Monday, March 5, 2012
The US is the only global military power that currently has the capability to project more than minimum military force more than several hundred kilometers beyond its borders. Moreover, because it has aircraft carriers, long-range bombers, and other unique military assets, it is the only global military power capable of meaningful forced entry against a remote foe. Given adequate time, the US could defend Timbuktu just like it could defend Washington, DC.
The US spends more on national defense than the next seventeen largest countries combined. It has a vast inventory of advanced weapon systems: ships, aircraft, armored fighting vehicles, missiles, etc. But conventional military power has to be realistically measured in regional terms, i.e. it’s not what we have in total, rather it’s what we can actually deploy in some remote region within a constrained time frame. So the question remains, does this unparalleled annual military budget generate decisive regional military power which can be generated in a timely manner?
Israel now clearly has the western world’s most cost effective national defense system and, outside the US, almost certainly fields the world’s most technically advanced and well-trained tactical ground and air forces. But it is solely a regional power that lacks any pretense of force projection capability. Other international regional militaries are rarely as efficiently organized or as technically advanced and well-trained as Israel’s. It is considered reasonable to compare the annual military budgets and the force structures generated by the Israeli and American military systems. This permits a comparison of the relative costs required to generate regional military power. Israel currently spends about 2.3 cents to our dollar annually on national defense. Our Army, National Guard and Marines can together field about 90 small combat brigades, which incorporate over 200 maneuver battalions. Of these, only 32 tank battalions are equipped with about 1,850 tanks. The combat readiness of the average US brigade is relatively low, reflecting the fact that 40% are National Guard units. These National Guard brigades would require 4 to 5 months to be made combat ready. It requires 4 to 5 very large specialized RO-RO ships to transport each brigade overseas, plus several additional ships to carry their fuel, ammunition and supplies. It would take about 6 months for the US to project the maximum achievable regional force structure of about 45 combat ready brigades (with 100 maneuver battalions) to the Middle East. At present, the US only has 2 small combat brigades deploying 114 tanks located in Kuwait. By comparison, within four days, Israel can currently deploy about 65 combat ready brigades with nearly 200 maneuver battalions, including about 100 tank battalions equipped with 3,700 tanks. Within 2 to 3 additional weeks, Israel could generate another 12 brigades with 27 additional tank battalions and another 1,000 tanks. The USAF currently fields 60 combat squadrons equipped with about 1,250 F-15, F-16, A-10 and F-22 combat jets. The USN’s ten carrier wings contain another 480 F-18s and the four USMC air wings about 250 more F-18s and AV-8Bs. A portion of these squadrons are non-combat operational conversion units. Many USAF squadrons are solely dedicated to the air-to-air or close air support missions. Only a proportion of our aerial force structure would be deployed in any one theater of operations. Combined, our three tactical air forces could, therefore, generate about 700 daily attack sorties against Iran 96 days from now if, and only if, about 12 large air bases with logistical support were made available in adjoining or nearby countries. The Israeli Air Force is much smaller. It’s 14 active squadrons only currently operate about 340 F-15 and F-16 combat jets; but, all are multi-role. Its daily sortie rate is much higher than that of US tactical air forces. It can also rapidly mobilize additional reserve combat aircraft. It requires only 96 hours for the Israeli Air Force to be fully mobilized. Once mobilized, it can generate about 700 daily attack sorties against Iran plus another 1,200 versus Hammas, Hezbollah and Syria.
The irrefutable fact is that Israel can generate over twice the regional military power as the US and do it thirty times faster, all this generated using a tiny fraction of our annual budget. The conclusion must be that US conventional air and land forces are undersized, slow to respond, and prohibitively expensive. Why has the US been unable to turn our vast annual military expenditures into decisive regional military power? There are several reasons for this.
First and foremost is the fact that we maintain a predominantly active force structure which is based on the use of all volunteer personnel. These volunteers are very heavily recruited, receive competitive salaries and excellent benefits, including large enlistment and reenlistment bonuses. After only twenty years of active duty, they can retire with pensions equal to 50% of their peak salary, increased thereafter to offset inflation. More significantly, they, and their families, including children up to the age of 21, thereafter receive total health insurance coverage at negligible cost to them.
In the US military, salaries are primarily based on rank, not time in service. Billets within organizations are rigidly assigned to specific ranks. This has resulted in an “up or out” personnel system than generates a constant rotation of personnel progressively shifting from assignment to assignment. Over the last 50 years, ranks have consistently been inflated to increase individual salaries and benefits. Since many volunteers do not reenlist, the overall personnel turnover rate is nearly 20% a year. Historically, 5 people have to be recruited to generate 4 basic training graduates and, because of rotation, 5 personnel have to be in service to fill 4 billets. The total annual cost of crewing a single billet is now over $240,000 a year, not including equipment, sustainment or operational costs.
The second major factor impacting the inefficiency of the US DoD is the inevitable impact of force projection and the need to maintain at least the illusion of an ability to conduct forced entry. In order to project military forces overseas, a vast inventory of highly specialized militarized sea and air transports and a relatively high number of air-to-air tankers are required. Forced entry necessitates the existence of specialized amphibious ships supported by aircraft carrier battle groups, a large force of paratroops and the tactical cargo aircraft needed to deploy them and heavy bombers with intercontinental range. Moreover, because US ground and air forces might be deployed into areas devoid of logistics facilities, they must maintain a large number of diverse mobile support units and a disproportionate quantity of dedicated military trucking. Inevitably, this means that the “teeth to tail” ratio of the US military is lower than that of regional powers. In order to speed up the response of US forces to international crises, we have put several brigades of Army and Marine equipment on forward-based ships. Other ships carry the equipment required to turn a bare or civilian air base into a functioning military hub. Fuel, ammunition and other supplies are also forward-deployed. All of this further increases the overhead costs of our military.
For all of our investment in unique force projection resources, that no other country can come close to matching, the truth is that our ground and air forces simply cannot be quickly deployed. It takes a minimum of 8 to 10 weeks to bring an active division to full strength and shift it overseas. Moreover, our forced entry capability is also very limited, particularly against land-locked foes. Relatively, we can do far more than other major powers that claim to have a force projection capability. But, in regional terms, our military power is very slow to deploy and has very limited capability.
