Monday, February 29, 2016

P-8 and PBY

ComNavOps has long had doubts about the wartime role of the P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft.  The doubts arise from the combination of the aircraft’s slow and defenseless nature plus the necessity that it broadcast its presence (operating its radar) when performing the maritime patrol function (MPA).  Thus, the enemy is given a free location fix against a high value, slow, defenseless asset.  In other words, the P-8 is a sitting duck in combat if used as envisioned. 

“Used as envisioned”, of course, brings up the subject of the concept of operations (CONOPS).  How will the P-8 be used?  What will its main function be – ASW, MPA, both?  Will it perform its searches actively or passively?  Will it be defended by fighter aircraft or used independently? 

Most importantly, how close to the contested air/water space will it be used?  Certainly, the further back from the front line, the safer.  Of course, the flip side of that is that the further back from the front line, the less useful and effective it is.

The next question is where is the front line?  Well, that’s a nebulous concept that depends on the weapons being considered.  Considering an enemy rifleman, the front line is a hundred yards or so.  Considering enemy surface to air missiles which would be targeted at a P-8 aircraft, the front line is the range of the SAM systems which is 250 -300+ miles.  Here’s some range data on Russian SAM systems for consideration.

S-200 (SA-5)             190 miles
S-300 (SA-10)           121 miles
S-400 (SA-21)           250 miles
S-500 (?)                   250 – 300+ miles

Of course, the reported Russian SAM ranges are, undoubtedly, maximum theoretical ranges.  Effective ranges are probably half that.

Now, compare the SAM engagement ranges to the P-8’s detection range which is reportedly up to 200 miles for large targets with low resolution.  An effective range is probably more on the order of 100 miles. 

Comparing the SAM ranges and the P-8 detection range, it’s clear that the P-8 will have to enter the SAM’s engagement range to see anything assuming the SAM systems are on the front line.  The point is that unless we’re willing to consider P-8s as expendable, they’ll have to be held well back from the front line.  With that in mind, what will the P-8s be looking for? 

So far, this is considering only SAM ranges.  If thousand mile fighters and UAVs are considered, the P-8’s will be pushed even further back from the front line.

Knowledge of the location and movement of enemy units behind the front lines is immensely useful.  Knowledge of the location and movement of enemy units many hundreds of miles on our side of the front line is useful (certainly!!!) but highly unlikely other than the odd submarine.  In simple terms, the P-8 will offer us no intelligence about what’s happening inside the Chinese first island chain which is exactly the kind of intel we’d like to have.

P-8 Poseidon - Useful in War?

Let’s switch gears, momentarily.  ComNavOps is ever one to study and learn from history and it occurs that the WWII PBY Catalina is a relevant comparison to the P-8.  The PBY was designed as the MPA aircraft of its time and, indeed, functioned in that role for the first couple of years of the war before being superseded by long ranged, land based aircraft.  Like the P-8, the PBY was large, slow, and defenseless.  Data is difficult to come by but here’s the best summary of the early PBY loss rates that I could assemble, divided into the two main operational areas.  The operating area is followed by the number of PBY’s deployed and then the number of PBY’s lost.

Location                     Deployed       Lost

Pearl Harbor                   68               56
Philippines                      28               26

The loss rates are staggering.  Admittedly, many of the aircraft were destroyed on the ground but the loss rates in the air were also appalling.  On the other hand, the aircraft performed its function.  For example, the 30 PBY’s based on Midway found the Japanese fleet and set the stage for the battle that followed.  Thus, as a cheap, plentiful, expendable detection system the PBY was effective.  We had lots of PBYs and could afford to send them deep into potential enemy waters as expendable detection devices.  Locating an enemy fleet was deemed worth the loss of the aircraft.  Does this hold true today?  Are we willing to send $200M P-8’s on one-way missions?  Even if we are, we’ll likely only have around 80 P-8’s after the production run is done.  Note that we lost 82 PBY’s in the first couple years of WWII in just two relatively localized theaters.

PBY Catalina - WWII's P-8 Poseidon

Also note that the preceding discussion is focused on the MPA role, using radar for long distance surveillance.  The situation becomes far worse for the ASW role.  ASW detection does not occur at 100-200 mile radar ranges – it occurs at sonobuoy range.  How will P-8’s possibly penetrate far enough into the battlespace to perform useful ASW without being shot down?  I have no answer for that and, indeed, the answer would seem to be that it can’t.

This suggests a disturbing scenario – that we have spent the last few decades building a military force optimized for uncontested operations and one ill-suited for contested operations.  How will we perform ASW inside the first island chain?  Our own submarines can perform ASW and that is, of course, one of their main functions but that then brings the looming submarine shortfall into much sharper focus.  If submarines are to be our main ASW platform why are we allowing such a shortfall in numbers?.  Far from a shortfall, perhaps we should be increasing our submarine numbers?

