Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Filling the Gaps

We spend a great deal of time arguing over the LCS and F-35 and other pieces of highly advanced military hardware.  However, can we win a future major war with just military equipment?  Presumably, a major war will not be over in 90 days.  Presumably, it will last years since both the US and China/Russia/Iran/NKorea all possess large inventories of military assets and sufficient resources (to greater or lesser degrees) to build new ones as losses occur.

Consider, now, the rate at which we can replace combat losses.  It’s not fast!  A single ship takes years to construct.  We won’t be replacing many combat losses.  Even modern aircraft take quite awhile to build.

ComNavOps has previously suggested that the winner of a major war will be the side which has the greatest number of second tier assets.  Think about it.  The initial period of a major war will see both sides throwing their best units at each other and attrition will ensure that after that initial period both sides will be left with many lesser units.  The side with the most, wins!  Also, building lesser (meaning less complex and, thus, easier and quicker to build) assets as replacements for top level units may be a way to achieve a relatively quick and cheap advantage.

This ties directly into one of our previous posts in which we stated that numbers are the most important factor in winning a war.

How else can we sustain an effective military force in the face of attrition and insufficient replacements?  Well, one way is by conscripting civilian equipment and painting it green.  Our fathers made extensive use of civilian ships, small craft, and equipment during WWII.  Consider the many amphibious ships of WWII.  They were either purely or essentially civilian ships.  The landing craft, while built exclusively for military use, derived from civilian small craft and were built to civilian standards using common materials.

This leads to several thoughts about civilian equipment usage.  For example, once we run out of giant amphibious ships and turn to civilian transports, how will we get troops and equipment on and off the ships?  Perhaps, amid our fixation on LCACs, we should pause momentarily and think about a landing craft that can operate from and with civilian ships.

The flip side of the civilian usage issue is that perhaps we should be requiring that all civilian ships be built with certain military interface capabilities such as RO/RO or helo flight decks.  The Chinese do this – their entire civilian merchant fleet is military compatible.

We’ve already seen that the military made an extensive effort to maintain the tooling and expertise required to reconstitute the F-22 production line.  Perhaps we should also be maintaining the ability to reconstitute the A-4, A-6, F-14, F-15, F-16, and similar lines, assuming that they can be produced faster than an F-22/35.  Again, if we devolve to second tier assets, the side with the most, wins.

And, of course, it goes without saying that we should be maintaining an extensive reserve fleet of ships.  Consider what we could have in a reserve fleet right now:  the entire Spruance class, the Kidd class, the entire Perry FFG class, Forrestal, Saratoga, Independence, Ranger, Constellation, Enterprise, America, Kennedy, Kitty Hawk, the Tarawa class, and so many others.  The nine supercarriers that have been retired would be completely capable of being reactivated for emergency war duty and would totally outmatch any enemy capability.

It may not be our best, frontline assets that win a major war;  it may be our second line and civilian assets.  Maybe we should begin planning accordingly and preparing for war with secondary, civilian, and retired assets.


  1. The 2011 MARAD America's Marine Highway project called for "dual-use" vessels that would have both civilian and military value.


    1. Hadn't seen that one. Thanks for the link. I've not seen that anything came of it, have you? Also, seemed like they were proposing pretty small numbers although every little bit helps.

    2. I haven't seen anything come of it, no.

    3. Reports indicate that the Chinese have extensively built military use into their civilian ships and, more importantly, they exercise those ships. That capability also somewhat results in underestimating their naval power when we only look at official naval vessels. Their entire culture is, to an extent, militarized.

    4. I wonder what that actually means?

      We can put tanks on any Ro/Ro with the appropriate deck rating. They can onload and offload at any port the Ro/Ro can use. Helicopter pads aren't necessarily required. Protected magazine spaces are nice, but if desperate enough, we could get by without them.

      We can strap a SeaRAM or CIWS to almost anything to give it very limited point defense capability.

    5. Does the changing of the Civilian manufacturing make this more difficult?

      The LCS 2 is built to 'Civilian plus'. But its largely aluminum. The same ship in 1930 is steal with more stringers. LCS 1 is a bit better...

      Some things are better, of course. I'd rather be in a ''15 Ford Focus than a '57 Belle Aire in a collision. But there is alot of the consumer industry (electronics, shipbuilding) that seems to have gone after total efficiency instead of durability.

  2. America has never won a major war with the initial equipment in inventory. Neither has any other country. Even Germany in WWII, although winning for several years, was constantly upgrading their equipment.

    A large part of this is the foolish idea that we can predict what the next war will entail/require. Along with that is the old adage that we always prepare to fight the last war.

    That said, we need enough to not get knocked out and the ability to build what turns out will WORK in the NEW WAR.

    1. You've identified half of the issue - wars spur rapid development of new and modified equipment. The other half of the issue is the numbers. There is never enough of dedicated military equipment to do the job and civilian equipment gets pressed into service. Hence, the suggestion in the post that we should be building basic military use into civilian ships.

    2. I'm all for that in the Civilian sector... to a point. You don't need a Cadillac to meet MilSpec. But a GMC truck, absolutely.

      We also have other issues; technology is a blessing and a curse in this era. My buddy has worked in numerous line launches. Its *NOT* easy. You aren't building small block iron V8's to go into cast tanks. Each engine has more computing power hooked up to it than the Apollo command module; and each sensor has to be finely tuned and calibrated.

      I don't think any nation anymore has the ability to ramp up production of things like we did in the 30's and 40's unless we seek radically simpler designs.

  3. It’s a fascinating debate.

    Either things are doing to be over pretty quickly i.e. Nukes.

    Or with the techniques of Blitz Krieg they are going to be over reasonably quickly. Most European countries fell in 2 weeks remember.

    I think it unlikely an enemy would not press an advantage as one sides primary tier even faltered slightly, it would need to be an exceptional set of circumstance that led to a “draw” at this point. Given modern warfare and capabilities. A pause long enough to reactivate anything will be lucky.

    However it has and could theoretically happen again.

    I’m not sure you win with your Tier 2 , you just hold the line whilst tier 3 comes ?

    One question that occurred to me is, what is the chance of reactivating nuke ships and subs, I would think slim ?


    1. Reactivating nuke ships with cold reactors - probably slim to none.

      Reactivating nuke ships with active reactors - probably would never happen because of the cost to keep the reactor warm while in reserve status. They would be scrapped instead.

      This is one good reason to go with non-nuclear ships. Diesels and turbines can be mothballed and reactivated. Nukes really can't without considerable sustained expense.

    2. Your historical analogies falter a bit, I think. The German blitzkrieg was against Poland which had a small and ill-prepared military and France which, although numerically large, was equally ill-prepared to conduct modern warfare. Trying to extend that analogy to China-US or Russia-US or whatever scenario you're thinking of is probably inappropriate in that none of those countries are going to completely collapse in a matter of days. If for no other reason, none of those countries will fight on their own soil, at least initially, so there is no total collapse possible.

      As far as reactivating nuclear vessels, there is little chance. The ships are not being maintained while they await scrapping so they are literally rotting. Also, there is the issue of nuclear embrittlement. I don't know enough to fully assess that other than to note it's an issue.

    3. "This is one good reason to go with non-nuclear ships."

      That's an interesting point. Unfortunately, we don't keep ships around so it's a moot point. Look at the Perry class. They would make a useful reserve force but they have almost all been sold or scrapped. Same for the entire Spruance class and every other non-nuclear ship. The unwillingness to maintain a reserve fleet is absolutely baffling. The expense is minimal compared to the overall Navy budget and huge benefit it could offer in the case of a major war.

    4. My Blitzkrieg example in terms of modern warfare would really relate to (today) the concept of command and control and the ability to move a battle front faster than even a large countries ability to cope with these changes.

      Even with a large country like the US, Russia or perhaps even China. If the Tier 1 defences were to falter, with the prevalence of cruise missiles and precision guided weapons. A countries CnC, power and mobility infrastructure and production facilities will be gone within days \ weeks. Thus their ability to coordinate and regroup enough to be reactivating tier 2 almost impossible.

      I think in a peer to peer war, you will be lucky if the looser isn’t on the back foot all the way to the grave from the first few weeks, and any intelligent aggressor will press it all the way.

      I guess the only reason to stop would actually be the magazines?


  4. Alot of these things are feasible; but expensive.

    The Tomcat is truly dead. When they wrecked the tooling and buried the factory, they put a steak in its heart.

    For the sake of argument, suppose you wanted to keep the ability to make it. You can do that, but to have a plant you could have ready relatively quickly you'd have to have the tooling, extensive instructions on how to use it, as well as the infrastructure that matches the technology level of the era: I.E. if you have 386's running the stamping machine either have a 386 around in functional condition, or have a modern PC that can run the stamping software.

