Monday, December 23, 2019

Carrier Aviation: Personne n'est corrigé; personne n'a su ni rien oublier ni rien apprendre

Thoughts and emotions are all over the place while reading David Larter's weekend article, Amid a heated aircraft carrier debate, the US Navy sees funding slashed for a next-generation fighter.

Effective power projection is the key issue for our Navy. This is nothing new, this has been a standing requirement from its founding. 

You need a diverse tool box for power projection that includes subsurface, surface, and air platforms. The efficiency cult whose modern iteration can be traced back to what  William Perry begat a quarter century ago.  It gave us DDG and SSN without ASCM, a deck of short ranged strike fighters, no organic tanking, and an exquisite collection of Tiffany warships that will never deploy or a decade after Hull-1's commissioning, we still don't know what to do with.

We have an acquisition mindset with three decades of cascading failures - in no small part because of the need to feed the efficiency cult's Vaal on one end, and the nautical obsession with what next fancy buzzword is hiding behind the Bale-Bopp comet that will make all things new on the other.

The carrier debate has been one of the longest running and most frustrating kabuki-dance-meets-Groundhog-Day exercises we have. Their vulnerability is interlinked with their utility. Any student of the Guadalcanal Campaign can tell you how high-demand/low-density/high-utility/hi-vulnerability will drive decisions when it comes to carriers. 

At the dawn of 2020, many arguing this issue seem to have learned nothing of the last 30-years of efficiency and buzzword cults, and what they have done to our naval effectiveness. No one is being held accountable for actions everyone remembers, but no one wants to learn from.

If you assume, rightly, that in a peer conflict, any nearby airbase is just a nice static target, until you have something real and proven, if you want to project national will around the globe from the sea, the carrier is the way to do it. We seem to be hellbent to suboptimize and mitigate that ability, handing advantages to potential enemies without them having to fire a shot.

I think you would be hard pressed to degrade the American comparative advantage at sea any better than we are doing to ourselves through bot gross and petty mal-administration.

With the serial failures to replace deep strike VA capabilities, throwing away heavy fighters of the VF community, abandoning mid-range organic ASW/EW and tanking, we have an unnecessarily shrunk the  strike radius around our carriers. As such, we are long overdue for a new aircraft, and F/A-XX is supposed to be that platform.

It should be a mature design by now, but delay after delay is preventing it from making shadows on a ramp somewhere anytime soon.

At first glance in the article, it looks like Congress is trying to kill it in the cradle.
Congress has gutted funding for the U.S. Navy’s research effort into a next-generation fighter to replace the relatively limited range F/A-18 Super Hornet, an effort experts say could decide the continued relevance of the aircraft carrier in the 21st century.
That is, of course, until you read further.

Remember all the great advantages we would enjoy with delay and design all anchored to the advanced gun system for DDG-1000, the zippy-de-doo-da of LCS's engineering plant, or the all electronic systems on the Ford CGN?

How did that work out for us?

Does this smell familiar?
The Navy had planned to quadruple funding for research and development of the so-called F/A-XX, which was just $5 million in 2019, with most of the increase going toward research into a “Next Generation Advanced Engine effort,” according to the Navy’s budget submission.
OK, reading these tea leaves, I don't think Congress is the problem here. I think the problem is the Navy.

Could Congress be trying to force the Navy to abandon the pursuit of the perfect to embrace the good?

Again, we are fooling ourselves in to thinking if we just believe the industry promises enough and burn enough money a magical dragon will emerge from the stone eggs Santa put in our stocking?

Over and over again, we try to jump a generation but wind up falling on our face and then have to deal with upgrading the previous generation as best as we can.

Billions are spent without anything of tactical use displacing water or making shadows on ramps - putting our nation at strategic risk.

Are we talking big bucks? No.
The Navy’s budget request asked for $20.7 million but was ultimately appropriated just $7.1 million, a 66 percent cut. Congress sent the bill to the President on Thursday, who was expected to sign it.
Perhaps I'm wrong, but could Congress be right here. Are they saying, "No Navy. We don't believe you any more that we need to wait for your magical system to appear. Make something now that works now."

As paraphrased up-post,
Personne n'est corrigé; personne n'a su ni rien oublier ni rien apprendre. "Nobody has been corrected; no one has known to forget, nor yet to learn anything."
Does everyone need to be fired in order to get a change of mindset? Is there anyone not infected with the pathology of the fetid spawn of transformationalism coupling with the efficiency cult?
In May, Defense News reported that the effort to develop a system or “family of systems” to replace the shorter-range F/A-18 Super Hornet is a do-or-die effort that will determine if aircraft carriers remain relevant into the 21st century or will go the way of the chariot and battle elephant.
Ask the Army how their "family of systems" for Armored Systems Modernization program worked out. Hubris unalloyed by experience is a recipe for disaster.

Good people can be wrong here, and we have a lot of that. Case in point, Bob Work.

Correct diagnosis,
Bob Work, former Navy undersecretary and deputy Defense Secretary, told Defense News in May that the F/A-XX is the program the Navy needs to get range back onto the flight deck, which experts tend to agree is imperative. And if they’re going to do it right, they should look to unmanned, Work said.

“The focus should be on the F/A-XX. If you really want range, that has to be the platform you are shooting for,” Work said.
As we have been discussing for a decade and a half here, the Navy's retreat from range is an unforgivable case of self mutilation.

As steps were not made earlier then thing were only difficult, because we now find ourselves out of time, there is is a panic.

As is human nature, when panic steps in, you look for shortcuts, magic, or just blind luck.

A capability that has promise but is not even close to being ready for prime time, unmanned systems, are the latest thing we are grasping at.

For the problem at hand - what do we fight with in 2025 and 2030 - they are the wrong answer.
“Because with the Navy buying the F-35Cs, and the Marine [Corps] buying the F-35Bs, and the Navy buying the Block III Super Hornet, you are not going to be able to afford two or three programs. So, the F/A-XX is the one you need to focus on. And if the analysis shows you need range, that points to unmanned.”
Work is right about a lot of things - but like his stance on frigate's a decade ago, he is wrong here for what we need to do in 2020.

Bandwidth. Ability to takeoff, perform mission, and land in an non-EW or satellite access environment - these are just a few of the things that tell us that at this iteration, unmanned is not the basket we need to throw all our eggs in to. 

We need to take what we have and design from there. We are already a decade late in getting a replacement for the Super Hornet up and running.

We are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. While we get what we need up and running, we can work on developing what we want - or think we want. We can and must do both ... but trusting on hope backed by hubris will not bring victory in the Sino-American conflict of 2027.

If we are not careful, we will wind up with the aviation version of the kind of perfection seen in DDG-1000. 

Like building DDG-51 until the crack of doom ... we will transform ourselves in to having an open production line of Super Hornets in to the 4th decade of the 21st Century.

We have a lot of people advocating for the wrong direction. We seem to not just be rudderless, but the bridge is empty as we head in to the shipping lanes.

No comments: