Showing posts with label Guest Author Series. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Guest Author Series. Show all posts

Monday, November 4, 2013

We Need a Balanced Fleet for Naval Supremacy

The Swedish Visby class is representative example of a small combatant the author argues might work as part of a balanced US Navy force structure.
The following contribution is by CDR Phillip E. Pournelle, USN. CDR Phillip E. Pournelle is a Surface Warfare Officer and an Operations Analysts.  He currently serves as a military advisor to OSD’s Office of Net Assessment.

Lazarus’ essay entitled Naval Supremacy Cannot be ‘Piggybacked’ on Small Ships attempts to rebut essays of Captains Hughes, Kline, Rubel and Admiral Harvey (here and here) advocating the employment of small missile combatants operating as flotillas in the littoral environment.

Technological changes underway today will increasingly challenge the way we conduct business today.  The United States will have to adapt to retain its lead.  In order to adapt, debates such as these must be part of a larger Cycle of Research, an ongoing iteration of wargames, analysis, and fleet exercises.

Lazarus has constructed a straw man to knock down, because no one has suggested a flotilla of small combatants can replace the big ships in the current fleet, which was designed to either dominate the open oceans or project power efficiently over the land when the sea is a safe sanctuary. The proposals favor supplementing the fleet—as have most dominant navies since the onset of torpedoes, mines, and submarines—with smaller combatants that can fight in cluttered and dangerous littoral waters without risking big warships’ great value in terms of procurement costs, lives, and multi-purpose combat capability. The small combatants should comprise only a small part of the fleet value in terms of displacement tonnage and cost but a large fraction of the fleet in terms of numbers of ships.

Lazarus argues the original authors have neglected critical concepts such as historic effectiveness, geography, strategy and logistics.  Lazarus’ arguments against the flotillas are drawn from history and historic analogies centered mostly on the time periods before and during World War II.  However, he neglects to address the significant technological changes which have occurred in the missile age and now in the robotics age.  He also neglects the significant number of such vessels which can be employed for a modest budget and the impact of numbers in the increasingly offensive dominant environment of the ocean today and in the future.  We will address each of his arguments and show why the addition of the Flotilla concept is far superior to the all big ship strategy currently being pursued by the US Navy.  But in the end the United States Navy is not building a balanced fleet, but one of few large vessels risking a potential catastrophe.

Small combatants are and will continue to be the bane of capital ships daring to enter the littoral environment.  Lazarus argues small combatants with capital ship killing weapons, with the possible exception of submarines, have historically never lived up to their reputation and larger ships’ adaptations neutralized their effectiveness.  He cites the poor performance of torpedo boats which were only successful in night or stealth conditions.  Later in the essay he returns to the topic and cites the poor performance of the US Asiatic fleet, including torpedo boats and submarines, in the opening days of World War II.  What he leaves out is that the “big gun” navy neglected the Asiatic Fleet (a recurring theme) and the ineffectiveness of their primary weapon, the torpedo.  Admiral Richardson has often cited the badly flawed torpedo combined with the risk adverse personalities of fleet submarine commanders as greatly reducing their effectiveness [comments before the Center for Naval Analysis in 2012].  Once both factors were addressed, the effectiveness of submarines increased greatly.  The same might have been said of torpedo boats, but there weren’t any in the Asiatic Fleet.

The value of missile boats is not necessarily in their effectiveness against capital ships but in their effectiveness in sea denial missions, particularly against commercial and amphibious operations.  In WWII, PT boats and other light craft were noted for their defectiveness against German and Japanese resupply efforts.  Further PT boats were employed to screen against their German counter part (E Boats) during landings at Normandy.

Lazarus neglects to address the significant technological changes of modern times and differences between torpedo boats and missile boats.  To start, even with advances in the range of torpedoes in WWII, they still required the boat to close well within the range of the rapid firing weapons of their targets, and the screening torpedo boat destroyers.  Modern Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs) are very effective when fired from over the horizon.  Large warships operating with their very unique electronic signatures make it easy for an opponent to locate, track, and identify them.  In contrast the small combatants are much harder to locate in the clutter of the littoral environment. 

Modern missile technology has made small combatants very lethal and their continual improvement will make them more so in the future.  Lazarus cites the poor performance of early missile armed combatants such as those which sank the Israeli Navy Ship (INS) Eilat, (a destroyer) in October 1967.  He further points out the historic ineffectiveness of missile corvettes in the Falklands, Libyan, Iranian, and Iraqi conflicts.  In particular he cites the effectiveness of air power in neutralizing these ships.  In all of those cases those fleets never sailed in force or made a concerted effort to fight.  He leaves out the large number of successful ASCM engagements and their increasing effectiveness over time particularly by the Israelis who were willing to fight.[“An Analysis of the Historical Effectiveness of Anti-ship Cruise Missiles in Littoral Warfare” NPS thesis by John C. Schulte 1994. (PDF)]

Another striking conclusion of the Schulte study is its historical review of the ineffectiveness of hard kill systems in combat against ASCMs.  The increasing effectiveness of ASCMs, as their sensors capability increases, reinforces the already offensive dominant tactical environment of the sea.

A force of smaller combatants is far more survivable than those made up of larger combatants.  Lazarus accurately notes a smaller combatant when hit with a large weapon such as an ASCM is likely to be lost, probably with all hands.  These smaller combatants are more likely to take with them a larger proportion of their crew when struck, but their crews are on the order of 20 to 40 in comparison to modern destroyers with upwards of 500.  When such ships, such as the HMS Sheffield were struck they lost 20 ratings and officers.  He further cites the arguably flawed and biased study by Secretary Lehman stating the larger the ship (the secretary was addressing aircraft carriers, not ships in general) the less vulnerable to attack it is.  However detailed analysis presented by Captain Hughes in Fleet Tactics and Chris Carlson’s Variable Damage Effects (PDF) in Naval Wargames 2008 demonstrate very vividly ships gain very little resiliency to damage as their size (and costs) grow.  Further the larger a ship is, the larger its radar cross section and other signatures, increasing the probability of being hit.

Finding the ships of a flotilla is far more challenging than a cost equivalent force of larger ships.  To illustrate this we will compare the cost equivalent force of one Arleigh Burke destroyer (DDG), and four Soliman Ezzat class missile patrol craft (PCM).  We will assume the ability to track and detect a destroyer and a PCM are the same 50%, despite the fact the PCM probably has a smaller radar cross section.  The probability of locating the entire destroyer force is 50% while the probability of detecting the four PCMs simultaneously is 6.25%.  Finding, tracking and planning an engagement against four PCMs is similarly challenging.

Numbers in naval warfare matter.  Lazarus misapplies one of Napoleon’s maxims regarding the value of large battalions.  What Napoleon was citing was the importance of numbers in the offensive dominant environment he was fighting in.  The same is so at sea.  To illustrate this point we will compare two cost equivalent forces the US could deploy today.  The first is a new Arleigh Burke destroyer (DDG), and the second four new Soliman Ezzat class PCMs.  The destroyer costs about $1.5B to acquire while each PCM costs less than a quarter that.  We will assume optimistically the DDG can take three Exocet missile equivalents to be rendered out of action while each PCM would only take a single hit.  An enemy force desires to have an 80% confidence it can wipe out the entire force.  We will assume the enemy has ASCMs each with a 50% probability it can hit either a destroyer or a PCM.  The probability of hitting the destroyer is actually greater than that of the PCM due to its larger RCS, but we will credit its hard kill systems with making up the shortfall (though history does not support this theory).  To have an 80% confidence at least three missiles will hit and take out the destroyer an opponent would have to launch at least eight.  To have an 80% confidence of taking out the PCM force, an enemy would have to have sufficient confidence in striking each of the four to meet the total confidence.  The fourth root of 80% is just shy of 95%.  The enemy commander would have to have a 95% confidence of hitting each PCM to have an 80% confidence of wiping out the entire force.  To have a 95% confidence of hitting each PCM at least once would require 5 apiece.  Thus an enemy commander would have to devote 20 missiles to the PCM force, vice just 8 to take down the destroyer; a significant increase in resources and a much tougher coordination effort.  Disbursing combat capability across several platforms greatly increases the resilience of a combat force and modern combat networks enable them to mass force effectively when necessary. [See Distributed Networked Operations by Jeff Cares, 2005]

The resilience of a flotilla is a strategic advantage in a crisis situation.  The level of effort and coordination required to destroy the flotilla significantly reduces the first mover advantage of an opponent.  Quite simply numbers matter in this kind of environment.  This is what Napoleon was talking about.

