June 26, 2020

Open Thread 55

It's time once again for our regular open thread. Talk about anything you want that isn't culture war.

First, the USNI's coronavirus sale is set to end soon, so if you want member prices and free shipping, shop before June 30th.

Second, to partially fill the void that SSC's demise has left in our lives, would anyone be interested in doing a Naval Gazing virtual meetup over Zoom or some other service? If so, I'll set up a time for next week.

Overhauls for 2018 are The Battle of Pungdo, So You Want to Build a Modern Navy-Aviation Part 1, Jackie Fisher, Battlecruisers Part 2, Auxiliaries Part 2 and Did Iowa Move Sideways During a Broadside?, now with new math on rolling. 2019 overhauls are Alexander's review of the Newark Air Museum, Battleship Aviation Part 4, Lord Nelson's review of Soya, The Scuttling of the High Seas Fleet, The Spanish-American War Part 5 and Information, Communication and Naval Warfare Part 3.


  1. June 26, 2020Ian Argent said...

    So. Why did the USN replace the Mk.12 5"/38? They couldn't build an autoloader for it?

  2. June 26, 2020bean said...

    Performance. As planes got faster and higher, the 5"/38 got more and more marginal. You only had so long to get the shell to the plane, and the muzzle velocity on the 5"/38 was relatively low. Besides the velocity issue, there were concerns about the shell not being heavy enough for the anti-surface roles. The result was the 5"/54 Mk 16, which was manually loaded and used on the Midways and planned for the Montanas. There were also plans for a 5.4" and 6" DP guns. Hence the Worcester class.

  3. June 27, 2020Keller said...

    I am trying to look into the security of US military ports against attackers, and thought that the people here might have good recommendations for broad overviews, prior research, or other good places to start. Anything would be appreciated.

  4. June 27, 2020bean said...

    Obviously, a lot of that stuff is classified. You might be able to find some of the actual standards (a quick Google turned up what NAVSEA demands at contractor facilities like shipyards, and I know the DoD building criteria are online with all the anti-terrorism stuff). These will be tremendously dry, but might help.

    I can also share my experience with security at Naval Base San Diego. It was a lot like an airport, only they used the wands instead of a fixed metal detector, and searched our bags manually. Oh, and they let us keep our water bottles.

  5. June 27, 2020fionn said...

    Apropos the "So you want to build a ..." posts, the Irish government is talking about buying some fast jets, seeing as at the moment Tu-95s have been flying around parts of Irish airspace recently and the only thing that can be done at the moment is to politely ask the RAF if they'd like to intercept them.


  6. June 27, 2020Alexander said...

    @fionn I suppose that shows the advantage of a location like Switzerland or Austria. If you are surrounded by NATO members it's a not so blatant when that you are dependent on them to secure your airspace. If the Irish Republic decided to buy some jets, what would be the cheapest credible option? And how long would it take to go from effectively not flying jets at all, to a marginally useful interceptor capability?

  7. June 27, 2020bean said...

    Interesting. There are a couple of ways to handle this. The cheapest option would be to do a deal with the British where they take over defending Ireland's airspace, probably for a fee and with Irish pilots assigned to the RAF, but that's probably politically impossible. So the next best option is to figure out the cheapest 4th-gen fighter package, procurement and sustainment. Cassander is going to know a lot more about this, but I'd be awfully tempted by the F-16s that a lot of European powers are currently replacing with F-35s. You could get them for a song, probably, but the issue is going to be paying for their upkeep. Parts might be tricky to come by down the road, but there's also a lot of airframes that are headed for the boneyard. As for how long this will take, that depends on how much help they get from people who already have interceptors. If they go with F-16s, then they might be able to work out a deal similar to the one Singapore has where they get to use US facilities. In that case, probably 5 years. Longer with less help, and if they don't get any help, approximately never.

    Or if you want to go really low-end, see if you can find someone to sell you F-5Es. Singapore retired the last of theirs 5 years ago.

  8. June 27, 2020quanticle said...

    You might also be able to go with the F-18. I know that there are a lot of European countries that operate it as a land-based fighter aircraft (even though we're more accustomed to thinking of it as a carrier-based fighter), and long-term support for the F-18 seems more assured than for the F-16, at least from what I've read.

    You might also look at something like the Dassault Rafale. If you're okay with pissing off everyone in NATO, the Chinese JF-17 might also be an option. Pakistan has bought quite a few of those, and they seem to have roughly the same performance as a F-16, but with more modern avionics.

  9. June 27, 2020Alexander said...

    How much would it irritate NATO if a non NATO member bought some Chinese jets? How big a deal was it when Finland bought MiGs?

  10. June 27, 2020Johan Larson said...

    @Alexander, I'm guessing it wasn't a big deal at all that Finland bought Soviet MiGs. That was back during the early-to-mid Cold War, and everyone considered Finland pretty much a part of the Soviet sphere of influence anyway. Finland's purchase of F-18s in 1995 was something of an announcement that this was no longer the case.

    Finland is currently running trials for its next generation fighter aircraft, actually. The contenders are:

    • United States Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Block III
    • France Dassault Rafale D/E
    • United Kingdom Eurofighter Typhoon Tranche 3A
    • United States Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
    • Sweden Saab JAS 39 Gripen E/F

    No Russian fighters in that mix.

  11. June 27, 2020CatCube said...


    The Unified Facilities Criteria form the basis for design of DOD facilities. The ones starting "UFC 4-" generally apply to physical security, with one that seems apropos to your question being UFC 4-025-01 "Security Engineering: Waterfront Security"

    Note that the work I do isn't quite on point for what this covers, so I'm not totally confident this is the closest one, but you may be able to walk through the references. Also, this applies to new construction, so there are probably a bunch of facilities that are no longer compliant.

  12. June 27, 2020Neal said...

    Does anyone know if the Crystal took any evasive action prior to colliding with the Fitzgerald?

    We of course know everything the Fitz was, and was not, doing, but I am coming up short of finding anything about what the Crystal did--assuming of course that it could have done anything at all. Was the Fitz completely that unapparent to anyone on the bridge of the cargo vessel?

    Interesting about a possible fighter buy for Ireland. Obviously something has unsettled the Irish enough to broach the concerns with such a float. I have always wondered what the limits are in agreements between the UK and the RoI around these issues.

    The Russians have also become rather chippy in recent years around the Irish sea and the Channel, as per both a friend at NATS and a colleague. This has included interfering with upper airspace civilian traffic around the Channel as well as Irish Sea on occasion--something that was rarely seen in decades past as it was just not part of the game.

  13. June 28, 2020Lambert said...

    Could the ROI contract this capability to an EU military?
    Ireland provides the bases and the pilots, France or someone does everything else.

    How advanced a fighter do you really need to put a shot across the bow of a 50's bomber, anyway? Of course Russia then has the option of escalating further, but there's a good chance they're just being opportunistic and have found an easy way to make the ROI spend a load of money.

  14. June 28, 2020quanticle said...

    The problem with buying old fighters is that they're cheap to buy, but become increasingly expensive to maintain as they age and spare parts become more scarce. There's always a sweet spot of "old but not too old" for countries like Ireland.

    This is something that India is running into right now. India maintains a rather large fleet of MiG-21s, which are rapidly aging out of the sweet spot and are becoming uneconomical to maintain, hazardous to fly and increasingly obsolete in the face of latest Chinese and Pakistani adversaries. So they're phasing out the MiG-21 and replacing it with the Dassault Rafale, if my understanding is correct.

    For a country like Ireland, I think the priority should be on buying something that has a low total cost, instead of falsely economizing on acquisition costs. They might be better served acquiring a smaller number of higher-end aircraft, rather than something cheap but almost completely obsolete. I'm not sure how much additional life Ireland can get out of a platform like the F-5 or Mirage 2000. Buying something like the F-16, F-18 or Rafale might make more sense, even if the upfront cost is higher, simply because those planes will be in service much longer before needing to be replaced.

  15. June 28, 2020AlexT said...

    Does the same part usually break on older jets, or does each plane age differently? i.e. how feasible is it to rely on cannibalizing parts from broken planes, to keep the rest flying?

