Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Best Defense Is A Good Offense

The Navy has a proud tradition of carrying the war to the enemy.  From the frigate Constitution to the Enterprise and submarines of WWII and on up to the A-6 Intruder, the Navy has always had a seek-and-destroy offensive mentality.  In contrast, though, the Navy’s design philosophy over the last few decades has become almost totally defensive.

The mainstay of the surface fleet is the Aegis system which is completely defensive.  The only anti-surface capability is the nearly obsolete Harpoon which is far too slow, short ranged, and non-stealthy for modern combat.  The upcoming Burke Flt III is a purely defensive design intended to provide AAW and BMD. 

Tomahawk provides a long range land attack capability but every VLS cell it occupies is grudgingly subtracted from the AAW inventory.  Tomahawk, like Harpoon, is aging and will prove far less capable than it so far has if used against a capable enemy.  The Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile (TASM) has been eliminated from the inventory.

Carrier strike has become short ranged (relative to the threats and strike targets) with small payloads.  One has only to compare the A-6E Intruder to the current Super Hornet or even F-35 to see what’s happened to ranges and payloads.  As we’ve pointed out repeatedly, the airwings are continually shrinking.

Our offensive mine warfare capability has been minimized and seemingly relegated to a forgotten warehouse.  We are focused exclusively on the defensive mine countermeasures aspect of mine warfare.

The only real semblance of offensive capabilities and mindset is the submarine force and even that’s borderline.  While we are building newer and more effective subs, the corresponding weapons are not keeping pace.  The Mk48 torpedo is capable but pedestrian given modern technology.  Tomahawk is, again, capable but unremarkable and is susceptible to capable defenses.  Further, the most potent strike platform, the SSGN, is being retired without a direct replacement.  Tomahawk capability will be distributed among the Virginias if funding holds up.

Given the preceding observations, one must ask, why do we have a Navy?  The answer is, ultimately, we have a Navy to conduct offensive operations – to strike the enemy.  Otherwise, we have a Navy that exists only to defend itself – that’s pointless.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly the direction we’re headed.

The best defense is a good offense.

Better to kill archers than arrows.

The Navy can’t ignore defense but the purpose of defense is to get the strike force into an offensive position.  The best way to defend is to attack the source of the threat.  Hit the bases that the enemy’s aircraft are launching from.  Destroy the missile sites.  Attack harbors that the ships and subs use.  And so on.

By all means, we should be working on ballistic missile defense, for example, but we should equally, if not more, be focused on attacking the source of the threat.  As a general statement, that means long range targeting and attack.

Here are a few things the offensive Navy should be pursuing.

  • Intermediate range ballistic missiles for both anti-ship and land attack
  • Long range, supersonic anti-ship missiles
  • Tomahawk replacement with greater stealth, supersonic speed, greatly enhanced countermeasures and ECM, and enhanced autonomy
  • Mine delivery system capable of rapid delivery over vast distances (fully mine enemy harbors on day one)
  • Simple, affordable, very long range, “throw away”, stike UAVs for high risk missions
  • Mk48 follow on torpedo with greater range, speed (super cavitating?), and enhanced targeting and counter-countermeasures capability.  Let the Chinese face a carrier killer!
  • Dedicated long range electronic warfare aircraft capable of accompanying long range, high speed strike aircraft
  • Long range, hard hitting large gun (8”)
  • Dedicated SSGN replacement
  • Long range (1000+ nm useful combat radius) air superiority fighter

You’ll note that I purposely left out lasers (purely defensive) and rail guns (still technically unachievable though worth continued R&D).

This list is hardly all-inclusive but would serve as a good starting point for rebuilding the Navy’s offensive capabilities.


  1. Isn't a TLAM a "simple, affordable, very long range, throw away, strike UAV?"

    We can't afford a dedicated SSGN replacement on top of the SSBN(X) program, funding enough SSNs, and everything else everyone wants. Besides, SSGNs are one (or one-fifty) shot wonders. See you in a month for the next one-fifty. We need ways to sustain thousands of strikes per day, indefinitely. SSGNs aren't it.

    Carrier airpower is still the primary Naval contributor to offensive warfare. The Super Hornet and F-35C may not rival the F-14D and A-6 for range or payload, but modern technology (sensors, weapons, stealth, maintainability) makes them better strikers now than those older aircraft were then.

    My list (not Navy specific):

    - I concur on the next gen TLAM. A 1000nm range, ship-launched JASSM would work for me.

    - Fully fund the NGB. Buy more than the measly 75 the USAF is asking for. They can attack targets every other day from great distances, or more than once per day if they're close. Take another serious look at the transport bomber concept. Perhaps develop it as a low-end counterpart to the NGB.

    - Offensive mining done by air by the NGB, and tactical airpower.

    - Stealthy, long-range, high-performance strike fighter. I'd like to see a 7-800nm radius; near F-22-level kinematics and stealth; modern sensors; threshold 2 x 2000lb weapons, 2 x AMRAAM, 2 x AIM-9, gun armament; objective 2 x 5000lb or 4 x 2000lb weapons, same missile and gun load. Yes it'll be expensive, but given the limited number of spots on a carrier, we need the best. Use it as the basis for an EW aircraft, swing-role tanker and offensive ASW aircraft (like the Su-34).

    - An "SSKN" that's half the price (and size) of a Virginia SSN with VPM (~$1.6 billion each vs $3+ billion for the VPM'd Virginia). The French Barracuda class is a good example. Buy one SSKN and one SSN+VPM per year for a steady state of 60 subs in the fleet. Numbers matter. We can't afford an all SSN+VPM fleet in the numbers we need.

    - A modern Kennedy-sized, conventional carrier bought in larger numbers instead of the Fords (try to get to 15). Aim for an air wing of ~50 with a surge capacity up to 80-90.

    - UCAVs bought in larger numbers to fill out flight decks, especially in surge situations.

    - A smaller, long ranged AShM/land attack missile to complement LRASM-B. Think MALD that goes boom. Use this to hunt the Houbeis of the world. Ship, fixed-wing, rotary, or sub launched.

    - A MALI style turbojet AAM that can be fired, en-mass into enemy air formations from great distances to disrupt, chase, and destroy them. 4-500nm, high subsonic cruise, mach 1.4 burst at the end. Carry dozens on NGBs and transport bombers to attrite and run enemy aircraft ragged before our fighters have to take them on.

    - Continue to develop airborne lasers for NGB and the strike fighter.

    1. B.Smitty, an interesting take on the TLAM as an affordable, throwaway UAV. The difference is that a UAV is controllable and, ideally (if it isn't thrown away), recoverable. That's what I'm looking for in that requirement. Still, the TLAM meets much of that requirement. Good observation.

      You've added in some Air Force wishes but that's OK. Hey, we're one big happy joint fighting force, right?

      We're going to have to disagree on the value of the SSGN. Regarding cost, the SSGN is certainly affordable if we stop wasting money on LCS, JSF, etc. It's all about priorities.

      You've lost me on the MALI AAM or, at least, I'm not recognizing the acronym. It sounds interesting. What is it?

    2. Making a UAV recoverable adds significant costs, plus more reliable datalinks, more capable sensors, and the ability to carry ordinance. I don't think you are looking at something cheap. Then making it long range and you pretty much have the X-47B.

      Joint capabilities are what matter. Each service needs to build complementary capabilities and focus on their core strengths. To do this, each service needs to understand the others' capabilities and strengths.

      I don't get the fascination with the SSGN. Its entire strike contribution to a conflict for a month (or at least several weeks) can be duplicated by a mere six B-1 sorties. But those six B-1s can deliver an SSGN-equivalent load every two or three days from halfway around the world. And that's just cruise missiles. A single B-2 can hit EIGHTY aimpoints in a sortie with GBU-38s. Or it can drop a pair of MOPs that can penetrate 200ft underground to destroy hardened bunkers.