    Further, you also will need to have the long lead stuff that's hard to get stored in sufficient quantity.

    The alternative, which might be easier, is follow the Soviet model and build a ton of the things and store half of them in turn key condition.

    Both will require money. I kind of prefer the factory solution because if you are smart with your connectors and what not you could upgrade as time goes on. I.E. have a factory for Tomcats and instead of the AWG-9 radar figure out a way to retro-fit an AESA radar.

    But again, these things cost bokups bucks. To do this and keep our present military supplied in the numbers we think we need would require radical efficiencies put into place or defense spending jacked up quite a bit.

    Another alternative is have second line equipment that might be fine in a war of attriion. I.E. find and refurbish all of your M60 A3's. It won't do well against an Armata but would do fine against a T-55 or the T-62 variant the NK's run.

    1. "To do this and keep our present military supplied in the numbers we think we need would require radical efficiencies put into place or defense spending jacked up quite a bit."

      You're not seeing the big picture objectively. Those are not the only alternatives. Another alternative is to not engage in hugely wasteful acquisition programs. A prime example is the Zumwalt program. It will cost around $30B in construction and R&D and net us 3 ships of questionable value. Had we not engaged in that program we'd have $30B to use for maintenance of older production capabilities or whatever other use we'd like.

      Don't fall into the habit of thinking that what we're doing is necessary just because we're doing it.

    2. That is what I mean as part of the 'radical efficiencies'. ;-)

      The F-35, like it or not, has taken longer to devlop than the apollo project. And its acquisition has become the norm in the military. It will be a radical change to get away from that, as alot of powers and interests like the acquisition model the way it is.

      Heck, go over to Information Dissemination, I see some commentors there defending the Zumwalt program because 'we can't afford to build test models anymore'.

    3. "... I see some commentors there defending the Zumwalt program because 'we can't afford to build test models anymore'."

      That's just stupid on their part. We don't need a $30B program to test new technologies or even new ships. We can test a new engine on a barge. We already have a dedicated weapons/sensor test ship whose purpose is to test those things. We can test hull forms on smaller scales ranging from test tank size to 1/4. And so on.


    4. I also think that we need to have our reach match our grasp a bit more. We are too tied up with the fancy whizbang stuff.

      Turbo-Electric drive (Back to the future!), AGS, Dual band radar, tumblehome hull, automation, new VLS.... it might have been great to test one of those things first and, once you are reasonably confident with it, deploy one of them on a new ship class. All of them?!?

      And things like the hull form.... man. That would have been nice to see in a Sea Shadow type test platform that they can run on the open seas. If that is lost in heavy seas during tests its one thing; and you can plan ways to get the crew off. But to throw it on a 3 billion dollar destroyer that displaces as much as a WWII Cruiser?

      'Hey! The Hurricane is coming! We hope to God the _Zumwalt_ can make it back to port!

    5. Jim,

      A WWII German panther tank can kill a modern German Leopard 2A7 with a flank or rear shot. Almost all of the armor of a modern MBT is covering the front 60 percent of the turret and hull frontal arc. The situation is akin to American M4s facing the odd Tiger II in the ETO.


    6. A Leopard 2A7 can also shoot much further, in day/night and low visibility. Comparing simple ballistic penetration is a bit of an incomplete argument. Skips the entire kill-chain leading to the shot.

      Somewhat related subject: I am not a big fan of F-35, but I think the arguments of late from its detractors on dogfighting capability are a bit ridiculous.

      CSBA did a pretty good study and found that overwhelming majority of air-to-air engagements in modern era have been BVR. And the trend is continuing.

      There are plenty of things to dislike about F-35 (cost, schedule, focus on stealth, safety, weapons loadout) but its dogfighting capability should be pretty low on the list.

    7. Anon,

      This post I about the value of "reserve forces" and 2nd (or third) line equipment.

      There is no question that the Leo is a "better" tank, the relevant question raised in this blog is whether older systems are still effective: I submit that history repeatedly shows the importance of numbers and reliability between relatively evenly matched forces.

      In the Panther/Leo example; we tend to forget important facts and fail to ask hard questions:

      1) How often will any MBT actually get a 1,000 meter shot in Central Europe?
      2) How many of the wonderful (and outrageously expensive!) sensors on that give modern MBTs like the Leopard so much capability, will be functional after the tank is subject to small arms and mortar fire?
      3) Has modern MBT development ignored the original purpose of tank formations?

      I ask these questions, because I think that the military and industry should constantly be asking hard questions about the nature of the threat, how we plan to fight, what weapons we buy, how can we sustain the force, and how we train.

      I am not a luddite, nor am I wedded to outmoded concepts like horse cavalry, but all too often the responses the military has to basic problems are woefully inadequate and little thought has given to fundamental questions like logistics and maintenance.


    8. In what way do you suggest modern tank development has missed it's original purpose?

    9. @GAB

      I'd argue it has. Modern tanks are more or less heavy tanks in mass and size.

      They need light and medium tanks as well designed for deep penetrations behind enemy formations.

      Heavy tanks cannot do this. The logistics would make that impossible.

    10. @Jacobite,

      Tanks were developed to restore tactical and operational mobility to armies in the stale-mated trenches of the First World War.

      The primary requirements were for the ability to cross obstacles, protection from, and the ability to defeat the great killers on the battlefield: artillery shrapnel and machine guns.

      Modern MBTs have long since been optimized to kill tanks, but this has come at lessened effectiveness against defeating strongpoints. If you examine the documentation of post WWII tank design, you will find a great deal of unease expressed by the generation that fought WWII at the post war changes in armament (loss of bow machineguns, reduction in rounds carried, increasing size of tanks, etc.).

      This unease has been reflected in the Russian BMPT program (itself an excellent use of obsolete vehicles), the longstanding insistence by the UK on a rifled gun for its MBTs (now apparently unsustainable), and the proliferation of remote MG stations on MBTs as well as hasty development of suitable ammunition types for main guns, which are supremely efficient at killing tanks, but mediocre at reducing strong points.

      In many ways, soldiers and marine infantry fighting in Fallujah would have been better off with 45 ton WWII SU-152 assault guns supporting them instead of M1A2s.

      This of course flies in the face of current military mythology, but as David Kilcullen points out: the world is becoming much more urbanized, not less. The prospect for more fights like Stalingrad, Berlin, Manilla, Inchon, Hue, Grozny, Fallujah is guaranteed. Defeating masonry may be more important than defeating composite armor!



    11. “Heavy tanks cannot do this. The logistics would make that impossible.”


      The “logistics” of AFVs, including heavy AFVs are not the problem.

      The Naval Research Advisory Committee Future Fuels Study Panel article "Breaking the tether of fuel" found that motorization, vice AFVs (tanks, LAVS and AAVs) were responsible for 90% of fuel usage:

      "The most telling characterization of fuel usage came from the Marine Corps 2003 Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) Study. This study showed that almost 90 percent of the fuel used by MEF ground vehicles would accrue to tactical wheeled vehicles (TWVs), including HMMWVs, 7-ton trucks, and the logistics vehicle system. Moreover, the study showed conclusively that combat vehicles (e.g., M1A1 tanks, light armored vehicles, and assault amphibious vehicles), although fuel guzzlers individually, as a fleet consume a relatively minor fraction of the fuel."

      This is the real wrench in amphibious operations; it is almost impossible to sustain anything other than an infantry force using a vertical lift dependent logistics system beyond 50 nautical miles, and even then the force is dependent upon near ideal circumstances (no aircraft losses or non-flight days due to weather). Even then projected force is not much more powerful than WWI infantry.


    12. "This study showed that almost 90 percent of the fuel used by MEF ground vehicles ... "

      Outstanding information!

      Now, how does this square with the Army's push to acquire a zillion JLTV's? Does the tactical utility justify the fuel consumption and logistical penalty?

    13. CNO,

      I am completely confused by the USA/USMC ground vehicle acquisition strategy. Outside of a few really good vehicles like the MTVR and the HEMTT, the ground forces are demonstrating the same lack of vision as the rest of the services.

      JLTV is essentially a HMMWV replacement, which in turn replaced the M151 jeep; but the rub is that after getting rid of the jeep, the post 2001 military found that it needed a small lightweight 4x4 - so the services have gone out and bought a bunch of different ATV, and "golf cart" like vehicles. They would have been better off keeping the jeep in production!


    14. On JLTV,

      I think the value depends on whether we expect to fight in many more COIN conflicts or not. It's certainly valuable there.

      JLTV is less valuable in high end conflicts, where it's larger logistics burden vs HMMWV and greater cost means less of both for medium and heavy forces.

