Skip to comments.US naval aviation back on the rise
Posted on 04/04/2011 8:15:39 AM PDT by sukhoi-30mki
US naval aviation back on the rise
© Northrop Grumman
How Northrop Grumman sees the carrier deck of 2020
Retired Vice Adm Robert Dunn remembers being called to the Secretary of the Navy's office. It was 1989 and the US Navy was still at the peak of its Cold War, 600-ship glory. Defence spending, however, was already in decline and the navy's top civilian, Henry Garrett, had a tough decision to make. As deputy chief of naval operations for aviation, Dunn's portfolio included two projects for a carrier-based, long-range strike aircraft - a re-engined Grumman A-6E Intruder called the A-6F - and a far more ambitious project called the McDonnell Douglas/General Dynamics A-12 Avenger II.
"We can't afford the A-12 and the A-6F," Garrett told Dunn. "Which one do you want?" "I think we better go with the A-12 because that is going to be a more capable aircraft," Dunn said. Almost 22 years on, however, Dunn says: "In retrospect, I don't know if it was good advice or not." In fairness, there were few options. An era of naval aviation was coming to a close. In 1989, navy leaders could choose between two projects for a long-range strike aircraft; by the end of the next decade there were no such projects in development or anything similar in service.
On 7 January 1991, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney cancelled the A-12, citing design shortfalls and cost overruns. Six years later, the navy retired the last A-6E with no true replacement. The navy was changing in 1989 and the future became about limiting schedule delays, cost overruns and high operating costs. At the time of Dunn's meeting with Garrett, however, it still seemed right to advocate for a revolutionary aircraft. "There was a time when the navy was pushing the envelope much more," says Eric Wertheim, author of the US Naval Institute's "Combat Fleets of the World". If there was any doubting the shift in strategy, in December 1992 the navy awarded Boeing a $3.72 billion contract to develop the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which meant abandoning the Grumman F-14 contract. "The basic problem with the F-14 - not that it wasn't a good aircraft, it was a superb aircraft - but the cost per hour of the F-14 was twice that of the F-18 and at that time, with the budgets coming down, it was a matter of affordability," Dunn says.
"No question about it," says Norman Polmar, a naval consultant and author. "The F-14 in its time was one of the most versatile and capable fighter aircraft in the world. They proceeded with the Super Hornet at the direction of the Department of Defense in order to save maintenance money. I can assure you the F-14 was the preferred aircraft." Norman Friedman, another author and naval strategist, notes that the F-14 decision was in step with the navy's new operational vision, which implied a shift in emphasis from deep attack to littoral warfare.
"The key issue at the time was money - it often is," Friedman says. "There was also a conscious choice that the navy would not be doing heavy-duty deep strikes; those would be left to the air force, with Tomahawks doing the precision strikes. On that basis, the shorter-range F/A-18 was very attractive."
A major element in naval aviation identity to emerge after the early 1990s was a grudging reliance on other branches of the US military.
"Today the navy is content to depend on land-based tankers, whether they are air force or allied to do their work in Afghanistan or Iraq," Dunn says. "But we wanted to be self-contained in those days. [Aircraft] like the A-16, A-12 and F-14 were very attractive because they were long range. They didn't require as much refuelling as the [Vietnam-era Ling-Temco-Vought] A-7s and later the F-18s.
© US Navy
Carrier deck circa 1991
"More and more, with the kind of missions popping up around the world today, there's a dependency on land-based tankers. Somewhere along the way we have to work with our sister services. We can't be self-contained all the time." With the retirement of the last F-14D in 2006, the F/A-18A-D Hornet and the F/A-18E/F became the only tactical fighters on carrier decks fulfilling the key roles - air superiority and attack. The consolidation of the carrier deck was not limited to fighters. The retirement of the A-6 also meant the loss of the KA-6, the tanker variant that dramatically extended the range of carrier-based air attacks.
