Shaping a Pacific Strategy IV


10/11/2011 – The approach we are building is from the ground up – quite literally.  The US to protect its economic interests and sovereignty needs to deploy forward throughout the Pacific.

We started with the USCG and its everyday forward deployments in the North and South Pacific.  And our interview with the senior USCG commander for the Pacific underscored the centrality of forward presence, including in the Artic, although the US is not engaging with significant assets in the Arctic acting as a “reluctant” Arctic power in the face of all the other powers who are not.

At the heart of our approach to the Pacific is leveraging all deployed forces through systems of connectivity but do so in a scalable manner.  Rather than thinking of low and high end operations, we are thinking of a spiral of capabilities which allow one to leverage forces engaged initially on lower end operations to be part of a scalable capability which can go to the high end relatively quickly.

The key in this strategy is that any adversary will look at lower end assets such as the LCS or the NSC and see then as connected in a honeycomb whereby that platform represents a rapidly scalable force.  No platform fights alone.  An adversary who attacks an LCS cannot assume that he will be facing air assets off of an ARG, and CVN or off a land-base.

(Credit: SLD)(Credit: SLD)

A forward deployed LCS is the next key element for building enduring presence and engagement.  By forward deploying a significant number of LCSs to the Pacific, one can engage in operations while operating from the ports of core allies and partners.

Gaining geographical knowledge and cooperative capabilities with a variety of allies and partners in the region is a sine qua non of LCS success.   By operating in the littorals, the LCSs will provide a core competence in working with allies and partners in dealing with various threats, piracy, counter mining, counter-narcotics, espionage from the sea, etc.

With the very significant decline in US naval and USCG ships, the shortage of assets to play a role in resolving such crises has fallen below the red line.  Building the LCS and FORWARD DEPLOYING these assets to be available to have networked with allies and partners is crucial.

No platform; no presence; no capability to play a role protecting your interests.  No platform fights alone, so the LCS’s forward deployed can work with others, become fully networked with its C4ISR D capabilities to work in a crisis situation with local forces.

The LCS can operate in shallow waters and move to a crisis with speed.  As the recently retired CNO put it: The speed, the shallow draft allows us to get into places we haven’t been able to get into before, allows us to respond in ways haven’t been able to respond before.

Choke points involve green and brown water operational conditions.  The LCS is optimized for such conditions and can protect against or resolve threats to the choke points to keep US commerce flowing.  The US needs assets, which can into small operational spaces to find and root out the forces threatening economic interests.

And the LCS is well configured to deal with the mining threats, which can be posed to the choke points as well.  According to a recent article on the LCS, “The back of the ship is currently equipped with a big, black submarine-type vessel from a room deep inside the ship.  If they come across what they think is a mine, they can attach a camera that’s powerful enough to capture an image of a quarter on the sea floor.”

The ability of the LCS to link with other assets – US, allied, and partner – is a key quality of how the ship can work to provide for success in security operations.

As one observer has put it:

The LCS would become the C2 focus platform as well as the launch platform for H-60s, Firescouts, etc.  The maritime patrol aircrafts, working with the High Altitude Airship and the PTDS would be able to provide widespread overlapping ISR coverage. With regard to the PTDS, as I pointed out earlier, one would be deployed ashore, and the other three would be mounted on unused offshore oil platforms. Also, the LCS can be linked to other maritime assets to execute the mission as required leveraging this ISR information.

The LCS goes from security to lower-end defense missions.  When connected to the newly enabled ARG the LCS becomes a key element of littoral operations which are truly scaleable.

These two forces – the LCS and the newly configured ARG – can be conjoined and forged into an enlarged littoral combat capability.  But without the newly configured ARG, and the core asset, the F-35B, such potential is undercut.

(On the newly configured ARG, please see

  • A newly configured USMC ARG is emerging from several new assets:
  • The new ARG built around the LPD 17 has a larger deck to operate from, with modern C2 capabilities.
  • The F-35B can be launched as a 360 degree presence asset to do electronic warfare, C4ISR and preparation for kinetic or non-kinetic strike.
  • The CH-53K can take off from the amphibious ships and carry three times the cargo of a CH-53E, to include 463L pallets (normally used in KC-130s).
  • The USMC Ospreys can support insertion operations with speed and range.

What the newly equipped ARG does is provide a significant shaping function for the President.  And this shaping function allows significant flexibility, any hard 3000 foot surface is available for the Navy/Marine amphibious forces to seize and hold. This world class uniquely American battle capability is a redefinition of the dichotomy between hard and soft power.

And such capability in turn draws upon the decade of innovation which the USAF has engaged in in shaping the Air Dropping Revolution. As the commander of the Tanker Airlift Control Center (TACC) underscored:

Question: When you put that data out there about air dropping trends, it’s impressive in and of itself, but when you think of the CONOPS implications they are significant as well. I don’t even need to use roads to actually start inserting a force. Interestingly for the Marines when they’re looking at the amphibious ready group (ARG) and what they could do with the future ARG, with their MC-130Js that can land in 3,000 feet or less, the Ospreys and the B’s that they could put basically on almost any paved highway worldwide.  They could be anywhere in the world, and then people say, “Well how would you supply them,” and I would say, “Well what do you think we’ve been doing in the last ten years?” So if we marry up this revolutionary air dropping capability with projection of force from the sea, we could have a much more flexible and powerful insertion force if we wanted to.

General Allardice: I agree.  Our new air dropping capabilities can be used to support our global operations in new and innovative ways.  And honestly, innovation is really the essential takeaway.  Through collaboration we are able to optimize the performance of the global mobility enterprise and orient it toward the effect we need.  There will always be a tension between capacity and requirements, but we have found a way to manage it that allows us to respond rapidly and address those tensions in ways that would be much more difficult without the processes we have in place.

The USN-USMC amphibious team can provide for a wide-range of options for the President simply by being offshore, with 5th generation aircraft capability on board which provides 360 situational awareness, deep visibility over the air and ground space, and carrying significant capability on board to empower a full spectrum force as needed.

Now add the LCS.  The LCS provides a tip of the spear, presence mission capability.  The speed of the ship allows it to provide forward presence more rapidly than any other ship in the USN-USMC inventory.

It was said in fighter aviation “speed is life” and in certain situations the LCS can be paid the same complement.  The key is not only the ships agility and speed but it can carry helicopters and arrive on station with state-of-the art C4ISR capabilities to meld into the F-35B combat umbrella.

Inserting an LCS into the Maersk Alabama incident can see an example of the impact of speed.  As one naval analyst put it, the impact would have been as follows:

LCS at 45kts would have been on scene in less than 7 hours (6.7), or 37% sooner than a ship transiting at 28 kts.

  • LCS fuel consumption for such a sprint 40% less than the 28 kt sprint.
  • LCS would consume less than 23% of her fuel capacity in such a sprint.
  • A helo launch within 150 nautical miles from Maersk Alabama puts helo overhead within four hours (4.3) from the time of the initial tasking.
  • Two H-60’s permits LCS to maintained a helo overhead Maersk Alabama for a sustained period of time.

With a response time of four hours the probability of thwarting a piracy attack is increased—especially if the naval ship is called upon the first realization of the targeted ship’s entry into piracy-infested waters.

If an LCS was tasked to respond when Maersk Alabama encountered the first group of pirates craft on 7 April 2009, it would have arrived on scene well in advance of the attack on 8 April and may well have prevented it.

And if you add the LCS to the USN-USMC amphibious team you have even more capability and more options.  As a senior USMC MEU commander has put it:

You’re sitting off the coast, pick your country, doesn’t matter, you’re told okay, we’ve got to do some shaping operations, we want to take and put some assets into shore, their going to do some shaping work over here.  LCS comes in, very low profile platform.  Operating off the shore, inserts these guys in small boats that night.  They infill, they go in, their doing their mission.

The LCS now sets up — it’s a gun platform.  It’s a resupply, refuel point for my Hueys and Cobras.
Now, these guys get in here, okay.  High value targets been picked out, there is an F-35 that’s doing some other operations.  These guys only came with him and said hey, we have got a high value target, but if we take him out, we will compromise our position. The F-35 goes roger, got it painted, got it seen.  This is what you’re seeing, this is what I’m seeing.  Okay.  Kill the target.  The guys on the ground never even know what hit them.

In World War II the Imperial Japanese Navy Admirals were said to call the US PT, or Patrol Torpedo Boats—“Devil Boats”—The LCS is not a PT boat but the LCS ocean presence with 21st Century capabilities may make it a modern “Devil Boat” to vex any enemy combat action.

Similar to the PT boats of WWII the LCS by itself has limited staying power; connected to the ARG, the LCS announces presence and is connected to significant full spectrum combat capability.

Several LCS’s could be deployed with Osprey and F-35B cover.  The F-35B provides the 360 degree multiple of hundreds of miles coverage.  The LCS becomes a node in the combat system of the F-35 and any weapons on the LCS can be cued up by the F-35B.

With the new aviation assets, the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) can be split at sea allowing it to cover hundreds of miles more than historical operations with unexpended speed and maneuverability..  And adding an LCS to each of the disaggregated elements can further enhance the presence and combat functions of the MEU.

The recent operation of the Osprey in Libyan operations demonstrated how this game-changing asset allows for significant logistics support for deployed LCSs and ARGs.

As the ACE commander put it:

It completely changes the game for the ARG/MEU, it changes the game for how the Marine Corps does business. I didn’t fully realize, nor appreciate this until I was operating in some of these locations during our deployment.

