Friday, August 31, 2018

Forward Base

Much traditional naval strategy and, indeed, military strategy, in general, is focused on forward bases at strategic locations.  For example, the famous naval theorist Mahan considered overseas bases to be one of the three pillars of sea power.  A base/fort could control critical naval and commercial passage through a narrow strait, for example.  The entire Pacific campaign of WWII was a series of assaults intended to seize ever more forward bases to enable ever more forward assaults culminating in the final assault on mainland Japan.  And so on.

Note:  We’re not talking about the Marine’s wet dream of hidden jungle bases operating a couple of F-35Bs.  We’re talking about major bases that allow the operation of significant military assets – Guam, today, for example.

From a naval perspective the historical purpose of a forward base was to place the fleet near a vital area of interest.  Why?  Because the fleet’s weapons and, thus, its sphere of influence, were short ranged – on the order of a few to twenty miles.  The forward base was necessary to allow the fleet, and its weapons, to operate near the area of interest.  The existence, today, of thousand mile cruise missiles within the fleet renders the need for forward base proximity moot or greatly modified.  With such greatly enhanced weapon ranges, forward bases do not need to be as near the enemy as in earlier times.  In fact, cruise and ballistic weapons may actually outrange the operational ranges of the ships and aircraft which, again, suggests a reduced need for forward bases. 

What do all these forward bases have in common?  They all are situated so as to allow their associated military power to be brought to bear on strategically vital locations.  Expressed another way, they enable military power to operate in strategically important areas far from home ports/bases.  Thus, there is both a firepower and logistics element to a strategically important forward base.  Of course, the military expert understands that the firepower and logistics are ultimately one and the same!

To better understand this, let’s look a bit closer at the Pacific campaign in WWII.  What was the defining characteristic of the forward bases?  What made Okinawa more desirable as a forward base than, say, some island in the Caribbean?  The answer is range – the operational range of the military assets of the time.  More specifically, it was the range of the ships and aircraft tied to, and supported by, the base.  How far could a task force operate and not lose the link to its resupply (see?  this is where the logistics enters into it)?  The at-sea resupply ships could only operate so far from safe haven without risking being sunk.  The task force could only operate so far from land based air support and resupply/repair (logistics, again) facilities.  The forward based air forces could only fly so far on a tank of fuel.

In pre-aviation times, forward bases used to be staging areas for fleet operations and amphibious assaults.  This changed in WWII and now, with the development of modern air forces, forward bases also exist to support air operations which, to be effective, means sortie rates.

One of the main range related driving factors behind the WWII Pacific forward bases was the range of the heavy bombers and, to an extent, their escorts.  Today, the Air Force likes to claim that they can reach any target on Earth from home bases in the continental US.  With lots of caveats and limitations, that’s a true claim.  So, does that eliminate the need for forward bases, at least so far as aviation is concerned?

No.  Even if we accept the claim of global reach for the US B-1/2 force, for sake of discussion, we need to keep sortie rate in mind.  While we might be able to reach any target on Earth, we certainly can’t do it on any operationally useful basis because the sortie rate is far too low.  Yes, we reached that target on the other side of the world but it required a 24 hour mission to do so.  With a B-2 bomber force of around 19 operational aircraft (if that many), a couple of sorties per week in a war is next to useless.  A forward base allows a significant increase in sortie rate.  So, strategically located forward bases are still needed for aerial strike purposes.

Of course, the ultimate range factor was not the operational ranges of the ships and aircraft but, rather, the range to the ultimate target – that being the Japanese mainland in WWII.  Thus, the selection of forward bases was predicated on reducing the operating range to the ultimate target.

In the case of bombers, what has changed today is the range of the bomber.  The B-29 Superfortress, for example, had an unrefueled combat radius of around 1000-1500 miles.  In comparison, the modern B-2 has an unrefueled combat radius of 3000 miles or so.  Thus, the forward base doesn’t need to be as close to the ultimate target as it needed to be in WWII – at least for large bombers.

We see, then, that the selection of strategically desirable forward bases was based on the operating ranges of the various ships and aircraft and the overall range to the ultimate objective.

We ever so briefly touched on another major factor in forward base selection and that is defensibility.  There is a balance between forwardness and defensibility.  It does no good to establish a base just off the enemy’s coast because they’ll destroy it faster than we can build it.  Thus, a base must be far enough away from the enemy to allow for defense by stretching out the enemy’s attack which allows time for defense.  It would also be ideal to be outside the enemy’s weapon ranges.  However, modern cruise and ballistic missiles with their thousand or several thousand mile ranges make it very difficult to find a place that is truly outside enemy weapon ranges!

So, where does all this leave us?

Understanding the purpose behind a forward base we can see that we still need forward bases – just not as far forward as they used to be. 

The two main driving forces behind base location are,

·         Attack (ship and aircraft) ranges that provide operationally useful sortie rates
·         Defense ranges  that provide an acceptable chance of successful base defense by reducing enemy attack types and numbers

On the surface, the immense ranges of modern aircraft would seem to suggest that bases can be well back from the ultimate target.  However, this is mitigated by the need for operationally useful sortie rates.  Thus, the base can be back but not so far as to reduce sortie rates to operationally irrelevant levels.

Interestingly, ship operational ranges have, in many cases, actually decreased since WWII !  Of  course, this is offset by the vastly increased range of ship launched cruise missiles which makes the overall operational range much greater than in WWII.

Unfortunately, the enemy’s weapon ranges have also increased which has the effect of driving the forward base further back from the area of interest.  The conundrum, here, is that in order to locate a base within operationally useful distance of the target, we have to accept that it is in range of enemy attack.  In WWII, in contrast, the Pacific forward bases were within attack range of the next, or ultimate, Japanese target but outside of Japanese counterattack range – the ideal situation!  The Japanese had no equivalent of the B-29, for example, and their naval forces after Midway were insufficient to mount a credible, decisive attack on the US forward bases. 

This operationally desirable situation does not exist today.  Chinese ballistic missiles, for example, can easily reach any useful US Pacific base.

Putting all of these considerations together we can see the need for forward bases that are close enough to the area of interest to generate useful sortie rates for aircraft – fighter aircraft with their shorter ranges being the limiting factor, as opposed to bombers – but far enough back to allow for defensive reaction time and some degree of limitation of the enemy’s attack options.  Given today’s aircraft and ships, this suggests forward bases located around 700-1000 miles from the area of interest.  Beyond around 1000 miles, the sortie rates for fighters drop unacceptably.

Unfortunately, given the number and range of enemy ballistic missiles, this leaves the forward base solidly within enemy attack range.  This leads to the final operational reality that we need to come to grips with: we will need to fight to defend our forward bases.  We have not had to do this since, well … Guadalcanal, maybe, and that didn't go well in terms of the success of air base.  The Air Force has never had to defend a base while simultaneously carrying out attacks.  The Navy has never had to defend a forward base the way the Japanese had to defend Truk or Rabaul, for example.  We do not have the institutional mindset of defending a base.  If we did, we’d immediately give up the fantasy of austere, hidden, forward bases – they’re simply not logistically sustainable or defensible.

Consider Guam – our major Pacific, anti-Chinese base.  Based on open source information, it’s vitually undefended.  It has no hardened shelters, no underground sub pens, no underground hangars, very limited ballistic missile defenses, no major defensive fighter presence, no permanent anti-submarine acoustic sensing system (SOSUS type) hundreds of miles out, no alternate runways, no hardened fuel depots and magazines, no dedicated protective submarine force, no dedicated anti-suface ship/aircraft force, limited anti-aircraft and anti-cruise missile batteries, etc.

To be sure, some of these defensive measures, such as underground pens and hangars, may not be possible given the physical size of the island and other measures, such as increased numbers of ships and aircraft, can be fairly quickly beefed up in the run up to war.  Other measures, however, such as hardened shelters and acoustic arrays, could and should be in place today.  Of course, it’s possible that some of the measures are in place and simply not recognized in open sources, however, I think that’s unlikely.  Our society is too open to have too much of that type of  capability that is 100% secret.

If we’re serious about facing the Chinese – and it’s inevitable that we will – then we need to start getting serious about establishing effective and defensible forward bases. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

USS Ronald Reagan and Force Z

Consider:  USS Ronald Reagan, CVN-76, is forward deployed and home ported in Yokosuka, Japan along with some escort ships as part of the troubled 7th Fleet.  Yokosuka is just over 1000 miles from Shanghai, China – easy cruise or ballistic missile distance.

Consider:  Force Z was a British task force consisting of two battleships, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, and four destroyers.  Leaving Singapore, the group was sent to sea where it was quickly spotted by Japanese submarines and aircraft and subjected to repeated attacks by land based aircraft.  Four attack waves of aircraft sank the two battleships on 10-Dec-1941 just a few days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  On paper, Force Z was a powerful group but it found itself operating in enemy territory, at the start of the war, without air cover.  It had no chance.

HMS Prince of Wales

HMS Repulse

So, what’s the link between the USS Ronald Reagan and Force Z?  Well, the parallels should be obvious.  When war with China starts, the Reagan will be forward deployed in enemy territory or, at least, within enemy reach, and if it attempts to move it will have limited air cover.  If Japan is part of the war, the Japanese Air Force will be too busy defending their homeland to provide aerial coverage for a carrier at sea.  If Japan is not part of the war, there will be no Japanese air cover at all.  Guam’s aircraft will be fully occupied (or destroyed!) defending their base and will be unable to provide air cover.

USS Ronald Reagan

No matter how you look at it, the Reagan will have limited air cover. 

Wait, what now?  Limited air cover?  It’s a carrier!  It has its own air cover.  Well, that’s technically true but for all practical purposes it’s nearly irrelevant.  You’ll recall that we’ve discussed the fact that carriers in war will operate in groups of 3-4 (4 being ComNavOps preferred number).  It will require 3-4 carriers operating together to mass sufficient air power to survive in combat.  A single carrier with, currently, only around 38 Hornets (another half dozen are required for tanking and unavailable for combat) is not exactly a powerful air force and would have a very hard time defending itself for very long against a sustained Chinese assault.  Those aircraft will be quickly attrited in combat or due to simple mechanical failings. 

The Reagan is forward deployed to Japan and would be faced with two unpalatable choices at the outset of war.

  1. Stand and fight – and be sunk.
  2. Run for safer waters around Guam or Pearl Harbor.

Running, the only real choice, would subject the carrier to repeated submarine, anti-ship cruise missile, and, possibly, anti-ship ballistic missiles.  The odds of successfully escaping are not great.

If running is the preferred, albeit poor, option, it leads to the question, why have the carrier based in Japan to begin with?

Is it for the carrier’s deterrent effect?  We’ve often discussed the concept of deterrence and concluded that there is no evidence that deterrence works.  In fact, the recent evidence is absolutely conclusive that deterrence does not work.  China, the obvious deterrence target of a Japan based carrier, has flouted international law and treaties, built illegal artificial islands and militarized them, used military intimidation against Vietnam and Philippines, seized the entire South China Sea, and begun laying the groundwork for seizing the second island chain.  If that’s deterrence at work, I’d hate to think about what China would have done without it!  Clearly, deterrence is not a valid reason to have a carrier forward based.

Is it for the carrier’s rapid response to a sudden outbreak of war?  As we just noted, there is nothing a single carrier can do in a peer war except go down fighting.  On a related note, if China opts to attack Japan at the outset of war, the addition of 38 Hornets to the total Japanese defensive effort isn’t going to make any big difference even assuming that the carrier isn’t sunk pierside in the opening shots.  Clearly, rapid response is not a good reason to have a carrier forward based.

So, why do we have a carrier forward based?  It makes no sense.

Now, just because a carrier is forward based in Japan doesn’t mean that it can’t be pulled out to safety in the run up to a war.  Peer wars simply don’t start with no warning.  However, if the plan is to pull the carrier out prior to a war and if deterrence isn’t effective then why is it there to begin with?

Monday, August 27, 2018

Unmanned Thoughts

The military has bought into the unmanned craze hook, line, and sinker.  They’re jumping on unmanned for every possible application with absolutely no thought given to whether it makes sense or is practical on the battlefield.  Unmanned vehicles can certainly make life easier during peacetime but what happens when the enemy starts shooting and unmanned vehicles find their comms jammed and their lifespans measured in minutes?  Well, we’re not going to dig into that.  Instead, here are just a few updated thoughts to help inform our opinions on unmanned vehicles.


Picture swarms of unmanned land, sea, and air vehicles ranging across the battlefield with their various radar, IR, and optical imaging sensors.  We’ll have total battlefield awareness right down to how many buttons on each enemy soldier’s shirt!  I wonder what comes after quadra-giga-tetra-gazilla bytes of data, because that’s what we’ll have.  There won’t be anything we don’t know!  We’ll be unstoppable and unbeatable.

Of course, history, including very recent history, proves this to be completely false.  As noted in the recent post about the Yemen missile attacks on the USS Mason, despite having multiple ships with Aegis, IR, and optical sensors all backed up by satellite coverage and various airborne regional sensors, we don’t even know if any attacks actually occurred!  We had tetratons of data and yet no actual answer. 

How can we have that much data and yet no answers?  Let me ask you, what is the exact width of the lot your house sits on (renters, just play along)?  You have no idea, do you?  And, yet, you had a survey done as part of your purchase of the house (whether you were aware of it or not) so you have the data.  You just didn’t assign it any importance and probably have no idea where those documents/data are now.

You have the data but you don’t have the answer.

Or, consider that after every terrorist act the post-event analysis inevitably reveals that we had all the data points necessary to predict and prevent the event but no one was able to assemble the data and connect the dots.

More data is not the answer – better interpretation is.