All of the preceding also leads to the inevitable question, why do we even have P-8’s if they won’t be effective in war?  Why did we ever begin building P-3/8’s?  That answer lies with the nature of the enemy when long range patrol aircraft were developed.  During WWII, with only very short range surveillance systems available, enemy fleets could be anywhere in the Pacific.  Thus, PBY’s were needed to cover the entire ocean (or, at least, the areas of more immediate concern).  In more modern times, the Soviet Union was also a world-ranging naval force (submarines, in particular).  Thus, again, a patrol aircraft was needed to cover the entire world.  The plus side of this was that while the Soviet Union had far ranging submarines that needed to be detected their SAM systems and fighter aircraft were not present world wide.  Thus, the P-3’s were free to roam the world, hunting for submarines and conducting area surveillance, secure in the knowledge that they were relatively safe.

Today, however, our enemy of interest, China, is not a world ranging naval force (though they are moving in that direction) and is, for the foreseeable future, content to operate largely behind the first island chain.  Thus, we need to go into the anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) zone thus created if we hope to generate useful intel.  This means that our primary ocean surveillance platforms, the P-8 and BAMS (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance) UAVs are particularly ill-suited for the mission.

We essentially replaced the P-3 with a duplicate, the P-8 – upgraded a bit, to be sure, but for all practical operational and tactical purposes, the same aircraft.  Over the life of the P-3, the operational and tactical landscape changed immensely from world wide surveillance to relatively small, focused surveillance on A2/AD zones and the threat to the aircraft changed from almost non-existent to very long ranged and lethal.  Despite those immense changes, we simply replaced the P-3 with its duplicate.  Perhaps we should have examined the CONOPS a bit closer and come up with a better means to accomplish the mission – a means that might have been something other than the P-8 or other than an aircraft, at all.

Some will say that the F-35 is how we will obtain our deep penetration intel.  This ignores the reality that the F-35 has neither the flight range nor the radar/sensor range to cover the entire East/South China Seas.  The F-35 might be useful for looking at a specific, tiny spot but it is not a maritime patrol aircraft.  Add to that the likelihood that every available F-35 will be fully occupied trying to establish air superiority and none will be available for generic surveillance work.

Thus, we are left with the conclusion that the P-8 and BAMS will not be particularly useful in high end combat and the question, how will we gather useful A2/AD zone surveillance information?


  1. How about a geosynchronous satellite?

    Yes yes, I know. They'll shoot it down. But we can have more than one, and in the case of a shoot down have one ready on the pad during tense situations. That gives us the (literally) high level view; which might tip us off to other things going on. Then we use other assets to try to firm that up (in peacetime we could have our own 'fishing trawlers' like the Soviets did); we should try to get human intelligence, and in war time we have no choice but to use higher risk options when need be.

    As to the P8, I don't mind it per se, just its price.

    I remember a conversation I had with a buddy years ago. He said the 'Burkes etc. were great, but one thing the navy was missing was what he called an 'attrition unit'. His example were DE's, SS's, and PBY's.

    They had a limited punch, and were very vulnerable. But used properly could damage the enemy. While they faced high losses they were affordable and quick to build.

    I'm willing to bet that while the PBY losses were high, we could knock one together very quickly and train a crew for it.

    I doubt that's the case for the P8.

    One thing Foxtrot Alpha had a few months ago, I believe, was an idea for a C-130 flying boat. It was on the drawing boards a while back.

    It was intriguing because of its logistical flexibility and its relative ease of construction. That was a very interesting idea as a maritime surveillence aircraft.

    1. Most or all of our enemies have demonstrated an anti-satellite capability. I'm not sure how many satellites we can afford to lose from an economic perspective or an operational one.

      Attrition units are a common theme of mine, though I've not used that exact phrase. Small, single function units that are cheap enough to be reluctantly expendable are needed. The US Navy, however, seems unable to embrace either the concept or the ability to produce "cheap" units. The LCS, you'll recall, was supposed to be a cheap unit at $200M (that was the original cost projection) and you see how that worked out. Had they been able to produce an LCS for $200M it would change my perception (somewhat) of the value of the vessels.

      The overall point is that we need to begin thinking about our combat units in realistic scenarios. Some are obviously unsuited and their functions should be replaced by some other platform. Some are suitable but will need greatly modified tactics and CONOPS and we should be working out those changes now. Some are well suited but we need to know which ones those are.

      We also need to begin training intensively in electromagnetically, GPS-deprived, environments. Every exercise should begin with turning off all electronic comm signals.

      A C-130 flying boat is one of those ideas that people love because it's unusual but I don't know that it would have any serious or significant function.

  2. I was a sensor operator on P-3s in the late 70s and through the 80s. I always assumed that if there was a war with the Soviet Union, I would be dead meat. The submarine fleet should be emphasized as the premier anti A2/AD weapon. We should also be acquiring diesel electric/AIP submarines. The rationalization for procuring nuclear powered sus only has been that only they have the speed to keep up with a carrier battle group; however, in a potential conflict with China - blocking sea lanes to Chinese trade should be a key component of our strategy. This is a mission which DE/AIP subs would be effective.
    A future war with China (God forbid it should come to that) would be similar to the war with Japan - a gradual wearing down of our opponents A2?AD capabilities matched with a submarine campaign to close seal lanes. The idea that (in the event of hostilities) the US Navy should immediately send carrier battle groups into the South China Sea would make as much sense as the United States sending Carrier Task Groups off the coast of Japan in 1943 - before the offensive capabilities of the Japanese fleet had been reduced. I digress, the utility of the P-8 in global missions is a significant asset to the US - I'd say a much greater return on investment than the Ford class, the LCS, the Zumwalt class or the F-35.

