Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Lieutenant X On (The Fate Of) Aircraft Carriers-II

Back to our incognito US naval officer. LT X points out what seems to be an axiom, that is a statement which requires no proof:  

Well, this argument shouldn't be limited to US naval aviation only. Last time United States faced half-decent adversary capable of a full spectrum warfare, that is ranging from guerilla to full blown combined arms operations.... I would say Korea, and even this is a stretch. Now comes the issue of naval aviation as a "decisive" force in power projection. One of the first US military professionals who questioned the status quo, based on what LT X characterizes as a combat history "polluted by naval aviation", was Colonel Douglas McGregor who in his seminal Breaking The Phalanx pointed out what many knew all along--air forces are simply more "productive" when "projecting power" from their land bases. 

FWEs (Fighter Wing Equivalents) numbers speak volumes. But that is, of course, when one considers an enemy such as Iraq, which neither wanted nor realistically could attack staging areas and airfields of anti-Saddam coalition. But in any case, mathematics (arithmetic) is simply not there when it comes to naval air power "projecting power", especially if this projecting to be done against competent and more-or-less equipped enemy. But that is an arithmetic approach, pure quantitative, comparison of forces; algebra, let alone calculus of such a "projection" will reveal a much grimmer reality for a "projector". I already addressed partially this issue before, here and there, among many other places. It is still arithmetic approach of a linear comparison of forces, the profile of modern battle against developed A2/AD will be extremely complex and against peers, who can deploy, apart from state-of-the-art air defense, capable air forces, it will be a death knell for carrier aviation. 

As Admiral Kuznetsov's latest deployment to the shores of Syria demonstrated fully--the ratios which McGregor refers to (EAW) generally hold. Combat "input" of Kuznetsov's air wing was  marginal at best when viewed against the background of operational tempo of Russia's Air Space Forces there, including, at some point, of some SU-33s being based directly to the Khmeimim airfield due to Kuznetzov's arresters malfunction. Of course, proponents of carrier aviation will make an argument that Kuznetsov is an old carrier and its air wing was not large at all. Against 87 aircraft which Russia's AF had at Khmeimim by November 2015, Kuznetsov carried 14 fixed wing aircraft and 18 helicopters. Out of those only 4 MiG 29Ks and 4 KA-52K were dedicated ground attack aircraft, with SU-33s being equipped with Gefest SVP-24 which gave them a robust ground attack capability. Yet, roughly 4 times larger Air Force (Air Space Forces) contingent from Khmeimim (80+ aircraft of all types against Kuznetsov's ground-attack 18) flew on the order of magnitude more sorties and, it could be stated, played a decisive role in achieving a strategic reversal of the situation in Syria. But Syria was in many respects a repetition of what US combat aviation encountered in its operations against Iraq or Afghanistan--an opponent with no viable air defense and air force. In the peer-to-peer scenario things change dramatically because:

1. Carrier aviation will face real air forces at the enemy's "shore" or even at their carrier stations. As Roger Thompson writes in his important bookThe Israeli Air Force, also one of the most professional in the world, has outshined the U.S. Navy, and they have done so even with less capable aircraft. A joint U.S.N.-I.A.F. air combat exercise in 1999 underlines and highlights the thesis that the U.S. Navy is overrated. On September 14, 1999, The Jerusalem Post announced that the Israelis soundly dispatched the air wing from the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt (which, incidentally, was the same carrier the Dutch destroyed in 1999). Israeli F-16s squared off against American F-14s and F-18s, both of which are said to be more capable than the F-16. The final results were astonishing. The Israelis shot down a whopping 220 U.S. aircraft while losing only 20 themselves. The 10:1 kill ratio was so embarrassing that the results were not “officially published ‘to save the reputations of the U.S. Navy pilots.’” The magazine article on which the article was based, however, reported the kill ratio to be about 20:1. Some dispute these figures, and claim that the Israelis had an “unfair advantage,” and did not include American victories from “stand-off missile hits.” But, as The Washington Times reported on September 15, 2000, an official investigation by Vice Admiral Lee F. Gunn, U.S.N., confirmed “Navy pilots were thoroughly beaten in an exercise against Israeli fliers. ‘An air wing commander was proud the Israelis only achieved a 6-to-1 kill ratio during simulated air-to-air combat maneuvers against a carrier air wing during a recent exercise, instead of the 20-to-1 kill ratio initially claimed.’”  

It is a tactical axiom that land based aviation, its pilots, dedicate more time to actual combat training than their deck based colleagues, who must train constantly in carrier deck landing and take offs--a very complex skill but which doesn't add much to combat efficiency in the real battle but surely works well as an "argument" in the penis measuring contests between naval and air force aviators. Carrier aviation, however, will face forces who do not care much about deck cycle and have no problems with taking off and landing in any conditions. This is not to say that there are no excellent pilots in carrier aviation, far from it--many superb pilots fly from carrier decks but in case of "power projection" against "peer" they must expect facing jets and pilots who are at least equal and often superior to them and the times of carriers being relatively safe on their stations are coming to an end. Peers and near peers are not only getting excellent jets and training, they also develop "pushing out to sea" methods to protect their own shores and inland

2. Missile-carrying submarines, both SSGNs and SSKs. A two-layer (double-range) barrier which starts at a remote sea or ocean zones--this is where modern SSGNs deploy. They will carry extremely potent anti-shipping missiles, many of them. Project 949A (Oscar II) SSGNs are being modernized to carry 72 anti-shipping missiles and not just some missiles--capabilities of something like P-800 Onyx, especially in salvo of 4-6 or 8 missiles. Deployment of even a single such sub creates an extremely serious containment factor, especially if the deployment is "supported" with heterogeneous forces capable to prevent or extremely impede operations of enemy's ASW (Patrol) Aviation in remote sea or ocean zones. Conditions for such a force I will review later in this series of posts. This is the first edge (rubezh) of the defense (or deterrence), the second one being in own littoral with missile-carrying SSKs which will be reliably covered by own air force, ASW-Patrol Aviation and will have an advantage operating against enemy's SSNs. 

The factors, most important of them--missiles, which will, and already influence modern carriers' operations are in play and will only increase their role. Modern missile weapons and platforms which carry them have matured. This is a deadly technological and tactical-operational mix which leaves for CBGs only open oceans to sail in relative safety, far from the littorals of "peers". The coming of 3M22 Zircon (and more tamed Russian-Indian Brahmos-II) will make combat operations of CBGs impossible since there will be no defense against such menace, even if one considers all those promises of laser weapons which exist mostly on paper and in labs and will not become usable weapons for a long time. In the end, even a laser beam must be pointed at the target, that is have all angles (bearing or azimuth and elevation) in order to have a chance at one missile, facing 8 simultaneously? 20? 32? Paradoxically, it is in the open oceans where these magnificent beasts such as US Navy's CVNs will find their end because they will be useless there providing barely a cent of a bang for a ten billion plus of a buck. But here we inevitably get from technological and operational level to a doctrinal one and a nation's views on the armed forces' creation, maintenance and use.  Paradigm shifted and if carriers do not want to disappear completely they will have to change, and they will.  How? That is a billion dollar question. Aviation still has and will have a use over oceans and the first thing which comes to mind is ASW. Remember this...
Zumwalt's Idea.
Or this?


There is a reason why I follow closely the fate of F-35B  

 To Be Continued....


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