Some still think the navy's consolidation went too far, especially when the Lockheed S-3B Viking was retired and replaced by helicopters for anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol missions. "NAVAIR and the navy have made a significant effort to reduce their logistics chains on carrier decks," Wertheim says, but retiring the Vikings "takes away a capability that you just don't replace. You can't argue that you aren't losing capability." Dunn, however, thinks the navy made the right decisions about consolidation. "I've been in favour of reducing the number of types of aircraft because it so simplifies the logistics and maintenance support, which in many ways are the long poles in the tent," Dunn says.
He also stresses that the S-3B's capabilities were not only replaced by helicopters. "Don't forget the satellites that we're depending upon," Dunn says. "As far as [anti-submarine warfare], they're depending more and more on [attack submarines] that are part of the battle group." It is a lesson that epitomises a slogan of modern management - do more with less. By contrast, the US Air Force took an entirely different approach in the early 1990s - it launched the F-22 programme.
A 2005 study by Rand's project air force analysed the results of these two approaches.
The Lockheed Martin F-22 introduced a fighter that combined stealth, supercruise and integrated avionics, including all-new airframe, structural materials, engine, radar and cockpit systems. The F/A-18E/F was based on an existing airframe, engine and avionics. While the F-22's development cost was $7.2 billion over budget, the F/A-18E/F was delivered on cost, the Rand report concludes.
"If you were to go back in time to 1990 and say this is how your acquisition strategy is going to end up in 2011, how are you going to feel about it? My feeling is the air force would really be rethinking it," Wertheim says.
"The navy invested in EA-18 Growlers instead of just putting all their investment in stealth," he adds. "The navy waited for that technology to mature somewhat. You're seeing some of the issues you're having with the F-22 with their reliability because of the maintenance requirement. Their reliability is not what they hoped for." Not everyone is convinced the navy's approach was the right one. Polmar says the F/A-18E/F strategy worked but it helps that the navy has not faced a more capable adversary. "So far we've not met any opponents that have been able to beat a formation of F-18s," he says.
That situation seems to be changing rapidly. In December, the US military acknowledged China had fielded an anti-ship ballistic missile. Both Russia and China have also revealed prototypes for fifth-generation fighters to compete with the F-22 and Lockheed Martin F-35. Meanwhile, US navy and air force strategies on next-generation combat aircraft seem to be going in opposite directions. The air force is developing a new long-range bomber, while the navy plans to introduce the F-35C on carrier decks by the end of the decade, along with a possibly revolutionary system called the unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike (UCLASS) system. The navy may also replace the F/A-18E/F with the FA-XX in the mid-2020s. If the navy eventually combines the F-35C, UCLASS and FA-XX on to a single carrier deck, the capabilities of such a force would probably be recognisable to the fleet Dunn envisaged when he sealed the fate of the A-6F in Garrett's office in 1989.
"That's what it's all about," Dunn says. "Any thinking naval aviator will say the air force has the punch and the stay-ability if they have the bases. They don't often have the bases, so that's why the navy has to be ready."
Until Naval TacAir gets off of the F/A-18 BrainWash BandWagon TacAir will NEVER be on the “UpSwing”. The Grumman AirCraft Company was not called the “Iron Works” for nothing.
That and TailHook ‘91 KILLED Naval TacAir.
Our trrops are being used for target practice by Muslims in Afghan and Iraq with no mission thanks to the islamic. Waste of money and lives.
There is no doubt that the Navy’s plan to replace 1991’s 351 P-3s with several dozen P-8s plus an unknown UAV (BAMS) is a non-starter. We have, again, abandoned ASW (plus anti-mine warfare, too) as budgets shrink. We will pay the price in the next war.
It takes too long, and costs too much money, to build aircraft carriers. Can the whiz-kids in the Navy design an aircraft carrier barge that could be built in 8 weeks? Put a couple of catapaults on it, and tow it around. That fancy anti-ship missile don’t care if the target is moving at 30 knots or 10 knots. Build an aircraft repair barge with a crane on it to fix the broken planes. I’m betting that for the cost of an aircraft carrier, you could build several barges.
