A recent Anonymous comment suggested that the WWII radar picket lines around
Okinawa were an example of distributed lethality. That’s a fascinating example that I hadn’t
thought of and it prompted this post.
The radar pickets weren’t exactly distributed lethality as envisioned by the Navy. The ships were mutually supporting, to a degree, and had air cover although leakers were, obviously, commonplace. Further, the ships were tied to a known, fixed location. Finally, the picket mission was completely defensive in nature versus the offensive nature of distributed lethality. Still, it’s an example of what happens when individual (distributed) ships are expected to survive in enemy waters under enemy air cover. The ships accomplished their purpose but paid a very heavy price doing so.
Another, possibly more relevant, example of WWII distributed lethality is the Japanese actions at
Leyte Gulf which actually were a combination of multiple battles. I won’t bore you with the details of the
actions – they’re readily available on-line.
Here’s the interpretation of what occurred from a distributed lethality perspective.
had established a large and powerful
anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) zone around the Philippine islands of US Leyte, Samar, and Luzon in October of
1944. The A2/AD defensive forces
consisted of submarines, PT boats, fleet carrier task forces, battleships, and
all manner of escorts along with total air supremacy. Into this powerful A2/AD zone, the Japanese
sent three independent (distributed) forces to search for and attack US
forces. The Japanese plan was complex,
convoluted, and depended on a degree of command coordination (networking) that
was simply unachievable (the self-imposed radio silence and the fog of war being
the equivalent of attempting to operate in today’s electromagnetically
challenged environment). As a result,
the three Japanese forces wound up operating independently and largely
ineffectively. The overall action resulted
in heavy Japanese losses and the end of Japanese naval power.
|Japanese Battleship Musashi Under Attack At Leyte|
As you ponder that, now consider that the US Navy plans to send individual ships, or small groups of small ships, into China’s A2/AD zone (defined by the East/South China Seas and the first island chain) which is defended by overwhelming numbers of aircraft, submarines, missile boats, frigates, destroyers, land based anti-ship cruise missiles, anti-ship ballistic missiles, and all manner of sensors. Is this beginning to sound a lot like Letye in reverse?
forces will depend on complex, real time data
sharing and command coordination to enable the distributed ships to conduct
massed attacks on Chinese targets. Does
this sound a lot like the wishful command and control thinking that the
Japanese planners depended on? US
According to the Navy, this highly questionable concept will succeed because it will “complicate” the Chinese tactical picture. The only complication for the Chinese will be deciding which of many assets should be given the honor of destroying which Navy ships.
The historically inclined among you may note that the Japanese plan actually succeeded, to an extent, in that it did decoy the
fleet carriers away from the intended main action. You may consider that a “complication” of the
American tactical picture. In the end,
though, the lack of effective command and control and the operational stupidity
embodied in the attempt to make inferior forces penetrate a heavily defended
A2/AD zone led to the almost complete annihilation of the Japanese forces and
any complications that arose were more than compensated by overwhelming A2/AD
numbers and firepower. US
Why we think our attempt at distributed lethality, using vessels that are far less powerful on a relative basis than the Japanese battleships and heavy cruisers, will be more successful is a mystery that no one has yet been able to explain to me.
Believing that distributed lethality will be successful because it will complicate the enemy tactical picture is tantamount to believing in victory because God is on our side. It may be comforting but it is tactically and operationally lacking.