With proper doctrine and preparation geography and logistics favor flotillas of smaller vessels.  While in general logistics do favor larger ships, technology and ship designs have improved the endurance of smaller ships.  The Sentinel class coast guard patrol boat (WPC) of 353tons has a long range endurance enabling it to cross the Pacific Ocean in the same manner as the LCS and its design makes such a journey easier on the crew.  Further advances in ship stability systems, navigation, engineering, and weather avoidance have markedly improved the effectiveness of smaller vessels in the open ocean.

It is true nations operating flotillas of smaller vessels close to home gain significant advantages in the employment of interior lines of communications and logistics in both the operation and support of such a force.  This is why Captain Hughes and company advocate the development of forward operating bases and related capabilities to support such a force overseas in countries under threat.  Given China’s bellicose behavior of late in the South China Seas, countries in the region have been and should continue to explore the opportunity to make themselves a harder target to intimidate or attack.  This hedgehog strategy reinforces the main concept behind Colonel Hammes distant Blockade strategy of local nations only having to protect themselves in a crisis or conflict.  However, other maritime nations take their cue from the United States Navy and would be more likely to employ these effective platforms if the US Navy took them more seriously and trained with them.

Flotillas of smaller vessels are more survivable in the ballistic missile environment.  China has developed long range missiles which can target fixed ports and airports.  They have also been developing Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles (ASBMs) reportedly designed against Aircraft Carriers.  They do not have an unlimited supply of such missiles, particularly long range versions.  Therefore the ability to disburse logistics capabilities increases survivability just like that of the combat force.  If the United States continues to concentrate logistics capabilities in few large ports able to take the few large Combat Logistics Fleet (CLF) ships, then it will continue to make itself vulnerable to long range ballistic missiles, similar to what occurred in WWII.  PCMs have a 2 meter draft and are able to operate in a wide range of small ports, fishing villages, protected anchorages, etc.  If flotillas are combined with a mobile land logistics component and the use of offshore supply vessels, they can distribute the logistics nodes and remove the brittleness of overly centralized logistics enemy ballistic missiles are designed to take advantage of. [“Rethinking Littoral Logistics” by Captain David C. Meyers and Commander Jason B. Fitch, Supply Corps, U.S. Navy, Proceedings August 2012]

Modern weapons development makes combat in the littorals too dangerous for carrier or land based aviation assets against a near peer competitor.  Airfields in a contested environment are increasingly becoming vulnerable to precision strike regime weapons such as ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and unconventional forces armed with guided rockets, mortars, and artillery (G-RAM).  Further ASBMs, ASCMs and other proliferating weapons are increasing the risk of Aircraft Carriers to operate in the littorals.  Aircraft Carriers have an extremely large signature making them vulnerable to attack from over the horizon or the clutter of the littorals.  Further the loss of a few patrol vessels is less likely to trigger existential angst to the American public than a burning aircraft carrier.

Flotillas are more survivable in the littoral environment as commerce raiders than larger ships when there is a loss of air cover.  Lazarus questions the survivability of flotillas given the threats from the air cover as described in the previous paragraph. If the Chinese were to eliminate our land and carrier based aviation capabilities in their initial attack, the flotilla would be more likely to survive if operated correctly.  Open ocean commerce raiding missions without air cover against an opponent who has air superiority became dangerous and ineffective in World War II, but employment of flotillas in littoral environments in a contested air environment was common then and can again work to their benefit.  Properly employed to take advantage of the clutter of the littorals the effectiveness of air launched ASCMs would be greatly neutralized.  Meanwhile advances in shipboard weapons such as the rolling airframe missile give corvettes an effective weapon to neutralize the flight profiles most aircraft require to employ bombs, rockets, etc.  Further, combining the use of modern obscurants with missile boats’ small size will make them a challenging target in any engagement.  In contrast large combatants are far less capable of hiding in the littoral environment.  Due to their high profile and small numbers, they raise their profile higher by constant radiation, making them more likely to be attacked and more likely to be hit by weapons with dual seekers employing anti-radiation modes.

The current and potential proliferation of advanced cruise and even targetable ballistic missiles makes the use of flotillas even more important than ever.  All ships are increasingly at risk from attacks like the C-802 which hit the INS Hanit in 2006.  As described earlier, larger ships are not able to take much of a hit in relation to their size and cost.  Further larger ships are more likely to be hit in such a circumstance.  Left out of most discussions was the fact two C-802 missiles were fired in the INS Hanit incident in 2006.  One of the missiles hit and sunk a much larger Cambodian-flagged freighter.  Unalerted and not employing decoys or other electronic techniques INS Hanit was struck by only one missile.  Had she been a larger ship in similar circumstances, she might have been struck by both weapons and sunk.  More importantly the INS Hanit incident marks the proliferation and possibility of surprise by such weapons.  This creates an offensive dominant environment, the logical response to which is numbers.  Similarly Republic of Korea Ship (ROKS) Cheonan incident of 2010 demonstrated the willingness of some opponents like North Korea to attack without warning.  ROKS Cheonan was struck by a torpedo which a larger vessel such as an Arleigh Burke would not have survived either.   This is not the environment for a small number of large vessels.  Larger numbers provides the ability of a force to absorb such an attack and still be able to respond.

The ability to produce large numbers of smaller vessels would give the United States a significant strategic advantage in a potential conflict.  Having built, operated and developed proper doctrine for the use of flotillas the US would be in a position to take advantage of rapid production in the event of a conflict.  Smaller, cheaper, and easier to build than their larger cousins, missile corvettes and missiles boats can be built in a much larger range of shipyards and factories, many not adjacent to the ocean, far more rapidly than destroyers and larger vessels.  This would signal to a potential adversary the ability of the United States to reconstitute its forces in an extended conflict, a critical element in the calculus of anyone planning such a move.

Lazarus argues for a balanced fleet.  However, the United States Navy is not a balanced fleet.  It is unbalanced towards a small number of large ships.  The LCS promised as a replacement for PCs, frigates, and minesweepers has too large of a signature to survive in the littoral environment of the future.  Captain Hughes and his compatriots in the seminal work A New Navy Fighting Machine describe in great detail how a modest portion of the shipbuilding budget (about 10%) can produce a large number of small but lethal missile boats.  These vessels, if properly employed, can have an outsized impact on maritime strategy and give the United States strategic stability necessary in a very dangerous future environment.

The United States needs to employ a cycle of analysis to properly address these issues and many others.  The power of flotillas of small ships and other concepts require serious analysis and research.   The alternative analyses presented by Captains Hughes, Kline, Rubel, Admiral Harvey, Lazarus and others is but one element of the Cycle of Research codified in Dr. Peter Perla’s The Art of Wargaming (Page 288).  The other elements include extensive wargaming and fleet exercises.  The iteration of cycles of wargaming, analysis, and fleet exercises conducted years after year between World War I and II were critical contributions to the success of the United States in World War II (See Kuehn’s Agents of Innovation and Nofi’s To Train the Fleet for War).  The technological changes underway today demand the recreation of the Cycle of Research to prepare the fleet for the future.  There are changes underway today just as radical, if not more, than occurred during that previous interwar period and they demand serious exploration.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official view, policy, or position of the Department of Defense or the United States Government.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Littoral Combat Ship: Give it time

PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 22, 2013) An MH-60R Seahawk assigned to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 73 flies in front of the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1). This is the first fleet MH-60R to operate with a Right Hand Extended Pylon (RHEP) and a full compliment of eight AGM-114 Hellfire Captive Air Training Missiles as it joins Freedom for sea trials off the coast of Southern California. Freedom, the lead ship of the Freedom variant of LCS, is expected to deploy to Southeast Asia this spring. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James R. Evans/Released)

The following contribution is from Rear Admiral John F. Kirby, Chief of Information for the United States Navy. For those who don't know about Rear Admiral Kirby, I highly recommend listening to the first 30 minutes of this interview on Midrats.

I’ve been following closely all the debate over the Littoral Combat Ship.  I’ve even chimed in here and there to refute what I thought was bad reporting and erroneous claims by those using old information.  I figure that’s part of my job as the Navy’s spokesman -- not to staunchly defend but rather to inform and to educate. 

The truth is, these are healthy debates.  We need them.  Talking about problems is a good thing.  And yet, as a guy who also taught naval history at the Academy, I can’t help but think how very often we’ve been here before.  Throughout our history, it seems, the boldest ideas are often the hardest to accept.

Take legendary shipbuilder Joshua Humphreys, contracted in 1794 to build a new class of frigate for the fledgling American Navy. Longer and broader than traditional frigates, Humphrey’s ships were designed with graceful underwater lines for speed, packing an impressive 44 guns and over an acre of sail.

