Re-Norming the Navy Battle Fleet: Supportable Defense Within a Manageable Budget


By the Honorable Ed Timperlake

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08/07/2011 – The air fleet of an enemy will never get within striking distance of our coast as long as our aircraft carriers are able to carry the preponderance of air power to sea.

—   Real Admiral W. A. Moffet, Chief of the US Bureau of Aeronautics, October 1922.

For almost a century the words of Admiral Moffet have stood the test of time in our common defense.  On this year the 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation using the key building block of Air Power for the last Century has been essential to defending our shores.Now in this next century our modern Air Force, Navy, and Marine team, if financially supported, will continue to succeed in their ever-vigilant mission of protecting America from the highest ramparts in space to under the Sea and everything in between.

Consequently, preparing for the coming Congressional budget debates, the Under Secretary of the Navy issued a tasking memo on July 7th 2011 to have  “the best aviation minds in the Navy, Marine Corps and Secretariat” provide a “quick-look” transparent analysis to address “Warfare Capability and Affordability Trades”Unfortunately, the memo is scoped with a question, which pre-determines its conclusion. Although the memo is asking the “best minds” to determine which is the best mix of tactical air, the questioner is comparing apples and oranges, and not suggesting in any way that one should correlate the evolution of tac air with the evolution of the fleet as well.

The memo has a significant flaw:The term “TacAir” as used in the memo tethers all analysis to USN Large Deck Carriers verses analysis of 5th Gen un-tethered from CVNs. And more generally, there is no focus on the intersection between the re-norming of the air fleet and the re-norming of the maritime forces.

America defense planning should not be prisoner of last century’s paradigm nor embrace previous sea and land warfare concepts of airpower. No platform fights alone and the ability to now distribute the revolutionary F-35B to the Marine Amphibious Ready Groups afloat is essential to any serious TacAir analysis.

The F-35 is not a linear performance enhancement from F/A-18 4th Gen; it has a third performance axis “Z” The “Z” axis is the pilot’s cockpit C4ISR-D “OODA” loop axis. The memo does not address this revolutionary point.Traditionally, the two dimensional depiction is that the y-axis is time and the x-axis captures individual airplanes that tend to cluster in generation improvement. Each aircraft clustered in a “generation” is a combination of improvements.Essentially, the aeronautical design “art” of blending together ever improving and evolving technology eventually creates improvements in a linear fashion.

The design characteristics blended together prior to F-35 have been constantly improving range, payload (improved by system/and weapons carried), maneuverability (measured by P Sub s), useful speed, and range (modified by VSTOL–a plus factor). The F-35 is also designed with inherent survivability factors-first redundancy and hardening and then stealth. Stealth is usually seen as the 5th Gen improvement. But reducing the F-35 to a linear x-y axis improvement or to stealth simply misses the point. The F-35 is now going to take technology into a revolutionary three-dimensional situational awareness capability.  This capability establishes a new vector for TacAir aircraft design. This can be measured on a “Z” axis.

Historically, C3I was external to 1,2,3, and 4th Generations TacAir.  C3I’s goal was enhancing fleet wide combat performance for all Type/Model/Series (T/M/S) of TacAir. This is the modern AWACS battle concept.  Now using a three-dimensional graph the “Z-axis” takes airpower into a totally different domain.The shift is from externally provided C3I to C4ISR-D in the cockpit carried by the individual air platform. This is the revolutionary step function that breaks the linear progression of previous Generations. The “Z” axis in which the F-35 is the prototype for the first “C4ISR –D (for decision) cockpit”

The F/A-18 does not have this capability and is only tactically tethered to the CVN-CBG or long fixed prepared runways.

Secretary Work should look at Northern Edge 2011 for further guidance to answer his questions and be informed as well by the F-35 performance vis a vis the F-18. He doesn’t need to look at India.This year provided an opportunity to observe the performance of the F-35 JSF systems in multiple robust electronic warfare scenarios. The AN/APG-81 active electronically scanned array radar and AN/AAQ-37 distributed aperture system were mounted aboard Northrop Grumman’s BAC 1-11 test aircraft. Making its debut, the AN/AAQ-37 DAS demonstrated spherical situational awareness and target tracking capabilities. The DAS is designed to simultaneously track multiple aircraft in every direction, which has never been seen in an air combat environment. A return participant, the AN/APG-81 AESA demonstrated robust electronic protection, electronic attack, passive maritime and experimental modes, and data-linked air and surface tracks to improve legacy fighter situational awareness.