  16. June 28, 2020fionn said...

    Interesting responses, but the situation is mighty complicated. The obvious solution, especially in the short term, as noted by several is to come to some kind of formal agreement with the UK government about getting the RAF to cover these gaps. The traditional pain point (NI) was post-2000, 2005 to some degree resolved (ie can kicked a generation or two down the road), so there might have been a chance of doing something like this. However since the Brexit vote in 2016 the UK government has been steadily providing a stronger and stronger reminder 100 years on of exactly why Ireland was so keen on leaving the UK in the first place (ie England decides to do something and the rest of the country just has to deal with it) so I can't see something like this happening anytime soon.

    Which leaves the option of going alone and creating a fast jet squadron. So currently the Irish air corps has 23 aircraft in total, 3 of which are for the police but operated by the air corp, then there's the transports, SAR, etc. A squadron of 16 fighter aircraft would practically double the size of the air corps, so we're talking about a pretty serious investment relative to current expenditure. Plus an expansion of ground-based radar would also be required too, as the fighters are otherwise useless as interceptors.

    And finally it's only just now in the last few days that finally there's a proper government in power again, 3 odd months after the last election, and the resulting coalition of the two civil war foes plus the green party isn't going to have much interest right now in expansion of the military, seeing as we're all in the middle of COVID crisis which is going to cause major damage to the government's finances. And seeing as the green party is also in the coalition, I can't imagine them supporting such a serious expansion of the air corps. The published programme for government does include a pledge to expand the navy from 8 to 9 ships, but only for replacement of aircraft in the air corps.

    Austria is actually a good point of comparison, it's also been "neutral" throughout the cold war, and pretends to keep some distance between itself and NATO and does have 15 eurofighters (originally planned for 18). However it also has twice the number of people, so realistically Ireland will probably be quite stretched to pay for 15 fighters without taking quite a bit of money from somewhere else in the budget. The Irish defence forces have historically not been well funded in general (something noted in the new programme for government), so buying an expensive fighter squadron is not going to improve this situation one bit.

  17. June 28, 2020Blackshoe said...

    Saab is pretty famous for leasing out Gripen packages. That might be a very attractive option for the Irish.

  18. June 28, 2020Inky said...


    I had a feeling that all of the new MiG-29 and SU-30 were bought as a replacement for aging 21's. It's a rather odd decision anyway, to mix Russian and Western aircraft -- higher maintenance costs, and big chance of supply problems if the relationship with one of the parties (who are becoming increasingly hostile to one another) goes sour.

  19. June 28, 2020John Schilling said...

    Most military jet trainers have armed variants suited for light combat use, and that might be enough for Ireland's needs - they're not going to be facing Russian fighters, only bombers and patrol aircraft. And trainers are designed for low operating cost and low total cost of ownership. Against high-subsonic targets (don't let the Tu-95's propellers fool you), they'd probably want something with supersonic dash capability, which rules out most of the current armed-trainer versions, but something like the South Korean FA-50 would be a good fit. Or any of the other contenders for the USAF F-X program, but the FA-50 is the one ready to buy off the shelf today.

  20. June 28, 2020bean said...


    Merchant ships are famously unobservant, particularly compared to warships. Fitzgerald really should have noticed the giant vessel bearing down on her. Also, a destroyer is a lot more maneuverable than a container ship, so the point at which Fitzgerald could dodge happened a lot later than the point at which Crystal could.

    As for Ireland, I think John’s suggestion is probably the best one. Plus trainers are great for giving rides to politicians whose support you need for the program.


    My guess would be that India is concerned about relying entirely on a single source for their fighters, and is hedging their bets by buying from both the West and Russia. They've long been kind of in the middle diplomatically, and that's not necessarily a comfortable place to be.

  21. June 28, 2020Neal said...

    Thanks Bean. I did not realize that the cargo vessels were, shall we say, a bit less keen in their lookout procedures. Sad situation all around. Looking to tuck into the McCain incident next.

    @Fionn Thank you for the nice summary/primer. Since the UK has defense purview over NI of course, one would think a straightfowrd path to be explored would be expanding UK/RAF responsibility for any interception or interdiction role.

    I know that is easier said than done as the actual writing of the agreement would be detailed, but as you mention doubling the size of the air corps and all the attendant kit is not a non-trivial, nor inexpensive, task.

    Why has this suddenly come to the fore? Is it a cyclical discussion within the Republic or have the recent incidents with the Russians been one straw too many?

  22. June 28, 2020Philistine said...

    I'm pretty sure India is replacing their MiG-21s with the locally-built HAL Tejas. They haven't ordered nearly enough Rafales or MiG-29s to cover the retirement of the "Bisons" - especially not when they're reportedly trying to expand the air force at the same time; but 300+ Tejas should fill the gap nicely.

  23. June 28, 2020John Schilling said...

    W/re the Fitzgerald/Crystal collision, keep in mind that MV Crystal has a total crew of 20 men. There's no way you have dedicated lookouts with binoculars except when you're entering or leaving port, and at 1:30 AM probably only 2-3 people on the bridge. So, maybe one of them should have noticed the closing contact on radar, but if for whatever reason they miss it, there's not going to be a backup.

  24. June 29, 2020quanticle said...

    Merchant ships are famously unobservant, particularly compared to warships.

    That's partly down to merchant ships having much smaller crews than warships. A container ship, for example, is going to have a crew of somewhere around 20. 20, for a ship that can be almost as big as (or, on some cases, bigger than) an aircraft carrier. Meanwhile, an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer has a crew of somewhere around 300. Granted, there's way more stuff on the destroyer that requires manning, but still think it's reasonable to assume that the destroyer ought to have a larger complement of lookouts and better situational awareness than the merchant vessel.

  25. June 29, 2020quanticle said...

    And of course, serves me right for not reading the next post below the one I was replying to see if someone else hadn't already made the same point.

  26. June 29, 2020Blackshoe said...

    Re: Crystal. IIRC, I thought one report noted that Crystal didn't have a full watch stood up and only had an AB on watch, although I can't find that anymore. It didn't matter as much since Crystal did in fact see FTZ and tried to signal her to avoid collision.

  27. June 29, 2020Blackshoe said...

    @Inky: Malaysia explicitly maintains a "buy from both sides" policy due to memories of arms embargoes from the West back in the 60s. Ergo, their fighter wing of F/A-18Ds and Su-30 MKKs.

  28. June 29, 2020ec429 said...

    However since the Brexit vote in 2016 the UK government has been steadily providing a stronger and stronger reminder 100 years on of exactly why Ireland was so keen on leaving the UK in the first place (ie England decides to do something and the rest of the country just has to deal with it) so I can’t see something like this happening anytime soon.

    This is not an accurate or fair representation of what happened. Firstly and most obviously, 52½% of the Welsh vote was for Leave, and the English Leave vote alone was almost a million below the total for Remain across the whole UK. (Just over 1 million Scots voted Leave.) So it is not appropriate to characterise this as England making a decision and forcing the rest of the UK to deal with it.

    Secondly, all of the friction between the UK and Ireland since the vote has been caused by the attempt by the EU (with considerable encouragement from Irish politicians like the then Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar) to construct a false dichotomy between (a) the UK (or at least NI) applying EU regulations to its internal market and (b) the imposition of a "hard border" between Ireland and NI, and the further attempt to imply that such a border (which would, if it were hypothetically to exist, be imposed by the EU for the purposes of implementing the EU's commercial policy) would be the UK's fault. As an independent country, the UK is not responsible for the protection of the EU's market nor for any measures the EU might choose to take to that end.

    The UK has, as far as I can tell from my admittedly biased viewpoint within it, made every effort to be friendly to a Republic of Ireland that seems to want a fight for fight's sake. I think it is highly likely that if the Republic stopped the petty name-calling and sought a rapprochement and the sort of deal bean talks about, the UK would be entirely receptive. If it is politically impossible, it is only Irish domestic politics that make it so.

