Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Unfriendly Skies

WWII ushered in the rise of air power as the pre-eminent form of warfare at sea (and, to a significant extent, on land).  Ships that attempted to operate under enemy controlled air generally paid the price and were sunk.  Examples include the Repulse, Prince of Wales, the entire Pearl Harbor battleship fleet, the Yamato, and many others.  Interesting, though, isn’t it, that the examples seemed to largely occur at the beginning or the end of the war?  This probably reflects a lack of understanding of the power of aviation at the start of the war (Repulse and Prince of Wales, for example)  and then the lack of any options at the end of the war (the Yamato, for example). 

What about the in between times?  Did every ship, on both sides, always and only operate under total friendly air cover?  Well, no.  For example, the entire Guadalcanal naval campaign was fought under uncontrolled skies where, at any given moment, either side might have localized and immediate control of the air.  Despite this aerial uncertainty, both sides continued to operate naval forces.  Yes, they made allowances and adjustments, such as operating at night to avoid aerial detection and attack but the point is that they routinely operated without assured aerial supremacy and did so with varying degrees of success.

We should probably ask ourselves why neither side was able to obtain aerial supremacy?  The answer is simple – at that point in the war, it was still an even match.  In other words, it was a peer war (before it evolved into a completely one-sided, lop-sided affair) and both sides were evenly matched.  Neither could gain a permanent advantage. 

Adding to the inability to obtain aerial supremacy was the long ranges involved.  Both sides had to fly long distances in order to engage which made ‘time on station’ short.  Yes, Henderson Field on Guadalcanal was on scene but, until the end, there were never enough aircraft available at the field to establish uncontested control of the air.  Replacement aircraft for the US had to come from thousands of miles away.  Japanese aircraft were largely based at Rabaul which was around 500 miles from Guadalcanal – a very long flight in those days.

There are lessons to be learned from this which are applicable today to a peer war with China.

Air Control

In a peer war, aerial control of a given operational area will, by definition, be sporadic and will flip back and forth at a moment’s notice as groups of aircraft arrive, or depart, the immediate area.  There may well be times when there are no aircraft in the area, at all.  The reality is that if we want to accomplish anything we’ll need to figure out how to operate our naval forces without the absolute control of the air that we’ve become accustomed to, and dependent on.


The Tyranny of Distance

Simply having aircraft available at bases near the operational area isn’t enough.  Aircraft on the ground are useless.  They have to be in the air in the operational area to matter.  For the US, even our nearby bases are going to be hundreds to thousands of miles from likely operational areas.  Aircraft from Guam, for example, will have to fly several hours just to get to an operational area and will then only have brief moments of loiter time.  This is the Tyranny of Distance.  Distance will render even the aircraft we have in theatre only marginally available and useful.


Aircraft Resupply

Both sides will begin the war with large inventories of aircraft.  The challenge will be to get the aircraft to the operational area.  In the Guadalcanal example, both sides were operating at the end of enormously long supply trains.  In a conflict with China the US will, again, have to supply aircraft at the end of an enormously long supply train.  This resupply challenge will be exacerbated by the very long time it takes to build modern aircraft as opposed to, say, a WWII Hellcat which could be built in a matter of days.  To some extent, manufacturing time will also be a problem for China although the delivery distance will, of course, not be a factor.


Dispersion

The distance challenge is complicated by dispersion.  In the Guadalcanal example, both sides were attempting to spread supplies (aircraft, in this case) across many operational areas over the entire Asian and Pacific regions.  For the US, it was even worse as we were having to provide aircraft to operations spanning the entire world! 

We see that all of the above factors can be combined into one broad issue: 

- placing aircraft, in the air, in the operational area. 

This supply challenge will remain an issue in a modern war with China.  The US will, again, have to supply aircraft at the end of an enormous supply train while maintaining ready aircraft around the world to cover all our other commitments (an argument for weaning Europe off our support?).  China will be fighting at the short end of the supply train and will have an inherent advantage in that it can focus all its military might on the immediate fight since it has no worldwide military commitments.

Unless the US pulls back and refuses to engage (a win for China), it is quite likely that we will have to operate under skies that we do not control.  How do we do that?  Isn’t it now conventional wisdom that ships that operate without air cover are doomed?  How can we operate under skies we do not control?

At this point we have to recognize the boundaries of the problem.  When we ask how we can operate under skies we do not control, that is not the same as asking how we can operate under skies the enemy owns.  Operating in areas where the enemy has established aerial supremacy is, indeed, foolish and suicidal.  What we are really asking is how can we operate under skies that neither side owns? 

Let’s make sure we understand what ‘neither side owns’ means.  It means what it says.  Neither side will have continuous control of the air but either side may, at any given moment, have momentary control.  The key characteristics of such contested control are:


Limited numbers – neither side will have enough aircraft to establish continuous control so even the momentary control will be established by limited numbers.  This means we won’t have to fight off a thousand aircraft but, instead, maybe just a flight or two of aircraft at a time.  Perhaps the enemy will manage to fight an attack group of half a dozen to a couple of dozen aircraft into the area.  This is a radically different situation than having to fight off never-ending waves of saturation attacks as so many people seem to argue when attempting to make their points.

Limited time – given the distances and the need to fight their way into the operating area, neither side will have a great deal of loiter time in the area.  Thus, attacks from aircraft will be brief.  Chinese aircraft will, of course, have a longer loiter time.


Our concept of operating under skies we do not control is beginning to take shape, isn’t it?  We see that we’re talking about contested skies that will feature fairly small groups of enemy aircraft that come and go.  This is a completely doable concept.  Aegis, for example, was designed to handle much more than this.  Several Aegis ships should be able to survive and operate in such a scenario.  Thus, we can operate under skies we don’t own.

I’ve already addressed it but it’s necessary to repeat it:  China and the US will be contesting many operational areas simultaneously.  That’s what war is – it’s combat along a broad front with many, many points of contention.  Both sides will be splitting their resources and assets many times over.  Too many people want to look at utterly ridiculous situations in isolation.  I know that despite this paragraph someone is still going to comment that our ships can’t fight off the thousands of aircraft that the Chinese have.  Well, those thousands of aircraft are going to split across a hundred operational areas plus they’ll be fighting their own battles for survival as we attack their bases with cruise missiles, bombers, etc.

So, recognizing the need to operate under skies we don’t control, is there anything we can do to enhance our ability to do so?  Yes, there is.


Carriers

Building more carriers is the obvious answer.  A mobile air base provides the ability to tip the aerial balance of power in a localized operational area.  What we have to do, however, is stop building $20B Fords that we won’t risk in combat, can’t afford to lose, and can’t build enough of and start building smaller, simpler Midway/Forrestal size carriers in large numbers with larger air wings.


Purpose Built Ships

We need to design a class(es) of ship that is intended to fight under uncontrolled skies.  We need an independent operations cruiser that is optimized for the kind of combat we’ve just described.  I’ve described one such class of ship, the independent cruiser (see, “Independent Cruiser”)


Tactics

We need to adjust our thinking about how we will conduct naval missions.  Too many people have the idiotic notion that we’ll conduct a war just like peace – that we’ll deploy ships to the area for months at a time and that they’ll cruise around the area, back and forth, fighting continuously.  This is absurd.  We’ll need to conduct quick missions, as navies have always done:  in and out without lingering.  This is actually the standard for wartime naval operations, anyway.  We’ve just forgotten that’s how naval missions are conducted.  We need to remember and start training for such missions.  It’s been so long since we’ve had actual missions that we’ve forgotten what a mission is and how to conduct one.  A mission has a specific goal, the forces are assembled, the group makes a high speed run to the operational area, executes the mission, and retires at high speed.  We need to start training Admirals and Captains to conduct such missions.  Today’s Admirals and Captains are just glorified cruise directors shepherding around a bunch of tourist/sailors for several months at a time.


UAVs

One of the main benefits of aerial control is the situational awareness (surveillance) that the aircraft provide.  Without aerial control our situational awareness will be severely limited.  Therefore, we need large numbers of shorter range, cheap, expendable UAVs to provide area situational awareness.  I’ve suggested that all ships should carry large numbers of such aircraft (in place of helos, if necessary) and that we should build small UAV carriers.