      IMHO, we will always need a HMMWV-like vehicle (or lighter). JLTV will never fully replace it.

    15. What worries me is that the Army/USMC seem to have convinced themselves that the jeep/JLTV is somehow a high end combat vehicle that is going to go head to head with tanks. China and Russia are developing families of heavy tanks, IFVs, APCs, etc. and we're buying glorified jeeps. This is a massacre in the making.

    16. Nobody expects JLTV to be a high-end, front-line combat vehicle. Witness the attempts to bring the ACV into service for the USMC, and continuing efforts to replace the Bradley in the Army. (Not to mention the thousands of M1s in service or mothballs.)

      JLTV fits a COIN niche. Even in high end combat it can be used in situations where you wouldn't want to send a HMMWV.

      It's a smallish MRAP with decent offroad mobility.

    17. JLTV was intended as a HMMWV replacement.

      "Light TWVs represent about 50 percent of the Army’s TWV fleet and currently consist of the HMMWV family of vehicles, which began production in 1983." - GAO-11-83 Defense Acquisitions

      CRS projected than the JLTV will cost about $400,000 per copy depending on variant.


    18. "Nobody expects JLTV to be a high-end, front-line combat vehicle.
      JLTV fits a COIN niche. "

      You say that but ... Look at the evidence. What is the only vehicle actually being procured by the Army? The JLTV. How many? Over 50,000!!!! Meanwhile, we have no Bradley or Abrams replacement program. The Marines have no AAV replacement program (decades of study but no actual program). The Marines are shedding tanks and artillery. The Army and Marines are converting to light infantry forces. Our heavy armored divisions don't even train as complete units anymore.

      To me, that adds up to the Army viewing the JLTV as their major combat vehicle in a completely misguided view of how wars will be fought.

      So, you say that, but the evidence doesn't exactly wholeheartedly support you.

    19. The Army has thousands of Bradleys and M1s still in service. They will remain in service for a long time to come. The Army is not converting to light infantry forces. They converted some light infantry to SBCTs and downsized overall.

      According to Wikipedia, in July 2015, the Army's plan was to have the following BCTs:

      10 armored brigade combat teams
      7 Stryker brigade combat teams
      6 infantry brigade combat teams
      4 infantry brigade combat teams (airborne)
      3 infantry brigade combat teams (air assault)

      Personally, I think we have too many IBCTs, which all need to be enhanced with additional organic morbility. We don't need specialized air assault BCTs. We probably don't need 4 airborne BCTs either.

    20. I am not a ground combat expert by any means and I don't follow the Army that closely. Still, what I've read indicates that we've shed around 15 BCTs since 2012 (that's reduction - not really the point of this conversation). Worse, two (more?) BCTs have been converted to light infantry, air drop units. I seem to recall reading that two or three armored units will be dropped, as well. Even some Stryker units (and I don't consider those to be armored vehicles) are losing their vehicles and becoming light infantry.

      I'm looking not at current numbers but at trends and training. All the trends are towards light vehicles. As I said, it's the only vehicle we're purchasing. Yes, there are upgrade programs in place for the Abrams and maybe that's sufficient - maybe not. Our focus is on training for light infantry deployments. Our technology development is focused on notepads for the individual soldier, backpack UAVs, guided bullets, etc. Those are all nice things but they are not going to suffice when we face armored divisions. Where is our focus on things that go BOOM? The Army, like the Marines, have made the decision to emphasize the light end of the combat spectrum. That's a decision I think we'll come to regret.

      Why is the Army frantically trying to upgun the Strykers in Europe? Because we've gotten too light and now we're looking at Russian armored units and panicking because we realize we're outgunned.

    21. In 2013 we had the following:

      17 armored brigade combat teams
      8 Stryker brigade combat teams
      10 infantry brigade combat teams
      6 infantry brigade combat teams (airborne)
      4 infantry brigade combat teams (air assault)

      Total: 45 BCTs
      Heavy: 38%
      Medium: 17.8%
      Light: 44%

      Now we have:

      Total: 30 BCTs
      Heavy: 33%
      Medium: 23%
      Light: 43%

      So yes, we drew down on the heavy side a bit (5%), but the percentage of light BCTs went down slightly as well. Medium (Stryker) BCTs increased (as a percentage of the force).

      So if anything, besides being smaller, we became more "middle weight".

      I do agree that development dollars have gone far more towards COIN and infantry, rather than the high end.

      Personally, I always thought the Strykers needed an autocannon and ATGM. The Army was too focused on carrying the 9-man squad at the expense of vehicular weapons, and too focused on packing them into C130s (which was unrealistic from the start).

      Just MHO, though.

    22. My understanding (and I may well be wrong about this) is that the armored brigades have also gotten smaller as well as less numerous. Something about dropping or downsizing the component battalions so that there are significantly fewer tanks in the brigade than before. I just read that but I don't track or catalog ground combat writings so I can't give you a link.

      I also don't consider a Stryker to be even "medium" but that's just an opinion.

    23. The Heavy and IBCTs lost a battalion a while ago (down to two), but are getting it back as part of this reorg.

      Strykers are "medium" in that they are lighter than the heavy BCTs but heavier than the IBCTs. :) They have organic armor all the way down. Granted, Stryker armor isn't the same as Bradley or Abrams armor, but better than what the IBCTs get. IBCTs don't get much in the way of vehicular mobility in general.

      IMHO, IBCTs need "full vehicular mobility". Now what that form takes is debatable. I'd go with modular recapped HMMWVs, personally. We can't afford to buy enough JLTVs for this, and they are too heavy anyway. We don't need light forces that are as heavy or strategically immobile as our SBCTs. HMMWVs have served us well.

      I've seen various approaches to organizing this, but I'd go with something that looks like a Stryker unit, only replacing the ICVs with armored troop carrier HMMWVs. Pimp them out with a variety of SPECOPS mods. Then at least we don't have to scrounge for vehicles every time we deploy an IBCT.

      We can always swap out HMMWVs and FMVTs for JLTVs and MRAPs in theater, if needed.

  5. Lots of planes in the boneyard awaiting rebirth... after 90 days everyone will be out of their best AIMs, SAMs, and cruise missiles and we will be back to a slug it out war where numbers will count.

    1. You're correct. Pre-war munitions usage estimates are always ridiculously low. That also suggests that low end things like guns on aircraft and dumb iron bombs would become important. Why are we building the F-35B/C without a gun? What's happening to our dumb bomb inventory?

      Good comment.

    2. The plane is only part of the problem. You'd need lots of airmen that were competent or the planes are useless. That means a good number of pilots and maintenance workers, along with enough spare parts. Plus you need the right ammo.

      Same idea with ships. Not enough to have ships at shore. Need good sailors, shipyards, and a supply chain or it's all worthless.

  6. CNO,

    I agree with your thesis - I note that the USA does not have much of a domestic civilian ship building industry.

    We ceded our role as the worlds #1 shipbuilder decades ago, first to the Europeans, and now to Asia.

    Most of the domestic U.S. shipbuilding capacity is barges and tugs.


    1. Although I'm a free "marketist", this is a complex issue. We've regulated/"costed" ourselves out of the shipbuilding market for no good reason. We should look to deregulate where reasonable to try to recapture some of that market. Further, if we deem civilian shipbuilding to be a national strategic interest, perhaps we should be spending some money on it in the form of subsidies or incentives.

      Heck, we're already doing that to some extent. We're propping up the defense giants with unholy profits in the name of maintaining the industrial base. Why not do the same for the civilian shipbuilding base?

      As I said, this is a complex issue and I don't know all the factors so I'm just speaking in broad generalities. I may be way off base.

    2. CNO,

      I think you are asking some really basic questions that the nation should be asking.

      While you are asking those questions, how about asking why:

      1) Why the Nation's port infrastructure is so horrifically antiquated with medieval cargo handling interfaces between rail and trucks, and why our harbors are not dredged to allow the most modern (and large) commercial hulls to service them?

      2) why so much of our outrageously expensive highway bill is dedicated to automobiles instead of commercial trucking?

      3) When are we going to upgrade our power grid (maybe to include burying our power lines like they do in other developed countries)?

      4) and what about modernizing our telecommunications infrastructure too?

      A few simple problems to sole - we expect you to fix this by 8 Am tomorrow - no rush!


    3. I was hoping to sleep in tomorrow but I guess I could get up a little early.

    4. "Further, if we deem civilian shipbuilding to be a national strategic interest, perhaps we should be spending some money on it in the form of subsidies or incentives. "

      DIdn't Newport News try that in the early 90's? Now the regulation didn't get helped, but still.

