Thursday, November 12, 2015

Battlefield Interdiction

What is the definition of the term “interdiction” as applied to amphibious assault combat?  It’s the act of preventing the movement of enemy troops to a point where they can mount a counterattack.

We recently discussed D-Day and noted that interdiction of German reinforcements and counterattacks was instrumental in the success of the assault.  In WWII, the enemy had to be pretty much within visual range to mount any kind of effective counterattack because most weapons had only a line of sight effective range.  Even artillery required that the enemy be within visual range to provide spotting.  Thus, if we could keep the enemy beyond visual range, their counterattack would be negated.  Further, counterattacks generally consisted of troops (in tanks or mounted, perhaps, but still troops).  On a practical basis that meant that interdiction could occur within a few to several miles of our forces and be effective although, of course, it could also occur much farther away than that.

Now, let’s consider the modern assault battlefield and the range and composition of today’s counterattack.

Today, counterattacks do not have to consist of troops, at all, but can consist of cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges of hundreds or thousands of miles as well as artillery supported by UAVs in addition to conventional armored units and troops.  Interdiction has become a much more difficult proposition.  The enemy no longer has to move to within visual range.  Thus, our interdiction efforts must be able to occur at much longer ranges.  I’m not sure that “interdict” is even the right word anymore.  Regardless, we need to be able to stop cruise and ballistic missile counterattacks which means either shooting them down in the air (the hard way to do it) or disrupting and preventing their launch at greatly extended ranges (theoretically, the easier and more efficient way to do it).

The point is that our interdiction efforts must range much further than in WWII.  In fact, those ranges may take us within the heart of enemy defensive systems, further complicating the interdiction effort.

If you think about it, an opposed landing no longer needs to have enemy soldiers anywhere near the landing site to be considered “opposed”.  Opposition in the form of cruise and ballistic missiles and long range rockets and artillery can constitute an effective opposing force with absolutely no enemy troops in the immediate vicinity of the assault force.  This also casts doubt on the “land where they ain’t” concept.

So, as we contemplate amphibious assaults, we need to provide a means of interdicting enemy forces that may be hundreds of miles from the assault site and may have no need or desire to move closer.  Again, the term interdiction is probably no longer even valid so don’t get hung up on the terminology.

Now, how can we do this?  What forces can an amphibious assault group call on to accomplish this interdiction? 

Naval Gunfire?  It won’t be naval gunfire – that can’t even reach the beach! 

Marine Artillery?  It won’t be artillery since that doesn’t generally have the range and it won’t be available until later waves.  Worse, the Marines are cutting back on artillery as they pursue “lightness” of force.

Helicopters?  This is a viable option within relatively shorter ranges.  Attack helos are effective.  Unfortunately, amphibious assault groups don’t have sufficient numbers for effective long range interdiction of multiple targets.  Worse, every helo sent on interdiction missions is a helo unavailable to provide the crucial, initial support for the landing itself.  Still worse is the vulnerability of helos to modern shoulder launched surface to air missiles and gunfire (ZSU and the like).  Compounding this vulnerability is the probable need to move deeper within the enemy’s air defense systems in order to reach the counterattacking units.

Cruise Missiles?  Cruise missiles are viable and effective against fixed targets.  Moving targets are relatively impervious to cruise missile attack.  A further limitation is the limited inventory in an assault group.  Cost is also a factor.  At around $1.5M per missile, it’s an expensive way to provide explosions.

Fixed Wing Aviation?  This is the most effective and flexible option though it comes with the attendant risk of pilot losses and difficult rescue operations.  The problem is that the assault group will not likely have sufficient numbers of aircraft to handle the interdiction.  This is where Air Force support will be required.  Assuming there are bases close enough to the interdiction sites to allow a sufficient sortie rate, the Air Force can provide both the strike capability and the escort support needed to conduct successful interdiction.  However, the assumption of adequate basing is highly suspect.  Bases in likely regions of conflict are neither numerous nor secure from cruise and ballistic missile attack.

UAVs?  While viable, this is not currently an effective option due to the lack of aggregate payload relative to the need.  A handful of UAVs, each carrying a couple of Hellfires or bombs is just not sufficient for the task.

Of course, in the real world, we would use a combination of all of these assets.

The point is that we need to anticipate the requirement for very long range interdiction and build forces to address that need.  We also need to consider the degree to which we can count on Air Force support.  While viable and effective at the task, the Air Force suffers from lack of basing in likely regions of conflict and susceptibility of those bases to attack by ballistic and cruise missiles with the result being a potentially significantly impact on sortie rate.  That being the case, we need to ask whether we need significantly more interdiction range firepower organic to the assault group.  At first blush, the answer would seem to be, yes.

Possible options to enhance the assault group long range interdiction capability include the following.

  • UAV carrier and a large, strike-oriented UAV air wing.
  • Arsenal ship and/or SSGN to greatly increase the on-scene inventory of cruise missiles without consuming the AAW escort ship’s VLS cells which will be needed for surface to air missiles.
  • Short range ballistic missiles
  • Significantly larger carrier air wings so that more aircraft are available for interdiction

In short, if we are serious about amphibious assaults we need to begin developing the necessary doctrine and procuring the necessary tools for a viable assault capability.