New digital quasi-redesigned Tomcats would have been great, especially if we had come out with some better bomb racks. There was enough space to fit 12 500 lb. bombs on the belly, but we were limited to 4. An air to air loadout of 2 sidewinders, 2 updated Phoenix, and 4 AMRAAM would have been pretty sweet too.
The Tomcat died because of the Tomcat community. While the Hornets were fighting to get FLIR and precision strike capability the Tomcats guys were running around screaming "We're fighter guys, let the A-6s drop the bombs. When do we get new engines?" If the Tomcat community had jumped on the Strike Fighter bandwagon in the mid-eighties there would have never been a Super Hornet. By the time they jumped on board with LANTIRN in the mid 90's it was too late. Even LANTIRN was a project done on a shoe string budget as a demonstration project. Had a certain O-6 not ponied up the aircraft that wouldn't have happened.
I was Tomcat guy and had to watch it all happen.
They are just now recovering from the loss of all the aircraft Juan McPain destroyed during his illustrious career./snic
I thought it was the hoky-poky.
It was a bad decision even then. The R&D had been paid for and done, the only saving was the production cost. And the A-6F would have been a better aircraft than whatever was built with that mpney instead.
They might not be in the strike role today, but the USNavy could sure use 100+ KA6-H (converted from the A-6F between 2005-2010) instead of using strike aircraft as buddy tankers.
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Pitty. Everything I’ve read pointed to the Tomcat as just coming into the capabilities of the airframe, right as they retired it.
The biggest risk we face right now is from a fundamental military principle that has always existed. This is that “Quantity and quality are a balance. Emphasizing one at the expense of the other will leave you vulnerable.”
Right now, a modest UAV could be built for the price of an economy car. And many countries around the world could afford to set up a mass production line to make enormous numbers of such simple weapons.
A single F-22 Raptor has a production cost of $150m. If the price of a UAV could be kept down to $50,000 each, a country could produce 3,000 such UAVs for the cost of a single F-22.
If they wanted to be more elaborate, and produce a $100,000 UAV, they could still produce 1,500 such UAVs.
If they wanted a serious, high performance UAV enough so that they cost $1,000,000 each, they could still make 150 of them.
A Lear Jet costs about $5,000,000 each. That is still 30 aircraft, for the price of a single F-22 Raptor.
So how many enemy aircraft can the F-22 Raptor shoot down at once? Maybe six or eight? But then it has to return home to be rearmed. And even with the most expensive option, that would leave 22 enemy aircraft in the air.
With the cheapest option, 2,992 enemy aircraft heading for their targets.
Without control of the air those UAV will fall out of the sky like flies moving through black flag spray.
“On 7 January 1991, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney cancelled the A-12, citing design shortfalls and cost overruns.”
Yes, I was there that day. I watched thousands of employees (for then General Dynamics, now Lockheed) walk out the door with their boxes of personal processions to the unemployment line. I was “lucky” and sent to Egypt for 3 years. I have never forgiven cheney for that...it was all political. Yes, we were overweight. Yes, we could have fixed it given time.
And if they are shielded from AESA radar, what amazing being is going to do that? These are essentially expendable UAVs, much like buzz bombs. They may be little more than a flying engine and fuel tank, actuator driven guidance, a 500 or 1000 lb bomb or a machine gun, a computer brain that operates only intermittently, etc. Simplicity itself.
With an air armada of thousands of aircraft flying at it, even an aircraft carrier group might have its defenses overwhelmed. Even if only 10% of 3000 aircraft get through, tens of billions of dollars of ships could be destroyed.
Such an armada could ravage a coastline or wipe out a major city.
For $150 million.
Example: Put a phased array radar in space and you can see everything. Without their operational satellite these things are useless.
This argument was made in the 60's where machines are more capable then humans. It didn't work then and will not work now.
Put it a different way. These things should be thought of as attack planes. were fighter planes and space controls the air. Without Fighters you have no attack planes. Without Attack planes your ground operations are weak.
Satellites are not the only way to do things. While the original buzz bombs just used fuel use estimates to get anywhere near their target, there are many ways to navigate that don’t use US controlled GPS.