      I'm of two minds, honestly. You have to be really careful with regulation, and its a knife edge balance.

      You want to make sure that the bureaucracy doesn't end up being the self generating political monster it so often becomes.

      On the other hand, you don't want regulatory capture or businesses going 'WooHoo! Just dump that lead into the harbor!'

      I used to have more faith in business and government. I know have the utmost faith in the fallen nature of human beings to sink to the lowest common denominator.

      That said, it is possible. Korea has a great shipbuilding industry they grew. I'd love to see that happen here. I'd love to see our education system value skilled trades more. It would be nice if labor and management could get over their traditional adversarial relationship. Labor, especially skilled trades, could act more like guilds and police their own. Management could stop acting like cost cutting zealot morons.

  7. I am a big fan of the A-4 and A-6. They were great aircraft for their time. But jets like the Skyhawk and the Intruder are simply dead-meat in any sort of contested A2/AD environment. They were already hugely vulnerable 40-50 years ago.

    But arguments purely about hardware somewhat miss the point. In a modern war of attrition, with professional standing militaries, it's really all about how you manage and protect your very skilled and expensive manpower.

    See Japan in WW2. By August '45, Japan still had many, many aircraft on home islands. But we were literally tearing them apart in the air combat. Kill-ratios of 6:1 or higher were not uncommon.

    The reason was that Japan had to keep all of its skilled pilots on the front. It didn’t have the manpower depth to rotate them out. Accidents, fatigue and combat killed off most of the pre-war elites.

    In contrast, the US Navy had the manpower to rotate our pilots out after about 6-9 months in combat to train the nuggets. The size of our (expanded) manpower pool gave us the depth to do this.

    Note that it currently takes about two years for a naval aviator to earn his wings, and another six months to a year for him to qualify in his type/model aircraft. I can’t imagine any modern, near-competitor war dragging on long enough for our training pipeline to make up for wartime losses.

    In my opinion – we should be investing in UAS for "low-end” missions so that we can preserve our manned aircraft (and pilots) for a high-end fight. I think that was the direction that UCLASS was going. Not sure anymore.

    1. Anon, you make a couple of good points but you may have missed the main point of the post.

      You state that the A-4/6 can't survive in a contested environment. Presumably, you mean a modern A2/AD AAW environment. That's probably true, however, the premise of the post was that after the initial flurry both sides would be reduced to largely second tier assets. That would include second tier radars and SAM systems. The A-4/6s proved capable of penetrating lesser AAW systems. I'm not suggesting that we immediately begin building new A-4/6s but that we begin preserving production lines as we retire aircraft. Retaining the ability to produce F-18/15/16s in the future would be wise.

      Your comment about manpower is correct. However, I do see modern, major wars dragging on because neither side will have the force necessary to overwhelm the other. Thus, we will have time to produce new pilots. Remember that our current training timeline is a casual, peacetime one that is limited by budgets, flight hours, trainer aircraft availability, etc. In war, that would be compressed and the 2-1/2 year training cycle would become 6 months to a year.

      Your point about unmanned aircraft is valid though low end missions are less risky so we wouldn't be "saving" many pilots. We could free them up for other work which was probably your point. I thought you were going to suggest the use of A2A combat UAVs to inflict a degree of attrition while preserving our top pilots and aircraft. That would be worthwhile if we could develop a A2A combat UAV that is sufficiently effective and affordable. Even a success rate of one enemy kill to ten of our losses would okay if the UAVs are cheap enough.

      UCLASS? Yeah, no one seems to know where that's going!

    2. Perhaps a "broken record" comment, but I'm solidly in the "make UCAVs fill the low end/high attrition" camp.

      If small and inexpensive enough, we can store them like munitions with minimal costs. That was the original USAF UCAV concept.

      The only real way you can retain production capacity is to continue to produce the item at a low rate. Letting lines go cold and restarting is an expensive and time consuming process. Have we ever actually done it? I don't recall an instance.

      If production lines are kept warm, it's a lot easier to scale capacity.

    3. "... solidly in the "make UCAVs fill the low end/high attrition" camp."

      With you all the way. The challenge is to make an aircraft that is simultaneously capable enough to achieve a 1:10 kill ratio (or something on that order) and inexpensive enough to lose on that same ratio.

      The other approach, I suppose, is to make thousands upon thousands of medium to long range A2A missiles and shoot hundreds at a time downrange. Most would not find a target but if enough could, we could achieve some attrition and, certainly, a good bit of disruption. Again, though, cost is the issue. Also, the launching platform would be a high risk target itself. Lose one and you'd lose a ton of combat power. Still, it's worth further thought.

    4. Smitty, I'm talking about restarts using the F-22 model where all the manufacturing data, instructions, and tooling are retained. While such a restart would not be free, neither would it be even remotely expensive compared to a true cold start associated with a brand new production program.

    5. "The A-4/6s proved capable of penetrating lesser AAW systems."

      Hmm. Senator McCain and most of the Argentine Air Force might disagree with you on that one!!!

      A-4s took enormous losses against 1950s-70s era SAM systems - which today would be considered third or forth tier.

      UAV as effective air-to-air assets are a loooong way off. The processing power and recognition simply isn't there. They'd be target practice for even a moderately proficient pilot.

    6. Anon, don't fall prey to the current attitude that just because a single aircraft might be shot down, the entire use of aircraft is obsolete. A-6s during Vietnam proved quite capable of penetrating the air defenses of the time despite occasional losses.

      The Falklands War A-4s accomplished a fair amount despite being untrained for the role and poorly equipped. They were also forced to penetrate against Harrier aircraft in addition to the SAMs. Even so, they (the total Arg air force) managed to sink 7 ships and damage another dozen. As I recall, around 15 A-4s were lost. I don't recall the total air losses. Still, for a poorly trained and poorly equipped/maintained air force going up against the best of the Western military, that's a pretty effective performance.

    7. Smitty, how much is that UCAV, say a basic UCAV dedicated to a strike role realistically going to cost, 6million? How much is a strike missile, well currently 1.4Mn for the tomahawk in LRP (which is probably overpriced), the proposed 'tactical-tomahawk' an alternative to block IV was projected to cost only 600K instead of the 1.4mn, so lets go with that since we are being generous with the UCAV Costs.

      So the UCAV is performing strike missions, lets say it carries two bombs, being generous say it carries two HOSBO bombs and each bomb only costs 125K each including development costs. That means we need to run about 8 Missions with the UCAV (16 targets) before it is destroyed to break even with the cost of the missiles.

      Now I admit, that the missile approach is going to need a launch platform too, that is going to increase the cost of the missile approach, and reduce the number of missions for the UCAV to break-even, but even if the launch system cost twice the price of the missile, trippling the per-missile cost, the UCAV still needs to run 2 missions on average (bomb 4 targets), to break even.... (although the UCAV itself needs an airbase soo...)

      Clearly at some point it makes sense, the question is though, just how survivable are these UCAVs... Without any A2D capabilities...

    8. Jacobite.NZ,

      The 2016 budget request for $184.8 million to procure 100 Tomahawk missiles, or around $1.85 million each.

      Remember Tomahawk is not stealthy, so survivability is at least as much of a question for it. Can you build a "survivable" cruise missile that fits in a VLS cell? How much will it cost?

      A UCAV with a bomb bay has inherent munition flexibility. If you design it to carry 2000lb-class weapons, it can also carry 500-1000lb munitions further, or multiple SDBs. It could carry Quickstrike mines, or CBU-97/105 SFW, or Gator mines.

      And it could vary munitions per sortie.

      It could carry boosted 2000lb penetrators, when they become available. Or most of the above with range-enhancing wing-kits. All could have simple INS/GPS guidance, laser guidance (either organic lasing or off-board), imaging, or whatever else you can come up with. Plug and play.

      You could come up with recc payloads, or jamming payloads or EW payloads.

      With Tomahawk you have the choice of a 1000lb pen/unitary, cluster, or that tinfoil thing. That's it. You can't just plug in munitions developed for other platforms. Each has to be specially built for TLAM.

      You can only afford to put modest sensors and C3I on a TLAM, because you lose them on every shot. A UCAV can afford more capability.

      The trick is to balance UCAV capability vs price. The Navy wants UCLASS to be a large, expensive, likely complex and rather expensive system. But not all UCAVs need to be that way. The Navy only wants a handful on each CVN. But not all UCAVs need to fly off of CVNs.

      A small UCAV carrier, with relatively simple UCAVs, could effectively fill the roll of an arsenal ship, but be entirely at-sea reloadable via CONREP (unlike the arsenal ship), and have the flexibility to vary its air wing depending on the mission (vs the single mission arsenal ship).