Toughness

Ships conducting missions under uncontrolled skies are at greater risk of damage.  We need to stop building one-hit ships and start building tough ships that can take damage, conduct repairs at sea, and keep fighting until the mission is over.  Armor is a good start towards building tougher ships along with greater redundancy and separation of key systems and equipment.  We can’t build Burkes that have two of their three illuminators located within about ten feet of each other.  A single hit can eliminate two-thirds of a Burke’s AAW capability!


Manpower

Increased manpower is another vital aspect of toughness and independent operations.  Ships need to be able to absorb casualties and keep functioning and the only way to do that is with larger crews.  Larger crews are also absolutely vital to damage control efforts and are generally considered to be the single most important aspect of damage control.



It is clear that we will need to conduct naval operations under skies we do not control and it is also clear that doing so is quite viable.  We will, however, have to begin designing and building ships intended for those conditions and we have to begin developing doctrine and tactics for such missions.  As I’ve said so many times, peacetime is the precious time to prepare for war and we’re squandering it on idiotic concepts like distributed lethality, distractions like gender sensitivity training, and worthless deployments and humanitarian missions.

We need to figure out what future war will look like (hey, Navy, I’m telling you what it will look like, since you haven’t got a clue and can’t seem to figure it out for yourself – you’re welcome!) and begin preparing for it.  Everything we buy, build, or do must run through the filter of combat.  How will [fill in the blank] enhance our combat capability?  If the answer is it won’t, we shouldn’t do it.  That, alone, would eliminate all the sensitivity sessions, green energy initiatives, new uniform of the year programs, humanitarian missions, etc.

Accept that we won’t control the skies.  Embrace the concept and begin preparing for it.

We need to focus.  Combat, combat, combat.  Nothing else matters.

46 comments:

  1. The absurd amount of time it takes to put together a modern fighter is scary. Would you think it might be possible to have a War Emergency Fighter program that was designed to be rapidly assembled from prefabricated components at the cost of some capability?

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    1. Yes and no. The problem with some kind of pre-designed aircraft is that it would be unlikely to be a good fit for a future war. We just don't know what the requirements will be. However, what you're essentially suggesting, I think, is a more basic aircraft that could be built quickly with technology being traded off for speed of construction. That's perfectly reasonable.

      What you're also touching on is prototypes. Pre-WWII and throughout WWII, the various aircraft manufacturers built dozens upon dozens of prototype aircraft, largely at their own expense, and when war came we were able to select those that best fit the needs of the war. This kind of prevalent prototyping is all but abandoned. Why? Because we no longer [intentionally] buy small to moderate quantities of aircraft. Instead, an aircraft program is meant to replace every existing aircraft and become our one and only aircraft, all in the misguided pursuit of cost savings (which never materialize). If we would buy smaller quantities, more frequently, manufacturers would be more likely to develop prototypes on their own.

      As far as the time it takes to produce a new aircraft design, it doesn't have to be this way. Check out this post:

      "How To Build A Better Aircraft"

      You're essentially suggesting a modern equivalent of the F6F Hellcat: a rugged, reliable, maintainable, cheap, strong, lethal aircraft. You're right on the money!

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    2. Look at the Air Force resistance on the F-15X buy. The F-15X is good enough for homeland defense, slots right in the logistic train of the aircraft it is replacing (F-15 C/D), but it is not the F-35 so they dont want it. Ditto the light attack program.

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    3. "Look at the Air Force resistance on the F-15X buy. ... but it is not the F-35 so they dont want it."

      Good example of failing to appreciate the realities of real war and the need for NUMEROUS, solid, basic aircraft instead of insisting on just a few exquisite ones.

      Our top of the line F-22 only had 180 or so built and probably only around a hundred are actually combat capable. It may be the premier fighter aircraft in the world but with only a hundred, we're going to be a pile of hurt when a peer war comes.