But to many, the design seemed freakish. With its angled hull curving inward from the waterline, unusually flush decks and several feet of extra beam, it was deemed too ungainly to be of service.

Worse yet, Humphrey’s design had only partial support from a reluctant Congress not particularly interested in stirring up the ire of the British or French, both of whom were at each other’s throats again. We didn’t need a Navy, not now, they said. And even if we did, it shouldn’t consist of anything quite as drastic as Humphrey’s frigates.

All that changed in 1797, when, in response to warming relations between the United States and Great Britain, French privateers began raiding American commerce. By the summer of that year, they had captured no less than 300 U.S. ships.

In a huff and in a hurry, Congress ordered the completion of three of Humphrey’s frigates: United States, Constitution and Constellation.

They would accord themselves well, proving vastly superior in speed and durability to their French foes.  In one of the most famous battles of that short, little undeclared war, Constellation forced the surrender of one of France’s mightiest frigates, Insurgente, in little more than an hour. Humphrey’s frigates would go on to even greater glory against the Barbary pirates of the North African coast a few short years later.

The critics had been silenced.

Silencing critics became almost sport for a whole generation of ship designers and engineers in the early 1800s. Robert Fulton shut them up by proving the power of steam over wind; Commander John Dahlgren did it with a revolutionary new gun capable of far greater range and accuracy, and Swedish designer John Ericcson awed them with something called a gun turret.

Ericcson didn’t stop there, of course. He went on to design a whole new class of warship. He called them Monitors, and they changed naval warfare forever.

The Monitor’s case is instructive for any discussion of LCS.  Nearly everything about it was new and untried.  Its features were striking: a long, low stealthy profile, making it hard to locate; a shallow draft and good maneuverability, making it perfect for work in the littorals; and a radically new weapons system that boasted the largest and most powerful gun in the Navy's inventory -- John Dahlgren’s.

The ship operated with less than a third the number of Sailors required of conventional warships. And it was multi-mission in scope, capable of offshore operations and supporting campaigns on land. Even the material used to form the hull -- iron -- was revolutionary and added to the ship's defensive capability.

Ericcson called it his “self-propelled battery at sea.”

Critics called it a mistake. Too small, too slow and too lightly armed it would, they argued, be no match for the larger, cannon-bristling sloops of the Confederate Navy. Even Union Sailors had taken to calling it a “cheesebox on a raft.”

It wasn’t until much later in the war, after improvements had been made to the design, that the Monitor-class would prove its worth.

There were Monitors with Farragut at Mobile Bay.  They took part in the Red River campaigns of the West and proved ideal for coastal blockading work. A Monitor even served as then-Admiral Dahlgren’s flagship during the 1863 attack on Charleston. They proved durable ships and had an incredibly long service life, the last of them not being stricken from Navy rolls until 1937.

The spirit of Monitor -- and every other type of revolutionary ship -- is alive and well in LCS.  As Monitor ushered in the era of armored ships and sounded the death knell for those of wood, so too will LCS usher in an era of a netted, flexible and modular capabilities. 

With its interchangeable mission packages, its raw speed, and its ability to operate with so many other smaller navies around the world, LCS gives us a geo-strategic advantage we simply haven’t enjoyed since the beginnings of the Cold War. 

The response by Singapore and by other Pacific partners to Freedom’s deployment, for example, has been overwhelmingly positive.  They like the ship precisely because it isn’t big, heavily-armed or overtly offensive.  They like it because they can work with it.  I fail to see how that’s a bad thing in today’s maritime environment.

Let’s be honest.  LCS was never intended to take on another fleet all by its own, and nobody ever expected it to bristle with weaponry.  LCS was built to counter submarines, small surface attack craft, and mines in coastal areas.  Thanks to its size and shallow draft, it can also conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations, maritime security and intercept operations, as well as homeland defense missions.  It can support Marines ashore, insert special operations forces and hunt down pirates in places we can’t go right now. 

Let me say that again … in places we can’t go right now.

That counts for something.  The CNO always talks about building a Navy that can be where it matters and ready when it matters.  Well, the littorals matter.  The littorals are where products come to market; it’s where seaborne trade originates.  Littorals include the major straits, canals, and other maritime chokepoints so necessary to this traffic.  It’s also where a whole lot of people live.  Coastal cities are home to more than three billion people right now, a figure that some experts estimate will double by 2025.  

In addition to strains on local economies and the environment, this rapid population growth will continue to exacerbate political, social, cultural and religious tensions.  You don’t have to look any further than today’s headlines to see the truth in that.  Consider the Levant, North Africa, the South China Seas.  And you don’t have to look any further than at our current fleet of ships to see what we’re missing.

We need this ship.  We also need to be more clear about it -- what it is and what it isn’t.  This ship is a light frigate, a corvette.  I never understood why we didn’t just call it that in the first place.  Maybe it’s because a corvette conveys something less muscular, less macho.  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s because a corvette is something completely new to us, at least those of us with no memories of picket destroyers, PT-boats, and hydrofoils. 

Remember the whole debate over the Perry-class frigates?  I sure do.  My first ship was a frigate.  Too small, the critics said, too slow, too vulnerable.  It couldn’t defend itself, they argued.  The 76mm gun was little more than a pea-shooter.  The Phalanx system, poorly situated aft on the O-2 level, fired rounds too small to be effective against incoming missiles.  The sonar?  Well, let’s just say that some people compared it being both deaf and blind.  Sailors on cruisers and destroyers used to joke that “they wished they were on a ‘fig’ so they could get sub pay.”

As one contemporary observer noted, “When [then] Soviet Admiral of the Fleet Sergei Gorshkov goes to bed at night, he's not lying awake counting Oliver Hazard Perry frigates.”

And yet, the little frigates became one of the most useful -- and most popular -- ships in the Navy.  “By saving money, manpower, and operating costs, the FFGs helped the Navy pass through the economic trough of the 1970s and, with upgrades available from increased defense spending in the 1980s, have served as a reliable platform through the end of the 20th century,” writes Dr. Timothy L. Francis, a naval historian.  

“Moreover,” he continues, “without these low-end ships the U.S. Navy never would have been able to grow to the numbers needed to conduct the last phase of the Cold War, which allowed the service to meet the multi-faceted challenges of that period.”

Criticism is good.  Criticism is healthy. We should have to justify to the very public we are charged to protect how we are spending their hard-earned tax dollars. And we are. We’re working very hard to be as forthright and open as we can about all the problems still plaguing both variants of the ship.  But let’s not forget that it was critics who laughed at the aircraft carrier, disparaged the F/A-18 Hornet and the MV-22, and scoffed at the idea of propelling submarine through the water with the power locked inside an atom.

The critics have been plenty wrong before.  And even the most skeptical of us have to be willing to admit that they will be wrong again.

Look, LCS isn’t perfect -- by any stretch.  But it’s still experimental.  It’s still a bit like Humphrey’s Constellation and Ericcson’s Monitor when they first joined the fleet.  New and untried, yes, but valuable in their own way to making us a more capable Navy.   It just takes a little time to prove the concept.  Sailors didn’t exactly clamor for PT-boat duty in World War II until it became a tactically proven and exciting option for them.

Navy leaders have been very clear that all options for LCS remain on the table.  If we find that LCS needs to be more lethal, we’ll make it more lethal.  If we find the ship needs to be manned or maintained differently, we’ll do that too.  Just like with the Perry-class, we’ll upgrade and we’ll update.  We’ll change.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is the dangerous world we live in.  The threats and the opportunities we face are real.  And, quite frankly, they are every bit as “multi-faceted” as were those we faced at the end of the Cold War. 

As Aviation Week’s Mike Fabey wrote recently, “The Navy needs to rid the service of the ‘old think.’”

“Whether the Navy achieves operational or acquisition success with LCS remains to be seen,” he noted. “But we do most definitely have a ship that is designed to be operated far differently than any other warship before it. At the high-altitude conceptual level, that is precisely what the Navy wanted.”

He’s absolutely right.  We want -- and we need -- a new class of ships that can meet these new challenges, that can get us on station fast and close, one that can perform in the coastal areas where our partners, our forces and our potential foes will also operate. 

To the critics I say, this is such a ship.  Give it time.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Revisiting Some Old Concepts

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), foreground, USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), center, and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). 2006 U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer's Mate Todd P. Cichonowicz
The following contribution is from Prof. Robert C. Rubel, Dean, Center for Naval Warfare Studies, Naval War College.

While I would not characterize the years since 1945 as a golden age, in terms of naval warfare, the seas have been a remarkably peaceful place.  The United States has enjoyed unchallenged command of the sea, allowing her commerce to move unmolested and allowing her to insert the US Army virtually anywhere she chose.  Even engaging in local sea control was a rare need.  For the most part, the US Navy has focused on power projection ashore.  However the good old days are drifting away as China, Iran and others develop potentially contending navies and land-based forces that can exert powerful influence out to a thousand miles or more.  The Navy will have to get its mind right about fighting at sea again, and to do this it wouldn’t hurt to dredge up some old concepts, knock the seaweed and barnacles off and see if they can be made seaworthy again.

On Tuesday, June 4th, the 71st anniversary of the Battle of Midway, I gave a presentation to the students at the Naval War College on operational leadership connected with the battle.  To do this, I engaged in comparative analysis in which I argued that the mistakes in planning and decision making that General Robert E. Lee made in the Gettysburg campaign were similar to those made by Isoroku Yamamoto during the Midway campaign.  I wrote an article about this in the Naval War College Review back in 1995.  Of course, a lot of new books have been written about Midway since then, and I decided to go into some of the newer literature to make sure my remarks were up to date.  As I read the Parshall and Tully book Shattered Sword, I realized that there were some additional insights I could use concerning the role of moral courage in high level leadership, but also, a couple of operational concepts jumped out of the page at me.  The first was the notion of a combined air fleet, and the second was the utility of skirmishers.  I think that both of these ideas are at least worth a second look in today’s emerging naval operational environment.

Combined Air Fleet

This was the brainchild of Minoru Genda.  His idea was to combine six aircraft carriers together in order to have a virtual air force at sea.  Depending on the classes of carrier in the mix, the combined air fleet might have 3-400 aircraft available.  That air strength, operating from six decks created something that was more than a naval task force.  In those days, it was well understood that naval forces should not get into a mano-a-mano fight with land-based forces, resulting in the “250 mile rule.”  Moreover, in 1942, the offense was king; he who struck effectively first won.  Carriers toted relatively fewer fighters, so the dive bombers were likely to get in devastating hits if they found the carriers.  This was true tactical instability.  However, if you had a lot of fighters, radar directed or not, defense was more robust.  Moreover, lots of decks meant you could multi-task; perhaps do power projection at the same time you were engaged in a sea fight.  In any case you were packing a serious punch either way.  Had Nagumo had two more CVs at Midway, the outcome would likely have been much different, American code breaking or not.

What would a combined air fleet look like today?  Let’s start with the basic inventory of CVNs.  We certainly have enough to gang six of them together.  That would give us roughly 300 strike fighters in a single air force.  The question is would we know what to do with such a force?  In Desert Storm we had seven CVs participating, but they were just feeding an ATO; there was no underlying naval doctrine for how the planes should be used.  Plus there was no appreciable sea threat other than some mines.  What would an air strike doctrine look like for a modern combined air fleet? 

I think doctrine would have to start with understanding the differences between command of the sea, sea control, sea denial and battlespace superiority.  Without going into detail on these things (you can check out my NWC Review article at ), we can say that offering up six CVNs as a target is pretty risky, so a) they either would need to operate tactically dispersed and/or b) the threat level would have to be manageable, plus c) the strategic stakes must be worth the risk.  The idea would be to concentrate effects.  What effects would we want?  I would say that the first thing would be air superiority.  The good news today is that we have strike fighters, so the old tradeoff dilemma between bombers and fighters is moot.  But we must work in conjunction with the Air Force, surface units and even subs to create a condition for the enemy in which if it flies over water, it dies.  At the same time we work to eradicate their surface shooters (especially ones with good SAMs).  Once those conditions are met, suppressive ASW becomes a possibility.  Of course, the enemy still might have land-based missile systems that could contest the sea space, and if defensive means do not suffice (both right and left of launch), then strike will have to be considered, but preferably with our own missiles.

If we bought into this concept, the next question would be how do we generate such a force and in what time frame.  Right now, it would take some doing to round up the necessary decks.  Having such a force in readiness year round would mean that we would not be able to continue deploying CVNs as we do now.  Moreover, we would have to conduct quite a bit of exercising in order to work out the kinks and nail down doctrine.  Presence would have to be performed by gators or CRUDES.  So, there would be a strategic price to pay for developing such a concept, but man, would it be impressive.  I can see it scaring people into being quiet. 

Variations on the theme: perhaps all the CVs don’t carry the same kind of wing.  Some have different kinds of UAVs; X-47s, big wings, etc.   Perhaps you pack the E-2s, and most helos on one deck and load the others with fighters.  The whole concept is a blank canvas just waiting for artists to start painting.


This sounds like a Civil War thing, but as I compared Gettysburg and Midway I realized that skirmishing played an important role in the carrier fight.  Gettysburg: Brigadier General John Buford placed his dismounted cavalry in a blocking position to delay Heth’s division until Major General Reynolds could bring up the First Corps.  The First Corps, in turn, conducted a delaying action (really they were forced into flight) long enough for General Mead to get his army into position along Cemetery Ridge.  Buford’s command acted as a skirmisher to find, delay and disrupt the enemy.

Midway Island, that is its air base and air forces performed a similar role at Midway.  They found Nagumo’s force and their attacks, while unsuccessful, served to delay and disrupt the Japanese carriers, forcing them to maneuver.  This disrupted fighter operations and arming/rearming, and produced the golden moment when McClusky, Best and Leslie arrived overhead unmolested.

In a new era of potential sea fights, we ought to think again about the potential utility of skirmishers.  What would constitute cavalry in this age?  LCS?  Subs?  The USN has been locked into the group paradigm for so long, it doesn’t even have words to describe something else.  I have a feeling that in the event of a real fight, the flags and COs would improvise, probably brilliantly in some cases and rediscover skirmishing on the fly, but why not think about it now?  Yes, I get that cyber could be a skirmisher too. 

Ok, nothing cosmic here, but I thought that these two ideas, popping out at me from the pages of history, were worth a second look; at least they might stimulate some good dialogue.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Learning from the Doolittle Raiders

The following contribution is written by Congressman J. Randy Forbes from Virginia's fourth district, Congressman Forbes is chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee and founder and co-chairman of the Congressional China Caucus.

71 years ago today, 16 U.S. Army Air Force B-25 Mitchell bombers took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet on the way to bomb Tokyo. Coming only months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid (named for the mission’s commander, Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle) constituted the first American offensive operation of World War II and helped shatter the illusion of our adversary’s invincibility.

Despite occurring over seven decades ago, the Doolittle Raid offers lessons intensely relevant for our time. The personal heroism of the Doolittle Raiders, seven of whom died during the raid or in captivity, is a timeless tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. The operation’s brazenness - placing bulky bombers on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean in order to reach and hit the very heart of the Japanese Empire - reminds us that effective military operations require leaders of vision and daring to achieve our national security objectives. And the Raid’s effective use of Army Air Force personnel and aircraft, launched from a Navy carrier and defended by Navy surface vessels and submarines, illustrates how the demands of modern warfare refuse to neatly delineate between services- cooperation between our Navy, Marines and Air Force is an enduring necessity.

Most importantly, the Doolittle Raid reminds us that the ability to project military power from the sea in times of crisis is the essential mission and defining feature of the U.S. Navy. As in 1942, the aircraft carrier remains the most effective instrument of projecting American power onto hostile shores, deterring potential adversaries and, if necessary, delivering overwhelming force to defeat the enemy. No other platform possesses the striking power of the carrier. This power is packaged into a system that has both global reach and almost unimpeded growth potential. The carrier can sail through the world’s oceans, free from the political complexities associated with overseas bases. At the same time, this floating airfield can also be “modernized” with new naval aircraft that can bring a mix of capabilities demanded to operate in future security environments.

Today’s Navy carriers have advanced beyond anything the sailors onboard the Hornet could have imagined; a modern Ford-class carrier is roughly 80,000 tons larger than the Yorktown-class ship which launched the Doolittle Raiders and can house over 75 advanced aircraft. Despite the technological advances of the last seven decades, the aircraft carrier’s status as the fulcrum of the Navy’s Fleet remains unchallenged.

