The Marines Work F-35B in Expeditionary Warfare Training


Multiple F-35B Lightning II’s with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 122, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, conduct vertical landings at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, April 6, 2021. 3rd MAW and I Marine Expeditionary Force continue to pave the road for the rest of the Marine Corps by providing relevant training with real-world applications to develop recognition primed decision making in preparation for future conflicts.

And the photos in the slideshow below show the Marines working narrow road expeditionary landing training at MCAS Yuma.

During a visit with the Marines last year in at Yuma MCAS, the role of the F-35 in the evolving force capabilities of the Marines as a full spectrum crisis management force was highlighted.

Specifically, during my visit to MAWTS-1 in September 2020, we focused on two core questions:

How is the Marine Corps going to contribute most effectively to the Pacific mission in terms of Sea Control and Sea Denial?

And how to best contribute to the defensive and offensive operations affecting the SLOCs?

Prior to my visit, I discussed the mobile basing piece with Major Brian “Flubes” Hansell, MAWTS-1 F-35 Division Head. A key aspect of what we discussed was the capability which the F-35 to both empower their expeditionary bases as well as contributing to the wider integration in the fleet approach being worked.

As Major Hansell put it: “By being an expeditionary, forward-based service, we’re effectively extending the bounds of the kill web for the entire joint and coalition force.”

During the visit, I continued the discussion first with the Col Gillette, CO of MAWTS-1, an experienced F-35 pilot, whom I first met at Eglin AFB who then returned to YUMA and transitioned in the first F-35 operational squadron deployed to Japan.

My colleague Ed Timperlake once characterized the coming of the F-35 global enterprise, or the ability of a wide range of U.S. service and allied air forces to integrated together over the extended combat space as the 21st century “big blue blanket.”

The “big blue blanket” for the US Navy in World War II referred to the very large fleet deployed throughout the Pacific to deal with the tyranny of distance.

Such a fleet does not exist today, nor will it. Airpower is the key to shaping today’s “big blue blanket,” with the F-35 global enterprise as a key enabler.

As Col. Gillette put it: “It is not only a question of interoperability among the F-35 fleet, it is the ability to have common logistical and support in the region with your allies, flying the same aircraft with the same parts. And the big opportunity comes with regard to the information point I made earlier. We are in the early stages of exploiting what the F-35 force can provide in terms of information dominance in the Pacific, but the foundation has been laid.

“And when we highlight the F-35 as the 21st century version of what the World War II Navy called the big blue blanket with the redundancy and the amount of information that could be utilized, it’s pretty astonishing if you think about it.

“The challenge is to work the best ways to sort through the information resident in the F-35 force and then how do you utilize it in an effective and efficient way for the joint force. But the foundation is clearly there.

For the discussions during this visit as well as other warfighting centers in the United States during 2020, see the following:

Danish Air Force Receives First F-35: A Key Building Block for Defense Transformation

On April 7, Denmark’s first F-35A, L-001, was delivered to the Royal Danish Air Force. The Kingdom of Denmark commemorated the milestone with members of the Ministry of Defence, Danish Defence, the Danish Defence Acquisition and Logistics Organization, the Royal Danish Air Force, U.S. Military Services, and industry partners at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas facility.

“The roll-out ceremony of our first F-35 is a huge milestone for Denmark. The F-35 will play a major transformational role, not only for the Danish Air Force but for the Danish Armed Forces,” said F-35 Joint Program Office, Denmark National Deputy, Col. Jonas Ottosen.

Denmark is the fifth European NATO nation to fly and operate the F-35. Their addition strengthens NATO’s fifth-generation airpower and unites them with the air defenses of the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, and Norway.

“Denmark has been a partner in the F-35 program for more than 20 years. The F-35 partnership is an essential platform that unites its participants. Operationally and strategically, the F-35 will surpass anything we can do with our current inventory. It will continue to strengthen cooperation with our partners and allies. For our defense industrial base, the program has been a catalyst for technological development, closer industrial cooperation, and positioning Danish companies in a globalized supply chain,” continued Col. Ottosen.

L-001 made its first flight in January 2021 and completed a series of comprehensive tests to ensure that all systems function properly in the aircraft before delivery. The aircraft will arrive at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona next week to facilitae the training of Danish F-35 pilots and maintainers.

The construction of brand new Danish F-35 facilities at Air Base Skrydstrup in Vojens, Denmark, specifically designed to support the fifth-generation aircraft, began in 2020. In October of 2023, Denmark is scheduled to receive their First F-35 Aircraft Arrival in-country.

The F-35 is the premier multi-mission strike fighter of choice for three U.S. services, seven international partners, and six Foreign Military Sales customers. The F-35 routinely demonstrates its unmatched capabilities at the hands of our joint and international warfighters, performing combat operations from land and the sea. The F-35 system combines stealth, advanced weapons and sensors, and information sharing with joint and allied forces to dominate current and future threats.

This article was first published on April 7, 2021 by the F-35 Program Office.

This is how the then head of the Danish Air Force, Major General Anders Rex put it with regard to the coming of the F-35 to Denmark:

5th Gen Enablement and the Evolution of Airpower: The Perspective of Major General Anders Rex


By Robbin Laird

During my most recent visit to Denmark, I had a chance to visit Royal Danish Air Force bases in the Jutland area.

This provided an opportunity to discuss the transition from an F-16 to an F-35 force as well as other changes involving connectivity and decision-making systems and approaches.

But prior to those visits, I had a chance to visit with the head of the Royal Danish Air Force, Major General Anders Rex.  In past discussions, we focused on coalition issues as well as fifth generation transition issues.

And in our most recent discussion, both came together in terms of the kinds of innovations which an all fifth-generation force like Denmark will need to make in terms of building its own capability and working those capabilities with Air Forces flying older aircraft as well.

Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and Australia will become all fifth-generation fighter forces; which provides opportunities as well as challenges in working with older generation fighter aircraft and more generally working connectivity with other air, ground and sea assets to deliver what might be called a fifth generation enabled force.

The Australians have been more forward leaning than most in terms of trying to think through the impact of building a fifth-generation force understood not simply in terms of adding the F-35 but transforming the force to become a lethal and effective integrated multi-domain force.

In fact, I last met Major General Rex in Australia last March where he attended the Airpower Conference and he clearly has worked with and has high regards for the RAAF and its Plan Jericho approach.  One aspect of the F-35 global enterprise is precisely coalition partners cross learning from one another as they stand up their F-35 squadrons.

According to Major General Rex: “The goal for our coalition and our alliance is to get the best out of what we have as a coalition force.  During Red Flag, the experiences we have been briefed on, fifth-generation aircraft make fourth-generation more lethal and survivable, and more effective.

“We could focus on the significant kill ratios which a fifth-generation aircraft can deliver. But that is not the sole focus. It is about how fifth generation aircraft lift the whole force so that the kill ratio for the entire force goes up exponentially.”

He emphasized the importance of combat learning associated with the new aircraft.

“When we were running our competition for a new fighter aircraft, I witnessed the operation of a Super Hornet F-squadron on the USS Nimitz carrier off the coast of San Diego.

“This was the latest variant of the Super Hornet which had just received a new AESA radar on it.

“And when we talked to the pilots, they made the point that there was no way they could have thought up or analyzed what they can use this radar for. Every single day they learned new things.

“That is how I see the kind of learning we are going to have operating the F-35 and more broadly the kind of co-learning which other platforms in the air, ground and naval forces will need to have as well to leverage what a fifth generation enabled force can bring to the fight.”

In effect, what Major General Rex was discussing was the opening of a significant aperture of co-learning, for example, in Danish terms, how the frigates can use their future SM-2s and SM-6s in conjunction with the SA and targeting capabilities which the F-35 would bring to the Danish force.

“Co-learning across the forces and the F-35 to the legacy platforms is a major challenge but a task which we need to master to get where we need to go as a Danish force, but even more significantly at the coalition level.”

And working with coalition partners who are not going to buy the F-35, Major General Rex underscored that the challenge was then “how do we elevate the effectiveness of those coalition partners?

“We need to focus on the broad co-learning challenge and how to elevate the combat force as a whole as the F-35 becomes a key force for change.”

Major General Rex underscored that this needed to become a core focus of exercises and training objectives within exercises, namely, co-learning between the F-35 and ground, air and naval elements both within F-35 nations as well as working with forces which do not have F-35.

A key example is the cross-border training the Norwegians do with the Finns and the Swedes.

The point of the cross training currently is that Norwegian F-16s work with Finnish F-18s and Swedish Gripens.

The Norwegians are shifting to F-35 and perhaps the Finns will as well. The challenge then is to make sure that the Gripens can work more effectively as a result of the upswing in multi-domain capabilities which the F-35 brings to a force.

In short, it is less about fourth-fifth generation aircraft integration and much more driving an air force forward in terms of the capabilities which F-35 multi-domain aircraft can provide and as that is done shape co-learning with legacy aircraft as well as with key ground and naval systems.

It is about innovations in concepts of operation and the co-learning process unleashed by a fifth generation enabled force.

And we were there at the beginning of the discussion in Denmark regarding its F-16 successor aircraft.

At the launch point was a very unusual development, namely, partnering between an Australian and Danish institute to discuss airpower evolution.

That discussion can be found in Joint By Design, chapter three.

