Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Lieutenant X On (The Fate Of) Aircraft Carriers-II

Back to our incognito US naval officer. LT X points out what seems to be an axiom, that is a statement which requires no proof:  

Well, this argument shouldn't be limited to US naval aviation only. Last time United States faced half-decent adversary capable of a full spectrum warfare, that is ranging from guerilla to full blown combined arms operations.... I would say Korea, and even this is a stretch. Now comes the issue of naval aviation as a "decisive" force in power projection. One of the first US military professionals who questioned the status quo, based on what LT X characterizes as a combat history "polluted by naval aviation", was Colonel Douglas McGregor who in his seminal Breaking The Phalanx pointed out what many knew all along--air forces are simply more "productive" when "projecting power" from their land bases. 

FWEs (Fighter Wing Equivalents) numbers speak volumes. But that is, of course, when one considers an enemy such as Iraq, which neither wanted nor realistically could attack staging areas and airfields of anti-Saddam coalition. But in any case, mathematics (arithmetic) is simply not there when it comes to naval air power "projecting power", especially if this projecting to be done against competent and more-or-less equipped enemy. But that is an arithmetic approach, pure quantitative, comparison of forces; algebra, let alone calculus of such a "projection" will reveal a much grimmer reality for a "projector". I already addressed partially this issue before, here and there, among many other places. It is still arithmetic approach of a linear comparison of forces, the profile of modern battle against developed A2/AD will be extremely complex and against peers, who can deploy, apart from state-of-the-art air defense, capable air forces, it will be a death knell for carrier aviation. 

As Admiral Kuznetsov's latest deployment to the shores of Syria demonstrated fully--the ratios which McGregor refers to (EAW) generally hold. Combat "input" of Kuznetsov's air wing was  marginal at best when viewed against the background of operational tempo of Russia's Air Space Forces there, including, at some point, of some SU-33s being based directly to the Khmeimim airfield due to Kuznetzov's arresters malfunction. Of course, proponents of carrier aviation will make an argument that Kuznetsov is an old carrier and its air wing was not large at all. Against 87 aircraft which Russia's AF had at Khmeimim by November 2015, Kuznetsov carried 14 fixed wing aircraft and 18 helicopters. Out of those only 4 MiG 29Ks and 4 KA-52K were dedicated ground attack aircraft, with SU-33s being equipped with Gefest SVP-24 which gave them a robust ground attack capability. Yet, roughly 4 times larger Air Force (Air Space Forces) contingent from Khmeimim (80+ aircraft of all types against Kuznetsov's ground-attack 18) flew on the order of magnitude more sorties and, it could be stated, played a decisive role in achieving a strategic reversal of the situation in Syria. But Syria was in many respects a repetition of what US combat aviation encountered in its operations against Iraq or Afghanistan--an opponent with no viable air defense and air force. In the peer-to-peer scenario things change dramatically because:

1. Carrier aviation will face real air forces at the enemy's "shore" or even at their carrier stations. As Roger Thompson writes in his important bookThe Israeli Air Force, also one of the most professional in the world, has outshined the U.S. Navy, and they have done so even with less capable aircraft. A joint U.S.N.-I.A.F. air combat exercise in 1999 underlines and highlights the thesis that the U.S. Navy is overrated. On September 14, 1999, The Jerusalem Post announced that the Israelis soundly dispatched the air wing from the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt (which, incidentally, was the same carrier the Dutch destroyed in 1999). Israeli F-16s squared off against American F-14s and F-18s, both of which are said to be more capable than the F-16. The final results were astonishing. The Israelis shot down a whopping 220 U.S. aircraft while losing only 20 themselves. The 10:1 kill ratio was so embarrassing that the results were not “officially published ‘to save the reputations of the U.S. Navy pilots.’” The magazine article on which the article was based, however, reported the kill ratio to be about 20:1. Some dispute these figures, and claim that the Israelis had an “unfair advantage,” and did not include American victories from “stand-off missile hits.” But, as The Washington Times reported on September 15, 2000, an official investigation by Vice Admiral Lee F. Gunn, U.S.N., confirmed “Navy pilots were thoroughly beaten in an exercise against Israeli fliers. ‘An air wing commander was proud the Israelis only achieved a 6-to-1 kill ratio during simulated air-to-air combat maneuvers against a carrier air wing during a recent exercise, instead of the 20-to-1 kill ratio initially claimed.’”  