  3. Ok so what capabilities is the p-8lacking which could make it more effective?

    1. Invisibility, Mach 5 speed, an undetectable radar, MAD gear that works over a thousand mile range ... Seriously, there is nothing that can be done to make the P-8 useful. It's like asking, what can we do to make a car fly better? Nothing, short of remake it as an airplane.

      The P-8 is just not suited for its professed role. We need some other type of platform. That was the point of the post.

    2. ASW is P-8As main role. And it ia mainly done with underwater acoustics. Not MAD or radar.

      P-8A is well suited to deploy and monitor buoy fields, which is how we've done ASW for last 50 yrs or so. Ask USSR if successful.

      Long-range scouting (SUW) in higg end SAM environments is probably better conducted by other assets.

    3. "ASW is P-8As main role. And it ia mainly done with underwater acoustics. Not MAD or radar."

      Actually, the Navy doesn't see it that way. NavAir, for example, co-lists three major capabilities: ASW, ASuW, and ISR. The Navy's description of the P-8 calls it a long range maritime patrol aircraft. The Navy further describes the P-8 as part of a team with the Triton UAV to perform the Broad Aream Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) mission. Thus, the Navy views ASW, at best, as one of three main missions and, more commonly, a secondary mission behind BAMS.

      Regarding acoustics as the main ASW method, the Navy is rather heavily promoting radar for periscope/snorkling detection as a main ASW tool and actually deleted the MAD unit.

      So, we have an aircraft that can't perform BAMS in war, will likely never do ASuW, and can only do ASW far from the front during war. That has to lead one to ask why we spent so much on such a sophisticated aircraft that will be so limited in war? Hence, the post.

    4. The P-8A is a multi-mission aircraft, but ASW is the core mission set. SUW and ISR are important (ISR is probably done more day-to-day than ASW) but we are buying these planes for ASW.

      "Front lines" is fairly meaningless when the enemy has submarines underway.

      Acoustics is usually the key detection tool. MAD is a localization sensor more than search sensor.

      A successful ASW campaign starts well before the shooting. Finding and tracking enemy submarines starts days/months/years prior. That's the core MPRA role.

  4. In my view, the purpose of the P8 is not to find the enemy during war, but to monitor them before it.

    Its simply inconceivable for a war to start and the US to not know almost exactly where Russian or Chinese surface vessels are, certainly all of their major combatants, and most of their submarines.

    They might be able to lock you out of the SCS for a while, but the defender always loses in the end.

    1. "In my view, the purpose of the P8 is not to find the enemy during war, but to monitor them before it."

      Ummm .... well, that's different. How do you see us monitoring the enemy during war?


      MPRA does all of these functions in Phase 0. Including detecting and tracking (potential) adversary subs.

    3. "Ummm .... well, that's different. How do you see us monitoring the enemy during war?"

      Poorly, but better than they will monitor you.

    4. I don't think you appreciate that the main role of an MPRA is to track and gather intelligence on enemy submarines prior to hostilities.

      In fact, that is not "different" That is what the community has been doing since the beginning of the Cold War!

      Would a P-8A penetrate into an enemy A2/AD zone to kill enemy subs? Not sure. But there are other vital roles that it does accomplish.

      I feel like you are trying to make a "case" against P-8A without really understanding the wider mission or context.

  5. Those SAM ranges are just missile ranges. Due the curvature of the earth, P-8s are safe from SAMs around 40 miles away so long as they don't fly too high. There is OTH radar, but that says something is out there with a estimate of within a few miles. Then fighters must be launched to investigate. From Wiki:


    Radio waves, a form of electromagnetic radiation, tend to travel in straight lines. This generally limits the detection range of radar systems to objects on their horizon due to the curvature of the Earth. For example, a radar mounted on top of a 10 m (33 ft) mast has a range to the horizon of about 13 kilometers (8.1 mi), taking into account atmospheric refraction effects. If the target is above the surface, this range will be increased accordingly, so a target 10 m (33 ft) high can be detected by the same radar at 26 km (16 mi).

    In general it is impractical to build radar systems with line-of-sight ranges beyond a few hundred kilometers.[1] OTH radars use various techniques to see beyond that limit. Two techniques are most commonly used; shortwave systems that reflect their signals off the ionosphere for very long-range detection,[1] and surface wave systems which use low-frequency radio waves that due to diffraction follow the curvature of the Earth to reach beyond the horizon. These systems achieve detection ranges of the order of a hundred kilometers from small, conventional radar installations.