The book is available in e-book, paperback and hardback versions.

The Strategic Shift and the Role of Airpower: A Discussion with Ben Lambeth


By Robbin Laird

I have been focused for several years on what I see as a clear and dramatic shift from how civilians and the military have looked at the land wars in the Middle East to now dealing with adversaries who have built forces for contested operations across the spectrum of operations.

We have a generation of civilian and military leaders who have not lived in the context of dealing with peer nuclear powers with significant conventional capability. It is not surprising that understanding of escalation management has atrophied.

The strategic shift has a very dramatic impact on maritime and airpower, which clearly should be the ascendent services in the Pentagon to sort through the way ahead. And integration of air and maritime power is the key to meeting the strategic interests of the United States.

But the U.S. Army still predominates with a Sec Def from the Army, a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs from the Army and two 4 Army Four Stars in a theater where the U.S. Army does not have the central, perhaps even a central role to play, namely in the Pacific.

So how do we make the transition?

How do we shape a relevant concept of operations?

And how do we stop ground pounders from thinking that they can put missiles into the first island chain or on allied soil ringing China without even considering their impact on escalation management with nuclear powers?

It is useful to remember that the Russians face three nuclear powers in the Atlantic; and the United States and its Pacific allies face three nuclear powers in the Pacific.

Recently, I reviewed the new book by Ben Lambeth which provide his assessment of the shift from the pure dominance over airpower of counterinsurgency operations to the fight against ISIS, a fight which required airpower to remove the Army’s shackles on its proper use against a state-like competitor.

I followed up from that review to talk with the author about how he came to write the book and his sense of the challenges moving forward beyond the land wars.

Question: Why did you write the book?

Lambeth: “Looking back on my collected work over the past two decades, I’ve made a productive career of writing in-depth air campaign assessments, starting out with my chapters that revisited both the Vietnam air war and Operation Desert Storm in a book of mine published in 2000 called The Transformation of American Air Power.

“In the years since then, I went on to produce even more detailed studies of NATO’s air war for Kosovo in 1999, of Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan that followed the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, and of the air contribution to the three-week major combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom in early 2003 that finally toppled Saddam Hussein.

“In light of that background, it seemed only natural that once our initially anemic response to the rise of ISIS in August 2014 eventually expanded into a more effective and sustained air effort, that I should take on a critical assessment of that campaign as well.”

Question: I was working for Mike Wynne at the time when the Sec Def and the Bush and then the Obama Administrations clearly cut back on the role of airpower and reduced it to support for the ground operations.

Was this legacy finally being shed in Operation Inherent Resolve?

Lambeth: “Clearly, as counterinsurgency operations became the predominant American way of war after 2003, the USAF lost a lot of muscle memory for doing much of anything else by way of higher-end force employment.

“And the predominant Army leadership at U.S. Central Command continued to apply its long-habituated Army thinking going forward into an entirely different situation that was presented by the rise of ISIS. A more assertive leadership in CENTCOM’s air component at the time would have pressed for a different response to the challenge it was handed in 2014 by arguing for targeting ISIS not as an insurgency, but rather as a self-avowed state in the making.

“However, CENTCOM’s commander, U.S. Army General Lloyd Austin III, simply assumed ISIS to be a regenerated Islamist insurgency of the sort that he was most familiar with, which it was not at all, and accordingly proceeded to engage it as just another counterinsurgency challenge.

“Eventually, his air component’s second successive commander, then-Lieutenant General C. Q. Brown, finally prevailed in arguing for deliberate strategic air attacks against critical ISIS infrastructure targets in both Iraq and Syria, not just for on-call air “support” to be used as flying artillery for the ground fight.

“One must remember that the vast majority of today’s serving U.S. Air Force airmen are only familiar with Operation Desert Storm from their book reading.

“And even much of the USAF’s more senior leadership today has never really been exposed to higher-end aerial warfare as we last experienced it over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003. Only now are we slowly coming to realize the opportunity costs that were inflicted by this neglect for nearly two decades, during which time we fixated solely on less-intense counterinsurgency warfare..”

Question: Then how do you see the challenge of transition posed by the strategic shift?

Lambeth: “It is clearly a significant one.

“And the continued absence of proper understanding where it matters most is suggested by the recent Army bid to deploy long-range missiles into the Pacific as one of their contributions.

“This is simply a crass attempted roles-and-missions grab in order to stay operationally relevant, yet in a theater in which airpower – both land- and sea-based –clearly offers the only cost-effective tool for addressing the challenges presented in that arena.

“In a way, we find ourselves today much like where we were at the end of the Vietnam War.

“While we were consumed then by the eight-year distraction of that self-inflicted experience, the Soviet Union enjoyed essentially a free ride for modernizing its nuclear and conventional force postures without significant offsetting measures by us.