    9. CNO said, "With you all the way. The challenge is to make an aircraft that is simultaneously capable enough to achieve a 1:10 kill ratio (or something on that order) and inexpensive enough to lose on that same ratio.

      The other approach, I suppose, is to make thousands upon thousands of medium to long range A2A missiles and shoot hundreds at a time downrange.

      Does it have to be either/or?

      The CSBA paper on air warfare proposed IRST-equipped UCAVs leading the way for bombers carrying long-ranged A2A missiles.

      IRST-equipped UCAVs paired with a larger aircraft carrying a BIG radar and many LRAAMs seem like a complementary pairing.

      The big aircraft does the long-ranged detection, launches LRAAMs to break up the formation, and vectors UCAVs to kill the stragglers.

    10. The problem I have with that concept is that it assumes everything we do works perfectly and nothing the enemy does works at all. For example, we believe that our stealth aircraft can penetrate deep inside the most sophisticated enemy air defense network and our stealth bombers can fly around all day long in enemy airspace totally undetected. I think that's an absurd assumption but, OK. If we want to credit stealth with that kind of capability then we have to credit the enemy's stealth with the same magic properties. But we don't. We assume, in this concept, that a bomber is going to detect enemy aircraft at very long ranges and vector ...

      We blithely assume that the enemy, seeing a massive radar source (the bomber directing the UCAVs and launching hundreds of missiles) won't have any idea what it is and won't make any attempt to destroy it with their own long range missiles.

      It's an extremely one-sided concept. I mean, turn it around. Do we think China could detect our F-22/35/18/15 from very long range and successfully destroy them with long range missiles and UCAVs? I don't think we'd give that an ounce of credence and yet we assume we'll do exactly that to China. That's some awfully inconsistent logic.

    11. "The trick is to balance UCAV capability vs price. "

      This is where it falls apart. To get a UAV with payload capacity to carry 2000 lb bombs, greater stealth than a Tomahawk, at least as much range, better sensors, landing gear, folding wings, etc. is going to cost $100M per or more (we've essentially described a slightly dumbed down F-35). Once we get into that price range, we completely lose the expendability characteristic which means we need more stealth so we don't lose any which means a higher cost which means ...

      You're crediting UAVs with far more capability at a far lower cost than any reasonable analysis can support.

    12. No. The F-35 is sized to carry 18,000lbs of ordinance (only ~4500lbs internal), carry a person, fly supersonic, pull high G's, have a large radar plus EOTS, and go far (relatively).

      If we design a "reusable cruise missile" UCAV to carry 2000lbs of ordinance, not carry anyone, pull only low to moderate G's, fly subsonic, have a very modest sensor suite (comparatively), but still go far, it's going to be a lot smaller and cheaper.

      If we design an A2A UCAV to carry just a couple mini missiles like LM Cuda or even air-launched Stingers, and have just an IRST as its primary sensor, it can be VERY small. Payload maybe 4-500lbs, not counting sensors. That's Gray Eagle size (2-3000lbs MTOW), not F-35 size (~60,000lbs MTOW).

      Of course we may want it to pull G's and fly supersonic, which would drive up the price some, but still a far cry from F-35.

    13. An A2A UCAV probably doesn't have to be much bigger than this,


    14. I’m very very PRO this idea.

      Taking it one step further the RN has had a tender our for some time for a circa 500 tonne long endurance ( months ) and range, ocean going drone, capable of launching torpedoes and missiles.

      Perhaps an answer to the hulls issue, and giving persistent eyes ears and 'hands' constantly globally. If produced in large numbers.

      No specification on surface or sub-surface, and although some ( surface based ) test beds were fielded the project has now “disappeared”. But not officially shut down.

      I would have thought that the potential for a relatively cheap drone matching these criteria is very possible given just predator tech.


    15. "An A2A UCAV probably doesn't have to be much bigger than this"

      No. Smitty, even your own description of the concept is self-contradictory. That X-36, as a conceptual baseline, has a max take off weight of around 1200 lbs. You state you want an aircraft with a payload of 2000 lbs ordinance (though you later say 4-500 lbs). The X-36 has no payload allowance that I can find reference to so the MTOW of 1200 lbs is the entire aircraft plus its fuel. So, to add 500-2000 lbs of payload we'd have to increase the size of the aircraft by 3x(?). That would mean bigger engines (now 4x). The speed was given as 230 mph. We'd want a max speed of at least around 300-400 mph so, again, bigger engines and much more fuel (now 5x). So, we're now looking at F-35 size and $50M-$100M cost. We've now left the expendable realm far behind.

      It's great to have a concept but we have to apply some reality.

    16. Sorry for the confusion. I threw out two different designs: a reusable cruise missile with 2000lbs internal payload, and an A2A UCAV with 4-500lbs payload.

      For the A2A UCAV, I said not much bigger than X-36. I didn't say X-36. Clearly X-36 was not designed to be an operational UCAV. It did show high-agility and stealth in a small design. We could scale it up for an operational A2A UCAV, or choose a different design.

      My back of napikn specs for both:

      Reusable Cruise Missile (ReCM):
      Length: ~7.8m
      Width (folded): ~3.4m
      Empty Weight: ~5,000lbs
      Payload: 1 internal bay, 2 external hardpoints, 2,000lbs total capacity
      Internal Fuel: 3,600lbs
      MTOW: 12-13,000lbs
      Engine: 1 x 3,400-4000lb thrust class bizjet engine (e.g. FJ-44-4, PW545B)

      Full load Th/Wt: ~0.3
      Fuel Fraction: ~0.32

      Cruising Speed: 350-400kts
      Endurance: 7--8 hours
      Combat Radius: >1,000nm


      - INS/GPS
      - Honeywell PTAN
      - Tomahawk SATCOM link (or better)
      - Link 16/MADL LOS link (developed for JSOW)
      - Rover link (optional)
      - PICOSAR or fixed AESA STARLite radar (optional)
      - Medium sized EO/IR/Designator (e.g. repackaged POP300HD in stealth fairing)


      A2A UCAV:
      Length: ~6m
      Wingspan: ~3.4m (no fold)
      Empty Weight: ~1,000lbs
      Payload: 1 center bay (500lbs capacity), 2 side bays for 2 x Stingers each
      Internal Fuel: 700lbs
      MTOW: 2000-2500lbs
      Engine: 1 x 2-3000lb thrust afterburning engine (probably new)

      70% fuel Th/Wt with A2A loadout: ~1.05:1
      Fuel Fraction: ~0.33

      Cruising Speed: 400-450kts
      Max Speed: Supersonic
      Combat Radius: 4-500nm


      - IRST (e.g. Selex Skyward)
      - INS/GPS
      - Honeywell PTAN
      - Tomahawk SATCOM link (or better)
      - Link 16/MADL LOS link
      - Medium sized EO/IR/Designator (optional)
      - Rover link (optional)

    17. Smitty, these are potentially good concepts and I'm on board - conceptually. So, don't bother trying to convince me that they're a good idea. I'm already with you. What I have a problem with is the capabilities and cost. I flat out don't believe it can be done.

      Let's look at the ReCM. I'm somewhat fuzzy about this one as far as what you envision this being and looking like. A Tomahawk with wings and landing gear? Regardless, an internal bay that can accomodate 1000-2000 lb of ordinance would be 3m(?) in length and 2m(?) wide all by itself. Now add an engine that would need to be 3m(?) long and 1m(?) wide. Add to that 3600 lbs of fuel which would require a 1.5m cube of tank space. Trying to package all of those in a vehicle that is only 8m x 3.4m seems impossible. Regardless, the wings would be mere stubs and would seem incapable of carrying hardpoints capable of 250-1000 lb of ordinance. I think you're looking at a vehicle that would require 2x-3x the size of what you've suggested. If you think I'm wrong, take the volumes that I've described (or generate your own) and try to do a pencil sketch of that package and see what overall airframe size you come up with. I'll take your word for it.

      Same for the UCAV. You're going to get a supersonic aircraft with only 700 lbs of fuel and a combat radius of 4-500 nm? It doesn't seem even remotely possible. Military aircraft burn around 200 lb per hour at cruise, IIRC. You're suggesting 700 lb (3.5 hr endurance) is going to achieve a range of 4-500 nm? Even without going supersonic, that seems impossible.

    18. CNO,

      A 2000lb weapon requires a carriage box of around 0.6 x 0.6 x 3.8m. FJ44-4 is around 1.7m long and 0.6-0.7m in diameter without ducting. It could be mounted above the bomb bay, though it would require some thought on how to route the s-inlets.

      I envision it to be a somewhat flattened Tomahawk. Or an enlarged JASSM with landing gear. Or a narrower, but taller X-45A.

