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.


  1. Forward bases have to be part of an offensive strategy or they are worthless. Guam, Wake Island, Luzon, Khe Sanh are all examples of what you're pointing out and in all of those cases the base was not part of a defined strategy for offense.

    Yeah, there were vague plans for using those bases for offensive operations, but none along the lines of "when war breaks out we set sail for Guam and then strike Rabaul 8 days later".

    IMO most current US strategy boils down to "bomb them until we win". Thus Guam is basically seen as a forward air base for aircraft sorties. And "bombing to win" has never worked as a strategy.

    Holding a forward base needs to be seen as the opportunity to force the enemy to react to the presence of the base, drawing the enemy towards you to be engaged or having to avoid the strategic space around the base and cutting off enemy access to those areas. Which is exactly what the Chinese have done with their artificial islands.

    1. "IMO most current US strategy boils down to "bomb them until we win". "

      You're touching on a disturbing truth. The US has come to consider aerial supremacy to be our birthright and much of our 'strategy' flows from that assumption. We've also come to believe that air power is the way to fight a clean, collateral damage-free war and, thus, is the preferred way to wage war.

      "drawing the enemy towards you to be engaged "

      That's an interesting take on a forward base. However, given the range of today's ballistic and cruise missiles, the enemy doesn't have to approach very closely, at all. China can launch missiles from beyond our ability to effectively prevent them. Conversely, we lack the conventional ballistic missiles to present our own very long ranged threat and our existing cruise missiles are at the lower end of the useful and effective spectrum. Tomahawk is old, slow, non-stealthy, and, likely, non-survivable against a peer defender. JASSM, while newer, seems to lack some of the more modern ECM and terminal penetration aids and maneuvering capability.

      What do you think?

      A really nice comment.

    2. IMO, one of the major problems with American strategic thinking is the inability to define what "win" means. There is no way we're going to invade and conquer China (or Russia for that matter).

      We did invade and "conquer" Iraq and Afghanistan, but we certainly didn't "win" by any definition that I've ever heard.

      So the question is what is our strategic goal with regards to China? We can't impose a friendly government since we can't conquer them and impose our political will. And all of the talk about "protecting our economic interests" is hogwash when you consider that the US is basically funding China's military growth. Maybe you could argue about securing access to strategic resources, but those aren't located in the coastal areas of China so you're back to needing to conquer them.

      You could certainly argue about supporting allied nations against Chinese political or military pressure, but we're not really serious about that as long as China is our largest trading partner. Until we're prepared to impose economic sanctions on China, we're greatly handicapped. And by "prepared", I mean an intentional national economic and industrial policy to support that, not just tariffs and whatnot as Trump has threatened.

      Which is all a long-winded way of saying, "what strategy do our forward bases support?" Are they to defend SLOCs? Allied nations? Or, as appears to be the case, simply places to launch airstrikes from to bomb them until we win?

      Too often American strategic thinking devolves into a "strategy of tactics". In reality, strategy drives CONOPS. CONOPS then drives platform design and acquisition.

    3. I laid out China war victory conditions in a previous post (see, "China War - Setting the Stage")

      Ponder the post and let me know what you think.

  2. As far as I can tell, US is going in the complete opposite of hardening. Not only the physical hardening as you are suggesting but just going to smaller teams, smaller crews, just generally going for a small human footprint which makes the base even more vulnerable in my book. I can't find the article but if I recall correctly, USAF was looking at teams of less than 100 people, maybe even 50? where everybody is cross trained (which is a decent idea) ex: so the MP can refuel an F15 and a mechanic can pull guard duty...ok idea but when you are so light in people, a couple of causalities can really do as much damage as a crater in the middle of a runway! If we harden the infrastructure, we should cross train AND have some extra soldiers/sailors around to still be able to operate the base after the attacks. It kind of reminds of the point of failure we keeping talking about on FORD carrier, maybe in this case, the point of failure is the human component, take out the BARRACKS and leave the rest of the base alone. Just swoop in afterwards with some Chinese SF and take over the forward base almost intact!

    1. I have not heard anything along those lines about reduced base manning. See if you can find a reference.

    2. AF austere base testing.

    3. Okay, I've seen and dismissed that concept. It's the same as the Marine's fantasy concept of hidden jungle bases.

      Setting aside all kinds of logistic problems, the main problem with such a concept is that, even under the best of circumstances, it could support only a few aircraft and a few aircraft do not constitute an effective fighting force - certainly not for any offensive activity and barely for any defensive. This kind of mini-base can't support tankers, AWACS, or electronic warfare aircraft. All it can do is refuel a small number of planes for a brief period of time until the fuel supply runs out (there's that logistics, biting the concept in the ass!), the aircraft require a spare part (there's that logistics, biting the concept in the ass!), the enemy attacks with more than a Boy Scout troop, or the troops drop from exhaustion.

      This is pure fantasy.

    4. The sole advantages of austere basing are expendability (you really don't lose much if its bombed), redundancy/dispersal (if a base is bombed, you just move to another nearby), and cost (minimal infrastructure). One other reason for the services to be experimenting with this is the lowering number of allies willing to let us build a huge target, I mean base in their country, and the uncertainty if they will let us use it during a conflict. The other thing about austerity is it requires an totally different mind set. It requires simplification (as stated in your post), but also mobility. All the necessary services must be designed to be easily set up and torn down, and relocating must be a standard drill.