      The SSBN(X) is looking to cost upwards of $7 billion each. Basing an SSGN off of this sub will be similarly expensive. Building an even larger Virginia will push it well over $3.2 billion each (Virginia+VPM price). All for a mere 150 or so missiles that, once fired, have to be reloaded at a friendly port a week or more away.

      Bombers have a lot to offer the air-sea battle. A B-1 can carry 84 x Mk62 Quickstrike mines, or 24 x Mk65 mines. NGB won't carry this many, maybe forty or so 500lb-class weapons, but it should do it with better stealth than a B-2. That's enough to mine a harbor in one pass.

      What was one of the biggest threats to our CVBGs during the Cold War? Backfire squadrons. One Backfire can carry two or three AShMs. One B-1 could carry twenty four LRASM-Bs. Liaoning and her escorts could be sent to the bottom by a single B-1.

      MALI was the Miniature Air Launched Interceptor. It took a MALD decoy and added a more powerful turbofan. It eventually morphed into the Low Cost Interceptor program before being cancelled (I think). LCI was meant to kill cruise missiles, but there's no reason why the same concept couldn't be used to kill manned aircraft. MALD has a 500nm range as a decoy. Range may suffer a bit to add a warhead and seeker but still should be impressive.

      LCI document:

      I would use the same technology for the mini-cruise missile. Just add a larger warhead and adjust the airframe and fins a bit to fit quad-packed in a Mk41 cell. Even if the range dropped in half as a result it'd still be impressive.

    3. B.Smitty, an affordable throwaway UAV would be one step up from a TLAM. You give it a rudimentary camera/radar(?) and datalink plus the ability to carry a single (internal?) bomb/missile. We're not looking to create a UAV version of a B-2. Think enlarged Scan Eagle or some such.

      The value of the SSGN is its stealth. Bombers, no matter how stealth, are simply not going to be able to penetrate thousands of miles through hundreds/thousands of aircraft, radars, and SAMs without suffering significant attrition. You'll get a couple of raids worth of use and then we'll be hurting for long range strike. An SSGN is proven to be almost undetectable and can repeat its strikes as often as needed. Four SSGNs (and I advocate around 8-10) provide 600 missiles with very little risk to the launch platform.

      I can't see a bomber successfully flying through a thousand mile A2/AD zone to mine a Chinese harbor. We need a different, or at least additional/complementary, approach. Maybe TomahawkMine missiles? Maybe a dedicated SSMN? IRBM delivered mines?

      Note that I have no disagreement about the value of bombers, in general. I didn't discuss them just because I'm focused on naval aspects. AF bombers are yet another justification for a long range air superiority fighter for the Navy to clear paths for the AF.

      I will look into the MALI/LCI. Thanks!

    4. How big of a bomb do you want to carry? Scan Eagle is all of 50lbs. Insutu Integrator (an enlarged Scan Eagle) is 135lbs with a 40lb payload (includes sensors).

      ScanEagle lists 24 hours of endurance and a 60kt cruising speed but I don't know if you can multiply those numbers to get its range. It may have to loiter much slower to get up to 24 hours. It would at least require you to wait a day after launch before it reached max range.

      Bombers firing cruise missiles can stand off just as far as subs. And once they fire, they can run away at 500+kts. A sub has to hope it can evade any reprisals from MPAs at 20kts.

      IMHO, it's completely feasible to expect a non-stealthy B-1 to penetrate far enough into a Chinese A2/AD zone to launch missiles and get away clean. Remember, this is still way out into the ocean. Any 4th gen fighter CAPs will be picked up by AWACS and bombers can be routed around them. Or the bombers can self escort by firing MALI/LCIs into the CAP to run them out of gas and attrite them. Or carrier- and land-based fighters can deal with these distant CAPs.

      Note: I'm assuming in this comparison that the bomber has access to missiles with similar range to the SSGN-launched missile. Currently TLAM outranged JASSM-ER and CALCM, but a longer-ranged missile can be developed.