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    1. Quite right! Targeting has always been the key - can't shoot 'em if you can't find 'em.

      As I consider amphibious assaults, I see new AAVs or ships to almost be the least important aspect. Logistics/sustainment, interdiction, explosives support, etc. are far more important and will make or break the assault.

      Our doctrine doesn't even address the long range interdiction in any meaningful way. We really need to stop worrying about new equipment and first rework our doctrine. Then, with a solid doctrine in hand, we can look at procuring USEFUL equipment that will actually support the doctrine.

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    3. Those concepts may protect the assault naval force (not really but we'll accept that for sake of discussion) but do nothing for the landed assault force's protection which is my focus on battlefield interdiction. In fact, by standing 50 miles offshore we just further exacerbate an already bad situation. We have no doctrine for dealing with cruise/ballistic missile threats to the landed force. That doesn't mean we don't have assets that could do the job, just that we have no coherent doctrine for doing so. I've never witnessed a period in my life where we have had so little focus on strategy, doctrine, and tactics. Instead, our focus is completely on procurement of new technology. This practice of countering our enemy's technology at the expense of strategic and doctrinal thought has been pretty well discredited and yet we continue it. Baffling.

      The AF is about to embark on a new bomber program without any strategic justification, as far as I can tell (I don't follow AF matters that closely). What will we do with bombers against China? The answer to that will determine what range/speed/stealth/payload we need. Maybe we already have all we need. Maybe we need ten times what is being planned. We have no strategy so how do we know? Buying whatever we can get and hoping we can find a use for it is not the wisest use of limited funds.

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    5. Staying home is another good tactic to mitigate enemy fires. Dispersed forces may survive (some of them) but they also can't accomplish anything. We're talking high end combat, here. We're not going to seize a port or enemy capital or whatever with a few disbursed squads joy riding around on JLTVs. We can disburse a MEU/MEB/MEF over an entire continent and many will survive but none will accomplish the mission.

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    7. "Staying home is another good tactic to mitigate enemy fires. Dispersed forces may survive (some of them) but they also can't accomplish anything. We're talking high end combat, here. We're not going to seize a port or enemy capital or whatever with a few disbursed squads joy riding around on JLTVs. We can disburse a MEU/MEB/MEF over an entire continent and many will survive but none will accomplish the mission."

      What kind of OTH missile attack is going to completely destroy or make combat incapable an MEF? If (And this is a big if) we can get it to shore against the closer cruise missiles on the shore, then its on the ground.

      Artillery is more lethal than cruise missiles in that regard, from what I've read.

      I'm *not* saying it wouldn't suck. But units have operated under artillery barrage since the beginning of the modern era and still functioned.

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    9. "DO forces can look for enemy missile launchers or force concentrations and call in fires. Use them to silence the enemy's guns. Then land conventional forces"

      That's the kind of fantasy thinking that gave us the LCS! These tiny magical groups will slip through an enemy's A2/AD zone, land undetected, wander around undetected, find all the enemy missiles, call down a rain of destruction, and clear the way for the landing. John Wayne would have to be the lead character in the movie version!

    10. "What kind of OTH missile attack is going to completely destroy or make combat incapable an MEF?"

      Jim, do you recall our post on assault sustainment? The loss of even a few connectors brings the assault to a grinding halt. The loss of a single amphibious ship costs an assault 1/3 of the MEU and its equipment if they're still aboard and would cripple the follow on supply and reinforcement effort. Don't make me repeat the sustainment post for you!

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    12. The scary part is that for a country that plays the long game like China, that might actually be a viable strategy.

      Setting that aside, I'll give you an answer. This is a brief comment so I'll trust you to see the bigger picture and not cherry pick sentences that I can't explain or support due to lack of space.

      First, we need to decide whether we even will attempt assaults. I have grave doubts about that. Let's table that thought and assume that we've decided we need to be able to conduct major assaults.

      We need to move the assault force back in to the horizon insteadof 50 miles out. Honestly, a supersonic cruise missile (or defense) isn't going to be affected by 50 miles one way or another. This allows us to actually land troops and equipment (we can't now), cuts down round trip times, and, most importantly, puts Naval gunfire and air defense support back on the table.

      Next, we need to assign a carrier group (3 carriers due to the shrunken air wings) to roving support. This will be the interdiction force via the combination of Tomahawks and aircraft.

      Then, we need to disburse the assault force ships by eliminating the current, large gators and return to a WWII attack transport model using commercial designs.

      We need lots more UAVs and a UAV carrier to operate with either the carrier group or the assault group. We will lose a lot of UAVs so we need cheap UAVs of only moderate range and capability. The assault and interdiction will occur within tens to hundreds of miles so we don't need a 10,000 mile UAV.

      We need to develop an assault support ship that will provide initial gun support and C-RAM cover for the assault ground force.

      We need to hugely beef up our logistic support (ships and connectors).

      We need a small, dedicated ASW vessel to provide security for the assault force.

      We need to figure out how to get serious armor (tanks, artillery, CEVs, etc.) ashore in the first wave.and lots of it. A major assault is not going to succeed using JLTVs.

      We need LSTs.

      Any AF support is just more goodness but can't be relied on for planning purposes. The AF will be busy prosecuting their end of the war and may or may not have resources and bases to provide assistance. The AF will make every effort to help but may simply not be in a position to do so effectively.

