Saturday, June 8, 2019

If The Shoe Were On The Other Foot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. While I think you've got it right, for the statement "If our F-35s can’t be seen due to stealth, why do we think that we’ll be able to see enemy stealth aircraft?", I think there's a reasonable answer. That it is difficult to create stealthy jets and requires massive investments and specialized infrastructure that other countries have not yet been able to achieve at a level comparable to the US:, for example. That isn't to say China (and others) are not going to make advances, just that for the near future they will have difficulties catching up to the US in stealth technology.

    Even if the US has better stealth, the real question is, as you say, what will adversaries do to negate this strength. I think you've pointed out many times, and made strong arguments that the US needs to think about how to combat adversaries in realistic scenarios where things don't work exactly as planned. At the very least, expecting stealthy aircraft to remain essentially "undetectable" is a very problematic assumption.

    1. "for the near future they will have difficulties catching up to the US in stealth technology."

      Today, China/Russia probably lag in stealth effectiveness (of course, we don't know that for sure!). While I see war as inevitable, I don't see it starting tomorrow. However, 5/10/20 years from now, when war does come, those countries will have advanced their stealth considerably. Our stealth, on the other hand, is probably just about max'ed out. I don't think we'll make significant improvements barring a breakthrough into some new technology. So, when war comes, the post statement will likely be completely correct.

    2. That's extremely reasonable, and I completely agree with that sentiment (esp. the "we don't know that for sure!" part, as I can only read what others say about stealth technology). Preparing for future wars is hard, and so it's always better to assume adversaries will be smart and able. They usually have been in the past.

    3. We have to remember that stealth is not the wonder weapon capability it was when we first fielded it, and what it equates to now is just minutes (seconds?) of extra time before being detected... And frankly, any superiority of "ours vs theirs" will be overshadowed by what will probably be an inferiority in numbers. The huge amount of money invested is not imho, going to pay dividends in a future peer war.....

    4. "stealth is not the wonder weapon capability it was when we first fielded it,"

      When we first fielded it, it was beyond anything anyone else had and provided a real advantage for us. That was the second offset.

      The first offset was guided weapons. Again, when first fielded, it was beyond anything anyone else had and provided a real advantage.

      The third offset, that we're currently working towards, is based on networks and unmanned vehicles. Unlike the first two offsets, these will provide nothing that other countries don't already have. We will gain no advantage. So why are we pursuing a third offset based on tech that is already widely available to our enemies. This the idiotic gift that DepSecDef Work gave us and the services bought into without a second thought. Truly stupid.

  2. We have been dealing with small actors and terrorists even before 9/11 PLUS I think this mindset that nothing will happen comes from our habit of never responding to "bad acts" anymore, probably for the last 3 to 4 POTUS, I really can't think of USA responding? Just 3 days ago, a Su35 got near one of our P8s and a Russian destroyer did a dangerous maneuver near a DDG. So not only do we let this happen and not send back a message (at least once in awhile we should!!!) BUT more damaging and insidious for the long term, we see a mixing of "peace time" mindset infiltrating our "wartime" mindset, basically, we think nothing bad will happen and/or we don't think through what will be necessary to operate in war time! Just that simple example of using the P8 in war: I guess it could operate by itself but at such a standoff range that you have to wonder how good the ISR would be OR lot closer BUT then it would need an escort!!! Which leads to some SERIOUS repercussions that we know the Chinese are aware of: our AWACS, P8, tankers! maybe even C5/C17s would need escorts to operate and provide all the logistics US DoD takes for granted for the past decades....HOW MUCH HAVE USA REALLY FACTORED THAT IN?!? We sure don't practice it very often, I think we sent an escort (once?) with one of our Predators near Iran BUT is it something we practice all the time? What happens to the escorts if we have to do that for a week? a month? That superb vaunted 24/7/365 coverage sounds great BUT would it really happen if we needed to protect those same assets 24/7/365?!? Is that factored in our war plans with a Russia or China? We always hear about scenarios where we pitch 4 J20s vs 4 F35s, when really how many more F35s do we really need to get those 4 to face the 4 Chinese fighters if you factor in the tanker escort and AWACS escort, plus the ones down for maintenance? How many more pilots do we need if you need 24/7/365 ISR assets running around with escorts?

    1. "a Russian destroyer did a dangerous maneuver near a DDG."