The high cost of our labor and the inefficiency associated with force projection does not totally explain the low cost effectiveness of the American defense system. The third major factor contributing to the gross inefficiency of our national defense system is the combined impacts of a careerist, unionized officer corps working in parallel with a military industrial complex dominated by a few industrial giants. The US military now often talks about our operational jointness, but the reality is that it remains a series of quite separate military unions, each defined by an officer’s military occupational specialty, within which he/she will be promoted. For example, the US Navy is comprised of an air union, itself subdivided into several sub-unions, a surface warfare union, a submarine union, an amphibious warfare union, a special forces union, and a small mine warfare union. All of these unions fight to maintain their relative priority, first within the Navy, and, second, within the Department of Defense. Each of these unions is the enemy of all others, as they maneuver to gather annual budgetary allocations and senior officer billets. The enemy of the Navy is the Air Force and the Army, the Marines. Force structures and procurement decisions are almost never based on military effectiveness or national needs, but, rather, on the maintenance of proportionate shares of annual budgets and the generation of the largest possible numbers of officer billets. In fact, maintaining the number of command and staff billets often drives force structure decisions. For example, the USAF has long recognized the cost effectiveness of Israel’s use of reserve air crew within active squadrons in order to increase the wartime daily sortie rate and to provide each squadron with multi-role capability, but they have not adopted this practice. They have deliberately chosen to maintain the highest number of squadrons in order to maintain command billets for senior officers. The Navy has followed suit and has maintained the largest feasible number of aircraft carriers, while progressively reducing the number of combat airplanes organic to each carrier.
In the US, the officer corps desire for force structure stability drives a like-for-like procurement strategy. Procurement is decided by Congress, not based on military need but by domestic politics. As an example, the Aegis weapon system was mounted on the Spruance class destroyer at the insistence of the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, because a lucrative sole source construction contract could then be issued to the shipyard located in the state he represented. Now, we are reduced to a handful of mega giant military industrial companies. They conceive acquisition concepts designed to maximize their market position irrespective of the impact on national security. A classic example of this is the prohibitively expensive and low performing F-35 aircraft, which is tied to a profit-making but totally illogical development process.
What does this all mean? The answer is simple. America’s huge military spending is irrelevant because its defense system is so unbelievably inefficient. The Pentagon and the military industrial complex make the old US auto industry look like the paradigm of efficiency! Lots of financial resources go in, but what comes out is limited in quantity and flows slowly.
Based on the essays that I have previously written on the US Navy, US Army, the Marine Corps, and the US Air Force, and the blatantly obvious inefficiency of our overall national defense system, it is time for profound transformation of the Department of Defense as follows:
• Our military labor is prohibitively expensive. There is no national will to reintroduce conscription. Our land forces are undersized and slow to deploy. We do not have forces of adequate size to effectively perform nation-building. Our ground forces are incapable of fighting a large sustained land war. The active Army and Marine Corps should, therefore, be downsized from 54 brigades to about 30. Our National Guard and Marine Corps reserve units take months to retrain prior to any combat deployment. They all should be phased out. Since nation-building would no longer be a national military objective, and we would not fight non-existential major land wars overseas, almost all forward-deployed US ground troops in Asia and Europe should also be returned to the United States.
• The cost of each regional USAF combat sortie is disproportionately expensive because our Air Force is inefficiently organized. Downsize the USAF, ANG/AFR fast jet force structure by about 40%. Use ANG/AFR personnel to supplement active squadrons, using blue-gold crewing in order to increase their wartime daily sortie rate. Make all USAF squadrons multi-role.
• USN aircraft carriers are underutilized and the cost of their strike sorties is disproportionately expensive. Reduce the number of in-service commissioned aircraft carriers from 11 to 7, plus 2 in long-term refit that are temporarily decommissioned without crews. Create 4 reserve surge teams in order to double the daily wartime sortie rate of forward-deployed carrier air groups. Disband USMC fast jet combat squadrons. Reduce amphibious shipping.
• Reduce the quantity of spares and ordnance held in the war reserve, recognizing that the lack of trained personnel replacements makes it impossible for the US to conduct long-term high intensity warfare.
• Downsize our specialized and costly force projection capability, recognizing that our current ability to respond is already inadequate.
• Break up the mega national security firms including Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman and L3, in order to increase competitiveness and innovation and reduce their ability to influence Congress.
• Strengthen DoD’s civil service, which again should become responsible for both research and development and procurement. Strengthen our arsenals and Naval shipyards.
If all of this were done, the US military budget could likely be reduced to under 400 billion dollars a year, making a balanced national budget feasible. The illusion of world-wide US military power might be shattered, but the reality would be about the same as today. America would remain dominant in the air and at sea. Our national security would be preserved at reasonable cost.
I have long believed that any major reduction in the US defense budget should be based on a strategic assessment that fully reflects the reality of military power. This proposal is derived from a serious comparative assessment of each of our military arms and an evaluation of our ability to generate regional military power in a timely fashion. I have concluded that our current military is an over-priced and unusable instrument of national power. Our national security strategy has long been based on an assumption of American exceptionalism. This view reflects an illusion of power, not the reality.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
US Army Heavy Brigades each field fifty-seven Abrams main battle tanks. These down-sized Heavy Brigades can only deploy about half as many tanks as Cold War US or Soviet Tank Brigades or current Israeli reserve Tank Brigades. Consequently, the US Army can currently deploy no more than 1,254 Abrams tanks in organized combat units. This represents only about 18% of the Abrams tanks remaining in the US arsenal.
In addition to these active units, the US National Guard includes 36 maneuver combat Brigades, of which eight are Heavy, two are Mechanized Infantry and 26 are straight-legged Infantry. The National Guard can deploy another 456 Abrams battle tanks.
In 2012, the US Army’s annual budget will be 216 billion dollars. This includes a supplement for on-going combat operations. However, it does not include a proportionate share of world-wide DoD activities, which would further increase this by about another 25%. The annual cost required to maintain one US Army/National Guard combat Brigade (plus a proportionate share of all supporting elements) is, therefore, 2.67 to 3.34 billion dollars per year.