    In fact the UK already does protect Irish airspace under a bilateral treaty, in return for military overflight permission (without which, of course, it would be rather difficult to do). So Ireland wasn't really reduced to "politely ask[ing] the RAF if they’d like to intercept them".

    Which makes it grimly humorous that in 2018 Varadkar suggested that Brexit might lead to UK commercial aviation losing its access to Irish airspace — it's not entirely clear whose jet fighters he thought would enforce that…

    Perhaps in a few years, when the EU's desire to 'harmonise' taxation brings them into conflict with the Irish government, the latter will look anew at the possibilities of a pro-British (or at any rate neutral) alignment. They would hardly be the first anti-British rebels to make their peace with the old Evil Empire (we seem to be on pretty good terms with that lot from 1776).

  29. June 29, 2020Alexander said...

    It's possible that for readers from the British isles (and possibly continental Europe) that Brexit may be culture war adjacent. Not that you brought it up, in fairness.

  30. June 29, 2020bean said...

    Pretty much what Alexander said. Let's avoid having a fight over whether or not Brexit was a good idea/who has been behaving badly during the process.

  31. June 30, 2020fionn said...

    I won't say anything more on potentially culture war topics other than to say that it would be remiss of the Irish defense staff to not have some kind of contingency plan for air defense, especially given all the turbulence since the Brexit vote.

    Thanks bean for all your work here!

  32. June 30, 2020ec429 said...

    Okay, to get back on topic and away from the CW (sorry about that, certain topics get me like a moth to a flame)... I find it amazing that the Tu-95 is still in service and still doing the same things it was back when the UK was using Shackletons to watch for it. (And those were retired the year I was born.) Just how long can they keep those old birds flying and fatigue-free? (I feel the same way about the B-52H, built nearly 60 years ago and still in service. At least the active Bears are 1980s builds.)

  33. June 30, 2020bean said...

    I'm not even opposed to discussion of the strategic effects of Brexit, so long as you don't start attacking the other side of the debate there. We've done similar things with Trump's policies in the past. And if you can't avoid doing that, probably best to steer clear of the topic entirely.

    I can't speak to the Tu-95, but I've heard a little about the B-52H structural program, and it nearly gave me nightmares. Wing spars with like 17 doublers. I used to do that for airliners, and they get thrown away long before that point. But the Air Force seems confident they can keep them flying safely to at least 2050, particularly as they're spending money on new engines.

  34. June 30, 2020AlexT said...

    Which makes it grimly humorous that in 2018 Varadkar suggested that Brexit might lead to UK commercial aviation losing its access to Irish airspace — it’s not entirely clear whose jet fighters he thought would enforce that…

    Does it come to this between "civilized" nations? Isn't there some sort of international mechanism where the Irish would complain, and the trespassing airline would have to pay a fine or some such? Aren't there ways to keep civilian airliners out of one's airspace, short of sending the CAP?

  35. June 30, 2020Lambert said...

    The rest of the EU would likely side with the ROI, were the UK flagrantly overflying without permission.

    Michel Barnier would not want to talk to us empty-headed animal food trough wipers, and I'm sure the Germans would find some way to economically inconweenience us too.

    Now, 'to what extent is the EU playing economic hardball with the UK' is a very CW question, but they could completely walk away and leave us on WTO terms.

  36. June 30, 2020bean said...


    If the UK really wants to send its airliners through Irish airspace, there’s not anything they can do beyond complain or send interceptors. But that puts them in violation of various treaties and international agreements, and the Irish would be completely within their rights to complain about it to the ICAO. I don’t know exactly what the ICAO can do, but the Irish civil aviation authorities are more than capable of, say, cutting all flights from the UK. To say nothing of what they can do to Ryanair or via other international mechanisms.

  37. June 30, 2020quanticle said...

    Ars Technica is starting a new series called "Human Interface", where they have experts talking you, the viewer, through the complicated controls for the complex and sophisticated machinery they have to use on a daily basis. What makes it even more on-topic for us is that their first episode covers the F-15C, with Col. Andrea Themely walking us through what all the controls in the cockpit of a F-15C do.

  38. June 30, 2020quanticle said...

    The US Navy is currently undergoing its largest expansion since the end of the Cold War, expanding from 299 ships to a projected 355 ships by 2034. Currently, much naval thinking in the US has gone into deciding what these additional ships should be, and what missions they ought to undertake.

    Jonathan Panter, Anand Jantzen and Jonathan Falcone, writing in War on the Rocks, consider the opposite question (outline). They ask, what would happen in a hypothetical future where the US Navy was forced to undertake a drastic cut, reducing itself to 100 ships. They ask, which missions are maximally important for the US Navy, and which can be given up in a hypothetical future where the US Navy is forced into drastic cuts?

    First, they lay out a hypothetical scenario by which the US Navy would be forced to undertake massive cuts. They note that younger Americans don't have nearly the same commitment to foreign engagement as their forebears. The concept of "American exceptionalism" is increasingly losing currency, and future generations could very well choose to focus on domestic economic and environmental issues rather than pursuing active leadership in global affairs. This, combined with the need to fund the large deficits from the 2008 and 2020 stimulus packages, could put severe downward pressure on discretionary funding. The Department of Defense is the largest component of the discretionary budget, and the Navy is a large portion of DoD spending. Given that reducing the number of hulls both reduces current acquisition costs and future operational costs, a reduction in the Navy's fleet size is an attractive target for those seeking to advertise large cuts in spending.

    Moreover, there is precedent for drastic cutbacks of this nature. The United Kingdom's Royal Navy had over 500 surface combatants in the 1960s. By 2016, that fleet had been cut to 89, with no fixed-wing capable carriers. While a reduction of that extent is unlikely for a country with the size and international commitments of the United States, it's still worthwhile to think about what would happen in drastic cutback scenario in order to force ourselves to distinguish between what is absolutely essential and what is nice to have.

    With that out of the way, the authors set out to try to come up with a 100-ship Navy that wouldn't leave the US totally unprotected. They start by looking at where the Navy is deployed and what it is doing in those deployments. Currently, the US Navy's primary areas of focus are Central Command and Indo-Pacific Command. In Central Command, the Navy has a three-fold mission:

    • Support the free flow of hydrocarbon traffic through the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz
    • Provide ballistic missile defense to allied states in the region
    • Support the other branches of the military in carrying out their missions in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan

    US commitments to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are being reduced, as the US continues down the long and complex road of disentangling itself from those conflicts. In addition, the authors note that the US has once again reached self-sufficiency in (and indeed is a net exporter of) hydrocarbons, reducing the importance of ensuring unrestricted oil and gas traffic through the Persian Gulf. Finally, US allies in the region are well on their way to deploying their own land-based ballistic missile defense systems to protect themselves from potential Iranian attack. Israel is deploying its own Arrow 3 system that is capable of exo-atmospheric intercepts, while Saudi Arabia has purchased a THAAD system similar to the one being deployed in South Korea. With these land-based systems providing a BMD umbrella, there is much less need for US surface combatants to patrol the Persian Gulf for missile defense purposes.

    In the Pacific, the US Navy's primary goal is to maintain a stable balance of power that prevents China from making revisionist territorial claims. To do this, the Navy conducts freedom-of-navigation operations, provides ballistic missile defense and engages in regional security cooperation exercises with its allies in the Indo-Pacific. This mission is more important than the Central Command missions, and the authors recommend that the US Navy consolidate its forces in the Indo-Pacific, leaving only a token force in the Middle East. However, even with this consolidation, the Navy will still exceed the 100-ship target for this exercise, and further cutbacks will be necessary. Most notably, a 100-ship Navy will not have the requisite amphibious warfare capabilities to support Taiwan with ground forces in the event of a PRC invasion. In order to mitigate this weakness, they recommend that the US help the Taiwanese further bolster their defenses, raising the costs of invasion in a way that doesn't rely on naval support. In addition, they recommend that the US invest in its own anti-access/area-denial capabilities, in order to prevent a PRC invasion without necessarily having to gain sea control over the Taiwan Strait.

    After going over the reduced missions that they envision a 100-ship Navy undertaking, Panter, Jantzen and Falcone set out to come up with a force structure that can meet these commitments. First, they look at what will not be cut: ballistic missile submarines. Even the greatest skeptic of the Navy admits the value of sea-based missile deterrence, and, as such the authors commit to having 10 SSBNs in the 100-ship Navy, same as today. In addition to their value, preserving the ballistic missile submarines (and nuclear powered vessels more generally) would allow the US to maintain the nuclear-related parts of its naval supply chain. This is important because if these parts of the supply chain atrophy, they become very difficult to rebuild.

    Next, they completely eliminate the Ticonderoga-class cruisers. According to the authors, the Ticos are aging and maintenance-intensive, and Arleigh-Burke-class destroyers are close enough in capability that the US should standardize on them as its primary surface combatant. Even this, though, is not enough to bring the ship count below 100, so the authors recommend eliminating many of the Block I and Block II Arleigh Burkes as well, while maintaining as much of the Block IIIs, with their reduced crewing and maintenance requirements, as possible.

    Third, Navy ships do not usually fight alone, but rather go into combat as part of a carrier battle group. Eliminating a single aircraft carrier not only removes the carrier itself, but allows you to remove all of its escorts as well, allowing for large reductions at a stroke. With that in mind, the authors recommend reducing the number of carriers from 11 to 6. An aircraft carrier's main role is to project power, and a US that seeks to cut its Navy down to 100 ships is a US that is no longer interested in maintaining the sort of global presence that carriers enable. As a result, in this scenario a large reduction in the number of carriers would not just be feasible, but also probably welcome. Six carriers allows three to be deployed on each coast, which is about the minimum you can have to keep a CSG out on patrol at all times.

    Likewise, a United States that is uninterested in maintaining a global presence is also going to be uninterested in expeditionary capabilities, so the authors recommend cutting amphibious warfare ships until they reach parity with the number of carriers. This would allow the US to maintain a limited expeditionary capability for use in emergencies, while consolidating maintenance, training and deployment schedules with the carriers for further cost savings.

    This leads to the authors coming up with the following order of battle for a 100-ship Navy:

    • 6 carriers
    • 10 ballistic missile submarines
    • 18 attack submarines to provide sea denial capabilities
    • 28 large surface combatants
    • 10 small surface combatants
    • 6 amphibious warfare ships
    • 12 logistics ships
    • 10 support ships

    Personally, I disagree with the authors on two points. First, I think they drastically underestimate the importance of ensuring the free flow of oil through the Persian Gulf. Oil is a global market, and shortages anywhere result in price increases everywhere. Arguing that we don't need to worry about the Persian Gulf because we drill enough at home for our own consumption is a bit like arguing we don't need to worry about leaks in the one end of a swimming pool because we've confined ourselves to the other side. Secondly, I disagree with the authors on the absolute primacy of nuclear deterrence as a mission for the US Navy. While nuclear deterrence is certainly important, it's also true that nuclear deterrence is an extremely specialized role. While carriers and surface combatants can carry out a variety of missions, a ballistic missile submarine can only play the nuclear deterrence role. For that reason, I think it's unreasonable to leave the number of ballistic missile submarines unchanged while the rest of the Navy undergoes drastic cuts. My suspicion is that the only reason this was done is because this exercise focuses on the number of hulls as a proxy for operational costs. Thus a ballistic missile submarine "counts" the same as an Arleigh-Burke class frigate, despite the former being much more expensive to build and run.

    As a result, I would recommend reducing the number of ballistic missile submarines by 4 and the number of attack submarines by 8. This frees up 12 hulls in the budget that we can use to constitute another carrier strike group. This seventh CSG would remain in reserve, allowing the US to bolster its response to potential trouble. It would also provide important relief capacity in the event of mechanical issues or something like coronavirus reducing readiness in one of the actively deployed CSGs.

    While I don't agree with the authors' specific answer, I do think that they raise an important and under-appreciated question. We cannot take the current 299 ship Navy as a floor, from which the US Navy can only expand. We must be willing to contemplate what a Navy much smaller than the current force would look like. Doing so forces us to consider what missions are absolutely important for the US to carry out itself, and which missions might be turned over to allies or even abandoned altogether. So, Naval Gazing readers, what would your 100-ship Navy look like?

  39. June 30, 2020Doctorpat said...

    Even the greatest skeptic of the Navy admits the value of sea-based missile deterrence

    I guarantee that in 5 minutes on the internet I could find multiple people who would not admit this.

  40. June 30, 2020Neal said...


    "I disagree with the authors on two points. First, I think they drastically underestimate the importance of ensuring the free flow of oil through the Persian Gulf. Oil is a global market, and shortages anywhere result in price increases everywhere."

    Well said and something that is too often overlooked by those who maintain that since we are self-sufficient we can simply say see ya.

    The goal is worldwide energy stability that helps yield economic stability. Not always possible to be sure, but we have been afforded more than an ample number of examples to see what occurs when that stability is diminished.

    Also, although I do not have much factual information to base this hunch upon, I am not quite sure that I buy into the argument that after the recent drawback in the number of frackers and drillers that this capacity can be almost immediately stood up again. Even if it can, then it seems to be the opposite of stability have extractors so vulnerable to boom/bust.

    ...but alas such has always been the oil and gas market say the grey-beards. Perhaps, but it gets back to why I agree with your point of shortages, prices, etc. Its simply to vital to the world's economic health, and in turn ours not to somehow ensure the free flow of ME energy supplies.

  41. July 01, 2020Blackshoe said...


    so the authors recommend eliminating many of the Block I and Block II Arleigh Burkes

    But what about all the Flt IIAs? /nitpick

    Also, it's been awhile, but early on in the lockdown David Larter (of Military News) in his recurring email series the Drift, basically discussed how Winter was Coming, financially speaking, and that budgets were going to get slashed and hard. One of the implications of that was that the Ticos were probably gone no matter what. Just too much

    As far as missions that can go away, I've always advocated killing off the T-AHs, since they have no real mission other than collecting Facebook likes. Likewise, the counter-drug ops in 4th Fleet and TSC as a mission as a whole should be re-evaluated, although I admit those are largely low-hanging fruit. I'd be down with axing away a lot of the amphibious capability. Also, I'd eliminate conventional surface deterrence patrols against Russia and let Europe handle that.

    Even then, don't know that I could get down to 100 ships. Part of my fears would be how much I think we could reactivate ships if they were put into mothballs.

  42. July 01, 2020Suvorov said...

    I guess I'm going to return to the UFO beat again – bear with me, here, no aliens hiding in the trunk!

    In the comments of bean's thoughtful Navy UFO Incident post, bean suggested that the supposed ability of the "Tic-Tac" to hover without a visible means of support and accelerate instantly was implausible behavior – which, well, yeah. That's weird. But maybe not implausible.

    (BTW @Blackshoe, thanks for your link to the CNA's discussion on how the Navy dealt with UFOs in the 1940s – I'll see if I can't give them a listen!)

    Now, the whole "hovering without visible means of support and accelerating instantly" is associated with "black triangle" UFOs, (like the "Phoenix lights") and one pretty reasonable explanation for such sightings is, well, boring dirigibles. (They are even made in Phoenix-lights-style "V" shapes.) Dirigibles are, of course, intriguing to steampunk fans everywhere, but also to corporations for the tantalizing promise of being able to transport large amounts of cargo very far relatively quickly and cheaply, so there are various documented dirigibles in lots of various weird shapes, and frankly it would be strange if there weren't UFO sightings based around them.

    More importantly, they're important to the US government because they offer the promise of long-duration ISR platforms that can loft large payloads, remain on station for days at a time, and can potentially be stealthy. The DoD has a documented interest in (up to and including entering into open-source procurement contracts) in such platforms, so secret US spy blimps were a pretty good explanation for various UFO sightings throughout the years, but said UFOs were sometimes witnessed being much more frisky a blimp had any right to be.