“It took nearly two decades of hard work in the force development and training arenas for us to compensate in full for that failure to hold up our end of the strategic competition with Moscow.

“Fortunately, we succeeded just in time to pave the way for our eventual success in Desert Storm and for the collapse of Soviet communism that followed shortly thereafter.

“I believe we face a similar challenge today looking into the third decade of the 21st Century, with a rising China and a resurgent Russia now dominating tomorrow’s threat horizon.

“We need to recognize this and wake up to the fact that the challenges we’re now facing are totally unlike the challenge we faced in fighting yesterday’s land wars in Southwest Asia.

“But in order for that to happen, the country needs an amalgam of leadership that sees and understands this newly-emerging big picture correctly.

“I have long felt, indeed ever since Desert Storm, that CENTCOM is organized incorrectly. CENTCOM’s area of responsibility has long been air-centric, in my opinion. And yet that organization has been consistently commanded by a succession of Army and Marine Corps four-stars.

“That, to my mind, has repeatedly entailed putting a square peg into a round hole.

“I’ve often felt that it would have been truly an inspired move after Desert Storm if its commander who largely swung that war’s successful outcome, U.S. Air Force General Chuck Horner, had been appointed CENTCOM’s next commander to replace U.S. Army General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. Or, that failing, had the successful air commander for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, U.S. Air Force General Buzz Moseley, been tapped to become the next commander of CENTCOM.

“Either move would have finally broken the mold of the ground services’ long-held but increasingly anachronistic monopoly on that key position in today’s world.

“That, in turn, might have made a fundamental difference in our subsequent combat experience in that part of the world for the better.”

See below, Lambeth’s Mitchell Forum overview on his book:

Lambeth provided three other fascinating pieces from his work over the years.

The first is an interesting comparison of fighter pilots to submariners; the second is his report on the MIG-23; and the third is a look back at the lessons which the post-Cold War years should have taught us.

The first was published in 2015; the second in 2016; and the third in 2013.

Ben's fighter-sub comparison
Ben's MiG-23 flight report
Lambeth SSQ article

Allied Joint Forces Command Norfolk: The Uber Command


By Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake

As NATO continues to work its capabilities as an alliance going forward, the common operating procedure protocols, and communication systems provide a 21st Century information based framework for each individual nation to work more effectively together. This also will allow as well for non-NATO European states to become effective coalition partners.

For example, Norway, Finland and Sweden do joint airpower training based on NATO procedures. They do their common airpower training based on leveraging the common NATO language and operating con-ops. For example, in 2018, Laird visited Bodø  airbase where he discussed with Norwegian officers how they trained collectively with their two non-NATO air partners, Finland and Sweden.

Since 2015 the three air forces have shaped a regular flexible training approach which is driven at the wing and squadron pilot level.

According to Major Trond Ertsgaard, Senior Operational Planner and fighter pilot from the 132 Air Wing, “We meet each November, and set the schedule for the next year, but in execution it is very, very flexible. “It is about a bottom-up approach and initiative to generate the training regime.” Squadron pilots regardless of nationality are, if allowed creative tactical freedom, are a unstoppable force for innovation.

The impact on Sweden and Finland has been significant in terms of learning NATO standards and having an enhanced capability to cooperate with the air forces of NATO nations.

The Allied JFC Norfolk is working coalition integration and is very close to accomplish this approach. MoUs have been agreed upon with relevant nations, allowing nations to work more effectively during Joint Operations in concert with operating allied forces; this has been pursued through a collaborative integration approach rather than a top down hierarchical command centered approach.

Ed Timperlake interviewed RADM Stefan D. Pauly, JFCNF, Chief of Staff on March 5, 2021 during our visit to Norfolk. RADM Pauly is an experienced submariner with the German Navy with a strong intelligence background as well. He explained that they are a small command, with less than one hundred officers with a target goal of around 150.

As such, they will not have a top-heavy staff directing in a hierarchical manner. But because they report to the nations, distributed C2 becomes a natural focus of attention–national engagements with national C2 systems plugging-in into JFC Norfolk. The challenge is all nation’s combat assets need to be leveraged and coordinated synergistically with all partners in day-to-day operations.

How best to organize that to create convergent capability?

That is a key focus of how the command works. Similar to other aspects of innovation seen throughout the command cluster, VADM Lewis has focused on having his teams work through new ways to operate to deliver the appropriate combat effect. With regard to NATO, this has meant working new ways to shape coalition integratability, and by shaping agreements with key nations which facilitate such an approach.