The US Army and National Guard employ volunteers, who are heavily recruited, receive enlistment bonuses and, thereafter, are reasonably well-paid. These personnel receive excellent benefits. They can accrue full retirement at 50% salary plus exceptional lifetime family health care benefits after only twenty years of active service. Health care benefits provided to active and retired personnel and their families now represent over 10% of the total American defense budget! Most receive generous retention bonuses each time they re-enlist. One major consequence of the use of a voluntary personnel system is continuous rotation of personnel, with an average annual overall turnover of about 18%. The US military pay scale is primarily keyed to rank, not time in service. Billets are assigned to a specific rank. This creates a continual need for constant promotion and has generated a tendency toward rank inflation. About 14% of all personnel are commissioned officers, which is a disproportionately high ratio. This high turnover and the constant need to train individuals to prepare them for promotion mean that there is exceptional personnel disruption within most units, particularly because a limited number of units with long-term personnel stability have to be generated for overseas combat deployments. The result of this continual turmoil is that a large portion of the active and reserve force structure is actually at partial strength, and that the majority of active units lack training and cohesion and are not combat ready. Two thousand years of military experience have shown that volunteer militaries have been able to sustain only about one-third of its active force structure continuously combat ready at full strength. Given current US policy to limit the recall of National Guard units to active duty once every five years, this means that the US cannot sustain deployment of more than 22 down-sized Brigades.
The US Army is designed to project ground forces against remote foes. It requires twelve to thirteen very large, highly specialized roll on-roll off (RO-RO) ships to transport the organic vehicles and helicopters of one Division, plus additional RO-ROs for the vehicles of supporting units and additional container ships and tankers to provide combat supplies for sustained operations. Assuming a US based Division was at 100% strength and fully trained, it would require nearly one month to move it to CONUS ports, load the ships (assuming they were also immediately available and fully operational), move the ships across inter-continental distances, unload them at a secure, well-prepared and friendly port, crew the vehicles with troops transferred by mobilized commercial airliners (assuming the availability of secure nearby airfields), prepare the vehicles and deploy for combat. In reality, no CONUS Division is immediately combat ready with all troops on hand. Organizing land transport to ports and making ships operational will also take additional time. Therefore, as proven during Operation Desert Storm, it would require eight weeks to fully deploy one active US Army Division overseas and about four months to deploy a Corps consisting of three full-strength active Army Divisions plus all assigned supporting units.
The combat readiness of most National Guard reserve units is far lower than that of active units. First, they experience the same high annual level of personnel turnover; but, more significantly, a very large proportion of their personnel enter reserve service after only minimal basic training or after active duty in a different occupational specialty. Consequently, National Guard combat units have consistently required at least four months to become combat ready, one month for warning prior to activation, plus at least three months of individual/crew/unit training prior to actual deployment.
The US Army maintains an extremely large inventory of armored fighting vehicles, wheeled vehicles, helicopters, spare parts, and ammunition that vastly exceeds the immediate needs of its existing order of battle. Theoretically, these resources could be used to rapidly expand the order of battle, or they could provide exceptional sustainability for units experiencing heavy material casualties during sustained combat. However, the reality is that the US Army cannot quickly increase its order of battle because of a lack of trained specialized personnel. It takes about eight months to generate cohesive high quality combat ready units, assuming the use of raw recruits first entering basic training and the availability of experienced and qualified NCOs and officers. Even more time would be required if qualified NCOs and junior officers were not available. However, if existing troops were to be retrained to meet shortages in needed occupational specialties, this time could probably be reduced to three to five months. Similarly, the long proven Achilles heel of a voluntary military is its inability to replace the combat casualties in high risk specialties, such as AFV crews, infantry, combat engineers, and artillery men. In order to field three Divisions in sustained intense combat, a fourth Division would, likely, have to be reduced to cadre strength in order to provide immediate combat personnel replacements. Therefore, the actual combat sustainability of the US Army is far more limited than its inventory of vehicles than its vast supply of ammunitions and spares would suggest.
The unarguable reality is that the US Army is relatively small, disproportionately expensive, slow to mobilize and deploy, and has very limited sustainability for intense force-on-force combat. This can be best illustrated by comparing the combined forces, costs and capabilities of the US Army, US National Guard and US Army Reserve to that which can be generated by Israel, which has an exceedingly cost effective military system based on universal conscription and compulsory reserve duty. Moreover, the IDF’s forces are designed solely for regional self-defense, not force projection. They are also suitable for comparison because they are very well trained, technologically advanced and well-equipped. It is estimated that, within ninety-six hours, the IDF can currently mobilize thirty-three Tank Brigades, five Paratroop Brigades and twenty-five Mechanized Infantry Brigades. Another nine Tank and three Mechanized Infantry Brigades could likely be mobilized within twelve to twenty-one days using very experienced older reserves. These seventy-five combat Brigades nearly equal the combined order of battle of the US Army and National Guard. The IDF can deploy almost three times as many tanks as the US Army and National Guard, but it has far fewer helicopters which are operated by the Israeli Air Force. The Israelis employ heavy assault infantry carriers and combat engineering vehicles, plus extended range non-line-of-sight precision missile systems that the US Army lacks. Most importantly, Israel can deploy a large portion of its ground forces almost immediately, whereas it would take the US Army four months versus four days to deploy a much smaller and less heavily armored force in the Middle East. The annual cost of a US Army/National Guard combat Brigade (including a proportionate share of all supporting arms) was previously shown to be 2.6 to 3.3 billion dollars per year. The estimated Israeli cost is only 0.09 billion dollars per year. The US currently spends about 30 times as much as Israel annually on its Army, yet can deploy only 19% as many combat Brigades in the Middle East, taking 120 versus 4 days. Although Israel has a proportionately smaller inventory of ammunition, spares and war reserve vehicles, its actual combat sustainability over the short-term is actually comparable to that of the US because neither has more than limited numbers of available replacement personnel.
By comparison to other leading international ground forces, the hard truth is that the US Army is vastly over-priced, catastrophically slow to deploy and undersized. Following a national strategy that would commit the US to conducting major ground combat or sustained and effective nation-building using an active volunteer army is simply unaffordable and/or unachievable!
