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. 


  1. Question. Are you saying the only sensible forward base is massive otherwise it's not worth having?

    1. That's not what I'm saying in this post although there is an element of truth to it. This post was concerned with significant bases that can support significant fleets of ships and aircraft, provided logistical support, offer repair services, etc. so, yes, that requires a fairly large base.

      If you're asking whether there can be uses for other, smaller, more specialized bases, sure, in the right circumstances. This post, however, was about the larger bases.

      The problem with smaller bases is that they require almost the same logistical support and defensive effort as a larger base but with much less benefit. At times, the lesser benefit may be worth it.

      Did that answer your question?

  2. IMO if Guam, Yokosuka and Sasebo are off the table, that leaves Subic as the only other option for a Pacific forward base, which theoretically gives you a platform to project power into Southeast Asia and act as a closer check on China's SCS ambitions.

    But that would mean spending billions at least to rebuild and refurbish the Subic facilities.

    1. And, of course, the US and Philippines are not on best of terms at the moment and negotiating a lease is probably not possible.

      This ties in to our lack of a comprehensive plan for dealing with China.

  3. It seems like the bigger lesson is to either:

    1.Develop very long-range aircraft to keep bases out of enemy threat envelope or;

    2. Develop mobile bases that are more difficult to locate and target than fixed bases.

    The former is (probably?) in the realm of DARPA. The latter is called an aircraft carrier.

    1. "The latter is called an aircraft carrier."

      You've missed the point of the post. The issue is not where to launch some fighters from but, rather, where to base substantial resources such as air bases, ship bases, ship repair facilities, logistic supply depots, staging areas, fuel storage, etc. - in other words, a major staging base. That's what the goal of the island hopping campaign in the Pacific WWII was - to obtain ever more forward bases capable of supporting the fleet, aircraft, logistics, troops, etc. needed to conduct operations to seize the next rung in the ladder leading to the ultimate objective of the Japanese mainland.

      A carrier solves only one very small portion of the problem. It can launch a small number of short range aircraft but can't provide any of the other services a forward base would.

      As noted in the post,

      "We’re talking about major bases that allow the operation of significant military assets ..."

    2. I don't think we have a carrier (quite) large enough to operate B-1/-2/-52s from.

  4. Interesting to note that one of the few countries that still bothers to bury and reinforce some of their military installations is China....

    1. Their spread throughout the world is both impressive and alarming.

  5. Even with a forward operating base in a foriegn country, and there are few options in the Pacific, there is the issue of that country's neutrality in the event of hostilities with China. Our bases in the Philippines were ideal to support operations in Vietnam, but Vietnam lacked a navy and air force to threaten the Philippines. That's not the case with China and given their economic strength they might not need to threaten a host country with military force.

  6. "Question. Are you saying the only sensible forward base is massive otherwise it's not worth having?"

    Bases should serve a purpose as part of a strategy.
    Hawaii is a fleet base, arsenal, repair yard ect.
    Diego Garcia is an anchorage, supply dump and intelligence hub.

    Now the occupation of Japan is over, Okinowa is just inertia.

    China is building a host of small bases as speed bumps.

    "This ties in to our lack of a comprehensive plan for dealing with China."
    Yep, plan first, allocate resources second.
    Leave 75 year old bases unchanged and try and wing a plan using them

  7. Sort that during the Cold War when I served, we never thought of those being survivable due to there fixed location and the escalation to nuc missiles not even mentioned here. In a peer war they sit there like Doom itself and only the stupido will ignore them.

    1. We need bases to operate from so what's your solution?

    2. I agree they are needed for forward basing near the threat and logistics, especially logistics.Mo the better..
      However island and land bases on foriegn soil should not be used as primary strategic offensive or even defensive nodes. That is what the USN and USAF and USArmy are for... As you point out they are fixed and often hard to defend in this day of hypersonic weapons..
      Especially when one considers nukes..

    3. "However island and land bases on foriegn soil should not be used as primary strategic offensive or even defensive nodes."

      Given how little land we own in the Pacific theater, what does that leave?

  8. We might also seek to expand an alliance and basing with our old adversary Vietnam.
    Not only have they fought China but this would give us basing on the opposite end of the South China Sea. It even opens up the threat of China dealing with an entire second theatre to fight in should they start a shooting war.

    1. There is much we should be doing as far as strategic alliances. India comes to mind as a potentially valuable strategic partner. Russia should be, if not a partner, at least a non-partner with China. While we will never be friends with Putin/Russia, there is no reason why we have to be enemies. Unlike China, I don't think Russia's goals are completely counter to our interests. I think we could at least peacefully co-exist.

