Tag Archives: defense

Carriers, Mobility, Stealth and Initiative

Think Defence today has a post on the difficulty a potential foe faces in finding a carrier at sea. It is (like virtually all content there) well worth reading the whole thing.

Aircraft carriers are difficult to detect.

Perhaps more importantly, they are difficult to identify. Regarding the difficulty of detection, the seas are very big and, in comparison, even the biggest of aircraft carriers are very small. Modern maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) have radars that have ranges of hundreds of nautical miles (nm) but oceans extend for thousands of nautical miles.

Moreover, radar impulses can be detected by electronic support measures (ESM) systems at significantly greater range than the radar can detect the platform (air or surface or even submarine) carrying the ESM. In wartime, an MPA using its radar gives itself away, opening the way to it either being intercepted and shot down before it can locate the carrier, or to the carrier simply altering course and avoiding the MPA.

Of course, MPAs also have ESM, but this works only if the carrier and its task group (Carrier Battle Group: CBG) are emitting electromagnetically.

But if the CBG has adopted strict electromagnetic silence (and it can do so & this is exercised), then there is nothing to detect. So the MPA is reduced to the Mark 1 eyeball as its only useful sensor.

When I think of most post-World War II significant carrier operations, I generally consider their use in Korea, Vietnam, and of course, operations in the Persian Gulf, where they essentially stayed in fixed positions, and acted like additional airfields. The lack of significant enemy ability to interdict our forces at sea allowed us to sacrifice one of the carrier task forces’ greatest assets, mobility, at little risk.

Prior to World War II, it was widely assumed that operating carrier forces within range of enemy land based airpower was a recipe for disaster, and that shore based airpower would quickly sink or damage any carrier force. The first clue that this wasn’t quite so true came December 7, 1941.

Successful, if not highly fruitful, US attacks against Japanese outposts in early 1942 showed that by choosing the time and place to attack, carriers could operate to impede or suppress shore based airpower, and retire out of range before an effective Japanese counterstroke could be brought to bear.

The Fast Carrier Task Force (TF38/TF58) would often operate in wide ranging support of amphibious landings in the Pacific War. While FCTC would of course raid the target of a landing, it would also strike enemy installations far afield, to deny the enemy the ability to reinforce the defense of our objective, and to a degree, to conceal our objective. The ability of the FCTF to move hundreds of miles each day, to attack in unexpected places, meant the Japanese often struggled to counterattack. It was only at times when the fast carriers were tied to an objective that the Japanese were able to mount large scale raids to attack our fleet. The most obvious example of this is the horrible attrition imposed on the fleet while supporting operations at Okinawa.

After the Vietnam War, the Navy looked at what it might be required to do in a World War III scenario versus the Soviet Union. The primary task was to secure the sea lanes to Europe. The primary Soviet threats to the sea lanes were submarines, and long range land based bombers armed with cruise missiles.  We’ll leave the discussion of the submarine threat to another time, but the Navy realized it would be called upon to stop the long range bomber threat, both as a threat to merchant shipping, and to the carrier forces themselves.  Soviet long range aviation had a much longer strike range than the organic airwing of carriers. To charge in and raid the Soviet bomber bases, the carriers would have to be able to avoid detection. And so they spent a fair portion of the coldest days of the Cold War learning to do just that.

The force transits to its objective area in complete electronic silence. Deceptive formations are used dispersed over a broad area to ensure any detection system does not see the classic “bullseye” formation made famous in countless Public Affairs shots and never used in operations. Broad surveillance systems are known so any detection method is countered either by denying sensor information, misleading, or providing expected results consistent with something else. For example, ESM systems rely on active emissions from radars or communication systems. So nothing is radiated. Overhead systems are in known orbits, are predictable, and their sensing capabilities known. So the track is varied, weather is sought out to hide in when vulnerable, blending into sea lanes (while staying out of visual detection range of ships) and such techniques. Deceptive lighting is used at night so that the obvious “blacked out warship” is instead thought to be a merchant or cruise liner. Surface search radar identical to commercial ones are used. Turn count masking is used by the ships. Aircraft maintenance on the CV and other helo equipped ships is limited to prevent transmissions.

