Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Some Thoughts on Maritime Denial Inside the First Island Chain

Robert Rubel was correct in his commentary earlier this year on my SSQ conventional deterrence article that I favor attempting to assert maritime denial (as opposed to striving to gain something approaching command of the sea) inside the First Island Chain in the unfortunate event of a Sino-American war. I do not believe it is necessary (or even possible) to try to deny Chinese use of that entire expanse at all times in the event of a conflict. Rather, my vision for a wartime maritime denial campaign applies Corbettian theory: you concentrate or disperse forces and effort where it is necessary or opportunistically desirable to do so, and only for the length of time necessary to perform the requisite tasks.
It follows that maritime denial, as I interpret it, consists of executing kinetic and non-kinetic offensive disruptive operations (interdiction, suppression, etc.) that are opportunistic when possible and reactive when necessary to wrest the campaign-level initiative from a strong adversary as well as arrest the adversary’s operational tempo. Rubel’s describing the disruptive operations as 'sniping' is a perfect analogy; the working term I’ve used for that in some of my ID articles this fall has been ‘operating from over-the-horizon.’ I believe that the ability of the U.S. and its main East Asian allies to develop combined arms operating concepts that integrate ‘frontline’ submarines, lower campaign-value surface combatants, and land-based forces with timely support provided by heavier naval and air forces operating from less vulnerable ‘over-the-horizon’ positions will be a central element in reinforcing our conventional deterrence credibility over the coming two decades.
Direct defense of allied territories would of course be performed in parallel to denial operations as required. It is important to point out, though, that ‘mutually-assured maritime denial’ in the sea and air approaches to these territories would be strategically unacceptable. Some degree of temporary, localized maritime control would have to be obtained as necessary to keep the vital lines of communication open to these countries.
I’ll be going into more detail on these ideas over the next few weeks.

Monday, November 24, 2014

On the Hagel Firing

Secretary of Defense Hagel was shown the door today in one of those classic Washington scenes that reminds one of a Soviet show trial.  We are led to believe that Mr. Hagel initiated this process himself, and that is entirely possible, given the recent revelations from former Defense Secretaries Panetta and Gates about the degree to which the White House staff's micromanagement and meddling had become intolerable. Presumably, Mr. Hagel encountered similar conditions, as the message mismatch between what came out of the White House and what came out of the Pentagon was hard to ignore.

And so, the President will now look for a new Secretary of Defense, and it is likely that one of the conditions of hiring will be that this person will have to go the distance.  Second terms are famous for the degree to which senior people seek employment elsewhere, tired from the grueling jobs they held and aware of the half-life of their value on the open market.  Several names dominated the news this morning when the job opening was announced, but the two most often named were Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and former Under Secretary of Defense (Policy) Michele Flournoy.  In Senator Reed's case, I simply could not see why he would take the job.  He is likely to be returned to office every six years until he decides not to (a good thing, as he is a superb Senator), and leaving that job now to spend two years across the testifying table from John McCain is probably not high on his bucket list. His staff put the kibosh on this fairly quickly, so it looks like he is out.  As for Flournoy, I imagine her chances of taking the job are only a tiny bit higher, as she knows first hand the degree to which the White House staff dominated policy-making.  Additionally, Secretary Flournoy is a close confidant of Hillary Clinton, and is certain to be on the short list for this position (and others) in two years if Mrs. Clinton is elected.

Some have suggested Information Dissemination favorite (and a favorite of mine) DepSecDef Bob Work for the job, and I think he has a good chance for a couple of reasons.  The first is that he is ultra-competent.  Maybe one of the most competent men I have ever been around.  But more importantly--and this is not an insult, just reality--he is relatively unknown and he has no independent power base.  A White House that seems intent on protecting its prerogatives and minimizing static from across the Potomac might see Work as their kind of guy.  They would underestimate him at their own risk.

But, I have a feeling Bob won't get the nod.  The White House will cast about a bit looking for someone with  some profile, but not too much profile, and a resume of government service in their background, likely on the Hill.  This person will be a team player, and will understand the rules under which they are appointed.  My dark horse prediction:  Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James.