      I'm not sure that our interpretation of that event is correct. From the sea rules of the road, the vessel to the left, the US ship, is required to give way. Our ship did not. We claimed that we had special dispensation because we were recovering a helo (although the helo picture of the event shows the helo to not be recovering?). I'm not sure whether there exists an exception to the rules for that.

      Maybe someone with better knowledge of the rules can chime in and offer an explanation?

  3. I think that all these tendencies that you listed are caused by USA forces being accostumed to fight civilians, guerrillas and third world armies without the weapons and training to fight back. Is the typical behavior of readying to fight always the last war.

    By the way I enjoy very much with your insights of modern war. When writing about politics I find them too much biased to USA nationalism, but nobody is perfect, though.


    1. "caused by USA forces being accostumed to fight civilians, guerrillas and third world armies"

      You've absolutely got it right! The US has become conditioned to very low end opponents and it's making it very difficult for us to break out of that mindset and refocus on peer enemies.

      "By the way I enjoy very much with your insights of modern war."

      Thank you!

      "When writing about politics I find them too much biased to USA nationalism"

      Of course I'm biased towards US nationalism! No apologies for that! However, I value and enjoy hearing other perspectives whether I agree with them or not. In the future, if you see what you consider to be inappropriate US bias, feel free to point it out (politely!) and offer a differing perspective. I'll appreciate it.

      I look forward to your insights and I hope you continue to enjoy the blog. Also, feel free to offer suggestions for topics or perspectives I might not think of on my own, especially ones that might be more focused on other countries.

  4. Sounds like its time for some more fiction from you, CNO.... From the Chinese veiw, or even Iranian!! I understand difficulty when youre not as aware of their capabilities, but still an interesting thought. I imagine taking previous fictional scenarios, and flipping the script would be outrage-inducing, but useful towards this discussion!!! I read a novel (not a very good one, but...) years back where we lost a CVBG, and my mind was revolted, but it does make you rethink that subliminal mindset of inherent superiority and start thinking about reality...
    The funny thing about this blog, is that its actually somthing thats a very useful read for the Chinese!! Its probably on some Chinese defense ministry daily reading list!! I wonder how many discussions they have that are among the same lines???

  5. One thing that we really, really need is more realistic training exercises. We need to find out 1) do all those things really work, and 2) what do we do about it if they don't? Even simple stuff, like whether our navigation team can get us from point A to Point B if GPS is put out of commission.

    We need to try these things under conditions where they will fail. That's the way we learn. And we need to take the lessons learned from failure and apply them to strategy and tactics and equipment and training and everything else.

    I was in a bunch of exercises during my active duty time. I wouldn't say that any of them were even close to realistic.

    1. CDR Chip- So true!! Sadly, we already know that we cant navigate without GPS, or even with it!! And I think the consensus is, the more realistic the exercise, the greater the failure rate. And thats actually fine, IF ONLY we were serious about improving warfighting skills, doctrine, tactics, etc... but it seems we are not...

    2. "One thing that we really, really need is more realistic training exercises."

      I seem to recall mentioning that once or twice so I guess I'm on board!

  6. Just thinking about Red Flag, considered by many to be one of most realistic training we practice escorting tankers? Do we practice defending an AWACS? Do we practice losing a Global Hawk and Reapers, losing losts of ISR? Do we practice operating from a degraded NELLIS?

  7. It doesn't matter if the Chinese can detect long range UAVs,
    the long range UAV weak points are the sat links used for
    nav and control. If GPS is down, how does the UAV know where it is ? Does long range UAV have star trackers ?

    2nd, magazine depth, how long before everyone is down to cannon on ships and a/c ?

    1. "how long before everyone is down to cannon on ships and a/c ?"

      You're on the money! After a few weeks of high end combat, when all the F-22/35s are destroyed or down for maintenance, all those old F-16s are going to look mighty good.

      Unfortunately, we tend to throw away our older equipment whereas the Chinese tend to save and operate old equipment. They'll be in a much better position when combat shifts to the second tier of equipment. Take, for example, our non-existent naval reserve fleet. Wouldn't a bunch of Spruances and Perrys look good after a lot of Burkes have been lost?