Once we got into the Med for the Libyan operations during Operation ODESSEY DAWN, Naval Air Station Sigonella was our only forward support base.

The Osprey functioned as a force multiplier in these circumstances. I could fly 300 miles plus from the USS Kearsarge to Naval Air Station Sigonella, land, get a quick hit of gas if needed, put five, six, seven thousand pounds of gear, equipment, troops, parts, and be back quickly to the ship within 2.5 hours.

Half of our MV-22s were conducting combat operations in Afghanistan while we were conducting combat operations off the coast of Libya aboard the USS Kearsarge.  So you can do the math:  Half of the Osprey’s conducting combat operation in Afghanistan and the other half performing combat resupply, and TRAP operations off the coast of Libya.

I wouldn’t have even fathomed this expeditionary and amphibious capability 10 years ago. Also, the Ospreys from Afghanistan flew directly to Souda Bay, Crete and then onto Naval Air Station Signalla, Italy.  This trip is a 3500 NM transit.  This has been the longest in our short history, and they did it in one day.  You can’t even begin to argue or compare and contrast these facts with the CH-46E.

The glue which generates LCS-ARG synergy are the aviation assets on the two entities, notably the Osprey and F-35B which have the speed and range to create a moving 360 degree combat and presence bubble over an operation.  Without that glue, these platforms become disaggregated and vulnerable.  Linked together, the resulting synergy creates a force multiplier effect.

And such a multiplier effect can have a significant deterrent effect.  General “Dog” Davis, the Commander of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Cherry Point, North Carolina, underscored such an impact when discussing the newly enabled ARG.

I’m Muammar Gaddafi.  I’m whoever, and I’ve got an ARG with this new gear embarked – and I can’t help but think its going to change the way I view that force.  That ARG can reach out and touch me from long range, landing high-end infantry forces deep inside my territory, and do so with a speed that twice as fast as anyone else can.   Our MEUs have never been used as effectively as they are today.  These new capabilities are going to make them exponentially more potent and useful to our nation’s leadership.

The F-35Bs give the new ARG a very high-end air superiority fighter, that’s low observable if I want it to be.  I can roll from Air to Air to Air to Ground quickly and be superior to all comers in both missions.  That’s bad news for our adversaries.  I can use the F-35s to escort the V-22s deep into enemy territory.  With those V-22s we can range out to a 400-500-mile radius from the ship without air refueling.  I can go deliver Marines deep in the enemy territory or wherever and do it at 250 miles an hour, so my speed of action, my agility is exponentially increased, and I think if you’re a bad guy, that would probably give you a reason to pause.  It’s a very different animal that’s out there.    We are good now, but will be even more so (by more than a factor of two in the future).

I also have significant mix and match capability.  And this capability can change the impact of the ARG on the evolving situation.  It is a forcing function enabled by variant mixes of capability. If I wanted to strip some V-22s off the deck, to accommodate more F-35s – I could do so easily.  Their long legs allow them to lily pad for a limited period of time — off a much large array of shore FOBs – while still supporting the MEU.   It’s much easier to do that in a V-22 than it is a traditional helicopter.

I open up that flight deck, or I can TRANSLANT or PAC additional F-35s.  If I had six on the deck and I want to fly over another six or another four, we could do it rather quickly.  Now the MEU has ten strike platforms.  So if I need to have a TACAIR surge for a period of time, that deck provides a great platform for us.  We’ve got the maintenance onboard that ship, so we can actually turn that Amphib very quickly from being a heliocentric Amphib to a fast jet Amphib. Conversely, I could also take the F-35s off, send them to a FOB and load it up with V-22s, 53Ks, or AH-1Zs and UH-1Ys.

Flexible machines and flexible ships.  The combination is exceptional.

We will have a very configurable, agile ship to reconfigure almost on a dime based on the situation at hand.  I think the enemy would look at the ARG as something completely different from what we have now. I think we have to change the way we do things a bit in order to allow for that, but I think we will once we get the new air assets. The newly enabled ARG, or newly whichever the term you’re using, will force our opponents to look at things very differently.  We will use it differently, and our opponents are going to look at it differently.

Finally, being connected to the newly enabled ARG can intelligently facilitate LCS modernization.  The LCS can carry a range of assets, from missiles, to helos, to unmanned assets, to a complement of distributed “cyber warriors” all of which can much more potency by being part of the ARG team.  The F-35B can perform the function of the battle manager, without the presence of large USAF aircraft, or a carrier presence.  This is truly a combat revolution in the making.

We will next like at an aspect of crafting the honeycomb over the Pacific, namely creating an ISR grid over the Pacific built in part on the 12th AF model of working with the Dominican Republic.

This is a contribution to the strategic whiteboard.