AEI/Heritage Project for the Common Defense Weekly Read Board


Marine Corps:

Some Thoughts on Salami Tactics and Diplomatic “Offramps"

My SSQ article on conventional deterrence last winter focused primarily on deterring relatively low likelihood but severe consequence ‘high-end’ contingencies involving Chinese aggression in East Asia. One apt commenter noted that I did not say much regarding deterrence of an opponent’s low-level ‘salami tactics’ that do not cross the threshold into a traditional conventional military offensive. Unlike the theoretical scenarios covered in my article, China is presently and actively using People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces, coast guard forces, and ‘civilian’ activists such as its state-sponsored (and likely coordinated) fishing fleet to probe its neighbors’ maritime defenses, perform coercive psychological operations, and occasionally seize individual remote shoals. Even so, the extant body of conventional deterrence theory contains little that addresses this segment of the conflict spectrum.
As I mentioned in my article and in another piece here this fall, it would seem that forward-positioned constabulary forces such as coast guards, gendarmeries, or national law enforcement agencies with paramilitary capabilities are central to low-end conventional deterrence. Given China’s use of its sizable fishing fleet as a paramilitary offset against its neighbors’ uniformed maritime constabularies, it might also be reasonable if not necessary for those neighbors to cultivate similar state-controlled paramilitaries within their own respective fishing fleets. Doing so would expand East Asian maritime states’ options for symmetrical responses to Chinese probes, as well as introduce risk variables that they could manipulate to deter further Chinese escalations. Indeed, a defender will seldom want to be the party that sets the intra-crisis precedent of having one of its military assets engage an opponent's constabulary asset or 'civilian' actors. It certainly seems that one objective of China’s salami tactics is to maneuver East Asian states into choices between setting these kinds of provocative and diplomatically-exploitable precedents or otherwise conceding on their claims. This kind of gambit would be even more applicable should Chinese leaders manufacture a maritime crisis in order to induce a neighboring state’s  military into committing an act Beijing could cite as a casus belli.
It must also be appreciated that constabulary and paramilitary forces are more readily configurable and trainable for handling these kinds of ‘grey’ scenarios. Take this year’s Russo-Ukrainian crisis, for example. Just as traditional police are under-armed and under-trained for retaking civil infrastructure sites and the like that have been seized by an adversary’s intelligence operatives, special forces, ‘political tourists,’ or sponsored ‘indigenous’ militias, militaries that are necessarily structured and trained for conventional inter-state warfare are ill-suited for ‘high-end’ domestic law enforcement duties. What’s more, professional military units’ esprit de corps may serve as a moral barrier that dissuades them from employing force against people who appear to be civilians, if not fellow citizens. One could make a strong argument that if the Ukrainian government had been able and willing to quickly deploy reliable, well-disciplined, and well-armed constabulary forces against the initial seizures of Crimean and eastern Ukrainian civil infrastructure by Russian operatives and proxies, Kiev might have been able to either prevent those Russian faits accompli or delay if not deter their follow-on moves elsewhere in eastern Ukraine. The effective deployment of such forces would certainly have presented the Russian regime with additional costs, risks, and uncertainties; at least one of NATO’s Baltic members has evidently taken note of this for its own contingency plans. Still, Ukraine’s lack of credible military forces (or membership in a credible defensive military alliance) meant that effective Ukrainian constabulary force employment against the ‘separatists’ early-on might have prompted a limited but decisive Russian military invasion—which is essentially what happened this past summer in response to the Ukrainian military’s and Kiev-sponsored paramilitaries’ broader rollback operations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. This is why the low-end conventional deterrence provided by constabulary forces or state-controlled paramilitaries must be latently supported by military forces positioned ‘over-the-horizon’ that possess the requisite qualities and asset quantities to bog down if not arrest an adversary’s offensive. This tandem approach is the best way to create doubts in an opponent’s leaders' minds about the wisdom of pushing salami tactics too far in a given confrontation.
An even more dangerous problem nevertheless emerges if circumstances reach the point that a revisionist power runs out of cheap and relatively low-risk salami tactics that can help it make progress towards achieving its political objectives. For instance, if the revisionist has seized de facto control over all the waters or isolated territories that it contests with an opponent, and if the revisionist still seeks to manipulate the opponent into bending to his political will or otherwise score gains at the opponent’s expense, then what low-stakes pressure points remain for military coercion? Alternatively, the revisionist may assign high value to certain political objectives that salami tactics simply cannot address. Contemporary Western crisis management theory embraces the idea of providing an opponent ‘offramps’ to deescalate a confrontation, usually through a combination of some demonstration of resolve and the potential for further escalation combined with some diplomatic concession (whether symbolic or substantive) that is designed to allow the opponent’s leaders to ‘save face.’ This is all fine and good if the opponent can be convinced that he overstepped and that a way-out is desirable. We must appreciate, though, the opponent will only accept such an offer if one of his most highly-valued political objectives is avoiding the uncertainties associated with further escalation—if not the certainty of a war should the defender’s deterrence policy be structured as such—more than the political objective(s) that drove his aggressive moves in the first place. Not all opponents at all times will take an offramp deal; sometimes the other side’s leaders come to value some political objective(s) far more than they do restoring the peace. As such, offramps may not work (or even be offerable) depending upon how the two sides characterize and value their respective political objectives. Though their calculus may seem ‘unthinkably’ irrational from our perspective, if the aggressor’s leaders want something badly enough they will do whatever they think they need to do and pay whatever costs they think they must pay to obtain it.