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    4. As much as people hate the word, the F-15X synergizes really well with 5th generation fighters by acting as a deep magazine shooter to complement the stealthy spotters. However, it is still a very high end capable fighter that takes years to build. I wonder what kind of industry investment it would take to set up a production line that would cut that time to a few months? That might allow a rapid buildup (or restoration of old boneyard craft) when geopolitical tensions before a war escalate to the point where there is enough political capital to push through much more fighter procurement.

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    5. Air Force resistance? Isn’t the Air Force the one pushing the program?

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    6. "the F-15X synergizes really well with 5th generation fighters by acting as a deep magazine shooter to complement the stealthy spotters."

      You know, I can't help but feel that this is one of those concepts that sounds really good on paper but may not be viable in reality. Think about the history of modern aerial combat. It's not an ordered, neat affair. It's a confused, incredibly rapid, constantly changing melee and that's completely at odds with the idea of a sensor aircraft leisurely spotting targets and passing off to a somehow unseen, unhindered, non-stealthy shooter while the enemy obligingly remains lined up and relatively static, just waiting to be shot. If all that happens, I guess it could work. However, the reality, especially as the enemy employs more and more of their own stealthy aircraft, is that the sensor aircraft will be frantically engaged in their own life or death struggle to survive and won't be leisurely passing on targets to shooters. The shooters, being non-stealthy, will likely be targeted by enemy stealth aircraft and long range missiles and will also be frantically maneuvering for survival rather than calmly and methodically launching missile after missile.

      That's my view of how this concept plays out. Do you see it differently?

      This seems like yet another example of the military's tendency to believe that everything we do will work and that the enemy will cooperate in their own destruction.

      Where is the realistic testing that has proven this concept that the military seems to be basing their doctrine on?

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    7. The Soviets had a similar mentality, making bare bone export models, ie "monkey models". The export programs had aims such as keeping open the production lines, allowing the Soviets to keep reducing the build time per unit... with the understanding that if WW3 happened, they would be able sustain or exceed attrition rates immediately.

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    8. "The Soviets had a similar mentality, making bare bone export models,"

      There's an element of wisdom in that. I would take it a step further and intentionally design the most basic, simplest aircraft that could still be competitive in the air, if not dominating - the Hellcat of modern times - that could be produced quickly and in large numbers, could be maintained easily IN THE FIELD, was rugged, was utterly reliable (very high readiness/availability rates), and was easy for pilots to learn to fly (another key to replacing combat attrition).

      Aside from a new design like I've just outlined, is there any aircraft in our military today that you think meets the criteria you've suggested?

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    9. I'd like to see a nonstealth, low-cost UAV designed to match the performance specs of an F-5 or A-4.

      Build a dozen or so a year, but engineer the line so it can be ramped up for an emergency. Older ones can be expended as missile targets to keep the line open.

      A navalized version could be made, with entire spare aircraft stored broken down in sealed containers as attrition spares, or built up as additional airpower for an alpha strike.

      They'd be absolutely adequate for low intensity war, additional missile magnets and suicide missiles for a high intensity war.

      And if a high tech opponent hacks the software : congrats! You caught a shitty little A-4 wannabe drone.

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    10. "I'd like to see a nonstealth, low-cost UAV designed to match the performance specs of an F-5 or A-4."

      Okay. What would be the purpose? What would you use this UAV for?

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    11. The same thing I'd use an A-4 or F-5 (or Mig-21,23) for, if I didn't have to worry about losing a pilot. These planes are not functionally obsolete, especially if they are unmanned.

      You don't need a 5th gen fighter to drop JDAMs on lightly defended targets. You don't need a Raptor to shoot down helicopters or Lord-of-war style Gunrunners down.

      In a medium intensity war against a near-peer, a 4th gen fighter can still access most of an enemies airspace. If you lose some to SAMs, Good! That's one or two or ten fewer SAMs they can shoot against more expensive birds.

      In a high intensity war we can send the cheapy UAVs to guard lower priority areas, and send ALL our available top Tier fighters to deal with the primary threat.

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    12. Are you envisioning AI controlling these aircraft or do you see ground control pilots? If ground control, how do you propose maintaining comms in an electromagnetically challenged environment?