      That's the bare bones of an answer. Much of this I've laid out in individual posts, some I have not.

      As I said, please consider the overall concept rather than pick on one sentence.

      Have fun with it!

    13. No, if you want to acquire targeting information about mobile TELs, SAMS, and other such systems, you are going to need ISR. But the arsenal ship concept for instance, is very good once you look-on to the target, it provides you the ability to reach out and destroy it without risking expensive aerial launch platforms.

      IND-RUS is working on a hypersonic >7,5Mach missile for instance, the range will IMO probably be restricted on the indian version due to international treaty (MTCR) restrictions, but the russian version will likely have a much greater range, the russian version of brahmos (same dimensions and weight) has a max range 600KM.

      An arsenal ship with such missiles, and an arsenal ship could carry them, it could even carry a larger version with an even greater range, would be able to very quickly reach out destroy it's targets, even if the range was only like 800Km, at mach 8 that is 6 minutes to target, which gives very little room for any form of reaction.

      Obviously you would probably rbe fielding a larger version than the standard one, with more range, as that largely decreases the utility, when you could just fly planes out that far. From a naval warfare perspective, imagine the Carrier Battle Group being able to launch a missile attack out to the maximum range of its air-assets on an A2A mission.

      Conversely any such missiles deployed on land will also give you very little reaction time, and will be launched outside of the defensive perimiter of any task force.

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    15. "Re: supersonic missiles and 50nm standoff: The point is to complicate the enemy's targeting picture. 50nm standoff forces them to have OTH targeting. They can't just rely on a guy with binos near the beach.

      It certainly makes it hard to land forces from that far out though, I'll give you that."

      That's the problem in a nutshell. Currently, we lack the connectors to effectively land an assault force from 50 miles out. So, we're faced with two poor choices: either try to land a force from too far away and do a poor job of it or get closer and make the enemy's targeting/attack job much easier.

      I opt for the later for two reasons:
      1. It's an assault. If you can't get the troops/equipment/supplies ashore in sufficient numbers and throughput then it doesn't matter if the amphibious ships are "safe", the mission will be a failure.

      2. Against a third rate opponent the OTH probably is a targeting challenge but for a peer it won't present much of an issue. If someone were attacking us from 50 miles do you think we'd have any difficulty finding them? So, the standoff doesn't really accomplish that much.

      Hence, I opt for moving in closer. In my mind, the better of two bad choices. Of course, if we can develop a connector that can effectively transport from 50 miles then I'll rethink the issue!

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    17. Again, I ask, do you really think someone could blind us enough to hide an assault force 50 miles offshore? I don't think we would have any chance of doing that to someone else.

      There are times when you have to do the best you can and recognize that losses will occur. If the objective is worth it, go ahead. If not, don't do it.

      As I said, currently two bad choices.

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    20. To believe that we (or a peer) could simultaneously blind satellites, land radar, airborne radar, UAVs, submarines, electronic signal detection, simple direction finding, and whatever other detection methods, is just wishful thinking.

      In fact, to think that a large assault force could even move to within 50 miles of our territory completely undetected is unreal.

      We (and a peer) would have far more detection assets than could possibly be blinded.

      Our assault force's location will be known. Heck, if you see an assault force on your land you can draw a line about 50 miles out, perpendicular to the shore, and you'll have a pretty good idea of the location! Our doctrine is not exactly a secret.

    21. There's not really a debate to be had, here. Currently, we can't land and sustain an assault from 50 miles so there is no discussion. It's not an option. The only discussion is whether to move in closer or simply not attempt it.

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    23. B.Smitty,

      So we arm the UAV/reconaissance plane right, give it one or two ASMs (not a P-800 which is 3Tonne, 9meters and can reach out 600KM) but a smaller missile like the NSM which is subsonic, can reach 300Kms. We have made it bigger, heavier, more expensive and reduced it's range, and unless we arm it with A2A weapons it is still vulnerable to interception.

      At best it can launch an attack with two missiles, two missiles is never going to ever be enough in a major fleet engagement, the arsenal ship can carry many more, much larger and better missiles, with more range, a bigger warhead, a faster cruising and terminal speed.

      They can also be fired quicker and in much larger volumes than could be achieved in the same time, via sortieing a carriers air-wing. In terms of carrier-vs-carrier warfare, being able to launch your attack before the enemy can sortie is probably going to be a big advantage.

      The P-800 is an air-launched ASM, launched from russian Flankers, theoretically you could build an even bigger missile with a larger range on an arsenal ship.

      Check this out,
      >These are basically under-water variants of an arsenal ship with the older p-700 (they could fit like 42 P800s in the same space), armed with 200kt anti-submarine missiles
      >Imagine what would happened if something like this opened up on a US carrier task force, keeping in mind, the

    24. And what I should have said, is that you can launch the attack (theoretically with larger missiles) from outside the engagement range of the enemies fighter in a AsuW configuration, or launch within before they can begin to sortie any AsuW loaded planes, provided you have this information.

      And you can also launch attacks in-depth on fixed installations, any high-value targets, airbases or stubborn air-defense systems. Free up more of your planes for an A2A and SEED loadout during the initial air-campaign. Bassically it's a force multiplier.