    But there is a propulsion method that lets a craft maneuver without a visible means of acceleration – an ion drive. It's purely electric, it's silent, and it is fairly simple, the basic principles being known for almost a hundred years now.

    The issue is that the ion drive kinda sucks. The thrust to weight ratio is poor, batteries are heavy, and until recently getting them off the ground usually meant the power source had to be left on the ground and fed to the lifting body by a dangling wire. It's next to useless for conventional applications – at least for now. (Apparently in 2018 MIT finally got one to achieve level flight while carrying its own fuel source, so maybe we'll see more of them in the future.)

    BUT – or so the theory [not original to me] goes – a lighter-than-air vehicle, arbitrarily large, could carry a power source and still scoot around fairly quickly, and in any direction it wanted to, resulting in a craft that could hover, accelerate instantly, and all without a visible means of propulsion. No radar-reflecting propeller or turbine blades, and no noise, either. Now, here's a quote from a story about the MIT prototype:

    In the future, Barrett says they’d like to take those electrodes and bake them into the skin of a next-gen aircraft, so there would be no need for the external ones on this prototype. Not only that, he says that the ion drive could even be used to steer the plane going forward, so it wouldn’t need traditional control surfaces, like a rudder or elevator, which is the part of the smaller wing at the back of a plane that control’s a craft’s pitch. That way the solid-state engines would not only propel the plane, it would control its direction.

    (From https://www.popsci.com/ion-drive-airplane/)

    Sound familiar?

    The main issue with this theory, I think, is that it seems hard to believe an ion thruster could match the alleged eyewitness performance of the Tic-Tac and other supposed stealth blimps – although I could definitely see eyewitnesses overestimating the performance of a odd-looking airframe like this. I don't know the theoretical upper limits of a purely ion-propelled craft [although I'm sure a hybrid design is possible] – is supersonic performance by an ion design something that can be ruled out?

    Anyway, I find this a more plausible theory than Navy pilots misidentifying a flock of birds.


  43. July 01, 2020megasilverfist said...

    Australia is beefing up military spending in response to Covid destabilizing the region (and Trump making America less reliable as an ally). The overall logic makes sense, but I'm not sure about the specific amount or distribution of the increased budget. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/scott-morrison-unveils-270-billion-plan-to-arm-australia-with-long-range-missiles-against-more-dangerous-world

  44. July 01, 2020quanticle said...


    The authors admit that 100 ships is a rather extreme worst case scenario. They don't say exactly why they chose such a low number, but it makes sense to me that it's easier to plan for 100 ships and get, say, 150, than it is to plan for 150 ships and get 100.

  45. July 01, 2020quanticle said...


    Heck, in my response I was somewhat skeptical of sea-based missile deterrence. It didn't make any sense to me that they were cutting the rest of the fleet to the bone, but leaving the boomer fleet at its current levels. If the US Navy followed the authors' plan in cutting the fleet down to 100, a full 10% of the fleet would be SSBNs. It doesn't make any sense to me that we'd put that much investment into a platform that can do one and only one job.

    In fact, after thinking about it some more, I think even my counter-proposal of cutting the SSBN fleet down to six is a bit generous. If I were in charge of this RIF, I'd look at cutting the boomer fleet down to three or four (just enough to have one at sea at all times), and replacing them with attack subs. Attack subs are a far more versatile platform, and can be profitably used even in peacetime to prowl near enemy waters and gather intelligence on their maritime activities.

  46. July 01, 2020Neal said...


    Leading this discussion in the open source as we must, I ask, to start the SSBN portion of the conversation, what Britain has had at sea with the Vanguard program. Each boot can theoretically carry 16 Trident II missiles each with 12 warheads...although this is not a normal cruise complement it's still a punch. Ours carry more so we know that as minimum we have a protected area (via forward defense mind) at least that of which the British have.

    This should, one would think, be a good guide as to what options having X or Y SSBNs affords.

    How would that then fit it in/augment the two other legs of the triad? Would not 10 SSBNs offer a significant and robust deterrent thus configured and integrated?

    Of course I see the point in your question that, it seems to me, you are looking for both maximum responseflexibility and force mulitiplaction in the sense of being able to use platform X in many varied and productive ways.

    I find these think pieces to be extremely beneficial if properly guided--quite often when working with allied nations in determining their top defense needs and what assets can cover those needs. Also what nearby regional overlap is there so that if you don't have a specific bit of kit then a close friend might. That said, 100 ships seems a bit thin on the water...

  47. July 01, 2020bean said...

    On the 100-ship Navy thing, wow that's going to hurt. There's no question we have a budget crunch coming, and the Ticos are obviously going to be the first thing to go. But I can't see the cuts going too far, no matter how isolationist the younger generation is. (Leaving aside how true that is, because isolationism always seems to be lurking around the corner.)

    I can't see the boomer force dropping below 8. You need 4 to keep 1 on station, and we have two major enemies we need to deter, spread far enough apart that we can't cover them both with a single submarine, at least based on Trident's published range. I'd argue for retiring the ICBMs and using that money for more SSBNs.

    In terms of other forces, that's going to be heavily political. For instance, if the cuts fall too heavily on the 'phibs, the Marines will scream, and they traditionally have a very strong lobby in Congress. So they'll probably be reasonably protected, at least by comparison.

    Also, it's worth pointing out that it's actually pretty rare to see a contraction of anything like that size without either a major geopolitical shift or a change in technology. The first would be "the war (hot or cold) is over, we're retiring a bunch of ships" while the second happened a lot from the 1940s to the 1960s, and resulted in a lot of shrinkage among navies.

    But even that was probably not as bad as they claim. The figure of 500+ surface combatants for the RN in the 60s doesn't make sense. For 1960, one of my books gives 36 submarines, 5 carriers, 7 cruisers, 24 destroyers, 32 frigates and 50 mine warfare ships. That's 113 surface warfare ships by even the loosest of definitions. There were at least 150 mine warfare ships in reserve (Ton and Ham classes) but we're still 50% short. Coastal Forces and most of the reserve fleet were gone by this point, so I'm very confused.

  48. July 01, 2020bean said...

    I don't think we can explain the UFOs by positing an ion drive blimp. Ion drives (I assume this is the "ionize air and let it flow towards the other electrode" version, because the type I'm familiar with from space propulsion isn't capable of lifting itself, or working in an atmosphere) are very low-thrust. And LTA craft are draggy. Your car is almost certainly faster than the fastest airship ever, when using conventional propulsion. This doesn't seem like a winning combination. In theory, it could hover and then accelerate in any direction, but the result isn't going to be called "instantaneous" by any normal observer. "Glacial" seems more likely. Also, I'd wonder about the radar signature of these ion drives, because it seems likely that they're going to be a rather large reflector.

  49. July 01, 2020bean said...


    Hmm. Long-range missiles, you say? The most obvious candidates for that are JASSM and LRASM, both of which they already have on order.

  50. July 01, 2020Suvorov said...

    Ion drives (I assume this is the “ionize air and let it flow towards the other electrode” version, because the type I’m familiar with from space propulsion isn’t capable of lifting itself, or working in an atmosphere) are very low-thrust.

    Yes, and yes.

    What I don't know is if current ion drives represent about the upper bounds of what is capable, though. I know people working on them now hope to use them to replace current airliners (clean and silent, etc. etc.) which seems to imply a lot of growth potential. Does anyone have an idea for where an ion drive would top out?

    And LTA craft are draggy.

    Do they have to be, though? I assume this is going to be as a result of 1) shaping, and 2) buoyancy, and both of those seem negotiable – the idea of controlling an airships buoyancy isn't new.

    Your car is almost certainly faster than the fastest airship ever, when using conventional propulsion.

    So still faster than a Super Hornet? Jokes aside, speed record is believed to have been set before WW2(!) at almost 90 mph.

    This doesn’t seem like a winning combination.

    It seems nice for a loitering ISR platform, IMHO. But I certainly wouldn't dream it up for speed, and I also know that regular old propellers are pretty quiet these days.

    But we know from the Cold War that a lot of UFO sightings were real, but of novel airplane designs. I would bet good money that the same is true today, even if I'm stabbing pretty blindly at how they work or what they do.