In NORPAC 82 using these and other tactics the CV force operated close enough to support each other, but far enough and randomly dispersed to avoid identification by anyone. One night in bad weather a man went overboard when the ship was within 200nm of a Soviet airfield in the Kuril Island chain. Despite launch of helicopters and active search methods by several ships in the successful SAR, including clear voice UHF transmissions, the force is not detected because no Soviet asset was above the radar horizon. No overhead system was cued. The force continued on.

The Chinese have spent the last 20 years developing anti-access/area-denial tactics, techniques, and procedures. And to be sure, any operations against China would be significantly different than operations in the northern reaches of the Atlantic or Pacific.

But to blithely dismiss the ability of a carrier strike group to avoid detection (or at a minimum, to avoid being recognized as a carrier group) is to overlook the long history of carrier groups successfully approaching enemy shores.

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Filed under China, Defense, history, navy

Links and Stuff

Busy, busy. Who knew wrangling kids could suck up valuable blogging time?

The utter unseriousness of Obama Administration political appointees.

Indeed, I always wondered how Bob Work was nominated in the first place.

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Roamy launches an Amphibian Holocaust.

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Personally, I’d pay good money to see Aggie in parachute pants.

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First, kill all the lawyers fire all the generals.

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The partisan in me is almost bemused at just how awful the Obama regime is at foreign policy, but mostly I’m embarrassed to see Russia running rings around us diplomatically.  Putin and Assad keep pulling away the football from Obama every single time.

Oh, and don’t forget, the day after Putin’s Russia so helpfully offered to secure Syrian chemical weapons stocks (under conditions to be announced later… onerous conditions), Russia also announced it will effect delivery of the sophisticated S-300 Surface to Air Missile system to Iran. Nope, no coincidence there!

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The Conservative Wahoo: Why the GOP is Sticking to Its Guns on Sequestration

Former George W. Bush speechwriter and current slightly-right-of-center pundit/gadfly David Frum posted a Tweet a few hours ago that referenced his article “American Hawks: Behaving Badly” in Canada’s National Post. It caught my attention, as I have recently been deluged by questions from those on the left of the seeming hypocrisy of the GOP, claiming to be pro-defense while at the same time participating in a process that will so clearly weaken the military. Seeing David Frum pick up this line of argument is not surprising to me, as he appears these days to make his bread from a continuous string of articles and appearances that can best be summed up as saying “Republicans would be much better off if they thought and acted like Democrats”.

That said, Frum (and others) raises a good point, one that has to be addressed. Why would GOP legislators be prepared to allow the sequester to continue and accelerate the ongoing hollowing of the U.S. military?

via The Conservative Wahoo: Why the GOP is Sticking to Its Guns on Sequestration.

I had planned on writing about sequestration and its impact on the DoD last night, but as it turns out, Bryan McGrath has already done that for me.

A few thoughts on the implementation. If you didn’t notice, one of the major concerns about sequestration has been that between it, and the fact that DoD is operating under a Continuing Resolution, DoD has virtually no authority to shift funds from one account to another.

This is by design. The sequestration was a compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff. As such, both sides strove to impose political costs on the other should sequestration actually come to pass. The GOP strove to minimize any possible loopholes that would render it toothless. The Democratic party strove to  make any cuts to budgets as painful to GOP interests as possible. Fully half of the sequestration cuts come from DoD, which the Dems figured the hawkish GOP would move heaven and earth to avoid, lest they be called soft on defense.