      Randall Rapp

    5. " you just move to another nearby),"

      This is one of those hand-wave methods of dealing with reality. Who is building all these bases (presumably without being detected?)? Who is logistically supporting these moves to another base? Who is moving the fuel, computers, spare parts, tools, fluids, radars, control towers, trucks, bomb shuttles, and the thousand other items that are needed to run even an austere base? How are they doing all this undetected? How are we inserting construction teams with heavy equipment into war zones undetected?

      A casual statement like " you just move to another nearby)" is glossing over a ton of reality!

      I'm not picking on you. I'm just pointing out that this type of casual ignoring of reality by the military and many military observers is delusional.

    6. "relocating must be a standard drill."

      Have you thought this statement through? Let's face it, we're talking about China and the Pacific region. There are plenty of bases in Europe and Russia is not going to war with the West.

      So, where are these many bases located given that we don't actually own many islands in the Pacific that are near enough to China to be useful? Setting that aside, where are we going to relocate to? Another island? That involves a massive naval effort to pack up and relocate. Don't you think China would kind of notice that? What's more, we say our carriers and surface ships may not be survivable around the Chinese defensive zone and yet these transport ships will up and move entire, albeit small, air bases and do so survivably?

      Do you see the logic disconnects all over this small base concept?

    7. Thanks Chinese Gordon! That's the article, I kept looking for it on BD and National Defense.

    8. I wasn't necessarily advocating for small bases, I was simply pointing out what advantages they do provide, and what would be necessary for them to work. I didn't say it would be easy.

      Randall Rapp

    9. "I was simply pointing out what advantages they do provide, and what would be necessary for them to work. I didn't say it would be easy."

      One of the problems that inflicts modern military thinkers is that they tend to deal only in the abstract or generalized ideal rather than the realities of actual anticipated combat locations. This forward base issue is an example of such. People cite all kinds of theoretical advantages of such bases, all true, without considering the realities that totally negate the theoretical advantages. It's almost like we're planning a campaign without bothering to look at a map! I don't mean to pick on you, in any way. I'm just pointing out the disconnect from applied operations versus theoretical. There's nothing wrong with considering the theoretical but we have to modify those thoughts with reality. Does that make sense to you?

    10. Sure, as I stated it would require an entirely different equipment set, and a totally different way of doing things for the various forces. What really needs to be done is a thorough analysis of how useful these advantages really are vs the cost of adopting them. Unfrtunately I don't have the resources to do that and I doubt the military will bother. A similar subject I have a beef with is STOM (Ship To Objective Maneuver), where they never answer how they are going to logistically support fast moving armored columns and airborne units with no secure rear areas and no beachhead? But that's a stupid strategy for another time.

      Randall Rapp

    11. "STOM ... they never answer how they are going to logistically support fast moving"

      This is an excellent example! One way to evaluate a concept is to list all the assumptions that are required for its success. For example, for STOM to work we would have to have 100% unhindered helo/MV-22 access since our aviation logistics assets are barely adequate under perfect circumstances. Given the realities of enemy action, helo/V-22 attrition, mechanical helo/V-22 breakdowns, etc. does this seem likely? Assuredly not! Thus, STOM is unlikely to be successful. And this is just consideration of one factor.

      So, apply the same thought experiment to forward bases. Consider the requirements needed for success and ask whether they are likely to be met or not. If you think they all are, then the concept may be viable. If not, then it isn't.

    12. Another stupid concept you may not be familiar with since the army came up with it for land warfare is Mechanized Vertical Maneuver, which I happened into while researching Heavy Lift Helicopters.

      Randall Rapp

    13. Never heard of it! Are we talking about lifting an armored brigade with tanks and Bradleys, just a few jeeps, or something in between?

    14. Something in between: it's the reason for Stryker and other "medium weight" forces:

  3. May 30 insidedefense reported Navy holding a industry day June 26 for T-AGOS(X) with seven total new vessels planned to replace current four T-AGOS 19 class and one T-AGOS 23 class "The two classes of surveillance ships use surveillance towed-array sensor system equipment to gather undersea acoustic data. The ships also carry electronic equipment to process and transmit that data via satellite to shore stations for evaluation"

    Would you in effect classify them as a ship SOSUS, first thoughts survivablility lower than than an underwater SOSUS, one of the required elements for a layered anti-submarine base defense.

    1. No one outside the Navy knows what the actual performance and sensitivity of the T-AGOS ships is so I can't really evaluate them compared to SOSUS. It's also unclear whether they could play a useful role in war time.

      The main use/benefit would seem to be undersea acoustic 'mapping' and peacetime data collection on acoustic characteristics of potential enemy subs.

      As you note, they have no inherent survivability and would be high priority targets in war so I would guess they would be kept far from any combat zone. Whether they could still contribute under those circumstances is unknown.

      By the way, I did a short post on them some time ago (see, T-AGOS).

    2. Do we have any SOSUS type capability in WestPac, or is all ASW and detection ability shipboard???

    3. SOSUS was abandoned. I'm not aware of any Pacific SOSUS but, then again, the Navy wouldn't exactly advertise, I wouldn't think!

