Thanks to the excellent American war correspondent and military historian Tom Ricks (tweets here), I just came across this 2018 piece at War on the Rocks that specifies a lot of probable/possible key US vulnerabilities for the future. Aspects of these have been featured in many of the posts on the Western Pacific at this blog (see end of the post) .
Here are the start and finish of the article, along with just the identifications of the ( seriously flawed?) assumptions:
Recently, we found ourselves thinking about how unchallenged assumptions can prove deadly in wartime. We were talking about how both advocates and opponents of strategic bombing before World War II were absolutely certain that “the bomber will always get through” — that neither anti-aircraft fire nor fighter defenses could keep a heavily armed bomber fleet from destroying its target. Yet when war broke out, American heavy bombers flying daylight raids against Germany suffered such horrendous losses by the end of 1943 that U.S. airmen were forced to suspend their air offensive until they could develop and field long-range fighters for protection.
That led us to wonder: What convictions are so deeply embedded today in the U.S. military’s planning for the next war that they could lead to catastrophe if proven wrong?
We scribbled down our initial thoughts and reached out to a number of colleagues for their suggestions as well. Of the many ideas on our list, 10 assumptions stood out as the most potentially dangerous. To be fair, the services are starting to examine some of them and a number of them are already subjects of public debate. But they remain so deeply embedded in U.S. military planning that they could lead to disastrous battlefield results — and potentially overall defeat — if they are proved wrong. Here they are, in no particular order.
1. The U.S. military still knows how to fight a major war…
3. The U.S. Air Force will be able to fight effectively from contested bases...
4. Stealthy aircraft will remain stealthy…
5. Aircraft carriers can be both effective and survivable...
6. U.S. submarines will remain undetectable...
7. Amphibious operations remain viable...
8. The U.S. military can protect its air and sea logistics pipelines...
9. Advanced U.S. weapons systems will operate effectively under wartime conditions...
10. The U.S. military can keep its secrets...
If any of these deeply embedded assumptions prove false during the next war — or, even worse, if many of them are — the effects could be both cascading and catastrophic to prospects for a U.S. victory. The opening days and weeks of that war would be incredibly bloody, and it is not at all clear that the U.S. military could adjust in time to avoid defeat. The U.S. military needs to take a close look now at these assumptions about how it would fight, and make sure that contingency plans exist for the ones that pose the most risks. Waiting until they are proven wrong during the next war will simply be too late.
Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, U.S. Army (Ret.) is a Distinguished Practitioner in Residence, and Dr. Nora Bensahel is a Distinguished Scholar in Residence, at the School of International Service at American University. They are also Contributing Editors at War on the Rocks, where their column appears monthly. Sign up for Barno and Bensahel’s Strategic Outpost newsletter to track their articles as well as their public events.
A whole lot of potentially fatal “Yikes!” up above. Some relevant posts:
Mr Burton is an academic who was “Counsellor at the Canadian Embassy to China between 1991-1993 and 1998-2000” as part of a special expert posting program that no longer exists. His latest piece is available at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a leading Canadian think tank and a rare one of a centre-right bent:
Our government’s increasingly pointed rhetoric with no substantive followup only confirms the weakness of Canada’s position with China, while Ottawa’s attempts at clever diplomacy in trying to steer a middle path between the PRC and the U.S. has only debased Washington’s faith in Canada’s commitment to the integrity of the international rules-based order, writes Charles Burton.
By Charles Burton, July 22, 2021
The White House has confirmed that U.S. President Joe Biden plans to meet later this year with his Japanese, Australian and Indian counterparts — a four-country grouping dubbed the “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue” or QUAD.
The announcement came just days after Chinese Communist Party General-Secretary Xi Jinping marked the centenary of the party with an incendiary oratory that was short on Marxism but long on nationalist promises “to build a new type of international relations.”
This is Xi’s doctrine of “the community of the common destiny of mankind” under future People’s Republic of China (PRC) global domination, which includes making irrelevant the current institutions that promote peace, prosperity and justice, such as the United Nations, World Trade Organization, G-20 and G-7.
The latter’s get-together earlier this summer in Cornwall, England was dismissed by China’s U.K. embassy, saying “the days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone.”
Xi himself made clear China “will not accept sanctimonious preaching from those who feel they have the right to lecture us,” and such opponents of the PRC’s policies of genocide and hostage diplomacy will “have their heads bashed bloody.” The latter colourful phrase was edited out of the official English-language translation of the speech, but was enthusiastically cited in jingoist Chinese social media.
There is an urgent need for Ottawa to fund programs that train young Canadians in contemporary Communist China studies, including Mandarin language studies. Chinese propagandists blatantly distort official statements through shameless mistranslation and subtle edits for foreign audiences.
The PRC’s engagement of Canada employs agents fluent in English or French, so how can we expect to accurately comprehend the situation when our people mostly can barely read or understand Chinese and rely largely on translations provided by Chinese authorities?
Since the 2018 arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou and China’s retaliatory detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — combined with Beijing’s coercive cancellation of Canadian agricultural contracts, and revelations of China’s program of genocide against Uyghur Muslims — Canadian public support has plunged below 20 per cent for Ottawa’s strategy of quiet diplomacy and a lack of resetting its China policy.
However, the need to counter “anti-Asian hate” in Canada is being misconstrued by Canadian commentators with agendas, people who argue against Canadians raising such concerns as Beijing’s reluctance to disclose data for an international investigation of the origins of COVID-19, or demanding China give the UN Human Rights High Commissioner unconditional access to travel in Uyghur regions to get the truth about their situation.