It is inherently obvious that the US should adjust its national strategy to reflect the actual capability that can be generated by an affordable army. National strategy should reflect the reality of power not illusions. The US cannot afford to conduct major ground combat or nation-building, since this would require a far larger order of battle than currently exists at an unaffordable cost. If these missions were no longer components of our national strategy, then the order of battle of our active and reserve Army ground forces can be considerably reduced. The National Guard would, obviously, continue to have a major domestic role, i.e., disaster relief, civil unrest, homeland security, etc. However, maintaining National Guard combat units that require almost as much time to activate and get combat ready as units generated from scratch is nonsensical. All reserve National Guard combat units should be disbanded, but additional logistics and support function should be shifted to the Reserves. The active order of battle of the US Army should be reduced to a total of only eighteen Brigades (nine Armored, one Mechanized Infantry, one Paratroop, one Air Mobile, and six straight-legged Infantry), each with three maneuver Battalions. These Brigades should be organized into six Divisions, all based in the continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii. Two Corps and one Army level headquarters would still be maintained in order to sustain operational and strategic command skills. There would be no change in the current special forces capability.
By adjusting our national strategy to be consistent with affordability and realistic capability, the number of active duty Army personnel could be reduced by 45% and the number of National Guard/Reserve billets reduced by about 33%. What the US now fields is an over-priced, under-sized and slow response Army that is a useless tool of policy.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
The USN currently maintains a mix of up to 33 large amphibious ships to transport Marines, vehicles and supplies. If all of these ships were simultaneously available, they could mount one full division, only 25% of the USMC. But one-third of these ships are generally undergoing overhaul. Therefore, available amphibious ships could only simultaneously embark two regiments (brigades). Prior to 9-11, the USMC generally maintained two forward-deployed reinforce battalions mounted on amphibious ships, one on each coast. It, then, regularly conducted small amphibious exercises. Large scale amphibious exercises were rarely conducted. These ships provide berthing for embarked Marines, cargo holds for vehicles and supplies and hangars and flight decks for Marine VSTOL aircraft and helicopters. They also incorporate floodable wells which are used to transport the LCAC air-cushion vehicles that are now used to transfer vehicles and cargo ashore. Because of the large size of LCACs, only two or three of these can be embarked by each current modern amphibious ship. Consequently, movement of vehicles and heavy equipment across the beach depends on a handful of LCACs. The amphibious ships also have limited numbers of helicopter landing spots and limited hangar space. A forward deployed Marine battalion mounted on amphibious ships will, therefore, have the dedicated support of only 6 VSTOL attack aircraft and be dependent on as few as 4 LCACs. A carrier battle group might be available to support a Marine battalion. USN carriers each embark 48 F-18s. These have to provide defensive CAP and also function as airborne tankers. Relatively few will, therefore, be available for the close air support of assaulting Marines. Supporting USN destroyers and cruisers have SQS-53 bow sonar domes which result in very deep navigational draft. They each mount 1 or 2 MK 45 127mm gun mounts. These gun-mounts each fire 70 pound high explosive shells to a maximum range of 24km at a rate of up to 20 rounds per minute. USN frigates mount a single 76mm gun that provides minimal fire power. The new LCS mounts an even smaller 57mm gun.
World War II destroyers mounted 4 to 6 five inch 38 caliber guns. Each of these was capable of firing a 55 pound high explosive shell out to 18km at a maximum rate of 15 to 18 rounds per minute. These World War II destroyers had much shallower drafts than current ships and could, consequently, operate much closer to shore. They could provide 2 to 4 times as much fire power per ship. During World War II, amphibious assaults also had the support of battleships and cruisers firing at virtually point blank range. Each USN destroyer could then generate greater fire power than the organic artillery of an infantry division. One destroyer was usually assigned to support each assaulting battalion. This level of fire power can no longer be provided.
The hard reality is that the USMC does not currently possess a significant forced entry amphibious assault capability. Amphibious training has all but ceased. Naval gunfire support is grossly inadequate and only a fraction of what was previously available. USN carriers have very limited attack capability, and Marine air wings cannot be fully employed without the availability of nearby conventional airfields. Based on the VSTOL aircraft, which can be operated from large amphibious ships, each Marine battalion can be provided with only about 12 sorties per day of dedicated close air support. Assaulting LVTs are very slow and, hence, have to be deposited close to the shore by large, slow, expensive and vulnerable LPDs. The LPDs are extremely vulnerable to ASCMs, mines and shore defense artillery. It is very difficult to ensure the destruction of mobile ASCM launchers and well-hidden dug-in artillery. Once the LPDs come close to shore, the enemy’s fire control problems are vastly simplified and difficult to defeat. The LVTs, themselves, are easy targets for ATGMs or even conventional anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns. With their limited ground clearance and flat bottoms, they have proven to be catastrophically vulnerable to mines. Very few LCACs are available to support each battalion. The LCACs are thin skinned and vulnerable to all enemy weapons. They are currently the only means available to transport Marine tanks and LAVs ashore during an amphibious assault. The USN, which once fielded over 1,000 LSTs and a vast array of small LSMs and LCTs, today, does not have any available for amphibious assault operations! Combat history, going back to Vietnam, has shown time and again that helicopter borne straight-legged infantry cannot be inserted into well defended areas without experiencing unacceptably heavy casualties. Moreover, because of limited hangar volume, and, more significantly, the lack of landing spots, very few assault helicopters can be simultaneously launched. This limits the size of a heli-borne amphibious operation. Because of the limited lift capability of Marine helicopters, this force would incorporate minimal vehicles and heavy support weapons. Simply put, the Marines exist to execute a mission they cannot currently effectively perform.
The US needs an amphibious capability. But does it need to maintain the expensive illusion of a force entrance capability? Do we need 4 Marine divisions? Do we need a third independent tactical air force in addition to the USAF and USN? In my view, we cannot any longer afford to fund expensive illusions of power. The USMC should be significantly downsized and transformed.
The transformed USMC should consist of only 3 active and 1 reserve reinforced brigade groups. Existing Marine air wings should be disbanded and their fixed-wing squadrons absorbed into the USN or USAF or disbanded. Marine helicopters and UAVs should be cut in numbers and reorganized into smaller units which would support USMC maneuver units as appropriate. The numbers of USN amphibious assets should be down-sized to provide a total lift of one brigade on each coast, of which one-third would be held in reserve with a limited crew or de-commissioned under long-term refit. Two Marine battalions would be irregularly forward-deployed, one operating from each coast. The primary function of these battalions would be special operations, counter insurgency and emergency responses.
Monday, January 2, 2012
The USAF has consistently achieved a long- range war-time daily rate of about 1.25 sorties per aircraft per day. This reflects both the impact of long 5.5 hour combat sorties and the one-two-one air crew to aircraft ratio within deployed Squadrons.