    4. "SOSUS was abandoned"
      I think I just heard someone drop the ball.....

    5. The Atlantic SOSUS arrays were concentrated on the G-I-UK gaps to target Russian subs leaving their arctic and north sea bases on their way into the Atlantic. The Pacific's massively greater area and China's much less restricted usable coastline mean a comparable array would be much more difficult, plus getting what gaps that could be usefully covered would require permission from the various local governments.

      Randall Rapp

    6. The Chinese first island chain actually contains many chokepoints that would be ideal for array coverage. I'd be surprised if we don't have some sort of coverage although I'm continually amazed by our lack of combat preparedness so, who knows?

  4. One type of hardening you didn't mention is deception. Fake buildings, fake aircraft, camouflage, and smoke, chaff, and ECM to mess with their terminal targeting are all ways to reduce a strike's effectiveness.

    Randall Rapp

    1. "deception"

      Quite right! An oversight on my part although I did address ECM.

  5. Also is nuclear hardening of bases feasible, unlikely?

    Trump authorized production of low yield nuclear warheads for Trident, the W76-2, approx 100 kilotons of TNT? a third of the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Production currently underway at Pantex plant Texas, delivery expected beginning this September, now with new Democratic majority in Congress would expect future buys to be limited if not cancelled.

    If US using low yield nuclear warheads on missiles would expect China and Russia have them in service, but would China in future gamble that if they used their low yield nuclear warheads to attack/obliterate US forward bases a future President will not authorize all out nuclear war in retaliation and accept loss of bases if he/she has no equivalent missiles in arsenal.

    1. I have a hard time believing that either side would use tactical nuclear weapons since I see them leading inevitably to full scale nuclear war. The slope is too slippery for limited tactical use. Someone will go a step too far.

      That said, China has a different view of war and losses than we do. Being hit with nuclear weapons and losing cities and population is less of a concern for China. In their view, population is a renewable resource and new cities can always be built. Thus, nuclear war is far less objectionable to them than to us. If they can achieve their goals at the cost of a few cities, they may well view that as a worthwhile price whereas we see that as abhorrent.

    2. That is how Mao saw nuclear war. He ordered the Chinese to breed like rabbits. But the problem is our nukes would probably (sorry, speculation) land mostly along the coast, impacting the Han population the most. The Han population is where the CCP gets the majority of its support.

    3. "Also is nuclear hardening of bases feasible, unlikely?"
      Possible, yes, practical, no.
      Nothing hit by a nuke is surviving, although burying stuff and proper construction makes surviving a near miss a possibility.
      "Eizō Nomura was the closest known survivor, being in the basement of a reinforced concrete building (it remained as the Rest House after the war) only 170 meters (560 ft) from ground zero (the hypocenter) at the time of the attack"

      Although you can adjust the yield of nukes via how you make them go bang, there is also an inescapable size matter.
      Smaller nukes can fit on smaller launch platforms.

      "I have a hard time believing that either side would use tactical nuclear weapons since I see them leading inevitably to full scale nuclear war. The slope is too slippery for limited tactical use. Someone will go a step too far."
      Accidentally, but inescapably.

      China hits an Austere airfield
      The US hits a less austere airfield,
      China hits a carrier
      The US hits a fleet port and surrounding town
      China hits a city

      And then both sides press the big red button.

    4. It is always interesting to look at bases built by nations that expect to be under attack, and contrast them with US airbases. Sometimes I wonder if the lack of effort made in hardening US bases against attack is a relic of the Cold War. If you know the Soviets have ICBMs targeted at your airbase, and you know you can't harden against a nuclear attack, why bother?

    5. A couple if years ago an RAF base in the UK had a vehicle park with 50+ construction vehicles in it

      Couldn't say if they're indoor or sold now.
      Or I'm looking at the wrong bases.

    6. "It is always interesting to look at bases built by nations that expect to be under attack, and contrast them with US airbases"

      So, do that then. Provide a comparison of relevant attributes between a US base and some other base.

      "you know you can't harden against a nuclear attack, why bother?"

      I hear this one a lot and, as yet, no one has provided a single shred of evidence that that philosophy was ever adopted by the military. Do you have any evidence or is this just unfounded speculation on your part?

    7. ""you know you can't harden against a nuclear attack, why bother?""
      Cheyenne Mountain is more than capable of surviving direct nuclear hits, its why they move the stargate there.

    8. Quite right. We have many installations that are hardened against nuclear attack to varying degrees. Even our ships are hardened, to an extent, in that they are rated for nuclear, biological, and chemical environments. That's not the same as withstanding a direct nuclear hit but it offers a degree of hardening to enable survival in the vicinity of a nuclear event.

      You're pretty knowledgeable for a Tau'ri.

    9. IDK Domo, I mean you yourself said earlier that nothing hit by a nuke is surviving. *shrug* And NORAD isn't the same thing as March AFB. I'm questioning the USAF's hardening against nuclear attack in the context of airbases housing aircraft.

      The problem, as I see it, is that while an airbase's facilities may be hardened against nuclear attack, the aircraft are pretty fragile things, especially when they're all neatly parked on the flightline, and even if the airbase is not destroyed in the attack, it's now radioactive and can't be used until it's been decontaminated (if it can be decontaminated at all).