Having said that, there was some discretion in how the cuts were to be made.  While the sequester law calls for across the board cuts among all DoD accounts, it also allows the President to exempt certain accounts, provided the dollar amount exempted is made up elsewhere. For instance, the funding for personnel was, by law, to be cut by the same amount as any other. The President, however, has already signaled to Congress that he has exempted that account (otherwise, troops would either have to be summarily discharged, or go without pay). This was expected. But that dollar amount has to come from somewhere. With most of the procurement and R&D budgets already obligated during the first half of the Fiscal Year, virtually the only accounts left to raid were the various Operations and Maintenance accounts.  These are big accounts, larger than the R&D and procurement budgets, th0ugh smaller than the personnel accounts.

Worse yet, DoD, via the White House, ordered the services to assume that sequester would not be implemented. Modest savings that might have been made in the first half of the year were not to be had.

In the short term, the effects will be awful. As Esli noted, his battalion simply won’t be able to roll any tracked vehicles for the rest of the year. No training above the squad level will take place.  Having just finished a rotation at the National Training Center, the highly perishable skills they have will quickly atrophy. And indeed, the frustrations of many of the best and brightest will cause them to leave the service, in spite of the daunting civilian job market.

Worse, short term savings tend to have long term costs. The disruptions in depot level maintenance for major systems will mean the lifetimes of several platforms will be shortened. Replacement costs for those platforms will have to be paid sooner rather than later.

But as Bryan notes, for all the doom and gloom, it’s not the end of the world. The immediate impact this year is bad, but next year won’t be quite as bad.

Further, and more importantly, the GOP (and I!) see the explosive growth in government as the true threat to the United States. Our federal spending is 40% higher than it was in 2007.  Do you really feel like you’re getting 40% better government?  The effective taxation rate is currently running at about 25%, which is above the long term historical average of 20%, and history suggests it cannot long remain that high. Borrowing to fund this massive increase in government cannot go on forever.

Americans have always asked its servicemen and women to make great sacrifices in the defense of our nation. And this is one more. And it may be the most important one yet.

Because if we can’t get our obscene addiction to spending under control, there soon won’t be a Republic worth defending.

 

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Sequestration Blues

So, Congress kicked the can down the road a bit yesterday. But sequestration is still on the table for two months from now. And if it comes to pass, the DoD is gonna take it in the shorts.

So, where and how should cuts be made?

The first big targets are always acquisitions and personnel. Both have aspects that make them attractive, and both have aspects that make them harder to realize.

First, acquisitions- high visibility programs are always tempting targets. And the word is, there are no sacred cows this time. The LCS and the F-35 are obvious targets, either for cancellation or scaled back funding.  The Army’s GCV program is almost certainly going to slow down, and possibly the JLTV program, the planned successor the the Humvee. What are some other programs you think are vulnerable or should be? One thing that mitigates against cutting acquisition programs is the pork aspect. Congressmen that have defense contractors in their districts don’t like to see them go out of business.

Personnel costs are the single largest costs of DoD, so of course cutting troop levels is attractive. And that is actually already scheduled. But unlike the civilian world, it’s hard to lay off 50,000 in just a few month’s time.  But I suspect further end strength cuts are coming. How big should the Army be, in terms of brigade combat team equivalents? How many fighter wing equivalents should the Air Force have? How big should the Navy be, in terms of ships and airwings? Where can they shave personnel without severely undermanning already shorthanded, overworked ships? The Marine’s force structure is the only one written in law, but their end strength isn’t. So when they cut numbers, what non-core  Corps jobs go away?

Tough times are coming.  Put your thinking caps on and try to spot the rocks and shoals ahead to minimize the troubles.

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What’s next for Marine Armor?

With the cancellation of the Marines Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, the Marines are faced with the challenge of what to do to replace or upgrade their existing fleet of amphibious assault vehicles.

The Marines face a two part challenge. First, they need a vehicle that can swim in the ocean and in surf conditions without swamping or otherwise sinking, and do so from a respectable distance out at sea. That vehicle has to be able to transition from a seagoing vessel to a  fighting vehicle on the move as it crawls out of the water. The Marines simply must maintain the ability to roll from the sea to the beach and beyond to the initial objectives. At a minimum, they need to be able to move far enough inland to secure a lodgment big enough to keep the main beaches out from under artillery fire.