Some of these pundits promote an appalling implication that Chinese Canadians are somehow connected with the malign policies of the Chinese Communist Party.
So while Biden demands that Western powers need to act now to counter a resurgent China, he evidently does not have Canada with him. Canada’s hesitancy in confronting the PRC is partly assisted by influential people in Ottawa who enjoy lucrative board memberships, or associations with law firms, or well-connected Canadian businesses that have close ties with PRC state business [emphasis added, our compradors–see these posts].
China has established an environment where Canadian policy-makers are subject to promises of personal benefit in return for not inhibiting PRC interests in Canada. Canadians are right to demand transparency on the nature of such ties to a hostile foreign power, and full disclosure of financial or other rewards thus generated.
Unfortunately, as Canadians anticipate a fall election, Conservative MP Kenny Chiu’s private member’s Bill C-282 — “An Act to establish the Foreign Influence Registry,” described by him as intended “to recognize and increase vigilance to shine a light on harmful interference from abroad” — will likely not get any further than its first reading back in April.
Our government’s increasingly pointed rhetoric with no substantive followup only confirms the weakness of Canada’s position with China, while Ottawa’s attempts at clever diplomacy in trying to steer a middle path between the PRC and the U.S. has only debased Washington’s faith in Canada’s commitment to the integrity of the international rules-based order.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to phone President Biden to assure him of Canada’s support for positive determinations that come out of the QUAD meeting. Then we should not just talk the talk but stand up and show some courage of our convictions…
Sure. Especially as the Liberals are concerned, with a federal election increasingly imminent, not to alienate those ethnic Chinese voters favourable to the mainland in several ridings (districts) in British Columbia and Greater Toronto. And not wanting further to upset the Dragon over the extradition case of Meng Wanzhou and the Chicoms’ retaliation against Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. And wanting to appear resolutely anti-racist.
After having ransacked the economies of the world’s liberal democracies and wrecked what is still quaintly called the “rules-based international order,” Xi Jinping’s police state in Beijing has now made it abundantly clear that the People’s Republic is determined to seize the global agenda on climate change.
If the world responds with Canadian-style accommodation and capitulation, Beijing will persist in its ambitions, even to the point of taking the global climate hostage while the rest of us, including the Chinese people, suffer the consequences of catastrophic climate change…
A brutal loss in a wargaming exercise last October convinced the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. John Hyten to scrap the joint warfighting concept that had guided U.S. military operations for decades.
“Without overstating the issue, it failed miserably. An aggressive red team that had been studying the United States for the last 20 years just ran rings around us. They knew exactly what we’re going to do before we did it,” Hyten told an audience Monday [July 26] at the launch of the Emerging Technologies Institute, an effort by the National Defense Industrial Association industry group to speed military modernization.
The Pentagon would not provide the name of the wargame, which was classified, but a defense official said one of the scenarios revolved around a battle for Taiwan. One key lesson: gathering ships, aircraft, and other forces to concentrate and reinforce each other’s combat power also made them sitting ducks.
“We always aggregate to fight, and aggregate to survive. But in today’s world, with hypersonic missiles, with significant long-range fires coming at us from all domains, if you’re aggregated and everybody knows where you are, you’re vulnerable [emphasis added],” Hyten said.
Even more critically, the blue team lost access to its networks almost immediately.
“We basically attempted an information-dominance structure, where information was ubiquitous to our forces. Just like it was in the first Gulf War, just like it has been for the last 20 years, just like everybody in the world, including China and Russia, have watched us do for the last 30 years,” Hyten said. “Well, what happens if right from the beginning that information is not available? And that’s the big problem that we faced[emphasis added].”
In response, the Joint Chiefs have since October been shifting the U.S. military to a new concept of warfighting operations they call “Expanded Maneuver.” Hyten wants the U.S. military to be ready to fight under the new operating concept by 2030, using many of today’s weapons, aircraft, and ships.
Earlier this month, Hyten released four directives to the services: one each for contested logistics; joint fires; Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or JADC2; and information advantage. On Monday, he revealed new details about these “functional battles.”
Contested logistics. Creating new ways to deliver fuel and supplies to front lines. U.S. Transportation Command and the Air Force are working on using rockets and a space trajectory to get large cargo spaceships into and out of battlefields[emphasis added, good Rube Goldberg grief, call Jeff Bezos for help].
Joint fires: “You have to aggregate to mass fires, but it doesn’t have to be a physical aggregation,” Hyten said. “It could be a virtual aggregation for multiple domains; acting at the same time under a single command structure allows the fires to come in on anybody. It allows you to disaggregate to survive.” Hyten said the joint fires concept “is aspirational. It is unbelievably difficult to do.” And the military will have to figure out what part will be affordable and practical[emphasis added], he said.
JADC2: The Pentagon’s push to connect everything demands always-on, hackerproof networks, Hyten said. “The goal is to be fully connected to a combat cloud that has all information that you can access at any time, anyplace,” so that, like with joint fires, the data doesn’t get exposed or hacked because it’s housed in one centralized location, he said.
Information advantage: This element is the sum of the first three, Hyten said: “If we can do the things I just described, the United States and our allies will have an information advantage over anybody that we could possibly face.”..
And a very interesting tweet stemming from the above story:
I detect an awful lot of almost magical thinking there. One again the US services hoping they can super-technologize themselves out of a jam.