      I think it's telling that SAC's plan for preserving the nuclear bomber force wasn't to try and harden their airbases, but to keep bombers on patrol in the air.

    10. "So, do that then. Provide a comparison of relevant attributes between a US base and some other base."

      Quick on the cuff comparison here between 3 bases - Kadena, Langley AFB, and Changi (because I've actually been to Changi and have had a chat with dudes stationed there), before i head off to work:

      - Kadena doesn't have much in the way of hardening. It's got 2 runways, no Hardened Aircraft Shelters. There's no exposed fuel storage, though, so there's that.

      - Langley, home of the F-22 force, has only a single runway. The fuel farm is exposed; ammunition storage at least is hidden. No HAS.

      - Changi has 3 runways and 4 runway-length taxiways as backups. The main fuel farm in the north end is exposed, however I have been told that there is underground fuel storage facilities, and RSAF has rehearsed plans for trucking in fuel and ammunition from offsite camoflaged dispersed storage sites. Mobile ATC towers and radars are employed by RSAF and practiced with (both for highway strip operations as well as keeping the airbase running), as well as runway clearing and repair engineering vehicles*. Hardened aircraft shelters for fighters and E-2C/Gulfstream AEW aircraft have been built (and continue to be built in the airbase expansion). Israel's Iron Dome defense system** has been speculated to be deployed to protect the base, in addition to current deployment of the Spyder IADS.

      It's interesting to look at Changi, Tengah and Paya Lebar, because Singapore is within artillery range of Malaysia and Indonesia, and thus assumes that its airbases are already targeted and artillery firing plans dialed in. So they take steps to harden their airbases against artillery, forcing both parties to step up to more powerful weapons of which they have limited stocks of.

      * Such things surely exist in the USAF, but the problem is that we don't know how serious the USAF is about these. Indications I glean from open sources suggest that the USAF's involvement with mobile ATC systems sees these as for setting up forward bases, not for backups in case of an airbase attack.

    11. We're talking about forward bases. Langley is in continental US so that's irrelevant. What's your analysis and conclusion of a comparison of the other two? You're just tossing out a couple of generic facts. Make this worthwhile and provide some analysis.

      "Changi has 3 runways and 4 runway-length taxiways as backups."

      Not quite. According to Wiki, Changi shares runways with the adjacent civilian airport and it's unclear that it even has a dedicated military runway. Thus, the it may be misleading to state that the air base has runways, at all and the shared runways seem to have bearing on, or relationship to, any defensive considerations.

      What specific defenses do each base have?
      What do the differences mean?
      What other factors impact each base's defense plans?
      How will the bases be used and how does this impact defense?
      Given the local populace's unfriendly attitude towards the US at Kadena, how does this impact defensive options? Can the US even construct more robust defenses or does the local populace concerns prevent that?
      Kadena was, historically, utilized to support the Korean and Vietnam wars. Would Kadena even be used in a war with China?

    12. The Hiroshima yield was aprox. 15 KTs, so 100 is still pretty big. If you want to know about really small nukes, research ADMs (Atomic Demolition Munitions). I read that some of them may have yields as low a .1 KT.

    13. Been away for a while, finally got back to civilisation.

      I use Langley as a sort of control example to contrast Kadena: Kadena is in striking range of China, it's closer than Guam, and yet it is less hardened than Langley, a CONUS base.

      With regard to Changi's runways: Changi Airbase West shares two runways with the civilian airport. Changi Airbase East has 1 dedicated runway with 2 runway-length taxiways (and theres talk that there may be more runways added to Changi East in future expansion). What I was told was that in an emergency, civilian air traffic would be put into holding patterns or routed to land at Tengah, in order to maximise runways for aircraft launch - Singapore can be pretty ruthless about military control of things when it wants to. In a total war situation they'd just close down the civilian airport side of things and put all runways to military use.

      Kadena, as with most US airbases, does not have organic air defenses - the USAF philosophy towards airbase defense is to use infantry. Presumably the USAF is confident of maintaining fighter cordons to protect its airbases. Meanwhile, RSAF base defenses include not just infantry, but the Israeli Spyder mobile IADS setup, and unofficial reports suggest that Singapore has deployed Israel's Iron Dome system (and that Iron Dome was partly funded by Singapore) to protect Changi and other high value targets. The most defenses of a US forward airbase that I've seen were CRAM units placed at Bagram Airbase. *shrug* I suppose if really necessary, the Air Force could request the Army to station Patriot and Stryker Dragoon units for medium and short range air defense of a forward base, but that would mean that the Army's giving up what little organic air defense it has.

      The concern that Singapore has with its airbases are that the entire island is within tube and rocket artillery range of Malaysia and Indonesia. The plan is to ride out the artillery bombardment, and then counterattack - either by quickly clearing and repairing the runways, flying out RSA Apaches into Johor or Indonesia to hunt and kill artillery guns, or using Singapore artillery to counterbattery the Malaysians and Indonesians (this is assuming that the best case scenario of detecting and locating the guns/rockets before they fire doesn't happen).