      A stealthy bomber could easily penetrate the outer layers of the Chinese A2/AD zone and fly right up to or over the coast. I'm concerned about the number of fighters the Chinese have, and the sophistication of their SAM belt. So some SEAD/DEAD might still be required before stealthy bombers "go deep".

      SSGNs CANNOT repeat their strikes "as often as needed". 600 missiles is a drop in the bucket in a major conflict, ESPECIALLY with China. We expended almost twenty THOUSAND guided munitions during OIF MCOs against a third-rate Middle Eastern country. Multiply that by a factor of a hundred or a thousand for what we'd need in a major war with the Chinese. 600 won't even cover the initial Day 1 high priority list.

      At best, sub-launched cruise missiles are useful to hit super-high priority targets very early in the conflict. Think critical unhardened C3 nodes and long-range sensors. That's it. The SSGNs will fire off their loads on the first day and then be worthless for a few weeks until they reload and return.

      IMHO, given enough VPM'd Virginias, we can fill this need. We don't need a specialized SSGN.

      Cruise missiles sound like a very expensive way to deliver mines. We dropped 36 mines to close Hiaphong Harbor during the Vietnam War, and had to reseed them every 6 months or so as they self-destructed. We dropped 11,000 more mines in various other ports and waterways during that period.

      I envision developing a combined JDAM/Quickstrike system with optional wing kit. That way aircraft can stand off 40+km but still deliver mines with precision. This plus stealth and a bit of SEAD/DEAD should provide enough margin to deal with A2/AD threats.

      A squadron and a half of UCAVs could drop a Haiphong-sized mine load with each sortie.

    5. B.Smitty, you and I have radically different assessments about the survivability of stealth bombers in a sophisticated, heavily defended environment. That's fine. One hopes the military has carefully tested and evaluated the survivability of bombers against our own defenses but, if so, they have yet to share the results with me. Until they do, I'll stick with my assessment and grant you yours.

      You are quite correct about the Tomahawk inventory (and all munitions, for that matter) in a major war. I've addressed this in previous posts and comments but it's well worth repeating. Thanks!

    6. What are the major threats to a stealth bomber flying a couple hundred miles away from the Chinese coast (as close as an SSGN will want to get)? Land-based SAMs are a non-issue. SA-20s may list a 200+nm range, but their EFFECTIVE range against a stealth aircraft will be in the single or low double digits. Fighters might be a problem, but they will have major trouble getting accurate queuing to find a stealth bomber. So i don't see the problem.

      I agree that sending stealth bombers alone, over land, to attack targets with JDAMs against the Chinese A2/AD system is a bad idea without SEAD/DEAD. But cruise missiles don't require you to go over land unless you have to hit targets deep in Chinese territory.

      I'm not really talking about Tomahawk inventories here, though that is another concern. I'm talking about how long it takes different systems to hit X aim points.

      If X < 154, an SSGN in position will hit them faster than a distant bomber. A bomber will win if the SSGN is not in the theater or more than a week or so away.

      If X > 154, the bomber wins, easily.

      Problem is, there aren't that many conflicts where 154 munitions will be enough. We fired 75 Tomahawks at four measly Afghan training camps in '98. That's half of an SSGN load just to blow up some tents.

    7. The Navy has funded a demonstration that integrates a wing kit with the Quickstrike mine. Its not happening in 2QFY14 as described in the link below, but its been funded and is being worked. The intent is exactly as described/envisioned in these posts...a single aircraft could accurately seed a mine field from offshore.

      - InterestedParty

    8. IP, thanks for the link! Much of the presentation is typical Navy wishful thinking but the trends are interesting to see.

  2. I like all the ideas mentioned and agree the air force bombers will be complementary and a force multiplier by magnitude. I disagree with the thousand mile buffer. China will have her navy pushed back into the inland seas early on, the inland sea will be a no go for any all major surface combatants US or chinses. I also believe a stealth NGB will mean we can make mining and strike raids especially against the port shore targets. I would like to see JDAM Glide kits adjusted to fit the mines so they could be dropped from distance at altitude to make the final penetration. This of course will not be done without losses but it will be done especially in the early days of conflict were closing those harbors will be critical.