    2. One bizarre thing both the RAF and the RAAF upgraded their Hawk lead in fighters so they can train F35 pilots. Our Hawk have always been seen as a second string fighter force. The British ones can shoot simulated weapons, ours shoot real weapons. Hawks are fine for CAPs at about 100km, which is how far major cities are from out air bases.

      PS The American Perrys have been neutered. Anything lethal was removed incl the SM1 and maybe the gun. OTH the two Adelaide class (Perrys built in Australia - long hull) have been upgraded to SM2 and had 8 Mk41 cells for ESSM put in. Until the Hobarts are fully up they are our best combatants.

      When I was young and catching ferries across the harbour we pass fleet base east, the submarine base, and then the mothball parking lot (all with 3 turrets). Now our navy is so keen to get rid of ships, they have sunk so many dive wreaks - that no one wants their ships anymore. They will insist on scrapping it. We kept them upgraded and they are good for another 10 years at least with SM2 (on rails) and ESSM.

      Another the US Navy is big enough for war. It is not big enough for its peacetime missions. Forward deployment has a cost.

  8. I agree with most of these points--one does not want to presume the opponent is super-human, of course, but it is not evident our military does enough to challenge its assumptions and comfort zone. We should have learned that lesson after WW2...

    I think UAVs are an interesting case, because they do seem to have the potential to really shift the way naval war, especially the scouting dimension, is waged.

    Of course your point is well taken that UAVs will not have free reign over the battlefield.

    But I also fear that if they do prove to be paradigm-shifting, that fact will cut against us. Truly game-changing results from UAVs will only come if they are dirt cheap, truly expendable, and ubiquitous. Our military is not good at creating large number of cheap things. I worry about that dynamic...

    1. "Truly game-changing results from UAVs will only come if they are dirt cheap, truly expendable, and ubiquitous. Our military is not good at creating large number of cheap things. I worry about that dynamic..."

      Excellent observation! This also suggests that we should be developing doctrine and tactics that support large numbers of cheap UAVs. Instead, we seem to be focused on exquisite, high end UAVs and unmanned vehicles of all types.

    2. The RAAF assessment, as best they can, is the JSF is the very last manned fighter they will buy.

      We intend to acquire a $3 million combat UAV. See

      But I see severe problems with organising. Australia could really use the MQ25. Both the loyal wingman and MQ25 are planes. Is a squadron 18 manned aircraft, 12 MQ25, and 18 loyal wingman. Where will the ground crews come from? Is this a right sized tactical unit?

    3. This loyal wingman program is symptomatic of the problem in the US military where we never test before committing to a program. Apparently, the RAAF is also afflicted with the same problem.

      Has anyone done any kind of testing to have a reason to believe that an unmanned wingman is even tactically feasible (set aside technical challenges)? Shouldn't someone equip, say, a small Cessna with the proposed software and put the F-35/wingman unit through some combat tests to see what happens? I mean, really, some tiny amount of testing before committing the entire future of the RAAF to totally untested concept?

      Also, a $3M combat aircraft? Does that sound realistic to you given that a manned combat aircraft costs around $100M? $3M is about the cost of a modern missile! Either this is utter financial nonsense or the wingman is going to be nothing more than a very expensive missile. You simply can't build an unmanned equivalent to a modern combat aircraft for $3M. If you want the same range, speed, stealth, payload, ECM, sensors, etc. as a manned aircraft you're going to have to pay what a manned aircraft costs.

    4. I don't necessarily agree with the notion that UxV (x being A,U or S) is just folly - I think it can be useful but we need to think/adapt our way of thinking. Much like the Navy has accepted LiON batteries for UUVs, the design space opens up when we are no longer concerned with the safety of the human inhabitant. We can make more unemotional assessments of value vs effect and take more risks when operating in adverse environments. Doctrine/tactics is another thing that has to be thought of differently. Just like Germans didn't invent the tank but they did invent how to use them properly. I just am afraid of abandoning technology on its face without looking into our thought process/doctrines as well.

    5. "I don't necessarily agree with the notion that UxV (x being A,U or S) is just folly"

      I don't either! Who said that it was?

    6. "the design space opens up when we are no longer concerned with the safety of the human inhabitant."