    2. Vietnam would be a lot more open to alliance and basing with the US than one might expect. The Vietnamese attitude to the US is, "Yeah, we fought a war, but we won and that was 60 years ago, I'll let it go if you'll let it go, the real enemy is China." Vietnamese history is basically a long string of fighting off Chinese invasions - heck, China invaded them in the 70s, after the Vietnam War, so that's still in living memory.

      THat said, assuming alliance with Vietnam and basing therein... well, the problem is that puts your bases right in striking distance of China. Take Da Nang - it's only 200 miles from Hainan. Basing in South Vietnam would complicate Chinese targeting somewhat, but it's still in range of Chinese attack - even the Type 056 corvettes with their 3500 nautical mile range can reach South Vietnam. If even Singapore is considered iffy as a forward base, Vietnam would be even worse. (This assumes Singapore comes down on the side of the US; Singaporean foreign policy revolves around playing off the US and China against each other and being friendly with both nations. That said, if Singapore absolutely had to pick a side... I'd give it 70-30 they'd side with the US over China.)

      India's value as a strategic partner is, I submit, less in direct combat power, and more of a threat in being: so long as the Indian Army and Indian Air Force remain a credible threat on China's borders, China is going to have to keep combat power on its borders to counter India, which denies China those assets for concentration of firepower on its eastern seaboard. (This is not to say that China cannot already concentrate airpower to cover the Taiwan Strait and Yellow Sea, but every bit helps.) I don't see the Indian Navy supporting the USN and participating directly in combat with the PLAN, but the Indians can control the entry to the Malacca Strait, which means they're in a position to cut off merchant shipping heading for China, which is not insignificant, IMO.

      Russia is no friend to the US, but it's no friend to China either - they've had more than a few dust ups during the Cold War. I think it may be possible to get the Russians on the US side - or at least, to not support China, given that China and Russia are competing for influence in similar spheres. The US will definitely need to offer something to Russia to make it worth their while though, given how vital trade with China is to the Russian economy (hell, to *every* economy).

    3. You've got the beginnings of a more productive discussion. However, you've simply stated the obvious and stated what has been said many times in this blog. Take it a step further and offer solutions to the difficulties and challenges you've noted.

      For example, basing in Vietnam - how can we make it viable, if it even can be? How would we logistically support it during a war if it could be made viable?

      For example, India - what should we be doing to bring India firmly on our side? Aside from a potential threat, what can we gain from better relations with India that produces a more positive military advantage?

      For example, how do we nudge Russia away from China? Would Russia's far eastern territories offer advantageous basing for the US if we could reach that point in our relations?

      Address some of these issues rather than restating the obvious and you'll be producing valuable content. It requires a little effort to research and ponder these topics but you clearly have the enthusiasm so put it to work! Good start.

    4. (1/2)
      It's meant as a starting point to provoke more discussion, lol :p

      In the current peacetime scenario, basing in Vietnam may be an attractive option because it puts a reminder to China that hey, Uncle Sam is in the neighbourhood. I'm just not convinced it's worth it in the srsface war that's your thought paradigm for this blog, because Vietnam is in China's backyard and well within range of attack from Chinese forces, which are also going to have an easier time of interdicting sea-based supplies and reinforcements coming into Vietnam (although the flipside is that they're putting themselves into the threat bracket of land-based air, so it's not exactly a done deal).

      (This kinda ties into why the SEA navies - the nations that aren't in China's pocket, anyway: looking at you Laos, Myanmar :V - aren't really so concerned about building srsface warships to challenge PLAN dominance in the South China Sea, because the operational distances involved put limits on what the PLAN can bring to the party, and operating in the South China Sea and attempting to act against any of the ASEAN navies puts Chinese ships within range of land-based air, and in the absolute worst case, if ASEAN trades corvettes 1:1 with PLAN DDGs, it's a painful exchange that favors ASEAN and makes any Chinese victory a phyrric victory in terms of the costs involved: ships, sailors, money, institutional experience. But I digress.)

      If you're going to do a forward base in SEA, I would say the only real options available would be Changi, Subic or Seppangar, being close enough for the action (well, for a given value of "close", anyhow), but just far enough to challenge Chinese attack on said bases. Changi is the obvious choice: Singapore is friendly with the US and in a war with China has a 70-30 chance of coming down on the US side, and has extensive port facilities and can support American warships. Subic would need billions in refurbishment and is an outside possibility given how close Duterte is leaning to China. The Royal Malaysian Navy built Seppangar with the idea that it's positioned to cover the South China Sea and it has the facilities to support American CVNs; the question of whether the USN gets to use Seppangar is more political, given that Malaysia's relationship with the US varies in its closeness. If it's a serious war with China that has implications towards Southeast Asia, then there's a good chance Singapore and Malaysia will agree to let the US use their bases as forward bases, in exchange for taking down China a peg or two, as well as concessions: loans, aid, investment dollars, and in Malaysia's case, sweetening the deal by offering more military tech (Malaysia has never liked how it's considered a 2nd class customer compared to Singapore, what with Singapore always getting the good stuff first from the US).

