Thursday, October 20, 2011

What motivates an all F-35B force?

Being a Bloom County fan from its early days, I liked the cartoons from the 1980s. I have all the books that were published from that era.

I am reminded of one of the characters in the series, Steve Dallas; a shady lawyer when he had to defend a crazy old lady that chopped up her husband with a hatchet.

Since the analogy is now kind of set, as Steve Dallas would say, "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let me try this one on you."

Marketing seems to be the latest USMC skill-set for fielding weapon's systems. They learned from the bad days of V-22 (now MV-22) development history. So now, whenever their pet program is under threat, be that the now canceled EFV or the F-35B short-take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant, they invite press in to give them a whiz bang show.

Just like a day or so ago with the gathering of press on the USS Wasp to see the F-35B do short take-offs and vertical landings. USMC needed the press in an attempt to pull the rug out from decision makers on the Hill and DOD.

The U.S. Department of Defence better hope this kind of marketing effort doesn't go too far or the U.S. Navy big carrier community and USAF will face difficulty. Interesting as only the USMC has been pushing in a heavy way for the F-35, the USN and USAF just use their boiler-plate statements when it comes up to needs of their services.

The USMC got there first with gathering the press. They may win.

With the U.S. extremely short of budget money for the foreseeable future, the U.S. DOD risks looking like the size of the U.K. MOD of the 1980's.

There are those that think big carriers could never come under threat. It is big for taxpayer enabled jobs and the big carrier mafia is assumed to be a major part of our defense.

Big carriers are fearfully expensive to buy but even more fearfully expensive to operate every year. And, look at all the manpower which itself is no longer cheap.

Many would think that building and sustaining big carriers will never go away. To that I say; best to look at the fall of the Soviet Union and what happened to its defense structure and state run defense industry. We are beyond broke assuming "the people" don't all vote to close down several over-stuffed non-defense federal government agencies.

So many love their government entitlements. For some, the idea that you have a right to pursue happiness is no longer valid. You must have happiness provided to you by a government program. Touche to anyone stating that some in the DOD think the same way. I doubt we will see needed wholesale shut down of dead-wood departments in the federal government; at least until crushing reality sets in.

So it is back to Defense.

It is important for some to consider that an F-35B demo performing short-take-offs and vertical landings on the USS Wasp does not equal a complete go-to-war weapon system; not even close. And it will never be able to survive modern advanced threats. The only thing the F-35 program brings to the defense of the nation is STOVL capability. But only if you believe in STOVL as a needed combat capability to go to war.

I do not believe we need STOVL for fast jets. Many do.

Appearances not substance is what is at the bottom of the USMC PR effort. The PR effort is important to those who think they know what they know but can't be bothered to justify it for a valid strategic defense need.

If budget doom and gloom is strong, I can see enough push so that a leap from the STOVL-is-important crowd to those on the Hill who know budget is policy (more than ever) conspire to hatch a plan that makes the F-35B the only variant that should be built.

Here is some of the thinking that would enable that dangerous theory.

The original F-35 business plan is now dead. Get over it. The F-35 will always be expensive. We know that now. We will never see the numbers promised early in the program (defense procurement tradition). Having all services have the F-35B as the only F-35 makes for a true joint force for tac-air in the dark budget climate. Other non-U.S. JSF partner nations were always shaky anyway. If they want an F-35, they can have an F-35B STOVL.

To continue with their line of thought and an all F-35B force, Navy ship building won't need all the expensive gear associated with today's big carriers. More airfields can be flown from and military construction crews will have less work to do when they get there.

Here is where all that thinking gets really dangerous for military communities depending on their institution to never change.

Force structure with tac-air will get significantly smaller. We can retire big expensive carriers because PR people have told us many wars will be like Libya (no big carriers). An F-35B force structure for all services could easily look like the following when the realities of small amounts of money sink in.

F-35B combat-coded force structure DOD:

U.S. Navy-

-Build small $3B ski-jump non-nuclear carriers. The number ships for the program will be 10. The "air-wing" if you want to call it that, will be one squadron of F-35Bs (12 jets) and some helicopters. AWACs will be done by land-based aircraft. These ships can be paid for in-part by the money farmed back by retiring big carriers and useless cruisers. You can get 5 of these for every super carrier. The capability is not comparable, but that is not the goal with the budget-is-policy people. This will be a huge savings in sustainment and manpower costs per year.


Someone brought an important thought to my attention. Most of the big USMC amphib flat-tops have old style propulsion and will face retirement. In these budget times, the USMC will not see a large number of big flat-top amphibs.

-Build to a total of 4 big amphibs. There won't be any more Tarawas simply because there are too many modern weapons to make it a disaster. And, while we need a USMC for small littoral ops, we do not need a second land army. 4 F-35B USMC squadrons of 12 aircraft each.


20 Fighter Groups at 20 locations to justify current ASA (Air Sovereignty Alert) requirements. This could be as low as 18 locations. Each Group will have 24 F-35B.

Total DOD combat-coded F-35s

USN-- 120
USMC- 48
USAF- 432-480

While those jets may be “expensive”. The over-all logistics back-end for everything (over-all less force structure) is cheap money .

When capital hill goes nuts with ideas like this, you can thank the good-ol' folks over at USMC-PR and their friends. It is a plan that may work if threats were no greater than ALLIED FORCE 1999. Simply because, 8 SDBs per aircraft (along with other things like Tomahawk from ships and JASSM from multiple platforms) will yield a lot of dead legacy IADS targets in the first nights of a war.

However, not much of this should be confused with provided a true defense of the nation when comparing emerging reference threats. We may get an F-35 in operational service. What good it will do is another story.


Graeme said...

A bit like defining the dumbest idea that fits within the available budget.

Sure to be selected by clueless politicians and military procurement hacks that have not done the hard yards on the threat assessment.

Kinda depressing - the only flip side is that the reference threats will also be hit in the coming financial tsunami.

geogen said...

Interesting proposal, or theory, ELP, depending from which side one is looking at (or criticizing) it.

Dangerous sounding indeed, while sounding desperate - as if no other realistic near-term options too.

Would the CTOL/USAF variants of the F-35B at least get a standard CTOL F135 (or F136?) engine + nozzle... i.e., possibly substituting added fuel for the Lift-fan?

I'd personally be wanting to see an updated delivery schedule for such a radically proposed Tac-air recapitalization plan.

Would the last of this 600 jet F-35B STOVL force achieve a stretched out IOC by 2035? Or instead accelerated for 2025? How would the current mainstay Legacy force structure play into the interim sustainment plan - SLEP wise or Upgrade wise - while said F-35B STOVL fleet is being introduced and recapitalizing the force?

But I'd personally have to agree with the Eric overall in that the Super Carriers, despite their insane expense, should probably be maintained at as high an active number of CVN as technically feasible - along with maximal wings - regardless of the cost. At least for a 15 yr period give or take?

No, most definitely not the most optimal national strategy defense plan, if one could go back 15 yrs and start all over again... but arguably the only option on the table to play, to sustain balance of power. The USN/DoD is probably stuck with this near/mid-term cost no matter how expensive, or miscalculated the bill.

Anonymous said...

Marines (and especially their blogger community) love the idea of LHA/LHD's becoming force multiplying "Capital" ships - and they are trying to sell the hair brained idea to anyone on the Hill who will listen. What the Marines really want are their own light carriers like they had in WWII, and the F-35B is the key to that end.