Thursday, June 20, 2019

Poop Or Get Off The Pot


For those of you keeping score, the Iranians have now shot at three US UAV drones this month, downing two of them.

6-Jun-2019 – Destroyed;  MQ-9 Reaper;  shot by SA-6

13-Jun-2019 – Miss;  MQ-9 Reaper;  shot at by SA-7

19-Jun-2019 – Destroyed;  Navy MQ-4C Triton (BAMS) (variously reported as RQ-4A Global Hawk)

This is in addition to at least six tanker minings attributed to Iran in the last few weeks.

You’ll also recall the 2011 capture by Iran of an RQ-170 Sentinel that may have had its control communications hacked.

Does allowing a country to conduct this many attacks seem like a good idea?


These incidents illustrate a couple points we’ve made.

  • UAVs are not survivable over the modern battlefield.  These UAVs are flying in a very permissive air space (surface to air shots notwithstanding!) and are being attacked by a third rate (if that) military.  Imagine the life expectancy of such UAVs against China.

  • These UAVs are just promoting incidents.  If we’re not going to respond aggressively and stomp on Iran HARD, then we should pull pack and leave the area.  At the moment, all we’re doing is antagonizing Iran to no good purpose and wearing out our men and equipment, in addition to losing expensive drones.

This is the ‘shit or get off the pot’ moment.  We need to respond FORCEFULLY or leave.  

China Training Hard

China is training hard.  Here's their amphibious tank firing from the water.



Chinese Type 05 Amphibious Tank 

From China Defense Blog
http://china-defense.blogspot.com/2019/06/pla-unit-of-day-14th-combined-arms.html



If you were the defender, would you rather face the US Marine's AAV with a 0.50 cal machine gun or the Chinese ZTD-05 amphibious tank with a 105 mm gun, 12.7 mm gun, and 7.62 mm gun plus 105 mm laser guided anti-tank missiles?

We kick around the idea of an amphibious tank, though not very seriously, while the Chinese actually have built and deployed them.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Air/Sea Battle Revisited, Fads, and the Future of Warfare

As we know, the military (and Navy) has no actual military strategy for dealing with China.  Instead, they substitute technology for strategy and, occasionally, toss out operational concepts which become passing fads.  Do you recall the hype and craze about Air/Sea Battle (ASB) from a just a few years ago?  It was all the rage for a while but we haven’t heard a peep about it for some time now.  It came and went.

To refresh your memory, ASB, as articulated by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment think tank, envisioned a long, drawn out roll back of the Chinese Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) zone in what amounted to a battle of attrition.  Aside from the inherently losing nature of a battle of attrition when you don’t have superior numbers, ASB offered no actual victory conditions and didn’t suggest what to do after the roll back had been achieved.

Flaws aside, ASB was the hot operational thinking for few years.

ASB was published in May 2010.  The astute military observer might wonder why a think tank was publishing military strategy that the military immediately latched onto?  Are our professional military leaders incapable of formulating their own strategy and have to use a civilian think tank’s offering?  The answer, of course, is a resounding yes!  Our military lacks any semblance of strategic thinking.

Moving on, in Oct-2013, the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee held a hearing on AirSea Battle (ASB) with a panel of senior uniformed leaders from each of the services (see, “AirSeaBattle Testimony”). (1)  The hearing was striking for the utter lack of planning by the military and culminated with Congress asking the military leaders what our military strategy was.  The resulting blank looks and silence was proof our professional leaders incompetence.  But, I digress …

In January of 2015, the Pentagon announced a major ASB development.  They announced that they were renaming it to Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC).  And … that’s pretty much the last we heard of it.

So, ASB arose from out of nowhere, was enthusiastically embraced by the military, and, in the space of some four plus years … vanished.

This illustrates the fad-ish nature of our military strategic thinking.  Let’s examine that fad-ish tendency a bit closer.

Do you recall the fad that came before ASB?  That’s right, “littoral”.  Starting in the early 2000’s, all naval warfare was going to take place in, and be solved by, “littoral” combat ships.  Yes, the LCS the key to winning wars and would render all other ships obsolete.  Well, we know how that turned out.  LCS aside, when was the last time you heard discussions of “littoral”?  Yeah, that’s pretty much died out unless it’s trotted out to justify another LCS purchase.

Do you recall the fad that came after ASB?  That’s right, distributed lethality which popped into existence a few years ago, around 2016 or so.  Distributed lethality, whereby cargo ships, amphibious ships, and, according to the Navy, anything that can float, will be armed with a few anti-ship missiles and sent into enemy territory alone to wreak havoc and rain destruction down of a bewildered enemy, totally confused and operationally paralyzed by the multitude of targets.  Of course, even distributed lethality talk has been dying down of late. 

So, we went from Littoral to Air/Sea Battle to Distributed Lethality.  Each was guaranteed to be the key to the future of warfare.  Three “futures of warfare”, all in the space of around 14 years, as seen in the brief time line below.


2002 – Littoral

2010 – Air/Sea Battle

2016 – Distributed Lethality


Where are we now?  Well, we noted that even the distributed lethality talk has been dying down.  What’s taking its place?  Why, the F-35, of course!  The next “future of warfare” is the F-35 – the magic plane that will leisurely make its way, unseen, through enemy air space while simultaneously acting as an all-seeing, all-knowing AWACS, guiding missiles launched by ships or airborne missile trucks, providing ECM support to the battlefield, conducting close air support for ground forces, directing unmanned UAV wingman aircraft, and achieving a kill ratio of … well, infinity because the F-35 can’t be shot down!  The F-35 will change the face of warfare as we know it, proponents claim, rendering all previous operational combat concepts obsolete.  Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that the F-35 is our current fad.  Of course, history says that this fad will pass in a couple of years to be replaced by some new, hot concept.