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    26. "Dispersion is one tactic to mitigate enemy fires (both cruise and ballistic). It's hard for us to find and target ISIS, when they don't give is nice, noticeable concentrations of forces."

      It's not hard at all to find ISIS. We know exactly where they are. What's hard is hitting them without causing collateral damage since they're intimately mixed in with the civilian population.

      I've commented many times on our extreme obsession with collateral damage avoidance and how it handcuffs us. Collateral damage was a concern in WWII but it did not prevent us from accomplishing our military objectives. Today, it does. If we ever get serious about ISIS and are willing to accept the collateral damage, we could finish them off in a week.

      The ironic aspect of our collateral damage avoidance obsession is that it creates collateral damage itself. We avoid dropping a bomb on an ISIS group because there are civilians in the area so we save some civilian lives. But then, that ISIS group goes out the next day and slaughters civilians. Ironic, huh?

  2. "Assuming there are bases close enough to the interdiction sites to allow a sufficient sortie rate, the Air Force can provide both the strike capability and the escort support needed to conduct successful interdiction. However, the assumption of adequate basing is highly suspect. Bases in likely regions of conflict are neither numerous nor secure from cruise and ballistic missile attack."

    To be fair, I had thought that the idea was that you could use UAV's like the RQ-180 to penetrate and do your ISR; then use the F-35 (for the Navy/Corps) or LRSB (for the Airforce) to attack the launchers and or disrupt the kill chain.

    "Assuming there are bases close enough to the interdiction sites to allow a sufficient sortie rate, the Air Force can provide both the strike capability and the escort support needed to conduct successful interdiction. However, the assumption of adequate basing is highly suspect. **Bases in likely regions of conflict are neither numerous nor secure from cruise and ballistic missile attack**."

    I'll admit; I'm not sure how, this is new threat. My understanding was that the Russians knew precisely where major air bases in Germany were, and they had missiles that could hit them. I had thought that we operated under the theory that our airbases would get hit and we'd have to repair them and keep operating. Maybe I'm wrong.

    1. Although Russia is now in play as a threat, amphibious ops are not likely. This post addresses amphibious assaults and the need to interdict the inevitable counterattack. The operating areas of concern would be Iran, China, and, to a lesser extent, NKorea. It's the airbases in those areas that I'm talking about. For China, we have few and they're far away (Japan may allow us to operate from theirs?). Iran has some useful bases in the region IF we can obtain permission to use them during a conflict (this has been problematic, historically).

      Think of the overall scenario. The F-35s will, most likely, be tied up defending the fleet and/or providing close support. There won't be any left for interdiction. If the LRSB ever gets built (a major if, given the cost) we'll factor it in. In the meantime, we have around 19 functional B-2 bombers capable of one sortie every day or two. That's not gonna cut it.

      Would we allow enemy UAVs to loiter around our missile sites and send targeting data back? Of course not! Why would you think the enemy will us to cruise UAVs over them? UAVs will have short lifespans in high end combat.

    2. LOL I must really not be clear sometimes. I made the Soviet analogy not to say Russia is going to do this to us in Europe, but rather, we built airbases, and kept them operating, under threat of missile attack during the cold war.

      It seems you mention often that 'bases close to X area are questionable because they are under threat of missile attack.'.

      So, for example, suppose we have to do an amphibious assault on the fictional country of Guangzhobia (GZ). GZ has ballistic and cruise missiles within range of our assault force and of our air bases in the region. Our air bases in the region are within range of their missile launchers.

      Your argument (seems) to be 'Well, we can't count on those airbases because they'll just attack them'.

      My thought is 'We used to have airbases and planned on using them if the cold war ever got hot. So why are our airbases suddently not relevant because they might get attacked?" Sure, they'll get damaged and hit hard, but we used to be able to have doctrine to deal with that: Repair runways. Disperse fuel bunkers. Etc. Of course they are going to attack our bases. We'll do that to them too. We don't just write off their air bases because 'Eh, we can hit them.'.

      I chose the RQ-180 because its supposed to be stealth. My understanding is that it was supposed to be able to sneak in. Its a tool, not a magic bullet, though. Even if their attrition rate is high... so what? If we have to have targeting we have to have some eyes in there. So we use whatever we can; and a combination of assets. So we use that, recce aircraft. Satellites, whatever we can to disrupt their kill chain.

      We can turn that right around too: How are they going to attack our amphibious assault group from hundreds of miles out? How are they going to target it if it disperses?

      I take your sortie rate point very seriously. I do wish we had more of a quick response.

      Fixed missile bases aren't our problems, so much. Mobile launchers are. You can put a heck of a missile on a semi nowadays. And if we could get the ISR assets to pinpoint them, it would be nice to have a really fast (ballistic?) response of our own to attack them before they move.

      Of course, the idea of major powers throwing ballistic missiles around is enough to weaken my bowels, but that's a whole other issue.

    3. Do you think the Soviet/European airbase analogy is valid? In Europe, we had many bases, all as heavily defended as we could make them. Further, resupply, repair, and reinforcement was a drive down the road, on a relative basis.

      In a China/Iran/NK scenario, we would have few bases and they would not be well protected. Further, they are geographically isolated with resupply, repair, and reinforcement being a logistical challenge, to say the least.

