Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't-I (Military Power, Again).

I do sympathize with US Armed Forces in one very serious respect--being a tool of insane neocon foreign policy and delirious military-political doctrines, US Armed Forces, together with the US as a whole, have sustained some major, to put it mildly, reputational damage as of lately. Arguing about this is really a waste of time since the sheer number of high profile scandals from forcing an ROTC cadets to walk in women's shoes, to naming Navy's tanker after Harvey Milk--the gay rights activist, to actual very serious strategic and operational failures both in Iraq and in Afghanistan (and in Syria), is more than enough to give an impression that things are not going the way they are supposed to go. And they are not, and it is not just the impression.  It is also a very sensitive matter since very many (by far not all, though) in and around US Armed Forces have gotten used to thinking about themselves as omnipotent. As Lt. Colonel Davies succinctly put it:

"In the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, there was great celebration in America that the crushing military victory over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, “kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all” and demonstrated the United States was now the world’s sole military superpower. That was no empty bluster. Even Beijing and Moscow were impressed and openly lamented they were militarily inferior. Americans across the board were optimistic and proud. However justified that pride might have been at the time, it quickly mutated into distasteful arrogance. Now, it is an outright danger to the nation."

Fact is, the US military talked itself up so much that at some point it simply stopped being adequate to the qualities and capabilities it claimed to have. Make no mistake, it is still a first class fighting force and is a force which could only be described in terms of a superpower  which US as a whole still remains. For how long? That is a question of questions. 

No force represents American superpowerdom better than her first class and world's most powerful Navy. There is no discussion about it--it is by far the most powerful navy in the world, which also has a glorious battle history and is highly professional. Yet, the same as with the country it represents, it has some very serious operational and technological issues. In layman's lingo--it is not invincible. In the last three years since the start of Ukrainian mayhem number of US high ranked generals, such as Philip Breedlove, claimed that Russia had regular troops in Ukraine fighting alongside "separatists". Did Breedlove know that this was a BS? Hell yes, he knew, he also knew that should Russian Army fight in Ukraine, the war will be over pretty fast. Here he got himself into the classic Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't situation. You are damned if you lie about Russian Army, thus making yourself look like a fool, you are also damned if you use your own professional background and senses and state that real Russian Army's capabilities are such that it would take about a week to simply wipe Ukrainian Armed Forces out as an organized fighting force. This is a military version of Russophrenia--the enemy must be simultaneously a piece of crap which doesn't even touch the feet of US Armed Forces and be very powerful as to impede or shut down everything what goes under the title of "force projection" as to provide enough cash flow from the holder of the purse to buy new shiny toys.  

Enter current Chief Of Naval Operations Admiral Richardson and his interview to TNI with telling title:

Chief of Naval Operations Richardson: US Aircraft Carriers Can Fight Inside A2/AD Zones

This interview is a classic example of this Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't principle and it is absolutely not new for modern US Navy--because US Navy is a carrier-centric one. US Navy's large aircraft carriers are magnificent ships, incredible feats of engineering in their own right and they do provide an imposing visuals which easily translate into a clear statement of US global power to project force... that is when we are talking about some third world sh.tholes which have no real navy, no real air-defense, no real air force or, in general, anything that accounts for... drum roll... A2/AD (that is Anti-Access/Area Denial) capabilities. But in US Navy it is damned if you do not have carrier-centric navy, damned if you do, because for a 20+ billion dollars per single Carrier Battle Group you have to find the way to do more than just provide visuals and to bomb with impunity the shit out of such places as Iraq or Afghanistan, and damned if you do since the whole premise of American exceptionalism and superpowerdom goes to hell without carriers and there are very good chances to lose them when facing serious people. Are US CBGs really capable to fight inside REAL A2/AD zones? Here, after we skip the platitude about US Navy leadership's views on A2/AD: "A2/AD—as it is now called—has existed since the dawn of warfare when primitive man was fighting with rocks and spears. Overtime, A2/AD techniques have evolved as technology has improved with ever-greater range and lethality. Rocks and spears eventually gave way to bows and arrows, muskets and cannons. Thus, the advent of long-range anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles is simply another technological evolution of A2/AD," Admiral Richardson makes a very startling statement:

"Indeed, as many U.S. Navy commanders including Richardson and Rear Adm. (Upper Half) DeWolfe Miller, the service’s director of air warfare, have pointed out, anti-access bubbles defended by Chinese DF-21D or DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missile systems or Russian Bastion-P supersonic anti-ship missile systems are not impenetrable ‘Iron Domes.’ Nor do formidable Russian and Chinese air defense systems such as the S-400 or HQ-9 necessarily render the airspace they protect into no-go zones for the carrier air wing."

Why this statement is startling may not be obvious for a civilian but for anyone with even rudimentary understanding of military power this "revelation" is not only stunning it reeks of a "distasteful arrogance"(c) since Admiral Richardson forgets to mention several major force components which constitute this very A2/AD concept--the factors which US Navy never encountered in real combat and, hopefully, never will. One such, among many others, factor is actual an actual air force of the side which defends itself from being "democratized" and "liberated" by the US Navy.  