      You touch on a really great aspect of unmanned vehicles but you're only partially correct. Yes, being unmanned opens up more operational/tactical options with greater risk, however, the current excessive cost shuts those options down and quite possible restricts our options even more than with a manned asset. For example, the MQ-4C Triton, currently envisioned to be the Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance asset, in conjunction with the P-8, has a cost of $120M, as cited in Wiki (costs likely include ground control stations and may represent an overall system cost - I haven't dug into the costs). We're not going to risk any asset, manned or unmanned, that costs that much and we're certainly not likely to subject it to increased risks as you suggested.

      So, you have at least half an idea right but you haven't accounted for the other factors like cost, ease of construction (attrition replacement ease), susceptibility to control signal interference, etc.

      "Doctrine/tactics is another thing that has to be thought of differently."

      You could not be more right about this. I've repeatedly called for vastly increased numbers of much cheaper, more expendable UAVs for surface ship surveillance, for example. We need to rethink the best way to make combat-effective use of unmanned assets. This kind of revised operational thinking will then intelligently drive our UAV requirements and acquisition programs.

  9. Maritime Surveillance
    Much of the fear of the "Carrier killer" ballistics is that Chinese fishing vessels will track US Carrier Groups, so the Armchair Admirals are wrong on both counts.

    MPA exist more to clear empty sea than identify enemy ships, if they see you at 300miles, they wont come closer to get a better look, they'll report a contact and stay at range, and no SAM is hitting even the ungainliest target at 300miles.

    UAVS are tricky
    The US (& wider west) currently uses them in place of COIN aircraft like the Tucano.
    Not quite cheap enough to be throw away, but not exactly a disaster when it gets shot down.
    Russia in the Ukraine was using COTS UAVs by the bucket load as, almost everything including maintaining a FLOTs.

    Stealth reduces the range at which you can be seen.
    Sticking with a US/China war
    China cant defend everywhere.
    US stealth aircraft can pass through the gap between two AAW batteries and attack rear areas.
    Or, attack an AAW battery head on safe in the knowledge that its "supporting" batteries either side wont be able to intervene.

    Chinese Stealth aircraft cant bypass US air defences because US "rear areas" are on the other side of the pacific.
    China could you stealth to go around a CBG, but theres nothing to attack round them. At best, you get closer before you get spotted.

    1. "MPA exist more to clear empty sea than identify enemy ships, "

      Unfortunately, US operational concepts envision using P-8/Triton as surveillance and targeting assets in support of the distributed lethality construct. So, yes, they will be used as front line targeting. This is foolish and unworkable but it is the current doctrine.

      Without a forward deployed surveillance asset the distributed lethality doesn't work.

      If P-8/Triton isn't the surveillance asset, what is? That's the problem for the US. We have failed to develop a stealthy, front line surveillance platform. Some would suggest the F-35 will fill that role but its sensors are not optimized for broad area surveillance and every F-35 used for surveillance is one less available for combat.

      Stealth, in this post, is referring to air to air combat where we believe that our F-35 will reign supreme, unseen, yet seeing all. The enemy's stealth fighters will, apparently, be easily detected and see nothing - so we believe. Ludicrous!

  10. The above mentioned link that highlights the problem of comparing our stealth with near peers like china point to the known issues of chinese inferior engines, radiating canards, waveform inferiority. I believe more important issues like communication links, think Link 16, now detectable, is the most important factor affecting fighting effectiveness. We solved the link 16 "seen" issue. Our near peer china is not even at or close to that issue. Even if you accept the J-20 is stealthy, so is my Cirrus, its just not very stealthy. Its comms are pathetic.

    It is somewhat stealthy if it does not communicate. So is my $2 mill Cirrus. I believe we will maintain our technological advantage over the chinese. I watched over 1 million Hong Kong people protest over the new extradition laws being proposed. I hope and believe the best and the brightest of the world will keep coming here and we will keep our advantage.

    As an aside why can't we consider the P8 as bait for "our" invisable shooters. If the Buffs have Trophy why not the P8's?

    Notwithstanding the above opinions, I think china is going to "go for it" just like Saddam...

    1. The linked article is fascinating and certainly offers food for thought but it is fundamentally flawed for many of the same reasons it criticized others for! For example, it offered only two case studies out of hundreds (thousands?) of possibilities and the most relevant study, that of Chinese stealth aircraft, also represents the most demanding, one would presume. In other words, the one relevant data point represents the most extreme case and, therefore, offers no assurance of general applicability. For example, China has also copied various missiles, tanks, helos, etc. with, by all accounts, great success. If true, this would completely negate the article's premise for all but the single, most extreme case that they chose to cite.