    Navy specific that nobody has spoken of and I have not seen any programs designing would be a UUVmine. Take something like the glider idea or the many existing counter mine UUV, size them up to deploy 400+miles off shore, drive in, sink, activate, and wait. Speed would not be necessary slow and steady even using the tides like the glider concept would be fine, and enhance stealth/surprise. We could then sit off at distance drop a steady stream that would continually arrive in waves without having to take the continuous attrition of redeploying our mines would require. China would be faced with never ending MIW sweeping as new UUV rolled in right behind their sweeps. Finding hundreds of small battery or worse tidal powered craft would be a herculean task, and if you add in the fact they arrive at different times without the warning a aircraft strike or even a submarine nearby may tell.

    1. C-Low, a self-deploying UUV mine is an excellent idea. Whether we can technically do it or not, at the present time, is unknown but it's worth looking at. Good comment!

  3. B.Smitty, the thrust of my comment about a simple, affordable, long range, throw away UAV is that we need to rethink our approach to UAVs. Right now, when the Navy starts a UAV design, it starts with complex, sophisticated, and multi-functional requirements. Well, bang, there goes affordable before the first design sketch is made. We need to start with simple and affordable as our initial criteria. No bells and whistles, just a single purpose executed as simply as possible. The Scan Eagle is an example of a simple but useful UAV. Of course I understand that a Scan Eagle can't carry a 2000 lb bomb over a thousand miles!

    We need a simple, basic UAV that isn't designed with complex stealth, state of the art sensors, sophisticated countermeasures, high performance, a 50 year lifespan, etc. Just a simple long range engine with a basic guidance/sensor package sufficient to get it from point A to point B.

    Is this technically achievable? I don't see why not but who knows. The point is that we've never tried this approach. Instead, we want to build ultra-sophisticated aircraft that can't help but cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Everyone wants to trumpet the ability to send UCAVs (or whatever flavor) on deep penetration, high risk missions. Well, that's a great use for them but what no one appreciates is that, by definition, most of them won't come back. At a hundred millions dollars or so per UAV, we won't be able (or willing) to throw them away and we won't have many even if we were willing to expend them.

    1. Designing anything to be recoverable adds cost. Designing it to land on a carrier safely adds cost. Designing it to have sufficient survivability adds cost. For example, what good is it to build a system that can be shot down by a Cessna with a gun? It needs to be designed with reasonable assurance that it can use its weapon, at least once, in the expected threat environment. You don't believe in stealth. I do. Nothing I have seen coming out of China or Russia changes my mind. Their new systems may change certain operating parameters, but not the fundamental equation.

      Sensors are added so the UAV can help find its own targets. If it can't do that, then we need another way to find them. Comms are needed so the UAV can send back what it finds and allow users to adjust its mission parameters.

    2. B.Smitty, I don't believe in stealth???! C'mon, now, be fair to me. I've actually written a post extolling the virtue of stealth (on ships but the same applies to planes). Stealth is a matter of odds. With a given degree of stealth, one opposing aircraft may well miss seeing you. So might the second, or third, or ... Eventually, someone gets a return (or a visual sighting!) and now you have an unarmed bomber against a fighter.

      You seem to be envisioning a scenario where a bomber flies around in Chinese airspace absolutely unimpeded by the hundreds of aircraft, powerful land based radars, ships, etc. that will be patrolling the area for hundreds of miles out from the coast. Nothing I've seen or read grants a stealth plane that kind of immunity. Even if a bomber can survive one mission the odds are bound to catch up within a few missions. We've got 20 B-2 bombers. They won't last long. To be fair, you probably advocate building more.

      You also seem to think I'm arguing against bombers. I'm not. They will be highly useful. My premise is that the Navy needs more offensive capability and the SSGN is a powerful and survivable strike platform that can offer that. I'm not suggesting that we dismantle the Air Force.