It also searched the entire 50,000 square-mile Gulf of Alaska operating area for surface vessels, and accurately detected and tracked them in minimal time. Navy Cmdr. Erik Etz, the deputy mission systems integrated product team lead from the F-35 JSF Program Office, said the rigorous testing of both sensors during Northern Edge 2011 served as a significant risk-reduction step for the F-35 JSF program. “By putting these systems in this operationally rigorous environment, we have demonstrated key war fighting capabilities well in advance of scheduled operational testing,” Commander Etz added. Holding the exercise in June added seasonal weather challenges for system operators to adapt to and overcome. Inclement and cloudy weather hampered in-flight visibility. The DAS was significant in providing clear and discernable horizons, and views of ground features and nearby aircraft. It also wasn’t dark enough for testing night-vision functions. A surrogate test visor was used for displaying DAS imagery to the operators. “The implications of F-35 JSF sensor systems for air-land-sea battle are immense,” said Peter Bartos, Northrop Grumman’s test director. “The testing at Northern Edge 2011 provided the opportunity to confirm the maturity and operational utility of key capabilities, and to identify any areas that might need refinement before entering formal operational testing on the F-35 JSF airframe.”

(For a further discussion of these capabilities see

Another major issue with the memo is that, until the Navy disavows the “analytical slur” of a Trillion Dollar F-35 cost analysis, their cost analytical capability is suspect even if they claim transparency.

The trillion-dollar number comes from projected 2065 dollars; and in constant 2002 dollars would be in the 400 billion dollar range.  And if you projected the cost of the legacy fleet in those questionable 2065 dollars the cost of sustainment would be north of 4 trillion dollars.There are a number of other issues with how the memo was scoped or written.  Most stunningly, the author ignores the results of the Indian competition whereby the Indians did not consider this aircraft to be competitive. The F-18 was rejected by India in large part because it was not seen as a platform on which one could build the future. Why is it even being discussed as a “way ahead” asset in this memo? Why is the Secretary of State trying to interest the Indians in the F-35?  She seems to get it.The F-35 is a neck down asset-also to be used by AF and allies so global sustainability is a huge factor. Jointness with AF and Allies is an important consideration. No allied consideration seems in sight in this memo. The combat impact of operating collaborative fleets is nowhere in sight in this memo.

There is a maintenance revolution on the way with the new digital systems within the F-35. Necking down on T/M/S and having a computer sensor revolution for “gripes” on the airframe/systems is an invaluable cost savor in personnel, sustainability on logistics and time on the ground for turning and burning to sortie back into the fight. F-35 T/M/S is the building block “glue” that creates the honeycomb C4ISR-D grid that can network on ALL evolving 21st Century combat technology–AEGIS, UAS revolution, LCS and new ARG ships being built. This phrase can be overused but it truly is a “force multiplier” asset.

The enormity of our Pacific challenges and the fact the F-35B can join the distributed Gator Fleet is a combat multiplier that doubles our presence with 5th Gen capability-F/A-18 can not do that.

And even discussing remotely piloted aircraft without assessing the impact of the cyber age is a key failure in looking at the air-breathing asset dynamic. The issue of ” Cyber warriors Vs UAS drivers” has not been resolved. The cyber vulnerabilities of unmanned aircraft are an Achilles heals until resolved. The past is not the prologue to the future. UAVs are part of the future of airpower not the future of airpower.Another practical issues, is that older Navy Carriers can be modified to join the “Gator Force.” This physically could be done (at a modification cost)  –F-35B, MV-22s, CH-53Ks Zulu Cobras, and at least a BLT could operate from 4.5 five acres of sovereign airfield. However, the Navy may have determined that it maybe more productive to retire a Carrier and take the savings to convert to more modern Amphibs that can sortie F-35Bs.

The Navy can easily step down the number of Carrier Air Wings to begin to plus up the air components on Amphib decks. Navy leaders with vision have already begun this process.“The reason for the group’s reassignment? To take the place of the recently deactivated Carrier Strike Group 7, stationed in San Diego, Calif. Taking CSG-7 out of the fleet leaves the Navy with only nine operational carrier strike groups.”

History has shown that the USN Carrier Admirals have postured for the Battle of Midway for 75 years and this has been very successful for Deterrence and contributed to our great Cold War victory. That posturing validated Admiral Moffet’s vision in 1922. However, the true combat reality is, since the end of WW II, Navy Air has been used in combat against targets on land.In another first rate bit of reporting by AOL’s Carlo Munoz it is clear why distributed F-35s linked to a fleet SM- 3 missile batteries on AEGIS ships is a real battle winning combination. Combining the F-35 with AEGIS/SM-3 directly addresses the “wasting asset” argument because a system real time sensor/shooting link, F-35/AEGIS/SM-3 can mitigate the PLA and other countries IRBMs incoming missile threat. (North Korea and Iran?).

“The newest version of the SM-3 missile, the Block IIB, is actually designed to extend the range of previous variants so it can hit long-range threats.”