The other problem the Marines face is that they are a light force, with very limited assault shipping available, and yet they need sufficient armored vehicles to mount most of their force under armor once ashore. We’ve seen that in todays environment of IEDs and mines that mounting troops in trucks or other light skinned vehicles is not really an option. The operational and political costs of losing troops that way is just too high. But given the high cost of armored amphibious assault vehicles, and the weight and space limitations they face, mounting the entire infantry forces of a Marine brigade in amphibious vehicles isn’t really an option either. So it looks like the Marines might try to go with a two tiered approach to vehicles.

First, they are going to start a follow-on program from the ashes of the EFV. The linked article sure makes it sound like the Marines are hoping the new program will simply be EFV by another name. If so, they are going to get their feelings severely hurt. The country’s finances aren’t going to be in any shape to afford such a costly fleet of vehicles any time soon. But if the Marines can work with industry to provide a somewhat more modest vehicle, they may well be able to come up with the funds for a goodly sized amphibious assault vehicle fleet.

The other part of the equation is a program that has quietly been cooking along on the back burner, The Marine Personnel Carrier.

The Marine Corps has established a requirement for a new Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC), an advanced generation eight-wheeled armored personnel carrier that would provide general support lift to marine infantry in the ground combat element based maneuver task force. The MPC requirement is shaped to provide a balance of performance, protection and payload in order to set the conditions for fielding a combat vehicle that will be effective across the range of military operations.

If an 8-wheeled armored vehicle with advanced digital electronics and a remotely operated .50 cal weapon station sounds an awful lot like a Stryker to you, well, that’s the same though that popped into my head. Go read the link, and you’ll notice that the MPC, while able to cross inland waters and streams, doesn’t say anything about beaching from the sea. That’s because it won’t be expected to. Its job will be the follow on fighting after the initial lodgment ashore is secured.

We’ve focused on Marine landing vehicles here a bit lately, but it is important to remember, our friends the Sea Soldiers don’t have any intentions of making landings purely by vehicle. Each amphibious group that transports Marines also has a big old helicopter carrier assigned to it. The Marines have a robust helicopter capability, and they intend to make the most of it.

So while parts of the landing team are churning their way ashore in amtracs, another portion of the force will be landing by helicopter behind the beaches. The Marines will try to land on the least defended beaches available, and the troops landed by helicopter will have the mission of blocking enemy forces from reinforcing those beaches, preventing artillery from reaching the beaches, and even attacking toward the beaches to take existing defenders from the rear. Once the initial lodgment is secured, the Marines can use heavier lift landing craft to bring ashore vehicles such as the MPC and their M-1 Abrams, as well as the always critical logistics elements to sustain operations. The Marines can either begin a limited campaign of their own, or secure a port for the entry of follow-on Army forces for a larger campaign.

The basic tactical concept is nothing new. The Marines have been planning this sort of operation since the days of the Korean War. But with the proliferation of cheap antitank missile and especially the large numbers of shore launched anti-ship missiles around that can hold at risk the Navy’s amphibious shipping, the question has become, can we afford to assault a defended objective from the sea? I think it is vital that we maintain that capability, and that it be the Marines prime mission. How to go about maintaining and building that capability without spending every last defense dollar on it is the question.

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Is the Air Force lobbying for more F-22s?

If so, it’s about damn time. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates comes in for a lot of criticism from conservatives. Truth be told though, my only real heartburn with him so far has been his idiotic decision to curtail production of the F-22 fighter at 187 airframes.

The Air Force has apparently gotten over one of its biggest taboos: talking internally about the possibility of buying more F-22s.

Until recently, USAF was under strict orders not even to think about it, but recent developments have caused the possibility to crop up in some “what if” PowerPoint slides.

Those developments include likely further slips in the F-35 strike fighter’s schedule and an upcoming defense acquisition board review of the F-35 expected to be fraught with bad news on cost.

That would come on the heels of various deficit-cutting proposals that already suggest cutting the F-35 buy.