      Now, just because an airbase can be hit doesn't mean it's of no value. It just means that we need to be realistic about we can accomplish with only a very limited number of them, in this case.

    4. Jim,

      NATO was always very concerned with short and intermediate range ballistic missiles destroying air bases.

      The counter was to pursue arms limitations on the missiles; and to moderate the impact of ballistic missiles by dispersing tactical aircraft to improvised runways (highways and even grass strips). NATO structured its aviation support to fuel and rearm aircraft from these fields (literally). Doing this with a F-22 or F-35 is questionable, but many other tactical aircraft could operate this way.


    5. "Doing this with a F-22 or F-35 is questionable, but many other tactical aircraft could operate this way."

      Which begs the question whether the pursuit of exclusively top end, super sophisticated aircraft is the right way to go. Should we be building a "tier" of simple, more rugged, basic aircraft to complement the high end aircraft?

    6. @CNO

      Of course - the only aircraft that count are the ones that get into the sky to fight!

      You can have the best pilots and the finest aircraft, but if they are on the ground, a Folker triplane can shoot them up! In fact, most aircraft kills happen on the tarmac.


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    8. Smitty,

      The NATO plan was fine for lower end fighters like F-5s. Even top Russian fighters are designed to operate from austere fields.

      And Europeans were planning on supporting their forces with commercial gear. In fact, most military fuel in the USA is delivered by rail or commercial truck.

      A typical commercial tanker trailer (8-9,000 gallons) could fuel a flight of four F-18s with no issue.

      How many commercial tractor trailers were on the roads in Germany on any given day - a serious targeting issue indeed!


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    10. @Smitty,

      You are arguing to argue - the point of dispersion is to preserve some force, as opposed to having it all wiped out in a single cruise or ballistic missile attack; which has been a very real, if not likely outcome, for decades.

      The option to disperse some, all, or none of a force is useful.


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    12. @Smitty,

      Dispersed operations have been a feature of aerial warfare from inception: it greatly confuses enemy targeting, which is critical.

      You have offered no solutions to a very real, and greatly proliferating BM threat other than to point out that it imposes reduced efficiencies.

      You cannot put ABM defenses on every airfield, and potential adversaries like Russia and China have sufficient rocket artillery to blanket military airfields to a depth of roughly 1,000 nm plus.

      However, no one has the ability to destroy/crater/mine all *potential* improvised fields.


    13. "I'm arguing that we need to focus on winning, not on part of a force merely surviving, maybe, for a little while, until they are defeated in detail."

      Not to pile on but wasn't hiding and surviving your suggested model for future air defense systems?

    14. Just a little historical perspective ... Pearl Harbor was the ultimate example of concentrating - the opposite of dispersal. The aircraft were lined up wingtip to wingtip and when the ballistic missiles (Japanese aircraft) arrived, the destruction was devastating.

      There's an optimum balance somewhere between one aircraft per airfield and every aircraft at one airfield. The balance point would, of course, be determined by the cost of airfield redundancy, logistics, combat effectiveness, survivability, etc. I don't know what the balance point is but a reasonable degree of dispersal of combat assets has been a historical constant.

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      OK, THAT'S BETT...... Ok, that's better.

      Seriously, you jumbled together lots of independent thoughts and somehow came up with conclusions to argue about that I've never put forth. I'll address some of them in no particular order.

      You completely misunderstood the Pearl Harbor point. It had nothing to do with battleships. The point was that when the ballistic missiles (aircraft) arrived, the aircraft were lined up tip to tip. This was an historical example of the opposite extreme of dispersal. This was concentration of aircraft at its best (or worst) and the results reflected it. This is just about aircraft dispersal not battleships or any other aspect of Pearl Harbor. This is also not a deep concept. Ultimate concentration is bad. Ultimate dispersal is unsustainable. There's a balance point in between.

      Tucanos versus Su-XX??? When did I ever say that? Never. I've suggested Tucanos for the low end, peacetime ground support work. I've never suggested Tucanos versus high end fighter jets. If you want to argue, please make it over something I've actually said!

      You seem to be arguing with me against dispersal of aircraft. Can you find a statement from me advocating dispersal? I can't recall ever advocating dispersal of aircraft to remote strips or whatever. The practicalities (logistics, manning, maintenance, spares, FOD, etc.) would seem to preclude it. In fact, I've explicitly argue against the F-35B remote basing concept.

      I'll let it go at this. You're probably going to want to throw this comment into the blender, too.

    17. That RAND study is hopelessly outdated, focused to the exclusion of many relevant factors (as is RAND's tendency in these things), and extremely limited in applicability.

      The only data point in the report that is useful is the 2017 time frame (the rest have already passed) and they get that one wrong by a wide margin. Their conclusions (unsupported by data, by the way - it's a Brief so I assume the main report has actual data) are highly suspect.

      The casual claim of "high kill ratios" is suspect. There is no reason to believe that we will achieve significantly more than a 1:1 ratio and certainly not high kill ratios.

      Their list of Chinese AF types doesn't even mention the Chinese stealth aircraft now entering service (J-20/31) let alone the J-11/15/16s that are upgraded versions of Su-XX designs.

      They do not include consideration of the impact of the three (that I know of) artificial island airbases on the air superiority battle.