In fact, because GPS is US controlled, lots of other countries have considered using other guidance systems. LORAN-C, while phased out in the US, still exists, but that is still quite high tech. They could even go a step down from that and just have a three point unmanned ground transponder system, if the UAV had a small calculator on board to plot triangulations at intervals.
And there are many levels below that. They only need the accuracy of a 1000lb bomb.
This is what HELPED kill Navla TacAir: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tailhook_scandal
Let me get this straight. You don’t believe we should work for dominance of Air and space?
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For a truly great day, Visit the Museum of Naval Aviation at NAS Pensacola. The old guys, the naval Aviators guide the fantastic tours and describe the wonderful real thing, the air planes.
Dominance is relative.
The Chinese have an ancient tale, called “The Dragon and the Rat”, in which a sickly, starving rat approaches a mighty dragon and challenges it to a fight. The dragon is both amused and scornful, and tells the rat of all the ways he could easily defeat him, as he is by far the most powerful creature on Earth.
Finally, after all his braggadocio, the dragon demands of the rat how it could possibly beat him. The rat quickly admits that by himself, he could not, but it has been a bad harvest, and all the rats are very hungry, so he summons forth his millions of relatives, who swarm the mighty dragon as a wave, and consume it until only bones remain.
This Chinese tale is a story of war, and they are fond of it.
Their current doctrine is not one of head on conflict with the US, but asymmetrical war. Right now this means efforts to shoulder other powers out of the area, and taking disputed island and ocean territory in a methodical manner. Numerically, their submarine fleet is about on a par with the USN, and though inferior, their intent is not force projection, but denial of access to the USN submarine and surface fleet, for which that fleet may be adequate.
Again, my point is that quality alone may leave us vulnerable.
In real war it has never proven to be the case. All wars has always won by quality of troops and equipment over sheer numbers. You can take this back to as far back into time as you like and it still holds true.
Hell, blame “Top Gun”. That movie did more to convince the brainless among the fighter jocks (and you know the type I am talking about) that they were elite macho little godlings than anything else I can think of.
As for the Bombcat, when I first heard the concept being bandied around (I think it was about 86), everyone laughed because they were all convinced that the strike-fighter concept was unworkable and the Hornet would soon be reworked into traditional fighter or attack squadrons, with dedicated variants, because the roles (and pilot mentalities) were just too different.
As one jock famously said “Yeah, sounds cool, but anyone driving one of those things is going to jettison his bombs the second the MiGs show up.”
So, like you said, they blew their chance. It’s too bad, really. As an air superiority fighter, the Hornet can’t compete, and as a Bombcat, the F-14 rigged the way you mention would have been beyond awesome.
I still don’t understand the reason why they retired the K-A6 though. They held onto the AE-6 until the Growler was ready, I saw one just a couple years ago at an Yokota AB airshow.
I only need to take it back to Korea. The Chinese would have won, and should have won, except for the “Korean haemorrhagic fever” (hantavirus) epidemic, that lethally decimated the Chinese side, and incapacitated far more.
As I said, it is a balance.
"Should have" isn't a win. Even know I couldn't disagree with you more.
Wars of attrition conducted by sheer numbers only continue until the other side has been worn down enough for other tactics to be used.
Another example would be the battle of Stalingrad, where the clearly superior German 6th Army was eventually encircled and overwhelmed by the greater numbers of Russians, most of whom had only small arms, if that. That defeat was the turning point, even though the Germans were far more effective in the defense, only to be again and again overwhelmed in the retreat by inferior quality, but far more numerous Russians.
Most importantly in that battle was how ill equipped the Germans were in fighting that battle in the winter and how superior the soviets were equipped in the winter.
The soviets were losing ever front until winter hit and changed the dynamics of the battlefield. If anything that battle proves my point which is superior equipment and training wins every time.
It also helps if your flanks aren't protected by ill-equipped, poorly trained and unmotivated Rumanian and Italian divisions...
Let’s just end it by my saying I could seriously dispute that. Let me cite ‘War on the Eastern Front’, by James Lucas.
Other than that, by best argument is that the Chinese military agrees with me. Whether quality alone can defeat them, well, time will tell.
Chinese I agree did agree with me but there has never been a battle that won with sheer numbers over quality and supply effectiveness. You can go all the way back to Romans, Greeks and all other times
Stalingrad numbers were 1.1 million vs .8 million which cannot be a massive number advantage no matter how you look at it.
The Chinese I agree with you that they do believe in numbers will win a battle. Doesnt matter because there has never been a battle that won with sheer numbers over quality and supply effectiveness. You can go all the way back to Romans, Greeks and any other time.
UAV’s keep getting better and better and more and more capable. I think it is indisputable that they are going to be the weapon of the future - but I don’t think it’s a future that has arrived yet.
Yeap, I agree with that. They should be considered attack planes similar to attack helicopters and A-10’s. They have a long way to go
That’s the American technology experience talking. My point was not that some better, more high tech UAV that costs $30m will come around eventually, but that some ingenious nation will build a massive air armada of cheap as dirt, off the shelf UAVs with current or even mostly obsolete technology, that will jump them to the head of the pack militarily.
Let’s leave the US out of the equation, to get over the psychological obstacle. Pick two theoretical nations, one of which has a 50 quality fighter aircraft advantage, the other of which is too poor to afford more than just a few fighter aircraft. So the poorer nation decides to do a UAV sneak attack, with each of 100 UAVs carrying a 1,000lb bomb, and another 100 in reserve.
The first indication that anything is up happens when 100 aircraft appear on the first countries radar. Even if they have an ‘alert’ squadron of a dozen fighter aircraft ready to respond, which they probably won’t, by the time they get to intercept altitude, 1,000 lb bombs will be raining down on their airfields and other major military and civilian targets.
Their more than 50 advanced fighters will mostly be blown up on the ground, or have nowhere to land. Just the few fighters kept by the aggressor will become air superiority.
I don’t entirely agree, Steve. WWII, Germany had some very high-quality equipment, particularly armor. The main method of defeating Panzers by both the Americans and Soviets was just to pour more of their own armor into fighting the German tanks than the Germans could handle.
If the Germans were able to hold out the winter they would have won in the spring.
In other words the Germans were not equipped for the winter conditions and the Russians were. Very simply the German armor got stuck in the mud and the Russians main attack units didn't.
But if you are referring to after the push into Russia about 1943 and on then yes just about anything could win at that point. The Germans lost over a million troops and equipment they could never fully recover from their losses.
in other words very poor strategy made them lose in the end.
What saved our bacon at Pearl Harbor was that our carriers weren’t in port. When Yamamoto realized they weren’t there, he knew he was screwed.
Hitler should have placed more importance on taking Moscow, for the psychological implications, and the fact that Stalin may very well would have been deposed if Moscow fell, and perhaps the entire Communist apparatus collapsed along with him.
yeah but Yamamoto never even took troops with him to take the island it was a huge strategic blunder
I know what your point is, but I think my point still stands. The fact is that the current "low-cost off-the-shelf UAV's will not be able to overcome a modern hi tech air force, no matter how many there are, because they simply do not have the capabilities that you fear.
However, I happen to sort of agree with your point, which seems to concern the balance of quality vs quantity. Quality is better, obviously, but quantity has a quality all of its own. At some stage UAV technology will advance to the point where although they will not be as effective as manned fighter planes, they will become more cost-effective. This is the point where your hypothetical scenario becomes true (and very frightening).
But, take heart! The USA is not only at the forefront in the development of UAV's, but the people its closest competitors in this field happen to be its closest allies! Because of this, the US is particularly well-placed to judge when that "tipping point" of UAV cost-effectiveness will come about, and take steps accordingly.
For what its worth, I am of the opinion that the US military, and in fact western forces in general, are becoming over-reliant on high technology solutions. I think we would be better off with "more and simpler" rather than "few and powerful", and not just in aircraft either.