Range, Reach, Risk, Russians, and the Triumph of the Anti-Transformationalists
// USNI Blog
OK, with the core topic of this post, "Russians" may be a bit of clickbait, but they actually are a large underlying flavor to this stew history is cooking up.
This is the stew of the realists and their allies the antitransformationalists – something we should have a hearty appetite for after a few decades of the toasted rice-cakes fed to us by the Cult of Transformation.
The last year has seen a welcome shift in the center of gravity for navalists in the national security arena in a direction that will help our navy rebalance towards the end of the Terrible 20s that will be defined by budget stress and an excess number of sub-optimal platforms warping our perception of per-unit power projection. It took a few decades for us to get here, so let's look at how we got here.
Dizzy in the head following our victory in the Cold War, a large cadre of people came in to positions of influence that really thought that not only was the world new, that war itself was new. They thought they had found a new world via an ahistorical, blinkered perspective of technological progression limited to their professional lifetime. Not unlike the nuclear weapons fetishdom of Eisenhower's "New Look" – they thought they had a gift of being at the right time in a technological leap where their brilliance will be able to facilitate a transformation that decades and centuries of prior leaders could not make happen.
Aggressively following the post-Goldwater-Nichols diktat of Jointness, they picked up the McNamara Era mindset that, like GM made Pontiac, Chevrolet, and Oldsmobile versions of the same car by changing the grill and a few other items – all the services should be able to make do with the same kit.
Using carefully crafted green eyeshade practices that would make Quartermaster Bloomfield proud, they were convinced that the warfighter needed to make compromises to make the metrics fit in DC, regardless of the actual combat utility of the item in question. A penny-silly and pound-foolish track record only brought in more "oversight" and regulations – further compounding a system with each passing year decoupled from operational experience.
Few breaks were in place to counter an almost pentecostal fervor toward what was becoming a personality based procurement process. Any opposing ideas, cautioning, or points-of-order were seen as naïve at best, disloyal at worst. As dissent was silenced and blind endorsement rewarded, humility – and a refined evolution of systems gave way to an ego driven revolutionary movement.
Initial warning signs were seen as early as the Bush-41 administration, but the transformationalist party culminated at the opening of this decade when the grim truth of what we bought with this new movement began to displace water and make shadows on the ramp (if they made it that far).
What did we get? I'll leave the other services alone, but what we got was A-12, ACS, titanium fire mains, warships without the ability to engage other warships, an entire class of sub-optimal hulls we still do not know what to do with, a Joint Strike Fighter that no one is happy with, technology demonstrators made of balsa wood, EFV, and flight decks full of light fighters circling CVN in some strange mobi-strip VFA-centipede refueling each other.
Yes, that does need to be reviewed almost monthly if for no other reason than as a warning to future generations.
So, what have Neptune's copybook headings brought us that should give us cheer? Let's go to the title of the post.
Range: Jerry Hendrix's paper from CNAS last month, Retreat from Range: The Rise and Fall of Carrier Aviation continues to get traction. The first phase of this argument started when Jerry and I were barely LTs with the coming death of the A-6 and towards the end of that decade, the light attack mafia's destruction of the VF bloodline. That argument was lost. The results are clear.
The end of the Cold War – followed by the decision to cancel the replacement aircraft for the A-6 Intruder, the A-12 Avenger II – began a precipitous retreat from range and the deep strike mission that had long characterized the carrier air wing. The rapid successive retirements of the A-6 Intruder, F-14 Tomcat, and S-3 Viking that followed, and the decision to replace these aircraft with variants of the F/A-18 Hornet – originally designed as a replacement for the short-ranged fighters and light attack aircraft – shrank the average range of the carrier air wing from over 800 nm in 1996 to less than 500 nm by 2006. This occurred just when competitor nations, led by China, began to field A2/AD systems with ranges of 1,000 nm or more.Just in time for the design of the replacement for the F/A-18 that will patch over not just the range issue, but the shortcomings of the F-35C and the significant capability gaps that will exist in whatever carrier based drone fleet we develop. The heavy fighter should be back.
Reach: Now that potential challengers on the high seas are leaving brown and green water, another screaming voice can no longer be ignored. We really do not have a way to reach out and touch anyone. Those few ships that can carry a ASCM are stuck with an old but useful Harpoon, a weapon modern AAW defenses have made much less effective. Other nations have one to two generations better ASCM than we do. We are making progress towards something better, but for now – there isn't much to distribute in our distributed lethality. The transformationalists were so busy looking in to the far future, they forgot that the now and near future may have to go to war at sea.
The joint DARPA/ US Navy LRASM program was initiated in 2009 to deliver a new generation of anti-ship weapons, offering longer ranges and better odds against improving air defense systemsFaster please.
Risk: Rest assured, the transformationalist have been chastened but not humbled in the last few years. Ignoring their track record, may of them have moved on to one of the last areas where PPT seems to trump physics, technology, and ROE – unmanned systems. Even there, smart voices are saying smart things that should help us be able to get something useful for the fleet. Not something ethereal that never makes it like the A-12, but perhaps something usable like the VIRGINIA Class SSN.
One of the better points in this regard was made recently by Bryan McGrath;
The Unmanned Carrier-Launched Aerial Strike and Surveillance program proposes one jet to do both jobs, but ongoing argument between the Navy and Congress has delayed its request for proposals: Some lawmakers want Naval Air Systems Command to focus on strike capabilities, but the Navy wants to maintain an emphasis on a long-range surveillance platform.More of that thinking will get shadows on the ramp sooner.
"The problem is, if you try to stuff both missions into one airframe, you end up sacrificing one," former destroyer skipper retired Cmdr. Bryan McGrath told Navy Times. "We need both strike and surveillance, and we probably need them in two separate aircraft."
Russians: Ah, yes. Russia. As Dr. Dmirty Gorenberg pointed out this summer on Midrats, from a naval perspective, the Russians will have a lot of work to do in modernizing their fleet. Though we have their most high profile ship off Syria, the Slava Class Cruiser MOSKVA, she is just what is left of the former Red Banner Fleet of the Soviets. Russia is working now on her smaller ships and submarines, and then we'll see what she can do later in modernizing larger ships. As she showed in the Caspian, her ships have quite a bit of punch relative to their size and have a good bit of kit.
With her navy again at sea – and this time putting ordnance down range – and her submarines once more haunting the shores of other nations, this is a great opportunity to bring out the realists cudgel against the ever-present Beltway transformationalists who are happy to spends billions of dollars for programs that never deploy, while Sailors and Marines are ordered to go in to harm's way without the tools they need.
There is a lot to be positive about in the change of the conversation looking forward to the next year. This should help steer the development of unmanned systems, the replacement for the F/A-18, DDG-51, and the LCS albatross in a direction that will give us products we can be proud of. Programs that reach for a solid hand-hold before progressing forward, as opposed to making a leap of faith that results in to a fall in to the abyss.
Shared via my feedly reader
Sent from my iPad