art but relatively simpler fighter aircraft that we can build quickly, in large numbers, might well be a better choice than an F-35 that we’ve been trying to build for decades and still can’t get right.  Alternatively, we might consider a slightly second tier aircraft that can be quickly mass produced as a supplement to the overly complex front line aircraft.

Specifically, for the escort issue, we currently lack a suitable, simple, general purpose escort vessel that we can quickly mass produce when war comes.  We don’t really want to have to use front line, multi-billion dollar Aegis vessels to conduct routine convoy escort where, 95% of the time, nothing happens.  There’s nothing wrong with attaching a Burke to a convoy that we anticipate is likely to encounter the enemy but most convoys will not fall into that category.  A simple corvette/destroyer escort type vessel is needed.  We should have a few such vessels in service in order to maintain the design, train, develop tactics, and test new equipment (see, Institutional Knowledge, above).

Convoy Escort - WWII Flower Class Corvette

While I have no problem with the Navy’s current lack of escorts for merchant convoys, I have a severe problem with the Navy’s utter indifference to the issue.  Simply telling the Military Sealift Command and various merchant groups, ‘You’re on your own; go fast, stay quiet,’ is not the answer.  The answer is to maintain a small group of escorts for training and competency, have a simple ship design that can be quickly produced, and have a plan to build, train, and man those ships when the time comes.

Unfortunately, the Navy is so focused on big, shiny, expensive hulls that they completely ignore the mundane.  Well, I’ve got news for the Navy – unless those mundane convoys get through, those big, shiny, fancy new Fords are going to grind to a halt for lack of parts, fuel, munitions, food, etc.

Laughing off the convoy escort issue with a ‘go fast’ admonition is irresponsible and dereliction of duty.  This is yet another example of CNO Richardson’s failure of command.


(1)Defense News website, “‘You’re on your own’: US sealift can’t count on Navy escorts in the next big war”, David B. Larter, 10-Oct-2018,

Friday, October 12, 2018

Attack Transport APA

We recently discussed the value of our big deck, amphibious aviation ships and concluded that they did not offer sufficient value to justify their cost.  One of the alternative suggestions was to transfer the aviation capability to the fleet’s regular aircraft carriers and relocate the amphibious ground combat element to dedicated transport vessels similar to the WWII Attack Transports (APA).  Let’s consider the APA in a bit more detail.

The WWII APA, as typified by the Haskell class, was designed to carry 1500 troops and their combat equipment.  The ships carried around two dozen landing craft of various types.  The Haskell APA was 455 ft long and had a displacement of 6900 t (light) and 14,000 t (loaded).  Contrast this to the current Wasp LHD class at 843 ft long and 40,000 t displacement and carrying 1700 troops.  The Wasp is nearly twice as long and three times the displacement with around the same troop transport capacity.

                 Haskell     Wasp

Length, ft           455      843
Displacement, t   14,000   40,000
Troops              1500     1700

Haskell Class APA

The APA contains several inherent design advantages compared to our current LXX amphibious ships.

  • Number of Landing Craft – The APA carried a couple dozen landing craft, the most common of which was the LCVP which carried around 36 troops and had a speed of around 12 kts.  Contrast this with the current AAV which carries around 20 troops and has a speed of around 7 kts.  The LCVP was reusable whereas the AAV is single use but can function as a poor armored personnel carrier on land.  Also contrast the number of landing craft with the 0-3 LCACs that current amphibious ships carry.  A couple of the new America class LHAs don’t even have a well deck and cannot transport and land any equipment that can’t be loaded onto a helo.  The number of landing craft on the APA and their reusability made the APA less vulnerable to the effects of landing craft attrition.  To be fair, the number of landing craft is less an issue of the type of ship and more one of the type of landing craft although the APA’s use of over-the-side landing craft as opposed to the LXX well decks offers certain advantages in terms of numbers.  To be even more fair, if the modern AAVs are considered landing craft then the numbers are more even but there’s no getting around the fact that the AAVs are one use craft as opposed to the LCVPs.