      Did they include consideration of distance on loadouts and loiter/combat time? Chinese aircraft can enter the fight with more fuel and weapons than we can.

      The overall conclusions, such as they are, are valid though kind of obvious. A typical RAND report.

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    19. "... small, inexpensive UCAVs that have extremely low logistics requirements (as well as the attrition tolerance mentioned earlier). Make them more like reusable SAMs than all singing and dancing fighter-bombers."

      This is one of your more interesting suggestions. I've supported the concept of "throwaway" UCAVs but I've doubted (flat out don't believe) that we could build a UCAV that can achieve an acceptable exchange ratio with manned aircraft. If we build a UCAV with sufficient combat capability it will cost a fortune. If we build a cheap UCAV it will just be target drones that won't achieve a worthwhile exchange rate.

      The idea of a reusable SAM is worth a little thought. How would it be different in capability than an actual SAM (other than the obvious ability to return)? I ask because SAMs have a historically very poor success rate. So, how would the reusable SAM (r-SAM) be superior in performance? Is there really a point to bringing the r-SAM back after an engagement? Wouldn't most r-SAMs either be shot down or find a target (I'm assuming you mean these to be suicidal - hence, the reusable SAM description?)? Would you expect enough to go out, do nothing, and return, to justify the added cost of the returnability? Would the r-SAM be subsonic, supersonic, or variable? I would think subsonic would be required to maneuver. Would the r-SAM be operator controlled or autonomous? What would you think these would cost?

      Interesting. Tell me more.

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    21. @Smitty,

      I am out of this argument as you have provided no useful alternative, nor effectively disputed my specific comment on the usefulness of alternative airfields for dispersal in the face of, or aftermath of BM strikes.


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    23. The dispersal issue seems, in many ways, analogous to the carrier issue. Critics argue that the carrier is too vulnerable, too big, too easy to kill, too ... But, to GAB's point, no one has come up with a viable alternative.

      Fixed airbases are too, well... fixed. They're too vulnerable, too big, too easy to hit, too easy to destroy. But, again to GAB's point, what's the alternative?

      Dirt roads won't work for modern FOD-prone aircraft. Even if aircraft could operate from a dirt strip, the logistics preclude more than a couple of sorties. The required maintenance, spares inventory, electronics, diagnostics, manning, etc. are just not practical for operating a couple of aircraft per location on an ongoing basis.

      The answer seems to be to find the balance point between concentration and dispersal. How many airbases can we support before the reality of logistics rears its head?

      I once read a concept calling for nearby dispersal of aircraft for survival, not operations. The aircraft would be dispersed to parking/hangar locations relatively near the airbase so that the aircraft would survive even if the base were hit. Of course, the inefficiencies in servicing the aircraft and assembling them for sorties would be monumental but it would offer enhanced survivability. Nothing ever came of it as far as I know.

      Perhaps having a number of low end, basic satellite airfields that aircraft could be dispersed to on a temporary, rotating basis might be a solution. The aircraft could be dispersed and operated from very basic fields for a short time and then returned to the main base for significant maintenance. The dispersed bases would have fuel and munitions but no significant maintenance capability. This would disperse the aircraft (maybe 10-20 per airfield??) while maintaining the central support capability, radar, defenses, spares inventory, etc. Along with that, maybe we should be designing our aircraft to be a bit more robust in terms of their ability to operate from rougher fields. Maybe building aircraft whose engines are FOD'ed by flea larvae isn't the right way to go? The Soviets did this and the idea seemed to make some sense. Just thinking out loud on this one!

    24. "So instead of figuring out how to hide penny packets around the region, we need to figure out where we can base huge quantities of fighters, and keep them alive, fed and maximizing sorties."

      Some problems have no viable solution. Such is the case here, for the China scenario. The places where we might like to have bases (Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc.) are highly unlikely to allow us to use bases in a war with China. They'll offer moral support, perhaps, but faced with possible Chinese missile attacks and no defense, they'll opt for neutrality. The only bases we can probably rely on are in Japan and SKorea and I have doubts about SKorea. Faced with the prospect of simultaneously having to fight NKorea if they entered a war against China, they might well opt for neutrality, also.

      So, there just aren't any more places to put bases that haven't already (of course, we could always build artificial islands!). I agree with your statement, in theory. We need to find ways but that's easier said than done and, realistically, may well not be possible.

      Of course, one alternative is more carriers with larger, more combat focused air wings!

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    27. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states were peers of Iraq. That's hugely different from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, etc. compared to China. It's one thing to join a coalition that will gang up on a peer and another thing to put oneself in opposition to a country that could crush you like a bug as an afterthought! Would those countries join in a war against China? Possible, certainly, but highly unlikely.

      The more pertinent point is not whether any given country will or won't join us but whether we want to base our strategy on the establishment of bases that would be highly suspect in their political availability when the need arises. We need solutions that are 100% reliable when the need arises.

    28. "So the lowest-end, micro-fighter could be designed to carry 2-4 Stingers."

      I remain intrigued by the concept but highly doubtful that we can produce a very low end aircraft that can achieve an acceptable exchange rate. Carrying four Sidewinders (or whatever weapon or numbers) is fine but the aircraft still needs to achieve firing position. That means the aircraft needs to have a pretty significant degree of ACM capability and now you're jumping right back into the high cost end of things.

