Wednesday, March 7, 2018

More Austere Forward Operating Base Nonsense

We’ve totally debunked the austere, forward operating base concept for the F-35 and yet there are still people who believe it’s viable.  Well, we’ll just keep beating it down.  Here’s the latest proof that it can’t work.  Defense News website reports that low observability (LO) features, meaning stealth, account for half of all production quality defects on the F-35. (1)

Examples of stealth related defects cited in the article include,

  • Holes drilled too big
  • Dings
  • Small deviations in panel alignment
  • Scratches to the LO coating
  • LO coating overspray or misapplication

Do you understand what that list of defects means?  Those are incredibly minor problems that commonly occur, indeed, are almost unavoidable, when performing mechanical/maintenance work on machines and yet they’re enough to impact the stealth of the aircraft.

Do you understand what else that list means?  Those are defects that are occurring in a pristine, carefully controlled environment with highly trained technicians who have access to all the tools and parts they need.  It’s the best possible world for working on the aircraft and yet the defects are still occurring.  What’s going to happen when the aircraft is sitting out on some austere field with shrapnel flying around, insufficient parts, people under the gun (literally) to maintain and patch up aircraft?  When LO coatings are applied and before they can dry they’re covered in dirt, bugs, and debris?  When no one has the time or tools to align panels to micron accuracy?  When an aircraft has holes in it from shrapnel and someone has to rivet a patch on?

After a couple of days, that stealthy F-35 is going to look like a 747 airliner on radar!

Consider this telling and damning statement,

“Speaking to reporters at Lockheed’s media day on Monday, Jeff Babione acknowledged that low observability, or LO, capabilities in particular are posing a challenge to the company.”

If achieving LO is a challenge in the quiet, calm, pristine, factory with highly trained technicians equipped with all the tools and materials they need, it’s going to be impossible in muddy, humid, debris filled bases with clouds of dirt and debris kicked up every time an aircraft lands or takes off.

The Lockheed spokesman just basically said that the fantasy of an austere, forward operating base is just that: a fantasy. 

We are not going to be operating a couple of F-35’s, rising silently out of the jungle to wreak havoc.  The logistics are impossible.  Base defense is impossible.  Maintenance is impossible.  LO preservation is impossible.  Aircraft availability will be 25%.  And the list of impossibilities goes on.

Give up the fantasy or admit that you also believe in unicorns.


(1)Defense News website, “Stealth features responsible for half of F-35 defects, Lockheed program head states”, Valerie Insinna, 6-Mar-2018,


  1. Are senior leaders in the Air Force/Navy/Marines still claiming that their F-35s are going to operate in that sort of austere jungle model? When the generals talk about forward basing, I was always under the impression that they were talking about well-developed bases like Kadena or Incirlik that just happened to be in a foreign country.

    1. If you refer back to some relatively recent posts on the subject, you'll note quotes that I've presented and documented that make statements about hidden bases. Leadership is quite enamored of the idea of a secret bases scratched out of the jungle.

    2. I think they watch too many James Bond movies....only explanation I can think of for them being so enamored with this ridiculous notion of hidden bases. Plus, shouldn't they be training hard to work the concept if they really believed in it?!? We all know the answer to that one....

    3. You sure he thinks of Solomons-like jungle?
      IIRC the USMC has become accustomed to think of decidedly sandy regions of late.

      BTW, the idea may be that as the F-35's LO degrades, the OPFOR IADS and fighter force deplete in parallel. They may intend to switch to outboard stores after a couple days in a peer war anyway.

    4. "You sure he thinks of Solomons-like jungle?"

      That was pretty much the exact quote. Refresh your memory by rereading this post, Henderson Field

    5. Well, such forward bases have predictable tendencies.
      You need A LOT of stuff and personnel to set up basic defences. Same problem as to why corvettes aren't viable unless they grow to frigate size; a mere self-defence capability (AAW, ASW, ASuW) requires too much stuff and personnel.

      The U.S. military deployed to West Africa during the Ebola epidemic. They created huge bases for in the end very, very few hospital beds. It was ridiculous compared to the efforts of Médécins sans frontières etc.

      Any forward operating base on some invaded island would end up having 3,000+ personnel, probably 6,000+. And then it might even be a liability, 80% of effort directed at survivability and thousands of casualties in the event of a successful attack would simply not be acceptable. So it would only be dared by the rather risk-averse U.S.armed forces if its successful defence would be 99% certain.