A UAV can record images of a hundred fishing type vessels but which of those, if any, are carrying terrorists or disguised enemy forces?  Having the data isn’t the answer, interpretation is.  Someone has to interpret the images and decide which, if any, are threats.

Those swarms of unmanned vehicles roaming the battlefield and collecting data are, arguably, just making the problem worse!  We already have more data than we can intelligently interpret and now we’re envisioning more?!

We should not be working on putting more sensors over the battlefield (setting aside the fact they aren’t survivable), we should be working on putting more interpretation over the data.

Data without proper interpretation is, at best, a waste of time and effort and, at worst, distracts or misleads from what’s really important.  So, what’s the point of more UAVs?  We already have more than we can productively use.  We think more UAVs will help but we’re proving on a daily basis that we already can’t make good use of what we have.

UAVs are not the magic observation platforms that so many people believe them to be.

Commander’s Intent

Commander’s Intent is the Holy Grail of warfare - subordinates who can act on their own exactly as the Commander wishes with nothing more than the Commander’s Intent as guidance.  This has been repeatedly attempted throughout history with varying degrees of success.  At its best, Commander’s Intent allows a commander to direct a battle with a minimum of interaction with his subordinates.  Nelson’s guidance at Trafalgar is an outstanding example of this.  At its worst, it produces erratic, unintended actions due to failure to accurately convey and/or understand the intent.  Unfortunately, the latter has proven more likely than the former on the battlefield.

The reasons for failure to accurately convey intent fall on both sides of the commander-subordinate relationship.  Commanders fail to clearly convey their intent and subordinates fail to clearly understand the conveyed intent.

Presumably, we’d like to apply this same philosophy to our interactions with unmanned, autonomous vehicles.  However, if we can’t reliably convey Commander’s Intent to humans, how will we convey it to unmanned, autonomous machines?  How will an autonomous machine interpret and act on vague statements of intent like, “Hold out as long as you reasonably can.”?  Will we have to stop the war to write, test, and debug new software every time we want to issue a new statement of intent?

Yet, without some form of intent instructions to an autonomous UAV, we’ll have to “pilot” every UAV and then what have we gained (see, Manning, below)?  Currently, UAVs are incapable of “intent” guidance so we do have to pilot them and, perversely, unmanned platforms require more manning than manned ones!


Unmanned vehicles have been “sold” as reducing overall manning levels, among many other near-magical claims.  The reality, however, is just the opposite.  While we may, indeed, remove the pilot from the cockpit, we don’t eliminate him, he just moves to a different location.  Further, unmanned systems require more manpower to support.  From an Armed Forces Journal article,

Yet the military’s growing body of experience shows that autonomous systems don’t actually solve any given problem, but merely change its nature. It’s called the autonomy paradox: The very systems designed to reduce the need for human operators require more manpower to support them. (1)

The [remotely piloted aircraft] ... requires much more architecture than, say, an F-16 squadron, Kwast said.  While the ratio of people to aircraft in manned aviation is roughly 1.5 to 1, he said, it takes about 10 people to operate one UAV at any given time. (2)

Industry’s experience has been the same.  Automated systems may remove the worker from the immediate task but they create legions of new workers to maintain, program, troubleshoot, repair, and modify them.  Automated systems increase overall manning levels, not decrease them.

We saw a closely related example of this phenomenon with the LCS.  While not an unmanned platform, it was designed to operate with a bare minimum crew thanks to a large degree of automation.  The reality turned out quite different.  The number of “crew” required to support and operate an LCS is larger than if the ship were fully manned and the numbers are probably greater than for the older, less automated Perrys that they replaced. 


Unmanned vehicles offer some benefits but they are far from being the panacea that so many, including the military, believe.  The Armed Forces Journal article put it nicely, “that autonomous systems don’t actually solve any given problem, but merely change its nature”.  The military’s obsessive pursuit of unmanned vehicles is ill-considered and short-sighted and is distracting the military from larger, more serious issues like maintenance, readiness, numbers, and firepower.


(1)Armed Forces Journal, “The Autonomy Paradox”, 1-Oct-2011,

(2) website, "Air Force Wants To Decrease Manning For Its UAVs", Oriana Pawlyk, 24-Feb-2018,

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Return Of The Broadside

The 16”, 2200 lb shell arced up, reached its peak, and nosed over as it began its plunge towards the airbase on the artificial island that was its target.  It was one of 36 shells simultaneously following a similar trajectory and that collectively comprised the first salvo by the four battleships of the Battleship Strike Group (BSG).  None had been given a specific target.  This was an area saturation bombardment that would, literally, leave nothing behind.  The battleships hadn’t even slowed down to fire.  True, that degraded the accuracy slightly but accuracy didn’t count when the shells gouged out overlapping 50 ft diameter craters.  Firing at a leisurely rate of one salvo per minute, each giant gun fired 10 times.  The 360 total shells completely obliterated the artificial island.  There were no recognizable pieces of man or machine left when the battleships completed their fire mission. 

The battleship’s Tomahawk missiles had earlier temporarily incapacitated the airbase’s aviation capability and damaged or destroyed most of the anti-ship missile emplacements and radars as the BSG raced towards the island base.  The battleships had used dozens of medium range UAVs to pinpoint the specific targets for the Tomahawks.  Attrition of the UAVs had been severe but enough had survived to relay target data back to the group.  No one particularly cared about the UAV losses.  The UAVs were cheap and the battleships carried several dozen each.

Despite the Tomahawk attack, some mobile anti-ship missile launchers had survived and had fired their C-80x type anti-ship missiles when the group had gotten close enough for the badly mauled base to finally get a fix on the group via its own remaining aviation assets.  The couple dozen anti-ship missiles that launched against the group were intercepted, jammed, and decoyed by the group’s ten Burke and two Ticonderoga escorts.  One Burke had taken some superficial damage from the debris of an incoming missile that was shot down a hair too late and another had taken a clean hit by a missile that had defied the odds and gotten through the defenses unharmed.  With no armor to speak of and a crew that, while augmented somewhat for combat, was still too small to conduct effective damage control and lacked the expertise to repair the delicate electronics that comprised the heart of a modern ship, the unlucky Burke had been rendered a mission kill and was, even now, limping away from the group towards home and what would be an extensive stay in drydock.

The island base no longer existed and the group continued on toward the next base to repeat the process as the next step in its mission.

The Chinese had, of course, seized Taiwan in the opening hours of the war.  Resistance had been fierce but, ultimately futile and China was solidifying its hold on the large island.  America had resolved to retake the island and the Battleship Strike Group had been tasked with creating a major diversion by conducting a flank attack to the southwest of Taiwan with the objective of eliminating the southern arc of artificial island bases and then destroying China’s massive Hainan naval and submarine base.  This would divert Chinese forces away from Taiwan and open the southwestern flank to future penetrations and attacks.