--Update 11/24/14 9:17PM--

I highly recommend Robert Haddick's serendipitous article at the National Interest from earlier today on this very topic. I think he and I broadly agree on the importance of constabulary forces and the potential uses of state-sponsored fishing fleets. He makes several additional suggestions regarding maritime information-sharing and surveillance cooperation amongst America's East Asian allies and partners. I believe his most important idea is for these countries and the U.S. to begin developing mechanisms that could support cooperative management of crises.

Friday, November 21, 2014

“What have you done today to ensure that everything fails?”

My latest at the Diplomat looks at the results of a recent simulation at the Patterson School:

Last weekend, the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, in conjunction with the Army War College, conducted a negotiation simulation on crisis resolution in the South China Sea. The simulation began shortly after an incident between Chinese and Filipino ships resulted in the deaths of five Indians and 95 Filipinos. 
The South China Sea simulation is the third simulation developed by the Army War College. The first two, on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute and the Cyprus conflict, have become regular features at foreign policy schools around the country. The AWC regularly conducts these exercises in collaboration with several different schools across the country, as well as with students at the AWC.

The Large-Deck Carrier: The Finale

For previous installments, see Parts I, II, III, and IV

Carriers in the 2020s and Beyond

It is clear that while the large-deck carrier rightly no longer serves as the fleet’s single concentration of conventional striking power, its air wing can still provide power projection and sea denial capabilities of great value—most notably in the event of a protracted major maritime campaign. Moreover, it remains the only battleforce platform that will be capable of hosting the AEW, aerial refueling, and outer screening layer aircraft necessary for sustaining localized sea control throughout opposed maritime operations. When supported by Joint combined arms suppression and rollback of adversary surveillance/reconnaissance capabilities, carriers can exercise these capabilities at a tolerable level of risk from a contested zone’s outer reaches.

All this hinges on the future carrier air wing possessing the requisite capabilities. It is unclear, for example, what aircraft and weapons combinations will be best suited for restoring if not extending the battleforce’s outer screening layer’s range as potential adversaries’ maritime strike aircraft capabilities continually improve. Nor is it clear what aircraft are best suited for resuming the carrier-organic aerial refueling and wide-area anti-submarine roles.[i] Most significantly, it is unclear what balances between stealth (including its electronic warfare support), range, and payload will be sufficiently affordable to expand the space in which carriers can perform power projection tasks at an acceptable risk when needed.

Unmanned systems offer some solution options for each of these categories, with possible concomitant efficiencies in training and other manpower-related expenses. It may nevertheless take the better part of two decades, if not longer, to develop and gain testing-based confidence that autonomous unmanned systems can reliably execute high-end combat tasks in intensely-contested cyber-electromagnetic warfare environments. The nearer-term solution may very well be to develop semi-autonomous unmanned aerial systems that can coordinate their actions with or be commanded by humans via line-of-sight, low probability of intercept communications pathways—which in turn validates the continued relevancy of manned naval tactical aircraft.[ii]

Regardless, a compelling case can be made that the large-deck aircraft carrier will necessarily remain critical to the future Joint force’s ability to wage major maritime campaigns. The carrier’s ability to fulfill the likely doctrinal roles I have outlined in this week's posts will correspondingly depend on resolution of the above questions concerning the future air wing. 

