Friday, November 28, 2014

Carrier Operating Doctrine

We all grew up looking at pictures of carrier groups with a dozen or so ships spread over miles of ocean.  Quite impressive!  Are you curious what a modern strike group consists of?  Well, here is the most recent composition of the Bush strike group:

  • George H.W. Bush, CVN-77
  • Truxtun, DDG-103
  • Roosevelt, DDG-80
  • Philippine Sea, CG-58

That's it - three ships and the carrier with an air wing of around 39-40 effective Hornets.  Not exactly a mighty armada!  Not exactly what we grew up looking at.

Sure the group may be small but we’re not at war.  The group is big enough for peacetime activities and if war comes we’ll simply add more ships.  What’s the big deal?  Why is ComNavOps getting worked about this?

Let me ask you a question.  What should the Navy be doing during peacetime?  Come on, you know the answer.  Neglecting all the show-the-flag, enforce fishing regulations (yes, a carrier group actually did that), presence, and other garbage jobs, the Navy’s peacetime task is to prepare for war.  Peacetime is the time to study your enemies, develop tactics, ensure proper maintenance, and train, train, train for war.

Let’s set aside the fact that our non-deployed air wings are barely getting enough flight hours to stay flight certified let alone practicing tactical flying and honing combat skills.  Let’s set aside the fact that individual ship deployments and even group deployments have been cancelled.  Let’s set aside the fact that we’re down to two deployed carriers at a time with the rest sitting pierside.  Let’s set aside that we’re down to two amphibious groups deployed at a time.  Let’s set aside the fact that …  well, you get the idea.  I don’t need to continue with an endless list.

Let’s set all that aside and look specifically at the carriers and how they’ll be used in war.

Many commentators tend to look at the nine available carriers (nine is how many air wings we have so that’s the maximum number of carriers than can deploy – by the way, we’ll have 11 carriers when Ford joins the fleet and only 9 air wings – does that give you an idea about early retirement of another carrier?) and envision nine carrier groups rampaging through the Chinese A2/AD zone or wreaking havoc off N. Korea or Iran. 

Consider, though, the reality of today’s carrier combat power.  A carrier has 44 Hornets of which 39-40 are combat-available, at most.  You’ll recall that the air wing has no organic tanking and, therefore, several Hornets are always in use as tankers which removes them from combat availability.  With that in mind, what can a single carrier accomplish? 

Now Is The Time To Practice

The carrier would never be left undefended so half the Hornets would always remain with the carrier.  That leaves a max of around 19-20 for strike missions.  Now, unless you believe that a Hornet with two Sidewinders constitutes a self-escort capability (and if you do, match that up against fully air-to-air loaded Flankers, MiGs, or their Chinese counterparts), a serious strike against a defended target will need a dozen or so air-to-air (A2A) Hornets for escort.  That leaves 7-8 Hornets for strike.  Of course, the accompanying high value assets like Growlers and Hawkeyes need their own escort so subtract 4 more Hornets for that duty and now we’re down to 3-4 Hornets actually available for strike.  Of course, that assumes that every Hornet in the air wing is available in terms of maintenance and that’s never the case.  So, subtract another couple aircraft.  You see where this is going?

A modern carrier with an air wing of 44 Hornets is quite limited.  So, let’s consider how carriers would be tactically and operationally employed in war.

WWII saw carriers operated in pairs or more.  Cold War doctrine called for operating carriers in pairs.  In very simplistic, conceptual terms, one carrier could strike while the other defended.  Pairs allowed for useful massing of aircraft numbers (Are we saying numbers matter?!  Whoa, there’s an interesting concept for those F-35 fanboys who want to claim that a single aircraft can be a strike, fighter, recon, tanking, ASW, whatever, all in one aircraft) and allowed for compensation of combat attrition without having to immediately withdraw due to a few losses.

Consider the defenses inherent in the Chinese A2/AD scenario:  anti-ship ballistic missiles, supersonic cruise missiles, long range bombers, scores of fighters, submarines, surface ships, carrier aviation (sooner than we think!), mines, etc.  A single carrier with 39-40 Hornets isn’t going to be able to cope with that and conduct offensive operations.  Remember, it’s not enough for the carrier to just be able to defend itself – it has to be able to conduct offensive operations.  With that in mind, it’s instantly obvious that carriers will have to operate in pairs – or more.  In fact, given today’s small sized air wings I would suggest that carriers will have to operate in threes in order to amass sufficient numbers of aircraft to simultaneously defend and productively attack (Whoa!  There’s that numbers issue again.  Are we saying that a single aircraft can’t simultaneously stay at home to defend the group and go out and conduct strikes???  That a single aircraft can’t be in two places at once??  That’s got to give some modern aircraft apologists heartburn!).

All right, if we operate carriers in threes, how many carrier strike groups can we assemble?  Well, the math is pretty simple.  We have 9 available carriers which means we can assemble 3 carrier strike groups.  That’s not a lot.  Of course, that also assumes that all 9 carriers are available.  The reality is that half the carriers will always be in port for repairs and replenishment, even during war.  That means we’d be lucky to operate a single carrier strike group at any given moment and two groups would be a realistic maximum effort.

Now, let’s briefly check the carrier group size.  Does anyone think three escorts are going to be sufficient to deal with the multitude of threats we just listed?  A carrier group is going to need a dozen or more escorts spread over a vast area.  Of course, one instantly asks where all these additional escorts are going to come from given that the combat fleet is shrinking quickly and being replaced by LCS’s and JHSV’s and MLP’s but that’s a topic for another post.

Now, let’s consider carrier group tactics.

  • How far apart should the carriers be to be mutually supporting yet not so tightly grouped as to simplify enemy targeting and strike efforts?
  • When conducting simultaneous offensive and defensive operations, how should the aircraft be allocated (all strike from a single carrier or strike elements from each?)?
  • What is the best defensive formation against incoming missiles?  Against submarines?  Against surface ships?  Against simultaneous threats?
  • What is the optimum emissions state to balance stealth against situational awareness?
  • Where should Hawkeyes and Growlers be placed to maximize situational awareness across three carriers?  How many are needed to accomplish that?
  • How many escorts are needed?  What types?  Arranged how?
  • And a hundred other tactical questions …

Let’s recall two points of information from earlier:  first, peacetime is the time to develop and practice tactics and operating doctrine and, second, current carrier groups consist of a single carrier and very few escorts.  Do you see a disconnect, there?

If a wartime carrier strike group consists of three carriers and dozens of escorts but our peacetime carrier groups consist of a single carrier and three escorts, how are we developing and practicing our wartime carrier doctrine and tactics?   When war comes, where will we get the Admirals and Captains who are well versed in multi-carrier operations and tactics?  Are we developing the answers to the previous tactical questions and practicing them so that every ship and sailor knows what to do?  Sadly, the answer is no.

Have you read a single article about tactical and doctrinal operation of carriers in the A2/AD scenario?  Have you ever heard of a single multi-carrier tactical exercise?  Carriers are one of our major asymmetric advantages over our enemies and we’re failing to take advantage of them by developing and practicing the necessary doctrine and tactics. 

Peacetime is our golden opportunity to prepare for war and we’re squandering it.


  1. With respect to the war with China scenario, the USN surface fleet operating and surviving within the first island chain looks unlikely. They will, however, be acting in concert with Asian allies to counter the Chinese (Something most people fail to consider).

    Your point about aircraft numbers is very well made. If the carriers can't generate sufficient numbers towards offensive strike groups, the navy will have to rely on cruise missiles launched from the surface fleet and submarines to attack the Chinese navy. Being able to positively identify PLAN ships in a very congested maritime environment becomes critical. Targeting static positions on mainland China would be easier, but that does risk escalation.

    I do wonder at the likelihood of war with China. While they are extremely belligerent towards their neighbors, they are also tied to them by trade. Also, the way the PLAN navy is developing looks to be emulating the US navy. Carrier group, large amphibious ships and the ability to use them far from home.

    Dave P

    1. Dave, we need to get over that fear of escalation. China is developing intermediate range ballistic missiles while we fear doing so because they might misinterpret ours as being nuclear. China is aggressively (illegally) engaged in land grabs. China is engaged in a massive military build up. China has forced down a US military aircraft and looted it. China has interferred with US naval ships up to the point of damaging our ship's equipment. And so on.

      Clearly China is unconcerned about escalation and, in fact, one could very easily present a case that China is actively engaged in a program of steady escalation. We need to get over our fear of escalation especially when the fear is all one-sided. We're scaring ourselves out of taking appropriate actions and developing appropriate weapons.

      As far as the likelihood of war with China, I've posted on this. We're already at war with China. Search the archives using the "China" keyword and read the two part post on this exact topic. If after all that you still don't believe we're at war, ask yourself what China is gearing up for if not war?

    2. OK. What you would term war, others would term Grand Strategy. Seems to me that both Russia and China are able very capable of utilizing diplomatic, military/security forces, financial, economic and population pressure to achieve their goals. While they are working, there is probably not much incentive or benefit to initiating a (hot?) war, which introduces a lot of uncertainties.