As the group completed the destruction of the last island base and began the turn north towards Hainan, the battleships maintained a steady flow of scout UAVs out to a couple hundred miles in front and along the likely threat axes.  It was highly unlikely that the Chinese Navy would allow the group to approach their main naval base in the area without challenge and it wasn’t long before the far flung UAVs detected a Chinese surface group approaching.  The group consisted of six Type 052D destroyers and two Type 055 cruisers, one of the largest warships built since the old Soviet Kirov class battlecruisers.  The Chinese group was the epitome of missile-based combat with a combined total approaching 600 VLS cells and all manner of surface-to-air and anti-ship cruise missiles.

The American group also carried a heavy allotment of VLS but lacked any vertical launched anti-ship missile and had to depend on the small handful of eight Harpoons that each Burke carried and the 16 Harpoons on each battleship.

As the two groups approached each other, the U.S. group rearranged itself into the new defensive AAW tactical configuration developed just for a battleship group.  Instead of the conventional concentric rings of Burke escorts around the high value battleships, the Burkes dropped several miles behind the battleships which formed a line abreast out in front.

The longer range, subsonic, sea-skimming, Chinese YJ-100 anti-ship cruise missiles struck first.  Warned of the missile’s approach by their UAVs, the battleships executed a 90 degree turn just prior to the missiles appearance in order to present their broadsides.  This hugely increased their radar signature which, given their immense size anyway, wasn’t really much of a drawback and, on the plus side, it allowed the battleships to present their full broadside weapons capacity.  In moments, 93 incoming missiles crossed the radar horizon which, due to the battleship’s massive size and towering superstructure and mast, extended out to around 30 nm. 

The moment the missiles appeared, the trailing Burkes, using their cooperative engagement capabilities and the linked radar picture provided by the battleships, augmented by the circling UAVs, launched a massive salvo of medium range ESSMs over the top of the battleships.  The ESSMs destroyed 31 of the incoming missiles.

As the aerial debris began to settle, the four battleships fired a salvo of 36 of the new 16” AAW air burst projectiles.  The salvo was coordinated to produce an immense three dimensional cube pattern that literally created a gigantic wall of shrapnel with both area and depth.  The 62 remaining incoming missiles flew into the aerial wall and only 5 emerged.

Three of the surviving missiles were quickly dispatched by the nearest battleship’s SeaRAM mounts.  The remaining two missiles each became the focus of the battleship’s four starboard side CIWS mounts and were obliterated.


As the range to the Chinese group decreased, the BSG launched its own volley of Harpoon anti-ship missiles.  Unfortunately, the limited numbers and the slow speed of the Harpoons allowed the Chinese force to largely swat the missiles aside.  One Chinese 052D destroyer was hit by two Harpoons and dropped out of formation to fight extensive fires while another was hit by a single missile that caused no significant damage.

Another volley of anti-ship missiles from the Chinese group produced no significant results and depleted their inventory.  It was obvious that the engagement would turn into a gun match and with a closing speed of close to 60 kts, it didn’t take long to happen.

As the groups closed to about 40 miles, the Chinese launched a final, enormous volley of surface-to-air missiles in surface mode and anti-radiation missiles intended to destroy the battleship’s sensors and render the ships combat ineffective.  Again, the battleship’s 16” air burst patterns destroyed many of the incoming missiles but the missiles were too numerous, too small, and too fast to stop them all.  The battleship’s SeaRAM and CIWS defenses destroyed dozens more but each battleship was hit by five to ten of the missiles whose proximity fuses filled the air around the battleships with shrapnel.  However, the battleship’s main TRS-4D radar sensors were no longer exposed.  As the anti-radiation missiles drew near to their targets, the battleship’s main sensors “retracted” into their armored mast citadels which contained sufficient armor to protect against shrapnel.  Just as the old WWII era battleships had their conning stations enclosed in vertical extensions of the armored citadel, so too did their modern counterparts have their main sensors enclosed when needed.  The loss of the main sensor radar picture due to retracting the radars didn’t matter at this point since the incoming missiles were close enough for the individual SeaRAM and CIWS sensors to pick up.  Thus, the main sensors were protected while the scattered and numerous SeaRAM and CIWS units defended the ships on their own.

The missiles did damage many of the SeaRAMs and CIWSes but the vital main sensors all survived.  While the battleship’s topsides were bruised a bit, nothing critical was damaged.  Even the bridge was unaffected since there was no bridge.  The battleship’s “bridge” was buried deep inside the armored core of the ship and consisted of dozens of cameras providing 360 deg optical coverage.  Many cameras were destroyed in the attack but more than enough survived to maintain complete 360 degree visual and enhanced EO/IR coverage.

As the range approached 20 miles the battleships again turned broadside on and began firing their main guns with fire control provided by the now re-exposed main sensors.  The Chinese, having assumed that the battleships would be rendered blind were stunned to find that the battleship’s were not only firing but doing so with deadly accuracy.  The first hits by the battleship’s 16” guns occurred at about 18 miles and single hits proved to be catastrophic.  With the exception of the US battleships, modern warships have no significant armor and the Chinese ships were no exception.  The Chinese group was decimated and by the time the range closed to within 12 miles the entire Chinese group was sunk or sinking.  The firepower of the 16” guns combined with the accuracy of modern fire control systems proved devastating.

With the way now clear the BSG turned and accelerated towards Hainan and the naval and underground submarine base there.

Not unexpectedly, the Chinese submarines made every effort to protect their base.  Unfortunately, the Burke escorts, while equipped for ASW, had rarely practiced ASW during peacetime and were not proficient at it.  Despite their best efforts, two of the escorting Burkes were hit by multiple torpedoes and sunk. 

A Chinese Type 039A Yuan class diesel-electric SSK submarine managed to close to within firing range of the battleships and launched two salvos of 533 mm Yu-6 heavyweight torpedoes.  Two torpedoes hit the first targeted battleship and three hit the second. 

In each case, a number of the battleship’s bottom mounted, v-shaped, shock absorbing armor plates were destroyed but they served their purpose by absorbing and deflecting much of the initial shock wave from the torpedo explosions.  The more conventional alternating bottom layers of liquid and void spaces absorbed the remainder of the shock and both battleships sustained only minor flooding which slowed their top speed by several knots but did nothing to impair their combat capability.

The surviving escort’s MH-60R ASW helos quickly jumped on the Chinese sub and kept it occupied until the group ran past.

As the BSG neared the Hainan naval base, the battleships launched a final volley of UAVs.  This time, the battleship’s bombardment would not be an area attack but would be directed at specific targets.  First, the UAVs identified the Chinese air defenses and the battleships began slow, deliberate, long range fire, methodically destroying each anti-air battery in turn. 

With the way largely cleared for the UAVs to act as gunfire spotters, the battleships began bombarding their specific targets.

The major target was, of course, the underground submarine pens.  These were almost impervious to aerial attack but were ideal targets for the 16” guns using a combination of ground piercing (GP) and high explosive (HE) shells with the GP shells penetrating and creating openings that the HE shells widened.  The sustained bombardment eventually collapsed the entrance and tunnel passages, permanently trapping any subs inside.