USMC experience can be used to determine the USAF sortie rate when operating at shorter range. During Operation Desert Storm, USMC AV-8Bs were forward-based and operationally unconstrained by the rigid Allied Air Operational Plan. During the initial break-through ground battles, when thousands of Marines were at risk and engaged in close ground combat, the daily sortie rate of forward-based AV-8Bs was 2.6 sorties per aircraft per day.
After Gates’ recent cutbacks, this historical data indicates that the USAF could likely generate no more than 550 daily deep strike sorties, or about 1,100 shorter-range daily strike sorties. The response time of up to 4 to 5 months still remains valid.
The USMC AV-8B short-range daily sortie rate was consistent with Israeli sortie generation rates during the 1967 and 1973 Middle Eastern air wars, when the Israeli Air Force also had about a one-two-one air crew to aircraft ratio. This data proves that jet air crew are capable of sustaining about 2.5 relatively short 1.5 hour sorties per day. In 1967, Israeli experience was that their air crew could temporarily surge to a sortie rate of about 4 to 5 per day, but only for a very limited period, because the mental and physical demands of fast jet combat missions are very high.
Current fourth generation combat aircraft, including the F-15, F-16 and F-18, have become very reliable. Combat experience has shown there is about a 85% probability that these aircraft will require no corrective maintenance after completion of a typical combat sortie. Even if they suffer damage or mechanical failure, the availability of built-in test software and modular digital avionics means that executing repairs requires far less personnel and time than before. Consequently, fourth generation aircraft that experience failures can be repaired relatively quickly and rapidly recycled for continued use. They can, therefore, generate numerous sorties per day. Modern avionics, such as GPS/INS navigation, high resolution SAR radars and FLIR E/O systems have combined to vastly improve night and all-weather air-to-ground attack capability. These fourth generation aircraft are now capable of sustained 24/7 all-weather operations. There is no doubt that these aircraft could sustain a daily sortie rate of about 7 to 8 over shorter-ranges, or up to 3.5 long-range sorties per day. But this would be feasible only if an air crew to aircraft ratio of about 2.5 : 1.0 were available, and that ground support personnel could provide continuous 24/7 services.
There is only one international air force that has reorganized itself to reflect the current technological capability of its aircraft. As a result of this reorganization, Israeli military planning has long been based on wartime sortie rates of 7 per F-16 and 5 per F-15 per day. Both types of aircraft could achieve over 3 sorties per day over long-range. They achieve this by generating a wartime air crew to aircraft ratio of about 2.5 to 1. This is done very cost effectively by employing emergency posting (staff/training) and reserve air crew within active Squadrons irrespective of rank. Israeli Squadrons have an active duty Lieutenant Colonel as commanding officer, but usually have numerous officers of equal or high rank as assigned air crew. Moreover, in the Israeli Air Force, skill leads, i.e., senior high-ranking air crew may not even be functioning as flight or section leaders. The Israelis maintain war readiness by having these emergency posting and reserve air crew flying with their combat Squadron one day a week. Israeli Squadrons are very large, with at least 24 aircraft and about 60 air crew. Unlike other international Squadrons, these Israeli Squadrons are multi-role because individual air crew are able to specialize on specific weapons, sensors and missions. Each Squadron will have all the specialized pylons, systems and weapons necessary to conduct all assigned multi-role missions.
It would be virtually impossible for the USAF to fully follow the cost-effective Israeli model. First, our military tradition precludes ignoring rank. Second, the USAF, as the air arm of a global power, cannot design its force structure only for relatively short wars during which normal peacetime operations and basic training ceases. But the USAF, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserves could be reorganized to benefit from lessons learned from the cost-effective Israeli Air Force. The USAF could deploy blue-gold crewing of CONUS Squadrons. National Guard/Reserve and active Squadrons could share airframes. This would vastly increase the multi-role functionality of these Squadrons as well as doubling their wartime sortie rate.
Employing this concept would enable the USAF/National Guard/Air Force Reserve combat force to be down-sized from 18 to 13 wings without reducing theater of operations war fighting capability, while simultaneously increasing force flexibility.
Saturday, December 31, 2011
The hull dimensions of the first post-war USN carrier design were tightly constrained. Draft was limited by the water depth at the graving dock used for construction. Both the waterline beam and the waterline length were also limited by the graving dock dimensions. The limited beam determined the maximum possible hull depth. Speed was primarily impacted by the displacement, waterline length and the available power. Because speed was a firm requirement, and the length and propulsive power were both limited, the displacement was also constrained. Therefore, the internal volume and available deck area of the first new post war Forestal class carriers could not be significantly increased. These dimensional constraints remained valid for the two-decade later Nimitz class carrier design. But, the nuclear propulsion plant of the Nimitz class provided slightly more propulsive power and its required speed was a little slower; so, its hull could be a little fuller. Both the length and the beam of the Nimitz class were also inconsequentially increased. The higher displacement Nimitz class was, therefore, functionally similar to earlier conventional carriers, except that the conventional steam plant was replaced by nuclear reactors.
Because of its limited deck area, the Nimitz class could not meet later USN habitability standards, which had to be waived. Consequently, USN volunteer sailors had to live in austere conditions like their conscripted predecessors had in the 1950s. Moreover, due to design constraints, enlisted personnel had to be grouped in huge impersonal berthing compartments that provided no privacy or territoriality. This remains true today.
The Nimitz class was originally designed to support maintenance-demanding 1960s aircraft. These aircraft could not be rapidly rotated to sustain a high sortie rate. Most were not capable of effective 24/7 continuous air-to-ground operations. So, the Nimitz class only had two watches of aircraft support personnel, as it was not expected to be capable of 24/7 sustained air operations. Because of limited hull volume and deck area, the loads of aviation consumables, i.e., spare parts, drop tanks, ammunition and fuel were all constrained. While the nuclear plant gave the Nimitz class an ability to continuously cruise at high speed, its conventionally-powered escorts, when operating at high speed, would have to be refueled every two days by tankers. During combat, its aircraft would run out of consumables in about 5 to 7 days. A Nimitz class carrier could only sustain continuous air operations if replenishment ships were always available.