As the Navy prepares for the challenges of the coming decade, the question will not be whether our carriers remain vital; rather, the key determination will be the appropriate mix of aircraft comprising the Carrier Air Wing (CVW). It is this flexibility that is the true utility of a carrier. In an anti-access/area-denial environment (A2/AD), where nations from Iran to China are investing in missile technology designed to restrict our carrier operations, it is imperative that the Navy’s CVWs contain aircraft with the right mix of of range, persistence, stealth, payload, and electronic attack to successfully execute its missions. The Navy’s investments in shorter range aircraft have left it dependent on the carrier’s ability to get relatively close to hostile shores. As the Doolittle Raid proved, there is great strategic and military advantage in maintaining a long-range strike capability. As I have written here before, the UCLASS, if done right, is poised to offer the CVW an option for long-range ISR and strike that will help anchor the carrier’s power projection mission for decades to come.

The world we face in 2013 is very different from the one the Doolittle Raiders knew as their B-25s hurtled down the Hornet’s flight deck in April 1942. But while the technologies and competitors may have changed, the utility of the aircraft carrier to American defense policy remains constant. We honor the legacy of the Doolittle Raiders today while being mindful that the success they achieved in projecting American power far from home against a determined and resilient enemy is an achievement we must jealously protect in our own time. It is incumbent upon all of us to never stop working, and to never stop asking the difficult questions, to ensure that those who follow in the footsteps of the Doolittle Raiders have the tools they need to deter, prevent and, if absolutely necessary, win America’s wars.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Navy’s Continued Commitment to Europe

The following contribution comes from Rear Admiral Michael Smith. Rear Admiral Michael E. Smith is Director, Strategy and Policy Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations

Last Tuesday, at the Sea-Air-Space Expo, I had the opportunity to sit on a well-attended panel with USMC Major General (sel) Rocco and USCG Rear Admiral Lee to discuss a range of issues for the three Sea Services relating to the Asia Pacific rebalance. In the exchange with audience members following our remarks, we fielded a number of very pointed questions that were really variations on the same concern: will the rebalance negatively impact our commitments to Europe?  

From my perspective, the answer to these questions is a resounding no - as long as we approach the future with a new way of thinking. NATO is without question the most powerful military alliance in the world and will continue to be a centerpiece of security in an unpredictable world, and the Navy's relationship with the maritime forces of our European allies and partners remains a cornerstone of cooperative activities across the globe as we confront numerous, collective challenges together. In fact, the Navy continues to pursue greater integrated and cooperative activities with our European counterparts. Examples of continued and enhanced U.S. commitments to Europe include the forward deployment of four of our most advanced Aegis ships to Rota, Spain, where they will support a broad range of missions in addition to their focus on NATO ballistic missile defense, and our ongoing feasibility study of deploying new Littoral Combat Ships and Joint High Speed Vessels to the region. Further, Navy’s contribution to Ballistic Missile Defense of Europe includes not only the maritime BMD piece but also Aegis ashore with the first site planned for Romania in 2015.

Especially in light of fiscal challenges felt across the NATO alliance, we should approach this era of fiscal austerity with significantly greater focus on the potential we all can gain from a more advanced approach to cooperation and engagement between allies and partners - this issue was the focus of an article I recently wrote for Proceedings, Strategic Cooperation: Everybody Wins.

In short, if we take an approach that more fully leverages allied and partner contributions then not only will we maintain our commitments in Europe; we will more efficiently manage resources globally. Now is the time to grasp this opportunity and approach allied and partner contributions in a new light. While the Asia Pacific rebalance is a current area of focus, our commitments to Europe and the Mediterranean are not wavering and can in fact be strengthened if we are willing to challenge our previous planning assumptions and embrace the full capabilities our partners can bring.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What Carl Vinson Can Teach us about American Seapower

The following contribution is written by Congressman J. Randy Forbes from Virginia's fourth district, Congressman Forbes is chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee and founder and co-chairman of the Congressional China Caucus. 

The United States has suffered from an extended period of economic distress, prompting large segments of the public to question the need for a robust American military. During this time, the U.S. Navy has been allowed to atrophy, falling below its minimum requirements in numerous classes of ships, underfunding maintenance, and allowing many ships to age past their service-life. The incumbent President has demonstrated little interest in the Navy’s role and seems content with a diminished fleet. Meanwhile, threats to American interests grow steadily, with a disarmed Europe uninterested in maintaining international security and a distracted United States easily ignored by powers intent on re-writing the international order.

While the above may sound like a description of the international environment in 2013, instead I am describing the conditions which prevailed in the early 1930s. As Germany and Japan expanded their military capabilities at rates that continually defied the predictions of Allied analysts, the Hoover Administration, absorbed by its futile efforts to restart the U.S. economy, resisted all attempts to resource a U.S. Navy capable of upholding American interests abroad. It was left to the House of Representatives’ Committee on Naval Affairs, under Chairman Carl Vinson of Georgia, to champion the cause of a modern, global fleet.

Carl Vinson, a lawyer from landlocked rural Georgia who left the Continental United States only once in his 97 years, was an unlikely advocate for American Seapower. Yet it was Vinson who, in the words of Admiral William Leahy, “contributed more to the national defense (from 1935-1945) than any other single person in the country except the president [Franklin D. Roosevelt] himself.” Vinson’s contribution was one of both advocacy and action - he was the strongest public voice in favor of naval preparedness throughout the 1930s, stressing the importance of a modern fleet to a maritime nation like the United States and calling attention to the threat of aggressive powers like Germany and Japan. But Vinson’s most lasting contribution was legislative, in the form of successive bills authorizing the size and scope of the U.S. Navy and thereby laying the foundation for the fleet which prevailed in World War II and secured the peace during half a century of Cold War.

Vinson’s principal legislative achievements were the Navy authorization bills of 1934, 1938 and 1940. In each instance, Vinson’s legislation dramatically increased the Navy’s authorized size and made important statements about the fleet’s future composition, directing resources to aviation and submarines at a time when the service was still enamored with big-gun battleships. Vinson’s handling of the Navy’s authorization bills was marked by careful attention to the international security situation, Working with the Navy’s leadership, he celebrated his authorized increases to the real-world threats of his day. As Germany and Japan continued their aggressive policies and military modernization, Vinson also successfully used the megaphone of his committee chairmanship to raise public awareness of the threat while taking substantive measures to increase fleet preparedness.

Each of Vinson’s three signature Navy authorization bills increased the fleet’s size and capabilities in ways uniquely suited to their particular moment. Beginning in 1934, Vinson authorized successively larger increases in size of the fleet, with special attention paid to the cutting-edge technologies of his day - aircraft and submarines. Working with astute Navy officers and calling upon his own sense of the changing face of modern warfare, Vinson ensured that his authorization bills invested in formidable undersea and aviation forces rather than just the Navy’s traditional surface combatants. As the 1930s advanced and the international security situation deteriorated further, Vinson’s authorization bills became steadily more ambitious. With the passage of the Two Ocean Navy Act in 1940, over a year before the Pearl Harbor attack, Vinson secured authorization for a fleet large enough to maintain American dominance in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. It was the vessels created by Vinson’s 1930s legislation that served as the nucleus of the fleet that secured victory during World War II.

As today’s policymakers grapple with a shrinking defense budget and destabilizing security environment in the Western Pacific and Middle East, we would do well to remember the legacy of Chairman Vinson. His farsighted vision in laying the groundwork for a modern, global Navy at a time of public disinterest and preoccupation with domestic concerns saved countless American lives and did much to bring about Allied victory when the Nation was forced into war. Furthermore, by insisting on investment in the “game-changing” technologies of his day, Vinson ensured that the United States would not be left behind in emerging warfare domains. His success in using the power of his chairmanship to fundamentally alter the Navy’s posture and composition is a lesson in the power of Congress to positively shape American security policy and to think holistically about the challenges our military faces.

As Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, I am humbled to carry on the work of my able predecessor. As in Chairman Vinson’s time, we face tremendous challenges to our naval strength at home and abroad. Once again, we will rise to the occasion.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Gray Matter for Gray Hulls: The Intellectual Software Powering the U.S. Navy’s Asia-Pacific Rebalance

East Asia
The following guest post is by Gabe Collins. Gabe Collins is the co-founder of China SignPost and a former commodity investment analyst and research fellow in the US Naval War College's China Maritime Studies Institute.

The Naval War College is poised to play a pivotal role in America’s Asia-Pacific refocusing. Here are the programs and professionals that the Navy will draw on.

U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert recently penned “Sea Change,” a landmark article for Foreign Policy that explains America’s rebalancing toward Asia. Building the Admiral’s Sailing Directions (PDF), Posture Statement (PDF), Navigation Plan (PDF), and Position Report (PDF), it represents his definitive public statement on what the U.S. Navy is doing to support the Asia-Pacific Rebalance.

