Pacific Strategy XV: Basing the Honeycomb


10/27/2011 – A key element of understanding a scalable presence strategy is basing.  Basing of the force in the Pacific is a function of several key capabilities:

  • Sebasing;
  • Partners and Allies Connected Capabilities;
  • The F-35 and Re-crafting Land Basing

Presence is rooted in basing; scalability is inherently doable because of C4ISR enablement, deployed decision-making and honeycomb robustness.

We will address the central role of re-crafting the weapons enterprise as a key enabler of the honeycomb and its capabilities in the next piece.

The Seabase

The seabase is a core presence asset in the Pacific.  What they can carry to the fight and how connected they are to other assets to shape a scalable impact define the impact of deployed ships and sub-surface elements.  We have seen in the Libyan operation a good reminder or harbinger of things to come.

In a piece on AOL Defense the impact of the seabase was highlighted in some detail.

What the ARG ended up doing was re-shaping the next phase of operational history. The recently departed Secretary of Defense confused amphibious with Inchon, whereas the ARG really is a seabase from which one can conduct a variety of operations across the spectrum of warfare.

The ARG is in the throes of fundamental change, with new ships and new planes providing new capabilities. These new capabilities are nicely congruent with the Libyan operational experiences. Given the Marines battle hymn, it seems that “off the shores of Tripoli” can have a whole new meaning for the evolution of the US force structure.

The ARG was used in several unprecedented ways in the Libyan operation. First, the V-22 Osprey was a key element of changing how U.S. forces operated. The Osprey provided a logistical linchpin, which allowed the ARG to stay on station, and allowed the Harriers to generate greater sortie generation rates and ops tempo. The use of the Osprey in the operation underscored the game changing possibilities of the ARG in littoral operations of the future.

Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) executes a column maneuver. (Credit: US Naval Forces Europe, 6th Fleet Public Affairs 9/10/10)Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) executes a column maneuver. (Credit: US Naval Forces Europe, 6th Fleet Public Affairs 9/10/10)

For the Marine Expeditionary Unit, the combat elements might be on the ship, might be ashore, or might be in transit. The challenge for the MEU commander is to be able to concentrate force on the task at hand. Prior to the Libyan operations, Col. Dessens, the 26th MEU commander, faced the challenge of assembling his capability to fight the battle and then to be able to flexibly change the mix of forces at sea. What this meant was that some of his Ospreys were in Afghanistan, and not on his ARG ships.

The key point here is that the sea base, which in effect the ARG is, can provide a very flexible strike package. Given their proximity to shore, the Harriers could operate with significant sortie rates against enemy forces. Not only could the Harriers come and go rapidly, but the information they obtained with their Litening pods could be delivered to the ship and be processed and used to inform the next strike package. Commanders did not need a long C2 or C4ISR chain to inform combat. This meant that the ground forces of Gadaffi would not have moved far from the last positions Harriers noted before the new Harriers moved into attack positions. This combination of compressed C4ISR and sortie rates created a deadly combination for enemy forces and underscored that using sea bases in a compressed strike package had clear advantages over land-based aircraft several hours from the fight dependent on C4ISR coming from hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

One more point about the ARG’s operations. The Osprey and the Harrier worked closely together to enhance combat capabilities. One aspect of this was the ability of the Osprey to bring parts and support elements to the Harriers. Instead of waiting for ships to bring parts, or for much slower legacy rotorcraft to fly them out, the 300-mph Osprey could bring parts from land bases to keep the ops temp up of the Harriers.

The well known pilot rescue mission certainly highlighted how a vertically-launched aircraft working with the Osprey off of the ARG can create new capabilities. The elapsed time of authorization to the recovery of the pilot and his return to the USS Kearsarge was 43 minutes.