      That army helicopter refuelling point in ODS was the last truly impressive forward base IMO. It was innovative, successful, part of mobile warfare, short-lived.

  2. I think there was a USMC general,the other week or so, talking about the LCS!!! moving really fast between islands (which ones?) scouting, shooting,hiding,dashing around and evading detection....sounded really fun! not sure about the realism though. I'm sure they have the same crazy game play for the F35, just imagine Guadalcanal but with F35s instead of Wildcats.

    The funny part, somebody on Twitter who seems to have decent aviation knowledge was saying that USMC can't or doesn't have any intermediate repair level for the guessing all LO fixes are going to be fixed on the "flight line" or has to be sent to are you fixing this stuff in a austere base of operations? how are you maintaining high rates of dispatch and operations security/enemy not knowing your location (what a joke) if you have to send parts back to depot? Anybody know if this is true that USMC intermediate repair doesn't exist for F35?

  3. Unicorns don't exist?!

    I've never trusted reported readiness levels. My former unit had the bad habit of not reporting equipment deficiencies and deadlines. No one wants to rock the boat and say something that can damage their career. I suspect the readiness levels being currently for the f35, while low, are probably even lower.

  4. I sincerely hope nobody gets hurt with these contraptions that are embarked (jeep carrier) now...

    Definitely "Anytime Day VFR Baby" machines with a small bag of gas and little range!

    But we always new that..

    re "intermediate repair depot" above. YGBSM, this machine is O-D via FedEx for about everything.... And will be for a decade at least..


    1. She also raised an interesting question on this deployment on WASP, are there contractors and how many are going to be on board?

      If this is supposed to be an operational deployment for real, kind of go to war deployment, why do you need contractor support?

    2. I would expect LM contractors aboard as "advisors" for several years- that's pretty normal.
      Maintenance embarked has moved to a O-"commercial D" posture nowadays for part/supply/DLR/consumables. I'm surprised FEDEX/UPS haven't developed their own commercial COD aircraft delivery as an chain and all. Maybe Amazon? Lol, cynically.

    3. "I'm surprised FEDEX/UPS haven't developed their own commercial COD aircraft delivery as an option"

      That's maybe not as wild as it sounds!

  5. I have an idea, make your "Forward Operating Base" as small as possible, put it inside a large ship with the runway on top, then move the base to a point near where the action is. This has loads of advantages, for example training in a benign environment before deployment with all the equipment in place.

    The idea could be developed into numerous iterations, for example small "bases" with just helicopters, larger ones with lots of fast jets to provide air cover / strike. You could even put an internal "dock" inside to operate small boats.

    Silly idea I know, probably won't catch on.

    1. I know you're being "cute" - and it's actually a pretty good one! - but there are reasons for forward operating bases as opposed to just a carrier of whatever variety.

      For starters, history says that carriers that stand and fight tend to sink. Given today's far more deadly submarines, that's even more likely to be true.

      More importantly, forward operating bases (not the austere, hidden base that Marine leadership seems to believe in) provide a means to buildup combat power, supplies, logistical support, and maintenance for the next push.

      So, to be clear, I'm not against forward operating bases if they support an overall strategy and if we recognize the huge cost, effort, and losses that they require. What I'm against is the ridiculous notion that we can build small, austere, hidden bases and conduct secret guerrilla aerial warfare with a few F-35Bs.

    2. It's the basic fallacy that you can have an austere base that actually remains hidden for any length of time. It won't, at which point you'll need to be able to defend it or move it or both.

      If the base is a fixed land installation, then build enough defences to allow it to be defendable, and take steps to protect it.

      If the base floats, use it's defences and move it to make it as safe as possible. Provide other floating (or kinda sinking) resources to provide defence for the floating base.

      NEVER assume a base of any nature can rely on being hidden to stay safe. As soon as it is no longer hidden it isn't safe and open to attack. This doesn't mean don't try to hide things, just don't assume that being hidden is going to last. If you open an austere base, you need a plan to quickly make it defendable, or quickly leave.

  6. I suspect "austere forward base" is intended to be a political enabling phrase to allow LM to spend several billions on studying and prototyping the idea. That would be quite profitable for them, which seems to be the actual purpose of much current US defense spending.


    Speaking of the devil...


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