So much for our professional warriors with a clear and consistent philosophy, huh?



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Monday, June 17, 2019

Iranian Tanker Attack

By now, you’ve read about the two tankers, one Norwegian and one Japanese, supposedly attacked by Iranian forces in the Gulf of Oman on 13-Jun-2019.  The US believes the Iranians were responsible.  Publicly released evidence is sketchy but includes,
  • Photos and video, provided by US Central Command, of Iranian boats removing an unexploded limpet mine from a tanker. (1)
  • Unverified report of an Iranian vessel firing a surface-to-air missile at a US MQ-9 Reaper UAV a few hours before the tanker attacks. (1)
  • The belief that no other actor in the region would have the motivation, skill, and resources to conduct such an attack. (2)

On a related note, the crew of the Japanese ship reported being attacked by a flying object but there has been no other such reports or verification. (2)



Also on a related note, you might recall that a month ago four oil tankers were damaged in an attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates using what were likely limpet mines. (2)

The US appears satisfied with whatever evidence it has and is blaming the Iranians for the attacks.

"It is the assessment of the U.S. government that Iran is responsible for today's attacks in the Gulf of Oman," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. "These attacks are a threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable escalation of tension by Iran." (1)

As I said, the publicly released evidence is sketchy although the video of the Iranian boat removing the limpet mine is fairly damning.  One would assume that the US has additional evidence that it prefers not to release so as to protect sources although that’s just speculation on my part. 

Photo From Surveillance Video Showing Iranian Boat Removing Limpet Mine From Tanker


Let’s set aside the question of absolute proof or not and, instead, examine the larger issue of maritime security and the US Navy’s role.

By their own claim, the US Navy’s mission is to ensure the freedom of the maritime global commons.  From the Navy website,

The mission of the Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas. (3)

So, the Navy exists not just to protect US-flagged shipping but to deter aggression, apparently from any source and directed anywhere and at anyone and to maintain the ‘freedom of the seas’ which, again, suggests that the Navy is defending the maritime commons for ALL nations.  Thus, an attack on any country’s ship constitutes aggression, which is the Navy’s self-proclaimed mission to prevent, and a threat to the general freedom of the seas which, again, is the Navy’s job to prevent.  This then eliminates the idea that since the attacked ships weren’t US-flagged, the Navy can’t get involved.

We have, then, ample justification for naval action with the only question being, against whom?  Since we just read that the US Secretary of State is unequivocally assigning the blame to Iran, it follows that the Navy is duty bound to take action against Iran.

Now, suppose we don’t take action.  This would lead one to wonder why we bother with our much ballyhooed forward presence.  What’s the point of presence if we won’t take action when we believe we have clear evidence of aggression and a threat to the freedom of the seas?  The Navy justifies its ships, deployments, operating costs, etc. on the basis of forward presence and yet that forward presence is rarely, bordering on never, used.

We have seen a pattern of inaction in response to provocations, aggression, and threats.  For example, the Iranians illegally seized our boats and crews when they were lost, the Chinese have made outrageous territorial claims and attributed non-existent attributes to EEZ zones, the Russians have conducted multiple unsafe aerial and naval acts around our forces, the Chinese have ordered us out of ‘their’ South China Sea (ignoring the fact that it is international waters!), the Chinese have seized our unmanned underwater vehicles, the Iranians have interfered with our carrier aviation operations, and the list goes on and on – a buffet of aggression and threats to the freedom of the seas.  The only recent exception to this pattern of inaction on our part was the launching of some Tomahawks at purported radar sites in Yemen in response to a claimed attack on a Burke destroyer – an attack that public evidence strongly suggests never occurred.

So, I repeat, why are we wasting time, effort, and resources maintaining a forward presence when we clearly have no intention of using them?  Now, perhaps I’ll be surprised and wake up tomorrow to read about a retaliatory attack on Iran but I suspect not.  If we’re not going to use the Navy then bring the ships and crews home and let’s save unimaginable amounts of money.

The video of the Iranians removing the mine from the ship was taken by a US drone.  What better opportunity and justification could there be for action?  Instead, we did nothing.  The fleet is useless.  It’s accomplishing nothing.  Bring it home.




____________________________________

(1)Business Insider website, “An Iranian boat reportedly fired a missile at a US drone right before the tanker attack”, Ryan Pickrell, 15-Jun-2019,
https://www.businessinsider.com/iranian-boat-took-shot-at-us-drone-before-tanker-attack-2019-6

(2)BBC News website, “Gulf of Oman tanker attacks: US says video shows Iran removing mine”, 14-Jun-2019, 
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48633016


Friday, June 14, 2019

We Got Nothin'

Consider that snarky but classic response to a request for ideas:  “Ahh  … I got nothin’ ”

Well, as I ponder the state of the US Navy’s combat fleet, I get the same feeling. 

LCS – We have a fleet of commissioned warships that have no mission and no means to execute a mission since they have no useful and effective mission modules.  Seriously, an entire fleet of warships that can’t execute a combat mission???

Zumwalt – We have two commissioned Zumwalt’s – soon to be three – that have no mission, no main functional weapon, are searching for a role, and lack installed combat systems.  Seriously, we commissioned warships without a main weapon and without any combat system???

