French “Vampires” and US Air/Sea Battle


06/19/2011 by Ed Timperlake

CNN recently reported from the deck of a French assault ship that as the night arrives over Libya.  French Attack helicopters go into battle. The Tiger helicopter is being used in Afghanistan and operates off of French helo carriers as well.  Helicopter gun ships leave as the sun sets in the Mediterranean from the French assault ship Tonnerre off the coast of Libya. Their mission is to deliver direct and effective firepower against Libyan forces loyal to Gadaffi. (Jim Bitterman June 15, 2011 CNN-Helicopters key in keeping pressure on Kaddafi)

“Since they, along with British helicopters, went into operation against Libyan targets earlier this month, the attack helicopters have been flying missions most every night against targets that are harder to identify or harder to hit from fixed wing aircraft.”

An unnamed pilot currently flying this dangerous mission made the vampire quote.

The Tiger helicopter in operation off of the coast of Libya.

“An officer here said that on this mission they are behaving a bit like vampires, relaxing by day and going on the attack at night. And each night, the French command believes, they are draining a little more strength from Gadaffi’s forces.”

The gun ships are but a part of the forces aligned against Libya. The helicopters the reporter correctly points out are more vulnerable to ground to air fire.  The courage of the pilots in flying into that threat is making a major contribution. The French commander understands the risks and gets it so right-

“We are more precise and we’re acting more locally and we are acting in very short loop at the very tactile level above the ground…raising the pressure on Gadaffi? We are able to move very quickly from one point to another and apply pressure wherever we have objectives to achieve,” he said

The only extremely important issue left out of the report is that the French “Vampires” can fly because NATO fighters have established Air Dominance. In fact it was a French fighter that got the one air-to-air kill that sent a powerful signal to Gadaffi’s fixed wing fighters-don’t even think about it.

While that battle rages in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya the Department of Defense is planning for the future and awaiting the arrival of Secretary Panetta. The planning document is under the rubric of Air/Sea Battle and is a much needed review to refocus American Naval and Air Forces toward realistic and capable deterrence in the Pacific especially against The Peoples Republic of China and to manage Pacific Rim challenges from Australia to the Arctic.

(See our treatment of the Pacific on

As with all planning guidance if the military can achieve sufficient forces for the hardest mission lesser included missions are often more easily accomplished. But with current discussions as reported “Services’ roles debated” ( June 15, 2011”)

The following paragraph screams out for reflection.

“In the proposals under discussion at DOD, the Air Force and the Navy would execute the Air-Sea Battle concept focused on high-end threats, the Marine Corps would focus on security cooperation with no need for fixed-wing aviation except to operate on Navy aircraft carriers, and the Army would handle low-intensity conflict, the former Pentagon official said, noting this raises questions about whether DOD would retain a large land-battle force.”

This paragraph, if accurate appears to be looking backward as far as Marine Fixed Wing aviation is concerned. A brutal fact of life that has to be addressed is a Navy/Marine Assault Ship such as the USS Bataan LHD-5 with a squadron of F-35B’s abroad is at least as capable if not more then a large angle deck carrier with F-18s. So to remove the capability of the Marine Amphibious Group to have indigenous 5th generation fighter assets seams to miss the point about revolutionary emerging aviation technology completely.

Anchoring fixed wing fighters to only Carrier Battle Groups (CBGs) in order to establish and continue to enforce Air Dominance would be extremely short sighted. There is no need for a Carrier Battle Group off the coast of Libya because land based NATO air has swept the skies. But combat action around the Pacific Rim many not have that luxury.

So every time equally courageous Marine helo drivers attack from the Sea a CBG has to be on station?  Visionary thinking would allow the F-35Bs as part of the ARG to free up the Navy CBG to maneuver in blue water and thus leverage American Power Projection assets across a much wider area of operations.

Independent of superior and revolutionary 5th Generation technology-complicating an enemy’s targeting and attack capability gives American Air and Sea forces the capability of dominating three dimensional battle space from many platforms.

The F-35B in a Marine Amphibious Ready Group is a tremendous war wining force multiplier. A Navy/Marine ARG with F-35Bs off any coast is capable of doing what it is currently taking many combined NATO forces to achieve-air dominance and then exploitation of the accurate killing capability of attack helos.

(See are treatment of the role of the Amphibious Ready Group

French “Vampires” show the world how that capability is currently working.