UPDATE: In response to this post a retired Indian Navy commodore is very much from Missouri on the operational capabilities of the PLA, especially the terribly rapidly expanding PLANavy:
Earlier post, based on a piece perhaps about the same war game:
Someone tell Boris Johnson: you can’t bake your ‘oven-ready deal’ and then remove a key ingredient (even if it’s a sausage)
Ask a stupid question and you get a stupid answer. The Northern Ireland protocol is a stupid answer: it imposes a complex bureaucracy on the movement of ordinary goods across the Irish Sea. But it is the only possible response to a problem created by Boris Johnson. The reason it keeps coming around again and again, like a ghoul on a ghost train, is that it requires Johnson and his government to do something that goes against the grain of the whole Brexit project: to acknowledge that choices have costs.
…The question is: why did you divide one part of the UK from the rest, creating a chimerical country in which most of the body is outside the EU’s single market while one foot is still inside? Since it is unanswerable, we get the embarrassing stunt: the demand that the EU should tear up a crucial part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement – or else.
Or else what? Britain will unilaterally suspend the operation of the protocol, force-feed the people of Northern Ireland with good English sausage, trigger retaliatory trade sanctions from the EU, destroy Britain’s reputation as a trustworthy partner for any sane country and deeply antagonise the Biden administration in Washington with whom it is hoping to do a landmark trade deal. Good luck with all that.
Speaking on Wednesday, after he published his wildly unrealistic set of demands on the Northern Ireland protocol, which were flatly rejected on Thursday by the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, the Brexit minister, David Frost, said negotiations with the EU “have not got to the heart of the problem”. That is about the only truth he uttered.
So what is the heart of the problem? It is not the great Ulster sausage famine. It does not lie in the complexities of phytosanitary standards or the mechanisms of legal interpretation – all of which could be solved with pragmatism and mutual trust. When this problem is dissected, the message written on its heart will be: Boris Johnson is constitutionally incapable of accepting the relationship between cause and effect.
The protocol itself may be complicated, both in its dense technocratic language and in its practical operation. But behind it lies a stark and simple reality. Johnson and the rest of the Brexiters had a choice to make. They could cut the UK off from the EU’s single market and customs union. Or they could prioritise the integrity of the UK itself[emphasis added].
They could not do both – and they still can’t. The dreary soap opera of the protocol is driven by their need to wish away this unpleasant fact. You can’t bake your “oven-ready” Brexit deal and then remove one of the main ingredients from the final dish. The EU has far better things to be doing than making a return trip to the hellish tedium of Brexternity. But for Frost and Johnson, impossible is nothing. Performative belligerence is not bounded by the limits of what can be achieved. Its main function, indeed, is the denial of reality.
Reality, in this case, is the existence within the UK of a very complex, ambiguous, troubled and fragile place: Northern Ireland[emphasis added]. There is a good reason why, in the run-up to the 2016 referendum, the Vote Leave campaign assiduously avoided the question of what would happen to this awkward polity if the UK left the EU. If you’re offering a three-word slogan as your proposition to voters, you really don’t want to start mapping the future of a border with more crossings than the entire eastern flank of the EU and a history that is every bit as entangled as its geography…
Because it is inextricably entwined with the rest of Ireland, and therefore with the EU, Northern Ireland was always going to have to stay very closely aligned to the single market. The British government could deal with this fact in one of two ways. It could put the union first and decide that the same regime of alignment would apply to the whole of the UK. Or it could put a hard Brexit first and accept that separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK was a price worth paying for it.
May decided that the integrity of the union mattered most. Hence the infamous backstop, which shaped Brexit around the need to have the same rules for Northern Ireland as for Britain. Johnson and the ERG took the opposite decision [European Research Group within the parliamentary Tory party, more here]. They traded the integrity of the union for the freedom of Britain to cut its ties to the European trading system.
It is worth recalling how quickly and nonchalantly Johnson made this choice. He did it in 90 minutes, during a meeting with the then taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, in the Wirral in October 2019. He grasped it as a lifeline to save himself – without that deal, his prime ministership might have been the shortest on record.
Remember, too, that the ERG made the same choice. Over the wails of betrayal from the DUP, the hardline Brexiters all decided that having the same rules for the whole of the UK was less important than achieving their version of freedom[emphasis added].
This would be fair enough, were it not for the great cloud of unknowing that hangs over everything to do with Brexit. What refuses to be known is the connection between choices and outcomes. The basic proposition that the way you make your bed is the way you lie has never been accepted by the British government.
That government is now effectively blaming remainers for the protocol – if they hadn’t caused so much trouble in parliament, poor Johnson would never have signed up to it. The argument is that the political chaos unleashed by Brexit frees the very people who created it from any responsibility for their own decisions. It is the excuse familiar to magistrates: sorry, guv, but we were awfully drunk at the time.
The choices, in this pitiful pleading, were never really made at all. They have vanished. But the same, alas, cannot be said for the consequences – especially for the people of Northern Ireland. They have to live with effects that, in Johnson’s retelling of the story, were accidental and unintended. The three-word slogan of Brexit has been replaced by a four-letter word: oops.
A B.C. Court of Appeal ruling that declares nothing is racist about taxing foreign buyers of real estate in Canada clears the way for federal politicians to propose bold policies to deal with the crisis of housing unaffordability.
With an election call in the offing, Canada’s three largest political parties can feel freer to challenge critics and make stronger promises than they already have to restrict foreign ownership. In effect, that means Canada can join most nations of the world in standing up for national sovereignty.