      No UAV that I'm aware of could have any hope of achieving a kill shot on a manned aircraft. Yes, the idea is that sheer numbers can overwhelm but the exchange rate would be horrific. If it takes 50 mini-aircraft to get one kill, the costs, no matter how low, preclude it.

      What aircraft would you consider to be a suitable example, capability wise, of a UCAV? F-16? F-4 Phantom? A-4? F-86? Any of those, if built today, would still only allow exchange rates of 1:2 or 1:3 and I don't think they could achieve that. If you get less capable than those, then you're just talking target drones (especially unmanned) with nearly zero chance of success.

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    30. It was also painfully obvious which side was going to win the Desert Storm conflict. Not much risk to jumping on the Coalition bandwagon for those smaller states! A bit different when joining with the US against China may put you on the losing side.

    31. "... I don't think we can build THAT many carriers."

      You're right. We can't. And that brings us back around to the lack of bases with no reasonable way to get more. As I said, this is a problem that has no solution. There is nowhere to put large numbers of additional bases that we can rely on being available. I don't have a magic answer for this one.

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    35. In theory, there is a solution. In reality, there is none.

      For starters, a coalition requires a leader, the US, and we have demonstrated no stomach for a confrontation with China, Russia, NK, Iran, terrorists, or anyone else. No leader, no coalition.

      Given our hesitancy to even name China as a threat, do you really think any country will give us basing rights knowing (or believing - it's the same thing) that we will not stand by them? We issue ultimatums and then don't follow through. Why would anyone think we'll follow through on commitments to protect another country?

  3. Long range bombers with long range missiles could work, providing that the targeting is precise.

  4. Orbital kinetic bombardment. I am only being half sarcastic when I suggest that. Find the targets, smoke them from orbit with kinetic strikes.

    1. It truly is the only way to be sure.

  5. You are not gonna like this, but the answer I think is 'swarm-missiles', you need intelligent stand-off munitions (be they powered missiles, or powered glide bombs), that have surplus capacity in attack waves to withstand losses resulting from missile interception, and yet still hit all the necessary facilities/targets as well as targets of opportunity.

    Some missiles have some of these features, they can be programmed to skirt-arround the engagement radius, or radar emitting facilities, they can have multiple targets pre-programmed into it, so that it can go to the next target if one or the other is destroyed.

    But I think that the 'smart-missile' needs to go the next level. Particularly in regards to bombing, I think if we have planes like the B2 Dropping many bombs, like the SDB, that such attacks need a better system for the missile/glide-bombs, that require less pre-planning and tedious programming of data into individual weapons.

    And then you need to fight your way to the target with an Air Campaign, and engage in SEAD operations and air-raids, with these swarm-missiles. But I like the idea of bassically decimating them first with missiles, sure they are expensive, but so are planes, and a Missile hitting a power plant is going to do a heck of a lot more dammage than the missile costs...

    1. Infact I think something like the proposed FB-22, with upto 30SDBs would be rather well suited for such swarm-attacks, a 'theatre-range' bomber.

      A weapon such as the SDB could probably have the range improved substantially by modifying the wing and increasing surface area, either some sort of telescoping wing (i.e wing which expands) or a wing with a soft element like a wingsuit, potentially even a engine.

      The idea is to reduce the launch platforms exposure to SAMS like the S-300, stealth and counter-measures are a good start, spending less time inside a SAMS engagement zone is an even better one.

    2. Jacobite, if I understand you correctly, we attempted this on a somewhat smaller scale with the LCS. The NLOS system was intended to launch a large number of brilliant munitions over a battlefield and link them in an instantaneous though temporary network. The networked munitions would allocate targets amongst themselves. Some of the munitions would loiter over the battlefield awaiting the results of the initial strikes or the appearance of new targets. It was a swarm of intelligent munitions. For a variety of reasons, it failed and was abandoned thus leaving the LCS with a gaping hole in its capabilities.

    3. They need to:

      A.) Confirm target destruction
      B.) Relay information about SAMS/Radar Emissions, and any diversions it makes to attack such facilities or target of opportunity.
      C.) Not allow such features to enable the enemy to divert missiles.

      Then instead of tediously programming information to expensive missiles, one-by-one for individual targets, you program the attack information in to the swarm of cheaper, redundant missiles, and attack in waves with stand-off glide-bombs.

      When you have to program the information missile by missile how is a B2 supposed to launch a complicated attack for instance with a large load-out of SDB IIs?

      Truly intelligent bombs, bombs which can communicate with each other, make their own decisions, and be launched from a safe stand-off range, are as large of a leap forward as the smart bomb, which reduced bombing missions from dozens of planes, running potentially a handfull of sorties to get a target, down to one, which can bomb in all weather conditions and at any time of the day.

      And I think that the so called 'theatre-class' bomber, the FB22 that could carry 30SDBs would have been a big step towards that direction by providing a high-capability, front-line fighter that could carry sufficient munitions to constitute a swarm-attack.

      And a nasalised version, would have provided the navy with a strong strike capability, to do just what you said, and fight the way to the shore.
      >Keep in mind I am not talking about inventing the wheel, only building ontop of the foundations we already have.