      (This assumes that China is not going to straight away jump to nuking said forward bases. I think they probably will not do so; they still want to be a player on the world stage, not an international pariah, especially with a lot of Chinese rhethoric playing up how China is a more responsible national actor than the US. :V)

    5. (2/2)

      I am honestly quite skeptical that India can make any substantial contributions in an American war with China. Their army and air force aren't built to do long range expeditionary fighting, and their readiness and serviceability rates are pretty low. Their procurement and weapons development is a mess. The HAL Tejas has spent 35 years in development for a light fighter that's at best an early 90s Mirage 2000 equivalent. They took almost 10 years to build and commission the first Kamorta-class corvette.* And then there's the question of whether they're existing beef with China is enough to get them on the American side and support naval operations against China - I don't see that happening. On the other hand, I think being a threat in being tying up Chinese reinforcements and restricting Chinese merchant shipping is good enough, within the limits of what they can do. Would it be good to have more positive military advantages, sure, absolutely, but from what I've seen of their military, I'm unconvinced the Indians can actually provide those advantages.

      *It takes a special sort of terribleness to make the F-35 and LCS programs look real good in comparison. :V To put things into perspective, the LCA program that birthed Tejas began in 1983; 35 years later in 2018, there are only 26 aircraft flying. This is with a single design single manufacturer, mind. Meanwhile the F-35 program began in 1992; 26 years later in 2018 we're coming onto 400 aircraft built and flying, and this includes the whole JSF flyoff between the X-32 and X-35 prototypes.

    6. "forward base in SEA, I would say the only real options available would be Changi, Subic or Seppangar,"

      Okay, you're getting there but not quite yet. You've summed up some options (less well known options so there's some value in that summation) but then more or less ruled them out for various legitimate reasons which leaves us/you back at square one. Recognizing that there are no good options, what's your actual recommendation/solution? It's easy to criticize options, including your own, but the real value in this type of discussion comes from offering a concrete solution. As a side note, perhaps you're beginning to gain an appreciation for the challenges in writing this type of blog. Every post is criticized by people who can list faults but few have concrete alternatives to offer. I try to find and encourage those who have the vision and are willing to put forth viable alternatives for discussion. There's some value in critiquing, for sure, but there's far more value critiquing and offering alternatives!

      So, you've summed up the issue(s) with forward basing and noted the challenges. You've laid the groundwork, so to speak. Now, what is your specific recommendation(s)? You're 2/3 of the way - now finish it!

    7. "skeptical that India can make any substantial contributions"

      I agree that India's current, direct contribution potential is limited. To some extent, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We seem to be reluctant to sell them useful, front line equipment and they seem reluctant to buy it!

      In my mind, the real value of India is two-fold:

      1. They present a land army invasion threat which will tie up significant Chinese military resources, as you noted.

      2. More importantly, they offer useful basing opportunities for US forces to operate from. These bases would solidify the western flank of a Chinese war and offer the US offensive opportunities into the western South China Sea. Essentially, US bases in India forces China to wage a two-front war - Taiwan, Japan, and the eastern seas being one and the South China Sea, Malaysia/IndoChina region being the the other. This dilutes the A2/AD defensive strength in half, in a sense.

      What do you think?

    8. My actual position is that for the present threat posture, the US does not need any forward bases in the Pacific - Guam, Sasebo and Yokosuka are sufficient, and will remain sufficient so long as a hot war does not happen.*

      If the US absolutely must have forward basing in order to prosecute a war with China, then IMO Changi and Sepanggar are the best options, in the sense of being existing naval bases with facilities to support US ships, while being in close enough proximity to large airports (Changi & Paya Lebar airbases, KK International Airport & TUDM Labuan**) for munitions to be flown in and offloaded and trucked to the bases. Both are also sufficiently far enough from China so as to complicate retaliation and Chinese attack: fighters from Woody and the Paracels can barely reach both places to attack, while sending SAGs to deal with either base puts PLAN ships in the whole scenario I mentioned above, meaning the only option China has is to fire MRBMs at either base. It's one thing to be firing MRBMs at Japan (China's ancient foe) or Guam (American soil); it's another thing to be firing MRBMs at nations that China wants to turn into vassal states.