      For Kadena, if we take political considerations into account, then no, I don't think any further hardening can be done. The USAF doesn't have air defense units to protect the airbase, the local populace is not keen on the US presence, and it's questionable if the Japanese government will agree to allowing US aircraft to stage out of Kadena to prosecute targets on China's coast or support a defense of Taiwan, because that risks drawing Japan into a US-China conflict, and Japan's security situation relies on it not getting involved in other people's fights.

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

    With the F-22 and F-35 out of the fight, aircraft like these would face more advanced enemy aircraft and ships with formidable air defences. How are they supposed to defeat these threats? Even with low tech aircraft, you still want some overmatch in capabilities.

    We need a high/low mix of aircraft, but we also need to have the means to rapidly produce high-end aircraft too as these aircraft are best able to survive against our potential enemies.

    1. You've stuffed a lot of assumptions into one comment!

      "With the F-22 and F-35 out of the fight"

      Why would we have no F-22/35 but our enemy would have 'more advanced aircraft'? Did we lose a lot of battles by large margins?

      You seem to be missing the concept of a basic, pure base defender aircraft (F-16-ish). It's job is not to go out and hunt down enemy ships or go establish aerial supremacy over the entire Pacific theatre, it's job is to establish an aerial perimeter around a base and engage any aircraft (and missiles, to the extent possible - which isn't a lot) that attempt an attack. Ships would be engaged with land launched anti-ship cruise missiles. That's one of the problems we have: trying to make every aircraft (or ship or whatever) a complete, single-handed, war-winning, invincible machine. What we want here is a basic air defender that can be built quickly, procured in quantity, easily maintained at a base that is under constant attack, and is reasonably capable. Of course, there's nothing wrong with attaching an air-launched anti-ship missile to a base defender aircraft but that's a side job.

      "we also need to have the means to rapidly produce high-end aircraft"

      Now you're venturing into the land of unicorns. By definition, a high end aircraft will be expensive, require exotic materials, be difficult to build, and won't be rapidly produced. That's not to say that we shouldn't attempt to modify our production practices to increase production rates but, realistically, there's not all that much we can do without a complete change in philosophy, as I've described in previous posts.

      "you still want some overmatch in capabilities."

      Of course you do! I guess it's a good thing the enemy's designs call for undermatching our capabilities. Oh wait, the enemy wants overmatch, too! How do both sides obtain overmatch? Answer: they don't. When both sides have access to the same technology and both want overmatch, you get equality - both sides wind up evenly matched. Overmatch is a great goal but against a capable peer, like China, it's just about impossible to achieve, as we're seeing.

      Hopefully, this gives you a better grasp of the realities of base defense.

    2. I started with your premise "of F-22/35 aircraft that can’t be kept operational in combat." If that's the case, then something else has to fill the gap. And, that something is likely to go up against our enemy's best fighters.

    3. If we can't keep advanced fighters operational in combat then our enemies are unlikely to be able to do so either!

      There's another aspect to base defense and that is that we will be fighting under our own radar control which is a huge advantage. It won't be 'lone' F-16-ish fighters doing the best they can all by themselves. It will be F-16-ish fighters supported by radar ground control and ground based electronic warfare as well as layered SAM systems, assuming we set the defense up properly - and assuming that we can keep the various systems functioning!

      The defender in this scenario has the home court advantage, to a degree. The enemy attacker is flying beyond the range of ground control, friendly SAMs, or ground ECM. The attacker is 'naked' other than whatever aerial AWACS/ECM he brings with him and which we should be able to destroy or render a mission kill (need a very long range air-to-air missile of our own!).

      The enemy has the advantage of regional home court but the base defender has the local advantage of ground support.

    4. An interceptor need not be that big or sophisticated. It would be mostly using ground controlled interception of heavily laden attack aircraft. It wouldn’t need tons of ordinances, just air to air, and if it isn’t going to be heavily loaded or carry heavy, sophisticated systems then it can be very maneuverable. This Vietnam 101. They did quite well with GCI and light maneuverable aircraft against the predominant world superpower.

    5. "If we can't keep advanced fighters operational in combat then our enemies are unlikely to be able to do so either!"

      I think that would be true if the enemy were also operating out of forward bases as well. But, in instances that they are not, which I think is more the norm than the exception, they would likely have shorter and more stable supply lines, which would allow them to better maintain their stealth aircraft.

    6. "An interceptor need not be that big or sophisticated"

      The North Vietnamese Airforce used to attack American Bonber formations, the American Fighter/Bomber / Strike / Attack aircraft would all drop their bombs so they could maneuver, at which point the NV would turn and run.

    7. "aircraft would all drop their bombs so they could maneuver, at which point the NV would turn and run."

      I assume you're citing this as an example of a mission kill merely by having any aircraft perform even a token intercept. And it's valid, at least for that time period.

      Today, rather than drop bombs and run away, an attack plane will launch its missile and turn away, having accomplished its mission - no need to overfly the target in order to release ordnance. That means that in order to accomplish the same mission kill 'trick', the intercepting aircraft have to perform their intercept further out than the range of the cruise missiles carried by the aircraft - so, hundreds to a thousand miles, depending on specific missile. Thus, a base defense aircraft needs to be long ranged and very fast to get to a useful intercept point before the attacking aircraft can launch.

  7. There needs to be a concept of operations for USN forward bases, just as there needs to be for ships, submarines and aircraft.