This rescue took place even though the US Air Force had a rescue helo aboard the USS Ponce. In my view, having discussed this with the relevant personnel, it was not used for two reasons. It would have gotten to the pilot much later than an Osprey team and the command and control would have been much slower than what the Marines could deliver. The key to the Marines’ C2 was that the pilots of the Ospreys and Harriers planned the operation together in the ready room of the USS Kearsarge. They did not meet in virtual space. They exchanged information in real time and were in the same room. They could look at the briefing materials together. The Harriers were informed by fresh intelligence ABOARD the USS Kearsarge. The sea base brought together the assets and intelligence to execute the mission.

If we look at the French experience several Libyan lessons can be highlighted. First, the centrality of leveraging multiple bases in a littoral operation is significant. The French used several land bases and incorporated the sea base – whether the carrier or their amphibious ships – to work with land-based aircraft. The U.S. Marines used their land base largely to supply the sea-based air ops via Ospreys. Second, having the C4ISR forward-deployed with the pilot as the key decision maker is crucial to mission success.

The classic Air Force CAOC system was challenged by what the Marines demonstrated in the operation; the French experience reinforces that lesson. In a recent story from London on AOL Defense, the point was made that some French pilots felt the release authority from Predator information was too slow. The interpretation was unhappiness with the US, but I would argue that it is more the case that the information in a fluid and dynamic situation must be provided in a more timely fashion than a system built for 1991 air operations permits. Third, new air capabilities make a significant difference. For the Marines, the Osprey was the game changer in this operation. For the French, it was the new recce pods off of the Rafales. Fourth, the dynamic targeting problem discussed in the first article was also highlighted by the USMC experience. Getting accurate information from the ground is central to operations.

The USN-USMC team has a number of new capabilities being deployed or acquired which will enhance their ability to do such operations. The F-35B will give the Marines an integrated electronic warfare and C4ISR capability. The new LPDs have significant command and control capabilities. The new LCS could provide — along with the Osprey — significant combat insertion capability for ground forces and rapid withdrawal capability.

For the French, UAVs could become wingmen for the Rafaels. Also, the role of C2 capabilities of the new amphibious ships were underscored as well. Fifth, the pick-up quality of this operation may become more a norm than an aberration in the future. The old paradigm of days or weeks of significant planning and then roll out of a fleet of C4ISR aircraft and other capabilities may be challenged.

Deploying air assets that can be tapped by the sea base to shape an operation may become a key requirement for future battles on the littoral. As with any operation, each one’s characteristics are unique and thus not predetermined. What the Marines and the French forces have demonstrated is that 2011 certainly is not Iraq 1991 or Bosnia 1996. (

Partners and Allied Capabilities

The reach from Japan to South Korea to Singapore to Australia is about how allies are re-shaping their forces and working towards greater reach and capabilities.  At the hear of such an effort will be adding the F-35s with Aegis to shape allied “capability bubbles” which can link effectively with deployed U.S. forces.  Shaping Aegis-F35 consortia able to cover the Pacific needs to be understood as a core strategic effort by the United States.

We have often argued that the F-35 is less about a plane than crucial capabilities for power projection and coalition interoperability.  No greater demonstration of this can be seen in the Pacific whereby the capacity to conjoin capabilities across the vast expanse of the Pacific is crucial to the entire set of players in the Pacific.

(For a discussion of how such an interaction works among the Arctic partners see

Japanese Aegis flight test. (Credit: US Naval Forces Central Command Public Affairs, 12/18/07)
Japanese Aegis flight test. (Credit: US Naval Forces Central Command Public Affairs, 12/18/07)

And the intersection between Aegis and the F-35 can provide for dynamic defense in support of forward presence and offensive operations. Missile defense is a global effort. It requires the global deployment of U.S. forces and the capability to connect those forces with those of its allies.

Joint and coalition concepts of operations are being shaped to ensure decision makers with the options of providing defense for allied deployed forces and the homelands of the U.S. and allies. As a global enterprise, missile defense will always be a work in progress ensuring that evolutions in sensor technologies are joined with defensive missiles in a joint and combined command and control system.