[i] On the aerial refueling question, see Dave Majumdar. “UCLASS Could Be Used As Tanker For Carrier Air Wing.” USNI News, 01 April 2014, accessed 4/2/14; http://news.usni.org/2014/04/01/uclass-used-tanker-carrier-air-wing
[ii] See 1. Daniel Goure. “A New Kind of Carrier Air Wing.” Naval Institute Proceedings 138, No. 9 (September 2012): 27-28; 2. Dave Majumdar and Sam LaGrone . “Navy: UCLASS Will be Stealthy and ‘Tomcat Size’.” USNI News, 23 December 2013, accessed 1/3/14, http://news.usni.org/2013/12/23/navy-uclass-will-stealthy-tomcat-size; 3. Robert Farley. “UAVs and the F-35: Partners in Air Power?” The Diplomat, 03 January 2014, accessed 1/3/14, http://thediplomat.com/2014/01/uavs-and-the-f-35-partners-in-air-power/ ; 4. Dave Majumdar and Sam LaGrone. “Inside the Navy’s Next Air War.” USNI News, 23 January 2014, accessed 1/24/14; http://news.usni.org/2014/01/23/navys-next-air-war

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Large-Deck Carrier: Part 4

For previous installments, see Parts I, II, and III

Carriers and Power Projection

Naval conventional land-attack strikes that must be launched from a contested zone’s inner sections early in a war will probably be performed by guided missile-armed submarines because of their stealth and survivability. Strikes that can be launched from the contested zone’s outer sections likewise can be primarily performed at relatively low risk by guided missile-armed surface combatants. As noted in my Tuesday post, however, the U.S. Navy presently lacks the technical and logistical capabilities needed to reload submarine and surface combatant launchers underway or otherwise in ad hoc locations such as defended anchorages. The need for forward-deployed missile-armed units to cycle through unthreatened friendly ports for pierside reload, combined with this contingent’s relatively small size prior to reinforcement by units sortied from rearward bases in-theater, transferred from other theaters, or mobilized from the homeland, will create significant challenges in sustaining friendly operational tempo.[i]  

Urgently developing the capabilities to overcome this campaign-critical limitation is imperative, but it must be understood that doing so may only mitigate potential operational tempo impacts—not eliminate them. It follows that one must be careful when asserting how an underway/ad hoc launcher reload capability should inform force structure. For example, it has been argued that surface combatants could become decisively more efficient than carriers in the strike role if the former’s vertical launchers could be reloaded underway, and that increasing surface combatant force structure at the expense of carrier force structure would accordingly be warranted.[ii] A key concern with this argument is that it is not clear how it factors in the specifics of launcher reload operations at sea. The nominal duration of a reloading event, the minimum distance the forward reloading area must be from the enemy’s effective reach to execute the event at acceptable risk, and the combat logistics force’s capacity for cycling ammunition ships between rear bases and forward reloading areas all must be explicitly accounted for. It therefore is difficult to tell whether such a concept of operations would be sustainable indefinitely or only during short ‘surge’ periods throughout a protracted conflict.

Even if launcher reload operations could be structured such that they would minimally perturb missile-armed SAGs’ operational tempos, one must not overlook the carrier air wing’s previously-discussed roles providing forward surface combatants with sea control support. Indeed, there might be a breakpoint below which any marginal decrease in carrier force structure to afford increases in surface combatant force structure might not yield any operational tempo benefits—and might actually decrease this tempo while increasing campaign-level risks. With fewer carriers, there would be fewer air wings available at any one time to support SAG operations within a contested zone. Against a near-peer foe with robust theater-wide maritime denial capabilities, this could severely curtail SAGs’ operational tempos—and the overall friendly force’s campaign tempo—in its own right. Neither this nor the launcher reload logistics issue automatically repudiates analysis suggesting surface combatants’ advantages in the strike role, but they do highlight how additional operational analysis and fleet experimentation is necessary to validate such assertions. 