B.C. Appeal Court Justice Barbara Fisher has confirmed, in a unanimous decision of the three-judge panel, that the province’s 20 per cent tax on foreign buyers of residential property rose out of the valid “view that foreign nationals significantly contributed to the escalation of prices of housing” in Metro Vancouver. She stated the tax “was neither a stereotype nor a continuation of racist policies from the past.”
The judges rejected the extensive argument by Chinese national Jing Li, a temporary resident of Canada represented by the late lawyer Joe Arvay, that the tax perpetuates “prejudice, stereotyping, or disadvantages on Chinese people[emphasis added].” While Fisher concluded that, indeed, “a higher proportion of foreign buyers were from China,” she said the tax is constitutional because it does not differentiate based on country of origin.
By claiming a foreign-buyers tax is xenophobic and prejudicial to Chinese people, Li, supported by University of B.C. academics Henry Yu and Nathan Lauster, was in effect arguing for a kind of open-border policy that would require Canada to give foreign nationals the same freedoms in the housing market as citizens and permanent residents…
“This is not about Canada leading. We’re following,” Yan said. “We’re maybe just about to catch up on what’s happening in other parts of the world in regard to non-nationals buying residential real estate.”
Steve Saretksy, a Vancouver housing analyst, said in his newsletter Monday that the federal parties, after years of silence on the subject, look like they’re finally ready to make foreign ownership a leading election issue…
Foreign buyers continue each year to invest in B.C. residential properties, often the luxury properties. The most recent data from the Canadian Housing Statistics Program shows that non-residents own five per cent of the housing stock in Metro Vancouver[emphasis added]. That figure rises to 7.5 per cent in the city of Vancouver and Richmond. And it jumps again for newly built condos, of which 19 per cent in the city of Vancouver and 24 per cent in Richmond are owned by non-Canadians.
Whatever federal politicians end up promising, it’s not as if curbing foreign ownership would end the housing affordability crisis in Canada’s major cities. As Yan says, housing prices are shaped by not only foreign and domestic demand, but by the supply of dwellings and by changing financing options, including mortgage interest rates.
There are several other policy areas Yan hopes politicians to promise to address in the federal election expected this fall…
Whatever federal policies are eventually brought in to curb foreign and domestic speculation, the B.C. Appeal Court judges went out of her way to emphasize they have the potential to benefit all Canadians. B.C.’s original foreign-buyers tax, the judge noted, was supported by 89 per cent of Asian-Canadian residents of Metro Vancouver[emphasis added].
“There are today multiple generations of families of Asian descent living in British Columbia who form an important part of the communities here,” said Justice Fisher. “They, too, are affected by the high cost of housing.”
If a Justin Trudeau-led Liberal majority government is formed after that election expected to be called soon it will be interesting to see if it actually takes serious action on this front, especially given certain of the party’s, er, associations:
Even if these plans come to fruition, there will still likely be a long-range strike deficit as adversaries enhance their anti-access capabilities. As such, it’s fairly clear that the Department of Defense (DoD), as a whole, isn’t nearly as well equipped as it needs to be today should it get into a shooting match where long-range airpower becomes absolutely essential, such as during a war in the Pacific, and it will likely still struggle to meet demands in the decades to come.
Yet there is one airframe in the inventory today that seems strangely overlooked for its potential to alleviate some of this pressure, as well as to help nullify other major pressure points among the DoD’s collective air combat inventory. Its economy, serviceability, extreme flexibility, and its ability to play a major role in any type of future fight the U.S. enters into, including one with a towering peer-state adversary like China, as well as playing critical roles in peacetime, is unrivaled. The aircraft I am referring to is Boeing’s P-8 Poseidon, but not in its current configuration.
In most regards, the P-8 has been a major success. It is a versatile tool that leverages the most understood airliner airframe on earth at its core. While maritime patrol may be its central functionality, it has already proven itself well suited for electronic intelligence gathering and for toting outsized sensors for specialized missions. There is a very strong argument to be made that there are not enough P-8s slated for the Navy’s inventory in order to pick up where the P-3 Orion left off, and especially in a new era of expanded submarine warfare, but that is not the focus of this piece…
Instead of thinking just about how the Navy can buy more P-8s as they are configured today, the Air Force, possibly in cooperation with the Navy, should also be examining the idea of buying a variant of the P-8 that is stripped down to its bare essentials. In effect creating an off-the-shelf, highly economical, and sustainable arsenal ship and sensor platform that can perform a huge array of tasks—submarine hunting and traditional maritime patrol not being one of them.
What I am proposing here is an ‘RB-8’ of sorts. A P-8 stripped of all its maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare gear, aside from the relevant parts of its communications capabilities, defensive aid systems, FLIR turret, and outstanding electronic support measures (ESM) suite[emphasis added]. In its nose, an off-the-shelf scalable fighter AESA radar would be installed. A substantial amount of its internal volume would be left empty, aside from packing as much additional fuel onboard wherever possible and housing a trio of open-architecture mission specialist/weapon systems officer consoles behind the cockpit…
What’s key here is that the P-8’s development is totally paid for. Its evolution continues with new weapons and other capabilities being added. With seven allied export customers now taking part in the program, sustainment of the type will be economical as it can be for decades to come.
A fully-equipped P-8A has a unit cost of $175 million, and a 737-800 costs roughly $85 million new. One could imagine an additional large block buy of this stripped-down variant could be had somewhere in between, let’s just throw a number on it, say $130 million. What the total force would get for that price tag, roughly just 50% more than the price of an F-35A, would be absolutely outstanding. In fact, one could argue that it would be the most flexible, economical, and relevant combat aircraft in the entire arsenal[emphasis added].