  • Defensive Armament – An APA contained purely defensive anti-air armament (some classes had a 5” gun which was used for anti-air but could provide anti-surface in an emergency).  In a modern context this would equate to simple, self-contained, short range anti-air weapons like CIWS and SeaRAM.  No sophisticated sensor suite would be needed since the weapons contain their own radars.  Contrast this with the sensor suite on an LXX which consists of 2D, 3D, surface search, and air traffic control radars which drives up costs.

  • Cost – APAs were basically commercial cargo ships.  Their austere fit kept the cost down which allowed large numbers of ships to be built.  In WWII, 388 APAs were built – we’re struggling to maintain a 30-ship amphibious fleet.  The low cost and large numbers greatly mitigated the impact of a sunken ship.  As we’ve discussed, the sensor suite, fairly extensive weapons suite, and aviation capability drastically drives up the cost of modern LXX amphibious ships.

  • Commercial Design – APAs were basically commercial cargo ships.  As such it would be possible and quite reasonable to build them for commercial use with conversion in mind and convert them to transports when needed.  Thus, they would serve a useful commercial purpose for the 99% time when we aren’t conducting major amphibious assaults but still be available when needed.

  • Ship To Shore – APAs had the ability to land their entire troop and equipment/cargo load using their organic landing craft.  LXXs are somewhat limited.  In an aviation assault mode, the LXX cannot land most of the Marine’s heavier and most useful equipment.  The lead ships of the America class have no well deck and are limited to only aviation landings which means they can’t land any heavier, useful equipment.
So, what does all this tell us?

It tells us that the current big deck LXX amphibious ships are an evolutionary mistake.  They began as an attempt to incorporate aviation, in the form of helos, into amphibious assaults but the concept was carried too far and resulted in hugely expensive ships that have very little use outside their narrow task set of amphibious assault.  The ships are also not very efficient at their main task of actually landing the ground element and their equipment.

We need to give serious consideration to eliminating the big deck LXX amphibious ships, dispersing the aviation element to regular carriers, and using modern APAs to transport and land the ground element.  Along with that, we need to design a reusable landing craft whose only function is ship to shore transport, rather than try to be an all-in-one high speed landing craft / armored personnel carrier / fire support / light tank / whatever else, miracle vehicle.  We keep trying to re-travel the failed EFV path instead of emulating the venerable, cheap, Higgins boat.

The LXX ships are yet another attempt by the Navy to make every ship a single-handed war winner.  Today’s amphibious ships are a combination of fixed wing aircraft carrier, helo carrier, troop transport, cargo vessel, assault ship with, now, rumblings of offensive anti-surface and area anti-air capabilities.  The result is ships that are too expensive to afford in sufficient quantity and too expensive to risk conducting the very task they were designed for – assaults!  You can’t conduct an assault from 25-50+ nm offshore.  We need to return to simple, basic, modified cargo ships as APAs.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Endless Afghanistan

Here’s a post about a subject that doesn’t directly involve the Navy to any great extent but contains lessons directly applicable to naval operations.

From a Military Times website article we learn that air strikes in Afghanistan are near peak levels.

For July, strike metrics saw highs across the board as the result of a surge in operations post-ceasefire, according to AFCENT.

“The U.S. flew 749 strike sorties, 88 of which included a weapons release. Both are monthly highs this year," according to the AFCENT press release accompanying the monthly statistics. "Also, the U.S. employed 746 weapons in July, the highest monthly total since November 2010.”

The total number of weapons released this year, which includes both manned and unmanned platforms, tops out at 3,714. That number is higher than every year’s total going back to 2013, with the exception of 2017. (1)

How many years have we been in Afghanistan and what have we accomplished?  At best, we’ve achieved a stalemate that continues only due to our continuous military involvement.  In other words, the stalemate we’ve achieved is not even a stable one. 

More realistically, we’ve wasted the lives of too many servicemen for no lasting gain, ravaged our readiness, spent countless dollars on strikes that accomplish nothing, and forged a military that is now ill-equippped, trained, and experienced to carry out its primary function which is fighting peer wars.  Afghanistan, Iraq, and the like have devastated our military in so many ways.

Worse, there is no end in sight and even the stated objective is nebulous and unlikely to produce a permanent positive outcome.

 U.S. aircraft continued to pound Taliban positions across Afghanistan to convince the insurgent force that negotiating with the Afghan government is their only option, according to a press release and statistics provided by U.S. Air Forces Central Command this month. (1)

That’s our goal???  To pressure a ruthless, evil, terrorist organization to negotiate with a corrupt government with the absolute certainty that the moment we withdraw our military support the Taliban will renege on any agreements and attempt to re-conquer every territory they’ve lost?

This is what we’re dying for, crippling our readiness for, and spending our budget on?

This is the perfect example of ComNavOps’ philosophy of war:  in it to win it or don’t get in it.  We shouldn’t be in this one if those are our goals.  We have no compelling national interest in Afghanistan or, at least, none that we’ve enumerated.  A case can certainly be made for a compelling interest in crushing a terrorist organization, the Taliban, but we’re not attempting to do that so the case is moot.

Lacking a compelling interest, we need to leave.  More, we need to learn the lesson that it’s idiotic to keep jumping into minor conflicts where we have no compelling interest and no intention of winning decisively. 

Returning our focus to the Navy, the Navy’s Freedom of Navigation exercises, for example, serve no purpose other than, perversely, reinforcing the legitimacy of China’s territorial claims and increasing tensions in the region.  We have no intention of “winning decisively” so why are we doing them?

The Navy’s patrolling off Yemen and the claimed attacks on US warships are another example of getting involved in a dispute that we have no elucidated compelling national interest in and no intention of “winning decisively” so why are we there?

Consider the Navy’s endless patrols of the Persian Gulf region.  A case can certainly be made for a compelling national interest there but we’re utterly failing to deal with the issue decisively.  We should withdraw from patrols and back away while clearly telling the Iranians that if they cause an incident that affects the US, they’ll be punished severely.  If the Iranians cause an incident (and they will) then we should hammer them hard – meaning, wipe out their laughable navy and air force and decapitate their military so that they can cause no further trouble.

The combination of limited involvement and decisive action when we do get involved preserves our forces by not wearing them out conducting useless patrols, deployments, and operations and maximizes their effect when we do take action.  Taking decisive action also significantly reduces the need for such action since potential miscreants will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that crossing the line will result in death.

Afghanistan is an object lesson in the folly of jumping into conflicts with no compelling national interest and no intention of “winning decisively”.

In it to win it or don’t get in it.


(1)Military Times website, “US airstrikes in Afghanistan continue to climb this month, highest this decade”, Kyle Rempfer, 28-Aug-2018,

Monday, October 8, 2018

Aviation Amphibious Assault Ships

The centerpiece of the US amphibious assault force is the aviation capable, big deck LHA/LHD ship such as the America (LHA) and Wasp (LHD) classes.  Even the smaller amphibious ships such as the now standard San Antonio (LPD) class have a significant aviation capability.

The USS America (LHA-6), for example, is a monument to aerial flexibility and power.  The aviation component can vary according to mission needs but a typical mix of aircraft might be 12 MV-22 transports, 6 F-35B strike aircraft, 4 CH-53K heavy transport helicopters, 7 AH-1Z/UH-1Y attack helicopters, and 2 MH-60S helos for search and rescue, according to Wiki (2).  The ship can also be configured to operate as a mini-carrier by dropping the helos and MV-22s and embarking 20 F-35Bs instead.

Even the smaller San Antonio (LPD-17) can operate a mix of several helos and MV-22s.

Collectively, this impressive aviation capability leads me to refer to these imposing vessels as … useless.

Wait, what?

How can that much aviation capability be useless?

For starters, I’ve repeatedly stated that there is no strategic need for amphibious assaults in any war against Russia, NKorea, and China (with the possible but unlikely exception of retaking Taiwan).  There is a slight chance of an amphibious assault against Iran but that would be more along the lines of an unopposed unloading rather than an assault.  With that said, our amphibious fleet offers no useful capability because it simply will never be needed.

For the sake of continued discussion, let’s assume that there is some undefined, non-specific need for amphibious assault.  Let’s take a closer look at the large deck, amphibious fleet of 30+ ships.  What do these aviation amphibious assault ships offer?

The Marines seem to desperately want to become an aviation vertical assault force.  By definition, that means that they can only be a light infantry force since they can’t transport tanks, heavy vehicles, etc. by air.  Worse, such a force can only be a very, very short duration force since it is not possible to sustain an assault by MV-22/helo resupply especially when the likely attrition rates are factored in. 

So, what kind of action does this translate to?  At most, it would be a low intensity, short duration raid or rescue type scenario.  This low level of combat power is simply not useful in peer combat and certainly does not justify the construction and maintenance of a 30+ ship amphibious fleet.  Really, 30+ amphibious ships to service light infantry?  Does that make sense?

Let’s look now at close air support.  Supposedly, the Marines want their “own” carriers so that they can always be assured of air support.  Okay, how much firepower does that air support provide?  A standard Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) consists of three amphibious ships:  an LHA/LHD, an LPD, and an LSD.  The typical attack aircraft totals are 6 F-35Bs and 7 attack helos.  So, what kind of firepower does that represent?

An F-35B can carry a total of 6 air-to-ground weapons (2 internal + 4 external with 2 additional near-wingtip hardpoints for smaller, air to air weapons only).  Therefore, 6 F-35s can deliver a theoretical maximum of 36 weapons per attack “wave”.  Also, note that the F-35B model is limited to 2x 1000 lb bombs internally (the remaining internal mounting points are for smaller, air to air weapons).  So, assuming a maximum 2000 lb bomb on the external hardpoints (I don’t know if this is even a permissible arrangement) plus two 1000 lb bombs internally, the maximum munitions load for a single aircraft would be 10,000 lbs.  Thus, 6 F-35Bs can deliver a theoretical maximum of 60,000 lbs of munitions.

An AH-1Z can carry up to 16 Hellfire missiles or 76 unguided 2.75 inch rockets or 28 guided rockets.  This is a nice “sniper” capability to have in a low end scenario but is almost insignificant in terms of firepower in high end combat.

So, the aviation element can deliver 36 munitions (10,000 lbs) once every few to several hours.  Assuming no aircraft combat losses and minimal maintenance (an invalid assumption since all modern military jets require extensive maintenance for every flight hour), we could, theoretically, generate an aviation attack wave once every, say, six hours, at best.  Doing the math, that’s an average of 6 munitions per hour.  Does that sound like it would have the slightest effect on a Marine assault/battle? 

Of course, the numbers cited are for a Marine Expeditionary Unit and they values would scale up as we move to a MEB/MEF but the relative contributions would remain unchanged.

Now, just for fun, let’s look at a Burke class destroyer providing fire support with its single 5”/54 or 5”/62 gun.  The gun can fire 68 lb shells at a rate of 20 rounds per minute with a magazine of 680 shells (1).  Thus, a single Burke with a single 5” gun can provide 46,240 lbs of munitions and can deliver that amount in 34 minutes, firing at a rate of 20 rpm.  Further, the naval gunfire is always on call, cannot be jammed or decoyed, is impervious to weather conditions, and puts no pilot’s lives at risk.  Of course, this assumes that the Navy is courageous enough to risk a Burke within a few miles of shore and that the targets are within range of the ship’s guns!

At this point, the astute military analyst should be asking, why do we even bother with amphibious aviation ships given the very marginal firepower support they can provide?  Wouldn’t all that aviation money be better spent on naval gun support?

To be fair, we should note that amphibious aircraft can offer weapons delivery further inland than current naval gun support.  Of course, the further inland, the fewer the number of attack waves (sorties) we can generate so that’s a double-edged sword.  Again, the astute military analyst should be asking, wouldn’t all that aviation money be better spent on long range, amphibious, self-propelled artillery that the Marines can bring ashore with them?

Wasp Class LHD

We should also note that much of the amphibious aviation element is geared towards transport rather than weapons delivery.  However, given that current aircraft can’t lift/transport tanks, engineering vehicles, artillery, or any other heavy equipment, the Marines are, by definition, limited to being light infantry when using aviation as the ship-to-shore transport mode.  The astute military analyst should be asking, is it worth the incredible expenditure to build and maintain a 30+ large deck, amphibious fleet just to provide light infantry combat capability?  Couldn’t the Army/Air Force combination provide light infantry anywhere in the world for a lot less money?

So where does that leave us and what can/should we do?

There are several possibilities.

  • In recognition of the Marine’s (now) light infantry capability combined with the unlikelihood of major amphibious assaults in the foreseeable future, eliminate the bulk of the amphibious fleet.  We can retain around 9 ships (3 ARGs) for training and core competency retention or for use in low end scenarios.  Turn the rapid response light infantry role over to the Army/Air Force.

  • Greatly increase our naval gun support capability.  As we have no effective naval gun support, currently, this would entail designing and building a new class of naval gun support ship.

  • Greatly increase the Marine’s organic self-propelled artillery capability.  The challenge with this approach is to get the equipment ashore quickly and early in an assault.

  • Figure out a way to get the current heavy equipment, armor, and firepower from ship to shore in a faster, more survivable way that can put the equipment ashore from outset of an assault.  Since it’s highly unlikely that aircraft could be developed that could provide the necessary lift, this means designing landing craft that are small (sized for individual tanks as the maximum size requirement), fast, and reasonably survivable as part of the initial assault wave.

  • Eliminate aviation-capable amphibious ships and transfer the aviation responsibility to the regular aircraft carriers.  This would greatly streamline aviation maintenance and efficiency.  It would also eliminate the need for the F-35B since the carriers can operate the “C” model.  This would also have the effect of increasing air wing size and employing the wing more effectively until that rare moment, if ever, when we need amphibious air support.  Hand in hand with this would be the relocation of the ground element to smaller, cheaper, pure transport vessels (Attack Transports – APAs, to use the WWII terminology).

Considering that we’re maintaining a fleet of 30+ multi-billion dollar aviation-based amphibious ships for a marginal aviation capability, one has to wonder if the expense is worth it.  Our big deck amphibious ships simply don’t offer high end combat capability sufficient to justify their existence.


(1)NavWeaps website

(2)Wiki, “USS America (LHA-6)”, retrieved 7-Jun-2018,

Friday, October 5, 2018

Deploy Or Get Out

The Navy remains mystified why there is resentment towards women in the service.  Well, for those Navy leaders too stupid to figure it out, the answer is that the service habitually shows favoritism towards women and gives them special treatment.  Here’s the latest example.

The Navy has declared that non-deployable sailors will be evaluated for separation from the service. (1)  Hey, that makes sense and ComNavOps fully supports that.  After all, the Navy is a sea-going organization, at its core, and those who can’t deploy are a liability and a burden that has to be compensated for by those who can deploy. 

Of course, what exception was immediately carved out of the non-deployable policy?  You know, right?  Pregnant women, of course.

Now, pregnancy is not something you catch, like the common cold.  It’s not something that just happens, like an accident.  Pregnancy is a choice.  Pregnancy is a self-inflicted condition.  Correct me if I’m wrong about this but it’s a violation of the UCMJ (Article 115) to cause a self-inflicted injury that prevents a service member from carrying out their duty.  How is pregnancy any different? 

Pregnancy is different because it involves women.  Women are coddled, catered to, and favored via policy, both formal and informal, in the military.  Is it any wonder that there is so much resentment towards women?

Rather not ship out on your next deployment?

  • If you’re a man, tough luck.
  • If you’re a woman, get pregnant.

The military claims equality for women but every policy that’s implemented favors women and offers them special treatment. 

I Need Someone To Deploy For Me

If the Navy wants to be taken seriously with regards to women then women have to be treated equally.  Pregnancy should be grounds for court-martial and separation.

Fun fact:  Roughly 9% of the women in the military are pregnant. (4)

Fun fact:  The Military Health website states that 13.1% of Women Of Child Bearing Potential (WOCBP – yes, that’s an actual category) had a least one “pregnancy related event”. (5)


(1)Navy Times website, “Navy warns sailors who can’t deploy that they will be reviewed for involuntary separation”, Mark Faram, 26-Sep-2018,

(2)Navy Times, “Go To Sea Or Go Home”, Mark Faram, 4-Oct-2018,

(4)Calculated:  Ref (3) cites 1.3M active duty personnel across all services with women making up around 17%.  Ref (2) cites 20,000 women pregnant in the services, currently.  Thus, around 221,000 women serving making the pregnancy rate around 9%.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Marines and Armor

The Marines have always had a love-hate relationship with armor and its close cousin, firepower – embracing it when combat occurred and then rejecting it when combat was over.  Recently, over the last couple of decades, the Marines have been engaged in a steady movement away from heavy combat power and toward “lightness”.  The number of tanks in inventory has been reduced as two of the four tank battalions in the 2nd Tank Battalion have been dropped in the last few years (1, 2) and MEUs have recently deployed without any tanks.  The 120 mm mortar was dropped.   The number of 81 mm mortars was reduced.

Artillery has also been reduced.  From Col. Clifford Weinstein, Commanding Officer, 10th Marine Regiment,

“You have to look back first, because Marine Corps artillery has always been in a state of flux. There have been times when we’ve had an awful lot of artillery, and there have been times when we’ve had almost none. The point we’re at now with the budget constraints, as well as coming off of several contingencies throughout the world, is we’ve reduced the amount of artillery, to a degree.” (3)

Disturbingly, Col. Weinstein also had this to say about artillery,

“… we have moved artillery out of the “area-fire” fires category.” (3)

The abandonment of area fire is disturbing enough but the mentality it reveals, that combat can be made into a neat, tidy, precision fire event is even more disturbing.

Not only has heavy combat firepower been reduced but lightness has been promoted.  The Marines are aggressively pursuing drones, information “warfare”, public relations, light “jeep” vehicles, tiny squad level quadcopters, etc.

Let’s take a look back in history and see whence this came.

Prior to WWII, the Marines had considered the amphibious assault and concluded that they only needed a light “tankette”.

“The Corps’ unique pursuit of a tankette of minimal size and capability in the 1930s stemmed from the limited view of beach defenses and the restricted capacity that ships and craft of the period displayed.  In effect, the Marine Corps only needed enough of a tank to land and knock out the opposing machine guns, and then accompany the infantry inland to support a short-term operation.  One discerns the beginnings of “lightness” as a Marine Corps dogma …” (4)

Thus, the Marines began WWII with little armor and even less interest in it.  Guadalcanal reinforced this perception as the terrain limited effective tank employment and, in the event, few tanks were landed with the troops and those that were, were used as mobile artillery and reserve firepower and, in the view of Corps leadership, did not materially impact the outcome of the battle.

The turning point in the Marine’s attitude towards armor came at Tarawa.

“But the brutal fight for Tarawa caused a major turning point in armored vehicle use by the Marine Corps, as in practically every other aspect of the amphibious landing art.  …  The larger medium tank now became essential, along with a flamethrower tank, and the Marine Corps pressed the amtrac into service as an armored personnel carrier, at least as far as the water’s edge.  The armored amphibian, already under development, now became an essential component of the assault formation.” (4)

Marine M4A2 Tank at Tarawa

The terrain of Vietnam, during that war, and the infantry and aviation centric nature of the warfare worked against the employment of armor and a generation of Marine officers came to believe that armor was not needed and, often, was a burden.

As the first Gulf War became imminent, the Marines, once again recognizing the need for armor, upgraded one and a half tank battalions from the old M60 series to the new M1 Abrams from excess Army stocks.  Unfortunately, this did not translate into doctrinal or tactical acceptance of armor.

In fact, during the period of time around the first Gulf War, the Corps adopted a defensive view of armor rather than offensive. 

“In the late 1990’s many officers continued to believe that the antitank missile would kill all the tanks, hence removing any need for tanks in the Corps.  USMC doctrine never provided for the tank as the basis of offensive power, as leaders learned and acknowledged frequently in the Great Pacific War, but instead continued to treat it as a key antiarmor weapon system.” (4)

“The Corps leadership perhaps lost its sense of need for modern armor.  The Commandant retiring in 1999, Gen. Charles C. Krulak, stated that he “would eliminate the tank fleet found in the Marine Corps today if I could.” (4)

A look at the Corps’ main battle tank inventory over the period from 1985-1999 is revealing.  In 1985, the Corps had 716 main battle tanks.  By 1999, the number had dropped to 403. (4)

Even today, Marine usage of armor is limited and focused on small units.

“The continuing Marine Corps tendency to use armored vehicles in small numbers, another version of “lightness” in practice, probably had its origin in the Korean War.” (4)

“… the long term association of tank platoons with infanty battalions as a normal assignment, reinforced by peacetime deployments of BLT and MEU-type units, caused an institutional rejection of mass as a principle of armored fighting vehicle employment.” (4)

This last point is key.  Tanks are best employed en masse, on the offensive whereas the Marines traditionally deploy tanks in small units as almost squad level defensive support.

We see, then, that the Marine’s reluctance to embrace armored warfare has long, historical roots.  Contrarily, these roots are invariably recognized as flawed when serious combat arises.  The Marine’s institutional ability to forget the lessons of combat so quickly after its cessation and, once again, reject armor is actually quite amazing.

Worse, the pendulum has now swung so far to the lightness side that the Marines have effectively removed themselves from consideration as a middle to high end combat force, leaving only low end combat and humanitarian missions as being within their capability.  Of course, this leads to questioning why we need a 30+ large deck amphibious fleet but that’s an issue for another time.

As we close, we need to acknowledge one of the driving forces in the Marine’s reluctance to embrace armor and that is the issue of transportability.  While the Army can emphasize heaviness (recent ‘lightness’ and ‘mobility’ trends not withstanding) because it transports its armor via cargo ships to functional ports (a potential weakness in our thinking and planning because we may not always have friendly, functional ports available and we have no port seizure capability), the Marines must depend on transport via landing craft, over the beach.  However, while this transportability issue must be acknowledged and addressed, it does not preclude or excuse abandonment of armor and firepower.  Instead, it simply mandates alternative thinking about the transport issue and the form that the armor and firepower should take – again, a topic for another post. 

LVT(A)-5 Amphibious 'Tank' at Iwo Jima

The closing thought on the transportability issue is that while the issue is real, Marines have always found a way around it in the past when combat occurred so it is clearly not an inherently limiting factor.  The real limiting factor is the Corps’ institutional mindset favoring lightness – a mindset completely unsupported by real world combat experience.


(4)”Marines Under Armor”, Kenneth W. Estes, Naval Institute Press, 2000