      3.4m is the folded width, not wingspan. Unfolded, the wingspan would be larger.

    19. Fighter aircraft burn a lot more than 200lbs per hour.

      An F-16 could burn 6-800lbs an hour cruising, IIRC. Of course an F-16 is an 18-20,000lb aircraft empty, and it carries a lot of draggy stores.

      The A2A UCAV I spec'd is 1,000lb empty, or 1/20th the empty weight. It will fly clean most of the time, for A2A sorties.

      If 1/20th the weight means 1/20th the fuel, it would use around 40lbs per hour.

      If we double that to 80lbs/hr, just for the sake of argument, with 700lbs of fuel it would have 8.75 hours of endurance. Maybe a typical CAP sortie of 3 hours out, 3 hours back, 1 hour on station, some amount of time at combat speeds, and .75 for takeoff/landing.

      At 350kts, that's a combat radius of 1,000nm.

      So realistically, the burn rate could double again to 160lbs/hr and still be in the ballpark of what i'm talking about.

    20. "3.4m is the folded width, not wingspan. Unfolded, the wingspan would be larger."

      My miss! Sorry. You clearly stated that. *shamefaced*

    21. "If 1/20th the weight means 1/20th the fuel, it would use around 40lbs per hour."

      If true, OK. I'm dubious. Just as ship speed versus hp is non-linear, I assume fuel usage versus size/weight is non-linear. I would (totally uneducated) guess that there is a certain minimum fuel burn rate required for a vehicle anywhere in this size range to simply stay aloft and that the rate does not increase linearly with weight. I may be completely wrong.

      A Fire Scout, for example, has specs in the ballpark of what you're describing but nowhere near the speed/range. Admittedly, it's a helo with a different flight profile.

    22. A few months ago, the Air Force released a BAA looking for proposals for a "Low-Cost Attritable Strike UAS" that could be built in batches of 100 for a cost of $2 million each, have reduced manufacturing and safety standards compared to commercial and military aviation standards of today, be manufactured quickly in war time to replace losses, be "transonic" and have some evasion capability, and be used primarily for killing enemy air defenses as well as other high-risk strike missions. They are shooting for the stars and recognize that it will be difficult to succeed, but they are certainly thinking along the lines that are called for in this discussion.


      The Popular Science article referring to this program misses the mark when estimating the cost per unit:


    23. Very interesting, if typically DARPA-complex.

  8. Maybe, but Jackie fischers first act as head of the RN was to scrap most of the reserve fleet, judging it useless in a fight.
    40years later, HMS Hood lasted about a minute fighting Bismark.

    The problem with reserves is they are either manned, and hopelessly expensive, or unmanned, and unusable in anything but a multi year timeline.

    1. The Germans have historically made excellent use of reserve forces.

      In fact, the telling point in the campaign in 1940s France was that the Germans put the period of the "phony war" to use in training their reserves, and the French spent the time having their reserves dig trenches.


    2. "... judging it useless in a fight."

      Useless in a top tier fight, yes. We're discussing the second tier after the first has been eliminated.

      History refutes his judgement. The US and RN made extensive use of second tier ships during WWII as convoy escorts, ASW ships, patrol vessels, and the like. For example, the Campbeltown-St. Nazaire incident is one small example of the myriad utility of second tier assets.

  9. What about our reserve fleet/ fleet upgrades after WWII?

    Didn't we use a bunch of destroyers well beyond their normal tech lifespans with the FRAM upgrades? And weren't we able to mine the reserve fleet for ships needed during Korea and Vietnam?

    I think we are in a tough spot right now. Our fleet balance in both ships and in the air is going to be out of kilter. With the truncation of the F-22 and the cancellation of the NATF we are going to have an attack/"low" end bird (the F-35) fill out a chunk of both Navair and airforce squadrons.

    The only way to make this work is to keep the SH's and Eagle C's as modern as possible, and, IMHO, this will create a need for some retired 'stock' at AMARC that we can draw on over the years if need be.

    As for the LCS... man, it would be nice if we had some Spruances/FFG's layed up in case the LCS doesn't end up fulfilling the fleet needs that its supposed to and we suddenly have needs for dedicated ocean escorts.

    This wouldn't fix the ASW training, but at least we'd have the hardware.

  10. I will try and keep it brief:

    In the advent of WW1 we had revoloutions in technology allowing great increases in our ability to move supplies, people and equipment, without a similar advance in cavalry, therefore creating conditions under which trench warfare emerged.

    WW2 followed, but this time improvements in automobile and artillery technology broke that trench stalemate, armies were largely motorised, spearheaded by powerfull armoured formations, supported by a tactical and strategic airforce which created a battle-in-depth. War became more devastating (at least more easily), and quicker.

    Fast forward to the cold war, we have very good missile technology, all the army is motorised, alot of it is mechanised, some of it is even airborne. Mobility and firepower has increased. Attack helicopters have emerged carrying large payloads of stand-off munitions. Planes are quicker, they have longer range, they can detect other planes much further out, and they can bomb very accurately, what used to take an entire bomber wing consisting of several hundred planes to get a fixed installation can be carried out by one plane.

    So again we see an increase in firepower and mobility, it takes very little time and resources to do a very large amount of dammage, imagine the dammage that would be done for instance if a single chinese SSGN hit the NYSE, a few corporate headquaters, a couple of amazon and walmart distribution centres, some powerplants, a few of the pumping stations that supply cities like NY with water, a refinery or too, the telco centres for the eastern seaboard. It would be chaos...

    Imagine if just one bomb or bomber got through, the amount of dammage, and the rate at which these fighter planes and whatnot will attrition themselves. Perhaps that will create a condition conducive towards large scale skirmishing as both forces seek to avoid attrition. But you certainly can not replace equipment at the rate it can be destroyed. And that is assuming they don't strike your infrustructure, remove the banking and telecomunications sector for instance. Strike the handfull of highly centralized distribution wharehouses... Cut of your oil or water supply...

    1. War is hell. What's your point?

    2. My point is that war is not static, it changes. In the past wars have lasted long enough for nations who were negligent with their national security in peace-time, to gear-up for war, in wartime.

      Nowadays it is not so clear, wars have been getting progressively shorter, the increased capabilities, mobility and firepower of modern weaponry as of late, seem to indicate this will continue.

      Under such circumstances, with design and production of war materials taking as long as it does nowadays (how far behind schedule is the Ford Carrier for instance?), and with many parts being of international origin, and potentially unavailable during wartime (for political reasons), it is looking like wartime production may not be much of an option.

    3. And tecnhically speaking, all the fighter-planes in the world might make very little difference, if a missile strike were to take out any number of vital infrustructure required by the state to keep functioning, i.e. energy, distribution of food, consumer or industrial goods, telecomunications, banking, etc..etc...

      Such an attack would not be hard, because many of these are highly centralized, there are many petrol stations for instance, but very few refineries. There are a reasonable number of power stations, how many transformer stations are there, how vulnerable is the distribution network?

      How many points of failure are there in the telecomunications network, the answer is many, its extremely highly centralized, take out the comms, and your banking sector and the entire economy goes with it.

    4. The type of attack you're suggesting would prolong the war, not shorten it. Attacks on vital infrastructure would not be casually waved off and allowed to pass unavenged. This kind of attack would strengthen resolve, increase calls for retribution and generally lengthen conflicts.

      I think you also underestimate both the numbers of critical structures and their locations. Many are deep within national borders (ours and China/Russia). Even thousand mile cruise missiles would be unable to reach many targets of interest given any reasonable launch distance.

      You also overestimate the inventory of strike weapons. If we launched our entire inventory of cruise missiles at Chinese targets, we wouldn't be able to do much more than inconvenience China's military and infrastructure.

    5. You're drawing on historical references that are not relevant to a peer war. You say that wars are getting shorter without noting that the wars you're referencing have been absurdly lopsided. A peer war will see no overwhelming advantage for either side, a reluctance to attack homelands, and a prolonged conflict around the periphery.

    6. I think if you bypassed the conventional forces of an adversarial nation state by stripping away what is required to function in the 21st century via targeting key points of failure through a missile strike, your victim would be in little position to 'avenge anything'.

      Now it's arguable what the best way of doing that is, which facilities or infrastructure do we target?

      In the USA there are:
      140 Operational Oil Refineries in the USA.
      61 Nuclear Power Plabts providing 20% of Electricity
      572 Coal power plants providing ~30% of Electricity
      1700 Gas power plants providing ~30% of Electricity
      500 Distribution centres compose 75% of USA retail
      47 Wallmart Distribution Centres.
      5 Banks controlling 50% of market-share.
      Handfull of retail companies which dominate the US retail market.
      Many cities dependent on water being pumped from very far away

      There are many potential targets above, although I have left out some highly centralized ones, like telecomunications which due to how networking works, is highly centralized in many places, or corporate headqurters, or power distribution.