They are far from being just a classic “maritime” command because they are focused on the 360-degree Joint Security and Combat Operational High North and North Atlantic Theater, from seabed to space. Critical infrastructure defense is a key point of attention for the command as well, which means that they are focused on the spectrum from peacetime vigilance to war.

RADM Pauly, based on his long service with well-earned submarine and Intel experience, argued that the command is focused on building a command network such that nations can more effectively contribute to a successful coalition combat campaign outcome.

The Admiral unmistakably pointed out that mission coordination across all warfighting domains will ensure that the North Atlantic community can increasingly continue to effectively defend its interests in the Joint Theater of Operations against Russia and other adversaries.

The Russians may have clients they sell weapons platforms and munitions to but do not have allies as do the Europeans or the Americans. Further than that, the Headquarters is already positioned to cope with future challenges within the HQ’s designated Vigilance Area.

The command is finalizing a Joint Operation Guidance.

This is not intended to be an order, but rather a guidance approach to providing coalition leadership. The focus is upon how best to leverage the “coalitionability” of the core MOU nations in the command.[1]

He noted: “The C2 and operational coordination is done in the nations. But how to take that effort cross-nationally and shape a more Joint effective coalition capability?” And that is a key focus of Allied JFC Norfolk.

This approach is clearly innovative and fully in line with how European nations who are serious about defense are addressing ways to enhance their capabilities to defend themselves.

He cited an American officer who suggested an Uber analogy. “UBER meets a need to deliver transport capability to a region. They don’t own the vehicles, but they coordinate those vehicles to deliver the capability.” Substitute “transport capabilities / vehicles” for “operational effects”, and you understood JFC Norfolk’s ambition.

So perhaps one might call this unique NATO Headquarters the Uber command.

[1] For the concept of “coalitionability,” see the presentation by Major General Rex at a Danish-Australian conference in 2015 in Robbin Laird, Joint by Design (2021), pp. 67-69.

F35B Reverse Landing

A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, demonstrates a reverse landing on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8).

The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and the 15th MEU are conducting operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility.



Video by Cpl. Patrick Crosley

15th Marine Expeditionary Unit

The U.S. Navy Launches its Unmanned Campaign Framework: The Challenge of Leveraging the Low-Hanging Fruit


By Robbin Laird

Recently, the Department of the Navy released, on March 16, 2021, its unmanned systems campaign framework. As Admiral Gilday, Chief of Navy Operations, commented in his forward to the document:

As the Navy adapts to an increasingly complex security environment, it is imperative that we understand what our future force will need to operate both in day-to-day competition as well as a high-end fight.

Unmanned Systems (UxS) have and will continue to play a key part in future Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO), and there is a clear need to field affordable, lethal, scalable, and connected capabilities. That is why the Navy is expanding and developing a range of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), unmanned undersea vehicles (UUV), and unmanned surface vessels (USV) that will play key roles as we shift our focus toward smaller platforms that operate in a more dispersed manner.

A hybrid fleet will be necessary for the Navy to meet emerging security concerns. We need platforms to deliver lethal and non-lethal effects simultaneously in all domains across multiple axes. UxS will provide added capacity in our Future Fleet — in the air, on the surface, and under the water.

The campaign plan will serve as the comprehensive strategy for realizing a future where unmanned systems serve as an integral part of the Navy’s warfighting team. It will be a living, iterative document that articulates our vision for a more ready, lethal, and capable fleet through acceleration of critical enablers in technology, processes, and partnerships.

We are mindful of past shortcomings, so therefore our approach is deliberate, but with a sense of urgency. We will address every aspect of Doctrine, Organization, Training, materiel, Leadership and Education, Personnel, Facilities, and Policy (DOTmLPF-P), identify and close capability gaps, and work to create and maintain our future naval force, together.

 The CNO highlighted a number of key aspects shaping the way ahead. The first is the high-end fight which is built around shaping an integrated distributed force. His focus on a hybrid fleet in my mind rests on shaping how distributed fleet elements can effectively use maritime autonomous systems, not just simply introducing them. He made it very clear that the UxS’s must add capacity and capability for the Fleet, or put another way, if they don’t, then the Navy will not use them.

He underscored that the goal is to make unmanned systems “serve as an integral part of the Navy’s warfighting team.” If they are not, then they will not be used.

It is not about technological prowess alone; it is about how these systems can enhance the lethality, survivability and capabilities of a distributed integrated air-maritime force.

And one must also remember that the US Navy is going through a strategic shift from the standard carrier task force organizational concepts to sorting through how to fight as an integrated distributed fleet. As maritime remotes enter the fleet, they will be doing so in the context of this broader strategic shift.

There are two graphics in the document which highlights clearly what is required to have an effective way ahead with regards to the incorporation of maritime autonomous systems into the fleet.