Standoff Weapons Truck
With this whittled-down base ‘RB-8’ model, the Air Force would get an aircraft capable of executing electronic surveillance missions just like the P-8 does today. This would free up the Navy’s P-8s for more maritime patrol-related tasks—especially anti-submarine warfare operations. But where the aircraft would really shine is in its ability to adapt to any combat scenario.
Four JASSMs delivered for standoff attacks by fighters flying from bases thousands of miles from their launch points in the Pacific would require a large tanker commitment. The RB-8 would require a fraction of those resources and it could actually execute that mission with near-737 efficiency, which is far cheaper and more reliable than a bomber or even a jet transport aircraft.
Read on, sure looks like a good idea. From the latter part of the post:
Simply put, the future growth and adaptability potential of an RB-8 would be unlike any other combat aircraft out there. Just how fast new or even existing capabilities could be added to it is a major sell in itself.
An Extreme Value Proposition
Rewinding a bit, it must be made clear that above all else, the RB-8 could provide an economical, very low-risk path to extra long-range strike capacity in the near term [emphasis added]. This is in addition to the secondary electronic intelligence collection mission that is already endemic to the over-tasked P-8 community. Currently, the need for the long-range strike mission set outstrips the capacity at hand, and despite the Air Force’s current plans, this situation could get worse long before it gets better. Procuring RB-8 aircraft would certainly offer some breathing room until the B-21 fully comes online and the tired B-1Bs can be finally pulled from service. After that, they can continue to augment the bomber force, while also addressing many additional mission sets that would be a poor, even fiscally irresponsible use of B-21 flight hours, or even those of an upgraded B-52.
Procuring the RB-8 would also help offset some of the risks posed by the USAF’s aging aircraft fleet. While the B-52 is a marvelous warfighting machine, it continues to age. What the next few decades of service will look like for the bomber as it approaches its 100th birthday can only be predicted. The RB-8 fleet would help hedge against any unforeseen issues with the type, and with the ultra-high-tech B-21, for that matter…
As far as actually seeing an RB-8 come to fruition, the problem is when you talk about buying something, no matter how ‘off-the-shelf’ it is, many will see it as a threat to other existing “sacred cow” programs. While it is important that the USAF buys enough B-21s, and 149 may be needed, anything with a major price tag that can help out with a portion of its mission set is viewed as some existential impediment to reaching that production number goal. There may be some truth to this, but at the same time, it is a poor way of looking at force structure, one that has done far more harm than good in recent decades.
The fact of the matter is 149 B-21s and 75 upgraded B-52s won’t be enough in terms of long-range weapons delivery platforms. The RB-8 can help pick up the slack at a very low comparative cost. And really, if it is going to suck funding from other sources, it should be spread more evenly based on all the missions it can do—from alleviating pressure on the concerningly geriatric manned electronic intelligence gathering fleet to doing the same for the fighter community in terms of close air support. This holistic point of view will not place its required funding all at the expense of one program or another.
By producing say 75 RB-8, at the cost of 15 B-21s (the latter of which will cost very optimistically around $650 million per copy), this could go a long way in providing more standoff strike capacity, and more flexible capacity at that, without digging deeply into the B-21’s production numbers. You could say the same thing for F-35A. Would you rather have another 110 F-35As or 75 EB-8s[emphasis added]? In the big scheme of things, I think with the multitude of long-range, high-endurance missions it could accomplish, and the huge array of weapons it could carry, it would be hard to argue for the relatively short-ranged F-35As considering many hundreds are already in the inventory.
So, maybe cut it in half, the tactical and strategic side of the equation both gives up something, like seven B-21s and 58 F-35s. And what about the strategic intelligence gathering community? Maybe they could pitch in a bit as well. Their fleet of aging RC-135-based airframes could surely use some augmentation, at least as an interim measure. There is also the possibility of working with the Navy to make this a joint program[emphasis added].
Once again, these are just some examples of how we can view the RB-8 program if we have to look at every procurement opportunity as robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Finally, there is the issue of readiness. Neither F-35 nor B-21 will be ready to fly missions day in and day out like RB-8 would, or with such a low cost and logistical footprint[emphasis added]. So while 75 airframes may not be a huge number, you would be squeezing many more completed sorties out of those airframes and at a much lower comparative price, in a given period of time. In addition, the P-8 shares vast commonality with the next-gen 737 airliner it was derived from. As such, sustaining it anywhere in the world, and especially during the duration of a conflict, will be a far easier proposition than a cutting-edge stealth bomber or fighter, or a 70-year-old B-52…
What we are looking at here is an F-15EX-like solution to a different problem, albeit under similar circumstances. Just the fact that the F-15EX made it to fruition at all is evidence that an RB-8 concept may have legs[emphasis added]. F-15EX was all about bringing in a low-risk, mature capability set as soon as possible while also providing an airframe that has a very long service life, proven availability and efficiency, and one that can do a wide array of missions its higher-end counterparts are ill-equipped to do, or doing so would be a waste of their precious airframe life. It was also an aircraft with the vast majority of its development already paid for, just like the RB-8 concept.