    This is why an escorting E-737 is needed. Keep in mind that 737s can reach near MACH in a shallow dive, so they can run as alert fighters are launched to help. They could also carry rear mounted AMRAAMs and decoys.

  6. You don't need to operate radar to do ASW.

    1. Actually, the Navy is touting periscope/snorkle detecting radar as one of the main ASW features! I don't agree but that's their position.

  7. Note also that enemy submarines don't always stay conveniently tucked into the main battle line!

    Submarines exist to play havoc at far distances and along SLOCs. See German U-Boats in WW2. Or USN in WW2.

    That in part is why you need MPRA. To be where your main Fleet is not.

    1. Absolutely. An ASW presence is needed in "friendly" waters, for sure. The question is how ASW and BAMS will be conducted in the A2/AD zone. The Navy bought the P-8 for that function but it looks like it can't do it.

    2. Navy is buying MQ-4C Triton for BAMS.

      Please cite source where Navy bought P-8A to conduct ASW in contested zone.

    3. The Navy describes its maritime surveillance mission as being filled by teams (pairings is sometimes used to describe it) of P-8 and Triton. BAMS is a paired P-8 and Triton mission.

      The Navy doesn't describe the P-8's role other than with vague, sweeping statements. I'm looking at the wartime needs (ASW in the A2/AD zone, surveillance in the A2/AD zone, etc.) and drawing my own conclusions regarding what platforms are intended for those roles and which ones, if any, can actually do them.

      To turn your request around, please cite source where Navy bought P-8A to conduct ASW in only non-contested zone.

    4. You are looking at one narrow, wartime need. In isolation. And ignoring everything that occurred beforehand (Phase 0/1 operations.

      And as I have pointed out, historically ASW has never been defined as a "front line" problem. Submarine have a nasty habit of going where you don't want them to go.

  8. A few fundamental misconceptions in this article. I'm almost certain this will get edited out.

    1. The primary mission of P-8A/P-3C is ASW. Long-distance SUW is a secondary mission. SUW in contested environment is probably more of an F-18 or SSN role.

    2. Not all ASW takes place in wartime. One could argue that the entire Cold War was a 45-year ASW campaign.

    Gathering intelligence on enemy submarine capabilites and movements gave NATO a decisive edge if/when combat occurred. P-3 was a big part of that.

    3. If you don't believe a worldwide deployable submarines are an issue, see Russian resurgence. Why do you think SECDEF is pushing to reopen Iceland (former P-3 base)?

    4. Not all wartime ASW takes place within range of enemy coastline or within envelop of their surface warships. See WW2 in Atlantic and Pacific and Cold War. Submarines like to threaten SLOCs.

    5. Air defense radars are subject to physics, including curvature of the earth. A good way to defeat a radar is to simply fly really low. P-3 does that routinely.

    1. All good points, however, you're missing a few things.

      A. I made clear in the post that there is still a need for ASW beyond the front lines (ie, in "our" waters).

      B. Neither China nor Russia currently or in the foreseeable future have a world-ranging submarine capability beyond a few odd subs. The numbers of subs simply don't exist. The ASW battle will take place in the A2/AD zone.

      C. The Navy considers the P-8's main mission to be BAMS, in tandem with the Triton.

      D. Flying really low eliminates the P-8 from the surveillance mission.

      All of these combine to suggest that the enormous money and effort that went into the P-8 may have been better spent elsewhere. A much simpler aircraft could have done the P-8 mission that is left in wartime.

      I don't edit out comments I disagree with. I edit out personal attacks and comments that are factually false.

    2. Lockheed offered a conversion of the C130J as a maritime patrol aircraft to Great Britain.
      Not sure if this would be a more cost effective approach than the P8A


    3. The P8A would have significantly higher airspeed.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. "
      5. Air defense radars are subject to physics, including curvature of the earth. A good way to defeat a radar is to simply fly really low. P-3 does that routinely."

      Which works both ways, if you dog a hole and climb in to it, you are practically invisible, but you cant see shit all either...

    6. Even at a couple hundred feet, your radar horizon is pretty decent.

      The rule of thumb for radar horizon is 1.23*sqrt(alt).

    7. If you can see, you can be seen...

    8. It's a little more complicated than that.

  9. One option that has been discussed but died was going smaller. Make a common P3 and S3 replacement. Make it Carrier capable/STOL and about the size of a biz jet. Try to get as much range and sensor/weapons capability as possible in that sized aircraft. Give it inflight refueling capability to cover larger areas and compensate for smaller size. Key is to keep the flight hour cost down. Shifting squadron's from shore based to carrier based work can be done just look at the EA6B/EA-18G community for an example. Once the platform is established for ASW/SW work then expand into other mission areas (replacement for VPUs and VQs) Several other countries have been interested in the past to include SK and India.

  10. So here's a question What is more important in A ASW oriented airframe. Speed or loiter/endurance because you can't have both

    1. Easy...endurance and range.

    2. Endurance and range are critical. Speed is necessary, but even a P-3 was an order of magnitude faster than subs (300 kts).