A key example of how multiple basing in the F-35 age can work will be seen with South Korea.  South Korea is defending itself against North Korea.  This means that it has defensive systems against missiles and a good Army capability,.  Now fast forward to the F-35 era.  Now the South Koreans follow the lead of the USAF in introducing As into the inventory.  Now defense and offense become transformed into strategic mobility.  And instead of investing in in place defensive systems able to do NOTHING but wait for an invasion, now the South Koreans have flexible forces which can operate to defend their country, participate in regional defense and to provide a global reserve capability.

And add the F-35Bs to the South Korean military and now you have significant capability to disperse force, complicate any North Korean attack AND this can be added to the mobile Naval force which the South Koreans are rolling out.  They can land on the Aegis or they can build an American class amphibious ship to add to their evolving capability.  The South Koreans know how to build ships and the US can see a significant growth in capability as the South Koreans build ships and participate in the world wide deployments of the F-35As and Bs.

As Defense News has noted: The KDX-III ship, armed with the up-to-date Aegis air warfare defense system, is the core of the Navy’s future “strategic mobile squadrons” consisting of 14,000-ton Dokdo-class landing platform vessels, 4,300-ton KDX-II Gwanggaeto the Great-class destroyers, 1,800-ton Type 214 submarines and other support vessels and anti-submarine Lynx helicopters, Navy officials said.

The modernized squadrons will enable South Korea to conduct blue-water operations both independently and jointly with its allies for purposes such as securing sea lanes for energy supplies, peacekeeping and control of maritime disputes with neighboring countries, they said.

The Navy plans to create a mobile squadron in 2010 and wants at least two more with the commissioning of additional Aegis destroyers, they said.

Now the deterrence of the PRC is enhanced as well because the mobility of operations FROM South Korea complicates PRC thinking.  There is NO SINGLE LINE of attack on US Forces.  If you target Guam, you have multiple bases from the sea and from land whereby the 360 degree enabled F-35s coupled with Aegis and other systems can provide an impossible situation to guarantee success with a large area single strike.

The U.S. Navy’s Aegis program is an important contributor to shaping the foundation for such a global system. Through initially foreign military sales programs in Japan and eventually cooperative commercial defense programs, Aegis has become part of the allied fleet. Today five allied navies have purchased or deployed the Aegis combat system: Japan, Spain, Norway, the Republic of Korea and Australia.

An additional collaborative aspect of the Aegis program has been the central role of Spain and its industry in introducing a frigate-sized Aegis ship to the world’s fleets. The Spanish frigate series, in turn, has shaped Norwegian and Australian options. Aegis has truly become a global enterprise.

While not all of these ships are tested to be BMD capable, the sensors on the Aegis system of all of these navies can play a role in a global sensor grid important to shaping missile defense capabilities worldwide.

And when one adds the consideration that the coming deployment of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the U.S. fleet and to U.S. and allied air forces will add significant sensor capabilities to the U.S. Navy as well as to allied forces (all of the current Aegis navies are potential candidates for the F-35). There is a significant 21st century opportunity to shape an integrated air-sea sensor net for the deployed fleets which provides, in turn, a growing capability to shape missile defense forces and protective cover for global presence forces.

These F-35-Aegis “offense and defense” bubbles can be networked throughout the Pacific to enhance the capability of any one national member of  the deployed force.  As such, it is a prime example of how assets of one nation can enhance the reach of another and to put in place a scalable capability for a honeycombed force.

The F-35 and Rethinking Basing

A good example of re-thinking basing was presented in an earlier posting, which focused specifically on the impact of the F-35B working with the USN and USAF team.

In the not two distant future the US Navy/Marine and USAF team may have to establish presence from the sea in a potential combat theater. The threat will be great: friendly forces can be intermixed with opponents who will do what ever it takes to win. From placing IEDs, to employing small unit ambushes, to spotting for artillery and Multiple Launch Rockets, the enemy will be unforgiving and aggressive. In addition there is a large land Army with armor and land-based precision weapons nearby to attack.