    4. The caution in this, of course, is that the step from theory (or even foundation) to practice is a large one that has failed to materialize many, many times. It's a worthy developmental project as long as we don't commit to production before it's ready.

    5. Yes, but you just can't conduct bombing missions, with large numbers of stand-off munitions, the way we do now on a small-scale, by programming missions into individual munitions.

      It is just too resource intensive, meaning that your time between sorties, and the preplanning stage is to long. The back-end logistics needs to be improved.

  6. Sorry Off Topic.
    But saw this and thought of you ComNavOps ;
    Wondered if you wanted to do a piece on the rise of ABM, MAD and the balance of power. ( possible disinformation aside of course )
    Sorry couldn't find an email for you ?

    1. Ben, there are a lot of nut cases on the Internet so I try not to widely advertise my email address. If someone has a legitimate need to contact me that way I'll gladly provide it.

      The "secret" info seems pretty clearly to be a planted bit of information. The document wasn't a technical one, it was a Powerpoint-ish, brochure-ish level of information intended for people like, well ... us. What the purpose was for showing us that, I have no idea. It's not like nuclear torpedoes are anything new.

    2. Fair Enough. I thought on the one hand you might enjoy a synopsis on the analysis of public domain information. Vs Russians need to maintain the illusion of nuclear peer ship, in the light of ABM defences. You might have to cover the concepts of the “unstoppable” delivery system that spawned the ideas of MAD, and perhaps an aside on the Russian dominance in anti torpedo hard kill systems and what an effectively unstoppable and untraceable 1000km 1000m 100Kts high yield nuclear torpedo, designed to hit land bases would mean to Norfolk, Pearl Harbour or Faslane, if it did indeed exist. Dont matter tho, sure it will all be ok.

    3. Ben, the whole concept is interesting but it's a bit outside the scope of this blog. On the other hand, perhaps you'd like to pen a post on the subject if you can slant it sufficiently towards the naval aspects. While the concept of MAD is well outside this scope, the operation of Russian nuke subs near US waters, how such a threat would affect US Navy force dispositions, what the impact would be on US ASW efforts, etc. might well be worth investigation. Would you be interested in doing a post?

  7. I get the overwhelming impression that the USN has not begun to think about this problem very seriously. You can tell by the way they talk, the weapons that they propose as "solutions" and so on.

    They are not actually trying to fix the problem as much as they seem to be coming up with rationalizations to enrich the military industrial complex.

    I suspect that they will learn this one the hard way. Actually, maybe not even that. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have not produced any great change in how the USN thinks about its operations, nor have incidents like the one in 2006 when a submarine emerged near the Kitty Hawk.

  8. Even if the enemy blinds absolutely everything else, so long as we retain the ability to fly one solitary Fire Scout UAV, straight up, to the height of the Burj Khalifa hotel, the Horizon can be pushed 64 miles out, from the point of view of it's maritime search radar.

  9. Hey CNO, I found an interesting These paper when I was checking out the Naval Postgraduate School website. It was analysis of requirements for the T-craft designs being worked on a few years ago. They did sims of both unopposed (HADR) and opposed landing scenarios, and calculated what variables had the most effect on Time to Complete movement, Percentage troops delivered, and Craft Losses. The variables that were important in all scenarios were Total troop load to be delivered, Distance to Seabase, and sea state. While it used the theoretical capabilities of the T-craft design it should be applicable to LCACs and LCUs. Look for it in theses from june of 2010 "Assessment of the operational requirements for the transformable craft
    in Seabasing Missions" by Scheibe, Sebastian

    Randall Rapp

    1. Randall, thanks. I'll look for that.

      From your summary, it sounds like load, distance, and sea state are all generally describing cycle time (how long it takes to transport, discharge, return, and repeat). Not particularly surprising. The shorter the cycle, the less time to complete the evolution.


  10. What if we take a look around the world and decide that the only places we will land Marines in are not defended by a peer adversary. We are not invading Russia or China. Then, we decide that we would only use the Marines elsewhere and plan for that.

    I think we need a two-focus military. This seems to be beyond the powers of concentration of fight-the-last-war military leaders, but we need a major land war military and a special forces/COIN military. The major land war military will not be invading Russia or China, but might team up with NATO allies to defend Europe if Putin or someone similar in the future actually attacked.

    The Marines will have to support operations against way-below-peer enemies and both overland and amphibious assaults against the likes of Saddam's Iraq or present-day Iran, but not as the first day of war spearhead. After a successful air war, they could go in.

    In other words, when you said in a comment: "First, we need to decide whether we even will attempt assaults. I have grave doubts about that. Let's table that thought and assume that we've decided we need to be able to conduct major assaults." --- I am taking the opposite path to this discussion. Let's not assume we will ever conduct major assaults, because I think those days are over.

    1. ClarkC, I agree with you. I see very little operational need for major amphibious assaults given our current enemies and likely warfighting strategies.

      I've discussed the need for a two tier Navy: a low end peacetime force and a high end warfighting force. You've extended that concept to the Army and Marines. Again, I agree with the caveat of port seizure.

      The logical extension of your proposal is the greatly reduced need for large, highly capable amphibious ships for the Marines. We would no longer need 30+ major gators and have no need for MEUs/ARGs sailing around.

      Of course, that still leaves the question of how to get the Army to their high end war.

      All in all, a nice comment.


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