Ford – We have a commissioned aircraft carrier that can’t load munitions onto its aircraft because it has no functioning elevators and can’t operate F-35s because it lacks the proper communications and support equipment and facilities.  Seriously, we commissioned a non-functional carrier???

If you asked the Navy to honestly and objectively describe their combat fleet and its capabilities, their response would have to be, “Ahh    I got nothin’ ”

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Ending War - True Victory

Today’s post addresses the issue of victory in a war.  As such, it relates to the formulation of a geopolitical strategy – victory being the presumed end result of any strategy – and builds on the previous discussion of the foundational principles of geopolitical strategy (see, “Foundational Principles of Geopolitical Strategy”).

War with China is inevitable.  The only question is when.  We’ve previously discussed victory conditions in a Chinese war and the need for a military strategy to achieve the desired victory conditions (see, "China War - Setting the Stage").  Most observer’s and commentator’s idea of strategy and victory conditions involve containing China within the first island chain.  If we can push them back to pre-war boundaries then we’ve ‘won’ in the sense that we will have achieved the specified victory conditions: in essence, a return to status-quo (see, "China War Strategy - Blockade").

The problem with this approach and this set of victory conditions is that it raises the nagging question of whether this is actually a long term victory. 

Before we go any further, let’s ask ourselves what ‘victory’ is?  The truest and most desirable ‘victory’ is when you never have to fight that enemy again.  Any other result is not really a victory, just a temporary cessation of hostilities during which the enemy can rebuild and rearm.

Will ‘victory’ that returns China to pre-war boundaries and status quo (assuming we can achieve it!) assure that we won’t have to fight China again?  I ask because a ‘victory’ that results in having to refight the war again is not really a victory, is it? 

Does history support this set of victory conditions (return to pre-war boundaries and status quo) as being an actual victory? 

Let’s look at the historical record of wars in modern times (since the 1900’s) that ended with the losing side intact and essentially returned to pre-war boundaries and status quo and see whether the ‘winners’ really won in the long term.

Russo-Japanese War 1904-5 – Japan won a significant victory but left an intact Russia.  .  What was the long term result?  Within 40 years Japan had to fight Russia again in WWII.  So, the war wasn’t really a victory for Japan, was it?

WWI – Germany was ‘defeated’ and returned to pre-war boundaries.  What was the long term result?  Within 20 years we had to fight Germany again.  So, WWI wasn’t really a victory, was it?

Korean War – NKorea was ‘defeated’ and returned to pre-war boundaries.  What was the long term result?  We’ve been fighting NKorea ever since.  They’ve developed atomic weapons, conducted vast cyber attacks against the US, torpedoed SKorean warships, brutally oppressed their people, developed intercontinental ballistic missiles, launched ballistic missiles into Japanese territorial waters, and forced the US to tie up significant military forces in SKorea.  So, the Korean War wasn’t really a victory, was it?

Cold War – While not an overtly kinetic war, the Soviet Union was ‘defeated’ and returned to pre-war boundaries, more or less.  What was the long term result?  The Soviet Union, now called Russia, is once again threatening Europe, annexing and invading countries, and threatening the US with new nuclear weapons.  Now, 20 years later, we’re engaged in a repeat of the Cold War.  So, the Cold War wasn’t really a victory, was it?

Arab-Israeli War (Six Day War 1967) – Israel defeated a coalition of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.  While Egypt lost the Sinai territory, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria remained intact military and political entities with their pre-war boundaries more or less intact.  What was the long term result?  Israel was nearly destroyed in the 1973 Yom Kippur War just six years later.  So, the Six Day War wasn’t really a victory for Israel, was it?

Israeli-Palestinian/Hamas War – Israel has repeatedly engaged and defeated Hamas while allowing the Hamas ‘country’ to return to its pre-war boundaries each time.  What has been the long term result?  Israel has had to repeat the war over and over again.  So, the Israeli victories haven’t really been victories, have they?

Gulf War / Desert Storm – Iraq and Sadaam Hussein were ‘defeated’ and returned to pre-war boundaries.  What was the long term result?  Within 12 years we had to refight Iraq and Hussein.  So, Desert Storm wasn’t really a victory, was it?

India – Pakistan War of 1965 – Though technically a stalemate, India had the clear upper hand but both countries returned to their pre-war boundaries.  What has been the long term result?  The countries have engaged in numerous clashes over the subsequent years.  So, there was no victory, was there?

I considered including the 1982 Falklands War but it wasn’t a war in the sense that we’re discussing here.  It was a sovereignty dispute that resulted in combat but was conducted as a very limited battle with neither side attempting to attack the other’s homeland or non-disputed territories and, outside the narrow point of disagreement, neither side harbored any particular animosity towards the other.

What’s the common theme in these historical examples?  The losing side retained its boundaries and political existence, more or less unchanged and, in every case, the winner had to refight the war within a shockingly short time.  To put it bluntly, the winning side, in each case, lacked the will to decisively and permanently destroy its enemy which ensured that the war would be refought.

The Korean War represents a slight deviation from this conclusion in the sense that we haven’t had to engage in actual combat with NKorea again but we have, in every other way, been continually engaged with NKorea since the end of active hostilities.  Given the required commitment of massive military resources on an on-going basis, it might as well be war.


Now, let’s look at examples where the losing side ceased to exist as a military and political entity.

WWII – The Allies defeated Germany and Japan and occupied the countries, completely disarmed the military, and replaced the leadership and government.  The pre-war military, government, and leadership ceased to exist.  What was the long term result?  There has been no repeat of war with either country and both have become strong, peaceful, productive world contributors.  So, victory produced a permanent improvement for all parties.