With the destruction of the Hainan submarine base complete, the BSG turned away and began their withdrawal at maximum speed.  The United States had forcefully reintroduced battleships to modern naval combat.


As with all ComNavOps’ naval combat stories, the writing is not intended as a true simulation of combat but, instead, as an exploration of equipment and tactics. 

The Battleship – The battleship in this story has a traditional heavy 16” gun fit and massive armor for protection from missiles and torpedoes.  The ship’s main mission is land attack including infantry gun support and long distance Tomahawk strike with a secondary role of anti-ship.  Naval and air base destruction would be prime missions.

As noted in the story, one of the key design aspects is the armored citadel which contains a wholly enclosed bridge and armored extensions containing retractable main radar sensors.  This preserves the command element and ship’s sensors during battle.  Closely related to this is the use of Phalanx CIWS and SeaRAM point defense.  Both weapons have their own radars and do not need fire control guidance from the main radar which allows the main radar to retract when under attack.

Construction of a modern battleship must go hand in hand with development of modern munitions such as the 16” AAW projectiles described in the story and new tactics.  This recognizes the changes that have occurred in naval warfare since WWII.

Here are some characteristics of the ship.

·        3x 16” triple mount
·        6x 5” single mount
·        16x Harpoon in Mk141 bolt-on mounts
·        12x Phalanx CIWS
·        8x SeaRAM
·        64x Mk 41 VLS (ESSM, Tomahawk)
·        TRS-3D/4D radar
·        SPQ-9B
·        EO/IR 360 deg

Monday, August 20, 2018

Small Air Wings And Small Carriers

I’ve noted in recent discussions that there is some confusion about “small” carriers.  I’ve stated that small carriers are useless and yet my own fleet structure plan calls for small carriers.  Huh???  What’s going on?

Well, the confusion lies in the definition of “small”.  The commonly used definition of a small carrier is a carrier with an air wing of around 20-30 aircraft.  Examples include,

  • HMS Queen Elizabeth – around 24 F-35B
  • Charles de Gaulle – 28-40 aircraft
  • INS Vikramaditya  - around 24 aircraft

There is also the popular “sea control” carrier which is generally described as having around 12-20 aircraft.

These may have some utility during peacetime or very low end combat but all of these are utterly useless in high end combat.

ComNavOps’ “small” carrier, in contrast, is a supercarrier by any other definition and is small only relative to a Nimitz or Ford.  It carries a nearly full air wing of combat aircraft, lacking only some of the support aircraft.

People love to talk about smaller carriers as an alternative to supercarriers.  Well, small carrier studies have been conducted since the day after the first full size carrier was designed.  The USS Wasp, CV-7, was an attempt at a smaller carrier even before we completed our first large fleet carriers!

Every aircraft carrier size study ever conducted has reached the same conclusion – that large carriers are more efficient in every way than small carriers.

However, there comes a point where efficiency and effectiveness are rendered irrelevant by sheer cost and it appears that the US Navy has reached that point.  A $14B+ ship is simply unaffordable and, even if construction funding could be provided, it is unusable because no one will risk a $14B+ ship in combat.  At this point, a smaller carrier is no longer a debatable alternative - it’s mandatory just due to cost.

Costs have forced us to shrink our carrier fleet from twenty or so to 15 and now down to 10 (9+1 in long term overhaul).  Runaway costs and lengthening construction cycles have us firmly on track for a 7-9 carrier fleet.  Also, it is worth noting that the Navy currently only operates 9 air wings so only nine carriers can possibly be deployed. 

The key point, here, is that skyrocketing carrier construction costs have forced us to reduce our carrier fleet and is likely to result in further reductions.  Thus, the possibility of smaller carriers – ComNavOps’ definition of smaller - again becomes worth considering.  We simply can’t afford $15B - $20B carriers.

So, where does a discussion of smaller carriers lead us? 

Everyone will have their own favorite vision and version of a smaller carrier and will likely cite some foreign “carrier” as an example of what we should build. 

Everyone will be wrong.

Wait, what now?  Didn’t I just say that a discussion of smaller carriers was worth considering?  If so, how can every version and example be wrong?  They’re wrong because none of them take into account the one aspect (other than cost!) of a carrier that matters.  You know what it is, right?  It’s the air wing, of course.  A carrier IS its air wing.  Without its air wing, a carrier is just a floating tabletop with the combat power of an LCS!  If we’re going to have a discussion about smaller carriers it has to start with a discussion about the air wing.

Okay, so where do we start a discussion of the air wing?  Well, there’s only one aspect of the air wing that’s important and that is its combat power.  Ideally, that discussion would be relative to our military strategy but we don’t have one so we’ll have to do the best we can in the abstract.

The air wing’s combat power comes from numbers of aircraft and type of aircraft. 

Numbers ought to be obvious but far too many people don’t appreciate what it really means.  A carrier air wing has several functions that it has to fulfill.  Among them are,

  • Carrier task group defense
  • Strike
  • Surveillance
  • Anti-submarine warfare

Each function requires a certain minimum number of aircraft to effectively accomplish the task.  We wouldn’t normally send a single aircraft to attack an enemy air base, right?  Of course not.  An effective strike requires a minimum number of aircraft.  Let’s take a shot a estimating the minimum numbers.  Our function list with minimum numbers of aircraft plus some necessary support aircraft now looks like this.

  • Carrier task group defense 30
  • Strike 30
  • Surveillance 4
  • Anti-submarine warfare 8
  • Electronic warfare 6
  • Tankers 12

Now, let’s flesh those numbers out a bit.

Carrier task group defense against a modern aircraft/missile attack will require as many aircraft as we can get in the air in time.  Less than 30 and we’re not mounting an effective defense.  The number 30 also attempts to account for the fact that unless we have absolutely perfect pre-knowledge about the incoming strike direction and timing, we’ll undoubtedly be caught with aircraft on deck, out of position while refueling, or out of position because we anticipated the threat axis incorrectly.  Thus, in order to get, say, 8-10 aircraft actually into a valid intercept position, we’ll have to have at least 30 involved in the attempt.

Strike missions against any kind of significant, defended target will require a minimum of 30 aircraft to carry enough weapons to achieve destruction of the target.  However, a successful strike requires more aircraft than just the weapon launching aircraft.  We’ll need, say, 6 electronic warfare (EW) support aircraft (EA-18G Growlers) and 12 tankers (let’s assume we have a dedicated tanker aircraft).

Surveillance is the establishment and maintenance of situational awareness for hundreds of miles around the carrier.  This is accomplished by E-2 Hawkeyes, mainly.  A minimum of 4 are required to maintain a continuous awareness.

Anti-submarine warfare is a function that has been abandoned by the Navy but the need hasn’t gone away.  We need a minimum of 8 fixed wing ASW aircraft.