      Those are all extremely good targets, take for instance LA, San Francisco, Houston, NY, they all have major pumping stations to bring in water from a very long distance, they all have centralized power and telecom distribution systems, remove those and the cities empty, what proportion of US GDP have you just removed?

      Each refinery services approximately 2million people, in terms of GDP that is 100Bn USD dependent on each refineries operations, it wouldn't take much to cause enough damage that it would take months to rebuild.

      What I am saying is we don't need to destroy all the infrustructure of a target country, the USA has a large amount of infastructure, china probably just as much or more. We find key points of failure, and exploit them to create the biggest effect out of our military expenditure.

      You have to be creative, think of New Orleans, why not burst the leavies? Israel, destroy the ~5 desalination plants and let them die of dehydration. Middle east, capitalize on unrest to support uprisings, which destroy your victims country and lets you maintain regional dominance.. Europe, attack their gas infrastructure in winter. Blockade the suez canal. Actually going over and fighting, it's often stupid.

    7. Jacobite.NZ,

      See this article for an interesting approach with an eye towards China,


  11. I do however believe they should have kept the F110s, stripped them down, taken out all the unnecessary things like the life-support systems and the heavy ejecting survival pod (perhaps replacing with fuel, computers and sensors), refurbished them, upgraded the engines, and turned them into strike drones.

    At that point, when you remove the humans from the equation, it doesn't matter what condition the airframe is in, although I am sure the USAF could have gotten much more life out of them. Used in a semi-reserve strike-force role, they could have lived on for much longer.

    This would be similar in concept I suppose to the proposed FB-22, a sort of in-theatre bomber. And it would have preserved throw-weight. During a peer-level war, these could be used to skirmish with, in high-risk missions, as diversions, and to attempt to penetrate enemy defences.

    Although I am still a strong advocate of Long Range Strike Missiles as a very good value proposition for getting at targets within an enemies A2D zone.

    1. F110? Do you mean the F-111?

    2. Yes I mean F111 Ardvark, and yes it would have made a nice UCAV.

  12. I have become convinced that the fact that the US has been fighting mostly third world nations or Islamic fundamentalist groups has led to "bad habits".

    I think that there's ample reason to be worried about fighting another nation state. Even a second or third tier power might offer the US an unpleasant surprise.

  13. US industrial capacity has been drastically reduced by moving lots of factories to China, in search of lower wages. Somehow I think the Chinese government may be less helpful about moving them out of China than they were about moving them in.

    Yes, the capabilities can be recreated, but it will take time and money, and if the only companies that make the machine tools you need are in China, you have to recreate that capability first.

    Meanwhile my employers are trying to hire people in the US to write software and finding that the new math graduates have been studying financial math, not the stuff needed for engineering.

    1. @John

      The reality is that there are multiple challenges to US manufacturing ranging from excessive taxes, unreasonable tort liability, environmental compliance costs, worker wages, poor physical infrastructure (rail, road, electricity, water, communications) and a lack of skills/education.


  14. CNO,

    Comments broken with a JavaScript error above (for me anyway).

    CNO said, "A Fire Scout, for example, has specs in the ballpark of what you're describing but nowhere near the speed/range. Admittedly, it's a helo with a different flight profile."

    Look at the small bizjet world,

    Eclipse 550 - 3600lbs empty - 2 x 900lbf engines - 48 gallons/hr @ 375kts

    It's 3.6 times heavier, has two engines, and a much draggier air frame owing to the need to carry people in some comfort.

    But let's say this UCAV can cruise at half the fuel burn rate a touch faster (400kts).

    24*6.8 = 163lbs/hr.

    So still seems in the ballpark of doable to me.

    1. So that takes us down to around 4.3 hours total flight time. So, for an hour on station and .75 land/take off, that leaves 2.5 hours which means 1.3 hours out and 1.3 hours back. That translates to a combat radius of 520 miles and that assumes we never use greater thrust or afterburn during the mission. For a UCAV, we have to assume a significant "turn and burn" factor (that's kind of what ACM is). Doing so drops the radius dramatically.

      This doesn't preclude the concept but the more realistic we get the less dramatic the benefit. Now we're looking at a short to medium range UCAV. Is that worth it? It may well be - or it may not. If they're cheap enough (and this is where I get on board) we can even send them on one way missions. However, as realistic costs develop, I don't see them being cheap enough for either throwaway use or at the exchange rate I would envision.

    2. Well, literally, YMMV with all of these numbers.

      I think we can build a very small A2A UCAV with a combat radius on the order of 500nm that can carry a few small missiles and an IRST.

      One could speculate on range extensions such as small drop tanks or an air refueling probe. A single MV-22 tanker could completely fill fourteen UCAVs with 10,000lbs of fuel offload. This could greatly increase their range or endurance.

      They may not need all that much time on burner, if you go by recent A2A encounters. And it might actually be worth it to let some run out of fuel, if it means killing an enemy fighter or two.

      Again, a lot depends on controlling costs. Not a DoD strong suit.

      What does a combat radius of 500nm get us? Well, if you build a smaller "CVU" carrier in the 7-13,000 ton range, in significant numbers, you can pair them with Burkes to form CVUBGs. Given enough of them, they might start to change the Chinese cost calculus of firing ASBMs at ever smaller, more numerous ships. Hard to say.

      Assuming this threat is manageable, you could park them on the outside of the First Island Chain, using the islands as fixed air defense sites with Patriot batteries, THAAD, and so on.

      Two CVUBGs carrying A2A UCAVs and ReCMs could operate like this,


      Red band = 500nm
      Yellow band = 1000nm

      The more CVUBGs you can form, the more you can saturate the area.

      Park traditional CVBGs out further in the Philippine Sea and let them perform wide area AEW, manned fighter pairing with UCAVs, and long range strike/ISR.

    3. What exchange rate do you foresee for these UCAVs?

    4. There isn't an easy answer for this. A lot depends on numbers bought, number of carriers available, how well they can integrate with the larger air superiority "system of systems" (ick) framework. And then finally, how well they individually perform in the role.

      It may be easier to figure out what the loss exchange rate needs to be to counter Chinese numbers in specific scenarios and work back from there. What would it take to turn the tides?

    5. This is kind of the crux of the issue. If the exchange rate is 1:1, we could afford a much more expensive UCAV than if the exchange rate is 1:10. If the rate is 1:100, to take the concept towards the worst case extreme, there probably is no UCAV cost that would make the concept affordable or tactically useful.

      My uneducated guess is that 1:10 is about the "sweet spot" given current costs and tactical usefulness.

      Now, can a UCAV achieve a 1:10 rate? I have severe doubts about that unless we build a near-F-35 UCAV which would invalidate the entire concept.

      If we could build a $5M UCAV and achieve a 1:10 exchange (so, $50M lost to achieve 1 kill) that might be affordable and tactically useful by saving our F-22/35/18/15 and thinning the enemy ranks a bit. If we start to bet much beyond $5M, it starts to become unaffordable. If the UCAV costs, say, $10M with a 1:10 rate, we're spending $100M to achieve 1 kill. That's getting pretty questionable. We'd be better off building an actual F-35 (assuming we could build one for $100M which, at the moment, we can't).

      Can we build a $5M UCAV that is capable enough to achieve a 1:10 exchange rate? I don't know but I'm dubious.

      What do you think?

    6. The cost/exchange rate issue is why I find the whole UCAV concept to be so questionable, by the way, and why I've never expressed much enthusiasm for it in previous posts and discussions, in case you were wondering.

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    8. The loss exchange rate is dependent on the numbers you bring.

      For example, if you just run 1-on-1 engagements over and over vs an Su-30+, this A2A UCAV may have a LER of 1:10. The Flanker may win most engagements.

      But if you switch that to 5-on-1 engagements, the Su-30+ may get, say, three UCAVs before it finally succumbs to numerous missile shots. So then the LER drops to 1:3.

      If, by virtue of lower cost and large buys, we can afford to bring MANY more UCAVs to the fight than the enemy has fighters, we can change the LER without requiring each UCAV to have a high LER on its own.

      Lanchester's Square Law.

      The only way we can take advantage of this, without killing a LOT of pilots is with UCAVs.

      Of course this A2A UCAV may actually have better than 1:10 on its own anyway, owing to stealth, small size, lack of emissions, and so on.