Vietnam War – NVietnam defeated SVietnam and the US, occupied the country, disarmed the military, and replaced the leadership and government.  What was the long term result?  There has been no repeat of war and Vietnam has become a productive member of the world community with, astoundingly, improving relations with the US of late!  So, victory produced a permanent improvement for all parties.

Iraq War / Operation Iraqi Freedom – The US defeated Iraq, occupied the country, disarmed the military, and removed the leadership and government.  What was the long term result?  There has been no repeat war with Iraq.  So, victory produced a permanent improvement for all parties.


While ending a war as soon as possible often seems like a good thing, at the time, the sad reality is that it is always unwise.  Prematurely ending a war is appealing from economic, humanitarian, and other aspects but ultimately costs more than following through and establishing complete and total victory.

A war that leaves the losing side intact is all but guaranteed to recur in a shockingly short time.

We need to consider this as we formulate our geopolitical and military strategy towards China.




Note:  I’ve used the phrase, ‘returned to pre-war boundaries’.  I’m using it as an approximate statement.  I will not entertain any irrelevant comments debating the exact boundaries.  That’s not the point of the post.

Note:  There may be an isolated example somewhere in history that runs counter to the proffered premise but that doesn’t alter the general validity of the premise.  I’ll take a dim view of comments along these lines.  You’ll also note that I limited the analysis to modern times.  Earlier times had different conditions regarding war due to lack of modern transportation/mobility, communications, global economies, etc.

Monday, June 10, 2019

LCS IR Signature

Signature reduction was a major part of the Freedom variant LCS design and the slanted shape of the hull and superstructure is testament to the attempt by the designers to reduce the radar signature of the vessel.  How well they succeeded is unknown.  Beyond vague descriptions like, “a radar return the size of a fishing vessel”, there is no actual radar signature data that I’m aware of.

Another important aspect of signature reduction is infrared (heat).  Let’s take a closer look at this.

The first aspect that jumps out is the pair of diesel exhausts located on the ship’s sides, just above the waterline as seen in the photo below.  Note the discoloration around the exhausts.  On a side note, the various ‘camouflage’ schemes (it’s not really – it’s just a crew ‘feel good’ paint project) that have been applied to the ships all make a point of painting dark black around the exhausts as a means of hiding the exhaust stains.

Diesel Exhausts Low on the Hull, Marked by Stains

Diesel Exhausts Covered by Black Camouflage Patches


From a combat design point of view, the location of heat sources, in the form of the diesel exhausts, near the waterline invites hits by heat-seeking missiles at the waterline which is the worst place to have a hit as hits in that location have a high probability of causing flooding damage.  Given the LCS’ minimal manning concept and survivability design intent to abandon the ship upon receipt of a significant hit, placing heat sources at the waterline all but guarantees the hits will be significant and the ship will be lost.

The one unknown aspect is whether the diesels would be operated in combat.  The diesels are used for ship systems power and can be cross connected to the main propulsion system, as well, so I assume they would be operated in combat but I don’t know the combat power management scheme so I can’t say for sure.  If the diesels are not used in combat then this is not a vulnerability.

The other source of heat is the exhausts from the ship’s turbines.  For the Freedom variant, four 750-kW Fincantieri Isotta-Fraschini diesel generators provide 3 MW of electrical power to power the ship systems, according to Wiki.  For newer Freedom variants, Fairbanks Morse has been selected to provide two 16-cylinder Colt-Pielstick PA6B STC diesel engines that will deliver 12 MW of propulsion power. (2)

Note the location of the main exhausts, circled in the photo below.  From a combat design perspective, this is problematic since the exhausts are located within 20-30 ft of the ship’s main radar, the TRS-3D/4D.  Thus, a hit by a heat-seeking missile on or near the main exhausts will almost certainly destroy the ship’s radar which provides the targeting for the ship’s only air defense, the short range AAW missile defense RAM launcher.

Main Exhaust Location Near Radar

The exhaust location, essentially, invites the destruction of the ship’s only AAW defense.

This post is somewhat speculative in that I don’t have any data on the ship’s actual IR signature but it’s not much of a reach to believe that the main exhausts and the diesel exhausts, if they’re used in combat, are the primary point heat sources.  As we noted, the location of the main exhausts relative to the ship’s radar is problematic.  For a ship that was supposedly designed with significant signature reduction in mind, the main exhaust location is puzzling and suggests a design philosophy that is not focused on combat.  As noted in many other posts, this tendency to design warships without a focus on combat is as well entrenched as it is misguided.  All of this is just one more bit of proof that the LCS is not, and cannot be, an effective combat vessel.




__________________________________

(1)Naval Technology website, “US Navy’s LCS 4 completes main engine light-off”, 29-Oct-2012,
https://www.naval-technology.com/news/newsus-navy-lcs-4-completes-main-engine-light-off/


Saturday, June 8, 2019

If The Shoe Were On The Other Foot

I constantly read ideas regarding weapon and system employments that are just fundamentally unsound – actually, delusional is a more accurate description.  For example, our UAVs will blithely penetrate vast distances through enemy airspace, unscathed.  UAVs will loiter over the enemy forces and send back precise targeting data with which we will obliterate the enemy. 

Let’s look at some of the more egregious examples of delusional thinking that our military is engaging in.


Maritime Surveillance.  Would we be worried if the Chinese tried to find and track our naval forces by operating a long range maritime surveillance aircraft that was non-stealthy and slow?  Of course not.  We’d just send the closest aircraft to leisurely shoot it down.  If that’s the case, that a non-stealthy, slow maritime surveillance aircraft is no threat to us then why do we think our non-stealthy, slow, large, P-8 Poseidon or MQ-4C Triton UAV is going to be able to survive long enough to accomplish anything in a war?