      I think the US has made it clear that they will always try to d-escalate situations and this allows the Chinese to engage in hostile behavior. Trouble is, you have both parties doing that, things will turn nasty quickly and your forces had better be well placed and ready.

      With reference to my use of escalation, I was referring to moving from targeting Chinese naval combatants at sea to targeting mainland China during a hot war. I think your politicians will also be wary of this transition. Possibly, EMP, anti-radiation and 'soft-bomb type weapons could primarily be used switching to high explosive munitions as a further escalation.

      In the future, (barring major incidents with neighbors) I believe China will continue with their hostile policies and expanding their reach via the Indian Ocean. I feel they will be more dangerous if their economy gets into trouble or the leadership is threatened. Nothing diverts a populations attention from internal matters more than a good fight with another country.

    3. In the event of a hot war, would you not consider Chinese seizure of Taiwan (a given in any war scenario) an act of escalation? Should we allow China to seize land that is important to us (if we consider Taiwan important) and refrain from attacking due to our one-sided fears? If that's the case, we can save everyone a lot of time and trouble by simply announcing that we are OK with China seizing the entire S/E China Seas and let them get on with it.

      You hit the nail on the head when you point out that our forces had better be well placed and ready.

    4. Dave: "With respect to the war with China scenario, the USN surface fleet operating and surviving within the first island chain looks unlikely."

      The ability to operate and survive in the A2/AD zone is simply a matter of doctrine, tactics, and procurement. I agree that our current doctrine, tactics, and equipment are not optimal for those operations but I've laid out the pieces needed to successfully operate in various posts and comments.

      We also need a strategy for dealing with the overall issue. For example, we need to recognize that the key to operating is to hit the enemy weapons where they originate which is largely mainland China. A good start would be the willingness to speak China's name as we discuss future threats.

    5. CNO. I'm not arguing against you. Far from it. If only you held a high position in the USN, the state of the navy would be much improved!

      Taiwan is very important and it should be defended. As you've pointed out, the Chinese (similarly to Russia) use immigration as a geopolitical threat. What does the US president do if there is violence within Taiwan and the PLAN navy responds to pleas for help by Chinese immigrants? If your only plan is full out war with China, do you initiate? Thats just one example, i'm sure there's plenty more.

      The president needs options and strategy that encompasses a whole range of situations up to and including visiting as much damage to mainland China as possible. If you only have 2 (war or peace) options, then you're going to be easily outmaneuvered.


    6. With regard to not recognizing China as threat, I totally agree. You end up with generalized technology wish-lists and tactics (CSBA A2/AD and Offset Strategy ) masquerading as strategy. The Offset Strategy in particular seems like something dreamed up by industry to ensure their bottom lines remain healthy.

      As you say, US forces need to be carrying out exercises. Where I differ is the numbers. USN will not be operating alone unless something catastrophic has happened to your allies. That is the whole point of hostilities against China. To stop them occupying allied territory.

      Therefore USN carriers will be operating close/ within allied A2/AD and alongside allied navy/ air-power with the goal of preventing Chinese forces landing troops. Something that definitely needs to be war-gamed.

      Dave P

    7. Dave, you bring up an excellent point about allies. Certainly, we would attempt to build a functioning coallition to counter China. Equally certainly, China would make every effort to isolate the US from potential allies via a combination of diplomatic overtures, threats, military force, etc. Which side would be more successful is highly debatable.

      An extension of this aspect is the degree to which allies would actually be of benefit to the US. Japan, of course, has useful and powerful military forces and strategically located bases. On the other hand, it is quite likely that China would seek to strike and neutralize those bases from the outset if they believed Japan would actively side with the US.

      Beyond Japan, one has to ask which ally would offer a significant military benefit to the US? Great Britain, would undoubtedly stand with the US but their Navy has been steadily reduced and their long range aircraft are almost non-existent. Combine that with their worldwide committments and their actual numerical benefit would be small.

      Is there any other likely ally that would offer significant military force or numbers as a US ally? I can't think of any.

      Do you see it differently?

      Good comment!

    8. The disputed Senkaku islands are covered in the security treaty with Japan. Chinese attempts to occupy the islands would lead to a allied US and Japanese force. Similarly, attempts by the Chinese to invade Taiwan would most probably lead to the US supporting Taiwanese forces in repelling China.

      Beyond that, China's belligerent policies in the South China Sea has created de facto US allies. While the US has stated they will not get involved in the disputes they have also stated that “the United States will not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are being challenged.”

      It appears to me that the US has taken on the role of both trying to police the South China Sea and to militarily protect allies whilst only being equipped for the military option.

      The Chinese are able to take advantage of this by employing a Grand Strategy that outmaneuvers US efforts. By applying 'short of war force' the Chinese are able to push their claims while having a strong military option in reserve.

      Dave P

    9. To counter a smallish, minimally armed but extremely tough ship would be useful (similar to your post on peace ships). Such a ship could carry boarding parties and would be able to ram/ bump other vessels such as Chinese fishing boats, coast guard or naval vessels.

      Such a ship could be manned by USN, Coast Guard, Military Sealift Command personnel or a mix. Could also host representatives of foreign coastguard personnel.

      Several of these vessels operating together, backed up by a Arleigh Burke destroyed could handle a wider range of incidents then the US navy is currently able to handle.

      Another useful vessel would be something similar to the French L-CAT. Wiki says it has a range of a 1000 miles, a top speed of 30 knots and able to discharge a main battle tank directly onto a beach. Forward basing these craft would enable the US to respond quickly to a whole range of incidents.

      In time of war, these craft could rendezvous with the big amphibious ships and greatly increase the number of landing craft available.

      Dave P

    10. “the United States will not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are being challenged.”

      Dave, do you think we're as serious about that as we were about the Red Line in Syria? I'm afraid our actions (more accurately, the lack thereof) have rendered our threats meaningless.

      One can make a pretty compelling argument that our lack of reaction to Syria and Russia, among others, has encouraged Chinese aggression!

      There's no question that the Chinese are substantially outmaneuvering us!

    11. Dave, you're exactly right. That's the role I envision for a peace ship.

      The L-CAT is something I'm only slightly familiar with. Is it capable of open ocean travel? I note that under load it's fairly slow (18 kts).

      You make the very good point that we're going to need many more connectors in an assault than the big deck amphibs have. Being able to "gather" L-CATs, or any connector, at an assault site will be mandatory. If you read the assault attrition post you know the devastating effect even a little attrition will have on an assault.

  2. Might be one or two SSNs around.

  3. That carriers can and should quickly breach enemy home land defences is a very new idea, one that I can't remember being tested in combat.

    At the end of the day
    Three fully loaded carriers is under 300 aircraft
    The PLAAF is 2800+

    Even 40 on a single carrier is a serious threat.
    Even diverting half to self defence, 20 is still a huge strike package.
    5 tankers, 5 growlers, 5 air superiority still leaves 5 dedicated bombers.
    That's 30 plus precision strikes, some heavy bombs for cracking ground targets, some lighter missiles for popping surface targets.

    But carriers don't operate in isolation.
    A better use for those 20 aircraft would be to escort in and out a Lancer group.

    1. TrT, even if I were to accept that 5 aircraft constitute a serious strike threat, consider the cost effectiveness of such a scenario. A $12B carrier, a $4B air wing, $10B worth of escorts, thousands of personnel, and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of munitions to put 5 aircraft on target?

      If a carrier can only generate 5 strike aircraft then we're seriously misallocating our defense expenditures.

      I've posted on this aspect before - the carrier is only as valuable as its air wing and we've allowed the air wings to shrink to a point where we can't generate worthwhile strikes. Hence, my analysis indicating the need for three carriers in a group. Of course, one could easily and validly question the worth of even three carriers with air wings that small.

      You make a great point about the carrier acting as escorts or air support for AF strikes.

      You also note that even three fully equipped carriers can only generate 300 aircraft versus the Chinese aircraft inventory. While that's true, the 300 aircraft don't operate against the entire inventory. They operate against whatever enemy assets are in their area and they attempt to achieve superior localized mass. Used wisely, 300 aircraft should be sufficient to allow favorable localized massing. Of course, we need to practice such tactics to become proficient - a point I make in the post.

    2. I would argue that for an actual real war, the time of carriers and esp super carriers is over. As a cost issue, missile barges will deliver significantly more payload at significantly lower cost. Carriers are extremely expensive targets will require significantly resources in both people and capitol. In contrast, an LPD reconfigured for missile strike would be a fraction of the cost to build, run, maintain, and use.

      And certainly the way we are running our current carriers is just a back hole of a money sink. The is only 1 case where a carrier makes much sense: when you need aircraft but have no runways. And realistically, the only time you really need aircraft is when you are supporting ground operations which implies reasonable loiter times.