Let's ask ourselves a question--what is an aircraft carrier? The answer is extremely simple: it is a mobile airfield which carries with itself its own mini-air force, that is the air wing. I will omit for now scenarios which are a wet dream of many in what Elmo Zumwalt defined as the "carrier trade union"--that is a dream of a large carrier naval battle between two fleets in the ocean, harking back to the glory days of Midway and to moribund Mahan's doctrine--this is not a serious discussion for anyone who has any understanding of a modern warfare. Let's imagine what A2/AD complex of such a gas station masquerading as a country of Russia looks like. I, once, made a very brief review of it in this blog. Now it is time to take a closer and much more detailed look at it and we will start with...

1.  Air Force

Admiral Richardson (undeniably a very competent officer, a former submariner) is being disingenuous here. A2/AD for people who really do give a huge damn about own security, such as Russia, starts with what really matters when dealing with those who want to "operate" within this zone--in this particular case it is one or several CBGs of US Navy--it starts with air defense, which in Soviet times had its own... air force. No, I am not talking about "air force" such as Iraqi or even Iranian one, which still flies old and obsolete F-14s. No, we are talking here about the Air Force which operates state of the art planes, complex networks, first class sensors and early warning (ground and airborne) systems. A brief look at the only theater where US Navy's carrier groups can possibly encounter Russian A2/AD is the Russian Far East. From Kamchatka, along the Kuril island Chain, to Japan--these are ocean spaces where CBGs could theoretically deploy in order to attack Russia. The straight line distance between Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is about 1500 miles, the same is from Tokyo to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. This is the "front"--this is just to give the impression of a good size of a theater BEFORE crossing Kuril Islands Chain. This is also (very-very roughly) the line from which US carriers have to launch their planes to attack both Russian Navy's assets in the area and strike main naval bases of Russia's Pacific Fleet--Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. You can mentally (or on the actual map) draw two circles with centers in Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky respectively with both circles or rather rings having a radii between 400 (internal) and 600 (external) miles--this is where the launch of the carrier borne jets will happen--to bomb the shit out of respectively Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. That is if both naval bases have the same capability as Iraqi Armed Forces or even better equipped and trained Iranian ones. But here is the problem with carriers--they always were a huge fat targets and in the age of serious sensors' advancements getting tracking and targeting information on them is much easier than it was in 1960s or even 1980s. 

If you didn't notice, while discussing this whole A2/AD business I didn't mention a word "nuclear", I will later. For now we have to concentrate on purely conventional option. And here are some very unpleasant news for those who think that carriers would be able to operate within this zone against near peer or peer. It starts with a simple realization of operational reality of Russia's Air Force, whose air superiority, air defense (intercept), strike, refueling and early warning assets are located exactly around both Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Just to give some taste of what is in store for carrier air-wings attacking Russian assets within this zone, here are some:

1. 35 Su-35s located 11 in Vladivostok and 24 near Komsomolsk-on-Amur, with the capability to redeploy to any airfield closer to the coast; 

2. The regiment of Mig-31s (presumably updated to BM) from Elizovo is another X-factor in all these considerations;

3. Then, of course, comes another Y-factor of how many out of available 80 + advanced Sukhoi Su-30 (SM) will be made available for operations against US CBGs;

4. Another absolute Z-factor will be how many SU-34s (apart from being the outstanding strike aircraft, and being also a decent jet-fighters in their own right) will be made available to the 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command responsible for the safety of Russian far East  

Even if to forego a large number (in hundreds) of legacy but still very capable modernized SU-27 (SM, SM3), which are and will be available for the defense of Russia's Far East, even if to discount this enormously potent force in its own right, and even if to discount large numbers of updated Mig-29s, even then, what is left numbered in pp. 1-4 represents a combination of a 100+ combat aircraft with the cutting edge sensors and firepower. Augmented with early warning, intelligence and refueling capabilities this becomes a force which can handle on its own any air wing. And these are not perspective capabilities we are talking about--these planes are already there, they are tested and are piloted by pilots who actually know how to fly and how to fight. Not only this force is capable to fight off the enemy, but it is capable to carry out its own strike missions with X-31 supersonic missiles. I reiterate, this is IF the force is calculated only based on the numbers from points 1 through 4. Once integrated (which it is already) into the much larger air-capability, both deployed and on-demand, one has to ask the question whose A2/AD zone Admiral Richardson talks about in his interview? Russia's? I hope so that this is not what Admiral had in mind, because even in conventional framework US Navy, trying to operate within Russia's Far Eastern A2/AD "bubble", will encounter something that it never encountered since WW II and that is peer-to-peer competitor. What is most important, this competitor is in no rush to project its force anywhere else--it is there to protect itself and that what makes this whole situation so interesting to ponder. And it was pondered, it was studied by a man whom I (and not me only) respect tremendously as a remarkable naval strategist and a thinker, even though he was my enemy at some point of time. But at least he knew what REAL naval war could be against the competent adversary and he seldom underestimated one

Admiral Zumwalt

This post is the start, or rather a continuation in a different plane, of elaborations on a general topic of military power and, especially naval, warfare. This time with actual numbers (and, yes, I know, I know--some calculus and other funny math) at hand.....

To Be Continued.... 

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