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    13. Predominantly ground control. But AI should be utilized when suitable.

      As far as EM challenged environments go; would you rather risk a cheap UAV, Or an expensive SotA Stealth drone with a steep price tag and lots of high tech goodies on board for the bad guys? (IE RQ-171 fiasco part deux)

      Fly the cheapies! So what if a few come back on autopilot when the enemy jams them. So what if a few crash and burn from interference. If 1 or 2 get captured.... Then triangulate the hackers and bomb the hell out of their grid-square.

      Meanwhile you've got dozens more on ramps and in crates... and the assembly-line ramping up to crank them out 24-7 like Mexican Volkswagen beetles.

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    14. What do you think these unmanned A-4/F-5 aircraft are going to cost? How does that cost compare to, say, a Tomahawk missile which could do the same strike role but with greater range?

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    15. Comparing a reusable UAV equivelant to to a 3-4th gen F/A aircraft to a cruise missile is a little appley-orangey.

      A T-38 Talon cost around 7 million in today dollars. A F-16C costs a tick under 20 million. Our budget fighter should come in in the 8-16 million dollar range, depending on how well equipped it is.

      In peace time the AF might only operate about 100 of these at a time, probably in ANG/Reserve squadrons, and aggressor training squadrons. Navy; a single carrier air-wings worth, plus reserve and aggressor units and parts planes in storage.

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    16. "Comparing a reusable UAV equivelant to to a 3-4th gen F/A aircraft to a cruise missile is a little appley-orangey."

      It all depends on the mission. If the mission is land strike, what's the ultimate difference between a missile/bomb launched from a A-4/F-5 or a missile (Tomahawk) launched from a ship? No difference!

      The differences lie in cost, complexity, required support (you need a carrier to support the A-4/F-5 UAV and even a cheap version will cost around $4B plus crew!). The Tomahawk has a 1000 mile range. The A-4/F-5 with a weapon load has a few hundred mile range plus whatever range the weapon might have.

      I think you're engineering a complicated solution to a simple problem of ordnance on target. For ordnance on target, a Tomahawk is the hands down better choice.

      Of course, we're ignoring the communications/control issue which requires either line of sight (not possible in the scenario you're describing) or satellite relay which is not adequate for real time flying and won't be available in a peer war due to satellites being shot down, jammed, etc.

      "Our budget fighter should come in in the 8-16 million dollar range,"

      Come on now, I'm the first to believe that we can build cheaper aircraft but that's ridiculously optimistic. The Air Force fact sheet lists the F-16C/D as costing $18M in 1998 which equates to $28M today. So, $28M is your starting point for cost estimating. Heck, modern combat jet engines cost $10M-$20M apiece, all by themselves!

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  2. The Falklands war showed a clear case of a naval battle in contested air space. Although the Royal Navy brought aircraft carriers the whole force was still under sporadic attacks throughout the hostilities.

    That war showed a need for lots of surface combatants. The Brits lost more ships than the US Navy usually sends out! Auxiliaries and even civilian ships should have at least some passive defenses against missile attack.

    Naval personnel should have a bias for action. Ships and lives were lost when people hesitated rather than reacting to a possible attack like it was the real thing.

    Risk tolerance has to go way up. If Argentina's air force could sink destroyers then the PLA is going to put a real hurt on us.

    The whole navy needs one hell of an attitude adjustment...

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    1. Great example of combat operations under contested skies and some great observations.

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    2. I think another example might be the Channel Dash in WW2, when the Germans were able to move several capital ships through what should be some of the best covered airspace in the world. Even though the RAF had won the Battle of Britain and most of the Luftwaffe was now committed over the USSR and North Africa, the Germans still managed to contest air superiority over the channel long enough to get their battleships back into Germany.

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  3. Carrier numbers do not matter. Number of appropriately equipped carriers are what matter. Right now we can generate at most five fully manned carriers. Whether they are appropriately equipped is another animal. We need more of the right kind of aircraft.

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    1. "Right now we can generate at most five fully manned carriers."

      ??? We can man all our carriers, as far as I know. What are you saying?

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  4. "Interesting, though, isn’t it, that the examples seemed to largely occur at the beginning or the end of the war?"
    The UK hardly lost any surface units to air until 1941, over a year and a half, and then in the Med. (Not that many were lost at Dunkirk considering they were like fish in a barrel and the numbers deployed). In fact, not that many were lost by any side in the first year and a half.



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  5. We only send our carriers out with maybe 60 hornets and zero tankers and fixed wing ASW. We don't have enough aircraft and pilots, especially after the inevitable attrition occurs.

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    1. Okay, I understand. Of course, the Navy would respond that 60 aircraft (we only have 44 Hornets per air wing) ARE a full air wing. That seems like nonsense but that's the official position.

      That said, we have 9 such air wings so we can 'fully' equip 9 carriers.

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  6. Sometimes it is better to look to WW1 rather than WW2. The difference is in force densities. China cannot project divisions and air wings like Japan could. In the Pacific in WW1 the German East Asian Squadron relied on wireless and coaling stations. The Australian and also French and NZ forces rolled up their bases with a brigade light sized amphibious force. This forced the Germans out of the Pacific. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Naval_and_Military_Expeditionary_Force. In WW2 the distance was air powers range of about 200 miles rather than radio stations ranges for bases. And their were lots and lots of patrolling ships and aircraft from both sides so lots of encounter battles. Encounter battles between patrolling forces tended to be a small number of units. If I was designing a patrol frigate I would want it to be able to kill a maritime patrol aircraft not a soviet bomber wing.

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    1. I'm wondering if a future pacific combatant should take some design ideas from the RN concept of the Through Deck Cruiser aka Invincible class or the Sea Control Ship concent.

      If we are assuming (and its a sensible thing to do) that naval assets will be operating under contested or enemy controlled skies at unpredictable times then the ability to put up a force able to defend the local air space, if not project power would be useful.

      A small, (relatively) cheap, multipurpose flat top able to support/carry out ASW operations with helicopters, and able to get a handful of fighters or strike aircraft in the air to protect a small group whilst stronger air assets arrive. As the number of aircraft carried would be small, maybe 6 F35B and up to 12 helicopters (say 2-3 AEW, 4-5 ASW and 4 general purpose) the ship could also double as an arsenal ship/mother ship for smaller units.

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    2. I agree with you. The major threat is stealthy submarines. In mutiple exercises with us cvn battle groups solitary moddern ssk keep penetrating and killing the cvn undetected. It is the elephant in the room for the USN. It requires a complete rethink, a new strategy and testing of the new strategy.

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    3. "In mutiple exercises with us cvn battle groups solitary moddern ssk keep penetrating and killing the cvn undetected."

      What do you base this statement on? What actual data or exercise descriptions do you have that support this?

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    4. It would likely be the rumors out of the USN 'borrowing' a Swedish Gotland class sub for games and doing poorly. I have not seen any info though if the USN lifted it peace time limitations on active sonar use however for example or if was intended to lopsided for lessened learned etc.

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    5. "rumors"

      Exactly. Without knowing the details of an exercise there is no way to evaluate the results. Merely posting a picture of a carrier taken through a periscope does not tell us anything.

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    6. Actually if you read the communications of the navies involved in the exercises ie australian japanese swedish and french you will realise that this happens frequently. There is even a video of hmas rankin avoiding 5 pursuers including an ssn taken 15 years ago. In the latest example the french bragged about what they did to a carrier group before removing the post. Its more than just rumours. There is an opinion peice in the National interest this week which reprints the article.

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    7. You're aware, I'm sure, that the US military routinely allows foreign militaries to "win" in exercises. It's believed that this promotes confidence and aids in military sales. The US also routinely limits equipment performance in foreign exercises in order to keep actual performance secret. I would not attach any validity to any foreign claims of success without having detailed knowledge of the exercise conditions.

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  7. Navy FY2020 five year planned budget reducing spend from FY2019 on ships and aircraft by $6.3B, unmanned aircraft, ships and subs up by $3.1B.

    The medium USV interesting, 11 to 50 m vessel, order expected this year, may be it will be based the Sea Hunter, reported to cost $20M, 145t: 40m; 10,000nm; max 27 knots: endurance 30-90 days. 

    Single mission, designed purely to carry sensors, no weapons, may be an active sonar as part of a multi-static ASW system or with ref to unfriendly skies a radar transmitter as part of bi-static radar system to work as part of squadron with frigate/destroyer in EMCON mode, a persistent advance radar picket, as 'cheap' expendable if attacked by anti-radiation missile, many possibilities, looks promising, sure many operational issues to worke out especially comms/control.

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  8. Some thoughts.

    Manpower - stop building pointless things like the Zumwalt and expand the reserves (and or Coast Guard) to insure manpower at hand. Hey maybe eliminate flags of convenience so we a have real body of sailors in the civilian sector.

    I agree on UAVs as long as we spend a bit more time doing real hard hacking and jamming and war gaming with them to see if they are up to the challenge (honestly no resets or what not). The recent performance of the Secret Service at Mara Largo does not impress on the intrusion security/Hacker defense side.

    This article (below) argues the US is not doing enough in UAV development and not pursuing enough Loitering munitions (outside of small stuff for special ops)

    https://warontherocks.com/2017/09/killing-sanctuary-the-coming-era-of-small-smart-pervasive-lethality/

    On aircraft you right nobody is going easy as pie replace Willow Run and start knocking planes by the hour. The US perhaps could take its storage of planes more seriously. More care and tests to see how fast we can resurrect the panes there. But that would storing parts and hiring people something the Pentagon hates.

    Right now lack of parts is always noted as a reason for planes down. Be it your earlier post or the Air Farce as well...

    https://www.airforcetimes.com/news/your-air-force/2018/03/05/fewer-planes-are-ready-to-fly-air-force-mission-capable-rates-decline-amid-pilot-crisis/

    If the USAF and USN and Marines can't maintain reediness in long but low intensity nobody really shooting at you in air support roles how will things play out vs China or even Iran when people will shooting back at the aircraft?

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  9. Lets face it, the navy is a dwindling force with a shrinking capability to project power at a distance. The causes are complex but relate to the diminished Industrial capacity of the USA that arose from the same Neo-liberal policies that the US has pushed since Ww2. Quite ironic really. This has been worsened by a huge expansion of debt since the 1980's and is resulting in reduced resources.

    There just is not the capacity to build ships in the quantities required for a peer war. The US however still has a significant lead in aircraft production and I think the dwindling resources would be better spent creating bases in the Island chains in the east china sea as well as in south east asia creating both sea and air denial issues for the Chinese. Many of the systems found on ships could be easily adopted to land bases. Due to technology improvements the aircraft carrier is just not as survivable as it once was. More importantly it like putting all your eggs in one basket. You can produce 15 ssk or 30 b21 bombers for the price of one cvn. In the area denial involvement you discuss what would be more useful?

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    1. " resources would be better spent creating bases in the Island chains in the east china sea"

      What specific islands do you propose creating bases on?

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    2. Upgrade guam. Southern ryukus ( do a deal with japan ) . do a deal with malaysia and singapore. The phillipines after recent experience may also be interested.

      A bigger issue in the longterm is the US economy. Getting China out of the supply train is the crucial step. The us needs to realise that the chinese dictator is not benevolent.

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    3. Do you see deals for military bases as being feasible with Japan (we're currently being slowly forced out of various Japanese bases due to local protests), Malaysia (solid supporter of China and has conducted joint military exercises), Singapore (maintains strong relations with China and the US), and Philippines (not exactly friendly towards the US)?

      A lot of people casually suggest more US bases in the Pacific but there simply aren't many viable possibilities. The countries you mentioned (except Japan) are very unlikely to support a permanent military presence since it would put them in direct conflict with China. I see no viable basing opportunities at present. That doesn't mean we shouldn't work to try to establish better relations with Pacific rim countries but the likelihood of acquiring basing rights is pretty slim. Now, if China continues to push its military backed expansionism, that might nudge affected countries towards the US but that's a good ways down the road yet.

      You're quite right about removing China as a link in our supply chain.

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    4. Vietnam is one option. While not a exactly a bastion of democracy, they have fought the Chinese and have little love for the regime. They can also appreciate the positive economic benefits of a US partnership.

      While further away, India is also good opportunity. They have been seeking deeper economic ties with the US, and also distrust China not only from border disputes (in the Himalayas) but from China’s ties to Pakistan.
      While their relationship with Russia has been problematic for US, if we started backing off support of Pakistan (a less than dependable “ally”) I think they are a good alliance to cultivate...and a good replacement for China in our supply chain.

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    5. Vietnam is an interesting possibility. As you note, they have no love for China but, while relations with the US have thawed a bit, making the jump to allowing US bases on Vietnamese soil seems very unlikely although it's probably worth pursuing as a long term goal for the US.

      I completely agree with respect to India. Again, though, it's hard to imagine that they'd allow a US base on their soil. The best we could realistically expect is enhanced cooperation and logistics support - a bit of which is occurring even now.

      It's unpleasant to face but the reality is that unless China overplays their hand and forces the surrounding countries to turn to the US, we just don't have any viable basing options other than Japan and those are being slowly cut back. That's not to say we shouldn't continue to try to improve relations with all those countries and, perhaps, we'll someday get a base or two. The main point is that it's easy to say "let's get more bases" but the reality is there just aren't any realistic options to do so, at the present time or in the foreseeable future.

      Do you see any realistic chance of obtaining basing rights anywhere in the region in the next 10 years?

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    6. They have overplayed there hand. Malaysia is getting Chinese investment out of tfere country. They are pursuing a deal with Australia to upgrade Butterworth airforce base to host a squadron of f35a. In terms of the south ryuku /sendkaku islands this could easily fit a base with dedicated radar and air defense site. It is currently uninhbated and is subject to a border dispute with China or keep infringing on Japanese sovereignty. A high quality radar at this site would see all the way into central China giving warning of air activity. With aegis ashore and a suitable load out of missiles it would plug a gap in the east china sea between kadena and taiwan. I think basing mk 57 vls in hardened ground shelters is feasible. In terms of manning support it is about 300km south west of kadena.

      I think the biggest issue is that the navy needs to get its head around competing with the other services and relying on the aircraft carrier at enormous cost and vulnerability to exercise force projection. The cost of the Ford battlegroup is enormous and is sucking the resources away from more cost effective options that achieve a better result. China is the obvious issue abd we know where China is. Nations in the region are not going to stand up to China if we see a vassilating USA. This is one of the issues Nations have in the region in being allied to the Usa. They see an erratic USA with a president that changes his policy with every twitter feed.

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    7. " Malaysia is getting Chinese investment out of tfere country. They are pursuing a deal with Australia to upgrade Butterworth airforce base"

      On the other hand, Malaysia and China have been holding joint military exercises for the last several years (Peace and Friendship joint exercises) and have recently added a trilateral exercise with China and Thailand.

      Malaysia's position seems to be to maintain equal relations with both the US and China. That would seem to preclude US basing but we'll see.

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  10. Pacific Islands...

    The Islands that we have available are; Guam, Midway, Wake, Hawaii, and the Aleutions, which are too far from China to be useful. The rest should be re-enforced with offensive and defensive systems, including hardened shelters and mobile missiles. Hawaii should also have their repair yards brought up to date.

    The other possibility is some form of mobile airfield in conjunction with defensive surface ships and underway support ships. We of course, call these Aircraft carriers and, as a group, a Carrier Task Force. Please forgive my sarcasm.

    As horribly expensive as a CVN is, re-enforcing islands will cost as much. The islands are not sinkable, but they become more difficult to supply in a war zone than the CVN Task Force that withdraws to re-supply. Mobility has it's own advantage, and is something that fixed bases lack.

    I have to agree with CNO, like I usually do, that some conventionally powered CV's (I like the Kittyhawk size) should be built as soon as possible and in place of any more Bush's. With the same budget, the Navy can build twice as many Kittyhawk's with air wings. Build time should be half as long.

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