    For an example of a USN forward base that was workable, consider the ballistic missile submarine base in the Holy Loch, Scotland, from 1961 to 1992. If a nuclear war broke out, the base would be destroyed by Soviet ICBMs, against which there was no defence. It was thus an austere base, with a submarine tender and a floating dry-dock; there wasn't much need for other facilities, because it was in a friendly country.

    The base was worthwhile, because it gave SSBNs much more time on patrol in range of their targets. But when Trident-D5 came into service, it was unnecessary, and was shut down. The defences it needed were against Soviet SSNs picking up the SSBNs as they left the base, which was a solvable problem, as far as we know.

    Modern naval warfare has enough dimensions that an all-purpose base is expensive and vulnerable, for a conflict against a peer. The USN needs to adjust to this.

    1. "forward base … Holy Loch"

      Well, technically that would be a forward base in that it's outside the US but that's not really a forward base in the sense that we're talking about here. We're talking about a base in or near enemy territory, generally seized from the enemy, and used to stage further attacks.

      Semantics and definitions aside, your overall point about the need for a CONOPS even for a base is a good one.

      As you suggest, one of the first things we have to recognize is that a forward base is, by definition and necessity, going to have to be austere, at least until we can establish a viable and effective defense that will allow us to upgrade the base. This, in turn, dictates the need for simple, basic aircraft and weapon systems, initially. We're simply not going to be able to maintain and operate advanced stealth aircraft for any period of time at an austere base that lacks scrupulously clean hangars, advanced maintenance facilities, computer support, stealth coating application facilities, etc. Currently, we lack such a simple, basic aircraft (although the F-16 is in the vicinity of our need) - hence, the post suggestion that we need a F-16-ish dedicated base defender aircraft.

      A base CONOPS ought to define the tasks the base will be expected to perform, the equipment, aircraft, weapons, etc. that are required to perform those tasks, and a defensive plan.

      Your comment seems more directed at 'outside the US' bases as opposed to forward bases but the CONOPS concept applies to both. For example, we have basing rights, to various degrees, at several locations in Japan and we need to carefully consider their survivability and, with that in mind, what we think/want those bases to accomplish in a war with China. While useful in peacetime, those bases may be non-survivable in war or non-functional if Japan opts not to join the war. We need to devise defense plans in conjunction with Japan for those bases that we think can be defended and would provide useful functions. Some of the peacetime functions of those bases may not be viable wartime functions. Again, a CONOPS is needed.

      Good point and good comment!

  8. The RAAF has a paper on hypersonic weapons and their likely impact -

    Some of the author's conclusion is to defend a base against hypersonics requires CAP at 2000 KM, shoot the shooter first. This would be beyond the ability of the RAAF to do for any length of time.

    Another conclusion is the hardening is unlikely to be useful against hypersonics, leaving the traditional dispersal and camouflage etc.

    1. "Another conclusion is the hardening is unlikely to be useful against hypersonics,"

      I haven't read the paper but I suspect this is erroneous or, at least, only a partially correct conclusion. This is analogous to armor on a ship. The purpose of armor isn't [just] to totally defeat a given weapon but to mitigate the damage effects. In other words, a heavy anti-ship missile is still going to penetrate a bit of armor but the armor will help contain the blast damage and confine it to the minimum possible area.

      Similarly, while hardening may be insufficient to totally negate a direct hit by a hypersonic weapon (maybe, maybe not; it's just physics and depends on the mass of the missile and size of the warhead, if it has one), hardening ensures that a direct hit is required. Miss by a just a bit and you have no damage thanks to hardening. Thus, the enemy must use more and better weapons to defeat a hardened target and will get no 'cheap' kills. So, yes, hardening is quite effective.

      It may also require multiple missiles to completely destroy the hardened target: the first punching a hole and the second/third/however many completing the kill. We've seen this with cruise missiles and laser guided bombs used against hardened targets.

    2. "to defend a base against hypersonics requires CAP at 2000 KM,"

      This is exactly the same philosophy as the American carrier defense against the Soviet cruise missile bombers. F-14 Tomcats were used to provide CAP hundreds of miles out from the carrier with ideal being to shoot the launch platform rather than try to kill the missiles in flight (shoot the archer not the arrows, was the common description in the US).

      This gets back to proper aircraft design and concept of operations (CONOPS). For far too long, we've been designing aircraft in a vacuum, devoid of an accompanying CONOPS. Now, we're beginning to define required operations and belatedly realizing we don't have the required aircraft or weapons. We talk about operating forward bases but we don't have the right type of aircraft to defend them.

    3. 'CAP at 2000km ..... gets back to correct aircraft design'. I disagree it actually gets back to intelligence, detection and identification. This requires the appropriate sensors and a well defended location close enough to the location to be useful.

      'We dont have the required aircraft or weapons'. I disagree sm-6 is quite a capable long range missile that can defeat both air breathing and ballistic missile threats. The essm is quite capable of shooting down all current cruise missiles.

      Given there is only one major threat in this world that can conventionally challenge US power, the issue really is one of political commitment to creating bases at a suitable location close to Taiwan ie A bases in the southern Ryuku islands. Placing a highly suitable radar on the peak of these mountains would allow detection of ballistic missile launches all the way into central China
      It would also increase the detection ranges of cruise missiles over 50km. This is more than enough warning time to defeat them.