      I strongly doubt China will do that, because that would unify ASEAN against China; right now, China's having a grand old time playing off the ASEAN member states against each other because all the ASEAN countries hate each other and consider each other rivals and foes. China attacking Singapore and Malaysia would galvanise the rest of ASEAN, and the member states would set aside their rivalries to concentrate on a common enemy, because if there's one thing that could unite ASEAN, it's the sentiment of "Fuck China. No, seriously, Fuck China." (This is why, if you look at Chinese behaviour in the region, it's been a mix of diplomatic posturing and massive Chinese investment and playing all member states against each other, and relatively little military posturing.)

      *As I say this, I am reminded of the Royal Navy's 10 Year Plan that assumed no major wars would happen in the next 10 years. WW2 kicked off a few years later. :V Of course, it also depends on the nature of said flare up, and how things escalate. I disagree with you that there will be a war for Taiwan - with the way the Taiwanese economy is shrinking while the Chinese economy is growing, and with how China has suceeded in diplomatically marginalising Taiwan, plus the rising reunification sentiment and the weakening Taiwanese military, China doesn't actually need to invade Taiwan. It can afford to play the long game and wait a decade or two, or three, until the Taiwanese themselves want to reunite with the mainland, because China doesn't actually need Taiwan.

      **Labuan would be more of a PITA deliver munitions, since you'd have to fly them to the airport, unload, truck them to the wharf, and then deliver said munitions by ship to Sepanggar (or, if you wanted to complicate things further, ship munitions to KK, then truck them to Sepanggar). But it could be done.

    9. "I agree that India's current, direct contribution potential is limited. To some extent, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We seem to be reluctant to sell them useful, front line equipment and they seem reluctant to buy it!"

      This deserves a bit more exposition for other readers reading this - I suspect you may well know a fair bit of what I'm typing below.

      I'm going to need to simplify and skim over a lot of details, but basically Prime Minister Modi, for the last decade, has been pushing his Make in India initiative, of which, as that relates to the defense sector, indian companies should make kit for the Indian military and they shouldn't buy foreign. The problem is that the defense sector, and indeed the industrial sector in India as a whole, is atrophied and underdeveloped, due to a combination of shitloads of red tape, massive bureaucratic corruption making it hard to get shit done, tremendous protectionism, and Indian economic planning in the 90s, where they decided to skip industrialising and jump straight to a tech/service/knowledge based economy.

      The other reason firms are reluctant to sell to India is because of a massive song and dance where nothing gets done. Consider the French firm Dassault. A decade ago, Dassault was desperate for Rafale sales, and offered the Indians a very good deal for 128 aircraft, including technology transfer and local manufacturing and supply chain setup. And then the Indians dragged everything out in a song and dance and kept demanding all sorts of changes to the contract, and kept wanting to renegotiate the contract - the cherry on the cake being that Dassault (in France) would be responsible for any and all defects in the Rafales locally built in India by HAL.

      Yup. You read that right. Dassault would be responsible for defects and shoddy workmanship performed by HAL.

      In the circles I run elsewhere, Indian defense procurement has become a meme and we look pityingly at any foreign arms maker who's desperate enough to sell to the Indians and get stuck in the circus that is Indian defense procurement. Heck, consider their ATGM purchase last year. First they say Javelin won. Then they said no, it was Spike. Then they said no, Spike and Javelin are disqualified, the local indian-made ATGM is superior to both so they'll take that. Then suddenly they annouce they're going to go with Javelin again. Or Spike.

      Like I said, it takes a special sort of terribleness to make the F-35 program look good.

      To be fair to India, they're in a catch-22. They want and need to develop their own military-industrial complex in order to maintain armaments independence, to give them that strategic independence. The problem is that the Army is screaming bloody murder about how they need kit that works now, fuck developing the MIC while soldiers are dying. And India can only afford to do one.

      Develop the military-industrial complex, it's going to take decades before that sees fruition, and meanwhile the airforce is flying fighters that are falling apart, the army's using shit rifles that break and spray oil in your face... but on the other hand if you don't develop the military industrial complex, then you're forever at the mercy of your foreign suppliers.


    10. "2. More importantly, they offer useful basing opportunities for US forces to operate from. These bases would solidify the western flank of a Chinese war and offer the US offensive opportunities into the western South China Sea."

      This is a possibility, although it's my opinion that trying to base out of the Andaman and Nicobar islands runs into the same issues as Subic, only worse, in that you'd need to develop up the port facilities to support your ships. On the other hand, it's still better than nothing. There's a further consideration: if China actually manages to talk Thailand into letting them dig a canal through the Kra isthmus, that canal allows them to bypass the Malacca Strait chokepoint (which is the whole reason China wants a Kra canal to happen, allowing free movement of its merchant shipping and warships). A forward base in the Andamans allows the USN an avenue to cover and interdict the Kra canal (well, assuming the Thais don't make nice with Uncle Sam and close the canal). Although this is more of a hypothetical.