It may not be sexy, but the RB-8 is an incredible opportunity sitting on a plate before the Air Force and even possibly the Navy. It’s a comparatively low-cost weapon system that can check so many boxes in any future fight the U.S. may find itself in. Luckily, the P-8 order book has remained strong for the time being, and an additional bulk order could potentially allow for a very attractive unit cost…
The RB-8 concept should at least be carefully and thoughtfully evaluated. In fact, in an age where those in command often talk about how many air combat capabilities are increasingly platformed agnostic, the bizarre reality that an off-the-shelf, fully militarized 737 isn’t a compelling solution to a wide array of glaring challenges is quite puzzling.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com
The concept certainly is sexy to me and could go a long way towards handling the USAF’s and US Navy’s strike mission problems in the Western Pacific, especially against the PLA Navy. But is it too simple and obvious to sell if “not invented here” by the services themselves?
(Caption for photo at top of the post: “A short-range FPS-124 radar at North Warning System Site LAB-3, which is located on Cape Kiglapait, Newfoundland and Labrador, has operated since 1992. Credit: Raytheon via Canadian Department of National Defense”.)
Here’s a very interesting article at Aviation Week and Space Technology that may suggest why the US is not putting more heavy pressure on Canada to invest big time in the system’s upgrade:
…the radars of the U.S.-Canadian North Warning System (NWS) are still functioning, although their days seem numbered. The original 20-year service life of the NWS expires in 2025, yet the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) expects to continue operating the radars through 2035.
Disturbingly, the existing radars—a mix of long-range Lockheed Martin FPS-117s and short-range FPS-124s—appear to be outclassed by new threats. In 2017, two scholars at the Manitoba-based Center for Defense and Security Studies warned that the NWS falls short in two areas. The early-warning system lacks the range to detect Russia’s Tupolev Tu-160 bombers before they can launch cruise missiles and the resolution to track the latest Russian cruise missiles, particularly the stealthy nuclear Kh-102, after they are launched [the two are Profs. Andrea Charron and James Fergusson–see “NORAD and the Evolution of North American Defence” and full paper “Beyond NORAD and Modernization to North American Defence Evolution“].
To these critiques, NORAD now has an answer: software.
“We don’t feel that we have a gap across the entirety of the North Warning System right now,” says Col. Ross Morrell, chief technology and innovation officer at NORAD and U.S. Northern Command (Northcom).
Replacing all 13 long-range and 36 short-range sites of the NWS with new radars could cost billions of dollars and take years. It also could include the challenge of negotiating agreements with Canada’s indigenous population over access to new facilities on tribal lands.
But a one-for-one radar replacement may no longer be necessary. A recent series of demonstrations under the data-fusion initiative Project Pathfinder indicates that new software techniques can dramatically reduce the hardware component of any future NWS replacement program[emphasis added], Morrell says. “What we found is that the sensing mechanisms we have out there today are sensing a significant amount more than what we are actually able to ingest and process.”
In other words, the data picked up by the receivers in the NWS radars can detect small targets, such as a Kh-102 missile. But the processors installed in 1980s radars are not discerning enough to pick up the track. Modern software algorithms, however, can fill the gap between the sensor data and the processing power used to exploit that information.
“By ingesting the entirety of the raw data set, we were actually able to detect and track not only the large aircraft but small objects and low [radar] cross sections,” Morrell says.
…The data has changed how NORAD views the timing and scope of replacing the FPS-117 and FPS-124 radar sites in the NWS. An incremental upgrade strategy might be possible, rather than a sweeping, binational replacement program[emphasis added].
“Are the North Warning System radars old? Yes,” Morrell says. “Do they need to be replaced? Yes. Do they all need to be replaced right now? No. So we can strategically take a look at where certain areas need to be replaced.”
In a way, the NWS modernization has become one of the first beneficiaries of NORAD’s shift to Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2)[emphasis added–how many in Canada have heard of it?]. Project Pathfinder was originally launched to demonstrate alternative approaches to modernizing NORAD’s multiple Battle Control Centers (BCC).
NORAD created a national network of BCCs in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil on Sept. 11, 2001, but the rapid development created a fragmented system. Air traffic data streamed in from FAA-controlled radars and military radars had not been integrated into a single database to create a common operating picture.
In addition to unifying the disparate data feeds, Project Pathfinder also applied new software algorithms to historic radar data. The results show that the FAA’s radar data is capable of discriminating between an aircraft and a large flock of birds.
Likewise, the new JADC2 system could also be used to unify other types of surveillance systems for Northcom [emphasis added]. The data from the command’s early-warning radars for North Korean ballistic missiles, for instance, have not been integrated with NORAD’s NWS radars to establish a common operating picture, Morrell says.
In any event it looks like the US military are looking at the defence of North America in ways well beyond the traditional air defence provided by NORAD and missile defence by US NORTHCOM–see these posts:
After the initiative by the Forum reported below one wonders if PM Trudeau’s government will continue funding for the annual meeting in Canada of the organization (actually based in Washington D.C, website here, twitter here, next meeting scheduled for November 19-21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia). Especially if the PM wins a majority in the election he seems almost certain to call within weeks.
The Forum really is accelerating its going after the Chicoms; will the latter retaliate against those involved with or participating in the conference this November? Will that conference in fact be held in-person, what with COVID-19? The story at the Globe and Mail:
The organizers of the annual Halifax defence and security forum that drew the ire of Beijing for lauding Taiwan’s President are staging a similar gathering in Taipei in January – just weeks before the controversial 2022 Winter Olympics in China.
It’s being billed as a show of support for the self-governing democracy of Taiwan, which the Chinese government regards as a breakaway province despite the fact the Communist Party of China, which seized power on the mainland in 1949, has never ruled the island.
Beijing has been taking steps to isolate Taiwan from the international community over the past half-century.