    Also, I’d wonder about the radar signature of these ion drives, because it seems likely that they’re going to be a rather large reflector.

    Which part would be the reflector? In the designs I have seen, the thrusters just look like wires, more or less. If you could bake them into the skin of the aircraft, then wouldn't you be able to use shaping to control the reflectivity, same as the F-117?

    OTOH, I guess RAM paint would probably be out of the question, right?

  51. July 01, 2020bean said...

    I would be somewhat skeptical that this is ever going to work, simply from the number of technologies that have had reasonable amounts of money poured into them and never given us anything useful.

    As for drag, there's really no way around it. Airships are already pretty optimized for low drag, and basically let down because they have to be really big. Air isn't that heavy.

    And yeah, it's a question of why you'd be using ion drives instead of quiet props. We've had good airplane silencing techniques for, what, 50 years or so. There were some extremely quite helicopters built in Vietnam, so I don't think you'd have trouble building a silent blimp.

    As for radar signature, it's the ions themselves which I suspect might make a pretty nice reflector. Electrically charged particles do things to EM radiation. But that's pretty much pure speculation on my part.

    There's also the issue that the incident in question was 15 years ago. We've seen a lot of progress in the relevant electrical/electronic fields since then, and I doubt the military was leading by too much given how much gets spent in the unclass world.

  52. July 01, 2020John Schilling said...

    Oh dear Lord; not the return of the hypersonic ion-drive zeppelin! About fifteen years ago, JP Aerospace proposed, well, a hypersonic ion-drive zeppelin for orbital space launch, which never passed the giggle test. I was mathematician-in-chief for the gigglers, IIRC. Haven't heard anything about the idea since, but even their most optimistic predictions wouldn't have given anything like the agility reported for these unidentified aerial images - just slow prolonged acceleration. I really don't want to have to put another stake through the heart of this one...

  53. July 01, 2020cassander said...

    On the 100 ship navy, You don't need a navy to ensure free flowing oil. The gulf is rarely more than ~150 miles wide and often less than that. You can sweep it clean with aircraft and land based ASMs.

    Second,I can imagine a US Navy with 6 carriers, 6 ARGs, or 10 SSBNs that can accomplish its goals, but not one with only 18 attack submarines or large 28 surface combatants. That's going to work out to, what, maybe SSNs 3 on station in the pacific? At its core, the job of navies is to deny the use of the sea to enemies and submarines the best best tool for doing that, particularly when your rival has such poorly developed ASW skills. The navy envisioned here is one that never imagines having its command be questioned, and that's a dangerous place to be. And with 28 large combatants, you'll have basically all of them in your carrier groups at all times, meaning virtually no force for presence.

    This is a reasonable exercise to undertake, but the conclusion the authors should have reached was that 100 is unworkable. 150, maybe, but even that is a fleet that other countries can imagine they might be able to defeat. I'd rather they not be allowed that luxury.

  54. July 01, 2020redRover said...


    I think the better option re subs is you get rid of all the SSNs and go with an all SSBN force. This would require a large change in mindset to how the Navy uses them, as the SSBNs would then be forward deployed as attack submarines, not just tracing circles in the Arctic Ocean somewhere, but it seems like you would then maintain both deterrence and attack capabilities without cutting the SSBN force unnecessarily.

    Most notably, a 100-ship Navy will not have the requisite amphibious warfare capabilities to support Taiwan with ground forces in the event of a PRC invasion.

    This seems wrong, though I can't prove it. If China gains enough of a foothold in Taiwan that the assault has to be amphibious, the war is likely already functionally lost. Getting aid to Taiwan would probably be just as well accomplished with MSC ships.

    (Though I think you can make the same critique more broadly of the current approach to amphibious warfare. Where are we going to fight that is both soft enough that an amphibious assault would likely succeed, but hard enough that we can't just drive in from the neighboring country. Whatever China's issues as a blue water navy, it seems unlikely that an amphibious assault force would be long for this world if they were supporting ops against China, while most of the lesser threats have pliant enough neighbors that MSC ships and so on can be used. It's probably worth having two assault groups for various tactical uses and for low intensity interventions, but the idea that we will have Incheon 2.0 seems far fetched to me.)

  55. July 01, 2020Suvorov said...


    As for radar signature, it’s the ions themselves which I suspect might make a pretty nice reflector. Electrically charged particles do things to EM radiation. But that’s pretty much pure speculation on my part.

    Yeah, I've heard people talk about using charged particles for stealth and as EM reflectors. I imagine it depends on the configuration, but you can definitely use them as reflectors for radio waves.

    There’s also the issue that the incident in question was 15 years ago. We’ve seen a lot of progress in the relevant electrical/electronic fields since then, and I doubt the military was leading by too much given how much gets spent in the unclass world.

    That's a good point!

    @John Schilling

    About fifteen years ago,

    Seems like a lot of interesting stuff was happening about fifteen years ago!

    JP Aerospace proposed, well, a hypersonic ion-drive zeppelin for orbital space launch, which never passed the giggle test.

    JP was the group who built the airship that very coincidentally looked like the Phoenix lights, although they denied being involved. They're still, uh, floating their orbital space launch ideas, too.

    (The document you linked to states that it would use rocket engines as well as ion engines.)

    I really don’t want to have to put another stake through the heart of this one...

    Well, don't do it on my account! But I am curious to know what the fundamental failing was. Seems like a pretty big materials challenge, to get an LTA to cooperate at those speeds and at that altitude – but I'm seeing that NASA had a high-altitude hypersonic LTAs in the 1960s, so maybe the Achilles heel is something less obvious?

  56. July 01, 2020Suvorov said...


    I think the better option re subs is you get rid of all the SSNs and go with an all SSBN force.

    Why not instead just deploy nuclear cruise missiles on an SSN fleet and retire the SSBNs?

    As an aside – it seems to me that the splitting of the nuclear deterrence and attack fleet has the – intended? – effect of allowing a conventional war to play out without threatening another country's nuclear assets and making them start to feel like they have to "use it or lose it." If you make all subs part of your deterrence game, you lose that angle. But I don't know if that angle is something that is actually taken into consideration in these decisions.

  57. July 01, 2020redRover said...


    Nuclear cruise missiles are way more escalatory, because the enemy doesn't know if they're getting TLAM-N or TLAM-C. SLBMs/ICBMs are for better or worse very distinctive.

    If you make all subs part of your deterrence game, you lose that angle.

    This is a good point, but on balance it seems like having a more distributed deterrent force is more useful than the possible escalation risk, because losing one of 16 SSBNs is bad, but not as much of an issue as losing 1 of 4 SSBNs. However, you would probably have to have some strong guidance, both within the DoD and with potential enemies, that forward deployed SSBNs are considered closer to SSNs in terms of escalation risk if attacked during a war.

  58. July 01, 2020cassander said...

    @redRover said...

    but it seems like you would then maintain both deterrence and attack capabilities without cutting the SSBN force unnecessarily.

    SSBNs aren't going to be ideal attack platforms, and having them running around doing attack submarine things is going to make people extremely nervous. It would also cost a fortune. We should definitely get more SSGNs, though.

    This seems wrong, though I can’t prove it. If China gains enough of a foothold in Taiwan that the assault has to be amphibious, the war is likely already functionally lost.

    Agree completely. The goal of Taiwanese defense policy should be to prevent landings, not respond to them once they happen. You're not going to slug it out with tanks in one of the most densely populated countries in the world, even if you win it's a disaster.

    It’s probably worth having two assault groups for various tactical uses and for low intensity interventions, but the idea that we will have Incheon 2.0 seems far fetched to me.

    The reason Incheon 2 is unlikely is because an adversary will prepare for it. But if you don't have the capability at all, your adversary doesn't need to prepare for it, which costs them. So the question is does it cost us more than them? I tend to lean towards no on that front, because the ARGs are good for things besides Incheon 2.

  59. July 01, 2020redRover said...

    I suppose the follow on question is "How much worse are SSBNs at being SSNs than SSNs?"