      On the other hand, there's something to be said for basing in an allied nation with its own nuclear deterrent, to give China some extra pause to the idea of just nuking the Andamans forward base.

      I'm not convinced however that basing in the Andamans will be relevant to a conflict in the South China Sea. I think it's too far, especially given your suggestion of offensive opportunities into the western bit of the SCS - that's basically vietnamese waters (of which the obvious potential base sites are Da Nang, Hai Phong, Cam Ranh, etc), but we just get back into the same issues with Vietnam basing I talked about earlier.

      "This dilutes the A2/AD defensive strength in half, in a sense."

      Possibly. On the other hand, the problem is that it really depends what the nature of the war is like - sure, ASEAN, SK, Taiwan and Japan have their own beefs with China that would bring them in on the side of the US in a war, but I'm not sure it'd be enough to bring in everyone to wage a two-front war. China stirring shit in the SCS and going after ASEAN isn't going to bring in Japan into the picture, what with the lack of alliance with ASEAN (and I'm not sure Abe would be able to sell joining the US to fight China on ASEAN's behalf as collective self defense :V). On the other hand, China going after Taiwan or Japan isn't going to get ASEAN hot and bothered, because Japan isn't ASEAN's problem.

      So politcal factors may mean that the US may not necessarily get that 2-front war. Although, stranger things have happened - China overreaching and pissing off everyone enough is certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

    11. "My actual position is that for the present threat posture, the US does not need any forward bases in the Pacific ... as a hot war does not happen."

      Trying to build major bases during an active war is problematic, at best. It is far better to have such bases pre-existing. Pre-existing bases also complicate the enemy's strategy as they need to be dealt with. It's far harder to destroy a fully functioning base than to simply prevent a new one from being built.

      So, your approach limits the US to the few bases we already have. These few are generally acknowledged to be insufficient in number and usefulness to conduct a war with China so your approach leaves us at a distinct disadvantage.

      Fewer bases also allows China to concentrate their first strikes on fewer targets. For example, most observers believe that Guam will be rendered largely inoperative in the opening moments of a war and will remain so indefinitely.

      Your analysis is valid enough but it does nothing to improve the situation. To be fair, the Navy is, thus far, taking the same approach you advocate. Of course, to be even more fair, the Navy's record on wise decision making is abysmal.

      As noted, there are no easy/good options.

      To be clear, what I've stated about Taiwan is that if a war starts, for any reason, Taiwan will be the first Chinese objective. They simply cannot allow a forward base for the US to use that close to their mainland. I've not stated that Taiwan will be the reason for a war or the only objective of a war. That seems unlikely.

    12. "Trying to build major bases during an active war is problematic, at best. It is far better to have such bases pre-existing. Pre-existing bases also complicate the enemy's strategy as they need to be dealt with. It's far harder to destroy a fully functioning base than to simply prevent a new one from being built."

      Indeed that's truae, and while I think a hot war with China is unlikely (it does not serve either the US or China's interests), the world is full of unlikely events happening. It's that catch-22 of sorts: so long as the present status quo holds, the US does not need any more forward bases, but if the status quo falls apart and a hot war happens, it's too late to build up those bases.

      Unless, perhaps, the USN and USMC can seize the Chinese bases in the Spratlys to use them as a redo of Ulithi, but I don't really think that's practical (and that assumes the Chinese don't have plans in place to sabotage said bases to deny them to the US).

      The problem is that there's no real good options, particularly if you assume that the Chinese are going to straight away jump to nuclear fire in a first strike to take out US bases in the region. On the other hand, if the aim is to complicate Chinese targeting and split the focus, then I'd say go for Changi and Sepanggar as the naval forward bases, with Camn Ranh, Hai Phong and Da Nang in Vietnam as 2nd choices - the closer proximity of Vietnam to China cuts both ways, because you've got faster turnaround time between transit to combat zone and resupply pier, but it's easier for the Chinese to send land-based air and SAGs to hit bases in Vietnam (assuming they restrain themselves from using nukes in order to avoid provoking ASEAN).

      Otoh it does depend a lot on where you're prosecuting said war, doesn't it? Vietnam is nescessary if you want to prosecute attacks into the Chinese mainland (I'll sidestep the question of whether it's necessary to hit the Chinese mainland, because I'm in a bit of a hurry). On the other hand, if you're keeping the fighting contained in the SCS - a USN CSG brawling with a PLAN CVBG - you don't really *need* Vietnam, because Changi and Sepanggar provide legit basing options (that said, there's nothing wrong with forward basing in Vietnam to provide a check on the SCS - it's the American way, ever since the Civil War, to show up to the fight with the bestest and the mostest).