The opposing forces also have a tactical aviation component of Fighters and Attack Aircraft, along with Unmanned Aerial Systems and some proficiency in offensive “cyber war” ready to engage. To make it even more difficult the enemy has located and identified potential airfields that could be occupied and has targeted them to be destroyed by terminally guided cruise and intermediate range ballistic missiles.

Finally, the fleet off shore is vulnerable to ship-killing missiles. The problem for US war planners is to secure a beachhead and build to victory from that beginning. Traditionally, the “beachhead” was just that on a beach–but now it can be seizing territory inland first and attacking from the back door toward the sea to take a port and also grab an airfield.

The USAF flying high cover after being launched from bases far enough away to be safe from attack can establish Air Superiority, and the Navy Fighters can go on CAP (Combat Air Patrol) to protect the Fleet. Both services can launch offensive weapons from their TacAir also from B-2s, surface ships and subs. UAS can go into battle for ISR and offense “cyber” can be engaged. US “smart munitions” can attack enemy offensive rockets and missiles launch sites. There will be significant casualities on both sides.

But the Marines do the unexpected and land where the enemy does not have ease of access –a natural barrier perhaps, mountain range, water barrier, very open desert or even on the back side of urban sprawl—. Once established, logistical re-supply is a battle-tipping requirement.

Once ashore the one asset that can tip the battle and keep Tactical Aviation engaged in support of ground combat operations if runways are crated is the F-35B, because every hard surface road is a landing strip and resupply can quickly arrive from Navy Amphibious ships by MV-22s and CH-53K.

F-35B Taking off Aboard the USS Wasp (Credit: SLD)F-35B Taking off Aboard the USS Wasp (Credit: SLD)

The F-35B is a 5th Generation airborne stealth fighter with its own distributed intelligence center. Each aircraft has a total 360-degree knowledge. If the enemy launches an attack from the air or ground, airborne sensors can instantaneously pick up the launch. The battle information displayed in each F-35B can be linked to UAS drivers as well as ground and airborne command centers to coordinate both offensive and defensive operations.

The sortie rate of the aircraft is more than just rearm and “gas and go”: it is continuity of operations with each aircraft linking in and out as they turn and burn—without losing situational awareness. This can all be done in locations that can come as a complete tactical surprise –the F-35B sortie rate action reaction cycle has an add dimension of unique and unexpected basing thus getting inside an opponent’s OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) loop.

The sortie rate of the aircraft is more than just rearm and “gas and go”: it is continuity of operations with each aircraft linking in and out as they turn and burn—without losing situational awareness.

Enemy air is predictable by needing a runway and consequently all the problems of precision weapons crating their runways come into play for their battle plan—the F-35B does not have that vulnerability. (

And an additional posting added some important insights into how Aegis and F-35Bs working together allow for dynamic basing defense.

For example, some consider the F-35B a boutique niche aircraft only essential for Marine combat con-ops. From the perspective of working the Aegis/F35B relationship to provide for deployable defense underwriting a broader presence strategy, it should not.

The reason is simple, an F-35B can stand strip alert on any long runway, US or Allied. From a strategic point of view think of Guam, South Korea or in the Middle East on all long runways. As a crisis situation develops, the F-35Bs can be remotely placed in secret hardened bunkers and revetments and thus become a significant deterrence asset that can instantly sortie into combat and return to gas and go again and again.

By using a detachment of F-35Bs the issue of enemy runway area denial and need for rapid runway repair does not become a show stopper to ops-tempo both offensively and defensively.

Tie an F-35B to the Aegis and the entire “wasting argument” about asymmetric IRBM and enemy strike against our hard fixed land targets becomes moot. This is because Guam for example will still have air power in its defense. This principal can be applied globally.

The F-35B reverses the relationship between pre-defined operational bases and the aircraft. The aircraft no longer constrains the definition of an airfield.