Introduction of the reliable, digital F-18 with its advanced avionics meant that the Nimitz class carrier could be equipped with a multi-mission, reliable, 24/7 combat aircraft, capable of sustaining a high sortie rate. A practical airframe limit of about 7 to 8 limited-range 1.5 hour sorties per day per aircraft was technically achievable. Recent combat experience has consistently shown that air crew cannot generate more than about 2.5 sorties per day over sustained periods because air combat is just too physically and mentally exhausting. Therefore, achieving this sortie rate with only one pilot per aircraft would be impossible. Moreover, the provision of only two versus three watches of aircraft support personnel on the Nimitz class would have, in any event, constrained daily the sortie rate.
Post F-18 USN aircraft carrier operations were, therefore, generally based on groups of carriers operating together. With three available, two would operate 24/7 with the third resting and replenishing. With four available, two would operate at night and rest or replenish during the day time, with the other two operating on a reverse cycle. This operational concept amounted to virtual attrition. Nimitz class carriers were far less operationally capable than generally thought.
The Nimitz class was originally designed as a CVA attack carrier, with a virtually all fast-jet air wing of about 90 aircraft. During the cold war, as the USN mothballed its older converted Essex class anti-submarine carriers, the Nimitz class air wing was modified, and it was re-designated as a CV. Squadrons of anti-submarine aircraft and helicopters were added and the number of fighter attack fast-jets considerably reduced. Today, Nimitz class carriers carry four very small 12 plane F-18 squadrons, fewer fast-jets than they theoretically can. The multi-role F-18s are used for air attack, air defense and as tankers. Normally, the historical serviceability rate of deployed air wing F-18s is about 85%. Four of the F-18s would generally be fully allocated to the airborne tanker role. These are primarily used to extend the on-station time of CAPs and to provide fuel for returning aircraft that often have to make multiple landing attempts at sea. In wartime, carriers will always maintain at least one forward CAP for air defense. Additional aircraft, configured for the air defense mission are maintained on the flight deck for QRA launch. Thus, 8 to 16 serviceable aircraft are generally continuously allocated to self-defense. This means that a single carrier has only about 18 to 20 F-18s available for offensive operations. If two carriers are operating together while maintaining only one CAP station, the number of F-18s available for strike operations per carrier would increase to about 27 to 35. USN strike tactics are to configure a large portion of these offensive sorties for supporting missions such as air-to-air or SEAD. Thus USN Nimitz carriers can generate very few actual offensive strike missions daily. During Desert Storm, USN carriers generated fewer than 20 long-range bombing sorties per carrier per day.
Nimitz class carriers became further underutilized by their air wings when their fixed-wing S-3 ASW squadrons were disbanded. The USN could then have increased the size of its embarked F-18 squadrons, but it could not do this within current budget allocations. In retrospect, it is obvious that it would have been cost effective to increase F-18 squadron size from 12 to 16 aircraft while decommissioning two carriers and their air wings. This would have saved several billion dollars a year. But, it would have reduced the number of senior command billets at the Captain and Rear Admiral level which was then, and remains today, wholly unacceptable to the USN.
Over the last decades, the USN has conducted several surge exercises on its F-18 equipped CVs. A third watch of aircraft support personnel and a second set of air crew were temporarily added to existing carriers and their air wings. The results were predictable! The number of fast-jet sorties which could be generated daily roughly doubled. The enhanced carrier air wings could have sustained intense 24/7 operations for about 3 to 4 days until the available fuel, ordnance and other consumables were expended. Having conducted these illuminating operational tests, the USN then did nothing to implement the lessons learned.
Based on the results of the surge exercises and the known operational limits of current Nimitz class carriers, the USN could safely cut back the number of commissioned carriers from 11 to 7. Two additional unmanned carrier hulls would be in long-term overhaul in decommissioned status, thereby maximizing the availability of the 6 commissioned combat-ready carriers. There would be only 6 active air wings, each with four 16 versus 12 strong F-18 squadrons. The seventh carrier would only be used for the at-sea training of 4 new reserve air wing surge teams. Consequently, the seventh carrier would have only a partial ship’s crew and minimal air wing personnel. The 4 reserve air wing surge teams would each comprise sets of air crew plus aviation support teams. The personnel of the 4 reserve air wing surge teams would train on shared air frames organized into specialized non-deployable training units located on both coasts.
World-wide response times and regional wartime sortie generation capability would be the same as before, but the number of active personnel and the number of dedicated escorts and all associated operating costs would be very considerably reduced.
USN carriers were designed to defeat typical USN anti-ship weapons, which included torpedoes and high explosive (HE) and armor penetrating high explosive (APHE) bombs of varying sizes. Carrier magazines were provided with side and top ballistic protection designed to prevent penetration by the most severe of these threats in order to preclude catastrophic mass detonation. The explosion of the Battleship Arizona at Pearl Harbor was a classic case of mass detonation, which is the virtually simultaneous detonation of stored ammunition. Starting with the CVN-71, new construction Nimitz class carriers were also provided with limited protection against Soviet large diameter shaped charge (HEAT) missile warheads. This limited protection has reportedly been subsequently retrofitted into at least some earlier carriers.
Air delivered bombs have a sub-sonic impact velocity. This limits their ability to penetrate through moderate thickness ballistic armor protection. But more recent Soviet anti-ship missiles had very high super-sonic impact velocities. Their warheads, therefore, were the equivalent of World War II battle cruiser or battleship APHE shells. Because of their vastly higher kinetic energy at impact, these warheads have much high penetrability than sub-sonic bombs of similar weight. De-classified World War II armor protection data indicates that it would require at least 10 to 12 inches or more of conventional steel armor plate to defeat these advanced super-sonic APHE threats. Based on open source data, USN carrier designs employ much thinner steel armor. Moreover, the US can no longer produce thick ballistic steel armor. Consequently, it is very likely that the ballistic protection of all existing US carriers can be penetrated by these advanced threats. If it is assumed that the hit distribution of these weapons will be random, then the probability of any such weapon actually penetrating into a major magazine would probably be less than 10%. But, current state-of-art seeker technology is available which permits the use of selective aim points. This means that the probability of a weapon being specifically targeted against a major carrier magazine can be very high. Providing all-around protection for carrier ammunition magazines that would defeat both HEAT and super-sonic APHE warheads would require an increase in hull depth and volume and a significant increase in displacement. The increase in displacement would require a very expensive increase in propulsive power in order to maintain speed. Based on the characteristics of the latest USN carrier, now under construction, which are generally similar to the characteristics of the Nimitz class, it appears highly probable that this design is not protected against these advanced threats.