      There are two issues you have not included in your blog. The first is power generation. It should be hardened against attack. The second is mutual defense, the bases need to be close enough together that aircraft from one base can participate in the defense of the second. Kadena and Guam could easily provide assistance to Southern Ryuku islands and vice versa. The southern Ryukus were handed back to Japan in the early 70's. It is also in Japans interest to improve there defense. Japan may even part fund such a base structure.

      Another issue is to play to your strengths. One of the current advantages in combat aircraft is the f35b. A runway of 400m in length would allow a combat laden aircraft to pursue operations. It also prevents the loss of an airfield to enemy operations leading to a base that can be used effectively against you.

    4. You're missing the topic of this thread. It's air base defense by aircraft. The post discussed all types of defense but this thread is discussing a CAP to defend against hypersonic missiles. Thus, aircraft only. SM-6 missiles, ESSM, or any other weapon is not the topic.

      "Placing a highly suitable radar on the peak of these mountains would allow detection of ballistic missile launches all the way into central China"

      Just out of curiosity and on the off chance that China wasn't willing to graciously allow us to operate such a radar unimpeded, how long do you think such a radar installation would last in a war? I'm thinking an hour or so.

      "power generation. It should be hardened against attack."


      "mutual defense,"

      That's interesting but seems attractive on paper and impractical in reality. Guam, for example, appears to be well over a thousand miles from the Ryuku Islands. There is no possible way Guam could provide defensive assistance to a Ryuku base. Even Kadena is around 140 miles from, say, Okinawa. That's too far to provide mutual defense on any timely basis. Any attack would be over long before the other base could respond.

      "One of the current advantages in combat aircraft is the f35b. "

      The F-35B offers no advantages and a few disadvantages. In war, the least effective means of shutting down an enemy's air base is to attack the runway. Those can be rebuilt in a matter of hours. A serious attack would target other links in the sortie chain such as fuel storage (no fuel, no fly), maintenance facilities (no maintenance, no fly), munitions storage (no weapons, no fly), computer facilities (no computers, no maintenance diagnostics, not flight planning, no fly), and so on. The F-35B offers no advantages in an air base attack and has the disadvantage of shorter range/endurance and lesser payload and payload options compared to the A/C variants.

  9. Reading the article and comments, one possible solution is more large-deck carriers operating in groups. With the exception of the ability to launch heavy long-range bombers, a carrier group has basically all of the features of a forward operating base and the same needs for hardening. Though many might be required, carrier groups could provide mutual defense of land-based forward operating bases.

    1. "carrier group has basically all of the features of a forward operating base"

      In a limited sense, yes. However, it lacks the one and only reason for a forward base's existence and that is to serve as a staging area for subsequent attacks. The base provides the logistic support to continue further attacks. Yes, a carrier can conduct attacks but it cannot provide logistic support for further attacks by ground forces.

      "carrier groups could provide mutual defense of land-based forward operating bases."

      While that is possible, it is not a wise use of a carrier. Carriers are intended to use their mobility to launch offensive strikes rather then be tied to a geographical location conducting defensive flights.

    2. From The War Zone. US Army's first operational hypersonic weapon.

      The author's conclusion about air base defence is that it will be resource intensive. Multiple CAPs at 2000km. As most of our planes require refuelling to be at that distance. He notes the resources are beyond the RAAF. The RAAF has basically 100 fighters. The same as two carriers.

      So I see three options. Air bases and CTGs bulk up on planes. 3 carriers for air defence, one swing carrier, and oh we need to add more carriers to the CTG to have a strike capability. Air bases same problem.

      Or the US Marines concept of extreme dispersal.

      Or long range aircraft.

    3. "The author's conclusion about air base defence is that it will be resource intensive."

      Yes, it will !!! I'm sure you're familiar with the example of Guadalcanal in WWII. We - and the Japanese - poured huge amounts of resources into the fight to control that forward base. We lost many ships, many aircraft, and many men. It was the very definition of resource intensive! There is no reason to believe it will be any different in the future.

      Carriers will never be used in direct air base defense. That's a tactical and operational misuse of carriers. Carriers will support a forward base by using their mobility to attack the enemy at the source so as to eliminate his attack capacity.

      Side note, a carrier group can only have 4 carriers due to air space (volume) limitations and escort efficiency. We worked this out in WWII and confirmed it during the Cold War.

      "Or the US Marines concept of extreme dispersal."

      This is a fantasy that has zero chance of success. We've posted on this multiple times.

      "Or long range aircraft."

      And there's a major part of the solution!

  10. For the F16 ish base defender have a look at the Boeing/Saab T-X which seems to have the ability to carry up to 4 AIM120 an 2x AIM9

    1. Possibly although that looks like a sub-optimal choice. Range is limited (1000 mi; combat load and combat puts the combat radius around 200 mi - very short by today's needs) and weapons load is quite light (4 AMRAAM). If you're fighting off an enemy attack of many aircraft and/or missiles, you don't want to be using aircraft with just 4 ranged missiles. Also, a base defender needs to have good sprint speed to get into intercept position quickly. The T-X has a max listed speed of around 800 mph which is most likely in a clean configuration. With weapons, the max speed is going to drop as is range.