As an alternative, one might argue land-based long-range strike aircraft could assume a large share of the strike tasks presently held by the carrier air wing. If a war was brief, this arrangement might be sustainable. If a war became protracted, though, standoff-range strike missile inventories’ depletion and the likely limited quantities of long-range penetrating bombers suggests large-deck carriers’ operational maneuver and power projection capabilities might become increasingly useful to the theater commander. The advanced ordnance inventory management issue is hardly new to U.S. Navy campaign planning and strategy development. For example, during the early 1980s the Navy estimated there were only enough torpedoes in shore-based stockpiles to rearm 30% of the fleet’s submarines in the event of a major conventional war with the Soviet Union.[iii] As the Royal Navy’s 1982 shipboard weapons, sonobuoy, and missile decoy expenditures in the Falklands unequivocally demonstrated, this particular problem is a core characteristic of modern maritime war. It is entirely possible that ordnance consumption rates might be far higher in practice than what is expected within standing contingency plans.[iv]

The same would be true if the operational tempo needed to prevent an aggressor from attaining its political objectives was so intense or the target sets that must be struck—especially to support frontline defenders—were so expansive that the theater commander simply could not avoid leaning heavily upon large-deck carriers’ strike capabilities.[v] Finding where all the above ordnance inventory management and operational tempo thresholds might lie over the course of a protracted campaign, as well as evaluating their potential severities, will be a crucial operational analysis and war gaming task.

Assuming large-deck carriers will be asked to shoulder however much of the Joint power projection load is necessary at a given time, a paramount campaign-level objective of Joint kinetic and non-kinetic strikes early in a war must therefore be to temporarily disrupt if not permanently attrite an adversary’s wide-area oceanic surveillance-reconnaissance-strike capabilities. When these supporting fires are combined with effective battleforce-level deception and concealment tactics, brief power projection (and sea control/denial) operations by dispersed multi-carrier task forces from the contested zone’s outer sections may be viable even during a major war’s initial phases.[vi] Indeed, the high lifecycle costs and considerable vulnerabilities of potential adversaries’ maritime surveillance/reconnaissance systems-of-systems are generally overlooked in arguments contrasting the large-deck carrier’s lifecycle costs and tactical efficacy relative to individual network-dependent weapons.[vii] The key point is that not all strikes necessarily need to be able to reach, let alone penetrate deep within, an aggressor’s homeland on a war’s third let alone three-hundredth day to be strategically valuable. Just as important to preventing an aggressor’s fait accompli may be strikes that challenge the aggressor’s sea control in certain areas, or that otherwise create conditions supporting eventual friendly sea control in the approaches to isolated friendly territories within the contested zone.

The extent to which the large-deck carrier can thusly contribute is a function of the air wing and its ordnance, not the ship. If the air wing possesses medium-range strike aircraft and organic aerial refueling capabilities, Joint forward forces gain an important tool for launching strikes from a contested zone’s outer periphery in support of defenders fighting within the zone’s middle sections. The frequency and responsiveness of these kinds of strikes would increase as the adversary’s maritime surveillance-reconnaissance-strike capabilities are worn down. Should the air wing’s fighters carry longer-range standoff weaponry and be supported by high-confidence cueing, strike footprints could increase by several hundred additional miles and potentially bring the contested zone’s inner reaches into play fairly early in a war, albeit with a lower number of carried weapons the further the aircraft must fly. In fact, evolved longer-range variants of existing strike weapons could offer ‘gapfiller’ capabilities along these lines at reasonable cost and risk while the long-range, autonomous, unmanned naval strike aircraft technologies that will eventually be needed due to potential contested zones’ anticipated continual peacetime expansions are matured.[viii] As noted previously, though, inventories of such weapons will likely not be large enough to permit protracted standoff-range strike operations. The most logical use of these weapons, therefore, would be to poke holes in an adversary’s defenses (however localized and temporary) that other friendly units armed with more plentiful shorter-range weapons could then exploit. It is also important to point out that not all of these weapons will be kinetic, whether they are long or short-range. Some of the most campaign-critical carrier air wing weapons will be electronic attack systems that must be physically brought within line-of-sight of an adversary’s distributed surveillance/reconnaissance sensors and their supporting data networks’ RF relay nodes.