    The Ohios are roughly twice the Seawolf in displacement, so clearly more lethargic and less maneuverable, but also quieter I think.

  60. July 01, 2020bean said...

    I really don't see an all-SSBN force happening. Everyone who has SSBNs maintains a sharp distinction between their strategic and non-strategic subs. The Israelis don't, but that's because they don't officially have nuclear weapons, even though everyone knows they do. And SSNs are just too useful for too many things that don't fit well with SSBN roles.

    The goal of Taiwanese defense policy should be to prevent landings, not respond to them once they happen. You’re not going to slug it out with tanks in one of the most densely populated countries in the world, even if you win it’s a disaster.

    Being able to respond to landings once they happen is part of preventing them, though. If China knows they need to get 100,000 troops ashore instead of 10,000 to win, they're going to be a lot less likely to try. And raising the troop threshold tenfold is pretty cheap compared to a lot of other things Taiwan could do.

  61. July 01, 2020cassander said...

    Oh, on the subject of India, this is their current plan for combat aircraft: https://imgur.com/a/yIXoT1n

    As you can see, they have a massive gap currently, and their fleet is a ridiculous mix of aircraft. It's actually worse than it looks, because they also have 2 families of trainer jet (hawks and HJT-16s) and the army and navy each have a program to buy another one. This mix is not really a result of calculation, but a lot of ineptitude and unrealistic thinking. If they were smart, they'd force the AF and Navy to just keep buying Rafales for a while. It's not the best possible choice, but it would at least start to end the insanity.

  62. July 01, 2020redRover said...


    I agree that it's unlikely to come to pass, and it's certainly less than ideal, but for a constrained 100 ship Navy it seems a better way to keep capability than having a few SSBNs and a few SSNs, given the strategic requirements and commitments of the US. (Versus say the UK, which just wants to keep Russia from nuking them, and can compliment the US on other commitments.)

  63. July 01, 2020Suvorov said...


    Everyone who has SSBNs maintains a sharp distinction between their strategic and non-strategic subs.

    Is this for the de-escalation reasons I mentioned upthread? Or is it because of quality-quantity distinctions, with everyone placing their nuclear eggs in very quiet, very expensive baskets?

    To @redRover's point about ICBM's being, uh, safer – what if our monotype fleet of 20 hypothetical submarines all had the capability to carry ICBMs or conventional weapons? Have something like the Virginia Payload Module standard and swap weapons in and out as needed?

  64. July 01, 2020Blackshoe said...

    @quanticle: "100" as a target number is suspiciously round as a target number as to make me think it was picked as an ideal-sounding number, and that the whole thing is mostly a thought exercise. Which is fine! It's a good exercise. I just hope they took that into account.

    Also, on a more technical level, not sure how much cutting your buy really saves you on procurement for SSBNs (given how much developmental costs are going to be built into them; see also, DDX/DDG-1000 for a more current example of this).

  65. July 02, 2020Doctorpat said...

    The reason Incheon 2 is unlikely is because an adversary will prepare for it. But if you don’t have the capability at all, your adversary doesn’t need to prepare for it, which costs them.

    Surely Faylaka Island, Kuwait, in 1991 is a relevant example here? Also includes Battleships.

  66. July 02, 2020AlexT said...

    offtopic/rant: The habit of pricing development into each unit of a thing the military buys seems to lump together two very different things. Development money is already spent, for good or ill. Just call it "development cost", think of it as money spent to unlock the production capability, and then refer to the fixed cost of each unit (round or tank or ship or whatever).

    This is strictly a "public perception" thing. Cost that drastically diminishes the more you buy isn't something most people can readily internalize. Even bulk discounts only go so far. This would help with the public awareness of what things actually cost. The $800.000 gun round comes to mind.

    Is it really that difficult to say "development was $50M, each round costs $20k"?

  67. July 02, 2020bean said...

    On the 100 ship navy, You don’t need a navy to ensure free flowing oil. The gulf is rarely more than ~150 miles wide and often less than that. You can sweep it clean with aircraft and land based ASMs.

    Missed this earlier, and I'm not so sure. Yes, if you just care about sinking surface traffic in the Gulf, that will work. But I just finished reading a book on Earnest Will and the related missions, and that's the sort of thing which requires surface ships in the Gulf. Aerial minesweeping is still not great, and sometimes you need presence, too. All you can really do with aircraft and ASMs is make sure the other guy can't move oil.

    Sidenote: I am extremely confused by Operation Nimble Archer. "The Iranians have been planting mines and we need to take revenge. We have the forces currently in the Gulf, as well as the Ranger and Missouri battlegroups in the Arabian Sea. Let's send a few destroyers to shell one of their oil platforms." "Wait. If we're attacking surface targets with gunfire, do we have any better options?" "None that I can think of." "OK. Let's do it."

    Is this for the de-escalation reasons I mentioned upthread? Or is it because of quality-quantity distinctions, with everyone placing their nuclear eggs in very quiet, very expensive baskets?

    Some of both. The two platforms do very different jobs, and have rather different design requirements. If nothing else, it's a lot easier to excuse an SSN lurking off someone's coast to collect ELINT data than if you caught an SSBN doing the same thing.


    There are times when total cost per unit is the right metric. But that's usually early on, when you're still deciding what to buy. I think it's about 33% the DoD having confusing accounting standards, 33% journalists not really understanding what the numbers they're looking at mean, and 34% malice by people who are wanting to get flashy headlines/make programs look worse. I seriously considered writing my post on defense pricing as a guide for journalists looking to manipulate cost numbers, but decided I didn't like the resulting tone.

  68. July 02, 2020quanticle said...


    “100” as a target number is suspiciously round as a target number as to make me think it was picked as an ideal-sounding number, and that the whole thing is mostly a thought exercise.

    I was less explicit in my summary, but in the original piece, the authors are pretty clear that that's exactly what this is. Thinking about what a 100-ship Navy looks like focuses the mind and forces really hard conversations about what missions are essential and what missions can be given up entirely.

    Now, that said, maybe @cassander is right, and a 100-ship Navy is unworkable, given the security needs of the United States, and a better version of this exercise would have had a target of 150 ships (i.e. 50% of the current Navy, rather than 33%).

    So, with that in mind, good news, Naval Gazing planners! Your admirals went to Congress and whined at enough powerful Senators and Representatives to get you funding for an additional 50 hulls! What does your 150-ship Navy look like?

  69. July 02, 2020redRover said...


    Ship 101 is a Presidential yacht for yours truly.

    With the remaining 49 ships, I would buy another 3 carrier groups (expansively defined) of carrier + 6 Burkes + 1 sub + 2 supply ships, for 30 ships there.

    With the remaining 19 ships, I would get 6 SSNs, 6 extra Burkes, and the remaining 7 to be fleet enablement ships of various sorts (logistics, surveying, R&D, surveillance).

    I think with a 150 ship fleet you could probably go back to the SSBN/SSN distinction and avoid the all offensive SSBN solution.

    However, while this isn't playing by the rules, could you go with something totally out of bounds like 50 carriers, 50 re-supply ships, and 50 SSBNs? The manning and procurement costs would obviously be astronomical compared to the current Navy, but it's strictly speaking a 150 ship Navy, and the profusion of aircraft that you could host on your 50 carriers would make up for the lack of other capabilities (maybe).

  70. July 02, 2020Chuck said...


    To play devil's advocate and throw some shade the in the opposite direction: factoring in development costs is a great way to encourage additional production, by using a variant of the sunk cost fallacy. Additional units seem like such a great deal when compared to the cost of previously purchased units, and hides the cost escalation that naturally occurs with time and added requirements.

    As an example, saying, "We spent a billion a piece for these bombers, but additional units will only be 500 million" makes it seem like a bargain, much more so than "We spent 6 billion on the development program for these bombers and built 10 at 400 million a piece, but with the changes we've had to make the unit cost has gone up. Oh by the way we're gonna have to refit all the old ones too."

  71. July 02, 2020cassander said...


    All you can really do with aircraft and ASMs is make sure the other guy can’t move oil.