Last year, after President Tsai Ing-wen was re-elected by a landslide on a promise to defend Taiwan’s democracy, China sent warplanes into the airspace around the island, tactics the Taiwanese government says are designed to exhaust its much smaller military.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has not ruled out the use of force to take Taiwan, last month vowed to “complete unification” of his country with the island. Japan warned of a “sense of crisis” over Taiwan in a new defence white paper, and its deputy prime minister this month said his country must join forces with the United States to defend Taiwan if China invades.
Peter Van Praagh, the president of HFX [more here, he has been associated with the Canadian Conservative Party–much to the present Liberal government’s distaste], the organization that runs the Halifax International Security Forum, said Taiwan, as “one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies,” faces serious challenges and even threats right now.
“All people who value democracy will immediately recognize the importance of showing solidarity with the Taiwanese people at this time,” Mr. Van Praagh said.
The Halifax International Security Forum, which has been staged annually in Nova Scotia’s capital since 2009, brings together more than 300 political leaders, military officials and academics for a weekend conference on geopolitical affairs. Its goal is to strengthen co-operation among democracies. About half its funding comes from the Department of National Defence[emphasis added].
The Taipei event, scheduled for Jan. 21-23, will be the first major meeting outside Halifax. Mr. Van Praagh said it should draw a great deal of interest from members of the U.S. Congress and added that he expects “former prime ministers and former presidents to attend, as well as a lot of legislators.” But the organizers are not seeking any funding from either the Taiwanese or the Canadian government[emphasis added].
It will take place just weeks before Beijing will play host to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Human-rights groups have urged countries to boycott the Games to protest China’s repression of its predominantly Muslim minorities, including the Uyghurs. Numerous Western parliaments, including Canada’s, have passed resolutions declaring that China’s treatment of the Uyghurs constitutes genocide.
Earlier this year, the Halifax forum awarded its flagship John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service to Ms. Tsai, calling her an inspiration for defending her people against the Chinese Communist Party’s aggression.
The prize was not announced during the forum’s November, 2020, proceedings.
News reports in April said Ottawa warned the forum’s organizers that it would yank its funding if the prize was given to Ms. Tsai – a move Politico.com attributed to fear of offending Beijing.
The government later denied it had tried to strong-arm the forum and said the group was free to make its own decision about the award.
The matter led to the House of Commons adopting a motion, by unanimous consent, saying Ms. Tsai was an ideal candidate for the prize.
Very relevant earlier post, note the “Comments” for the backstory:
British strategic analyst Julian Lindley-French (his rather impressive “About me” is here) fires for effect with his big guns against the Russian president. He really has it in for the fellow, a few paragraphs below from his latest blog post:
“Only a harmonious combination of strong and human well-being will ensure the formation of a just society and the prosperity of Russia. This requires concerted action to implement the strategic national priorities of the Russian Federation, aimed at neutralizing external and internal threats and creating conditions for achieving national development goals”.
The National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation, July 2021
The greatest irony about the ‘Strategy’ is tragic for it only implies what the Kremlin regards as the greatest threat to ‘their’ Russia, the Russian people. Indeed, reading the document what jumps out from the pages is not the strength of Russia or the regime, but rather the dangerous mix of profound insecurity and nihilistic cynicism that is the Kremlin world-view. A cynicism now leavened by a belief that Russia can prevail over its own myriad contradictions by systematically exploiting the openness of democracies through the sustained application of emerging and disruptive technologies in what they see as a form of grey zone ‘perma-war’ across the spectrum of information war, cyber war and the complex strategic coercion that is the threat of hyperwar…
The strategy also reveals Putin’s wilful lack of understanding of the Western liberal order. For him Russians must be protected from a West that offers snake oil for fear they will be seduced and only by repeatedly demonstrating the moral, spiritual, and eventually power ‘superiority’ of traditional Russian values over the Western vacuity can such seduction be prevented. A West which to Putin has abandoned any pretence to righteousness or rectitude by embracing what Putin regards as a toxic post-identity, post-patriotic post-modernism. Post modernism in which the manly values of which Putin sees himself the very embodiment have been abandoned by the Western democracies for what he regards as a disastrous mix of wokeism and multiculturalism which in its assault on patriotism poses as a great a threat to Russia as any NATO weapon system.
…the greatest deceit (self-deceit?) in the strategy is the way it describes and justifies the Great Power Competition geopolitics it needs to impose such a security burden on the Russian people in their name. The United States is now Russia’s Great Satan responsible for much of the world’s ills and defaming noble Russia in what the strategy describes as Washington’s continuing but doomed efforts to preserve American hegemony. Paradoxically, the way the strategy describes the Americans is perhaps the strongest metaphor of all for how the Kremlin really sees Russia. Alright, Russia lacks the ‘corrupting’ cultural influences of the Americans because its soft cultural power does not travel well. However, to accuse the US and wider West of constantly interfering in Russian internal affairs whilst feigning injured pride that the West should accuse Moscow of such dark arts is almost beyond parody.
…reading the Kremlin’s National Regime Survival Strategy is an extremely depressing exercise in ‘here we go again’ politics in which nothing is what it seems. It is to read history and futures bound up in one in which no lessons have been learned that are worth learning. In which the needs of a narrow oligarchy are presented as the interests of a Great Power. Russia IS a Great Power but the very manner by which THIS National Security Strategy defines ‘greatness’ is a sure-fire way to ensure Russia’s greatness is greatness denied. That, perhaps, is the most depressing aspect of this strategy because it reveals a leadership that deep down does not believe in Russia nor its people, least of all in what Russia could become if even half decently led. Rather, it is the manifesto of a fearful Kremlin that having lost an empire has still to find a role beyond almighty, bloody spoiler. As such, the Russian National Security Strategy actually says very little about Russia and its future, but everything about the regime which runs it. The best that can thus be said of it is that the Russian ‘emperor’ has new clothes.