Admiral Greenert’s assessment highlights the centrality of the Asia-Pacific region to American interests, but even more importantly, notes the need for the U.S. Navy to “establish greater intellectual focus on Asia-Pacific security challenges” and to help create the intellectual software that will enable Washington to employ its military hardware to maximum effect in the region. Having Navy institutions play a leading role in formulating Asia-Pacific strategy makes sense given the region’s maritime geography and manifold commercial and military maritime security challenges.

As a part of rebalancing, the Admiral notes  that “[the U.S. is] refocusing attention on the Asia-Pacific in developing and deploying our intellectual talent.” He cites The Naval War College as “the nation’s premier academic center on the region,” with strong and growing programs on Asian security. Illustrating the comprehensiveness of the Navy’s commitment to Asia-focused strategic thought, Greenert adds that the Naval Postgraduate School has also “expanded its programs devoted to developing political and technical expertise relevant to the Asia-Pacific.” The Admiral highlights a core strength of the Navy’s thought centers—their focus on continually developing human capital and actionable operational concepts that can be sent right back out to the fleet, pointing out that “we [the Navy] continue to carefully screen and send our most talented people to operate and command ships and squadrons in the Asia-Pacific.” 

This top-level recognition of the need to focus on intellectual software is refreshing given that the subject typically receives far less attention than the hardware end of naval activities (i.e. ships, planes, missiles). It is also important because as the U.S. and China move forward with their “frenemies” relationship that mixes cooperative and competitive aspects, it will be vital for Washington to base its actions in the Asia-Pacific area on a firm, comprehensive, and forward-looking intellectual foundation.

Among bastions of naval strategic thought in the U.S, the Naval War College is singularly well-positioned to play a leading role in formulating the foundations of American naval power in the Asia-Pacific. Having furnished critical inputs (PDF) to support the formulation of the latest U.S. maritime strategy (PDF) —the first endorsed by the chiefs of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard—the College is already making substantial contributions to U.S. strategy regarding how to grapple with China’s rising maritime power, as well as the evolving roles of India and U.S. allies such as Japan in a dynamic and strategically-vital part of the world. To understand and how Newport will continue shaping policy in coming years, it is necessary to consider its three major Asia-Pacific programs and the individuals that lead them.

First is the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI). Founded in 2006 by Dr. Lyle Goldstein and led by current director Prof. Peter Dutton, a retired naval flight officer and judge advocate who enjoys considerable policy influence (PDF) through his research on Chinese maritime strategic and legal perspectives, CMSI aims to enhance the U.S. Navy’s understanding of the maritime implications of China’s rise. CMSI draws on the work of both dedicated researcher professors and affiliated teaching faculty who are able to read and analyze Chinese-language original source materials from the Institute’s library, which offers the most specialized collection of China-related military maritime publications outside of Greater China. In 2008, CMSI was praised by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as a model for conducting open source research on China’s military.

CMSI draws on these unique resources to offer multidimensional research capabilities covering a range of issues including China’s naval policy and development, civil-military relations, civil maritime organizations, territorial and maritime claims disputes and associated legal positions, defense science, technology, and industry, aerospace dimensions of naval operations, seaborne energy security, and maritime relations with the U.S. and other nations. In addition to developing and curating its library, CMSI holds an annual conference, publishes the China Maritime Studies monograph series, and hosts regular guest speakers.

Second is the Asia-Pacific Studies Group (APSG). Established by Dr. Jonathan Pollack, now a senior fellow in Foreign Policy and acting director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, and led by current chairman Dr. Terence Roehrig—like Pollack, a recognized expert on Korean peninsula affairs —the APSG focuses on policy and strategy issues concerning the entire Asia-Pacific region, including Australia and Russia. APSG’s research serves the needs of the Navy, U.S. Pacific Command, and other elements of the U.S. Government responsible for formulating policy, strategy, and planning related to Asia and the Pacific. In addition, at the Naval War College, APSG performs vital outreach and academic functions by hosting guest speakers and seminars and offering course for students.

Third is the John A. van Buren Chair for Asia-Pacific Studies, endowed in 2010 with a generous grant through the Naval War College Foundation. Dr. Toshi Yoshihara, the inaugural recipient of the chairmanship, is a leading analyst of Chinese maritime power and has authored multiple books and numerous scholarly articles on the subject.

Supported by the Naval War College leadership and the chairs of their respective departments, the heads of these programs work closely with a wide range of faculty members whose teaching, research, and scenario evaluation covers a full range of regional issues, as well as relevant strategic and cross-cutting functional specialties. A critical mass of faculty, for instance, conduct research using original Chinese-language sources; at no other institution outside of Greater China is such a substantial group of Chinese language-capable professors devoted to military maritime matters. Students participate directly in these activities, contributing important operational and technical insights and applying their knowledge in the fleet and its various support organizations following their time in Newport.

The U.S. Navy has a long and storied history of constructive engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. The rapid settlement and growth of the Western U.S. in the post-Civil War period, coupled with the subsequent statehood of Alaska and Hawaii as well as the affiliation of Guam and other U.S. Pacific territories—which together confer on the U.S. the largest territorial waters and claimable Exclusive Economic Zone of any nation, has bound the U.S. national interest inextricably to economic and security events in the Asia-Pacific.

This bond continues to animate Washington’s foreign policy to this day. Indeed, as Admiral Greenert points out, “The importance of the Asia-Pacific, and the Navy’s attention to it, is not new. Five of our seven treaty allies are in the region, as well as six of the world’s top 20 economies. We have maintained an active and robust presence in the Asia-Pacific for more than 70 years and built deep and enduring relationships with allies and partners there.”

Continuing to build on that powerful legacy will require new approaches as the world becomes increasingly Asia-centric and the need for naval presence and engagement becomes more acute. Research and analysis from the Navy’s bases of Asian studies excellence in Newport, as well as Monterrey and Annapolis, will help lay the intellectual foundation of these approaches and the strategies and policies that result. As the U.S. prepares to continue its indispensable role in the world’s most dynamic region, watch for contributions from its critical centers of naval thought.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Used Cars and F-35s

The following guest contribution is from Jonathan Jeckell.

Knowing and using your Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) to your best advantage is a fundamental skill in negotiations.  Your BATNA determines the point where it is in your best interests to walk away when your interlocutor pushes for more concessions from you, while up to that point you still have room to accommodate an agreement.  If your interlocutor knows your BATNA, they have the substantial advantage of knowing how far they can push you before you walk away…if you can walk away.

Consider the US Air Force’s position with the F-35A. The F-15 Silent Eagle program continues to quietly reach new milestones and spawned from one of the most successful aircraft in US Air Force history.  The F-15 Silent Eagle seems to provide highly advanced and competitive features at a reasonable price.  It might seem that the F-15 Silent Eagle would be just the leverage they are looking for to provide a credible alternative to the F-35 and the limited quantity of F-22s.  Theoretically, the US Air Force could threaten to abandon the project and go with a safer, more evolutionary pathway, like the US Navy did with their F/A-18E/F “upgrades” rather than suffer a risky transition to a whole new platform with commensurate new technological S-curves.  Technological S-curves require higher degrees of engineering effort and money to improve performance at the beginning, when the technology is immature and experimental, and at the end, where mature technologies begin to reach fundamental limits, than the middle where advances come relatively quickly.  Such radical jumps to new S-curves often promise major shifts in performance, but also require enormous engineering effort and entail substantial technological risk.  Meanwhile, others may continue to squeeze performance from the older platform.  Clayton Christensen contrasted IBM’s aggressive moves to new disk drive technologies and Hewlett-Packard’s heroic engineering efforts with supposedly obsolete technology to get almost the same performance and cost. (pages 10-14, “Innovator’s Dilemma”, and “Exploring the Limits of the Technology S-Curve,” Production and Operations Management, Fall 1992)

Consider also the comparable performance of the US Marine Corps UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper, based on platforms long abandoned by the US Army for the UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache respectively. Different types of technology improve at different rates and a system may be capable of accommodating the most rapidly changing parts through modular upgrades and remain competitive (Kopp, Technology Strategy, Joint Forces Quarterly).  Likewise, while the US Air Force pursued the F-22, a completely new platform, the US Navy convinced Congress to spend money on “upgrades” to the Hornet fleet to produce the F/A-18E & F fighters. They also positioned the EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft to compensate for lack of stealth airframes in the rest of the air fleet.  Radical jumps are risky when the operating environment they were designed for changes, which is particularly important with long development times.  Their key technologies could lead to a dead end, or enemies they were designed to fight adapt to make their capability moot. 