When the first nuclear carrier was being designed, Admiral Rickover unilaterally decided that a nuclear reactor was no different than a conventional steam boiler. Therefore, unlike magazines, the nuclear reactor compartments of carriers are not specially protected by increased boundary armor. A penetrating enemy weapon could, therefore, break containment and cause a massive uncontrollable nuclear leak. Even if the ship did not sink, it would be a radiated hulk which could not be repaired for decades. The reactor spaces are located immediately adjacent to large magazines cumulatively holding several thousand tons of ammunition. If there was a mass detonation in an adjacent magazine, the reactor compartments would, almost certainly, be ripped apart. If this were to occur in port or in shallow water, the environmental result would be absolutely catastrophic.
The vulnerability of USN aircraft carriers to advanced weapons was no secret to Soviet engineers. That’s why they developed weapons to exploit known carrier weaknesses. Yet, the USN has maintained tight control of information about the vulnerability of its carriers. This was done in order to neutralize the USN’s real enemies, first, the USAF, which would have used this information to fight internal battles within the Pentagon over funding and force levels, and, second, Congress, which has to authorize new construction and force levels.
I believe construction of all vulnerable nuclear powered carriers, beyond those already in service, should immediately be cancelled or converted to conventional power. In this age of terrorism, all foreign port visits by existing nuclear powered carriers should also be terminated. In order to survive, carriers have to stay well off shore and remain mobile, operating in deep water.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Today, the IDF is undersized. Its equipment is generally inferior to that generated for export by its own industry. The training of the reserves which constitute the bulk of its force structure remains inadequate. The Israeli public, feeling secure and enjoying a high standard of living, has opted to pay a "blood tax", trading the future lives of its sons, husbands and fathers for lower taxes and the convenience of less burdensome reserve duty.
Spending 5 billion shekels on a defense system against low lethality artillery rockets and deploying these missile batteries in defense of urban areas rather than strategically vital air and military bases is utter strategic nonsense. It is not surprising that it comes from a proven military illiterate like Amir Peretz. This additional funding would be far better spent on reactivating the three reserve tank divisions prematurely deactivated in 2004, as well as two F 4-2000, one F-16A and one AH-1S squadrons, all recently deactivated to reduce the Israeli military budget. Israel also needs to significantly increase reserve training and should procure the Israeli manufactured force multipliers that will improve the quality of existing kit.
The United States's offer to partially fund additional Iron Dome Batteries is designed to offset the risk Israel would assume by withdrawing from West Bank. Israelis who think that Iron Dome is a cost effective solution to the threat of cross border bombardment are at odds with their General Staff, which has consistently recommended emphasis on offensive action versus missile interceptors. Israel is a strange country. Everyone serves in the military; yet, virtually no Israeli understands national defense.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
An increase in U.S. attack capability would require the deployment of more air power. But, any build-up of U.S. regional air power would require basing rights, take several months and would necessarily be very public. Additional U.S. carriers could be shifted into the region. But, this, too, would be very public and the addition in strike power would be limited. Iran would, therefore, be give clear strategic warning of any U.S. intent to pre-empt its WMD program. Iran could easily disassemble and hide the key elements of its WMD program, and/or take the political/military initiative to pre-empt the U.S. build-up.
At present, U.S. naval surface forces in the Persian Gulf comprise about 5 surface combatants, 4 slow, poorly armed patrol boats, and 4 mine-sweeper/hunters. These limited naval units lack the capability to neutralize Iranian small boat swarms, mine laying craft, ASCM launchers, and long-range sure gun batteries. Iran very likely has the military capability to close the Straits of Hommuz through which a large portion of the world's oil passes, particularly if it does so before the U.S. initiates combat.
Current U.S. ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are undersized, relatively lightly armed and poorly trained for conventional warfare.
The hard reality is that the U.S. lacks a significant military capability to launch a surprise attack on Iran without providing Iran with clear strategic warning. But, surprise is absolutely necessary to ensure maximum disruption of existing Iranian WMD facilities and manufacturing sites. The slow and very public build-up of U.S. military power would also hand Iran the military initiative for many months.
If the U.S. were to initiate a massive build-up of conventional forces in the Persian Gulf region necessary to rapidly subdue Iran, and if Iran then illogically passively awaited the certain U.S. attack, it would still require the call up of several hundred thousand U.S. military reserves, massive retraining and the expenditure of over a hundred-fifty billion dollars, none of which seems politically feasible at this time.
Given these military realities, it is assessed that there is virtually no chance that the present U.S. government would employ force to pre-empt the Iranian WMD program.
By comparison, Israel has a surprise attack capability against Iran that the U.S. lacks. Within 72 to 96 hours, after mobilization of the IDF/SAF, it can generate over 700 combat sorties per day over Iran, delivering over 1,500 two thousand pound PGMs daily. Over a three day air campaign, the Israelis can deliver over 4 times the ordnance the U.S. could now generate. This capability is far greater than assumed by inside-the-beltway experts, all of whom have vastly underestimated Israeli air power. First, Israel has many more long-range multi-role strike aircraft than they generally assumed. Moreover, as compared to the USAF, it operationally employs a far higher percentage of serviceable aircraft, all of which are multi-role. It allocates virtually all its initial sorties to strike missions and it generated a far higher daily sortie rate. Consequently, the number of long-range Israeli strike aircraft is over 2 times higher than generally assumed and the daily strike capacity of each of these airframes is 7 times higher than that generated by the USAF. Moreover, as compared to the U.S., the Israeli target set would also be far narrower, as Israel could ignore the short-range ballistic missiles, ASCMs, naval craft, helicopters, and ground forces which do not threaten it, but which could be used against U.S. vital interests.
If Israel were to give the U.S. firm warning of an impending attack on Iran, the very public rush to reinforce and redeploy U.S. regional forces would compromise surprise. Therefore, Israel will likely provide the U.S. with only a clear warning of strategic intent, but it will use deception and secrecy to operationally surprise the U.S. in order to achieve strategic surprise against Iran.