UAVs.  Are we going to allow UAVs to casually fly over the battlefield, reporting back to the Russians with surveillance and targeting data?  Of course not.  We have multiple ways to shoot down UAVs and we’re working on others.  So, if UAVs can’t be effective against us, why are we making UAVs one of the cornerstones of our Third Offset Strategy?  Do we really think the Russians or Chinese will allow us to operate UAVs over the battlefield, unchallenged?

Networks.  Our civilian and military networks are penetrated with regularity, right now, by the North Koreans, Russians, and Chinese – and these are just the incidents that are public knowledge.  Do we think the NKoreans, Russians, and Chinese will have less success during war when they’ll have absolutely no constraints on their actions?  Of course not!  They’ll have more success.  And yet, we’re making networks the foundation of our Third Offset Strategy and counting on an asymmetric advantage granted by our omniscient and invulnerable networks.

Surface to Air Missiles.  Our surface to air missiles (SAMs) will reach out hundreds of miles and casually blot enemy aircraft, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and even satellites from the skies and yet we believe our aircraft, sub-sonic missiles, semi- or non-stealthy UAVs, and satellites will be immune from enemy SAMs and we’ll roam enemy airspace, unhindered.

Stealth.  We believe that our F-35s will dominate the skies, seeing every enemy aircraft for hundreds of miles in all directions and casually swatting them down while remaining undetected due to stealth.  If our F-35s can’t be seen due to stealth, why do we think that we’ll be able to see enemy stealth aircraft?  Why won’t enemy stealth aircraft be able to see us while remaining undetected?  It has to work both ways or neither way!


We’ve got to put a stop to this idiotic habit of assuming that the enemy will do nothing to hinder any of our efforts.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  If we’re incapable of predicting what the enemy will do to our equipment and plans – and military leadership is demonstrating, repeatedly, that we are - then we at least need to reverse the situation and ask ourselves, if the shoe were on the other foot, what would we do?  All too often, the answer is that we wouldn’t allow it so why would we think our enemies will allow us to operate unhindered?

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Separate Aviation From Amphibious

During WWII, amphibious troop delivery to the beach was provided by small, specialized transport ships, the attack transports (AP/APA).  The APA carried two dozen reusable landing craft that were stored above deck and launched over the side.  Thus, the full internal volume of the ship was available for troop and supply storage instead of needing a voluminous well deck.

The other distinguishing feature of the APA compared to today’s amphibious ship was the absence of any aviation capability.  True, the helo had not yet been developed but it would have been possible to build a combination carrier-troop transport, just as we have today, and yet the ship designers opted not to do that for a variety of reasons.

I don’t claim to know the thinking of ship designers of that time but here are a few considerations that I would assume impacted their thought process and which should impact ours, today:


Volume of Firepower Delivery – Aviation simply can’t provide the volume of explosives delivery required to support an assault.  An aircraft, then or now, is limited to a small handful of bombs/missiles and can generate, at most, a few sorties per day before maintenance needs ground the aircraft.  Pilot rest is also a factor.  So, three sorties per day per aircraft is simply, woefully inadequate when the requirement is for continuous bombardment for days on end.

That being the case, that aviation can’t even begin to provide the requisite firepower delivery, why design a ship dedicated to that purpose?  Firepower delivery was left to the heavy gunned naval ships and aircraft chipped in when and where they could.

Yes, aircraft can supply small scale, close air support to ground forces (weather and aircraft availability permitting, of course, and assuming no enemy air forces in the vicinity) for use against a few, specific targets but that hardly justifies the expense of a dedicated aviation-centric amphibious-troop ship.


Fleet Defense – No fleet, no assault.  The fleet’s existence comes first.  Thus, ALL available aircraft will be used for establishing air superiority, first and foremost.  The aircraft of WWII and those of today had, and will have, as their primary responsibility, fleet defense.  Today’s LHA/LHDs, with their F-35Bs, will be tied up fighting for air space and defending the fleet in any peer defended assault scenario.  Those F-35Bs will not be available for ground support – not that a handful of F-35Bs constitute an significant firepower delivery, anyway.  Later, days or weeks into the assault, when air superiority has been established, the F-35s will become available for ground support but, of course, by that time it won’t matter.  The assault will have already succeeded or failed.


Risk Dispersal – Today’s LHA/LHD encompasses 1500 troops, their supplies, ship to shore connectors, F-35Bs, combat helos, transport helos, medical facilities, etc.  That’s a LOT to risk in a single ship.  WWII ship designers were all about dispersal of risk.  This alone dictates to any reasonable force designer that the aviation and troop transport functions should not co-exist in a single ship.  The risk is too geat.  Lose an LHA/LHD and you lose a third+ of a MEU plus most of the MEU’s aviation assets.  That’s a foolish risk to take.


Cost – A WWII APA was just a short term (term of the war) troop transport.  Indeed, many were converted from commercial liners.  The purpose built APAs were bare bones, no frills, troop transports.  Troop comfort was not a consideration, nor was ship longevity.  These APAs were not the glorified luxury cruise ships of today.  APAs were quick, easy, and cheap to build.  Adding an aviation capability would only drive up cost and reduce the number of vessels that could be built.  Then, as now, the addition of aviation would either cut the troop and cargo capacity in half or double the size of the ship. 