      "To be clear, what I've stated about Taiwan is that if a war starts, for any reason, Taiwan will be the first Chinese objective. They simply cannot allow a forward base for the US to use that close to their mainland. I've not stated that Taiwan will be the reason for a war or the only objective of a war. That seems unlikely."

      Ah, ok, now we're on the same page. I think China will definitely take steps to neutralise Taiwan, but I'm not convinced they will launch an invasion - they don't have the amphibious lift for that (not yet, anyhow; maybe that'll change once they finish their fleet buildup and recapitalisation). But they will definitely take measures to interdict the Taiwanese Navy and Air Force acting freely, and given how reportedly China has heavily infiltrated Taiwan's military, well...

    13. "assume that the Chinese are going to straight away jump to nuclear fire"

      That's just ridiculous. They may be evil, ruthless, immoral, corrupt, etc. but they're not insane. Concentrating a large number of nuclear weapon explosions (ours and theirs) near or on their homeland would be self-defeating. Too many people are scared to the point of inaction or appeasement by the "threat" of nuclear weapons. The Chinese are no more likely to use nuclear weapons than we are.

    14. You're listed various possible forward bases and noted the difficulties in establishing and operating them. Now, take a step back. Forget the technical issues like logistics or politics. What can we gain from such a base even if we could establish one? I'm not talking about vague generalities like control the seas around the base or threaten the enemy's operations. I'm talking about specifics. For any specific potential base,

      Do we want to attack China's mainland? If so, with what weapons/assets? Do we even have the weapons we would need (short range ballistic missiles, for example)?

      Do we want to interdict shipping to/from China? If so, is a forward base the best way/place to do it?

      What specific targets are in range of this base that make it worth the effort to set up and defend?

      What specific forces should occupy the base (relative to the capabilities those forces bring)?

      What enemy actions would the base prevent?

      Answer those kinds of questions and you'll have an answer about whether the base is worth establishing.

      For example,

      "Vietnam ... faster turnaround time between transit to combat zone"

      What combat zone? What area of operation would a Vietnam base impact and specifically how? What is the range to the combat zone and how does that affect sortie rates? What targets are within range that justify the base?

      Too many people think generically and list all the generic, non-specific things that a base can theoretically do. That's fine but it's the specifics that matter. We'd hate to build a base that has no meaningful impact on the actual war!

      This is analogous to the discussion on frigates. Everyone wants to extol the generic virtues of frigates without giving any thought to whether those virtues are of any actual use to the US Navy and its anticipated operations. When you look at the details, suddenly that wonderful frigate is no longer as useful - or, maybe it's incredibly useful and we should be buying hundreds more!

      Specifics matter more than generics.

  9. Good article! I have been trying to think of a good purpose for the A 10. Base defense seems like a good one. A 10s can carry 8 tons of ordinance, including the LRHAshM. Any invasion will require ships. Having more missiles available for launch against the invasion fleet should result in fewer troops and equipment making it ashore.

    Also, A 10s have been flown off and landed on the Nimitz carriers. Just like WW2, Carriers can ferry A 10s to Guam for island defense. It makes no sense to scrap a good attack aircraft when it can be used in the Pacific theater.

    Finally, having only 38 Hornets on a CVN must leave a LOT of open hanger deck. A 10s could be used as attack planes, freeing up F-18s for fighter duties. I know that they will take up more room than planes with folding wings, but, planes can be parked with overlapping wings to reduce the total "foot print" in the hanger.
    Certainly the Ford should have at least 20 A 10s, that don't require working CATOBARS to be operational.

    The Navy should start a new program with Northrup/Fairchild to design and build a replacement for the A 10 for Carrier use. It doesn't have to be the A 10, but it must perform as well as the A 10.

    1. "good purpose for the A 10. Base defense"

      In the abstract, yes. Do you have a concrete, reasonably likely scenario in which this would apply? I ask because one of the consistent failings of modern military thinkers is to think in the abstract rather than the actual. For example, there is no reasonable scenario in which I can foresee an invasion of Guam. Attacks with missiles, certainly! Invasion, no.

      "A 10s have been flown off and landed on the Nimitz carriers."

      I'm pretty sure this is not true. Do you have a reference to such a thing happening?

      "replacement for the A 10 for Carrier use."

      That's a potentially valid variant. We used to have something sort of similar in the A-1 Skyraider.