It is a tactical axiom that land based aviation, its pilots, dedicate more time to actual combat training than their deck based colleagues, who must train constantly in carrier deck landing and take offs--a very complex skill but which doesn't add much to combat efficiency in the real battle but surely works well as an "argument" in the penis measuring contests between naval and air force aviators. Carrier aviation, however, will face forces who do not care much about deck cycle and have no problems with taking off and landing in any conditions. This is not to say that there are no excellent pilots in carrier aviation, far from it--many superb pilots fly from carrier decks but in case of "power projection" against "peer" they must expect facing jets and pilots who are at least equal and often superior to them and the times of carriers being relatively safe on their stations are coming to an end. Peers and near peers are not only getting excellent jets and training, they also develop "pushing out to sea" methods to protect their own shores and inland

2. Missile-carrying submarines, both SSGNs and SSKs. A two-layer (double-range) barrier which starts at a remote sea or ocean zones--this is where modern SSGNs deploy. They will carry extremely potent anti-shipping missiles, many of them. Project 949A (Oscar II) SSGNs are being modernized to carry 72 anti-shipping missiles and not just some missiles--capabilities of something like P-800 Onyx, especially in salvo of 4-6 or 8 missiles. Deployment of even a single such sub creates an extremely serious containment factor, especially if the deployment is "supported" with heterogeneous forces capable to prevent or extremely impede operations of enemy's ASW (Patrol) Aviation in remote sea or ocean zones. Conditions for such a force I will review later in this series of posts. This is the first edge (rubezh) of the defense (or deterrence), the second one being in own littoral with missile-carrying SSKs which will be reliably covered by own air force, ASW-Patrol Aviation and will have an advantage operating against enemy's SSNs. 

The factors, most important of them--missiles, which will, and already influence modern carriers' operations are in play and will only increase their role. Modern missile weapons and platforms which carry them have matured. This is a deadly technological and tactical-operational mix which leaves for CBGs only open oceans to sail in relative safety, far from the littorals of "peers". The coming of 3M22 Zircon (and more tamed Russian-Indian Brahmos-II) will make combat operations of CBGs impossible since there will be no defense against such menace, even if one considers all those promises of laser weapons which exist mostly on paper and in labs and will not become usable weapons for a long time. In the end, even a laser beam must be pointed at the target, that is have all angles (bearing or azimuth and elevation) in order to have a chance at one missile, facing 8 simultaneously? 20? 32? Paradoxically, it is in the open oceans where these magnificent beasts such as US Navy's CVNs will find their end because they will be useless there providing barely a cent of a bang for a ten billion plus of a buck. But here we inevitably get from technological and operational level to a doctrinal one and a nation's views on the armed forces' creation, maintenance and use.  Paradigm shifted and if carriers do not want to disappear completely they will have to change, and they will.  How? That is a billion dollar question. Aviation still has and will have a use over oceans and the first thing which comes to mind is ASW. Remember this...
Zumwalt's Idea.
Or this?


There is a reason why I follow closely the fate of F-35B  

 To Be Continued....


Sunday, February 26, 2017

RIP, Bill Paxton.

I wanted to finish today a second part of the LT X piece and then I read the news. A very special man and an actor, one of the most underrated of all time, Bill Paxton has just died. Young, only 61. 

He had an incredible range, from outright funny comedic to serious dramatic. Who can forget his sleazy car dealer in True Lies? RIP, Bill, I sure as hell will miss you.             

Friday, February 24, 2017

Listen To Him While He Is Still Alive.

My favorite guitar and music genius of all time, incomparable rock, jazz and fusion maestro--Allan Holdsworth. He defies definitions, he creates magic out of nothing and yes, he is still better than you:


He is a creator of a brightly lit spaces. If you want to hear Allan rocking out, listen to his famous, probably first ever, shred on Soft Machine's Hazard Profile--it was 1974. And yes, he played with everybody from Eddie Van Hallen to Steve Vai and they bowed to him as Steve Said "in being completely humbled". Here is one of very, very many favorite pieces by him--a magic. What you hear here as keyboards--they are not, he plays Synthaxe

He influenced everybody.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

On Some Silver Linings

Dostoevsky wrote in his Diary about Cervantes' immortal work this: "In the whole world there is no deeper, no mightier literary work. This is, so far, the last and the greatest expression of human thought; this is the bitterest irony which man was capable of conceiving. And if the world were to come to an end, and people were asked there, somewhere: “Did you understand your life on earth, and what conclusion have you drawn from it?” – man could silently hand over Don Quixote: “Such is my inference from life. – Can you condemn me for it?” 

When viewing today a wasteland that modern American art has become, I recall the interpretation of Dostoevsky's thought on Don Quixote: When the humanity will be called for a final judgement, a lot will be forgiven because Don Quixote was written. I watched recently Arrival. Amy Adams is as always stunning and apart from being a superb actress is one one of the last vestiges of true femininity and beauty in art. And then it occurred to me to steal Dostoevsky's lines in regards to Hollywood: When the United States will be called for a final judgement a lot will be forgiven because Forrest Gump, Walle-E, Interstellar and Arrival were made. This is my Silver Lining thought of a day.