      Do you really think I'm suggesting that we can build a UAV as I've described it for a hundred dollars? Of course it will cost money. I'm simply suggesting that it doesn't have to cost what a JSF does which is exactly where we're currently headed.

      You raise a great point about survivability. Survivability takes many forms. One is ultra-stealth. Another is sophisticated countermeasures. Yet another is super/hyper sonic speed. Or ultra-maneuverability. These are the survivability forms that the Navy is pursuing.

      Survivability can also take simpler forms. Flying at literally wavetop heights makes an aircraft very hard to detect or engage. So what if some crash into the sea if we can build them cheap enough. Numbers is a form of survivability, too. Launching a thousand (to use a ridiculous number to make a point) simple UAVs at a target guarantees some will get through to accomplish the mission.

      This is my point. We need a different design philosophy because we're pricing ourselves out of having sufficient numbers of the types of UAVs we're currently pursuing or they'll be so expensive that we'll be averse to using (risking) them.

    3. CNO,

      My intent was to compare the bomber to the SSGN as strike platforms.

      For this exercise, to make it an apples to apples comparison, I assume both carry similar munitions (namely cruise missiles with similar ranges, warheads, and so on). Both have to get to the same range to fire effectively against a given target.

      Bombers don't have to just "fly around" Chinese airspace. They have to take the safest path to the launch point, and then exit via the safest route. They can mitigate air threats by following AWACS direction and their emitter location systems. A stealthy aircraft forces the enemy to use far more assets in a given area to have any chance of finding it. Given this, there are almost always 'gaps' in coverage. If gaps don't exist, they can be created through SEAD/DEAD/OCA. These are the same types of strike/route planning exercises we have to do over land.

      An aircaft flying at 30,000ft has to approach to within 225 nm of a SAM radar, 100ft off the ground, to be even within its horizon. If cruise missiles are launched at 200nm out, there is really only a tiny window where it might be detected. Even a non-stealth bomber can handle this.

      The Chinese have a few hundred fighters in the J-11/Su-27/Su-30 line with sufficient range to patrol a 200nm launch window. Say one in five can be on station at any one time, so maybe 40 or so aircraft to cover the entire coastline. Will they have AWACS support? Tanking? Will they take the bait when we launch MALDs to simulate raids? We can play lots of games with them to create gaps in coverage.

      Heck, we can arm bombers with long-ranged AAMs to self escort.

      So i think those threats are manageable. And bombers provide value across the spectrum of conflicts. They can provide CAS in far corners of the globe, or strike deeply-buried hard targets, or take on an A2/AD environment, or do anti-shipping or mine laying.

      OTOH, I think the value proposition for new SSGNs just isn't there. New ones are too expensive for what the provide. The current SSGNs make more sense because they are conversions of existing assets. If we suddenly end up with more retiring Ohios with life left in them, then maybe I can see converting a few more.

      So for a given budget amount, i'd much prefer to buy more bombers than new SSGNs.

      I'm interested to hear more about the strike-UAV concept. Where is it based? How is it recovered? Size/Weight/Capabilities. That kind of thing.

    4. B.Smitty, we've both offered our thoughts and we have different views. Fair enough. This is a good point to leave things. Good comments.

    5. I'd still like to hear more on the strike-UAV concept.

      There was a program a while back called the "Affordable Weapon", which was essentially a cheaper cruise missile. Not exactly a reusable UAV, but maybe closer.

      There were also the various swarm concepts like Area Dominator, LOCAAS.

      The British have the Fire Shadow loitering munition/UAV.

      Going up the size and price range, I personally like the X-45A demonstrator. It's a bit more than half the empty weight of an X-47B, but still could carry a pair of 500-1000lb munitions or 8 SDBs to a 375 nm radius. If you tied it to an air refueler you could extend that nearly indefinitely.

      The General Atomics Avenger is a UAV with decent range that can carry a couple bombs too. Hard to say how much it would cost though, or how survivable it would be.


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