  11. The comment that you don't need radar to do ASW is wrong, because you need radar escort, hence the need for E-737s. Would a carrier send an H-60 near shore to poke around for subs or boats without fighters or Hawkeyes overhead?

    This basic topic is that sending P-8s anywhere near the enemy is foolish because a single fighter may show up and gun it down like a duck. Or it may fly near a destroyer or even an enemy helo and get nailed. It needs a high flying AWACs type platform for overwatch, which our Navy also needs at forward bases like Guam for base defense. The Hawkeye could be used but they have far less range and speed. As posters have noted, without an escort a P-8s wartime role is really limited. If you haven't funds for E737s, then cut back the P-8 plan to afford some.

  12. ComNavOps, can you do a post about the E-737 so people (including Admirals) know that it exists?

    And then pose the question: Should our Navy buy fewer than the 122 P-8s planned to afford a couple dozen E-737s and are still in production? The Australians bought some as E-7As. I think our Navy is smart enough to recognize this as a great idea.

    1. We already have the E-3 Sentry so I'm not seeing the advantage to setting up yet another maintenance/training pipeline to do the same job.

      Pairing AWACS and P-8s is not a good idea. For one thing, it doubles the cost of performing ASW/BAMS and for another, it somewhat broadcasts the location of the ASW/BAMS due to the AWACS radar. The P-8 has a radar that is adequate for detecting danger (maybe) if it wishes to radiate. Of course, if it does, it will broadcast its location.

      You seem to think this E-737 is a good idea so tell me why. Operationally and tactically, think it through and tell me why you like the idea.

    2. In your last article on P-3, you seemed perfectly willing to ignore the cost of maintaining a separate pipeline to maintain a mixed force of upgraded P-3s and P-8As.

      I am not saying that I agree with the proposed E-737 concept (I don't) but your accounting logic seems strangely inconsistent.

    3. We don't have the E-3, the USAF has them and might lend a couple for the Navy if it feels like it. They are outdated 40-year old aircraft. An E-737 has common parts and training with other Navy 737s, the P-8 and C-40.

      And as you state, the P-8s are best leaving their radar off and flying low to avoid radar detection while operating near the enemy and to look for subs. A high flying E-737 flying 100 miles further back can provide excellent coverage from threats. Wise carrier group commanders will send their 737 pairs sweeping ahead to locate the enemy, lest enemy subs nail their flattop.

      Finally, Hawkeyes are great, but lack the speed and range to support carrier strike aircraft. Admirals would find E-737s based at Guam and Australia tremendous assets.

    4. "In your last article on P-3, you seemed perfectly willing to ignore the cost of maintaining a separate pipeline to maintain a mixed force of upgraded P-3s and P-8As. "

      I assume you're referring to the "Upgrade vs. New" post? In that I suggested that we ought to have considered P-3 upgrades rather than new P-8s. I did not suggest both.

      A less desirable alternative if we are determined to build P-8s is to stretch out the P-3 life with upgrades. It's less desirable because it does include multiple pipelines and support structures.

  13. I read this column regularly. This may be the first post that I think is way off. Several others already have made good tactical points defending the P-8 that I don't need to repeat. Here's my additional comments.

    First, the PBY comparison is not relevant. WW2 was a completely different war-fighting environment, using largely machine guns and anti-aircraft cannon to down aircraft. Yes, the P-8 and any other MPA are intended to fly into threat environments. But extrapolating what happened to PBYs in WW2 and using that data to forecast what might happen to any modern MPA makes little sense. It's all conjecture.

    As for the P-8, you criticized it as slow and defenseless. It is not slower than any other MPA aircraft out there. As a matter of fact its faster than nearly all MPA operational models fielded by any country over the last 50 years (Nimrod, P-1, P-2, P-3, PBM, S-3, Breguet Atlantic, and so on.) So if you are saying that it is too slow, then you need to explain how all MPA aircraft both past and present operate at about the same speed or slower, yet all the world's major countries who fear submarines deploy MPAs with similar performance. Is the entire world getting this one wrong?

    It is also not defenseless. The PBY and other WW2 era aircraft depending on machine gun and cannon turrets for defense. There is a reason why modern MPA do not have this equipment--it would be worthless in the modern threat environment. What the P-8 presumably has is a suite of electronic gear to help it hide from and potentially defeat air-to-air and SAM threats. Of course it will not be invulnerable however. But it is not defenseless.

    Last, you point out the problems the P-8 could have penetrating the South China Sea. That statement can be made about any USN weapons system today--surface ships, subs, etc. They are all going to be challenged penetrating that line going forward. It's not a problem unique to the P-8. However, there is a lot of other ocean out there than needs patrolling. Please suggest a better platform to do the job than this one.

    1. "I read this column regularly. This may be the first post that I think is way off."

      Well, I'm doing pretty good then! Thanks for the backhanded compliment.

    2. The PBY comparison is completely relevant. We're looking at roles and risks. The same role exists today and the threats are much worse. There are lessons to be learned. One lesson is that patrol aircraft are inherently defenseless and subject to loss. Building a patrol aircraft that is too expensive to lose is a bad idea. That was one lesson. The PBY was inexpensive and we could afford to build many and lose many. We've forgotten that lesson and we're building very expensive patrol aircraft that we can't afford to lose and, therefore, can't afford to send into high threat areas - the exact areas we'd like to patrol.