      Unfortunately, the aircraft carriers these days are basically limited to only F18s and variants. And that's somewhat fine, F18s are somewhat reasonable bomb trucks. But their range is severely limited and we have no reasonable organic refueling mechanism for them and as such their loiter times are pretty bad. The proposed F18 replacement is way too expensive for way to little advantage compared to the F18 as well. We need significantly more planes per carrier and we need a cheap and flexible utility vehicle to handle all the misc operations we are currently abusing F18s on.

      And if we are only going to operate so few planes that we'll require multiple carriers to get anything actually done, we're probably better off going with significantly more smaller carriers. Though it should probably be pointed out that both the Nimitz and Ford class are designed to operate with significantly more aircraft than they do/will. IIRC, they can both support up to 90 aircraft, roughly double the current total number of aircraft.

    3. ats, I have to disagree. In fact, I would argue that the carrier has never been more valuable then now when we're facing a thousand mile A2/AD scenario. We have very few bases and fewer still within any useful range. The carrier provides the only ready source of aircraft.

      That said, the role of the carrier is not the traditional strike platform which you're commenting on. The actual role of the carrier will be to escort the Navy's strike platforms (Tomahawk carrying Burkes) into strike position. Consider your suggestion of an LPD missile barge. It's potentially a useful platform but how would it penetrate an A2/AD zone to reach effective strike range?

      The job of the carrier will be to establish local air superiority to escort strike ships and protect Air Force long range bombers as well as conducting anti-surface warfare and providing cover for ASW and MCM operations.

      As I said, the carrier has never been more valuable but not in the traditional role. I've posted on this topic (see, "The Carrier - What Future?").

      Of course, the obvious corollary to this use of the carrier is the requirement for a true carrier based air superiority aircraft - a long-ranged navalized F-22 as opposed to the very limited capability F-35. It's obvious that we're procuring the wrong air wing for the A2/AD scenario. This is why I keep harping on the need for extensive wargaming so that the Navy can figure out their needs. I've already figured it out but the Navy seems to need more than simple logic to figure out what to do.

      When you think analytically about the strike requirements and the ranges involved, the carrier acting as the escort for the Burkes and supporting the AF, ASW, and MCM makes sense.

      Ponder this and see if it makes sense to you.

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    5. B.Smitty, the problem with your implication (29k guided versus a few thousand Tomahawks) is that I just can't see how we'll deliver the tens of thousands of short range guided weapons to mainland China. I know you and I have radically different views on the survivability of AF bombers but asking them to penetrate many hundreds of miles of A2/AD zone and then tens or hundreds of overland miles (depending on target location - only some of the targets are conveniently located on the coast!), deliver their weapons and then repeat the penetration feat in reverse is asking a lot. I would note that the vast majority of the 29000 weapons you mention were delivered by non-stealthy aircraft. Given that we only have 19(?) B-2s, and will steadily lose them in an extended campaign, how will the huge numbers of guided weapons be delivered? You're probably going to reply that we only have a few thousand Tomahawks in our entire inventory so those alone couldn't do the job either - and you'd be right! We need to greatly increase our inventory and/or acquire a successor to Tomahawk in great numbers.

      Setting the preceeding aside, you state that you disagree with the use of carriers as escorts. OK. Given that you also agree that the carrier is more important now than ever, what role do you see for the carrier to justify its importance? Does the near term role (with Hornet airwings) differ from the far term role (with F-35s and Hornets)?

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    7. On the whole issue of TLAM replacement, they are working on it in a way. There is a proposed LRASM-ER design that trades off payload for range. Basically, reducing payload from 1000lbs to 500lbs and using the weight/volume for increased fuel along with using the JASSM-ER-ER engine. The new engine alone would push JASSM-ER from 500 miles to ~630 miles. And reducing payload gets it to 800-1000 miles.

      As far as escort, carriers can do a decent job of escort, but its a rather expensive investment to do that.

      And with a 1k mile AAD zone, we would be forced to do the same thing we did against japan in WWII, take island and advanced forces onto temporary bases.

      And as far as a LPD-17 missile boat, it would be able to have in the range of 200-300 VLS AND store a significant reserve of missiles below deck. It has the crane capability along with the VLS reload rigs that are currently being tested to replenish itself at sea.

      And for the price of 1 Ford class carrier, we could make ~4 LPD missile boats. And with the man power required by a Nimitz/Ford class carrier, we could man ~10 LPD missile boats.

      The main problem with the carriers in an AAD environment is that they don't have the planes nor do we have planes in development that can survive and fight in that environment. And certainly not fight in that environment while at the same time striking targets.

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    9. B.Smitty, concerning UCLASS, where do you believe that we now stand in regard to dealing with the Elephant In The Hardly Entered Room (EITHER)?

      The EITHER is the need for some kind of reliable combination of onboard UCLASS Artificial Intelligence software integrated with highly secure data communication links to the UCLASS -- a combination of AI software and communications capabilities which will allow any version of this airplane we might choose to build to survive inside a contested A2/AD and IADS battlespace.

      Are we ten years away? Fifteen years away? Twenty?

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    11. B.Smitty, the battlespace modeling possibilities for predicting how some combination of UCLASS plus a stealthy manned aircraft which carries the intelligence inside of a human being who communicates with the UCLASS via a line of sight data link are considerable.

      It would appear that identifying and destroying the manned stealthy controller aircraft which is managing some number of coordinated UCLASS unmanned aircraft would offer significant rewards for the defenders.

      If the coordinating manned aircraft is an F-35C, we might ask the question, would the pilot be expected to fly his F-35 while managing several UCLASS at the same time, or would the data simply be transferred via another LOS data link to another aircraft flying outside the battlespace, thus relieving the burden on the F-35C pilot?

      Anyway, this kind of thing could add a whole new dimension to the term 'air traffic control.'

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    13. "If we can get a stealthy UCLASS productionalized, we can replace a squadron or two of fighters with two to three squadrons of UCLASS."

      B.Smitty, what do you see these UCLASS squadrons doing? Given that we already only have around 44 Hornets per air wing, if you replace 22 of them with UCLASS that puts a serious dent in the A2A capability. We are a long way from fielding a capable A2A UCLASS - as in never.

      An A2A UCLASS can operate in two modes: remote controlled or autonomously. Remote control is not a viable option because the situational awareness is simply not there and I doubt ever will. There is an inherent lack of awareness. I've flow aircraft and simulators and there just is no comparison. While a remote control might be adequate to simply fly around, it's totally inadequate for A2A combat where split seconds and total awareness are mandatory.

      Regarding autonomous A2A, we're not even remotely near that capability.

      So, if we drop half our Hornets, what does that do to our carrier self-protection?

    14. I'm concerned about the recent discussions that posit one or more UAVs (of whatever flavor) being controlled by a local aircraft, probably supported by multiple comm relay aircraft. This creates a situation where 2-5 aircraft are dedicated to the control of several aircraft. That seems like a very inefficient allocation of resources. It also potentially creates a single point of failure (a node in the line of communication/control) that an enemy could attack to neutralize an entire unmanned strike.

    15. B.Smitty, just as you and I have very different opinions about the role and survivability of AF bombers, it appears that we have similar differences about the effectiveness of autonomous UAVs. Our operational record to date is not great and that's with a very limited type of autonomy. We have unmanned vehicles of all sorts wandering off, never to be seen again, on a regular basis. I'm not aware of any examples where we trust autonomous behavior in our weapon systems. If we did, we'd sail with CIWS in full auto at all times and Aegis in full auto. If we trusted our systems, the recent drone crash on the cruiser would not have happened. Heck, our pilots don't even trust their automated carrier landing systems and that's just simple, rote programming!

      Yes, we can program a missile to fly from point A to point B with a fair degree of certainty but we're a very long way from autonomous combat - if ever.

      I'm not saying this just to debate a point with you. I see a larger issue and that is the military's obsession (fetish?) with UAVs. Many in the military feel as you do and I see the disasterous possibility of a commitment to UCLASS long before it's capable, resulting in decades of air wings with significantly sub-par unmanned performance while we pursue a JSF-like, non-achievable dream. In the meantime, we'll be left with a giant hole in our capabilities.

      We're headed towards a path of emasculating our carriers in order to pursue an unachievable Powerpoint dream.

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    17. As usual, B. Smitty and I see things in much the same way when it comes to how the relationship between manned and unmanned TACAIR operations might evolve in the future.

      When it comes to how UCAV onboard Artificial Intelligence works in cooperation with a coordinating offboard human intelligence component, there will be a distribution of responsibilities among the AI software and the human controllers which balances real-time reaction speed against the dangers and the complexities of the current and the immediately following sequences of operations.

      Concerning the F-35C as a manned coordinating platform for UCLASS, it is my opinion that the Rules of Engagement for UCLASS operation in a contested battlespace will demand that the offboard human intelligence component must remain in reasonably close proximity to the unmanned platform.

      Let's ask a question: is the F-35C the best possible manned airplane for that role; say, in comparison with what we might get from a notional all-aspect stealth, highly maneuverable F/A-XX -- one with a range of operational flexibilities for handling a variety of missions, one which is comparable to the USAF's jack-of-all trades airplane, the F-22?

      The more I think about what it will take to keep Navy TACAIR survivable for the next two to three decades, the more I come to believe that having a manned F/A-XX which is built from the ground up to be a coordinating platform for the UCLASS, as well as for being a true 5th-generation air superiority fighter, will become a necessity.

      In the face of the likely stringent ROE requirements which will be imposed on future unmanned TACAIR operations, then neither one of these two airplanes, the unmanned UCLASS or the manned F/A-XX, will work reliably inside of a highly contested battlespace without the close presence of the other.

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    19. You're describing a situation where you need two aircraft, a UAV and a manned controller, to accomplish one task. That's effectively doubling our costs and halving our assets. When every UAV has to launch with one or more F-35s just to ensure control and communication, we're killing our efficiency and cost effectiveness.

      Think about the concept. You're describing a strike (UAVs can't do A2A and won't in any foreseeable time frame) which requires UAVs and controller F-35s flying wingtip to wingtip (on a relative distance basis). If you have F-35s that far forward, anyway, it would be far more cost effective and efficient to simply let them go ahead and drop the ordnance.

      Given that the F-35 is supposed to be our next generation mega aviation asset (setting aside my personal skepticism about that claim) isn't it an enormous waste of an asset to be a remote control or comm relay?

      In an all out war, won't we need every F-35 on the front line performing actual combat rather than babysitting UAVs?

      If the UCLASS actually requires a babysitter then we're probably pursuing the wrong concept. Rather than devote two aircraft to one task, I'd much rather put the resources into a better Tomahawk replacement, intermediate range conventional ballistic missile, long range naval air superiority fighter, etc.

      This discussion is eerily similar to the after-the-fact justifications that LCS supporters so desperately sought to come up with to try to justify a failed concept.

      Lastly, this is an example of a concept that sounds great on paper (not to me but to you) but will unravel in the face of actual combat. Combat has a way of rewarding simpicity and punishing complexity. A strike that is dependent on close co-ordination between a manned and unmanned aircraft with a comm relay system thrown in while operating in contested airspace and in the face of electronic countermeasures is a recipe for failure. Turn the concept around. If the Chinese were going to attack us with this kind of concept, would we have much difficulty in thoroughly disrupting it?

    20. "Great minds think alike, Scott. ;)"

      Of course, just to offer some perspective, before Galileo the great minds all thought alike that the sun revolved around the earth. :)

    21. "The Predator’s accident rate fell to 4.86 last year, compared with the F-16 Fighting Falcon’s 3.89 rate when the fighter jet was at the same point in its service life."

      So, 25% greater for an aircraft that is incapable of pilot error accidents which are the most common cause, I believe (someone can correct me on that if I'm wrong)?

      Also, note that aircraft that are lost on missions are not counted as accidents even if the cause is mechanical, programming, or comm failure. So, a UAV that "gets confused" and wanders off during a mission is not recorded as an accident. The accident rate is highly misleading for UAVs. As I said, they have a disturbing tendency to wander off, never to be seen again.

      The UUVs are even worse (probably understandable). I've read reports of Navy exercises where the exercise had to be cancelled because all the UUVs vanished.

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    25. B.Smitty, you've just stated that the F-35 is not survivable (or not enough) in the situations in which the UAV will be used. OK, now what do you think that means in terms of the survival rate of the UAVs? You're discussing UAVs as infinitely rearmable from the carrier but that's only true if they come back from the mission. If they're doing the really tough missions and they have reduced situational awareness or only moderately effective autonomy (we're nowhere near AI) they're just not going to return with any great frequency.

      You talk about the inflexibility of the Tomahawk (one loadout, set at manufacture), the ability of the UAV to make multiple attacks on a given mission, and the zero return rate for Tomahawks. Are you factoring in the production cost? At $1M (I'm rounding) each, we can build 150 Tomahawks for each UCLASS (the UCLASS will probably cost more than that but $150M is good enough for discussion purposes). At a ratio of 150:1 we can load the Tomahawks with a wide variety of munitions and still be way ahead of the UCLASS in terms of flexibility.

      Tomahawks can't come back? Who cares? At 150:1 we can afford to use LOTS of Tomahawks for each UAV and, referring back to the high risk/low return nature of the UAV missions, we'll still come out way ahead of the cost curve.

      Multiple passes for a UAV? We can afford to launch 150 Tomahawks for the cost of a single UAV. That's 150 targets versus 8 for the UAV!

      I don't want this to degenerate into an all or nothing debate. There is a role for UAVs but it's not the one that the strike-UCLASS proponents want. The crash rate combined with greatly reduced performance in a combat enviornment will mean very poor return rates for a $150M aircraft. We can accomplish the long range strike much more cost effectively with Tomahawks and IRBMs. The UAVs can be very helpful with ISR but I don't see high end combat strikes as feasible or cost effective.

    26. B.Smitty, you ask what the basis for my statement that UAVs can't do A2A is? Setting aside situational awareness shortcomings and comm lags if you're thinking remote control, software limitations if you're thinking autonomous, and other factors, I'll cite the simplest and most basic reasoning for my statement.

      If A2A was as simple as hanging an AMRAAM on any old airframe then why did we build the F-22 and F-35? Why are we spending huge sums of money to train pilots in air combat techniques?

      The Navy and AF recognize that A2A is not as simple as telling a pilot to fly straight at the enemy and launch the moment the enemy is detected and turn around and RTB.

      Every historical example of A2A combat has demonstrated that the fantasy of BVR is an extremely haphazard and unlikely scenario. The ROE's, fog of aerial war, ECM/jamming environment, fear of friendly fire, maneuverability of target aircraft, use of decoys, etc. all conspire to hugely decrease detection/identification ranges and push the BVR scenario back to VR combat. High end combat against a peer will be even worse when our calm, cool, and collected AWACS and Hawkeyes will be fighting for their lives and fleeing from the aerial battlefield rather than leisurely directing the aerial ballet as we've grown used to in our all too frequent peacetime, very low end pseudo-wars.

      The concept of a cargo plane loaded up with AMRAAMS simply ignores the reality of aerial combat which is why we're actually building fighters and training pilots.

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    29. B.Smitty, you did a very nice job of comparing a future, non-existent UCLASS to a legacy Tomahawk. If you want to discuss future, non-existent systems let's be fair. I've advocated for a replacement Tomahawk so let's compare my replacement Tomahawk to your future UCLASS. The replacement Tomahawk will have 10,000 mile range, invisibility, on-board ECM/jamming, on-board ISR systems, 6 month aerial endurance, and have attached AMRAAMS. Now how does your puny UCLASS compare?

      Seriously, you're discussing the UCLASS as if it's already fully operational with all the capabilities you're describing. Have we learned anything from the JSF? The UCLASS will have half the desired capabilities and probably cost $200M+. Want all the capabilities you're ascribing to the UCLASS? Be prepared to pay ungodly amounts of money.

      Now let's hypothesize a reasonable replacement Tomahawk. Better range, stealthy, faster(?), autonomous-ish programming, better sensors, programmed survival maneuvers(?), range of warheads, multi-targeting, etc. Of course, it will cost more - let's say $3M.

      Now compare, if you wish. Just be consistent.

    30. "IRBMs are WAY worse from a cost per aimpoint perspective. You are talking many times the price of a TLAM per shot."

      C'mon, now. I know you know this. It's not the cost per aimpoint that's important - it's the cost per effect. An IRBM won't be used to take out a sniper, it'll be used to take out a major vessel or base or somesuch.

    31. "Flying with a pair of munitions, the UCLASS would have to survive 50 sorties to reach equivalency."

      C'mon, think this stuff through! A UCLASS flying into the teeth of defenses too tough to risk manned aircraft ... How many UCLASS aircraft are going to survive 50 sorties?!!

      [I also remind you of simple mechancial failures, comm loss, and all the things that cause the high accident rates we currently see]

      You're ascribing some kind of almost mythic level of performance and survivability to an aircraft that hasn't even been built yet!

      Seriously, that's the great advantage of a Tomahawk (or replacement Tomahawk) over a UCLASS. It's not expected to come back so it doesn't have to have mythic levels of survivability. Since we can field 150:1 (let's be honest, the UCLASS is going to cost twice what anyone currently predicts) we don't care that some will be shot down on the way in. "Survivability" is ensured by overwhelming numbers.

      Consider a reasonable example. Suppose we launch a strike of 6 UCLASS against a heavily defended target and two don't come back. That's 300 Tomahawks that we could throw at the target for the same price. No defense system is going to stop that! And, if we think we can destroy the target using only, say, 150 Tomahawks, then we've saved the cost of entire UCLASS!

      As I said, the UCLASS has a role as an ISR aircraft but not as a strike platform, at least not in any significant numbers. A handful for some kind of special mission (that I frankly can't imagine) would be OK but no more.

    32. "We need to worry about WWIII with the Chinese, sure. But we also need to worry about other 99.9999% of situations we will face in the world."

      No argument there! I've advocated for peace fleets, low end assets, NUMBERS, etc. I'm completely on board with you.

      Very good point!

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    35. "I'm fully in line with comparing apples-to-apples, but in fairness, you started the UCLASS vs Tomahawk equivalency discussion. I just ran with it. :)"

      I did! And you ran like the Flash with it! :)

      If you look at a very reasonable Tomahawk upgrade versus a realistic UCLASS, I think the capability differences (acknowledging the UAV return capability!) are not hugely different whereas the cost difference (hence, numbers) is huge. I just don't see a $200M+ UCLASS being a sufficient benefit over an equivalent 150 Tomahawk-X. If you still do, then we'll just have to add this to our ever growing list of irreconcilable differences of opinion.

      Have you factored in the "opportunity cost" of tying up mutiple F-35s to babysit UCLASS strikes? Those F-35s could be more productively used elsewhere. When you compare a UCLASS to a Tomahawk you need to factor the F-35 "loss" in.

      You may have a better feel for this ... To what degree, if any, does an F-35 really need to babysit a UCLASS? Are we saying that a UCLASS without a babysitter can't even perform its mission? Or it can but will suffer greater losses?

      I've only ever heard this concept thrown out as one of those grasping justifications that sound good on a Powerpoint presentation. I'm not at all sure that we would even design, or want to design, a UCLASS that absolutely has to have a babysitter. Any thoughts?

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    37. ComNavOps, the original Joint Operations Requirements Document (JORD) for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from the mid 1990's laid out its performance requirements based on the assumption that against a peer adversary, it would always be operating in cooperation with a true 5th-generation air superiority fighter, the F-22 Raptor. This is a 'system of systems' approach to prosecuting strike warfare.

      The F-35 is optimized mostly for the air-to-ground delivery of strike ordnance, with some limited overlap into air superiority; while the F-22 is a true 5th-generation air superiority fighter, one of whose primary missions is to act as the air superiority guardian angel for the F-35.

      The F-22 happens to be a multi-personality airplane; and a version of it could have been developed that was geared for strike, but with much better performance than the F-35 as a true 5th-gen air superiority fighter whenever it needed to perform that mission.

      The reason the JSF JORD didn't go with that option two decades ago is because it was believed at the time that a smaller, cheaper single engine fighter procured in large numbers in order to reduce its unit costs could handle the air-to-ground strike component with less total expense -- that assumption being predicated on the F-22's ability to successfully preshape the battlespace prior to the F-35’s entry.

      Unfortunately, the F-35 specification attempts to load way too much combat airplane into too small of an airframe, with the result that an F-35 isn't turning out to be really any cheaper than an F-22, either to acquire or to operate. But in 2009, we terminated F-22 production anyway, for largely political reasons, even though it was clearly apparent as early as 2004 that the F-35 wasn't going to be meeting either its combat performance specifications or its acquisition cost targets.

      We would have been much better off cancelling the F-35 in 2004 and moving forward with a strike-optimized derivative of the F-22, and there was much evidence available at that time to support such a decision, had the evidence been organized and documented.

      But we didn't, because by that time, the F-35 had gained its own huge constituency inside the Military Industrial Complex, inside the Pentagon, and inside the Congress; and no one was going to look too closely at where the platform development effort was actully going and to do the analysis needed to document that the true scope of work needed to develop and deploy the F-35 would surely exceed that of the F-22.

      Later on in the decade of the 2000's, in marches the US Navy's concept for an unmanned strike fighter, the UCLASS, which in theory offers greater survivability the face of A2/AD threats -- i.e., it will have easier implementation of stealth technology, higher maneuverability, greater carrying capacity -- the list goes on. But can you maintain control of a UCLASS to the extent you need to maintain control of it inside a high intensity combat battlespace?

      By 2019 when testing of the F-35 is scheduled to reach completion and Full Rate Production is to be authorized, twenty-four years will have passed since the JORD document for the Joint Strike Fighter was first published. In the meantime, the A2/AD and IADS threat envelope has been, and is now, becoming ever larger and ever more dangerous. So a logical question now arises, will the A2/AD/IADS threat envelope expand to the point where the F-35 becomes unacceptably vulnerable as a UCLASS operations controller aircraft, in addition to becoming unacceptably vulnerable as a primary manned strike fighter?

      At that point, if we assume that a manned controller aircraft must still operate in close proximity to some number “X” of UCLASS unmanned fighters, for purposes of satisfying the Rules of Engagement, does that manned fighter eventually have to be a true 5th-generation air superiority fighter such as the Navy’s F/A-XX is envisioned to be?

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    39. B.Smitty, in my view, there will come a point somewhere between 2035 and 2045 where no aircraft, manned or unmanned alike, will be survivable over a land battlefield, as we currently define the term "survivable."

      Prosecuting strike warfare against the Asian landmass or against large islands within the first island chain, falls into the category of a conflict where aircraft are operating over what I would define as a land battlefield.

      Achieving control of an air-sea-land battlespace in the year 2040 will mean having the ability to launch masses of stand off weaponry from air, sea, and ground-based platforms; to coordinate large numbers of manned and unmanned aircraft within the battlespace; and if the conflict is occurring primarily on a continental landmass, having the ability to attack the A2/AD and IADS centers of air defense resistance using fast moving armored ground forces.

      The larger implication here is that in the year 2040 in a conflict against a well-equipped adversary, the current sharp distinctions between battle phases will begin to blur, so that there is much more overlap between battle phases as the conflict progresses. In 2040, the ground forces will be supporting the air forces just as much as the air forces are supporting the ground forces, and all force elements, air and ground, will therefore be exposed to a much greater risk of casualties.

      In the year 2040, if the land battlefield has a substantial seaward flank, then it is possible that a seaborne amphibious assault might become necessary within a battlespace where air superiority cannot be completely established using airpower resources alone; and where the seaborne assault itself has become a necessary prerequisite element for establishing full control of the air space above the battlefield.

      In the year 2040, all of the engaged combat forces -- air, sea, and ground alike -- will by necessity be suffering levels of human and material casualties which are judged unacceptable by today's standards.

      When that point arrives two or three decades hence, the costs of maintaining a credible level of conflict deterrence in the face of China's ever-expanding military capabilities will be something that no one nation could afford to carry all by itself, unless they were willing to devote a very large fraction of their national income to national defense, and to risk the economic consequences which might come with making that kind of national policy decision.

    40. Scott, that is one of most fascinating comments and concepts I've seen. It doesn't matter whether I agree or disagree with any or all of what you've said - you've laid out a coherent vision of future combat. I'd love to have you do a guest post on the concept with your general view as the backdrop and then the specific impact on the naval forces. Let me know if you have any interest in doing that.

      The unspoken assumption that you seem to be incorporating is that defensive systems will dominate over offensive, at least in the air realm - hence, your assertion that no aircraft will be survivable. Without stating it, you also seem to imply that defensive systems will dominate over attacking missiles and you seem to hint that saturation attacks may be required to overcome the defensive advantage. Correct me if I'm misstating your thoughts.

      If I've correctly interpreted your underlying assumptions, I find this fascinating in light of the current trend that defensive systems are more difficult to develop and more expensive to implement - in other words, defense is on the wrong side of the cost curve. For example, cruise and intermediate range ballistic missiles are cheap and easy compared to the Aegis/AMDR/Standard/CEC systems needed to defend against them. Similarly, RPGs are cheap and easy compared to the sophisticated armor and active defenses needed to protect a tank. Likewise, a torpedo is cheap and easy compared to the armor, decoys, construction, and general ASW methods and equipment needed to protect against them.

      How do you reconcile the current offensive dominance with the implied defensive dominance you're suggesting for the future?

      Seperately, I'm fascinated by your vision of fast moving armored ground forces. The implications here are enormous and wide ranging.

      Absolutely fantasic comment and concept!

    41. ComNavOps, a defender operating on a continental land mass or on a large island has more options in deciding what, where, and how to distribute an integrated air defense system than the US Navy now has in doing the same thing at sea in defending its carrier battlegroups.

      The advantages that A2/AD/IADS systems operating on land will eventually gain over all forms of aircraft, manned and unmanned alike, is a topic which I first saw discussed roughly a decade ago over on Stuart Slade's forum. The prediction was that UCAVs would buy us some time, but that by about 2050, the advantages that integrated air defense systems would have over all aircraft flying above a land battlefield would be complete. These integrated systems would have at their disposal kw-class and possibly mw-class lasers, masses of cheap and affordable anti-aircraft missiles, and large numbers of 5th generation air superiority fighters, with all of it being linked and coordinated by networked sensors and their associated networked information processing systems.

      Things in the world of anti-aircraft defensive technology are moving somewhat faster than what was being predicted a decade ago, so that it is possible that these A2/AD/IADS technologies could reach their full flower as early as 2040, if we are talking about a land battlefield. The Asian landmass and the island of Japan are land battlefields as I use the term, as would be Iran and Eastern Europe.

      By about 2040, once the capabilities of A2/AD/IADS systems reach their full potential, aircraft will not be without utility for the attacking forces. However, the attacking forces must be willing to accept significantly larger casualties and expend significantly larger volumes of ordnance of all types than they are willing to expend today; with all elements of the attacking force being coordinated in ways which greatly complicate the defender’s job.

      From a combined-arms joint force perspective, fast-moving armored ground forces would play a key role in the year 2040 in complicating the task a defender must face in keeping an integrated air defense system fully functional. In 2040, all force elements can and must play an equal role, if the air defense system is to be defeated. In my view, a Big War conflict fought on a land battlefield in the year 2040 would be World War I all over again, but fought on technological steroids in a wild maelstrom of combat action.

      If we look at the A2/AD/IADS concepts now being applied to land-based air defense systems, but apply them to a networked fleet of carrier battlegroups operating at sea in the year 2040 as well, then the complication arises that if you only have so many CVNs available to your fleet, you can deploy only so much naval force before you run out of ships to sail and therefore out of combat aircraft to fly.

      As things stand today, from a perspective of "shoot the archer before he shoots you" not only is the CVN the primary offensive system the US Navy deploys, it is also the Navy's primary fleet defensive system -- more so when one assumes that the fleet's offensive horsepower against a land adversary also forms some good measure of its fleet defensive horsepower against that same land adversary. Relying primarily on the CVN for maintaining the US Navy's offensive combat throughput capacity is a situation which will become more risky with every passing decade.

      As an alternative fleet defense paradigm for its carrier battlegroups, the US Navy is strongly pushing the theory that Information Dominetics can become a direct substitute for Firepower Kinetics in addressing the Navy's growing shortfalls in having enough raw combat throughput capacity to implement "shoot the archer before he shoots you." I don't see how the Information Dominetics fleet defense paradigm can possibly work in practice without there being a substantially increased contribution in both offensive and defensive firepower coming from the Navy's surface combatant and undersea fleets.

  4. And don't forget that nifty and predictable 12-hours on and 12-hours off schedule.

  5. "China is developing intermediate range ballistic missiles while we fear doing so because they might misinterpret ours as being nuclear"

    Sidenote. There is this INF treaty , the US cannot develop intermediate ballistic missiles neither ground launch crusise missiles .
    Option 1 violate the treaty = so will russia
    Option 2 design new weapons like hyper sonic boost glide vechicles. Keyword Game changers.

    1. Storm, your comment is probably not correct. The INF treaty was signed by the US and the Soviet Union. The SU no longer exists and, thus, the treaty is probably no longer valid. Further, according to Wiki, in 2007 Putin declared the INF no longer in Russia's interest which may or may not constitute termination of the treaty. Russia has violated several aspects of the treaty which has the effect of rendering it void. To be fair, the US may have also violated aspects!

      I'm not a lawyer but it seems that the treaty was terminated by the collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union and by subsequent statements and violations (by both sides). The agreement, to the extent that it is still followed, seems to be an unofficial agreement that both sides are following (to the extent that they are) as a matter of convenience.

  6. Legally the INF treary is still in effect. Backing out of it for the US would not look good on the world scene. Besides would a GLCM/Pershing II - like combo ( without nuclear warheads ) be as effective in the pacific like it was in europe.

    1. Storm, I really doubt the treaty is still valid given that the signatory to the treaty, the Soviet Union, no longer exists. Russia, one of the states of the Soviet Union still exists in name but Russia, as a soverign nation did not sign the treaty.

      I'm not a lawyer and I could be wrong but this is pretty basic law. If a signatory no longer exists, neither does the treaty. If the US dissolved into separate nation-states, Michigan would not be bound by Federal treaties signed by the defunct US government. If you're going to maintain that the treaty is still in force, you'll have to provide something substantial to back it up.

  7. It's a none starter, where would you get the money to build a new Pershing III?
    I can't imagine in this budget era and how poorly recent US DoD programs have performed in terms of being over budget and continually delayed that this would be easy, cheap and be in theater in time....China will be in Taiwan WAY before a new Pershing III is in service!

    I don't think it's a bad idea, would be interesting to war game it but realistically, I am very pessimistic that this could be done....

    1. NICO, it's just a matter of budget priorities. For example, the F-35 program is going to cost something on the order of four hundred billion dollars just for the purchase price and many hundreds of billions of dollars in operating costs. The F-35 is of highly dubious value in the Chinese A2/AD scenario and canceling it would free up enormous sums of money. Building a mid-size (Midway) carrier instead of more Fords which offer little value would free up billions for each carrier built. And so on ...

      We tend to fall into the trap of believing that we don't have enough money because our current programs and priorities are fixed. The reality is that we have lots of money. It's just a question of how best to spend it.

  8. The reason you don't have carrier decks full of tac air escorted by half a dozen plus escorts, training intensively, is because (like much of the western world) you don't have enough money. I'm led to believe there's a little thing called sequestration your side of the pond which is still a potential issue and is why the Navy has looked at not refuelling CVN73.

    Wishful thinking about cancelling F35 or the Ford CVN is just that - wishful thinking. I assume your fallback is just to ramp up F18 production and build as many as you can lay your hands on. Fine up to a point - mass is good. However, you will have p1ssed away the chance of having a future aircraft available for at least the next fifteen years and probably knackered your industrial base doing so. Boeing aren't flush with comabt aircraft designers atm as the F18/F15 programmes are very mature. The first thing LM will do on F35 cancellation is to lay off their design teams and you'll struggle to get them back.

    On the ship front, what do you think the baseline for your Midway is going to be? CVV? CV41 herself? Is there anyone left in Navsea who understands the drivers behind those designs? The standards they were built to? Are those standards the ones now mandated? Where are you actually going to build them? Newport News - OK. Where else? Only NASSCO (your best shipyard)has the physical size to build that kind of ship and they have no idea how to build a navy vessel (as opposed to an MSC ship). So changing course like that is not suddenly going to result in more ships quickly. There will be a major delay while the design is developed, most probably from scratch and then you'll have a similar interval in building them as Ford. there will be a reduction without the kettle, but the outfit of the ship with an optimal shipyard workforce is what really drives the programme.

    The other thing worth noting about the Ford is that the decks are optimised for sortie generation with lower manpower. You won't get that with a smaller ship and if you want more of them then you're going to need more manpower, which costs money.

    Irrespective of whether the INF treaty remains in force, there's also a little thing called the Missile Technology Control Regime, which although voluntary, was set up by the US and its allies to prevent spread of WMD-related systems. The Russian Federation is a signatory although China is not. This doesn't mean you can't get out of it, but would be rather embarrassing doing so.

    1. Not, your comments about me on other blogs suggest that you're trying to argue for the sake of argument or that you're trying to "get" me. However, I'll treat this as a sincere attempt to exchange ideas and possibly learn. With that in mind, the post posited two main ideas: a carrier operating doctrine and the need to train to that doctrine. Your comment addresses the later point as well as some side issues in the comment section. I invite you to address the main point about carrier operating doctrine, whether pro or con.

      Regarding training you're suggesting that lack of money prohibits multi-carrier training and I've suggested in other comments that money is not the issue, priorities are. We have a budget that is plenty big enough if we spend it wisely. As I pointed out, canceling the JSF would free up around a trillion dollars - that's more than enough to cover the cost of the training that I'm suggesting as well as funding a wiser F-35 replacement and various other needs.

      Regarding training, I would also point out that training to the doctrine and tactics you intend to use in war is not an option - it's mandatory. Failure to do so leads inevitably to failure in combat. Thus, the training is not optional, it's mandatory and the only issue is how best to pay for it and I've already suggested the method.

      Regarding the smaller carrier (Midway), Navsea doesn't design ships, industry does (sadly and unwisely!) and the same design teams that design the Nimitz and Fords can certainly design a Midway sized carrier. Where will we build such a carrier? Well, if we stop building Fords, which is exactly what I'm suggesting, we can build them where we now build Fords!

      We already know how to design and build supercarriers. A Midway sized carrier is just a somewhat smaller supercarrier - nothing particulary new.

      Sortie rates are irrelevant given the size of current air wings. Our carrier ops are not currently sortie-limited. It's also highly unlikely that the Ford's promised sortie rates are achievable. The calculated rates are based on some suspect assumptions. This has been pointed out in various posts around the Internet forums.

      The MCTR is, as you point out, a non-binding, voluntary understanding aimed at preventing proliferation. The key point is that it's focused on proliferation - the exporting of systems and technology to countries that lack the deliver systems for nuclear weapons. It's not geared at preventing a country that already has such systems from developing conventional intermediate range ballistic missiles.

      Lastly, please understand that I fully recognize that some of my proposals have little chance of being accepted and implemented by the current crop of military and political leaders. The purpose of this blog is not only to comment on existing matters but to offer suggestions for changes and improvements, no matter how unlikely. If the world limited itself to only those ideas that were commonly accepted and easily implemented we'd still believe the Earth was flat. I'm offering the Navy suggestions for improvements - some easy to implement and some not. Sometimes change is necessary and painful. Take the JSF as an example. At this point, few people think it's a good program that will offer the originally envisioned value. Even the ardent supporters are more focused on the lack of an easy alternative rather than any inherent beneficial qualities. Would terminating the program at this point be difficult? Yes! Should it be done anyway? Also, yes! The long term benefits of termination outweigh the difficulties.

      As I said, if you're interested in an actual discussion, there is much you could offer about British views on carrier operating doctrine as it relates to A2/AD scenarios. I'd love to hear your thoughts on how, if at all, Britain sees itself operating in a US/Chinese conflict and how British forces can operationally and tactically support such actions.

    2. I have no interest in "getting" you in any way shape or form. This is why you don't get taken seriously in the professional community.

      1. "money is not the issue, priorities are." I suspect that Chuck Hagel never miind the USC may have a different view. The Navy did not consider retiring CVN73 because it didn't know what to do with the billions in its accounts. Nor was training slashed last year because the evil CVN78 and F35 programmes gobbled it up. You guys have a major funding problem and it can't all be laid at the door of F35.

      2. "canceling the JSF would free up around a trillion dollars - that's more than enough to cover the cost of the training that I'm suggesting as well as funding a wiser F-35 replacement and various other needs" Except that you haven't addressed who will design that replacement aircraft, over what time period, nor how much it will cost. There is merely a blithe hope that "it must be cheaper" somehow, which flies in the face of all historical evidence. I imagine the folks who canned A12 thought the replacement would be cheaper and easier to acquire. Oops! It is highly unlikely that any credible requirement would remove the need for LO, although you might get away with losing STOVL. Whatever the outcome, a completely new design will cost a lot of money and you may not have the same number of international partners to share that cost.

      3. Navsea don't do the detailed design, but they do have to develop the requirement and assess the capability of what industry sends as a response. That means they have to understand the design drivers and the feasibility space. What was the Carrier Innovation Center at Newport News has some capable people, but I'm not sure when the last time they did a proper design exercise around a smaller ship was. It will be a significantly different challenge.

      4. "Where will we build such a carrier? Well, if we stop building Fords, which is exactly what I'm suggesting, we can build them where we now build Fords" My interpretation was that you were going to build more ships to compensate for the reduced number of aircraft carried. NN would struggle to up its rate to any significant degree. Particularly if you had a lengthy interruption after CVN80. There are no other suitable yards in the US.

      5. "Sortie rates are irrelevant given the size of current air wings. Our carrier ops are not currently sortie-limited" Except that they are - and primarily by deck area and people to turn the aircraft round quickly. I've worked with the (NAVAIR) team that do flight deck design and sortie generation and they've put a lot of thought and effort into making CVN78 a more efficient deck than CVN68. It is not difficult to add aircraft to the CVW - the CVN68 ships can comfortably take 90 aircraft - you'd probably get 60 TACAIR on the ships if you needed to, given the S3 is no longer there and the F18E is smaller than the F14. Sortie generation is the be-all and end-all in carrier design because that's your throw weight, particularly for cyclic ops. If you want to go up against the Chinese, better sortie gen is the only way of countering the force ratio.

      It's the wildly unsupported statements like

      "The F-35 is of highly dubious value in the Chinese A2/AD scenario and canceling it would free up enormous sums of money. Building a mid-size (Midway) carrier instead of more Fords which offer little value would free up billions for each carrier built."

      that don't ring true. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the idea that some F35 would not be much more useful than a deckload of F18s, nor that the Fords offer little value. It's your opinion (which of course you're entitled to). Just don't be surprised when those opinions attract triple A.

    3. NAB,
      The Soviets and others were violating various treaties and protocols regarding short and intermediate range missile systems before the ink was dry and the deployment of new more effective systems continues to proliferate.

      The USAF has a far bigger problem with ballistic missiles than the USN ever will - its just that no one has reported the reality of what will happen to forward deployed TACAIR when waves of conventional (or CBR) warheads start landing on their airfields. There is a reason that the USA and USMC have begun to discuss fighting without air superiority.

      On the issue of the budget, there is plenty of money to support the required defense infrastructure including proper carrier battle groups - the issue is the criminal excess in DOD, and the astonishing lack of strategic focus.


    4. NAB;

      I'll preface this by saying I'm a civilian with no military experience who simply is fascinated by the military in general and the Navy in particular.

      However, as a citizen, and a taxpayer, I get driven a bit bonkers by statements like this:

      " "money is not the issue, priorities are." I suspect that Chuck Hagel never miind the USC may have a different view. The Navy did not consider retiring CVN73 because it didn't know what to do with the billions in its accounts. Nor was training slashed last year because the evil CVN78 and F35 programmes gobbled it up. You guys have a major funding problem and it can't all be laid at the door of F35."

      Okay. Sure. Not all funding issues can get laid at the foot of the F-35. My question for the military is why are we having funding issues at all? Yes, we do have sequestration. But Good God! Every site I look at that uses inflation adjusted dollars for defense spending has us at one of our highest levels of defense spending ever.

      If you look at the charts, even now with sequestration we'll be above the peak of the Reagan years in inflation adjusted dollars. From the 1978-86 defense spending build up we had the military deploy the 'Big 5' and start to build the 600 ship Navy, which included the costs of keeping many older vessels in commission.

      Now, with all this defense spending, the Army can't design a follow on to the Abrams or Bradley, the Marine Corps keeps nuking a follow on to its connector, the nuclear forces (!!!!!) of the air force seem to be in disarray, and our Navy is cutting back on training and ship maintanance.


      I am 100% for a lethal and well equipped military, with a clear strategic mission and goals. I am 100% for the military to get the equipment it needs to fulfill those goals. But it seems the military itself has gotten in its own way and become hideously inefficient. 750 million for the LCS? Really? It has a non radar guided gun and 2 of three mission modules that don't work. Well over 100 million for *each* F-35 in a nearly 20 YEAR development cycle???? We're making our stealth airframe technology race against Moore's law on the computers that run the radars, and we will lose. But all the while I'm being told 'It's going to be GREAT! Just need some more time and money!' We can't fix our current ships because we need more time and money for all this new stuff! We have to retire ships early while saying we won't be able to hit our fleet numbers because we need money for the new stuff!


      CNO may not be 'taken seriously. But By God he raises a hell of alot of important questions, IMHO.

      All - sorry if this got too political.

    5. Part 1 of 2

      "Where is all the money going?" is an excellent question. There is no single answer and I certainly can't speak for what happens in the US - although I'm sure elements of it are common.

      The first thing to haul aboard is that people - and in particular skilled people - cost money, especially when their skills are in short supply and highly valued outside the services. That means that (per capita) military personnel costs have risen significantly above inflation, even though overall numbers have fallen. It applies to things like accommodation, terms of service etc and that's before you get onto supporting all the other issues that tend to get wound up in personnel these days. Not sure if military pension costs come from the DoD budget, but they do from ours and we're (rightly) paying for all the people who fought the cold war, retired and are living longer.

      Then there's the well known defence inflation index, which tends to be significantly higher than the general inflation rate at well. Partly this is down to continuing to buy "stuff" that is right at the technological cutting edge, requiring significant development, but there is another effect that is probably as important and much more insidious. Because the kit seems to be more and more expensive, ever more scrutiny is applied to the original requirement for it and the ongoing justification. This causes delays, which cost money, because the people designing and building these products cost money and need to be paid irrespective of whether cash is coming into the company or not, which invariably means the cost is recovered through an increase in the price. The delay also pushes the interval between programmes out, which tends to lead to the industry consolidating (see Boeing and MDD/Hughes and similar) until you end up with a monopoly (or close to) supplier. Because the kit is sensitive or very expensive, export becomes harder, so the company tends to end up with a single large government client (see LM, NG, HII etc). That means that the overhead of supporting the enterprise also falls on those government contracts.

      All this is bad enough, but then we get to what I've called the "indecision cycle". This is where the political establishment really starts to add cost, because they ask a question, the studies are done to answer the question and when they report back, the answer isn't what they wanted and so another raft of studies are commissioned. Partly that's why development programmes are so much longer these days, because ever more detailed justifications are demanded, over multiple iterations.

      Then we get to the budgetting process, which is bad enough for us this side of the pond, but appears absolutely insane on yours. You appear to have a three or four way battle between the services themselves, the two houses of congress and the administration. Horse trading on a giant scale without real regard for efficiencies and adding yet more delay and that's before we get to the BRAC process and reluctance to close bases.

      I think what I'm trying to say is that we in the west have created a system where the justification of decisions has overtaken the overall objective of what it is we're trying to achieve. When you overlay that over personnel costs that require an increasing chunk of the budget, equipment that needs to be more technologically advanced (and it does in general), but therefore attracts more cost in complexity and scarce design resource, that probably explains where the money goes.

    6. Part 2 of 2

      How does one change this? With difficulty - primarily because there are lawyers involved all over the place! You can't necessarily put your faith in less capable kit, because anything you save in equipment cost, you'll end up paying for elsewhere in the need for more people to run more of the equipment for the same capability.

      The way forward must be to streamline the approvals system - and probably buy fewer of more designs (but using common major components like engines, radars etc) which allows the industrial base to neck out and be less of a monopoly, but without the logistics concerns that would otherwise bring. This side of the pond we have huge issues because we have forgotten how to do stuff because of the intervals involved. Between 1985 and today, we have designed two and a bit surface combatants (I say a bit, because the Type 26 is far from finished, let alone ordered). In the same timeframe, you guys have managed DDG51, the comedy that is DDG1000 and the interesting but potentially flawed LCS. One reason costs increase is because we forget "why" things are what they are, let alone the "how".

      This is why simplistic arguments like "cancel the F35" attract fire. No one would argue that it is the poster boy for a procurement programme - the decision to try and make three different requirements fit one airframe made sure of that. However, having got this far, you have to live with it, because the alternative is not some land of milk and honey where a cheap and capable alternative is available straight off the shelf. The reality is that a new programme would be required, with a new design (potentially designs plural) and an associated competition, which will cost more money than you can imagine and end up making the F35 look like a paragon of fiscal prudence - unless the process of acquiring kit is radically changed for the better. To make that happen, the beltway bandits and congressfolks are going to have to make like turkeys voting for Christmas. It can be done, but only with significant political will.

    7. NAB,

      You have given a very, bureaucratic answer to the issue of funding - the plain fact is that DoD is unfocused, has a massive problem with misallocated resources, and consequently has dubious to no-existent funding priorities.

      The USA has put itself in the position of defending wealthy “allies” due to historical geopolitical conditions that have radically changed. Typically these “allies,” most of whom are now economic competitors, long ago adjusted their spending and force levels appropriately, while the USA has not only failed to see the writing on the wall, in some cases it is increasing its forces in defense of people who either do not need it, or are happy to draw down while we send more troops!

      We spent over a trillion dollars in the Iraq war, while Mexico is collapsing under criminal gang violence that has orders of magnitude more direct impact on the average American than any nonsense in the Middle East. In fact, the the post 911 deployments of U.S. power from Africa to Pakastan has largely been a strategic failure, if not an outright military disaster as observed by Cordesman, the Kagans, Baceovich, and a host of others.

      Sufficient funding is available provided that that we use the wisdom of our elders, and identify our true national security concerns, and spend appropriately to train and equip the right forces. The USA managed a larger post First World War empire with far fewer forces than we now have for defense. Hint, the U.S. is not in direct danger of invasion from anyone so a large standing Army and USMC are not needed, and the future of the USA is in North –South and East relations, not Europe.

      Prime examples of largesse:

      a. The Pentagon is almost twice the size it was in WWII when we had 10+ million men under arms! You cannot turn a corner in the pentagon without running into an assistant undersecretary of defense or other political creature at the SES level. These appointees come with lifetime general officer retirement benefits even if they serve for just 2-4 years! Sickening!

      b. Even after sequestration there are still 30,000+ permanent defense consultants just in the DC metro area. Why?

      c. The Geographic unified command system – do we really need more than three unified commands plus SOCCOM and STRATCOM? Tens of thousands of officers tied up punching joint staff tickets.

      d. Do we really need the massively heavy DFAS agency given the services performed this function prior to the creation of DFAS in the 1990s, and the services have implemented Enterprise Management Systems that have dramatically streamlined many of the manpower and procurement transactions.

      e. Western Europe is the wealthiest and most prosperous region on the globe, yet the USA continues to maintain 30,000 plus U.S. troops spread across dozens of installations throughout Western Europe, to include palatial residences for generals and admirals - all serving little direct U.S. interest. This massive largesse is unneeded and unaffordable, and in the face of U.S. Army shortfalls in infantry during the post 2003 invasion of Iraq absolutely criminal.

      f. South Korea is now a wealthy industrious country, yet the U.S. continues to maintain another dubiously large military presence that is forward deployed in an ideal position to suffer catastrophic casualties in the first 10 minutes of a conflict.

      g. Australia is reducing the size of its armed forces just as the U.S. is trying to permanently base more Marines there! I love Australians, but really…


    8. Was there a part of

      "we in the west have created a system where the justification of decisions has overtaken the overall objective of what it is we're trying to achieve"


      "To make that happen, the beltway bandits and congressfolks are going to have to make like turkeys voting for Christmas. It can be done, but only with significant political will"

      that you didn't understand? The system that has been created directly leads to your a and b and probably d above. If the explanation is bureaucratic, it's because the root cause of the issue is bureaucratic and if you don't understand it, you can't expect to defeat it. That still leaves you with the minor problem of getting your politicians to sign up to it. They'll happily cut budgets and hence force structure, but heaven forfend that their influence should be diluted. The DoD and the military have limited scope to change that system - it is largely imposed on them by the various congressional and federal authorities.

      By the way, you'll not hear me (or many in the UK) defend the reluctance of the majority in Europe to pull their weight. A little known fact is that while there is uproar in the UK about reducing the army to 82000, the German army is only 65000 strong and has been so for some years.

    9. Keep the discussion respectful, please.

    10. NAB,
      1. You are confusing politics with bureaucracy.

      2. Bureaucracy is when not a single general, admiral, or service secretary has had the integrity to publicly respond to any question that might upset or in any way challenge the status quo.

      3. DoD has the authority to outright a-c and to seriously mitigate the impact of d-g on my list.

      Finally, I am not complaining about Europeans “not pulling their weight;” I am saying that it is irrelevant to the USA what Europeans do with their respective defense budgets.

      Europeans are not going to invade the USA; given that Europeans are on the whole more numerous and prosperous than America they can choose to pay for their defense, or not, and face the consequences.


    11. "A little known fact is that while there is uproar in the UK about reducing the army to 82000, the German army is only 65000 strong and has been so for some years."

      I've been doing alot of reading on WWI given the centennial of that war. When I came upon an article saying the Heer was not only well under the level of the allowed Versailles treaty numbers, but that most German equipment was non-functional due to poor maintanance I was gobsmacked.

      I was further surprised to find that, other than combat aircraft, Poland had a larger military than Germany.

  9. Sidenote : About INF treaty, every article out there shows that is still in effect.
    After the fall of the USSR, Russia became bound with all legal international agreements of the former USSR.

    One sign that the russian still respect the treaty is that they have not made the range of the Iskander missile more than 400km ( and they have said that they could double it even more ).
    My guess, each side is waiting to see who openly violates the treaty to slam him in the face of the international comunity, sort of like "see, we kept our promise but they decieved us".

    About "pershing III" the pershing II is perfectly fine just add conventional types of warheads and most important some new gudance like gps two way data link, and final E/O thermal sensor to enable hitting of moving targets.
    As i remeber there have been talks that even the range of the ATACMS can be extended double.
    And a GLCM version of the latest Tomahawks would be interesting too.

    1. This will be my last comment on the INF treaty. The US Dept of State website has an article on the INF. It states (I won't quote; it's a long article and you can look it up if you're interested) that after the dissolution of the USSR (note the word dissolution - you can't have a binding treaty with a dissolved party!) the US sought to continue the treaty as a multi-lateral agreement with the former member states of the USSR. Again, this strongly implies a matter of convenience rather than a binding agreement. It also suggests (though doesn't explicitly state) that informal agreements were arranged with some of the member states. The article notes that the US did not consider the Baltic states to be successor states, again implying that the US was picking and choosing which states to continue treaty relations with. If a treaty is binding, you can't pick and choose which members are bound. They either all are or none are.

      The implication seems quite clear that the treaty is void although both sides have opted to abide by it for their own purposes.

  10. still waiting for the era where america stop its warmongering and militaristic spending while the nation is deep in debt. That many carrier battle group ? for what else but military projection to protect US hegemony ?

    sorry comnav i know you hatr politics but it is galling to see the US flexing their power like this when in reality their strengh and influence already waning in this sunset of Pax Americana.

    1. buntalanlucu your post added nothing to the discussion, and your gloom and doom prognosis on America is both premature and wrong headed.


    2. "b", as you acknowledged, this is not a political blog. Because it was short, I'll leave your post and my reply as a reminder to all that pure politics will not be allowed. I'll remove future, similar posts.

      A moderate amount of political discussion that is directly related to military matters is acceptable and, in that case, I don't care what the political position is as long as it's directly pertinent.

      These posts and comments will remain factual, logical, and non-political. There are plenty of political sites to visit for those interested in that subject.

      Carry on!

  11. ConNav , that bulantalalabubu.. Sounds like russian web troll V 2.0

  12. Sorry I dropped out for a while and cant be bothered catching up, so I'll make one further point.
    A single US carrier, with its under strength airwing, and understrength escort fleet, on station for only 8 months a year, is such a potent force, that China doesnt even think about operating surface vessels 400 miles from its own shore line.

    Historic examples of fleets attacking shore targets are a lot rarer than you would imagine, certainly defended shore targets.
    Simply because a shore battery is far easier to armour, disperse, camoflage, and build, than an equivalent warship.

    And generally when they do go in, they go in en masse.
    Easily 30 big ships, at a time when even the Royal Navy only possessed 100.
    And if you think about it, three carriers, fully armed, are more than enough to pop up, rain hell down on a target and move out of range.


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