With all that in mind, our air wing size now stands at

  • Carrier task group defense 30
  • Strike 30
  • Surveillance 4
  • Anti-submarine warfare 8
  • Electronic warfare 6
  • Tankers 12

  • Total 90

Now, some people are going to say that because we have the dual role, strikefighter F-18 Hornet and miraculous, every role F-35, we can use the same aircraft for either defense or strike and thus get by with far fewer aircraft.  This is utterly incorrect. 

A carrier and its air wing exists to conduct offensive operations.  If we send out a strike (30+ aircraft), we aren’t going to leave our carrier defenseless, are we?  At $15B+ each, we’d better not!  Thus, we’ll need to have 30 aircraft available for defense while the strike is out.  Thus, we still need the 60 total strike/defense aircraft.  Dual roles, as it pertains to numbers, is a fraudulent myth.  No aircraft, no matter how many roles it can perform, can be in two places at once.

Thus, our minimum effective air wing size still stands at 90.  There’s no getting around it.

Now, let’s discuss aircraft types.  We’ve already touched on it but let’s clarify even further.  We know that we need attack aircraft and fighters.  However, it is vital to recognize that the various support aircraft are mandatory for the air wing to successfully accomplish their various tasks.  Thus, we absolutely need electronic warfare, tankers, surveillance, and ASW types.  It is this fact that renders most foreign carriers/air wings nearly useless in a peer level war.  They just don’t carry a full complement of the necessary support aircraft and most are not even capable of operating the required types.

The British, for example, want to believe that when war comes they’ll simply surge one or two dozen extra F-35’s to the carrier (an absurd belief but we’ll let that slide for the moment) to make a full air wing.  Unfortunately, they lack any credible E-2 Hawkeye type aircraft, tankers, or EW support aircraft.  Thus, any strike they might launch will be flying handicapped with no tanker support, no EW support, and no surveillance and air space battle management.  That’s a recipe for losing a high end battle.

Thus, our smaller carrier absolutely must have these support aircraft types.  It is this requirement for support aircraft that renders every proposal for a “sea control” type of smaller carrier utterly useless in high end combat.  The sea control such an air wing without support aircraft could exert is limited to third world, peacetime “threats”. 

So, what do we conclude from all this?

It’s clear that any air wing, large or small, must be at least around 90 aircraft and contain a full complement of support aircraft in order to have any hope of being effective in high end, peer combat.  With that requirement firmly in mind, one can begin to design a carrier around the air wing.

Now, ComNavOps’ own proposal for fleet structure calls for Midway/Forrestal size “smaller” carriers with nearly full air wings.  The “nearly” part, however, omits some support aircraft.  Wait, what?!  Didn’t I just write at length about the need for a full air wing with all the support aircraft?  Yes, I did.  So, how can I then turn around and advocate an air wing without support aircraft?  The answer lies in how ComNavOps’ “small” carriers would be used.  In my concept, smaller carriers would ALWAYS be paired with full size carriers and the full size carriers would supply the missing support aircraft.  Thus, in a very real sense, the smaller carrier is nothing more than an extra aircraft barge for the larger carrier rather than a fully capable carrier that can conduct independent operations.  With that operating doctrine in mind, a smaller carrier with a slightly reduced air wing becomes viable.

Let’s address one final aspect of small carriers, because I know it will come up in comments, and that is peacetime.  There is, of course, a need for carriers during peacetime.  The US, for example, insists on using carrier aircraft to plink pickup trucks.  That’s idiotic but, okay, so be it.  What we don’t need is full size carriers doing very low end work.  Instead, we need to build very small, very traditional carriers with very low end air wings.  For example, a WWII Essex class carrier operating an air wing of Super Tucanos would make a very good peacetime carrier and both the carrier and the air wing would cost a fraction of the current cost to build and operate.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Stand And Fight

There is an old adage that governs the ultimate rationale for naval forces: 

The seat of purpose is on the land.

Sooner or later, a naval force must engage land forces.  That engagement can take the form of direct strikes from missiles or carrier aircraft or can be amphibious assaults to get land forces ashore.  Either way, it means that a naval force must, eventually, approach land.  This is where the Navy/Marine’s idiotic doctrine of conducting an amphibious assault from 25-100+ miles at sea falls apart.  If you won’t approach land, you can’t influence events on land which is where ultimate purpose resides.

Yes, there are other ways to influence events on land.  A blockade, for example, can influence events on land.  For countries that have an alternate, land-only means of engaging an enemy, the naval forces can get by with just playing a minor, supporting role like a blockade.  The Union Navy did this during the American Civil War by imposing a blockade on the South.  However, for a country that has no direct land contact with an enemy, there is only one way to get troops to the enemy and that is by sea.  Yes, air transport can move a few troops but only sealift can move the massive quantities of men, weapons, ammunition, and supplies that are needed for sustained combat.

Acknowledging, then, the necessity to eventually approach an enemy’s land, the naval force structure planner must ask what forces, weapons, and tactics will allow a reasonable chance of survival while conducting near-land operations.  Assessing survival equipment needs starts by identifying the major threats.

The biggest threats to naval forces wishing to operate near land are,

  • Mines
  • Submarines
  • Anti-ship missiles (ASM)

Ironic and troubling, isn’t it, that the US Navy has no effective combat mine countermeasures capability, no effective, dedicated surface ship anti-submarine (ASW) vessels, and limited and non-survivable aerial ASW capability?  The Navy is ill-prepared to deal with two of the three major near-land threats.  At least the anti-ship missile threat is manageable with our large fleet of Aegis equipped Burke class ships.

It’s further ironic and baffling that the Navy’s stated reason for doctrinally refusing to approach land is the threat of land based ASM’s, the one threat for which we are prepared!  Let’s set aside the mine and submarine threats and examine the ASM threat a bit closer.

The Navy has spent billions of dollars on its Aegis capability.  The system was designed and intended to counter saturation swarms of Soviet anti-ship cruise missiles launched from entire regiments of long range bombers.  Aegis is designed to handle large numbers of targets simultaneously and can do so in a completely automatic mode – and, in fact, is more efficient and effective in that mode.

With all that capability in mind, one has to wonder why the threat of a relatively few isolated, land based cruise missiles so terrifies the US Navy?  Either they know that Aegis is an utter failure or they’ve become so risk averse that they can’t imagine actually standing and fighting and possibly losing a ship.  I tend to believe it’s the latter.  I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Aegis is a failure but, to be fair, there is little actual data to indicate that Aegis is a success!  Still, I’ll assume it’s capable until I see data indicating otherwise.

So, if Aegis is capable of handling the ASM threat, then the Navy is just too scared and too risk averse to stand in harm’s way and execute their function.

Let’s look at the arithmetic of the situation.  For a high subsonic cruise missile, like the Chinese C-802, the missile speed is around 680 mile per hour and it cruises at an altitude of 10-20 m which decreases to 3-5 m in the terminal phase.  The Navy is scared to stand near shore and, apparently, feels that the extra 25-50 miles will enable them to more effectively engage such an anti-ship cruise missile.  Will it, though?

Here’s the raw reaction times for various distances.

10 miles = 0.9 minutes
25 miles = 2.2 minutes
50 miles = 4.4 minutes

Unless an ASM is sited nearly on the beach – in which case it would, presumably, have been spotted, targeted, and destroyed as part of the assault preparations – the launch site will likely be 10-100+ miles away from the assault location.

At the low end of that range, 10 miles, and assuming the defending ship is beached so that there is no extra range added, 10 miles provides around 0.9 minutes of reaction/defense time.  In the world of computers and a fully automatic Aegis system, 0.9 minutes is an eternity!  Longer distances simply provide even longer reaction/defense times.

Stand and Fight!

In any realistic scenario, say with the Navy ships about 5 miles offshore and the enemy anti-ship missile launchers around 10-100+ miles away, the reaction time is more than adequate.

There’s no question that longer distance translates to more time to defend.  However, a couple of minutes is more than enough time.  If you can’t shoot down an incoming missile in a couple of minutes of engagement time, a few more minutes isn’t likely to produce a positive result.

Ultimately, the risk of standing in close and fighting must be balanced against the accomplishment of the mission.  It does no good to remain safe, far out at sea, but unable to accomplish the mission.  If the mission is worthwhile, then the risk is acceptable.  The Navy’s defensive systems were built for this.  Trust them to do their job.  Stand and fight.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Marine Ground Based Air Defense

With decades of assured United States aerial dominance, ground force anti-air warfare (AAW) has atrophied nearly to the point of abandonment. 

Fairly recently, in fact, there were calls for removal of short range air defense (SHORAD) from the Marines.

“In the quest to transform into the Joint force of the future, many have advocated the removal of Short Range Air Defense (SHORAD)1 systems from the Marine Corps. The belief that USMC forces have never utilized Stinger2 in anger against an enemy, that the US will always possess air supremacy, and that a network of sensors will allow the engagement of all targets in the battle space have led to a perception that man portable short range air defense is no longer required in the USMC.” (1)

“In August 2006, the USMC recommended the termination of the CLAWS [Complementary Low-Altitude Weapon System] program as part of cuts to spending on air defence capabilities.” (2)

Even Congress is aware of the air defense shortcomings.

“[House Armed Services] Committee Chairman Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, asked what the Marines Corps is doing about its air defense vulnerability: “We are aware that the Marine ground units are almost wholly without an effective organic air defense system.” (5)

Very recently, there has been some renewed interest from the Marines as the realization that we can no longer count on uncontested aerial supremacy sinks in.  Low end UAVs over the battlefield have also spurred some renewed interest.  Let’s take a closer look at the Marine’s anti-air situation.

Current Capabilities

It is difficult to find current information on Marine Corps air defense capabilities but that appears to be, in large measure, because there aren’t many capabilities.  If I've missed an active capability, let me know in the comments.  That said, it seems that there are only two dedicated air defense units:

  • 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion (2nd LAAD)
  • 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion (3rd LAAD)
2nd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion (2nd LAAD) is an air defense unit that is part of Marine Air Control Group 28 (MACG-28) and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (2nd MAW), II MEF, and is currently based at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. The Battalion is composed of one Headquarters and Support Battery and two Firing Batteries (Alpha and Bravo).

- 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (2nd MAW)
- Marine Air Control Group 28 (MACG-28)
- 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion (2nd LAAD)

3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion (3rd LAAD) is an air defense unit that is part of Marine Air Control Group 38 (MACG-38) and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW) , I MEF, and is currently based at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.

- 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW)
- Marine Air Control Group 38 (MACG-38)
- 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion (3rd LAAD)

III MEF appears not to have a dedicated LAAD but uses detachments from other groups.

- 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1st MAW)
- Marine Air Control Group 18 (MACG-18)
- Low Altitude Air Defense Detachments

Even the LAADs are limited in capability.  They appear to operate only three weapons: Stinger missiles, 7.62 mm MG, and 0.50 cal MG (9) and only the Stinger is a credible, if short ranged, anti-air weapon.  The weapons can be operated singly or mounted on an HMMWV which is then optimistically referred to as an Advanced Man-Portable Air Defense System (A-MANPADS).  The addition of a single channel radio, a GPS, and a laptop apparently makes the HMMWV a “system”.

The LAAD is, essentially, a gunner with a Stinger on his shoulder.

Currently, there are no active armored mobile air defense vehicles in the Marines and no effective ability to engage cruise missiles.

The Marine’s entire air defense consists of Stinger missiles.  The Marines are going to take on Chinese artillery, rockets, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, aircraft, helos, and UAVs with just Stinger missiles.  Yes, we fight jointly and the Marines will hope (desperately, frantically hope!) for support from the Navy and Air Force but, in a peer war, those forces will be fully engaged with their own concerns and anti-air support for the Marines will be sporadic and ineffectual, at best.

Reference Note:  FIM-92 Stinger - man portable, surface-to-air, shoulder fired, supersonic missile designed to counter high-speed, low-level ground attack aircraft. It is capable of all aspect engagement. The current BLOCK I version is capable of destroying fixed and rotary wing aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. Stinger missiles are five feet long and weigh thirty five pounds fully armed.  Range is around 4 miles.

LAAD - Stinger Surface to Air Missile

Historical Context

How did we get to this point?  Obviously, the lack of threats, until recently, influenced procurement and organizational decisions in a negative way.  The war on terror has had a serious deleterious impact on military preparedness and force structure and we are only just beginning to climb out of the hole we’ve created – in fact, we’re only just beginning to even recognize that we’ve created a hole and stepped fully into it!  The military lost sight of its main responsibility, peer warfare, in its zeal to use the war on terror to increase budgets.

Beyond the war on terror and lack of immediate threats, one of the relatively recent air defense concepts that heavily influenced procurement decisions was Sea Shield (part of the transformational plan along with Sea Base and Sea Strike).  Sea Shield was envisioned to provide an air defense umbrella over the entire forward battlespace and littoral areas.

“Sea Shield extends precise and persistent naval defensive capabilities deep overland to protect joint forces and allies ashore.” (7)

Sea Shield was envisioned to utilize ship (Aegis), sea base, and aerial (Hawkeye, primarily, at the time) radars to establish comprehensive radar coverage and, thus, defensive capability.  Implicit in this assumption was that the US would have absolute aerial dominance so that, for example, E-2 Hawkeyes could operate close to the battlespace and provide close, extensive coverage.  This is yet another example of the military having lost sight of its main responsibility in favor of low end anti-terrorism and nation building operations.  Now, given the likelihood that we’ll be hard pressed to establish even aerial parity in a peer war, high value aviation assets like Hawkeyes will have to operate well back from the active battlespace.  UAVs will be shot down with regularity and will provide only sporadic coverage.