The first can be seen above as the featured graphic; the second can be seen below.


I had a chance recently to discuss this report, and these graphics with a leading engineer involved in maritime autonomous systems, Jack Rowley, now of MARTAC. Rowley has developed a concept of operations for a scalable hybrid fleet operating together to deliver the kind of capability which the report highlights. This provided me a chance to not only discuss the way ahead as sketched in the report, but to also consider  a concrete case study of how it can be effectively executed.

Jack Rowley: “The report focuses on where the Navy needs to go from a standpoint of a manned-unmanned criteria. Because unmanned can never, by itself, be totally “unmanned”, to date  the capabilities of “unmanned” have been primarily used to augment and improve the “manned” capability.

“The challenge within the framework is to demonstrate that USVs are key enablers when working together with the fleet. They need to be robust and reliable. They need to be modular and interoperable so they can work together something like a wolfpack, but with the ability to quickly change the mission sensors and payloads. The approach until now has been very platform-centric with proprietary software, thereby blocking the kind of interoperability which makes autonomous systems a useful integratable asset into the fleet or the combat group of which the USV is to be a part of.

“A capability-centric approach requires very good interoperability. That’s where the Navy’s Common Command System, CCS, comes in, which by the way is also very much in tune with the Maritime Autonomous Platform Exploitation , MAPLE, system being developed by the Royal Navy.   The final result desired by both the U.S. and the U.K. is to have these two systems work together to deliver effective coalition joint capabilities.

“Experimentation leading to adoption in the fleet is the key way to get the process underway for operational capabilities within the fleet. The U.S. Navy has set up both a UUVRON-1, for  unmanned undersea vehicles in Keyport, WA and SURFDEVRON-1 in San Diego, CA for unmanned surface vehicles.   Both of these will be great assets for developing and testing that “Manned-Unmanned” hybrid fleet concept.

We then discussed the “nested-dolls approach” which Rowley introduced earlier this year at the Virtual Technology Systems and Ships Symposium hosted by the American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE) from January 26-28, 2021.

Obviously, what Rowley has in mind, draws upon the “Russian Dolls” concept whereby a smaller doll is inside a larger doll.   In this manner  smaller USVs, UUVs and UAVs, could be embedded on, and work with, larger USVs as integrated, composite, and modular UxV-UxV units.. As desired by their supervisory controllers,  up against a real-world threat scenario, the controllers could offload the smaller USVs, UUVs or UAVs, with diverse payloads, in an integrated execution of multiple UxV scenarios on a single mission.

The way he described it that the larger LUSV which is being designed to be a size and speed which can keep up with destroyers and task groups. For example, one might operate three of these LUSVs with an expeditionary strike group. They are approaching an island that is 500 miles away and determine that they need a discrete ISR scan into the area where the task force will operate. There is concern as well that mines might be in the upcoming operational area as well.

A force package of smaller USVs could be placed onto the larger LUSVs assigned to the task force. Several of these  smaller USVs, which could range in size as long as 50 feet, could be configured to go into the objective area to perform the ISR and a second group of USVs could be configured to engage in a scan searching for mine-like objects..

As Rowley put it: “The technology exists today to do this. One could use 24-to-50-foot USVs being carried by the LUSV. And these assets are capable of significant speed to the objective ISR and mine-sweeping areas. For example, our 38 (T38) and 50 (T50) foot catamaran USVs are capable of speeds in excess of 80 knots fully loaded.

“This USV fleet of remotely piloted and autonomous craft would be controller by supervisor controllers in one of the command ships within the expeditionary strike group.  LUSVs could be dispatched from the strike group to proceed toward the ISR area at 25kts.   At a predesignated point, the ISR and MCMT38s could be launched from their respective larger LUSVs and proceed at 80 knots towards individual ISR starting waypoints near the beach at which time the T38 ISR craft would start their ISR scan and the T38 MCM craft would begin their mind detection scans at their waypoint locations.   The LUSVs would loiter at their location and act as a communications gateway until the T38s return.

“The USV craft would perform their ISR missions and mine-detection missions with their respective payload configurations. They would transit and operate independently to reduce and limit radar detection. By operating as an independent wolfpack and not as clustered group, their ability to conduct their mission with relatively low visibility is enhanced.

“As the ISR camera displays are returned in real time,  the payload controllers can determine what they are seeing. Based on an analysis of the ISR situation, they can make determinations with regard to any inland or bay areas that may require a closer look. At this time,  they can then launch anywhere from one to three 12 foot (T12) USVs off of the T38 USV to take that closer look. The information is then relayed from the T12 camera, back to the T-38, to the LUSV and then back to the ship for real time analysis by ISR analysts.