    3. Of course the P-8 is slow and defenseless compared to the threats (Mach+ aircraft and missiles). All other patrol aircraft are too. How does other aircraft being slow and defenseless make the P-8 somehow better? I didn't write about the other aircraft because the USN doesn't use them but if they did, I'd be writing the same about them.

    4. "Is the entire world getting this one wrong?"

      In this case, yes. Any country that is going to enter into high end combat will lose their patrol aircraft if they approach anywhere near the battlefront. That clearly suggests to me that they have the wrong platform for the mission. Of course, most other countries won't engage in frontline, high end combat. They'll sit back while the US and UK fight and the other country's aircraft will patrol outlying, peripheral, backwater areas.

      Do you believe that all the other countries doing something confers a mantle of rightness? All the countries prior to WWII believed the battleship was the supreme naval platform. That belief didn't last long once combat started!

      "All the other countries" simply tells me that everyone has fallen into a lazy rut of tactical thinking. Feel free to disagree with me but do it based on your own considered analysis not because everyone else "does it".

    5. "What the P-8 presumably has is a suite of electronic gear to help it hide from and potentially defeat air-to-air and SAM threats."

      I've seen absolutely nothing to indicate that is the case. The P-8 is not intended to encounter localized threats (though how the Navy will accomplish that and still perform the mission is the point of the post) and I do not believe the aircraft is equipped for those threats. If you know of any reference to the contrary, please share it. Be careful about statements that reflect what you wish existed. Too often, the Navy does not do what makes sense.

      Investigate this and let me know what you find.

    6. "Last, you point out the problems the P-8 could have penetrating the South China Sea. That statement can be made about any USN weapons system today..."

      That the same statement can be made about other platforms does not make the statement any less true or relevant. The P-8 cannot penetrate A2/AD zones with any hope of survival. It's ill-suited for the role.

    7. "Please suggest a better platform to do the job than this one."

      Now that's a topic worthy of an entire post. For starters, the P-8 has two missions: ASW and BAMS. That may require two separate platforms.

      Likely, the missions will require multiple platform types such as long range, expendable UAVs, more underwater patrol vessels (UUVs maybe?), mobile low Earth orbit "satellites", lots of SIGINT/ESM ships and aircraft, etc. Sorry, that's the best I can do in a short comment.

      Think about how you'd do the mission without any pre-conceptions about existing equipment. I'm betting you wouldn't pick a P-8!!

    8. No. The BAMS role is filled by... BAMS. Which is now called MQ-4C Triton.

      SIGINT/ESM role is currently filled by EP-3 - which is also being replaced by P-8A and Triton. So your solution for the P-8A - is to replace it with the P-8As.

      I feel like you are trying very badly to make a case against something you don't quite understand.

    9. "No. The BAMS role is filled by... BAMS. Which is now called MQ-4C Triton."

      Please check the Navy's website and you'll see that they refer to the teaming of the P-8 and Triton to perform BAMS. What exactly that means from a CONOPS perspective is unknown but they clearly see the two aircraft operating together.

    10. The NAVAIR fact files on P-8A and MQ-4C Triton do not reference a BAMS mission set.

      The files say that Triton does persistent ISR, and frees up P-8A do ASW, SUW and gather multi-spectral INT.

    11. You're picking out little fact "bio's". Do some deeper searching. For example, Google "P-8 Triton BAMS" and you'll find lots of references to the Navy's plan to team P-8's and Triton. The details have yet to be worked out but it's clear they view them as linked.

  14. Front line is an irrelevant concept when it comes to the methodology of sub hunting for the P-8
    There is no front line. Open ocean sub hunting.

    In the entire history of naval warfare, out of 7,000 years of recorded history, precisely one battle, Middway, happened out of sight of land (and even then, it was ostensibly fought over a piece of territory). So, who knows where the majority of the work these assets will actually be doing, in a near peer situation.

    Regardless, of all the aircraft equipped in a sub hunting role, these are likely to be the hardest to hit from an AA platform.
    Simple AT missiles can bring down HELO's, P-3's had to descend to within Strella/Stinger range for a war shot. So, of all the possible aerial sub hunting assets, these are likely to be the hardest to shoot out of the sky.

    1. "There is no front line. Open ocean sub hunting."

      Too many people deal in generalities rather than specific strategic and operational requirements. It's clear that for the foreseeable future (the next 20 years), Russia is not a world roaming submarine force. They are lucky to be able to operate a half dozen or so subs. Their economy and military budgets, combined with severe maintenance and quality issues, drastically limits the number of deployable subs.

      China has relatively few deep water subs and very little open ocean submarine operating experience (they barely begun to map out the oceans, for example). Further, their entire focus is within the first island chain for the near future (while recognizing that they have begun reaching out to Africa and other areas). Thus, excepting a few odd subs slipping out into the Pacific, the submarine battle will take place within the E/S China Seas. So, yes, there will be a front line in a conflict with China.