Lieutenant X On (The Fate Of) Aircraft Carriers-I

Isn't it a fortunate coincidence, that the moment I returned yesterday to A2/AD business, my "favorite" (wink, wink) magazine publishes today a rather interesting piece by an anonymous US naval officer with the handle of LT X. It is about US Navy's aircraft carriers or, as I would put it in my own terms, a doctrinal and operational dead-end. It is a very good piece in a sense that it states what has to be stated--and it is well reflected upon in George Baer's outstanding treatise "100 Years Of Sea Power"--US carriers were made into strike platforms, that is into "power projection" tools (and secondary nuclear strike platforms) immediately after WW II to offset USAF. But that is not what carriers were realistically meant to do. This is what I wrote in my piece in USNI Proceedings three years ago: 
For many Soviet/Russian naval professional(s) who grew up within ever evolving missile paradigm it was always a stretch to view carriers as merely a power projection tool--the issue of a combat stability (boevaya ustoichivost') of a CBG would inevitably arise and a carrier would be viewed as a universal fleet defender--a core of Air Defense and ASW in the fleet-against-fleet, aka Sea Control, battle. A "power projection" was merely an afterthought. But this is not what modern US Navy's carrier force is anymore--it is a power projection tool where its carrier(s) becomes the most weak link operationally when one considers that at this stage US Navy doesn't even have a modern anti-shipping missile and that modern ASW is a horrendously difficult task when one considers that modern Russian and, possibly some time in the future, Chinese subs will be able to strike from the distances of many hundreds of kilometers with the weapons which make CBG's air defense a terribly difficult task. Once Zircon comes on-line, the surface warfare and ASW paradigm will change dramatically. And so must the operational (and technological) concept of aircraft carriers. They must (and they will) work FOR the fleet, not the other way around--if not, modern CVNs will go, if not already, the way of dinosaurs and battleships. 

In general, the LT X's article is a very interesting piece, despite some mistakes he makes in re: Russian Navy but I will address those later. They will be especially fun to address with the facts of semi-successful deployment of Admiral Kuznetsov to Syria where EAW (Equivalent Air Wing) algebra, and calculus, spoke volumes. 

To Be Continued....

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A2/AD Business.

An interesting development today. Evidently, Russia and China signed the contract for a delivery of Russian-made anti-shipping missiles to China. It is a rather significant development. At this time it is not known which missiles will be delivered to China and, most importantly, in what "configuration": export, less capable version, or for internal, much more capable, Russian use. If to consider the fact that Russia started deliveries of  SU-35 in their original (that is what rumors say so far), "Russian" configuration,
Here is the first "Chinese" SU-35 with Russian transfer team.
then it is totally reasonable to assume that it is probable that Russian anti-ship missiles (complexes) will be of a "domestic" configuration. In this case we may conclude that if those missiles are of a Kalibr family or P-800 Onyx, their ranges will be up to 600 kilometers (around 320 nautical miles), not twice shorter as it is the case with export versions. This, if my assumptions are correct (I could be wrong, of course--time will tell), will have a major effect on how China may approach her interests in the South China Sea and defense of her littoral--a proverbial A2/AD. In this case China will be able to achieve almost a full "coverage", an overlapped missile obstacle course, along most of her First Island Chain.  
This will make the life of the US Navy surface ships rather exciting if someone in D.C. (and even with new US Administration it is not precluded) makes a decision to "project power" against Chinese interests. I omit here the legal and moral aspect of Chinese claims--I am not well versed in the legal details of this whole situation--but it is very clear that missile technologies play and will continue to play an increasingly large role in formation of naval strategies. In the end, a naval truism "a ship's a fool to fight a fort" is as relevant as ever, especially if one considers "a fort" having a capable Air Force.   

Monday, February 20, 2017

New National Security Adviser.

President Trump surely knows from what pool to pick his National Security Advisers. Just in: General H.R. McMaster was appointed new National Security Adviser instead of recently resigned General Flynn. McMaster, apart from being a combat veteran, holds Ph.D. At this stage, apart from passing, again, this extremely important appointment over the head of a militant necocon John Bolton, Trump's propensity for choosing to this position US Armed Forces senior military officers looks very healthy. The reason for this is very simple: US "diplomacy", "academe" and spooks are so discredited by now that any alternative such as people who actually dealt all their lives with serious and very particular tasks is a good change. Moreover, US Armed Forces by now are probably the only organization left in US which is capable of sober and coherent assessment of the world outside and knows what is going on on the inside with American power. Consider this: US JCS and Russian Chief Of General Staff just met in Baku several days ago and the meeting was cordial and very substantive. This is what happens when, without being overly idealistic and overplaying the significance, real professionals begin to talk. In the end, this is how one deescalate things--militaries are simply better at that.

At this stage, placing non-spooks and other "deep state" operatives on such important positions is a right choice. I admit, I am being biased towards military people, but then again, I have a very good understanding of how normal military professionals, not some political appointees in epaulets, think. So, good choice, I think, at this stage. By this appointment President Trump really shows that he views US Armed Forces as a very important part of his political agenda. They are also his really serious insurance against any stupid moves by the (I am just following a fad here) "Deep State". This appointment boosts system's stability.  Not bad, not bad. 

UPDATE: greatly respected, albeit not always agreed to, by me Andrew J. Bacevich wrote today a wonderful review of General McMaster. Worth reading.