So could the US Air Force credibly use the F-15 Silent Eagle, either as a negotiating tactic, or as a gap-filling purchase to lower risk while waiting for the F-35A?  No.  The US Air Force is caught in conflicts with two negotiating partners, not just one.  The US Air Force is counting on the capabilities promised by the F-35A, to them, the F-15 Silent Eagle would be a disappointing replacement if Congress took their threat seriously.  Moreover, allied buyers and the US Air Force have had their purchases cut as costs soar and budgets plummet. All the F-35 buyers are locked into a high-stakes game of Prisoner’s Dilemma.  Each cut in the number of aircraft purchased increases the cost per aircraft each remaining F-35 buyer must pay to amortize fixed costs, such as research and development. Any defector for another platform or reduction in purchases could trigger a stampede.  The US Air Force, as the single biggest buyer, could trigger such a stampede merely by acknowledging the possibility alternatives.  Unlike the US Air Force, many value minded F-35 buyers find other aircraft, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, Rafael, used F-16s, Su-30, or the Saab JAS 39 Gripen, just to name a few, quite competitive alternatives.  Early defectors would beat the crowd to get these alternatives early, while laggards either get stuck footing the bill, or get put on the waiting list.

Meanwhile, the US Marine Corps is just as desperate.  F-35B performance setbacks, costs and delays threaten the Marine Corps Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) triad of maneuver, artillery and aerial support by devouring a disproportionate share of the budget.  Yet the Marine Corps has enormous sunk investments in the doctrine and infrastructure supporting Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing (STOVL), and has no viable STOVL alternatives to turn to as age forces AV-8B Harrier airframes into retirement.  This begs the question…how much of the Marine Corps, and what proportion of their budget are they willing to sacrifice to acquire this aircraft?  What kind of radical alternatives could the Marine Corps get for that kind of money?  Rotary wing platforms, like attack helicopters lack the payload capacity, speed, altitude and survivability to completely replace a manned CAS platform for the Marines.  Losing the F-35B would mean that Marines would be tied to land bases or US Navy carriers capable of supporting the F/A-18 or other high performance jets.  All this, while the F-35B itself isn’t particularly good at what a Marine Corps aircraft fundamentally exists to doprovide close air support to Marines on the ground.  The F-35B has a tiny payload capacity, both in terms of weapons in the bay or on the wings, and the magazine capacity for the gun.  Deck plates on ships and tarmacs on land bases had to be modified to keep the engine from melting them or starting them on fire from the engine exhaust.  What will F-35B exhaust do to AM2 matting in a forward aerial rearming and refueling point (FARP)?  Will the F-35B’s high strung engine be able to survive ingesting all the dust and debris kicked up landing at such a forward site?  Even aircraft designed to facilitate operations on dusty, unpaved airfields, such as the C-17 and the V-22 Osprey cause additional damage to their purposely robust engines when they do this.  If it cannot, the very purpose of the F-35B’s STOVL capabilities are moot.  Could the US Marine Corps use an aircraft like the Super Tucano or modified T-6 Texan II’s, or even a purpose-built remotely piloted aircraft (aka drones) with support from existing Marine Corps aircraft to fulfill the other tasks proposed for the F-35B?  These aircraft have ideal characteristics for CAS and could still launch from Marine Corps assault ships and have proven ability to land on rough forward airstrips.  This would have the side benefit of maintaining commonality among US Navy and Marine Corps high performance aircraft aboard their carriers for training and limited space for repair parts.

But if the US Marine Corps gives up on the F-35B, the Royal Navy is royally screwed.  If design changes in the Queen Elizabeth II carrier class have been finalized, closing the door on CATOBAR and committing them to STOVL, they have even fewer viable alternatives than the US Marine Corps.  The Royal Navy has no other high performance, multirole or support aircraft to fall back upon and don’t have the luxury of a sister service providing deck space for Catapult Assisted Take Off Barrier Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) aircraft to make up for lost high end capabilities on their ships.  Either the Royal Navy would be forced to undergo an outrageously expensive development program of a new aircraft by itself, or go back and convert the QE IIs back to handle CATOBAR aircraft and chose from the small palette of options in this class.

The US Navy alone has the leverage to sit on the sidelines and watch the show with the satisfaction of being able to walk away.  The Chief of Naval Operations clearly signaled as much in an article recently at Proceedings.  His post downplayed the importance of stealth and the advantages brought by this technology over a range of other options available to the US Navy, including the electronic warfare capabilities of the EA-18G Growler in support of various aircraft as “trucks” for payloads. The Super Hornet is also a large aircraft with lots of internal capacity for modular upgrades and modifications to facilitate rapid adaption against emerging threats, balancing the best qualities of standardization and variety. But is a modular, adaptable aircraft good enough to compete with integrated high-end fighters like the F-22?  I don’t know. But the US Navy has the breathing room to make that decision deliberately and calmly.  The US Navy alone has avoided painting itself into a corner and now has the intellectual bandwidth free to focus on new ways to use its payloads and platforms in new ways by focusing on the interaction among its systems and doctrine, rather than fixating on making a particular technology work. 

Thanks to @Jscottshipman, @CJSchaefer, @Jeffemanuel and especially @NC_Prime for their thoughts on this topic on Twitter on 2 August 2012.

Jonathan Jeckell is a US Army officer specializing in logistics, planning, and technology. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or its components. Jonathan Jeckell can be reached on Twitter at @jon_jeckell.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Seamless Whole: Bring Naval Tactical Fleet Employment Back into Professional Military Education

The following article was contributed to Information Dissemination by Phillip Scott Wallace. P. S. Wallace is a Lieutenant Commander in the Individual Ready Reserve who served ten years on active duty. A graduate of Georgia Tech, he was an enlisted sonar technician on the USS Columbia (SSN-771) before being commissioned. Winged as a Naval Flight Officer, he has 1100 flight hours, flew with VF-103 "Jolly Rogers" in the fleet, and was the last Operational Test Director for the Tomcat at VX-9 Detachment Point Mugu before leaving active duty. A graduate of the Naval War College's College of Distance Education, he is currently a flight test engineer with the F-35 Integrated Test Force at NAS Patuxent River.

In his famous 1965 letter to the then-President of the Naval War College, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz said that there was nothing that had happened in the Pacific war that had not been predicted or studied prewar by students and faculty at that institution [1]. While some may care to argue the exact particulars of that point of view, it is true that during those interwar years students played tactical war games and also planned whole campaigns as they figured out how to defeat the Japanese threat; and thus were fairly familiar with many issues at a broad level when they later had to make flag-level decisions during the real war. It shouldn’t be too hard to see that it was this combination of study at both the tactical and strategic levels by many of its future Admirals that helped lay the groundwork for the success of the United States Navy in World War II.

Today’s Naval War College JPME I curriculum focuses on the operational level of war, especially in joint environments. This is not to be slighted, not by any means, not in the least--for it is a first-class education; an absolutely necessary one; one that is highly critical to being both a commanding officer (at any level) and a staff officer for a joint command; and one that is valued by any who holds it. But it is not enough.

The naval tactical level—and especially exploration of the concepts of fleet tactical employment as a combined arms whole [2]--needs to be brought back as a serious item of study in the curriculum at the War College and elsewhere. This need becomes more imperative if we think that we may one day face a challenge on the seas as in days of old.

This is because for a sea service, great changes in strategic fortune can come from single tactical events, unlike modern land war [3]. The Battles of Midway and Savo Island are exemplars of this fundamental truth. Sunken ships cannot be sent replacements from the training battalions, nor can their depleted motor pools be refilled from rear depots. Once gone, they are gone.

In addition, like the Air Force, the fate of the Navy in combat is more heavily tied to the relative quality of its equipment vis a vis the enemy (ships, airplanes, and weapon systems) than is correspondingly true for the Army (which can at times rest on the fighting spirit of ill- or under-equipped infantry units, such as in the 1944 defense of Bastogne by the 101st Airborne). The proper selection of naval equipment (including aerial vehicles) is therefore heavily reliant upon a proper understanding of the tactical environment that equipment will operate in; because far more than in land warfare, in naval and air warfare tactical success means strategic success—and it is far harder to quickly re-equip a Navy or Air Force with the right gear once war has begun than it is for land forces. Tactical study and innovation matter, and they pay off most if done in interwar years[4].