      I'd rather design (or shop for) around a requirement of very long endurance (loiter/combat time), good IRST, decent radar, and big weapons load. The F-16, itself, is a pretty good F-16-ish aircraft as a starting point.

      Trying to adapt a trainer aircraft to a fighter role is kind of repeating the mistake of the F-35 which tried to be all things to all services.

      The T-X would be fine as a low end, peacetime aircraft although for that we should go even lower with the Super Tucano or similar.

    2. COA #1:
      Based on the F-16 discussion, we could try the F-16XL. The F-16XL (wiki cite) holds 82% more fuel than the standard F-16.

      (7,000[base F-16] + .82*7,000[additional XL capacity] = 7,000 + 5,740) = 12,740 lbs fuel standard F-16XL vs standard F-16.

      If the Conformal Fuel Tanks were streched for the XL fueselage (base version = 450 gal/3k lbs fuel) we'd have at least 15,740 lbs fuel. If the jet was carrying external tanks we would add 2x2,500 = 5,000 lbs (F-16XL had 2 wet/heavy wing stations) , then we're at 20,740 lbs fuel. If we added a belly tank Someone more informed than me would have to provide fuel burn rates to get estimated ranges. Note that F-16XL has 16 wing stations, 4 fueselage stations missile stations, 2 wingtip stations, and the centerline position. The use of external tanks block an additional 4 of the remaining 14 stations.

      COA #2:
      F-35C has an internal capcity of 19,624 lbs. The external tanks described online are of 420 gal (2,800 lbs) or 600 gal (4,000 lbs). Total fuel capacity of F-35C is then 22,424 - 23,624 lbs. Individual MQ-25 Stingrays are specced' for (but only a single prototype exists) 3,000 lbs give at 500 nmi to 5 aircraft, so 25,424 - 26,624 lbs may be possible. F-35 missile capacity is likely lower than the F-16XL discussed in COA #1.

      COA #3
      Attack Super Tomcat 21. I've only got a couple of web links for this, it was only a paper airplane, but it is the best Tomcat that could be built. Lots of new systems that would be lighter, bigger, better engines, and greatly increased internal volumes for fuel. Could be paired with MQ-25, but no idea on fuel weights or ranges.

    3. To my red-faced shame, I only accounted for a single tank on the F-16XL CFTs and on the F-35z

      Updated numbers:

      Base F-16: 7,000 lbs
      F-16XL: 12,740 lbs
      F-16XL w/ CFTs: 18,740 lbs
      F-16XL w/ CFTs & 2 wing tanks: 23,740 lbs

      Base F-35C: 19,624 lbs
      F-35C plus 2 400 gal tanks: 25,224 lbs
      F-35C plus 2 600 gal tanks: 27,624 lbs

      As an apology, here is a link to the commercial ships mounting radars in a similar vein to CNO’s earlier remarks:

  11. Im not sure if this strays off topic but...
    Concerning forward basing and defense of same, I have a thought/question... I understand Aegis Ashore is a BMD oriented asset, and my knowledge of other air defense systems currently in use is limited, so is it a viable system to use in forward base defense? Or would it just be a duplication of other capabilities in use?

    1. I don't know the extent of the Aegis Ashore capabilities but, if they're the same as a Aegis Burke/Tico, it could certainly perform base defense. Of course, it would be subject to the same limitations Aegis-at-sea is which is radar horizon for sea skimming targets, on out to hundreds of miles for targets at altitude.

      I also have no idea what the magazine inventory for Aegis Ashore is. Is it just a dozen missiles for BMD or is it a hundred missiles or more as a ship would have? Someone should look into that.

    2. As far as I can tell they use the same standard MK 41 VLS 8 tube blocks as onboard. So theoretically any multiple of 8. You should be able to add more launchers over time.

    3. I couldnt find and specifics for magazine quantity except photos showing 8cell sections, and some renderings showing what seemed to be multiple dispersed 8 cell launchers. But certainly, dispersing/hardening pf VLS wouldnt be too challenging. The only vulnerabiliry would be the arrays. But it seems dropping some turnkey Aegis systems on, Guam for instance, would certainly help make it a more surviveable forward base...

    4. @CNO Maybe an ashore Aegis station would be a good candidate for retractable arrays or armoring, as you mentioned in a previous BB story, without the concerns associated with those features shipboard.....(???)

  12. This is a fictional story from an Australian Army web site about defending forward base Singapore, and the friction that can occur.

    You can find Changi Airport at the end of the world, punctuating the earth like a concrete hyphen.

    Here lies the gateway to Singapore. Here, at the earth’s edge, lies the junction of trackless Asia and the endless Pacific. Here, the Straits of Malacca close in tightly – as if curious about this entrepot of continents. The Straits leave Changi surrounded by shimmering silver, while black-bodied Indonesian islands – scattered like forgotten children’s toys – watch jealously from the horizon.

    But where Changi’s hardpan once crowded with airliners, jostling for docking gates like pods of beached whales, there was now a glut of space. Where once the wide-body jets flew with bone-white skins they were today replaced by transports uniformed in grim-faced grey. Their flanks were daubed with off-tone black or charcoal lettering, each speaking mutely of an Anglophone Babel:



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