Taking advantage of one of the most unique missile shots in history and building forward the F-35/Aegis/SM-3 sensor shooter combination will be the best in the world. The Surface Navy’s huge success was reported in numerous press reports in February 2008-“A U.S. Navy AEGIS warship, the USS Lake Erie, fired a single modified tactical Standard Missile-3, hitting the satellite approximately 247 kilometers (133 nautical miles) over the Pacific Ocean as it traveled in space at more than 17,000 mph.”The fundamental point is that regardless of basing mod, the Air Force, Navy, and Marines must establish air dominance and for AA combat capability theF-35A (USAF) F35B (USMC) and F-35C (USN) are essentially equal.Critics have pointed out that the F-35B has more limited range, however VSTOL aircraft will be distributed among fleet assets because of unique flight characteristics. Thus, the range differential for air-to-air combat is a moot point for a cockpit that senses threats more than 800 miles away and can link to SM-3.

Additionally, in the range/basing trade off for air-to-ground missions because of VSTOL the advantage always goes to F-35B. Therefore, from a distributed combat capability on the high seas with networked F-35Bs to support moving the infantry ashore the F-35B provides “staying” air power. Navy/Marine con-ops for amphibious operations make it the most unique and lethal agile combat force in the world.The value of VSTOL sortie rates in support of troops in combat shows us Desert Storm is a perfect example.However, there is one critical point for the future, except for VSTOL capability, the F-35B is most definitely NOT son of AV-8.

Marine squadron’s with the AV-8s Harrier were land based up close to the action, while there were time delays of Marine F/A-18s flying from runways hundreds of miles away and even more time delays for Navy F/A-18 Carrier pilots who had to go even further to get to the fight. This historical combat example shows the value of VSTOL in not trading distance for performance.The same is true for sortie rates by Marines flying AV-8s in Afghanistan and F/A-18 pilots flying off decks significantly far away. The value of proximity, after air dominance was established is playing out in the current NATO Libyan Air War.

This capability is something enemies of America would forget at their peril.  Navy and Marine squadron pilots are courageous and have mastered the intangibles of training and battle proven tactics.  State-of the-art dynamic training and tactics are never an issue for Naval Aviators. As Top Gun states “you fight like you train.”  For both Navy and Marine combat aviators it is a matter of simply procuring the best aircraft for their mission.As the Peoples Republic of China modernizes and quest for a Blue Water combat fleet, the newer CBGs (Ford Class (CVN-78) CVN-79 is USS John F Kennedy and CVN-80 yet to be named) can sink the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ships.  Perhaps with some help from subs and B-2s.

A CBG with an air wing complement of F-35Cs networking with Air/Sea battle assets; F-22, B-2, AEGIS, subs, cruise missiles, PGMs UAS, Robots and lasers and allies is a real Deterrence force and if need be a force for “Victory At Sea”.

Now with F-35B AA capability Marine F-35Bs can make a significant contribution to self-defense for the ARG fleet. The F-35B answers both the Marine con-ops for AA success in the Air Dominance fight by both bring self-defense to the ARG and landing force and also augmenting the Navy CBG for “Big Navy” air defense in the transit to the objective.However, if forced to take F-35C then Marine squadrons cannot return the favor to the ARG and the infantry because of the need for much longer prepared runways. Anchoring Marine squadrons with F-35Cs tethered to CBG will severely limit Marine combat planning, OODA agility and flexibility.  This is especially important in conjunction with the equally revolutionary MV-22s and the combat requirement to “land the landing force” ashore with air cover.Any 3000’ hard straight surface is a potential USMC airfield with resupply assured through C-130, MV-22s and precision AF airdrop. Don’t take my word for it.  Look at what the TACC commander had to say with regard to the synergy between the USMC approach and the revolution in air dropping.

The simple answer to the Under Secretary’s three-page memo is clear: the Marines get all F-35Bs and the Navy takes the F-35C.The Marine F-35Bs can defend the ARG Navy/Marine team and as required augment fleet air defense-while not being tethered to CBG Blue Water maneuvering requirements.Conversely, the Marines not having the F-35C will not tether the CBG to protecting the landing force.Both USMC F-35Bs and USN F-35Cs can be complementary in mutual support while retaining freedom of independent maneuver for both the ARG and CBG as the battle tempo and threat dictate.No other force in the world will be able to do this and the technology is with us today it just takes the political will to bring it all together.

Plus the F-35B may have an emerging market—Israel, Twain, Korea—since all three countries are significantly concerned about enemy attacks for runway denial.

The F-35 is the glue that makes all the elements of the AIR/LAND/SEA battle come together “no platform fights alone”. With the F-35B the entire USN/USMC con-ops is enabled for the first time in history to actually land anywhere across a wide variety of terrain features.The Marine/Navy team can plan to set up the attack from both an unexpected vector and also put natural barriers where the enemy can not easily get at the Amphib forces while they are building up on land to destroy the enemy.History shows this is most likely 21st Century mission for America, — from the Sea to the Sea—no more nation building and occupation.“withdrawal