      Hardest to hit? What does that demonstrate? That's like having two fish in a barrel. One will be harder to shoot than the other but neither will be hard. It's like two guys falling off a cliff. One will hit the ground first (actually that ignores a law of physics) but that doesn't mean that the other guy is better off! It's like ... well, you get the idea.

    2. "It's clear that for the foreseeable future (the next 20 years), Russia is not a world roaming submarine force."

      You cannot be serious. What are you basing that on?

      ONI would disagree with that statement. As would ISIS in Syria - at least those who survived a Russian submarine-launched cruise missile attack back in December!

  15. I would agree with earlier commenter that your post is a bit off. Please take this as constructive criticism, but you just don't seem to understand the ASW mission or what the MPRA actually does. This is not meant to be insulting.

    1. ONI wouldn't agree with you that Russia lacks a world-ranging submarine capability beyond a few odd subs. Nor would the Chief of Naval Operations. Nor the Russian Navy themselves. Russian subs have alleged operated in Arctic, Atlantic and even Gulf of Mexico. They are apparently building a lot of very high end submarines (SEVERODVINSK class). Similarly, China is buying an awful lot of nuclear attack (SSN), nuclear ballistic missile (SSBN), nuclear guided missile (SSGN) and air independent propulsion (AIP) subs for a Navy that wants to stay safely tucked in its own backyard.

    2. Your focus on ASW as a regional problem fought exclusively within the enemy's backyard ignores historical precedent. Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) has never been a linear "front lines", "rear area" problem. Historically, a country buys submarines in order to strike an enemy where it is weakest. Chinese open source literature seems very clear on this (see Assassins Mace).

    3. Viewing ASW exclusively as finding and killing submarines in wartime is a bit myopic. Per DOD doctrine, there are several phases to any military operations:

    - Phase 0 is shaping. ASW: Gathering intelligence on enemy submarines capability.
    - Phase 1 is deterrence. ASW: Maintaining overt/covert track of enemy subs.
    - Phase 2 is seize the initiative. ASW: locating and killing submarines in the shooting war.

    You seem to focus solely on Phase 2. Phase 2 is important, but success in Phase 0/1 set conditions for success in Phase 2. ASW is one of the few mission areas that the Navy executes on a daily basis.

    The US Navy spent the entire Cold War (1947-1992) in Phase 0/1 against Soviet subs. There is a perhaps apocryphal quote from a Soviet admiral that the only way he kept track of his subs was to follow the USN P-3s tracking them! It would not surprise me if we are tracking and gathering intel on Russian and Chinese subs right now.

    4. In my opinion, Phase 0/1 is actually where MPRA show the most utility. For one thing, it can respond faster and search a much wider areas than an SSN. And $200 million may seem like a lot of money, until you compare the alternatives. If you have to deal with a lot of out-of-area deployers (which seems to be the case) it's a lot cheaper to det out a small number of P-8As then to send a multi-billion dollar Virginia class or Arleigh Burke destroyer.

    An MPRA is actually more of a screening/economy of force asset more than a battle line asset. You don't send it into the heart of the A2/AD envelope. That's why we have fast attack submarines.

    1. Please see my reply to Nate Dogg, above.

    2. Your assumptions on Russia and Chinese submarine forces are deeply flawed. Where are you getting your information?

      Read the unclassified DOD report on China. It does not support your assertion that they intend to keep their subs within first island chain.

      Read the ONI report on Russian Navy. Russia literally deployed a sub into the Med and shot a cruise missile into Syria. And allegedly deployed subs of coast of US. And are building a pretty high end SSN (SEVERODVINSK). How much more do they need to do to be considered a "world roaming" submarine force?

    3. You seem to be more interested in arguing than discussing and learning. I'll offer one final attempt at the latter and then call it quits if the arguing continues.

      I read ONI reports as one of many pieces of information. I consider the source and the bias of the source. ONI, for example, is tasked with assessing the worst case, theoretical capabilities of an enemy, not the realistic case.

      Assessing all the sources that I see, China is not, currently, a world roaming submarine threat. They do not have the numbers or deep water operational experience to constitute such a threat. They do not have the tactical experience to constitute a serious threat.

      Russia has more operational experience, although they've lost much of it since the collapse of the SU. Their tactical experience has also nearly vanished.

      The mere existence of a submarine with theoretical capabilities does not constitute a threat. Maintenance, training, pay, quality of equipment, budget, etc. all factor into whether a country can actually mount a threat. Russia, for example, is barely able to operate a very small number of subs and those subs are poorly maintained, poorly crewed, and poorly operated. Being able to move an occasional sub outside territorial waters does not constitute a wide ranging, serious threat.

      Similarly, China has subs that are capable of operating around the world but lack the world wide support facilities, deep water experience, undersea mapping, tactical expertise, etc. to be considered a serious world wide threat. Just because an occasional sub noses its way into the Indian Ocean does not make it a world wide threat. China is moving to become a world wide threat but is not there yet and won't be for another 20 years. You don't acquire that kind of capability overnight.

      Further, China's strategic focus for the foreseeable focus is on the E/S China Seas and keeping the US out of those areas. They are not focused, strategically, on open ocean operations. In the event of conflict, their sub force would be used as barrier assets rather than far roaming attack forces.

      If you're interested in discussing and learning, feel free to respond. If you're interested in arguing you might be happier finding another blog more to your liking. Best wishes!

  16. Confused, are you answering me?
    I pretty much said what you said, Front line as regards sub hunting is an irrelevant concept.
    Also, when i say sub hunting, i dont mean dropping a torp on his tail, i mean hunting, looking for, finding, etc...

  17. So, the argument here is that the P8 is not a great strike aircraft?

    Ok... fair enough... it isn't, nor is it ever going to be!

    Also, those numbers for Russian SAMs are maximum effectiveness of radar...

    The missiles comprising the system are different.
    The 40N6 missile has a 250m range, but that is I believe, primarily an anti-sattelite missile.
    The more likely to be used 48N6E3 has a 160m range.
    Which will be defeatable with western assets.
    (F35A with a JSF anti-radar missile spring to mind)

  18. This is off topic, but Foreign Policy has a story about the 2 RCB's Iran took last month.

  19. To respond to your rebuttal to me earlier:

    The P-8 is not "defenseless" as you wrote in your second opening line. Google its avionics and you will see that it has a modern array of systems meant to help it evade detection and defeat attacks against it. I am not saying its impervious. It's far from defenseless.

    I will repeat that the PBY comparison is silly. If you want to select a WW2 comparison, the more appropriate model would be to compare what the anti-sub version of the B-24 did in the Atlantic against German uboats. That is a far more relevant point of comparison. When you examine the hard data (as you like to say), you will see that less than 100 aircraft helped win the Battle of the Atlantic. That's a far different story than yours.

    1. I'm not going to debate the term defenseless. If you think a few electronics constitute a valid and viable defense against aircraft and missile threats then you're welcome to it.

      Feel free to disagree with my conclusions but the PBY comparison is valid - same mission, same range, same theater, same presence of threats. Now, the B-24 comparison is interesting but not valid because the threat level was virtually non-existent and threats were the point of the post. Re-read the post carefully and consider what I actually said versus what you seem to think was said.

      The post was about trying to conduct ASW/ISR in high threat environments and the P-8's inability to do so. It was not about general ASW as you seem to be arguing.

    2. Pearl Harbor and Philippines are pretty poor examples of operational loss rates. Nearly all those PBYs were shot up on the ground.

      The PB4Y-2 Privateer (Navy B-24) is probably a better analogue for the P-8A. It was faster, longer-ranged and land-based.

  20. May I ask how and where you are getting your information on Russian and Chinese submarine forces?

    I've read the recent unclassified ONI and DOD publications on Russian and Chinese navies. Specifically:

    "Military and Security Developments of PRC" (2015)
    "Russian Navy: A Historic Transition" (2015)

    Neither report leads me to believe that Russian and China will be satisfied with simply operating their subs under an A2/AD umbrella. Have you read them?

    China is already deploying subs into Indian Ocean and shows aspirations to expand beyond first island chain. Russia is already sending subs into Mediterranean and even into Gulf of Mexico.

    You also seem to think "a few odd boats" operating out of area is a nuisance. I think you fail to realize that a handful of Nazi submarines practically shut down the East Coast of US in '42 (Operation Drumbeat).

    I am wondering why you chose to so narrowly define ASW as a regional problem in the enemies backyard. It strikes me as a bit myopic and frankly ahistorical.

  21. A brief history of modern ASW

    The Soviet Navy, like others, had a primary role, nuclear second strike. For that, it had SSBNs.
    To protect those SSBNs, its had SSNs, whos job was to destroy US (UK?) SSNs that tried to hunt them, and US CGBs that tried to hit Murmansk.

    A secondary role, was to stop REFORGER (whether named as such or not), by sinking everything sailing towards Europe.
    NATO committed huge resources to protecting REFORGER, not least almost the entirety of the Royal Navy, to preventing that.

    The effort started tracking soviet SSNs as soon as they left port, and maintaining that track as far in to the 90 day voyage limit as possible, if the war went hot, known subs could be hunted/avoided, leaving only those that had broken contact (and have limited supplies left) to worry about.

    Platforms like the P8 were a huge part of that effort.

    The US has no capability to "find" an enemy surface fleet once war breaks out, the reason being, they already know where it is / they are. Not that there is a surface fleet that could challenge a CBG, excepting the Kirov, maybe.

    1. Agreed. it is very important to detect and track of out-of-area deployers in Phase 0/1.

      Protection of SLOCs leading into theater are also a critical role.

      MPRA are well-suited to both tasks. Is it the right platform to drive downtown into enemy's A2/AD envelope? Probably not.

      However, the assets that can do that (SSNs) are either ill-suited or way to expensive to the tasks that MPRA can do. ASW has always been a combined ops effort.


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