Troop Delivery Efficiency – As noted, APAs stored their landing craft (ship to shore connectors, as we now refer to them;  aside: when you start giving basic functions fancy names, you know you’ve lost sight of what’s important) above deck, launched them over the sides, and disembarked the troops over the side.  This method allowed for the carry of large numbers of landing craft without impacting troop capacity by taking up precious internal volume with well decks.  The addition of a flight deck to an APA would have forced the landing craft to be stored internally or, in reduced numbers, in boat pockets on the ship’s sides.  The LHA/LHD of today demonstrate this with their landing craft (those that even have them!) carried in large well decks.  Proponents might argue that the well deck allows easier, more efficient loading of the landing craft.  This may or may not be true.  An APA could load two dozen landing craft with troops in a remarkably short time and all of them nearly simultaneously.  Today’s amphibious ships can certainly load their landing craft easier but is degree of ease really the issue in combat?  The real question, though, becomes whether the benefits of a well deck (if there are any) outweight the immense loss of internal volume, larger resulting ship size, increased cost of ship construction, and lengthened construction times?


Flexibility – Troop and cargo transport requires that the ship be in a specific location for the duration of the assault unloading.  In contrast, aviation works best when the carrier is free to roam and able to take the best position for whatever task is at hand.  Thus, the two functions are almost diametrically opposed as far as what each needs the host ship to do.  A carrier/transport that is tied to a specific location can’t reposition to meet an enemy assault without abandoning its troop and cargo landing responsibility.  Shades of Guadalcanal ! 



With the above considerations in mind and the lessons of WWII firmly in hand, we have to ask, does it make sense to combine aviation and troop transport in one ship?  The answer seems clear – aviation and troop/cargo transport should be separated.  

Return To Troop Transports


We need to return to smaller, cheaper, easier to build APA type troop transports.  I would go so far as to say we should abandon the LCAC and return to a modern version of the venerable Higgins boat landing craft – but that’s a topic for another post.  These modern APAs should not be cruise ships.  They should not be sent on peacetime deployments.  They should be war vessels - manned and operated when needed but otherwise left pierside in idle status.  If we design such a ship and keep it cheap and quick/easy to build, we don’t even need to keep many in service.  We can simply build them when war comes and just keep enough in service to maintain an institutional knowledge of how to operate them.

The separated aviation component should be simply our standard carriers.  As we noted, the first responsibility of any aviation component is fleet defense so it makes the most sense to leave the aircraft with the aircraft carrier.  When air superiority has been established, the carrier air wing can turn its attention to ground support.  That would provide far more ground support aircraft than the half dozen F-35Bs that a LHA/LHD carries and, after all, isn’t that why the Marines have been so insistent on having their own aviation assets – to ensure and maximize the number of aircraft supporting the ground force?

Optionally, given the shrunken size of our air wings, a additional one or two squadrons of strike aircraft could be added to the regular carrier air wing, specifically to conduct ground support (you know, when not needed for fleet defense!).

USS Nimitz - 1997
Put Amphibious Aviation Back Onto Carriers In The Form Of Extra Squadrons
Get Back To 90+ Aircraft


The only sticking point is the Marine’s desire for attack and transport helos.  For this, it might make sense to have a very small, dedicated helo carrier.  Such a ‘carrier’ would not be a conventional carrier in any sense of the word.  Instead, it would be, essentially, a converted commercial cargo ship with a flat deck  As with the troop transports, it would be a no-frills, non-deployed vessel that is kept pierside other than for training.  Again, just a few are needed to maintain institutional knowledge.

An alternative might be to design a smaller, full-fledged carrier intended to carry a ground support air wing which would include attack aircraft and helos.  The problem with this approach is it provides a much less capable and flexible air wing at nearly the same cost as a regular carrier.

The current path of $4B combined aviation and troop ships is unaffordable and inefficient.  We also need to abandon the peacetime cruise ship mentality, cease deployments, and return to building utilitarian WARships.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Foundational Principles of Geopolitical Strategy

In an open post, several people suggested enhanced discussions of geopolitical strategies.  This blog is not a political blog and such a discussion walks the fine line between military matters and politics.  Nonetheless, geopolitical strategy is the basis from which military strategy is derived so such a discussion is not out of bounds.  Of course, geopolitical strategy is a subject that can easily encompass a book or series of books!  With that in mind, we need to break any discussion down into bite-size, post-size, chunks. 

What I’d like to address first is the theoretical foundation of a geopolitical strategy.  There are certain guiding principles that should enter into any rational discussion of geopolitical strategy.  Let’s examine them.


Principle #1 - Natural (God given) Rights.  This is the very foundation of our country - that we are blessed by our creator with certain rights that do not derive from any government.  In fact, the job of the government is to secure, respect, and protect those rights.  The same holds true for every person and every country in the world.  Those countries that have governments that do not protect and respect those rights are, by definition, evil and must, in the due course of history, be eliminated.

This leads us to directly recognize the second principle.


Principle #2 – Not all countries are equal.  There are good countries and there are bad countries.  This immediately establishes that there are behaviors which we, as a country, should aspire to and others which we should be avoiding.  We must hold other countries to these same standards of behavior.  This also immediately eliminates the misguided notion that all countries are equal and deserve to be treated on equal footing.  They are not all equal and they do not all deserve to be treated equally.

Recognizing this reality, we now need to understand why it matters.  It matters because there is an ideal world which we are striving for.  This leads us directly to the third principle.