    9. You're correct, in theory, to a small extent. Unless we can achieve ridiculous engagement ratios of 30:1, or so, small differences in engagement ratios won't have that much impact. In fact, larger engagement ratios may simply make for a more target rich environment, as they say. I envision enemy aircraft standing fairly well off and just picking off UCAVs until they run out of missiles and then retiring. Of course, if the UCAVs are so stealthy or so hard to hit that the enemy aircraft have to come within gun range then the equation changes. Unfortunately, in order to achieve that kind of stealth and capability we're looking at individual UCAVs on the order of F-35s.

      I'm afraid that believing that UCAVs can combine stealth, small size, enormous range/loiter, large payloads, supersonic speed, etc. with dirt cheap prices is just pure fantasy. If such a combination were feasible we'd have already done it instead of creating the F-35.

    10. Reread my posts. I never said any such thing.

    11. I was speaking in general terms. There are many people who ascribe near magical properties to UAVs. Honestly, you a have a small tendency in that direction in that you believe we can achieve a far more extensive combination of capabilities and low costs than I do. That's fine at the moment. Until someone attempts to build something like this we can each hold on to our opinions.

      The UCLASS that Congress and others are describing is an example of exactly what I'm talking about regarding a fantasy combination of capabilities and cost. The same applies to many of the UCAV discussions I've seen. People think we're going to build a Cylon automated fighter that will go toe-to-toe with manned fighters, beat them, and only cost a million dollars (to be fair, you've never gone that far in your discussions!). I get emails all the time (including some in the military who should know better) along this line. There is a strong feeling "out there" that unmanned air/ground/sea/subsurface vehicles are the answer to everything.

    12. I am certainly a proponent, but i do at least try to temper my enthusiasm with simpler, hopefully more realistic, goals.

      On numbers,

      Lanchester's Square Law says, essentially, the quantitatively inferior force needs a relative "combat power" equal to the square of the ratio of forces in order to achieve parity.

      So if you go strictly by Lanchester, if we had 30:1 numbers in favor, the enemy would need a relative combat power of 900:1 to stay even.

      Even small differences can have huge impacts, especially over multiple engagements. Large differences are magnified.

      Attrition is a bitch.

      Now clearly wars aren't won with equations, but there's a point where numbers alone can turn the tide of a battle.

      So to some extent, we can buy our way to victory by simply bringing more, even if they aren't that good. This is taking a page out of the Russian playbook. UCAVs afford us the opportunity to build something cheaper, and smaller than we could otherwise. Can't realistically put a human in a 2-3000lb MTOW fighter aircraft., but a robot brain fits in there fine. Can't realistically plan to throw away American lives in a 1:9 LER against. But we can plan to do that with robots.

    13. I'm with you on all of that. You know me, I'm a big proponent of numbers over technology (within reason - no amount of Sopwith Camels will help). I like the "throwaway UCAV". To repeat myself, I'm just dubious that we can build one with sufficient capability at an affordable cost but I'd like to be proven wrong.

    14. Be careful not to overextend the applicability of Lanchester's Square Law (or his other work, for that matter). The equations have limited applicability because they model a very simplistic system (single kills, no defensive capability, continuous fire, etc.). They do not model missiles, machine guns, aircraft, bombs, grenades, etc. - all the weapons of modern warfare!. The equations are like Hughes work - very simplistic. Useful for grasping some very basic concepts but not much more than that.

    15. Well.. I've always conceived of using swarms of A2A UCAVs in conjunction with other air warfare assets, so I don't think i'm overextending it.

      The problem right now is that we are ignoring Lanchester's Square Law, with our tiny fleet of supposedly high LER F-22s, ever fewer F-15s, and limited, vulnerable basing in the Pacific.

      We don't have much attrition tolerance in our OCA/DCA system today. At least not on the scale of what would be needed in the Pacific. The Navy brings virtually none. It might be able to muster 80-120 fighters, assuming we can move 2-3 CVBGs simultaneously. And all of them mediocre, short-ish ranged air-to-air aircraft. Many of whom will be needed to protect the carrier.

    16. Swarms of UCAVs seem to be a pulse rather than a continuous fire that is the basis of the Lanchester laws.

      That aside, you touched on a number of worthwhile points in a brief comment.

      Yes, we are ignoring the concept of numbers.

      Yes, I think we are vastly overestimating our exchange rates especially given that we'll be fighting in the enemy's playground.

      Yes, we are going to find that we have far too few bases located far too far away from the battlespace and far too vulnerable to cruise and ballistic missile attack. Further, we're going to find out that our few and greatly disbursed bases are going to present serious logistic supply challenges once we start expending consumables at major war rates of use.

      Attrition tolerance - what a great topic. It ties in with one of my overarching themes - that we've forgotten what real war is. We've adopted the habit of zero casualties as our main objective. All of our ROEs, operation planning, and tactics are geared at zero casualties. That's laudable but only to an extent. Risk aversion seriously limits operational flexibility.

      Navy fighter numbers (I assume you mean air wing size, at least indirectly) are far too small for the roles they will be asked to play. This ties into my theme of the role of the carrier as an escort for the AF bombers and the Navy shooter ships (the Burkes). We do not have the number or type of carrier aircraft for that role.

      You summed up much of this blog in a brief comment!

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    18. All airpower is pulsed rather than continuous power, but individual air battles have characteristics of continuous fire. Regardless, pulsed power as modeled by Hughes' Salvo equations show the same benefits of numbers, and a similar square law.

      On Navy carriers as escorts for Navy VLS shooters, personally, IMHO, this is a gigantic waste of resources. As I've said many times, VLS-launched cruise missiles are niche capability and not terribly valuable or cost effective in a large, extended campaign (i.e. above hundreds or low thousands of aimpoints).

      If the Navy wants to be a major contributor to a large, high threat, strike warfare campaign, they need to find additional ways to deliver huge numbers of strikes, not cruise missile pinpricks.

      Again just MHO.

      Navy fighters escorting AF bombers is a better option, but we don't have enough of either to support much, if any, attrition.

      So again, I go back to the need for large numbers of reusable robots that can afford to be lost, and a hot production line that can be rapidly scaled to produce more.

      The Navy is in a unique position of having relocatable launch platforms, that are harder to hit than fixed airbases. They just need more of them, and better and more numerous vehicles to launch (and recover!).

      Flat tops of various sizes should become the Navy's primary surface vessel design. It is the most flexible and useful configuration for a surface ship.

      Small flat tops can carry rotary wing aviation, UAVs, and UCAVs. Perhaps even a well deck for an LCAC, replacing amphibious ships.

      Medium sized flat tops can carry a superset of the small flat top, plus some manned aircraft like E-2D or limited numbers of fighters. Maybe these replace LHA/Ds.

      Large flat tops can carry traditional CVN+ airwings.

      All can carry Marines, large air wings, or mission modularized components.

      Costs for UAVs and UCAVs need to be controlled. Numbers are as important as individual platform capability.

    19. Again, you touch on a number of worthwhile points.

      I completely agree that the Navy's inventory of cruise missiles is woefully insufficient to prosecute a major war. Similarly, the AF does not have the inventory of aircraft to prosecute the strike portion of a major war. Twenty B-2s won't last a month in a major war. B-1/52s are not survivable in a contested airspace. As a military, we need to decide how we are going to prosecute a major war (have a strategy, as I continually harp on) and make sure we have the resources to actually do it.

      We have the wrong aircraft, at least for the carrier roles I envision. Sadly, I honestly don't think the Navy has a formalized role for the carrier in a major war. If they do, I don't know what it is. The F-18/35 wing doesn't support any logical role I can come up with.

      You really should consider authoring a post on one of these many points/topics!

  15. As I've said many times, VLS-launched cruise missiles are niche capability and not terribly valuable or cost effective in a large, extended campaign (i.e. above hundreds or low thousands of aimpoints).

    That's because it's a legacy system originally designed for nuclear war. Then when that mission stopped being plausible, something had to be done with the hardware, and it had some cool capabilities. That plus the Promotional Imperative and some chance events meant it became a key weapon system, although it's too expensive and cumbersome to be used in real mas quantities.

    The "Promotional Imperative" is the term I coined for the world view that says "Whatever it is that I do is obviously the most important thing in the Navy and I should promote the interests of my community in aggressive competition with all the other communities." This seems to be a rather important social force in the USN, and in the other US services.

    1. "Promotional Imperative" - I like it!

    2. Ditto! Love it. The phenomenon exists in the corporate world, as well.

      One would hope that the Service Chiefs and Joint Chiefs would be above that kind of thing and could offer a voice of reason and logical prioritization, at least within their own service. Sadly, that's not the case. CNO Greenert, one of the worst CNO's that I've seen, failed utterly to referee those types of competitions, among his many other failings.


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