Two years before the first battery is fielded, the next stage of technology development for a joint U.S. Army/Navy hypersonic missile program is set to begin.
A series of technology insertions aims to make hardened, mobile and relocatable targets vulnerable to the second tranche of the Army’s land-based Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) batteries and the first tranche of the Navy’s submarine- and surface-launched Intermediate-Range Conventional Prompt Strike (IRCPS) missiles, both scheduled to arrive in fiscal 2025.
The identical all-up round—a canister with a 34.5-in.-dia. two-stage booster and Common Hypersonic Glide Body (CHGB)—used by both programs is set to be fielded by the Army’s first LRHW battery in fiscal 2023, but it will feature a target set limited to fixed sites such as radar and communications dishes.
To move beyond those limitations, the cooperative Army/Navy program is developing a technology insertion plan that seeks to introduce an inflight retargeting capability and—most challenging of all—a terminal seeker [emphasis added].
“That’s not going to be an easy one,” said Robert Strider, deputy director of the Army Hypersonic Project Office, referring to a terminal seeker, at the Nuclear Triad Symposium on July 7.
The reentry speed of a CHGB launched by an LRHW/IRCPS missile may be as high as Mach 15. At those speeds, friction heating causes the airflow around the CHGB to ionize, creating a plasma sheath that interferes with incoming communications signals and outgoing transmissions by a radio-frequency sensor.
Solving the inflight retargeting problem with an inflight communications update appears feasible in the near term, said Strider. “We think we’ve got the pieces,” he said. “We’ve got to see how it all fits together.”
The harder problem is integrating a terminal seeker within the dimensions and environment of a biconic-shaped, hypersonic glider.
“Getting something that will be able to go after moving or relocated targets, you know, that’s a different story right now based on the maturity of some of the technologies,” Strider said. “We’ve got a lot of big brains that are looking into this.”
Although Zettler and Strider spoke at a symposium on nuclear weapons, Defense Department policy limits the new class of maneuvering hypersonic missiles to conventional explosives [but see this post: “US Nuke Hypersonics?“]. But some defense officials expect that LRHW and IRCPS missiles could achieve a deterrent effect similar to a strategic nuclear weapon. In fact, in a recent exercise called the Joint Warfighting Assessment 2021, the presence of an LRHW battery was enough to deescalate a simulated conflict…
Coming into service two years ahead of the IRCPS, the LRHW program is entering a critical period of flight testing. Earlier versions of the CHGB were tested three times between 2011 and 2017, with one failure in 2014. The first test of the operational version of the CHGB followed successfully in March 2019.
Strider said the Army is now preparing “very soon” for the next milestone test: Joint Flight Campaign (JFC)-1, which will be the first test of the CHGB and the two-stage missile stack. The Army slimmed the operational boosters to a diameter of 34.5 in. so the IRCPS will fit into the launch cells of the Navy’s Virginia Payload Module, he said.
A successful JFC-1 test will validate the performance of the all-up round from a launchpad. The next milestone will come in fiscal 2022 with the JFC-2 test, which will be the first from a transporter-erector launcher (TEL), Strider said. Lockheed has delivered all four TELs already to support the first battery. A follow-on JFC-3 test in fiscal 2022 will be the first to be directed by an operational unit, with no program office or contractor engineers providing supervision[emphasis added].
“When you think about normal programs of record—at the pace that they normally work and the milestones they go through—this is lightspeed,” Strider said.
The following is the July 16, 2021 Congressional Research Service report, Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues.
From the report
Members of Congress and Pentagon officials have placed a growing emphasis on U.S. programs to develop hypersonic weapons—those that can travel at speeds greater than Mach 5 and maneuver to improve accuracy or evade defenses as they approach their targets. Initially, the United States sought to develop systems with intermediate or long range, so that they could attack targets around the world in under an hour. These types of prompt strike weapons might bolster U.S. efforts to deter and defeat adversaries by allowing the United States to attack high-value targets or “fleeting targets” at the start of or during a conflict. Congress has generally supported this mission, but restricted funding for several years in the 2000s. Recently, efforts to develop a long-range prompt strike capability, along with other efforts to develop extremely fast hypersonic weapons, have garnered increased support…
When Congress reviews the budget requests for prompt strike and other hypersonic weapons programs, it may question DOD’s rationale for the mission, reviewing whether the United States might have to attack targets promptly at the start of or during a conflict, when it could not rely on forward-based land or naval forces. It might also review whether this capability would reduce U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons or whether, as some critics have asserted, it might upset stability and possibly increase the risk of a nuclear response to a U.S. attack. At the same time, Members of Congress and officials in the Pentagon have both noted that Russia and China are pursuing hypersonic weapons, leading many to question whether the United States needs to accelerate its efforts in response, or whether an acceleration of U.S. efforts might contribute to an arms race and crisis instability.
Lots to consider, what? But at least quite a few US legislators do take these matters in a seriously and knowledgeable fashion, unlike their Canadian counterparts. Also to ponder: what countries, especially in the Indo-Pacific, might agree to the basing of these weapons on their territory? A post: