Sunday, June 7, 2015

A2/AD Combat

The May issue of Proceedings has an interesting article about using an Arsenal Ship as a means of breaching an A2/AD zone (1).  The author’s contention is that an Arsenal Ship represents a survivable concentration of firepower which is necessary to breach an A2/AD zone.  One of the author’s underlying premises is the need to,

“… provide a precise, persistent, and continuous volume of fire directed at the enemy’s command-and-control (C2), communications nodes, and long- and mid-range weapon systems.”

This is a reasonable requirement and ties in with other, related philosophies such as the best defense is a good offense (attack the launch sites and weapons rather than defend against the launched weapons), attack the supporting bases, etc.  The key in any of these related concepts is the need for very long range, survivable weapons or, conversely, the means to deliver shorter range weapons in a survivable manner.

Setting aside actual strategies and operational plans, let’s look a bit closer at the Navy’s ability to deliver weapons through or across a sizable A2/AD zone (a thousand miles or so).

Currently, the Tomahawk missile is the only Navy weapon with sufficient range for A2/AD penetration.

The Navy surface force has the ability to launch Tomahawk missiles with thousand mile range from surface ships.  Burke and Ticonderoga class vessels can carry around 100 vertical launch missiles (VLS cells).  That’s potentially a lot of strike power.  Given the Navy’s current practice of three Burke/Tico escorts per carrier strike group, that equates to 300 missiles.  However, the Navy’s top priority will always be defense of the carrier so the escort ships will be heavily weighted towards AAW missiles rather than strike.  For sake of discussion, let’s speculate that an escort ship would contain 80% AAW and 20% strike.  That means that the 300 missiles carried by the escorts would be 240 AAW and 60 strike.  While not an insignificant amount, 60 missiles from an entire carrier group is not much of an impact against the entire mainland “target” of an enemy with a sizable A2/AD zone (oh come on, we’re talking about China, right?).  Attacking China with 60 missiles won’t make much of a dent in their defenses.

Surface ship strikes are also problematic in that they carry a higher degree of risk to the launching vessel and the launch locations are reasonably predictable.

The subsurface force also has Tomahawk launch capability.  Virginia class SSNs carry 12 or 40 Tomahawk vertical launch missiles, depending on version.  In addition, the legacy SSGNs carry 154 Tomahawks and the later Los Angeles class SSNs carry 12.

Submarine launched missiles offer the greatest degree of stealth.  Subs are very difficult to detect even after having announced their presence via the “flaming data point” of launch.  Unless the sub launches in the close vicinity of ASW forces, by the time appropriate forces can arrive at the launch location the sub will be sufficiently far away to make detection an enormous challenge.  Of course, the first island chain geography dictates somewhat predictable points of entry into the area and offers the possibility of sub traps and enemy SOSUS-like detection arrays.  Still, subs are a very survivable means of delivering volumes of missiles.

The drawback to both surface and sub launched missiles is that, once expended, the ships must return to port to reload.  Thus, a sizable pulse of firepower could be generated but a high volume sustained attack scenario would be extremely challenging or impossible.

Of course, we fight jointly and the Air Force can offer long range, deep penetrating strike capabilities on a regular and frequent basis though at great risk and attrition will likely render such a contribution ineffective in fairly short order.  A force of 19 or 20 B-2 bombers simply cannot operate for long.  Combat attrition combined with simple mechanical failure would render the force too small to be operationally effective in a fairly short period.  The 100 B-1 bombers offer a more robust capability numerically but their ability to conduct and survive deep penetration A2/AD missions is questionable.

We see then that the Navy’s ability to apply large volume firepower across a sizable A2/AD zone is marginal.  This leads to several conclusions.  The most obvious conclusion is that the Navy needs more, and preferably longer ranged, missiles.  In addition, the Navy needs to examine its strategy and operational planning for A2/AD combat.  If we can’t effectively generate much more than a single pulse of firepower then we need to ensure that we have plans to take maximum advantage of that pulse.  Finally, we need to closely examine the potential for complementary actions between the Air Force and Navy.  We’ve covered this in previous posts.  It may be that the best use of the carrier strike group is to establish corridors of local aerial superiority for the Air Force bombers to use.  This, in turn, dictates the development of a certain type of naval fighter – one not exemplified by the F-35, unfortunately.

Returning to the article, the author advocates the development and use of the Arsenal Ship as a means of increasing the long range firepower of the Navy.  That's certainly an option and I leave it to the reader to check out the article and evaluate the author's proposal.

In summary, it is clear that we currently lack the required weapons and platforms to counter a sizable and effective A2/AD zone and operate within it.  The Navy needs to look much closer at how to attack an A2/AD zone, develop operational plans, acquire more and longer ranged weapons, and begin developing and training the required tactics (multi-carrier strike groups, for instance).

(1)USNI Proceedings, “Breaking the Anti-Access Wall”, Capt. Sam Tangredi, USN(Ret.), May 2015


  1. CNO, I'm shocked! I agree with virtually everything you said here!

    One thing: The B-1 can carry JASSM-ER, with its 500nm standoff range. Unless targets are deep inland, a B-1 can fire from the outer rim of the A2/AD zone. This should be give it a reasonable chance of survival.

    On a different note, I'm starting to think relying on VLS-based missiles for land attack is actually tying our hands.

    1. We have no way of reloading them at sea. Past efforts to do so have failed. This means surface combatants and submarines have limited ability to conduct sustained strikes.

    2. VLS cell dimensions greatly restrict the size and shape of missiles. They have to be small enough to fit in a 21"x21" cell, or roughly TLAM-sized. What if you want smaller missiles or larger missiles or missiles not shaped like a tube with flip out wings?

    3. The amount of weight and space devoted to VLS cells is fixed at the time of a ship's construction. If you want to carry more or fewer missiles, you're out of luck.

    Maybe instead, we take a page from the one proven method of at-sea replenishment: aircraft carrier CONREP.

    How about building a flat top surface combatant, say like the Japanese Hyuga class, only put 3 or 4 relatively small EMKIT+ catapults on the bow.

    Develop a suite of catapult-launched missiles.

    CLF ships could deliver the missiles, sans warheads and fuel, in small shipping containers via traditional CONREP. They would also deliver separate, standard Mk80/BLU/SDB series warheads that fit inside the missile. The warhead would be stored in protected magazines, deeper in the hull.

    The missile containers could be stacked high in the hangar until needed. They wouldn't be much of a fire hazard unfueled and without a warhead.

    When it came time to launch a strike, missiles would be removed from their containers, mated to a warhead, and fueled, and sent to the deck, like a traditional carrier based aircraft. They would then wait their turn to be fired off a catapult and on their way.

    Missiles could be of many different sizes and shapes, depending on their target. Some could be modified target drones.

    Rate of fire wouldn't be as high as a VLS, say 2-3 missiles/min per catapult. However when this ship ran dry, it would just fall back, link up to a CLF ship, and reload via time-tested methods.

    Since this ship is essentially a small carrier, missile containers could be swapped out for helicopters, F-35Bs, or UAVs.

    Smaller missiles could be significantly cheaper. Larger missiles could carry larger warheads or have much greater range.


    1. Even assuming all this, how do we target the facilities that support A2/AD?

      Air bases I'm guessing are comparatively easy. But IIRC DF-21 launchers can be mobile. Ditto any land based ascm launcher. The Chinese are going to be working hard to blind/confuse our satellites.

      So unless we have a good idea where things are and are doing the initial strike, how do we degrade their A2/Ad capability?

      It seems like a harder version of the problem facing ultra long range ASCM's, even the fast ones. Ships can move, but trucks can too, and often faster.

    2. Attacking individual land-based launchers located in the heart of the enemy's A2/AD network is a losing proposition. It's just too hard to find them.

      IMHO, creating a persistent, boost-phase intercept capability might work, but would require us to attrite other aspects of the A2/AD network sufficiently to permit something like stealthy, persistent UCAVs carrying air-launched NCADE or PAC-3 to operate effectively.

      The best way to handle DF-21 is to attack its ISR network, and to provide more targets than it can efficiently handle. Either that, or provide no targets at all (e.g. SSK/SSN/SSGN).

    3. Smitty,

      Are you basically suggesting that the US build Light Carriers?
      While smaller carriers are something I'd like to see, we all know what the navy will do to those things the moment they realize that they are carrier hulls.
      Also keep in mind that if doing so, with US ship building practice of the 21st century, you end up with a ship that costs almost as much as a full blown fleet carrier but has very limited capabilities.
      Seriously, you mention the JDS Hyuuga. That ship would probably cost the US roughly $6-7B to build if we would have been the ones building it, for only a 'little' more you'd have a JFK-style Kitty Hawk CV (~$10B?).

      Also, 2-3 missiles/min x ~4 cats. I don't think they can actually get that many Predators ready that fast, and this missile would be larger and heavier by default of speed (larger engine).
      Could be completely wrong here, I'm not getting a clear image of what you're wanting. Basically an unmanned modern version of the Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka (Baka)? Of course, faster and with a better non-human payload, that's obvious.
      If so, I admit, what I suggested (in a comment that fell through the cracks... and for good reason) was much farther out in left field, so I'm willing to agree with your idea here.

      - Ray D.

    4. Ray D,

      Essentially yes, but these light carriers would be nearly entirely geared towards an air wing composed of small and inexpensive UCAVs and a variety of cruise missiles that come crated with "some assembly required".

      The 45,000 ton LHA-6 is supposed to cost around $3.4 billion, with subsequent ships costing somewhat more. A 13-20,000 ton UCAV/missile carrier should cost considerably less, especially if built in numbers.

      In addition to cruise missile kits, I would develop a suite of mini-UCAVs that are considerably lighter and shorter range than X-47B.

      A folding-wing version of an X-45A could have a spot factor 1/5th that of a Super Hornet, or 1/4th that of a Harrier. But I think we could go even smaller.

      If we sized a UCAV around the ability to carry 1x1000lb JDAM, or 4xSDB, it might be able to get by with a small, high-bypass bizjet engine (e.g. FJ44 or FJ33).

      Such a UCAV might be little more than a reusable cruise missile, but assuming we can make it stealthy enough and enable it with jamming, decoys, and so on, it could deliver $20k JDAMs repeatedly.

      On launch rate, they key is to prep the missiles/UCAVs first and park them on deck before you start launching, the same as we used to do with carrier alpha strikes.

    5. The USN has developed a viable method for reloading VLS at sea they just haven't deployed it yet (page 12):

    6. We need weapons with at least 1000nm capability, preferably 1,200-1,500 nm capability. The Navy lacks aircraft capable of lifting weapons with that range, and every US airbase in the range is covered by Chinese and North Korean missiles.

      Give the Chinese credit for intelligence and assume that they will, at an absolute minimum, hit our strategic bomber bases at Diego Garcia and other OCUNUS locations.

      Subsequent US strategic air strikes will then face formidable surface-to-air and air-to-air threats. Attrition seems unlikely to favor us.

      I expect the situation to spiral out of hand and either we will blink first, or there will be a nuclear exchange.


  2. I like the old arsenal ship idea, a barge. Filling your $2 billion destroyer with missiles makes vulnerable to ammo ship type explosions. So you have a arsenal ship with a crew of 40 that is just a powered barge like vessel that a destroyer can link to and fire its missiles. This way the destroyer needn't venture hundreds of miles to rearm.

    1. There are a number of arguments for using a barge as an arsenal ship. The other suggestion has been made to use standard commercial container ships carrying VLS containerized box launchers.

      The downside of using barges and/or container ships is that once the ship starts launching its missiles, its position can be determined.

      If the ship or barge is operating inside the weapons engagement zone, now it has to be defended.

      Sure the container ship or barge can be outfitted with ESSM, RAM, and CIWS as a partial solution to its defense requirements. But it will still need support from the DDG's.

      All of these suggestions place greater burdens on the DDGs, and is yet another task to be added to the growing list of responsibilities the Burkes are now carrying.

  3. The principal argument against the arsenal ship is precisely that it concentrated too much firepower into a single (vulnerable) hull.

    Recall that those missiles are: 1) expensive, and 2) are not available in great numbers, and 3) are not easy to mass produce.

    In fairness, these criticisms can be leveled at most of our weapons systems, but these arguments, combined with the availability of hulls, favored the SSGN over the arsenal ship.


    1. The advantage of the SSGN is its high survivabilty inside the weapons engagement zone.

      The downside is that the SSGN must return to port to reload its cells. If we are to make the best theoretical use of the wealth of VLS ordnance types which might be produced in the future, then maximizing total combat throughput capacity of the fleet as a whole must have equal priority.

      The need for volume fires has not gone away. This means that surface ships must carry the great bulk of the Navy's VLS throughput capacity.

    2. Without an effective means to reload, or a vast increase in the number of cells, VLS will always have a dismal throughput capacity.

    3. Having the means to reload the VLS cells, and having enough VLS cells available, is only two thirds of the problem. (Maybe only half the problem if you include the fleet logistics supply train.)

      The other major problem is finding the money needed to fund development and procurement of all the various VLS ordnance types which might prove useful and effective.

      If this is the path we choose to augment USN/USAF airpower, then there has to be a national commitment to fund what would be a major enhancement to the technical/doctrinal methods and means America now uses to implement offensive combat power.

    4. Scott,

      Good point. And a frank discussion is needed as to the merits of surface vs air launched cruise missiles. It may be better for to just develop a cheaper cruise missile carrying aircraft (say 767-based).

    5. That's why I find the B-52 idea so intriguing. Big, long range, proven air frame that could be modified more cheaply than a 767 (most likely. My ideas as to what can be done cheaply and the objective reality of military procurement are radically out of step).

      I did read about this:

      Again, there are alot of positives out there. These things could fly a long way and would be difficult to counter. If they can launch outside the A2/AD...

      Question: Does cruise missile range increase with increased height of the mother ship?

    6. Upgrading the B-52s is a great idea, however there will never be a new one. Existing B-52s will stick with us for a while, but they will eventually be retired.

      The 767 line is still open, which would allow us to scale to much larger numbers of long-ranged, cruise-missile aircraft, if needed.

      AFAIK, increasing launch altitude doesn't impact the range of a cruise missile all that much. Glide munitions benefit more.

    7. B.Smitty: "Good point. And a frank discussion is needed as to the merits of surface vs air launched cruise missiles. It may be better for to just develop a cheaper cruise missile carrying aircraft (say 767-based)."

      IMHO, a far better solution for deploying high volume air-launched stand-off weaponry is to push forward with building the LRS-B, an aircraft which is purposefully designed for combat action near the edge of, or just inside, a high threat battlespace.

      Build the LRS-B in enough numbers, and I think a price tag of $600 million per airframe is achievable.

      If we don't build the LRS-B, the manned bomber fleet will shrink significantly as the legacy airframes wear out. Many, if not most, of these legacy aircraft will have to be retired by about 2030 if they continue to rack up hours at the rates they are now.

    8. Scott,

      I'm not holding my breath on that LRS-B price.

      It's unclear to me how optimized LRS-B will be as a cruise missile shooter. It may go the other route and optimize for the B-2 penetrating profile.

      A combination of LRS-B and a roomier, cheaper cruise missile shooter might be better. Hard to say.

    9. B.Smitty: "I'm not holding my breath on that LRS-B price."

      In theory -- as such theories go -- LRS-B will use no technology which does not already exist, and whose problems and issues 'as such' are reasonably well understood.

      In other words, at this point in time, the LRS-B's technology management envelope is well-bounded in comparison with where the B-2, the F-22, the F-35 were at similar points in their development.
      Achieving successful A2/AD counter measures over the next two decades will require fielding a variety of advanced stand-off weaponry types. But it will not, as many people now suppose, be possible to simply marry a series of stand-off weaponry types to a cheap launching platform and voila, our problems with fielding expensive new platforms are resolved.

      The performance effectiveness of a particular standoff weaponry type is in part a function of how close the launching platform can get to the target.

      What we should be trying to do is to maximize the total combat effectiveness of the end-to-end ordnance delivery chain. To do that, we need to look at the launching platform AND at its proposed weaponry loadouts to see what features each should have to maximize end-to-end comat effectiveness of the combined total system.

    10. "But it will not, as many people now suppose, be possible to simply marry a series of stand-off weaponry types to a cheap launching platform and voila, our problems with fielding expensive new platforms are resolved."


      I agree with your point. I guess I'm looking at things with a few assumptions in place:

      A) that our current acquisition program is broken, and likely won't be fixed any time soon. The last time I can remember a program coming in roughly on time or on budget I believe it was the SuperHornet. That's a long time ago now.

      B) The F-35 is going to happen, and its going to end up eating budgets the way my son eats popcorn. The jet itself is expensive. ALIS isn't working, and the maintanance cost on them seems quite high. This is all true even more so for NAVAIR.

      C) our stand off weapons programs aren't perfect, but seem to be in better shape than our current platform programs.

      D) With increasing debt and demand for superficial austerity, the defense budget isn't going to be trending upward.

      Things like a modernized B-52 and/or a 767 wouldn't, couldn't replace the need for a modern day strike bomber as represented by LRS-B. Maybe they are complete flights of fancy.

      But I guess I'm coming in with the idea that even if LRS-B comes to fruition it will be a truncated buy due to all of the above factors. So we need to think out of the box, and maybe weirdly out of the box, if we want volume of fire.

      I'm thinking about how in WWII we used modified merchant ships to become escort carriers; or how we kept older hulls in service during the cold war in order to keep numbers up. I think that we won't have enough money to fund the best option all the time. So maybe we have to come up with some stuff to fill the ranks.

      With all this said, I'm just a civilian whose military knowledge comes from reading the Economist, boards like this, and Google U. So I realize I might have huge gaps in that knowledge.

    11. Jim Whall: Scott Brim said, "But it will not, as many people now suppose, be possible to simply marry a series of stand-off weaponry types to a cheap launching platform and voila, our problems with fielding expensive new platforms are resolved."

      "Scott; I agree with your point. I guess I'm looking at things with a few assumptions in place: "


      I will respond point by point, but in three succeeding posts due to this forum's space limitations:

      RESPONSE to Jim Whall, PART 1 of 3:

      Jim Whall: " A) that our current acquisition program is broken, and likely won't be fixed any time soon. The last time I can remember a program coming in roughly on time or on budget I believe it was the SuperHornet. That's a long time ago now."

      One of the most important reasons why the acquisition process is broken is that the process has become the product, and those who manage the process -- the DOD transformationalists and the acquisition professionals who support the DOD transformationalists -- have become the primary customers for the DOD 5000 process.

      Senator McCain is studying changes to Goldwater-Nichols which might have some positive, although somewhat limited, impacts on DOD 5000. But these changes won't be nearly enough to improve the acquisition process to the extent it needs to be improved.

      Since DOD 5000 isn't going away -- not now, not ever -- something else has to happen.

      In my view, knowledge is power. The true warriors of the armed services who understand both military technology and warfighting doctrine must also become experts in managing the DOD 5000 acquisition process. They must then use their knowledge of the ins and outs of DOD 5000 to wrest control of the process from the transformationalists and the acquisition professionals. This objective can be accomplished only if the very highest officials in the Department of Defense actively support the true warriors in their quest to gain direct control over DOD 5000.

      Under this approach to acquisition reform, the true warriors will know themselves what DOD 5000 levers need to be pulled, and which DOD 5000 buttons need to be pushed when and where, so as to move their projects through the acquisition process in an acceptably short period of time.

      In other words, these true-warrior acquisition professionals will traverse the DOD 5000 landscape with the same gusto and determination they apply when traversing a battlefield's terrain.

      END of PART 1 of 3.

    12. RESPONSE to Jim Whall, PART 2 of 3:

      Jim Whall: "B) The F-35 is going to happen, and its going to end up eating budgets the way my son eats popcorn. The jet itself is expensive. ALIS isn't working, and the maintenance cost on them seems quite high. This is all true even more so for NAVAIR."

      Come what may, IOC for each F-35 variant will be declared per the current schedule. But once IOC is declared for a version -- B, A, and C in that order -- the design configuration for that version's mechanical, avionics, engine, and structural systems will be locked down.

      Development of the F-35's major software blocks will continue forward post-IOC; but after IOC, only minor configuration changes and easy-to-implement technical fixes to the basic airframe and its onboard hardware systems will be allowed. Any serious issues of any major significance which affect each version's design will be lived with through a combination of maintenance work-arounds and the imposition of operational restrictions.

      Major configuration changes which might force a costly series of changes and adjustments to the F-35's support infrastructure will not be done except in those cases where the aircraft simply cannot fly without the needed modifications. Manual work-arounds for any missing ALIS functionality will be developed and implemented. Money spent on the F-35 will go into producing as many F-35's as possible under the constrained levels of funding that be available over the next decade. I see 1200 F-35 airframes being produced, maybe 1500.

      Concerning the F-35's ability a decade from now to fight effectively deep inside a high-threat A2/AD weapons engagement zone, the airplane will not have enough range, endurance, all aspect stealth, and combat envelope performance to engage with the most effective of the IADS and the A2/AD threats it will be facing. In strike operations conducted within a high-threat A2/AD environment, the F-35 will penetrate only as far into the weapons engagement zone as is necessary to bring the target within range of its standoff weaponry, but no farther. The F-35 will let loose with the smart stuff and then boogie out of there as fast as it can. The smart standoff weaponry is where the necessary high performance VLO stealth and the complicated A2/AD avoidance capabilities will reside, not aboard the F-35 itself.

      In the year 2025, the F-35 will be too few in number and too expensive to employ on a routine basis for day-to-day low-threat airpower missions like the ones now being conducted. Against less capable adversaries, the F-35 is limited by its need for adequate in-theater support facilities, its range, its endurance, and its in-field operations and maintenance costs. In the year 2025, some large portion of the responsilbility for handling low-threat non-A2/AD CAS and ISR missions will fall upon a combination of the USN's legacy F-18 E/F fighters, the USAF's legacy F-15E fighters, and the USAF's legacy B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers.

      What lines of evidence support my speculation that a post-IOC F-35 configuration lock-down is coming? (1) The Navy is slowing procurement of the F-35C which indicates to me at least that they want more time to do as much development work as possible before the inevitable lock-down occurs. (2) DOD wants to quickly ramp up production of the F-35 to lower its unit costs, buying 450 F-35s in a block. The Pentagon could not do this without imposing a post-IOC design freeze and follow-on configuration lock-down in order to limit post-production modifications to production aircraft. (3) The simple fact that unless F-35 cost growth is constrained, little else is possible if we want American airpower to evolve as quickly as it needs to evolve in response to emerging A2/AD threats.

      END of PART 2 of 3.

    13. RESPONSE to Jim Whall, PART 3 of 3:

      Jim Whall: "C) our stand off weapons programs aren't perfect, but seem to be in better shape than our current platform programs."

      Stand-off weaponry launched from air, sea, and land platforms needs greater funding priority. But greater numbers of stand-off weapons can only go so far in the absence of procurement of greater numbers of platforms which are optimized to launch those stand-off weaponry types in high volumes.

      Jim Whall: "D) With increasing debt and demand for superficial austerity, the defense budget isn't going to be trending upward."

      The money for all this new stuff has to come from somewhere. But if the money does come from somewhere, would we spend it on platforms and systems that don't work?

      Jim Whall: "Things like a modernized B-52 and/or a 767 wouldn't, couldn't replace the need for a modern day strike bomber as represented by LRS-B. Maybe they are complete flights of fancy."

      If the LRS-B program is managed with a strong sense of realism as to what is and is not possible, then we will see the airplane in service by 2025. If it isn't, we won't.

      Jim Whall: "But I guess I'm coming in with the idea that even if LRS-B comes to fruition it will be a truncated buy due to all of the above factors. So we need to think out of the box, and maybe weirdly out of the box, if we want volume of fire. I'm thinking about how in WWII we used modified merchant ships to become escort carriers; or how we kept older hulls in service during the cold war in order to keep numbers up. I think that we won't have enough money to fund the best option all the time. So maybe we have to come up with some stuff to fill the ranks."

      There is no magic solution to supplying volume fires at long range which are also by necessity long-range guided precision fires. It will take a lot of money combined with a policy of enforcing strong program management discipline to supply all that will be needed in the future.

      Jim Whall: "With all this said, I'm just a civilian whose military knowledge comes from reading the Economist, boards like this, and Google U. So I realize I might have huge gaps in that knowledge. "

      I am not a veteran myself. My personal background as one who follows defense issues is that prior to a career move into supporting project control systems for management of large-scale technology development programs, I worked as an engineer developing Neat Technical Stuff (NTS) in support of national security objectives.

      Many of my opinions concerning defense topics and issues are not in conformance with the popular conventional wisdom. So my advice here is take my opinions, and everyone else's opinions, for what they might be worth to you from inside your own personal frame of reference.

      END of PART 3 of 3.

    14. Scott,

      Conventional military wisdom can and should be challenged to prevent the disasters such as the summer of 1914.

      No well reasoned argument should be rejected except on merrit.


    15. "The need for volume fires has not gone away. This means that surface ships must carry the great bulk of the Navy's VLS throughput capacity."

      Or we build more SSGNs so that we can cycle them in and out of the combat area.

    16. "It may be better for to just develop a cheaper cruise missile carrying aircraft (say 767-based)."

      Smitty, the use of a commercial airliner as the basis for a cruise missile "carrier" is interesting but seems to suffer from a significant survivability issue. I assume you envision a JASSM-ER missile with a 500 nm range. Thus, the aircraft would have to penetrate to within 400 miles of the Chinese coast to hit fixed targets from the shore to 100 miles inland. That's a lot of penetrating by a slow, large, non-stealthy aircraft.

      Now, for anti-shipping, that might be a viable option.

      This option also potentially suffers from a concentration/risk issue. I assume you envision a lot of missiles on a single aircraft. That's risking losing a lot of weapons in a non-survivable platform. To be fair, the same can be said of many other platforms to varying degrees.

    17. Doesn't have to be JASSM-ER. Could be a longer ranged missile.

      400nm is still a long ways out. That's a lot of territory to defend, especially if contested by US carrier and land-based airpower. It may require Chinese fighters to overfly Japan, the Philippines, or Taiwan, and risk being shot down by land based air defenses.

      And by "slow", we're still talking about an aircraft cruising at 450+kts. We're not talking about a 20+kt CVBG.

      If you assume the max realistic CAP radius for large fighters is maybe 600nm from the coast (debatable, depending on AAR), a 767 traveling at 450kts only has to spend about 50 minutes in the A2/AD zone. In that time, the enemy has to detect it, vector fighters, and the fighters have to get within effective weapons range.

      Not exactly trivial when a strike could hit anywhere along the Chinese coastline at any time.

  4. CNO,

    I should add my shameless plug for sea launched conventionally tipped ballistic missiles.


    1. There's always the worry that an enemy nation might misinterpret a ballistic missile attack as a nuclear first strike.

      Conventional ballistic missiles are useful for certain classes of high-value (esp time sensitive) targets, but they are VERY expensive, relative to payload delivered.

      We need to be thinking in terms of hitting tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of aim points, not tens or hundreds of aim points, IMHO.

      Huge railguns that can launch sub-orbital, 1000+nm range, relatively large payloads could play a role. But they are orders of magnitude larger than what the Navy currently has in mind.

      Otherwise, the most proven method is to attack repeatedly with aircraft carrying relatively cheap ordinance. The trick is to keep sortie rates high enough and attrition low enough.

    2. "There's always the worry that an enemy nation might misinterpret a ballistic missile attack as a nuclear first strike. "

      China doesn't seem too worried about misinterpretation since they're actively developing IRBMs.

    3. The difference is their IRBMs can't reach the US. US IRBMs fired from submarines could be misinterpreted as a Trident nuclear strike on the Chinese mainland.

    4. Smitty,

      How would China (or the USA) immediately identify the national origin of a submarine launched ballistic missile fired from an untracked SSBN?

      During the cold war it was pretty easy because there were "two sides" - in the 21st century, the number of players has increased radically.

      Even during the cold war, SRBMs and IRBMs were very contentious. Much more than the mythical DF-21, the real threat to allied airpower in Asia is the ballistic missile.


    5. Only France, China, Russia, the UK, and the US have ballistic missile subs.

      I think they could pretty easily guess who did it through process of elimination.

    6. 1) The USA also has treaty commitments to defend Taiwan, Australia, Japan, and South Korea all of which are in range of Chinese IRBMs launched from the mainland or first island chain.

      2) The list of nations with submarine launched ballistic missile capability is larger than you think. India and Israel are two examples. The emphasis on "guess" is a real issue.

      3) The correct strategic counter to short and intermediate range ballistic missiles is to deploy similar systems; arguably this is a prerequisite to arms control discussions.


    7. I also not that a suitable medium to intermediate range ballistic missile could be made weighing 3-5 metric tons and 6-9 meters in length.

    8. GAB,

      2) IIRC, Israel and India are rumored to have nuclear tipped cruise missiles, not ballistic missiles.

  5. I think that the logical conclusion is going to have to be that the gun is much more decisive than many think it will be.

    Increasingly, I think that in a protracted conflict, both sides will likely run out of missiles and precision guided munitions. They are expensive, hard to produce, and not something that can be quickly scaled up when needed on demand.

    The other issue is that the Pk of missiles has historically been grossly over-exaggerated. As missile tech get better, so does the countermeasures.

    1. Boeing has built over 250,000 JDAM kits and is building 40 per day. We just need to find ways to deliver them.

    2. You've confirmed my worries. 40/day is not that many at all. The question is, how quickly can this be scaled up?

      Remember, not all JDAMs are going to fall within their advertised CEP as well, which means more will have to be used in practice.

      Missiles and PGMs are very expensive, and although there may not be shortages in fighting Islamic Jihad groups, you could very quickly find yourself running out of them in a conventional nation state type of war.

    3. I'm sure we could scale that number up many-fold. There just isn't a need to right now.

    4. I remember reading an article in Foxtrot Alpha awhile back where they were talking about making the internal bomb bay for the B-52's PGM friendly; heavily updating some of the avionics and EW suite; and finally re-engining them with airliner turbo-fans.

      The end result, they thought, would be a bomber with ridiculous range and the ability to carry an insane amount of long range stealthy cruise missiles to the edge of an A2/AD.

      Between them and the B-1's you just might be able to get the turnaround rates you need if you had enough long range cruise missiles.

      At the very least, it would seem like its a way in which we could get alot of value out of an older weapons system. Sure, they can't penetrate the A2/AD zone, but their weapons can. Combine that with SSGN's and SAG's and you could deliver a hell of an initial punch followed buy a sustained 'barrage' of missiles.

    5. @ Jim

      The problem is not the capacity on the bombers or delivery platforms - the problem is the number of missiles.

      It's like having a lot of VLS launchers but a shortage of missiles.

      @B Smitty

      In the case of weapons like cruise missiles, you are looking at ~$2 million a shot. Perhaps the number would go down somewhat with mass production, but that's still an immense amount of money.

      There have been wars in the past where forces have been ground down not because they were defeated, but because they ran out of spare parts, fuel, or ammo.

    6. The JDAM unit cost is in the $20k range. Very affordable.

    7. @AltandMain:

      I can see your point. I just got done listening to a podcast about WWI, and in it they describe how the generals were simply amazed at the rapid expenditure of conventional ordinance.

      I'm guessing the same would happen in any modern, non nuclear peer conflict.

      However, I'm guessing they could ramp up production. While they are expensive, prices would come down some. And the only thing worse than bankrupting yourself to win a war is bankrupting yourself to lose one.

      To a certain extent, while I support doing everything we can to be a viable counterweight to China, our first goal as a nation, IMHO, has to be to avoid a peer war with China. Its one of those wars we could win the war but wreck ourselves for the peace afterward.

    8. @ Jim

      I agree. Avoiding a peer war with China (and I would argue Russia as well seeing that tensions are rising) is the priority.

      In a sense, the US has already wrecked itself even without the wars.
      - Manufacturing is a fraction of what it once was.
      - De-regulation of finance resulted in the 2008 Crash.
      - American scientific leadership, I've read many articles is in danger.

      There are other problems that I see. There seems to be a lack of public willingness to invest in the future, whether that be in infrastructure, education, research, or pretty much anything that benefits society.

      Then there's the short term mentality. Too many corporations loyal to the quarterly profit. Likewise, there's too many people going - widget: Made in USA $30, Made in China $10 and then they buy the Made in China one. Then they complain there's no manufacturing jobs. That leads to a downwards cycle because wages go down too, as does innovation.

      You could argue in a way, that's what happened to the rest of Europe. Germany in a sense "won" in that they retain a powerful industrial base.

    9. "Boeing has built over 250,000 JDAM kits and is building 40 per day. We just need to find ways to deliver them."

      Given the 15 mile range of the JDAM, the "need to find ways to deliver them" is an understatement of epic proportion!

  6. CNO,

    First off, I more or less disagree with Mr. Tangredi in the specifics on his article, but that's besides the point.

    Your article here got me thinking; and, of course, my thinking is typically of the off-the-wall sort. Feel free to dismiss my rambling off-hand if you find it to be off topic or what have you.

    If the point is to breach the enemy A2/AD zone with a high enough concentration of sheer firepower as to be able to disable the enemy force's C2, STARS, and CS capabilities during the Alpha Strike, then why not revive the concept of the Battleship?

    ...No, not the Iowas.

    Bear with me here, I have at least half of an idea, so let me dive into the hypothetical for just a bit.
    ...Since new development is pretty much what we're left with anyway (*gag*).

    I seem to recall a claim that in the mid-80's/early-90's somebody (P&W, Raytheon, or DARPA; I can't remember which) had supposedly developed 16in scramjet propelled projectiles.
    The story went that these projectiles had a range of ~450nmi, an avg. speed of Mach 7 (oa flight time: ~8 sec), no need for a guidance system (flight time too short for it to matter), and a price point one step lower than the Tomahawk of the time.
    However, the story continues, the developed projectile ended up not meeting the limitations of the then available launch platforms (the 16in/50s of the Iowas) being too long and requiring more powder than reasonable for those guns, so the project stagnated and was eventually dropped altogether when the Iowas were struck in the early 00's.

    Now, assuming that story was just a bunch of hoo-ha, there's no reason why we can't easily turn that dream into reality. Given modern capabilities (if actually utilized, which we all know will never happen under the current military procurement system) we should, within reason, be able to address every requirement and problem of that hypothetical design, since all relevant technology is already sufficiently developed. It's also claimed that firing the scram jet from the barrel of a gun eases the requirements for getting that scram jet lit in the first place and makes it more likely to stay lit... something about the air pressure inside the barrel at the moment of firing.
    And if we're at that, we should design and build a new class (not type) of ship around it; but that's where the schools of thought split.

    We could
    1) Build Small ships to use these, providing a greater number of small ships with 10-30 shorter-range (450nmi) projectiles ea. Individual ships and projectiles would be less costly this way.
    Basically, anything from a Modernized IJN Shimakaze (1942) concept to a modern Armored Cruiser (which could hold 40-60 missiles each). (Noteworthy: these designs do not even require the 'gun fired' missile concept and can instead launch more reasonable Long Missiles with Boosters with little modification)
    2) Build Capitol ships to use these, providing a lesser number of large ships with upwards of 900 projectiles ea, including extremely long range (3000+nmi) projectiles. Individual ships would cost greatly, but their concentrated firepower would be unmatched.
    Basically, a modern Battleship, armor is debatable.

    I have designs for both floating around in my head, of course.

    In either case, under normal operating circumstances (assuming wartime) neither would ever need to close to the AShM defended, mined, SS patrolled enemy shoreline to be vulnerable to begin with; it's merely a question of how much power to you want to project and how far inland do you want it.
    But then again, no strategy ever survives contact with the enemy. The Battleship (if armored) is better prepared for these unknown variables.

    ...And any more and this will be another multi-post wonder, so I'll cut it here.
    So... any thoughts, criticism, opinions, or questions? Just curious.

    - Ray D.

  7. Another consideration - there has not so far been to the best of my knowledge been anything quite like the 2008 RAND study on naval combat.

    At what point does a qualitative advantage get trounced by numbers? Even more disturbing for the USN - should the US even assume a qualitative superiority? This is particularly pressing if the LCS and the LCS "Frigate" makes up a good portion of the fleet. Equally alarming is the decay in quality of training, which shows no signs of decay.