Without F-35, Air Force fighter inventories will plummet below minimums in coming years as F-16s age out.

Here’s the reason why ending the F-22 production at 187 airframes was stupid- buying airplanes is the just about the cheapest part of the procurement process. And, the more you build, they cheaper they become. First, there’s the obvious benefit of economy of scale. Second, the longer a production line stays open, the greater the learning curve. Lockheed Martin actually learns to build jets faster and cheaper. Finally, it only makes sense to spread the development cost across a greater number of airframes. The Air Force recently laid out a memo saying what they’d like to see in an F-22 replacement. Do we really want to start spending another $25 billion on development costs (or, likely, much more) to replace a jet that has no peer in the world? What the Air Force needs, right now, is numbers.  Building a proven design in quantity makes sense. Gates screwed up. It’s as simple as that.

Thanks to War News Updates

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The Defense Budget

We are obviously in recessionary times, and the federal budget is at unsustainable levels. The real backbreakers are Social Security and Medicare, but plainly, every department is going to be staring budget cuts in the face. The Department of Defense is a favored whipping boy for cuts, since every penny of its budget is discretionary money, and not “entitlement” money. Rough seas are ahead for the DoD.

If you were in charge, and had free reign, what would you cut? Programs? Staffs? How about a revision to Goldwater-Nichols? Troop units or major ships?

Since we’re just indulging in a fantasy here, let’s pretend that we don’t have to fool with Congressional interference and patronage, and that politics don’t intrude upon national security budgeting decisions.

I can think of any number of things I’d cut from the budget. Heck, there’s a few I’d cut even if money weren’t an issue.

Part One-

Army:

The FCS system would be deader than a doornail. Having said that, some of the technologies and ideas behind it would remain. For the short to medium term, next generation vehicles would be suspended. The R&D emphasis would be on improving communications and intelligence gathering and distribution at the brigade and lower level.

I’d be prepared, if pressed, to reduce the standing US presence in Korea to one combat brigade. I’d really rather not pull completely back from Europe, but I could be convinced to leave the 173rd in Italy, and rotate 2 combat brigades to Europe much like the Marines Unit Deployment Program.

Procurement wise, the Army is actually in pretty fair shape. A lot of the fleet of logistical vehicles is fairly new. Of course, they are putting on mileage faster than anticipated due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but a good depot program should be able to manage that concern. With the combat vehicle fleet, the Stykers are relatively young. The Bradley and Abrams fleet are another matter. Both fleets have been in service for almost 30 years, with an average age somewhere around 20-25 years. Both systems are running out of room for growth, but should suffice for the medium term with a strong depot maintenance program.

Army aviation is similarly in decent shape. Blackhawk and Chinook procurement is going well, and should be continued. The Apache fleet is similarly on glidepath. There are some issues with other aspects of aviation though. The Army can’t seem to buy a simple replacement for the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. The ARH-70 program was riddled with cost overruns and performance shortcomings. Maybe it’s time to set aside the JetRanger family and go back to the MD-500 family. The other option is to do away with observation helicopters, and just go with Apaches in the scout role. I’d also pull the plug on the Army’s MQ-1C Predator program. Let the Air Force be the sole manager for the platform. The only UAVs the Army would operate would be smaller observation platforms that give the local ground commander situational awareness and reconnaissance.

On the staff side, there’s a lot of duplication. Sometimes, it isn’t a terrible burden. For instance, 3rd Army exists as the field Army at CentCom, and also goes by the name of ArCent.  But why does every headquarters in Iraq and Afghanistan need a separate “Joint” or “Multi-national” designation laid above the tactical unit that makes up the force? For instance, if the 4th ID headquarters is in charge of the Green Zone in Iraq, does it really need a headquarters named Multi-National Division blah, blah, blah whatever it is with all the administrative burdens beyond just what the 4th ID already has?

What do you think? Where would you cut programs in the Army? What money would you save? Would you trim troop unit levels?

We’ll get to the other branches in later installments of this topic.

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