    2. A-10s on carriers? Categorically NOT true. Just look at those flimsy USAF landing gear.
      However I like your logic. We sure could use an A-6 like capable jet again but we are stuck with Rhinos, Lihtenigns and now, lol, Stingrays. Imperfect underachieving aircraft but fearsome sounding...

    3. Sorry I took so long to reply.

      A-10s on carriers.

      Google has a photo of an A-10 with a tail hook down, landing on arresting wires. Also, a question on Quara provided this answer:

      Bob Keeter, Retired flight test / systems engineer / engineering lead
      Answered Jul 24, 2017 · Author has 4.5k answers and 3.6m answer views
      An A-10 with its STOL capability quite possibly could operate off of a carrier deck without the catapult or arresting cable, assuming that the carrier is making good speed into a stiff breeze. As for the rest, the aircraft would be ripped apart by the cat and the gear would collapse with a trap.

      Not an ideal carrier based aircraft but, we don't seem to have anything better for an attack plane (and they're FREE)!

      Guam Island defense.

      Assuming that a shooting war has already started, A-10s have a long range (1100ish miles) and very long loiter time which is ideal for scouting, and would force the Chinese to keep their ships at least that far away, Area Denial. Loaded with LRHAshMs they would provide even longer Area Denial distance.

    4. "Google has a photo of an A-10 with a tail hook down,"

      Give me a link. I'm absolutely certain such a photo is not real.

      As far as theoretical operation from a carrier, the listed specs say no.

      Minimum Take Off Distance - 3,100.36 feet
      Minimum Landing Distance - 2,001.29 feet
      Link here

    5. "A-10s have a long range (1100ish miles) and very long loiter time which is ideal for scouting, and would force the Chinese to keep their ships at least that far away"

      I don't see that. The A-10 has no long range, anti-ship cruise missile that I'm aware of. It's missiles are very short range Hellfire and the like. Thus, it would have to approach well inside a ship's defensive missile zone and would not survive long enough to attack.

      I don't follow Air Force matters that closely. Maybe the A-10 has a long range missile I'm not aware of?

    6. A-10 long range missile.

      The Air Force jointly developed the LRASM with the Navy. They have an air launched version and the Navy has a ship launched version. I don't know the specifics of hard points on the A-10 but, they can launch Harpoons. It is likely that the Air Force has not considered the question, since they want to retire the A-10.

      Perhaps this is an inquiry that the Navy can make?

      The AGM-158C is 2500lbs and has a range "over 200 miles" with speculation of an actual range of 300 miles. The A-10 could carry 4 LRASMs and a 600 gallon external fuel tank. It also has the capacity to carry 2 Sidewinders but I don't see any use for them in this role.

    7. The A-10 is not certified for the LRASM and, to the best of my knowledge, is not certified for Harpoon missiles. I could be wrong about the Harpoon and would happily say so if you can provide a reference to the contrary.

      Now, this doesn't mean that it couldn't become certified if the need were there.

      By the way, Wiki lists a 250 mile combat radius with an anti-armor load. Carrying LRASMs at 2500 lbs each would significantly decrease that radius. So, the combination of reduced radius (say, 180 miles?) plus weapon range gives an effective threat range of 380+ miles.

    8. The A-10 can't use Harpoon. It has hardpoints that can take the weight of the missile and launch rail, but the A-10 lacks a radar, and so it can't cue the Harpoon. Theoretically you could still fire Harpoons off an A-10 by setting them to seek targets on their own and just firing them off and letting them find their own targets, but then you'd need an offboard sensor asset to guide the A-10, and the problem with this method of launch is that you're blindfiring a missile which could go off anywhere or lock onto the wrong ship. It's iffy.

  10. In addition to hardening Guam, we should look to expand bases along the Marianas. Rota, Tinian and Saipan are all options that could mutually support each other and Guam. Especially if they had some hardened munitions depots, fuel, hangars and runway recovery equipment, they would provide dispersal and backup options for Guam. This seems to be a no-brainer, except that no Congressman wins votes funding overseas construction.

    Something else I ponder (and I'm not sure about) is whether there would be any value in beefing up Wake and Midway. They aren't crucial when Guam is the tip of the spear, but would they provide any use as backups if Guam becomes unusable? Do they have value as fuel depots and friendly ports/airfields between Hawaii and Guam?

    1. Very good comment and questions. The problem with the Mariana island bases is that they're too far away from operating areas to be directly useful (bomber bases, maybe, except that we only have around 19 operational B-2s). They could certainly offer logistic support, though.

      If we're willing to build them up they could offer alternatives to Guam but that's a lot of effort cost to not gain direct combat benefits.