Iran has huge multiple nuclear facilities, each comprising many separate aim points. The complete destruction of some individual buildings or bunkers would require many PGMs. To maximize the delays in reconstitution, Israel should not only target operational facilities, but the vital manufacturing plants where components are produced. In my view, Israel's strikes should not be limited to nuclear facilities, but also to difficult-to-replace missile production facilities. Nor does it make any sense for Israel to leave in tact the missiles, combat and transport refueling aircraft that Iran would likely use for retaliatory strikes. In order for its aircraft to conduct efficient and relatively safe PGM strikes from medium altitude, the IDF/SAF would also have to suppress Iran's air defenses, including its heavy SAMs, surveillance radars and interceptors. This could not be accomplished by a simple one-time raid, but rather would require the generation of several thousand sorties and the delivery of about 5,000 PGMs during a limited strategic air operation lasting several days. In so far as feasible, civilian non-military targets would not be hit. In fact, Iran's POL facilities and its electrical generating plants could and should be held hostage to deter Iranian terrorist attacks on innocent Israeli/Jewish international targets.
If Israel attacks, Iran will have to make a fateful decision: whether to retaliate against Israel alone or to also retaliate against the U.S.
If Iran decides to retaliate solely against Israel, it is virtually certain that it will activate Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran also has a mutual defense treaty with Syria. My assessment is that Syria will also attack Israel. If Israel does not first conduct counter-force targeting, Iran will also launch missiles and strike aircraft at Israel, and attempt to shift reinforcements westward by transport aircraft. Shia terror cells will likely be activated to strike Israeli and Jewish global targets.
Israel has underfunded its military for over a decade. Between 2001 and 2006, force-on-force training of conscripts was vastly reduced and many reserve units did not undergo annual refresher training. Since 2006, the IDF has considerable improved its training; but, it remains underfunded. Still, the Israeli military is capable of rapidly and decisively crushing Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria, if appropriately directed by the government. The amount of damage that Israeli cities and towns will incur will depend entirely on the rules of engagement the government directs the IDF to employ. If the IDF uses COIN ROEs in Gaza and Southern Lebanon, they will be hit by many thousands of rockets and have to endure barrages for a month or more. But, if the Israeli government considers attacks across international boundaries as acts of war, and then applied wartime ROEs, then the firing of rockets into Israel could be almost totally suppressed within only a few days. A Syrian-Israeli war will be as nearly one-sided as Operation Desert Storm. Unlike Iraqis, some Syrian units will valiantly stand and fight to the death. But the difference in unit quality is so vast, that, ultimately, it will become a live fire exercise with heavy return fire to keep Israelis on edge.
Israel is capable of intercepting most Iranian or Syrian ballistic missiles so long as they are not fired in short intense barrages. If Israel has the military initiative, it should be able to destroy many of these on the ground before they are deployed or launched. Iranian combat or military transport aircraft flying westward would likely be ruthlessly intercepted by Israeli fighters, with most downed hundreds of kilometers to the east of the Jordan Valley. The Syrian air force would likely cease to exist within hours, massacred in one-sided air-to-air dogfights or destroyed on the ground.
Iran has said that, if attacked, it will retaliate against the U.S. and Israel. Revolutionary governments generally act as they have promised. In addition to attacking Israel, as have been previously described, Iran has said that it would also:
- close the Straits of Hommuz to shipping,
- attack shipping in the Persian Gulf,
- launch missiles and rockets at U.S. regional bases,
- attack U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and
- activate international terrorist cells against U.S. terrorist targets.
If Israel attacks Iran, Iran will have the military initiative against the U.S. Therefore, Iran will be able to coordinate the initiation of mining, ASCM and boat swarm attacks, missile/rocket launches, and cross-border attacks. It is assessed that it will be highly probable that Iran's mining of the Straits of Hommuz would succeed as the U.S. lacks the pre-deployed military forces necessary to prevent it.
The U.S. will face a come-as-you-are war with its vital sea born lines of communications totally cut. It will have to ask for basing rights in Turkey, Iraq, the Suni-Arab States, and the Gulf States as well as in the former Soviet Republics north of Iran. These diplomatic negotiations will take place against the backdrop of Arab television showing 24/7 live images of the Israelis pummeling Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. Turkey's first concern will be the Kurds. The only concern of Suni Arab kings and dictators is the survival of their regimes. Except for Kuwait and the UAE, the emirates will be intimidated by Iran and worried about their Shia populations. Russia will play big power politics in the former Soviet Republics. Getting basing and transit rights will not be simple.
There are numerous Iranian held fortified islands in the Straits of Hommuz. These have defensive garrisons, mobile ASCM launchers and long-range guns. These garrisons will have to be completely neutralized by the USN and the USMC before the Straits can be swept by U.S. and Allied mine hunters and mine sweepers. These fiberglass or wooden hull ships are virtually defenseless. They operate at exceedingly slow speed, often at only 1 to 2 knots. They are easy targets for ASCMs or long-range artillery. The heaviest gun in USN service fires a 127 mm seventy pound shell. A Burke Class destroyer has less than 20% of the shore bombardment capability of World War II destroyers, but over double the navigational draft. In many locations of the Persian Gulf, they can't get close enough to the shoreline to use their guns. The USMC has very little across-the-beach assault capability beyond a handful of thin-skinned, vulnerable air-cushioned vehicles. We used to have 1,100 LSTs. Now we have none. Getting armor ashore will be very difficult. Amphibious assaults in the Gulf are going to be painful and will take months to organize. Once the Straits are open, to keep the sea lines of communications safe, we will have to own the Iranian shoreline. That means the insertion of a very large U.S. Army force. Additional Army units will have to somehow get into Afghanistan and Iraq to overcome Iranian units. The Iranians will use light infantry in urban areas. To save Iraq, we may have to destroy many of their cities.
It's going to take at least five months for the U.S. to defeat Iran's asymmetrical threats and re-open the oil flow. We will have virtually the entire U.S. Army and Marine Corps deployed in the Persian Gulf region. There will be no was to sustain a garrison in the areas without re-imposition of the draft in the U.S.
What I have presented here will surprise many. The reality is that, in the Middle East today, we are not the dominant military power. Israel is. Israelis overestimate the U.S. They cannot fathom how a country that spends so much on defense can generate such small forces, so slowly. Conversely, American leaders universally underestimate Israeli military capability. Fifty plus years of Israeli disinformation and propaganda has turned illusion into reality. Policy based on illusion is catastrophic and today all policy on the Iranian WMD issue is based on totally false perceptions of the reality of power in the Middle East.