Principle #3 – The ultimate goal is a cooperative, mutually beneficial, world community.  Those countries who will not abide by the community rules must be prevented from acting in, and negatively affecting, the rest of the world community.  This establishes our right to act against those countries.  A simple analogy is a neighborhood community that sees a criminal gang attempting to move in.  The community is striving for a peaceful, cooperative environment and the means to do so is by adhering to standards of behavior, both legal and moral (mainly moral;  the legal flows from the moral).  A criminal gang flouts those standards and, in so doing, degrades the effort and results of the community.  Therefore, the community has the right to reject the gang and act against them.   Similarly, countries that do not follow the rules and standards of the world community are, by definition, immature and/or evil and we have the right, indeed obligation, to act against them and correct their behavior.

The challenge is how to change an immature/evil country’s behavior and this is what a strategy does.  It provides the methodological blueprint for affecting that change.  This leads us to the fourth principle.


Principle #4 - Minimal time period of immaturity.  There is no need or requirement for the rest of the world to suffer while waiting for a country to mature.

The idea of not waiting around for a country to mature is incredibly important.  The world waited for Hitler and Germany to mature.  They never did and a world war resulted.  How many more people died because we, and the world, waited instead of acting?  We’ve waited for NKorea to mature and, as a result, we’ve spent the last several decades watching and allowing their citizens to suffer ruthless oppression, allowing NKorea to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and tying up vast military resources on the Korea peninsula to guard against the various threats.  How many more NKorean people have suffered and died because we, and the world, have held off acting?  

The hard truth is that there are times when it is a mistake to try to avoid war.  Now, that's not to say we should leap straight to all out war at the first sign of a country performing some act that we find objectionable.  We should begin with politics, discussions, requests, warnings, and so on and then escalate, eventually, to more forceful actions such as sanctions, blockades, financial penalties, and so forth.  However, we must recognize when those actions are producing no benefits and then move to war, if necessary.  This is also where the Tomahawk diplomacy comes in (see, "The Daily Threat" for a bit more discussion of this concept).  

We don’t allow a child to occupy a co-equal place in society with adults.  Why?  Because they simply aren’t ready to make wise and responsible decisions.  When the child has sufficiently matured and demonstrated that maturity via a series of responsible actions (high school graduation, driver license, voting, job skill, paying taxes, etc.) then they are welcomed into society and are accorded the right to participate fully in society’s activities and benefits.  Some children never mature and wind up in jail where their societal rights are curtailed.  This is just common sense and we all instinctively understand that this is how a successful society must function.  Despite this common sense understanding we fail to apply it to the world community.  Instead, we accommodate and appease immature countries out of some misguided sense of equality.  The reality is that this isn’t equality, it’s moral cowardice.  For example, we’re afraid to call Iran the immature child that it is and correct it the way we should.  We’re afraid to identify China as the evil country that it is as it conducts illicit territorial seizures and ignores the rulings of tribunals established by treaties that it is a signatory to.  And so on.



With these few, simple principles well understood and firmly in hand, we can formulate a specific geopolitical strategy.  These principles give us our ultimate and short term goals, our justification for action, the definition of our relationships with other countries, and the imperative to act.  In fact, with these principles in mind, formulating a strategy becomes a fairly easy, straightforward task and the strategy should be fairly obvious to all.  The methods selected to achieve the strategy may be somewhat debatable but the fundamental principles eliminate most debate over the goals of the strategy itself.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Base Defense

We’ve recently discussed forward bases and noted the two contradictory desires regarding base location:

  1. The desire to be as close as possible to the next or ultimate objective in order to maximize sortie rate and to minimize response time and ship and aircraft transit times to and from the objective operational area.

  1. The desire to be as far away as possible from the enemy’s defenses, typically cruise and ballistic missiles but also including bombers, submarines, and surface ships.

The existence of ballistic missiles with a few to several thousand mile ranges and submarines with cruise missiles effectively puts any base within range of enemy attack.  This compares somewhat unfavorably with our own attack ranges from a forward base.  Thus, if we place a base at a useful strike range, then we’re automatically placing it well within enemy attack range.  This leads to the inexorable conclusion that if we want to operate a forward base we’ll have to conduct a robust and continuous base defense – something we haven’t done since Guadalcanal.

Forward bases, even if we fight for them, can only survive if we harden them.  Hardening, for purposes of this discussion, is the process of making a base difficult to damage and permanently destroy.  Hardening measures can take many forms.  Let’s take a closer look at some of the means to harden and defend forward bases.


Anti-ballistic Missile Defense – A land base is a fixed target which is ideal for ballistic missiles.  We need an effective ballistic missile defense (BMD).  Of course, the best BMD is to destroy the enemy’s ballistic missile launchers before they can launch.  Failing that, ship based BMD out along the path of the missile adds additional opportunities for intercepts.  Rather than tie up multi-functional, expensive Burkes doing BMD, a dedicated, cheaper, single function BMD vessel is preferred.  Finally, land based BMD at the base constitutes ‘point defense’. 


Anti-Cruise Missile Defense – Cruise missiles can be launched from aircraft, surface ships, and submarines.  We need cruise missile defense similar to the BMD described above.  Ships, submarines, and aircraft need to patrol in layers extending out to the theoretical maximum enemy missile ranges which is several hundred miles.