Regarding today’s professional military education, a credible case can be made that sometime after the McNamara years of the 1960s the Navy started distancing the officer corps from a continuous study of war at all its levels, in part because of the need to compete with academic national security experts who had influence over civilian leaders and had greater prestige because of those academic credentials. Advanced military study became focused on the operational and higher levels, including those larger national security issues that the academics specialized in. The lack of a peer naval competitor with a credible battle fleet threat may also have played an initial role in this trend. In addition, there has been the fracturing of the Navy into the three main warfare communities, each of which at times has perhaps shown no desire to learn about the other (except in how to counter opposing budget proposals).

This has meant that senior and mid-level military professional education has became increasingly divorced from intense study of the lower levels of war, with the study of employment at the tactical level being often left to fleet training schools and/or small centers. Much good work is done there. The problem with this approach, though, is that tactical innovation often becomes left to highly capable personnel at the O-3 and O-4 level who are nevertheless still only beginning their warfare educations at the higher levels (if at all); personnel who might not yet have the vision and experience to make large jumps like a Jackie Fisher made with the Dreadnought; personnel who can often only innovate with what is already in the fleet or can be made available on a short time line; personnel who also often don’t have the time or credibility to get their ideas heard at the senior levels (meaning that perhaps new ideas and new equipment proposals increasingly start coming from think tanks and DOD civilians instead of from the service itself); and personnel who in today’s combined arms environment are from one branch of the service, say aviation, and may never become familiar with the tactical employment of another branch—say the Submarine Force—to any great depth, because they never had a chance to do so in a serious, formal manner.

It also means ideas for tactical employment of the fleet as a whole (including the maritime patrol aircraft element) may not get the study they need, and certainly may not get widespread propagation or the familiarization needed for immediate use in war from day one.

This is simply a poor way of doing business for an organization heavily dependent upon tactical outcomes. If today’s Navy thinks tactics and tactical innovation are mainly the province of the O-3 and O-4 in training schools, with the higher ranks, after they have earned their marks of excellence as operators, going on to focus on other things (operational staff items, personnel, administration, budgets, etc.) it is wrong. The above opinion is based upon the author’s own familiarity with Naval Aviation, and he acknowledges affairs may be different in than he thinks, especially in other communities—but does not feel it to be overly so such as to make the larger point irrelevant.

Innovation naturally does occur in fleet training schools but may get stifled if a “schoolhouse answer” approach starts reigning. Ideas generated in the schools may also have difficulty breaking out upward through the chain of command; or in being able to get new equipment delivered to the fleet—and the same goes more than double for ideas generated outside the schools or any specialized study centers. The potential solution is that tactical study at academic institutions will serve as a way around these kinds of choke points if they occur, especially for studies of unified fleet combat operations.

It should also be obvious that a nation that has prospered under a free enterprise system will benefit if competition in ideas occurs in an orderly way in its naval establishment. The heritage of Proceedings shows that. Competition is good, and so is exposing broad numbers of officers to concepts in a way that asks them to not just learn, but to think and innovate—for in creative thought as well in war, numbers can tell out. The more officers you have looking at an issue throughout their career, the more innovative ideas you will have, and the more the unrestricted line officer corps will think of themselves as samurais of the Naval Art and not just members of a warfare community.

Therefore, my argument is that it is simply not enough to study grand strategy, national security, and operational warfare at the more senior levels (O-4 and above). In both battle itself and, in war overall, the tactical, the operational, the economic, the technological and the grand strategic all merge—each influencing the other in a way that cannot always be neatly separated into non-interfacing bins segregated by rank or level.

Serious, formal, on-going thought about tactical fleet employment concepts needs to be part of formal professional military education all the way to the O-5 level, to provide a proper base for later decisions and tactical innovation as well as to demolish barriers between the Navy’s warfare branches. The O-5, O-6, and O-7 should be just as ready and able to compete in the game of tactical innovation as the O-3 and O-4.

For it was Nelson—the “battle group” commander--who innovated at the Battle of the Nile; and it was Admirals Joseph Reeves and William Moffett who did so much to advance Naval Aviation during the Golden Age. It is vitally important that senior personnel be interested in tactical innovation (especially at the combined-arms fleet level), for pre-war concepts of tactical action play a large role in making funding decisions and naturally impact the way the later battle play out[5].

As an example, the actions in the Slot during the Guadalcanal and Solomons campaigns were in part predetermined before they ever occurred by the Japanese pre-war emphasis of the Long Lance torpedo and night action; and by the emphasis by the American navy on using the naval gun in daylight action. These pre-war funding and training decisions heavily influenced the tactical outcomes of the individual night action battles; whose outcomes then heavily determined the operational and strategic flow of the war as a whole for a while[6].

The inability of American surface forces to decisively halt Japanese resupply efforts, in part because of the kind of Navy that was created before the war relative to the one the Japanese created, resulted in the Guadalcanal campaign lasting six months and in the diversion of some supplies from one theater to another. The tactical, economic, political, organizational, and strategic all affected each other—a truth then and now. The Southwest Pacific campaigns were not just a live-fire exercise in the Operational Art, nor a reading in National Security—as genuinely important as both those fields are. The campaigns of 1942-3 were tactical, operational, and strategic problems, all at the same time, and each level affected the other.

The naval tactical thus needs to be brought back into the systematic study of war at all levels—including the Naval Academy and NROTC via Naval Warfare courses--so that it can shed light on many factors necessary for flag-level decision makers and civilian leaders to consider as they make force-level decisions; so that it can create a common naval warriors ethos; and so that it can hopefully result in a steady sharpening of the tactical level sword by more-senior personnel who add the additional years of study in comparative warfare they have (hopefully) made during their careers to the tactical operational familiarity of more junior personnel who actually operate the equipment.

The fleet tactical should not be divorced from the operational or strategic, either in planning or study or thought or training. The flag-level commander and the plebe should be as enthusiastic and interested in the fleet tactical as the operator. War is a seamless whole—the tactical affects the grand strategic, and vice versa. Especially for navies[7].

Therefore, the different levels of war are interlinked, and in the Navy flag-level decision makers are really making tactical decisions when they make budget decisions. They should thus have a life-long interest in tactics and tactical innovation, and tactics should not be just considered an issue for the individual boat or CRUDES squadron or aviation formation commander and the respective training establishments behind them—for fleet employment as a whole will fall through the cracks, if nothing else. We may face a peer competitor at sea one day. We might want to be ready. Serious, widespread study of tactics and tactical innovation, especially on a fleet level, should be reintroduced to places like the Naval War College and Naval Academy, as well as continue in the places where it is happening today.

[1] Letter of 19 September 1965 from Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN to Vice Admiral Charles W. Melson, USN; Source (among others): Carrier Battles: Command Decision in Harm’s Way by Professor Douglas V. Smith, United States Naval Institute Press, 2006, p. 8.

[2] See page 10 of the first edition of Fleet Tactics: Theory and Practice by Captain Wayne P. Hughes, USN (Ret.) for a useful definition of what is meant by the phrase “fleet tactics”. The book is recommended as a must-read in its entirety.

[3] Consider for example Winston S. Churchill’s famous comment that “Jellicoe was the only man on either side who could lose the entire war in an afternoon.” Quote found in The Leverage of Sea Power: The Strategic Advantage of Navies in War, Colin S. Gray, 1992, p. 19.

[4] A recurring theme in Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat, Robert Higham and Stephen J. Harris, eds., 2006, is that the air forces presented as case studies failed the test of combat once it began because at some level—technological, economic, material, doctrine, etc.—those combat arms were “not ready” when the war occured—and that the cause of not having the right service at the right time for the right war often had its roots in pre-war long-term conditions.

[5] In their book Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War, 1990, Eliot A. Cohen and John Gooch highlight the role “Failure to Learn” has in military disaster, and recommend robust studies in empirical history as palliatives. Their concept of “Failure to Anticipate” is also pertinent here, especially in consideration of the need to think about possible enemy tactics in relation to our tactics and strategy.

[6] For narratives and discussion of these very illuminative campaigns and battles, see RADM Samuel Eliot Morrison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume V: The Struggle for Guadalcanal, August 1942—February 1943 and Volume VI: Breaking the Bismarcks Barrier 22 July 1942—1 May 1944; as well as CAPT Hughes discussion in Chapter 5 of his book.

[7] A quote from Clausewitz’s on p. 386 of the Michael Howard and Peter Paret translation of On War, 1976 is very pertinent: “That is why we think it is useful to emphasize that all strategic planning rests on tactical success alone and that—whether the solution is arrived at in battle or not—this is in all cases the fundamental basis for the decision. Only when one has no need to fear the outcome—because of the enemy’s character or situation or because the two armies are evenly matched physically and psychologically or indeed because one’s own side is the stronger—only then can one expect results from strategic combinations

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