    Finally, China's economy is growing very rapidly still, although there is some evidence the growth rate has slowed as of late (but still quite fast). The assumption that the US may have the bigger, stronger economy too should be questioned.

  8. Aside from using Burkes and Ticos as special weapons platforms carrying 60+ cruise missiles or bombers, one could put a whole bunch of cruise missiles on an aircraft carrier using armored box launchers.

    There's probably enough space on the flight deck for 6-8 armored box launchers and the hanger could easily hold another dozen or more. Missiles could be stored in the ammunition holds on the carrier when not in a launcher.

    This would enable an aircraft carrier, the ultimate arsenal ship, to launch a half dozen salvos of 24 to 32 missiles.

    1. Anon,

      There's probably space for several dozen ABLs on the deck of a Supercarrier if they wanted to stick them on there.
      But why would they do that to a 15 Billion dollar warship that would blow up if so much as looked at wrong (If its deck was covered by ABLs, at least. Carriers are actually tough buggers otherwise.)?
      Cost and Effect, it's not worth the price.

      If they were just going to slap ABLs onto a ship, they'd do so to any old fast 30kt+ barge and have a DD or CG provide remote targeting data. Total cost would be... maybe $1B for the same number of missiles.
      I'm not familiar with the price of the ABL, since they haven't been manufactured in ~25 years or so and my own designs are so radically different, but I digress.
      The problem there is you've put all your eggs in one very vulnerable basket. We simply don't have enough missiles to make that worthwhile in the case of losses (and there will be losses when the ship cannot defend itself).

      - Ray D.

    2. If an aircraft carrier is "one very vulnerable basket," the Navy has more problems than can be addressed here. Aside from its air wing, which is undersized but that's another story, a carrier is fairly well protected with 2-3 ESSM launchers and 3-4 Phalanx/RAM systems.

      I think an Armored Box Launcher (ABL) would be a viable method to achieve the distributed lethality the Navy proposes. For example, one could put 4 or so launchers on the aft end of the flight deck of an LCS and turn it into an one-off special weapons platform.

    3. Anon,

      Paragraphs. They mean something.
      In paragraph #1 I clearly indicated that, without a deck load of ABLs, Supercarriers are tough buggers.
      That means very hard to sink.
      In paragraph #2 I was speaking of an Armed Fast Barge.
      I called /that/ a very vulnerable basket.
      Why did I go from a Supercarrier to a Armed Fast Barge?
      Because the navy would not send a 15 billion dollar Supercarrier and ~2700 men to do the job of a 1 billion dollar ship and ~30 men.
      They'd much rather build new battleships (and they're firmly against that idea), it'd cost less and would have more use!

      Don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing the ABL. I think the concept is very valid for small ships where you cannot devote the below deck space.
      I just know they're not going to permanently use up the deck of a Supercarrier for that purpose... since installing ABLs on a carrier would perforate the flight deck, requiring hundreds of millions of dollars to repair if they tried to remove them. Not to mention that drilling holes through the armored flight deck would be... a very trying task indeed.

      - Ray D.

    4. If you are going the armored box route, you aren't going to use a carrier. Instead, design a 3 high shipping container with standard VLS cells. Grab random panamax container ship, put ~128 VLS 40' containers each containing 3x8 cells, sail out, fire.

      New build panamax ships cost ~$60 million or so. 3 stack modified container is likely to cost ~100k. A Mk41 8-cell block costs ~$6 million per (which honestly seems QUITE insane!) or ~18 million per container. Total cost for 128 containers: 2.3 billion! Total VLS cells: 3072! (basically as many tomahawks as we have in inventory!) Total cost for missiles: 6.2 Billion for tomahawks! Total cost all up for containerized missiles: 8.5 billion!

      Cost of 16 panamax ships: 960 million. Total cost all up: 9.46 billion. For that you get 16 ships each with 192 Strike missiles. If you want more missiles, its just a matter of money to buy more containers and missiles.

      AKA if you want an arsenal ship with missiles, its all about containers and the ships are basically free!

    5. And the bigger cargo ships could hold from 400-600 of the ISO based VLS containers for a total of 10k-15k Tomahawks per. Though the cost for missiles + launchers for those would be 26-40 billion respectively. Though I think it would suffice to break any A2/AD situation. Just try stopping 15K cruise missiles ;) And lets be realistic, its just 1 year of the cost of the war on terror!

  9. War is expensive. In a war, you are going to need to produce lots of strike weapons. It is a moot point to say we go to war with 3000 Tomahawks.
    An arsenal ship loaded with VLS is an expensive target but even 200 tomahawks are still so much cheaper than your $3B Burke. Even that Virginia is $2.2B before weapons fit out.
    There is no need for light carriers. Do you even need a VLS. It can just be a cruise missile with solid rocket boosters to bring it up to altitude and speed for the turbofan. 2000-3000km, 2000lb warhead, this thing is going to be big. It sounds like a re hatched stealth version of a P1000 Vulkan. Put a turbofan in to go farther but at subsonic speeds. Built in cranes on deck and you can reload the launch tubes at sea from the cargo holds. Now the arsenal ships may start to look like a modified Slava cruiser.. In any case, for those hardened sheltered air bases you are going to need heavyweight FAE warheads.


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