“The T12 returns to the T-38 for recovery.  Similarly, a second supervisory controller monitoring one of the other T38 ISR USVs could launch two gyrocopters to further investigate an inland anomaly that he is observing. The Gyrocopters return to the T-38 and are recovered onboard.  During the same timeframe of the ISR scans, the two T-38s with payloads configured for mine detection both enter the bay and independently conduct their bottom scan, sending all bathymetry data back to an analyst onboard the control ship at the strike group.     Effectively, all T38s are operating independably of one another, under the watch of a minimal number of supervisory and payload controllers.

“In the MCM mine-detection scenario, the two MCM payload enabled T-38s being operated by their supervisory controllers can share the situation with an EOD analyst seated next to him.“

“Based on the scans of the area, the  ISR and MCM T-38s provide a close-up picture and convey that to the command ship in real time.     One of the key considerations is that they can operate from any of the ships on the task force as long as the ship has qualified supervisory controllers.“

”Upon completion of their respective ISR and MCM mission, the T38s will return at high speed to intercept the LUSVs at their loiter point. Each of the T38s will be autonomously recovered onto their respective LUSV and then proceed back to the strike group formation. The commander was able to get the information he needed within 24 hours, as he had requested. And to again underscore, that all of this technology exists today.”

The Navy Unmanned Campaign Plan can be read below:

20210315 Unmanned Campaign_Final_LowRes

Jack Rowley’s paper on his nested dolls concept of operations for USVs can be read below:

Re-shaping North Atlantic Defense: JFC Norfolk as a Startup Command


By Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake

There has been public discussion of the state and fate of NATO over the past few years. One European leader energized the discussion by referring to NATO as “brain dead.” But underlying the political exchanges of the past few years, there has been real progress in shaping a new approach to North Atlantic defense.

But because the new approaches do not fit the Cold War images of what North Atlantic defense look like, in many ways the changes are not fully grasped, and the new approaches fully appreciated.

Certainly, a key driver of change has been the dynamic growth in Nordic defense cooperation and the commitment of NATO members as well as EU members Sweden and Finland in strengthening their capabilities to work together.

In the book authored by Laird with Delaporte, a significant part of the analysis on the reworking of European direct defense focuses on the impact of this Nordic dynamic on reworking how collaboration of the “coalition of the willing” or the “relevant nations” working together with key NATO partners is reshaping European defense.

As we put it in that book: “Europe and its defense are not one narrative but several. The Russians face an increasingly unified Nordic Northern Flank with enhanced UK focus on the region, backed by reach into North America.

“The central part of Europe is a mosaic of former Warsaw Pact states with varying degrees of concern about the Russian challenge, backed by a German French alliance with the nuclear-armed France in this key area.

“And the southern zone of Europe in which Greece, Turkey, Spain, and Italy have about as much solidarity today as they have had historically, which means that aggregation management is crucial to deal with any alliance-wide challenges.”

And the Nordic Northern flank and the redesign of direct defense is highlighted in that book as follows: “A key part of shaping a new approach to direct defense in Europe is winning the fourth battle of the Atlantic. (which rests on dealing with) a key aspect of the Russian challenge, which is crucial for the Nordics, namely, the need to hold the Russian Kola bastion at risk.

“For the United States and Canada, it is about reinforcing Europe and holding the Russians at bay, notably with Putin threatening a nuclear strike via his projected new hypersonic missile to be launched via a submarine. But for the Nordics, it is about homeland defense, and not letting the Russians have a free ride to use the Kola Peninsula and its extended perimeter defense without a significant capability by the West to attrite and destroy the Russian bastion.

“When you come out from the land into the air and sea corridors, is where the West for sure needs to be able to operate its own anti-access and area denial capability. Two can play at this game.”

What one sees in Norfolk is reshaping how the startup command called Second Fleet has been launched interactively under Vice Admiral Lewis’s leadership with the NATO startup command called JFC Norfolk to shape new ways of combing national efforts into a more integrated and effective defense effort.

And that effort is reinforced by another trend line which we have examined over the past decade, namely, the standup of the F-35 global enterprise, whereby U.S. allies are often leading the way in the acquisition, development, and use of their aircraft in advance of what the United States itself is providing for regional defense efforts.

All of this can be seen in the dynamics of change unleashed by the integrated efforts being generated by the two commands working together. Recently, the Vice Admiral returned from a visit to SHAPE and to Europe and upon his return we had a chance to talk with his political advisor, a senior Icelandic diplomat.

And it is hard to miss the point of why having a senior Icelandic diplomat as the political advisor to the U.S. Admiral is significant. Given that the United States shifted its attention to the Middle East and withdrew from its engagement in Iceland in the George W. Bush Administration, and policy which continued under the Obama Administration, which shuttered 2nd Fleet in 2011.