A further problem is that “fixed” radars cannot provide comprehensive coverage against low level threats and this has long been recognized.  From a 2004 USMC paper,

“Radar horizon and terrain shadowing will also degrade these sensors because they are not designed to move with the maneuver forces. Consequently, maneuver forces will require an organic air defense capability for local protection from immediate, pop up, low-level air threats. This organic air defense capability is the Stinger missile system.” (1)

Curvature of the Earth further limits the coverage.  Even elevation of the radar sensor cannot completely compensate for the various limits.  As one example,

“225’ high Sea Based sensors will not be able to detect targets below 5,539 feet at a range of 110nm.” (1)

And this assumes no significant topographical rises like hills or mountains.

We see, then, that various short-sighted decisions, flawed beliefs, and loss of focus led to the current situation.  It is obvious that ground forces need a mobile, local air defense capability.  This need has been further emphasized by the recent boom in low altitude UAV operations and capabilities.

The irony is that as the air threats to ground forces have grown, the Marine’s air defenses have declined.

Near Future Developments

Ground Based Air Defense Future Weapon System (GBADFWS) – is currently being developed as a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) mounted system.  The system uses Stinger missiles and an electronic warfare capability.  Future plans include a laser variant. (3)

TPS-80 G/ATOR (Ground / Air Task Oriented Radar) – offers counterfire targeting and general situational awareness but, while air-sensing capable, is not currently linked to any anti-air weapon.  It is a short to medium range, air-cooled, phased array radar that is intended to replace five current radar systems and augment the AN/TPS-59 long-range radar. A total of 45-57 G/ATOR systems are planned for procurement, depending on what source one reads.  The system is claimed to be capable of detecting low observable targets.

The system consists of three major assemblies: (4)

  1. Trailer mounted and towed radar; towed by Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR)
  2. Communications module mounted on a JLTV or equivalent
  3. Power module mounted on a Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR)

G/ATOR is being developed and delivered in three blocks. (4)

  • Block 1 develops the basic hardware and provides Air Defense/Surveillance Radar (AD/SR) capability. It replaces the AN/UPS-3, AN/MPQ-62, and AN/TPS-63 radar systems.
  • Block 2 adds a ground counterbattery/counter-fire mission capability and replaces the AN/TPQ-46 radar system.
  • Block 3 was a series of enhancements, including Identification Friend or Foe Mode 5/S, that are instead being incorporated into other blocks. The term Block 3 is no longer used.
  • Block 4 replaces the AN/TPS-73 radar system for air traffic control capability, which will be a future development effort.
G/ATOR Radar

Status Summary

For the moment, the Marines are focused on short range AAW.

“Walsh [Marine Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, deputy commandant for combat development and integration] said that the Marine Corps has been focused on countering threats from unmanned aerial systems -- a preferred weapon of extremists in the Middle East -- but is now starting to shift focus to longer-range threats such as aircraft and cruise missiles.” (3)

This is symptomatic of the Corps’ focus on very low end combat where UAVs are, indeed, a significant concern.  When high level combat comes, however, the Corps will quickly learn that ballistic and cruise missiles, MLRS-type rocket barrages, and artillery barrages will be far more lethal and concerning than the presence of UAVs, though, admittedly, UAVs can lead to other types of attacks if allowed to collect targeting data.

The longest range anti-air weapon the Corps has is the Stinger missile and it is mounted on unprotected, glorified jeeps.  In combat, those vehicles will be non-survivable.  The Corps lacks any type of armored, mobile, anti-air vehicle.

The Corps is not only shedding armor and artillery but, lacking any type of counter-rocket/artillery/missile (C-RAM) weapon, is extremely vulnerable to enemy artillery.

With all these needs and gaps, how do the Marines expect to conduct successful assaults against peer opponents?


As noted, the range of threats encompasses much more than just UAVs and includes,

  • Anti-rocket
  • Anti-artillery
  • Anti-helo
  • Anti-cruise missile
  • Anti-ballistic missile
  • Anti-UAV
  • Anti-naval shell (artillery?)

The Marines are aggressively pursuing down-sized, down-armored, down-firepowered units that are predicated on battlefield mobility using aviation and light “jeeps”.  This kind of unprotected, non-survivable force depends all the more on highly effective anti-air protection. 

Consider just the artillery issue.  Our light infantry forces will be decimated in a fight against an enemy with artillery unless we can employ extensive and effective C-RAM.  Thus, the movement towards mobile, light, unprotected infantry ought to have triggered a concomitant development of a mobile, C-RAM vehicle and yet, illogically, it hasn’t.

Cruise and ballistic missiles have become a major threat.  The Navy will attempt to provide protection via the Aegis system but, as the Marines move inland, the coverage umbrella will get progressively more porous especially against low flying cruise missiles.  The Marine’s very mobility works against them as far as anti-air protection and, thus, demands a mobile, organic, anti-air system.

The Marine Corps is becoming a light infantry force despite claims of being a middle weight force and with little armor, no armored personnel carrier, no infantry fighting vehicles, and a heavy dependence on highly vulnerable “jeeps”, the infantry forces desperately need survivable (armored), organic, mobile anti-air protection.

Reference Note - Recent Terminated Systems

MIM-23 Hawk – medium range surface to air missile; semi-active radar homing; range 45-50 km; speed Mach 2.4;  depending on version, a typical system consisted of a triple missile, towed launcher with associated radars and 36 reloads; terminated in 2002 in favor of Stinger systems

CLAWS (Complementary Low-Altitude Weapon System) – surface launched AMRAAM, fire and forget, surface to air missile; 4-5 missile launcher mounted on HMMWV; successfully demonstrated in 2005-6 and terminated in May 2006

LAV-AD – retired (8);  combines a high-rate-of-fire 25 mm Gatling gun and short-range, infrared Stinger fire-and-forget missile (16 total, 8 ready); primary sensor is FLIR optical tracking although a Thales TRS 2630P radar capability is also being developed; the last of 17 systems was delivered in January 1999 (6); provides air defence for the light armored vehicle battalion, with a secondary ground defense role;  vehicles are assigned to the light armored reconnaissance battalions


The Marines had credible anti-air systems but, unwisely, terminated them for various reasons, none good.


(1)DTIC, United States Marine Corps,School of Advanced Warfighting, Marine Corps University, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, “The Loss of USMC Man Portable Air Defense Capability”, Major Stephen G. Conroy, 2004,

(3) website, “Marines Developing JLTV Air-Defense System Armed with Laser Weapon”, Matthew Cox, 21-Mar-2018,

(4)DOT&E FY 2017 Annual Report, Jan 2018

(5)Marine Times website, “Marines add Stinger missiles, lasers to vehicles to make up for lagging air defense”, Todd South, 23-Apr-2018,

(6)Army Technology website,

(7)Dept. of the Navy, “Naval Transformation Roadmap, Power and Access…From the Sea, Sea Strike, Sea Shield, Sea Basing”, 2003?

(8)g2mil website, “Vital Amtrack Variants”, Carlton Meyer, 2017

(9)Marines website, “Low Altitude Air Defense (LAAD) Gunner’s Handbook”, MCRP 3-25.10A, 2011,