The Italian Carrier, the F-35B and The Future


10/31/2011 by Ed Timperlake

“Can’t anybody here play this game?” Casey Stengel

More than three months have passed since Undersecretary Robert Work’s  July 7th 2011 Memo “Navy Tactical Air (TACAIR) Portfolio Analysis-Warfighter Capability and Affordability Trades”

The memo was written while U.S. forces were engaged in combat in Operation “Odyssey Dawn” over the skies of Libya.

(On the nature of Libyan coalition operations see or

Given the importance of Italy as an ally, and a key global player, why would DOD not support the F-35B? Why trash an Italian carrier because the inside the beltway point can’t stop navel gazing? Credit Image: Bigstock

But it is important to first put the Undersecretary’s Memo in proper context. Naval Academy Midshipman during “Plebe Summer” for my generation at Annapolis would march across the Yard to Mahan Hall in the evening to watch the great series “Victory at Sea.” I was in the Class of 1969, Admiral Mullen who achieved the pinnacle of Military success as Chairman Joint Chief of Staff (CJCS) was in the Class of 1968.

Consequently, in a very good piece of reporting Christopher P Cavas in Armed Forces Journal captures CJCS Mullen’s vision for a Thousand Ship Navy:

The Thousand-Ship Navy is one of three overlapping strategy initiatives now in development. In 2006, Mullen called for the Navy to develop a new Global Maritime Strategy to guide its concepts of naval operations and proposed a concept called Global Fleet Stations to build relationships and support forward presence in countries around the globe. Taken together, the efforts are aimed at positioning the Navy to operate against a range of concentrated or diffuse threats ranging from major international competitors to individual terrorists.

In putting out these ideas, Mullen has stressed that they are operating concepts — not acquisition programs. The idea is to change on an international scale how people do business and operate with one another, not to add to the Navy’s already stretched budget. Mullen has been tireless over the past year in preaching the virtues of global maritime cooperation and urging the formulation of the TSN.

First, why a Nation of 135 Million Americans could produce the mighty Navy of “Victory at Sea” while our current population of over 300 Million is having trouble in reaching fewer than 300 ships is amazing. Nevertheless, Admiral Mullen is a serious man and is making a serious point about the need for allies and as the USMC saying goes “good on em” for trying.

Now let’s compare the Chairman’s vision with the current thinking and actions of the civilian leadership of the Department of the Navy.

Specifically, it is now time to revisit Undersecretary Work’s July “Tac-Air” Memo, because as written it has a huge flaw—it doesn’t take into account the consequences of any analysis to our trusted allies.

Consider this Part Deux.

As the memo was written NATO, with U.S. Air Combat Operations were underway in the Libyan Air Campaign. Flying from the Navy Marine team of Amphib force USMC aviators in Helo’s, MV-22s and AV-8s all sortied to attack Libya. French, British, Italian and other NATO allied airpower from land and sea bases unleashed hell with a significant assist from subs and surface fleet elements.

Essential to the US effort were land bases and port facilities in Italy from the Naval Air Station in Signonella Italy to the USAF at Aviano Italy.  Naples was, as always, a safe harbor for the US Navy.

In fact, never forgetting the sacrifice of military families a PAO note from US Naval Support Activity Naples says it all about the Navy Family and ultimately what Navy presence in Italy means


The “With You All the Way!” deployment kit is designed to support families with children ages six years and older that have a family member deployed with the U.S. military. The kit is filled with resources that help and comfort military children and their families.

While US is in combat flying from Italy and our ships are at sea US families in Italy are comforted by “Big Bird” and all his friends on Sesame Street

USO Naples and MWR are proud to present the Sesame Street Show live at the Youth Center gym on the Support Site July 22. To please as many kids as possible, there will be two shows: 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

So let’s specifically take Italy as the example to examine the consequences of U.S. myopic “Navel” gazing. From day one after 9/11, Italy was with us in Afghanistan operations and they have always been uniquely positioned and trusted allies invaluable in both basing and support.

Currently, there is buzz that USN may mothball the USS George Washington and consequently the USN will lose an entire Carrier Battle Group. This is going on while the F-35B debate is being pulled down by bogus cost numbers and a very weak understanding of the con-ops of the distributed agile “no platform fights alone” revolution underway.

The debate is so ugly that speculation is made that the F-35B is on the chopping block—that unfounded rumor is very hurtful.

It is amazing to me how truly “inside the beltway” and myopic this F-35B debate has become. We have allies counting on us and trusting the US and somehow they have been totally lost in the debate.

In our inside the beltway culture that all those arguing costs numbers and others who are assertional cubical commandos have totally ignored the Italian contribution to NATO and the Med.

The Italian commitment of a Billion dollars to build a beautifully designed Aircraft Carrier for the F-35B is a tribute to the faith and commitment the Italian Government made for the US to keep it’s word.  Tragically, this is nowhere to be found in the Undersecretary’s memo.

The F-35 is part of enabling a coalition of like-minded states and shaping a global fleet capability.  Allies worldwide are building ships upon which the F-35B could land and operate.  Yet the myopic IOC cost focus, forgets the capability issue and notably coalition capability.  In a cost downturn, the US would wish to have less or more allies?  The US would wish to have a globally enabled fleet of C4ISR D aircraft or stovepiped fleets located on specific US decks?

A key part of the 1,000 ship Navy, if the US honors its commitments.

The George Washington will be replaced by the Italians, if the US honors its commitment to build the F-35B.  The US is clearly on probation here with regard to a core coalition partner who generously allows the US to operate off of Italian soil.  As the USN considers its options, it would be useful to remember that throwing the Italian carrier into the dust heap of history by not building the F-35B makes NO strategic sense.

What is the strategic value of Signonella, Aviano and Naples?  Admiral Mullen directed plans to create  an alliance toward a 1000 ship Navy while the Navy civilian leadership totally ignores that fact. All this folderol is over a trivial backward looking cost debate based on one of the most bogus cost documents ever produced “the trillion dollar F-35” Not good all around.