But with the Crimean crisis wakeup call, the U.S. Navy reached out to Iceland and there was return to maritime patrol activities, but this time with a new MPA asset, namely the P-8.

But for the Icelandic government, their strategic importance was never in doubt, notably with the growing impact of High North defense issues, but for the United States has been for a considerable period of time a “reluctant” Arctic power.

But for Iceland, it was clear that the strategic focus of the famous Greenland-Iceland-UK gap was no longer simply an East-West transit point but a North-South one as well. And it was clear that when Admiral Richardson sought to establish the new second fleet, that it was going to need to build to the new strategic reality and not simply replicate the past Cold War-generated command.

We had a chance during our visit to Norfolk to talk with the Vice Admiral’s political advisor located in JFC Norfolk. Snorri Matthiasson, is a senior Icelandic diplomat, who had just returned from the European visit of Vice Admiral Lewis. We conducted the interview by phone because of COVID-19 restrictions, but his insights were very significant about the “startup” command.

Matthiasson noted that he first met Vice Admiral Lewis on a visit with the Icelandic Chief of Defense to Norfolk, shortly after C2F had been stood up. This was going to be Lewis’s first NATO command, and he sought out a political advisor to assist in his efforts. He was the first foreigner to join the NATO command, just prior to the arrival of Rear Admiral Betton.

He underscored how the standup very much felt like a startup which allowed them to think through how best to work the efforts for U.S.- European collaboration. He underscored that a number of key Nordic states were engaged in defense and security activities in the region, and as they worked coordination efforts, there was a clear need to better coordinate with U.S. and other allied efforts, such as the United Kingdom, France, and German forces operating in the region as well.

As Matthiasson put it: “Vice Admiral Lewis looks at the area from the East Coast of North America to Finnmark as a continuous battlespace, but there was an opportunity to do a much better job coordinating national efforts in the area to shape enhanced coalition capabilities.

For example, the Danes have been working for decades in Greenland and working maritime situational awareness.

How to better leverage what they are doing, and how best to bring the capabilities of new maritime domain awareness systems into their operations?”

As working crisis situations entails whole of government responses., doing a better job of bringing together military operational concepts of operations with tactical or strategic diplomatic options is an important challenge to be met in North Atlantic defense. And that is clearly one thrust of the startup commands rethinking process for the evolving approaches to North Atlantic defense.

It is clear that the commands are not engaged in recreating the Cold War infrastructure but are engaged in shaping a very different approach. And the F-35 enterprise is part of that new approach as an information and C2 asset.

With regard to Iceland, first the Italians and currently the Norwegians are operating F-35s from Iceland as part of the NATO air policing missions. The Brits will operate F-35s from their base in Mahram or at sea off of their new Queen Elizabeth carriers. And this is prior to the U.S. Navy operating their F-35s in the region, but, of course, the U.S. Navy has an ability to work with those allied fifth generation aircraft. And this is true whether they come from Danish, or Norwegian, or British or potentially Finnish air bases in the future.

The impact on interoperability of U.S. with European forces is clearly enhanced by operating a common combat aircraft.

This is how Matthiasson put it: “The Norwegians we met in Iceland emphasized that the F35 is an incredible capability, but it also allows them to jointly train with U.S. forces which creates a new opportunity for joint and coalition warfighting approach as well.”

As we wrapped up our discussion,  NATO innovation was a key focus of attention. Obviously, the direct NATO missions and operations are tasked by SHAPE and SACEUR, after a NAC decision. But under that broader remit, JFC Norfolk provides a flexible umbrella organization to allow for cross-learning and cross-sharing of national efforts which can be combined to provide for enhanced coalition capabilities.

As Matthiasson put it: “The nations have been very keen on working with us from the very beginning with the vision that we had of being an umbrella or nexus for the North Atlantic, because there is so much national activity that is ongoing with some very advanced equipment. How best to shape collaboration and coordination in such a situation.?

“Much of the activity in the region is under national rather than NATO mandates. But for the Russians, any NATO members national activity is interpreted as being a NATO activity, so why not do a better job coordinating national efforts to get the right kind of coalition effect?”

It seems that this kind of approach suggests that NATO is not brain dead after all.

The featured graphic provides a view of the High North seen from the Norwegian perspective.

Training with French Forces

U.S. Army Infantrymen assigned to the East African Response Force (EARF) perform a sniper exercise with French servicemen Feb. 02, 2021 at an indisclosed location in Djibouti, Africa.

The EARF is a rapid deployment force with the ability to protect U.S. citizens and diplomatic facilities, provide non-combatant evacuation operations, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief operations, on the African continent.



Video by Senior Airman Hannah Strobel

1st Combat Camera Squadron