As far as USAF and Allies a few Squadrons of F-35Bs could be an invaluable insurance asset to stay in the battle if runways are sucker punched by the crazy follow on to the “Dear Leader” in North Korea, or Iranian fanatics with IRBMs. Taiwan could also send a powerful signal to the PLAAF if we allowed them to purchase the F-35B.

The 21st Century US Military has the potential to be the most agile combat force in the world by leveraging the F-35B throughout the force, rather than considering this solely a USMC weapon system. (

An additional aspect of re-working both basing and allied capabilities will flow from the shift in the maintenance capabilities of the F-35.  The shift from local ownership of parts to a global sustainment system will have a significant impact on the functioning of bases.  Rather than having to operate as dynamic parking lots for planes, which will have to wait for parts from CONUS or Hawaii, forward, bases – allied or US can provide parts to the combat air force.

As an interview with Scott Ogden, former USAF maintenance official and now with Lockheed Martin underscored:

SLD: This is all built around a local ownership either by base or deployed squadron, so local ownership is the rule of thumb.

Ogden: Right.  All of your CONOPS and all of your traditional standard operating procedures are that you can operate as an independent unit, you’re staffed that way, and you’re manned that way.

That’s going to be the big cultural thing that will take some time for the synergies that we have and for people to understand that. Some services still today, as you have heard many times, do not want somebody else to have access to a part that they think is theirs.

SLD: This maintenance culture is based on several decades of historical experience.  But this experience is dysfunctional to the strategic environment in which we find ourselves.  We’re in a strategic environment where our allies and we, with probably the exception of Asians, have stringent defense budgets.  So you’re going to have less aircraft. You’re going to more frequently wish to leverage one another’s capabilities.

From an operational tempo point of view, if you continue to have this kind of segregated maintenance legacy, it’s going to ensure that basically the capability of our allies and ourselves collectively goes down if we don’t find a way to take advantage of the cultural revolution inherent in common technology.

Ogden: The challenge is to have the Services accept the cultural change that will afford them the ability to harvest the economies of scale, and the common spares pool.

Let’s say it’s an upgrade to an aircraft that you want to do and your aircraft are deployed into Europe, okay, normally we would never send an aircraft into Italy and contract with Italy to do an upgrade on an F-16. Even if they could, we would not do that.  We would go somewhere that it was US organization or US administered contract to do the upgrade.

Let’s say you land at a an F-16 base in Italy, you got to go back through your base supply to get a part shipped in to you with your crew to come out and take care of that airplane. Now the airplane sits on the ground until you get maintainers out there to take care of the airplane.

In the US Air Force process until an airplane is on your base for seven days, it still belongs to the unit that flew in the airplane. So if I’m flying cross-country, the unit, even if it is another F-16 base, they may help me, but they aren’t responsible for repairing that airplane till after seven days because that’s just the process that they do.

They’re going to say, “Okay, we’ll help you with the part.  We’ll do this.  We’ll give you a mechanic,” but most of the time you end up you take care of the airplane across country.

With the F-35A and the ALIS system, when the airplane drops in, we know what part, kit is available from what nearest base, we know a worldwide warehouse we would ship a part to a location to that tail number for that person to put that part on the aircraft and fix it.

This is because we have no contract limitations.  We know that we’re responsible for aircraft availability and if an aircrafts down, we know and see that immediately with ALIS and we make the determination to send the part right there.

It is not a matter of the base having to decide the prioritization going back to their own, working through their base supply.  And if it’s an Italian F-35 that lands a UK base, from a technological point of view it does not have to make a difference. The part would go right into the UK and be shipped to that tail number. (

Global sustainment is a core contributor to a significant shift in the utility of land bases and allows for encompassing land and sea bases into a comprehensive maintenance enterprise which can fuel significant sortie generation rates and re-shape combat dynamics and outcomes.

This is a contribution to the strategic whiteboard.