      The other potential flaw in this study is that it assumes/states that the Chinese stealth aircraft are flawed. I'm sorry, but no one outside the Chinese military knows whether that's true or to what degree. The article offers no data, just a few vague observations that may or may not be valid.

      Finally, even the article's extreme example clearly illustrates the exact opposite of their contention which is that advanced technology can't be easily imitated. The example cited, however, clearly demonstrates the ENORMOUS leap in aircraft manufacturing technology that China made in a very brief time. They went from manufacturing copies of Soviet 1960's era aircraft to producing stealth aircraft almost overnight, on a relative basis, virtually skipping over all the steps and aircraft that we had to go through to get to the same point. That the final product, a stealth aircraft, may be degree less capable than the US version (if that is, indeed, the case) does not negate the huge leap in capability that China achieved via the very mechanisms the article says won't work!

      Lastly, there is no consideration given to the Chinese stealth philosophy. In the US, we have gone 'all in' on stealth despite much evidence that the pursuit of maximum stealth is counterproductive. Indeed, the US Navy appears to have opted for less stealth in the form of the F-18 as opposed to spending heavily for an all-F-35 air wing. It is quite possible that China has decided that maximum stealth is a fool's pursuit and consciously opted for a lesser degree of stealth and more emphasis on weapons load, range, ECM, or whatever other characteristics it might consider more useful in combat. The article makes absolutely no attempt to account for differing philosophies, instead attributing any difference to inferior design and manufacturing which would support the article's premise.

      All in all, a very poor article albeit quite thought provoking and well worth reading.

  11. I don't know if you want people to get political here but...Pres Trump is choking the chicken with the tariffs. Carrier number 3 progress is slowing, see ImageSatIntl for open source.

    1. This is not a political blog but I don't mind a bit of non-partisan political discussion as it relates directly to military matters. That said, huh??? I'm completely missing your point. What tariffs (we're imposing tariffs on, seemingly, everyone!)? How are they related to carrier construction progress?

      Give me something more to go on!

  12. The correlation may or may not continue but at the moment the US tariffs seemingly aimed at all, auto tariffs on Europe, steel tariffs on S. Koreas, the brilliant threat of tariffs on Mexico, are but a smokescreen to our real target, china. As we impose this drag on china their progress at Jiangnan on carrier slows.
    So far so good!

  13. Political again. All the tariffs on everybody have been verbal threats offered and postponed, except on china. They are real. china's only path to mitigate tariffs is to devalue currency. That leads to capital flight as local Chinese look for way to protect their savings from devaluing currency.

    1. I think the other tariff threats were real but the targets, in each case, have opted to negotiate and compromise, thus foregoing the tariffs. In China's case, they had the same opportunity to negotiate and compromise and opted not to do so.

      China does have another path to mitigate tariffs and that is to level the trade field and trade fairly. I'm in way over my head with international economics so I'll bail out at this point.

  14. Example of state of play of Chinese knowledge of US systems and its latest classified research tech giving ability to counter any future US 'advantages'.

    CANES, USN network, Consolidated Afloat Ships Network Enterprise Services, is leaking like a sieve.

    January 2018 - The Inspector General’s office audit and later issued a report titled “Audit of Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services Security Safeguards.” report classified.

    January and February 2018 - In one incident Chinese government hackers compromised the computers of a Navy contractor and harvested sensitive data dealing with undersea warfare, including plans for a supersonic anti-ship missile, Washington Post reported in June 2018

    March 12, 2019 - A 57-page internal Navy review leaked to the Wall Street Journal paints a dire picture.

    "It depicts the Navy and its contractors “under cyber siege” by a host of nefarious actors — including Chinese government hackers — who have exploited critical flaws in U.S. cyber security to steal troves of national security secrets from the defense industry."

    The final report claims that although the U.S. is aware of cyber attacks by foreign hackers, the government has struggled to respond to the large number of breaches and has failed to effectively warn its defense contractors.

    China has “derived an incalculable near- and long-term military advantage from it [the hacking], thereby altering the calculus of global power,” the report said.

    Congress - House Armed Services Committee wants to fence off about 15 percent of the Navy’s CANES funding until the service answers questions about the program’s cybersecurity.


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