Anti-Submarine – Submarines present multiple threats to a forward base including mine laying to prevent base resupply, cruise missile attacks, and anti-surface attacks against our own ships.  To counter the submarine threat we need a layered defense (layers, again - are you sensing a theme, yet?) consisting of our own submarines, surface ships, and aircraft.  As always, the best ASW defense is to attack the enemy’s submarines in their own ports and destroy their bases.  The Chinese underground submarine pens in Hainan will prove challenging to incapacitate and we should take a lesson from them.  Failing that we need long range interdiction of enemy submarines by our own subs.  Ideally, this would occur just outside the enemy’s bases as their subs head out on missions.  Closer to our base, dedicated hunter-killer ASW groups (a helo mothership and four ASW corvettes, for example) could prove useful.  We also need relatively high speed, high endurance, fixed wing ASW aircraft for long range search and prosecution.  An S-3 Viking-ish aircraft would be good in this role.  We also need a SOSUS type listening array to assist in the search phase.


Physical Hardening – We need to physically harden hangars, fuel storage, repair facilities, munitions storage, etc.  We could take a lesson from the Chinese who routinely do this with their bases.  The point is not to make facilities immune to damage – that’s not possible – but to make them less susceptible to easy destruction and make the enemy work harder to destroy them.


Underground – We should give serious thought to constructing underground facilities to the extent possible.  Again, this won’t make them immune but it will make the enemy expend more munitions, larger munitions, and more expensive munitions to accomplish their destruction.


Repair – An overlooked aspect of base defense is a robust repair capability and capacity.  The base that can recover from damage quickly is one that can stay in the fight longer and that the enemy will have to expend more effort against.  We should assume that everything will get damaged and destroyed and be prepared to rebuild and replace them.  We need large stocks of dispersed parts and repair equipment.


Fuel Dispersal and Protection – Fuel is the most important feature of a base.  Without it, no ship sails and no aircraft flies.  We need to disperse the fuel storage and protect the fuel storage by placing it underground in reinforced spaces.


ECM – Historical data proves that electronic countermeasures (ECM) are the most effective anti-missile defense there is.  To be fair, there is very little active missile defense data and almost none from any US system so this conclusion could change.  Regardless, ECM is highly effective, easily upgraded or adapted to changing conditions and easily replace if damaged or destroyed.  We need robust ECM defenses with hugely redundant and widely dispersed sensors and transmitters so that ECM can continue even in the face of anti-radiation missile attacks.


Fighter Defense – Long range, high endurance, layered (there’s that layering, again) fighter aircraft defense is vital to allow engagement of enemy strike assets far enough out to prevent weapon launches.  We need to recognize that attrition, both from combat and from maintenance stresses due to combat, will severely reduce aircraft availability rates so we need several times more aircraft than we think are needed.


Simplification – Any forward base is going to be constantly under attack, chronically short of spare parts and replacement assets, woefully lacking in maintenance, undermanned due to combat casualties, and reduced to a much cruder level of operation than we are currently used to.  With that reality in mind, weapon systems such as the F-35 are simply too complex to maintain, operate, and repair.  Similarly, sensors such as Aegis are too complex to maintain and repair in combat.  We need to simplify all of our combat systems to the extent reasonably possible.  It’s a balancing act to simplify without giving up too much capability. 

Instead of F-22/35 aircraft that can’t be kept operational in combat, we need advanced F-16-ish aircraft that are simpler, cheaper to replace, and easier to repair and maintain.  We need electro-optical sensors and basic, mechanical, rotating radars that are easy to maintain, replace, and repair.  This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have Aegis radars, for example, but when the initial Aegis radar fails we need reliable systems to fall back on.  Similarly, we can start a war with F-22/35s but when they inevitably are all grounded we need lots of far more robust aircraft to fall back on.

In fact, we need a purpose designed, basic (F-16-ish) interceptor specifically for forward base defense.


Afloat Radar – Ship-mounted radar is far more survivable than fixed, land-based radar.  We need multiple, dedicated radar vessels whose only function is radar sensing.  These can be simple commercial ships with a radar system installed.  They don’t have to be – and should not be – multi-billion dollar warships.  They just need to be mobile, afloat radar barges.


Resupply – The final aspect of base hardening is resupply.  Logistics!  A base that can quickly and reliably replace its fuel, munitions, weapons, and sensors is a base that can continue fighting.  Arguably (actually, definitely!), this is the most important aspect of base hardening.

For forward bases in the Pacific theatre, resupply translates to convoys.  China knows this and convoys will be high priority targets.  Losses will be alarmingly high.  Unwisely, the US has put no effort into developing the numbers of cargo and escort ships needed, the type of dedicated escort vessels needed, or the tactics for operating and defending convoys.  Our initial attempts at resupply convoys will likely be disastrous.

As a historical note, the Japanese were unable to successfully and reliably resupply their forward base at Guadalcanal and had to eventually withdraw.  The US was also hard pressed to resupply but were just successful enough to eventually win out though at an enormous cost.  We would do well to study this example in great detail as we formulate our plans to operate Guam or any other forward base.


Conclusion - Base hardening goes well beyond physical hardening.  All of the above measures serve to harden the base against damage and make the base easier to repair and more resilient to the inevitable damage it will sustain.

The reality of forward bases is that, by definition, we’ll be attempting to operate in the enemy’s “home” territory and at the very long end of our own supply chain.  Currently, the US has almost no realistic base defense capability and certainly no comprehensive base defense system (layers!) and plan.  The US seems to believe that we can operate forward bases with some sort of magical immunity to enemy attack.  This belief is utter nonsense.  We need to begin planning for a robust defense, acquiring specialized equipment, developing defensive strategies, and practicing for wholesale damage recovery.

If we address the items listed and discussed above we can mount a credible defense of a forward base.  If we continue to keep our heads buried in the sand and deny the reality of forward base challenges we’ll find ourselves unable to sustain any forward bases.