      What we really need to work on is viable base defense so that we can operate closer bases.

  11. I have been thinking a lot about this. The key fact is that the Chinese have only a few dozen ballistic missiles capable of reaching the Second Island Chain. That means bases in the Marianas, perhaps supplemented by Yap, Peleliu and Angaur, and Iwo Jima should be fairly easily defensible, provided they are hardened and that we multiply our bases in the Marianas as Son of a Sailor is suggesting. They will take hits, but only a limited number. And yes, we need to harden them across the board.

    That leaves cruise missiles, and that is where the bases in the Ryukyus are important, to impede access by Japanese bombers to a launch point from which they can target the Second Island Chain. The problem of course is that the bases in Japan are in range of hundreds of ballistic missiles and are going to be extremely difficult to keep operational. If we can keep them open, then we have the capacity to counter attack Chinese targets immediately. If not, any counter attacks will have to come from the Second Island Chain.

    The other wrinkle here is that we no longer have a tactical strike aircraft with the range to strike China from the Second Island chain. We need something in the same niche as the F-111, something with a radius of 1500-2000 miles, that can get to within cruise missile range of China. The proposed FB-22 was in that ballpark. We also need some effective long range cruise missiles, but that seems to be something DARPA is working on.

    Another solution would be to start building ground launched cruise missiles and ballistic missiles capable of reaching China from the Marianas. Such are presently prohibited by treaties with Russia, but they would be a much quicker and easier way of restoring deterence in the conventional realm.

    Midway might serve as a decent fallback base for Ship repair out of missile range. Kwajalein might work in that capacity as well.

    In short, there is a lot we need to be thinking about. We need to figure out how to keep the bases in the first Island Chain open at least minimally, and we need to figure out how to strike from the Second Island chain until we can establish air superioirity over the first Island chain.

  12. Wake and Midway (the others even smaller..) are tiny little coral atolls with nothing more than a runway and a cluster of support buildings. They are not real estate we would want to leverage any strategy off of. Tiny, no water, no port facilities possible.

    Nope. We cannot dodge the bullet. We need more CSGs with the right mix of purpose built carrier jet aircraft, more SSNs, cruisers/destroyers, frigates and at sea replenishment ships.. Also more long range USAF bombers and finish upgrades to the Nuclear TRIAD systems and modernization of the nuc weapons themselves soonest.

    Expensive, eh? Real defense aint cheap.


  13. Wake and Midway have as much useable area for an airbase as Diego Garcia. Midway has an anchorage of about a square mile, but would need additional dredging and the removal of some coral heads to open it out. It has an inner harbor that also needs additional dredging and warf reinforcement, but once done it would yield 5000 feet of Quay. For reference, Apra harbor has an anchorage of 2.5 square miles and 10,000 feel of Quay.

    So not firstline bases, but not useless either. If we were willing to dredge and fill like the Chinese, there are all kinds of additional possibilities on top of the above.

    1. "If we were willing to dredge and fill like the Chinese, there are all kinds of additional possibilities on top of the above."

      Good point.

  14. In terms of Base useage in event of a war, we can probably count on the Japanese, as Okinawa will be the first target, and I don't see the Japanese backing away from that fight. Beyond that, we basically control the defense policy of Micronesia, so Angaur, Yap, and Peleliu are more or less at our disposal. Personally, I think we should approach the Japanese very quietly about access to Iwo Jima.

    The Philippines are obviously crucial, but so long as Duerte is in office, I don't see any kind of stable relationship.

    1. "we can probably count on the Japanese, as Okinawa will be the first target, and I don't see the Japanese backing away from that fight."

      Likely true. Of more concern is what if the Chinese don't attack Japan? Then what? Do the Japanese jump into the war unprovoked? Do they remain neutral? Tough political choice, huh? Tough spot for the US, too!

      I think that not attacking Japan would be a strategic masterstroke by China. If Japan enters the war then they are viewed as aggressors on the world stage and China gains sympathy.

  15. It depends on how the war unflods, what China's objective are, and what our basing agreement in Okinawa includes.

    If China wishes to control the South And East China Seas, they will want to neutralize Okinawa. I don't see the Japanese submitting to Chinese control of their major trade routes.

    The same is true if China wishes to invade Taiwan--they will need to neutralize Okinawa to protect the invasion fleet. Here I think they would simply strike first to defend the fleet.

    If our basing agreement in Okinawa allows us to act independently, then China will strike first to protect their coastal industries and naval bases.

    All in all, I have a hard time imagining war aims for China that would persuade Japan to choose neutrality and prevent the US from using Okinawa to strike back. Were they to do so, they would be accepting Chinese hegemony over an American alliance.


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