As alluded to in the previous paragraph, large-deck carrier power projection’s other and often unrecognized aspect is Joint forward aerial refueling. Long-range, high capacity, carrier-based aerial refueling was a most unfortunate post-Cold War budgetary casualty.[ix] The same permissive environments that allowed fixed-location carrier strike operations over the past twenty years also permitted the air wing to fall back upon U.S. Air Force theater-range aerial refueling resources. Unfortunately, the theater-range conventionally-armed missiles potential adversaries now use to hold forward friendly airbases at risk increasingly threaten those resources. The carrier air wing’s maximal offensive as well as defensive employment depends upon assured access to timely aerial refueling at range, and this means a carrier-organic capability must be restored since ‘buddy stores’ on shorter-range fighters is insufficient.

There is a Joint angle, however, in that carrier-based long-range aerial refueling can also support Air Force operations when forward airbases for the latter’s refueling aircraft are unavailable or in maritime areas where they ought not to be risked. Based closer in relative terms to the contested zone, carrier-based refueling aircraft can also step in when Joint forward operational tempo rises beyond what Air Force refueling aircraft can support alone. This same logic would apply to the air wing’s screening, AEW, and electronic warfare support of Air Force operations within the contested zone.[x] Carriers’ inherent mobility can additionally be used to position over-ocean aerial refueling rendezvous that enable the Air Force’s use of unpredictable or unanticipated routes for penetrating as well as retiring from opposed areas. 

Tomorrow, a concluding look at how the air wing's capabilities and composition will determine carriers' future doctrinal roles

[i] Van Tol, 40, 46-47, 56, 78, 90.
[ii] CDR Phillip E. Pournelle, USN. “The Rise of the Missile Carriers.” Naval Institute Proceedings 139, No. 5 (May 2013): 32-33.
[iii] RADN William J. Holland, Jr., USN (Ret). “Strategy and Submarines.” Naval Institute Proceedings 139, No. 12 (December 2013), 52.
[iv] See 1. “Lessons of the Falklands.” (Washington, D.C.: Office of Program Appraisal, Department of the Navy, February 1983), 3, 11, 34, 36; 2. ADM Sandy Woodward, RN. One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997), 12, 97, 176-177.
[v] For another take on the campaign-level ordnance management dilemma as related to carriers, see Robert C. Rubel. “National Policy and the Post-Systemic Navy.” Naval War College Review 66, No. 4 (Autumn 2013): 26.
[vi] Solomon, 88-94, 99-103.
[vii] A more accurate comparison would count the lifecycle costs and consider the relative limitations and vulnerabilities of the various sensors and network infrastructure necessary for the adversary to effectively use such a weapon. For instance, the lifecycle costs of the satellite(s) relaying targeting data from a reconnaissance scout, any sensor-equipped satellites cueing the scout or supporting weapons targeting, and the navigational satellites providing the positioning data this entire enterprise depends upon are neither inexpensive nor without serious vulnerabilities. Several generations of these satellites will also have to be procured over a carrier’s lifetime. It would not be surprising if the carrier’s lifecycle costs still exceed the surveillance-reconnaissance-strike system’s lifecycle costs, but they would likely be much closer than popularly thought. It follows that one must holistically examine what is actually obtained with those expenditures, as one cannot properly pass judgment on the former’s tactical efficacy and survivability relative to the latter without comprehensively examining the latter’s tactical efficacy and survivability when subjected to protracted withering, combined arms attacks by friendly forces across multiple warfare domains.
[viii] For a strong argument in favor of such unmanned systems, see Thomas P. Ehrhard and Robert O. Work. “Range, Persistence, Stealth, and Networking: The Case for a Carrier-Based Unmanned Combat Air System.” Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2008.
[ix] See discussion of KA-6 Intruder in Norman Polmar. U.S. Naval Institute Guide to the Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet, 16th Ed. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997), 367.
[x] Van Tol, p. 27, 45.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

AEI/Heritage Project for the Common Defense Weekly Read Board (Navy)

The Large-Deck Carrier: Part 3

For previous installments, see Parts I and II

Battleforce-Organic AEW: Keystone of Sea Control

As important as carrier-based fighters will probably be to future U.S. Navy battleforce operations, the most indispensible air wing element will likely be battleforce-organic AEW aircraft. Since all radars are range-limited by the Earth’s curvature, an attacker can approach from beneath a warship’s effective radar coverage or can fire weapons from beyond it. This obviously minimizes the warship’s raid warning time and defensive interception opportunities. Aircraft and sea-skimming anti-ship missiles’ centimeter-band Radar Cross Section (RCS) reductions also can reduce shipboard radars’ threat detection ranges. Additionally, an adversary can exploit the defender’s shipboard radar emissions to cue its anti-ship attacks.

As perfected by the Cold War-era U.S. Navy, the use of a highly sensitive Ultra High Frequency AEW radar at high altitude addresses the above defensive problems in two ways. First, it enables long range, wide-area air and surface surveillance that exploits attackers’ less-reducible decimeter-band RCSs. Second, it supports a dispersed surface force’s prolonged use of highly-restrictive Radiofrequency (RF) Emission Control (EMCON) for concealment.

Battleforce-organic AEW has additional advantages. It maximizes the endurance of maritime surveillance patrols in remote areas. It allows for rapid-reaction maritime surveillance patrol sorties upon intelligence warning. Perhaps most importantly, it enables maritime surveillance coverage when enemy fires are suppressing friendly airbases ashore.

Battleforce-organic AEW’s historical role cueing friendly forces’ anti-air and anti-surface warfare actions remains central to sustaining naval operations within a hotly contested maritime area. Furthermore, as the core sensor within the emerging U.S. Navy Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) capability, battleforce-organic AEW will enable Aegis surface combatants to engage low-RCS air threats flying well outside shipboard radar coverage.[i] The use of battleforce-organic AEW in this way supports operations on interior lines of networking, which if implemented smartly can make an opponent's efforts to intercept or exploit NIFC-CA extremely difficult.

A battleforce-organic AEW radar’s weight, power, and aperture-size requirements combined with the AEW mission’s endurance requirements create a need for a relatively large aircraft, which in turn requires a large-deck carrier. The main alternative to this, AEW radars on rotary-wing aircraft, simply cannot provide the on-station endurance, combat radius, radar height-of-eye, or radar gain necessary to detect (and guide engagements against) inbound threats long before the latter can confidently target the supported battleforce ships. 
Carrier-based AEW aircraft are also extremely useful in performing battleforce-level Command, Control, and Communications (C3) roles. During the late Cold War, for example, the U.S. Navy came to appreciate how its E-2 Hawkeye AEW aircraft could support battleforce commanders’ tactical control over widely-dispersed subordinate units. This proved especially important when force-level countersurveillance and countertargeting efforts demanded that the battleforce's warships maintain protracted RF EMCON. This support could be indirect, as the E-2 was able to serve as a relay for difficult-to-intercept line-of-sight communications pathways.[ii] It could also be direct, with the battleforce commander delegating the E-2 crew the authority to tactically control battleforce units in accordance with his pre-disseminated intentions messages and command by negation doctrine. E-2 crews even routinely assumed their home carriers’ air traffic management and landing control duties while the latter maintained long-duration RF EMCON.[iii] All these C3 roles supported (and can still support) a battleforce's operations on interior lines of networking.

Tomorrow, carriers and Joint power projection

[i] RDML Jim Syring, USN. “Navy IAMD Capabilities.” (PEO IWS Presentation to the National Defense Industrial Association State of IAMD Symposium, 12 July 2012), Slides 18-22, accessed 11/18/14, http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2012IAMD/Syring.pdf 

[ii] This role could also be assumed by future long-endurance unmanned aerial systems. See Robert C. Rubel. “Pigeonholes or Paradigm Shifts.” Naval Institute Proceedings 138, No. 7 (July 2012): 44. Retaining the capability for airborne human-in-the-loop communications relays, though, will be an important communications/operational security measure.

[iii] See 1. Norman Friedman. Network-Centric Warfare: How Navies Learned to Fight Smarter Through Three World Wars. (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2009), 237-238.; 2. “1985 Command History.” (Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron-123, 31 January 1986), p. 5, accessed 11/18/14, http://www.history.navy.mil/sqdhist/vaw/vaw-123/1985.pdf

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