    Any fleet in the gulf is going to cost a heck of a lot more than enough missiles to sink it based on shore. Against anything like a peer competitor, there's not much the ships can accomplish. The ships can be useful for political reasons, but when it comes to actual combat, they don't offer that much and are very vulnerable. Minesweeping, sure, you need some small boats to do that.


    I'd probably start with the 100 ships they propose and ditch the 10 small surface combatants. Then I'd add in 6 more amphibs (4 full ARGs), about ~12-16 destroyers, ~20 attack subs, ~12 SSGNs, and ~4-8 arsenal ships (these to accompany the CBG). That leaves me with 2 slots left over for extra support ships.

  72. July 03, 2020Alsadius said...

    Because seeing a random question and overdoing my answers is a thing I do, I put together a Reddit post listing off every WW2-era battleship and battlecruiser, and how many of them were destroyed in which ways. https://reddit.com/r/WarCollege/comments/hkaqmr/howdidtheusnavyavoidlosinganybattleships/fwsnp5v/?context=3

    To summarize, the war featured 68 battleships (21 destroyed) and 9 battlecruisers (6 destroyed). Of those:

    Fourteen ships were destroyed while underway: - Five (Prince of Wales, Repulse, Roma, Yamato, and Musashi) were destroyed by air attack while underway. - Four (Hood, Scharnhorst, Hiei, and Kirishima) were destroyed in gun battles between roughly equal forces, the raison d'etre of the battleship. - Three(Bismarck, Fuso, and Yamashiro) were swarmed under by grossly unequal numbers of enemy battleships. - Two (Barham and Kongo) were destroyed by submarine while underway.

    Ten were destroyed at anchor by enemy fire: - Five (Tirpitz, Conte di Cavour, Ise, Hyuga, and Haruna) were destroyed at anchor by enemy land-based bombers. - Two (Bretagne and Provence) were destroyed by enemy gunfire while in harbour. - Two (Arizona and Oklahoma) were destroyed at anchor by carrier attacks. (Note that I'm excluding Utah, which had been demilitarized, and the various ships sunk at Pearl and Taranto that were later returned to service) - One (Royal Oak) were destroyed at anchor by enemy submarine attack.

    Three were lost to other causes: - Two (Dunkerque and Strasbourg) were scuttled at anchor to prevent capture. - One (Mutsu) destroyed at anchor by an explosion of unknown cause, likely accidental.

    Those 24 combat losses, plus four lost at Jutland, is the entire history of how to kill a dreadnought battleship in a war. Our data sets are small.

  73. July 03, 2020Alsadius said...

    I forgot about how much of a dog's breakfast Markdown makes of links if you forget about it. [https://reddit.com/r/WarCollege/comments/hkaqmr/howdidtheusnavyavoidlosinganybattleships/fwsnp5v/?context=3](Link to post)

  74. July 03, 2020Alsadius said...

    What kind of madness is this? sigh

    Link, I think. Or else I'll drink.

  75. July 03, 2020bean said...

    There's more data than that. Other dreadnoughts lost in WWI include Audacious (mined), Szent Istvan (torpedoed) and Viribus Unitis (frogmen), as well as several ships lost to internal explosion. Not to mention the various ships which were used as firing targets.

  76. July 03, 2020John Schilling said...

    "All you can really do with aircraft and ASMs is make sure the other guy can’t move oil."

    But isn't that what we want? The United States of America is an oil producing and exporting nation, marginally so at the moment but capable of substantial expansion. The American people, in this hypothetical, have decided on isolationism. The rest of the world has neither stepped up to preserve freedom of navigation themselves, nor paid the US to do it for them. Less oil flowing from the Persian Gulf means more oil flowing from North Dakota, more profits for American businesses, more jobs for American citizens, more tax revenues for the United States Government, and we seem to officially not care about anyone else in this scenario.

    If the US fleet is down to 100 ships, those ships are for Western Hemisphere defense, strategic deterrent, and a very limited expeditionary warfighting capability. In that last case, weighted heavily towards punitive raids or putting Marine Expeditionary Units anywhere an MEU or two can serve vital US interests. Maintaining freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf (or the South China Sea) is Somebody Else's Problem.

  77. July 03, 2020Johan Larson said...

    If the US were to walk away from the Middle East, and let whatever happens happen, would global oil prices rise or fall? And would that rise or fall be a net plus or minus for the US as a whole? I mean, the US is both a producer and consumer of oil.

  78. July 04, 2020Alexander said...

    Presumably the US would be relatively better off than net oil consuming nations, but the whole world would be absolutely worse off, as an important commodity becomes more expensive. Realistically, the EU or China or someone probably steps up after a while and takes responsibility, because there are some major advantages of being able to enforce a pax your nation.

  79. July 05, 2020AlexT said...

    If Persian Gulf production falters, global oil price increases. Assuming the US internal market has prices aligned with the global market, won't US citizens and businesses end up paying more for oil? Essentially, US consumers will be bidding for US oil, against the whole thirsty world.

  80. July 05, 2020Inky said...


    I think there are several factors at play here:
    My understanding is that historically, India's main defense partner and supplier was USSR, so almost all of the armaments (and thus, service infrastructure) was USSR-based. The main reason for that was, I guess, that no one else wanted to sell them weapons or the cost was considered too high. Now they are diversifying, but the Russian-made aircraft are still a backbone of their air force, both because of the large numbers bought already, ready supply of pilots and developed maintenance on the ground.
    Another things is that as far as I understand for Indian side the big point is technology transfer and indigenous manufacturing, which they have already worked out with Russians -- their SU-30MKI's are produced in India, something they didn't manage to figure out with the Rafale -- the original plan was to buy the first batch of the aircraft off-the-shelf but the rest had to be produced in India in a Dassault-supervised manufacturing site. Eventually that plan fell through and they are back to buying ready-made planes and spare parts for them as a result the order was cut back significantly. And even that deal included, as a part of the package, an agreement with Snecma to bring Kaveri engine up to snuff.
    Rafale is plain more expensive than SU-30MKI, with the 36 aircraft bought estimate to have a cost of ~90 KK euros per aircraft, while indigenous-made SU-30MKI costs around 70 KK $, and Russian-made even cheaper, at ~ 42 KK $. Rafale is certainly a good plane and probably has an edge over SU-30MKI but I doubt it's twice as good.
    Finally, as it seems, the main investment focus for Indians seems to be developing full-cycle indigenous design and manufacturing. Which, in all honesty, looks like the right thing to do, for any state that wants to pursue independent foreign policy (read: is likely to step on some toes).

  81. July 05, 2020John Schilling said...

    "Assuming the US internal market has prices aligned with the global market, won’t US citizens and businesses end up paying more for oil?"

    Yes, but they'll be paying it to other US citizens and businesses. And so will lots of foreign citizens and businesses, so the net effect is a flow of money to US citizens and businesses. Which they will then use to buy stuff from other US citizens and businesses. Any time the US exports a commodity, the price of that export increases on the US market - that doesn't mean we suffer by exporting.

  82. July 05, 2020Alexander said...

    I think I agree with AlexT here. If oil becomes more expensive, the US would be poorer in absolute terms, and conversely, would be better off with very low oil prices, even at the expense of their domestic petroleum industry. Oil is a sufficiently useful commodity that if it suddenly became more expensive, lots of goods the US does import would also become scarcer, outweighing the increased wealth from exporting US oil at higher prices.

  83. July 05, 2020cassander said...


    India was in bed with the USSR because in practice the non-aligned movement mostly meant "we're going to ally with the soviets but not say we're allied with the soviets." Their recent (last 30 years) procurement efforts have been a weird combination of knee jerk responses and drawn out plans that never come to fruition. The Mirage 2000s, for example, were bought in a real hurry in the 80s after Pakistan got F-16s, while the Tejas has been in development since about the same time. They keep launching programs with unrealistic goals, failing to achieve them, and adopting short term expedients that make the problem worse, and re-starting the cycle. With the Rafale they wanted Dassault to both transfer lots of production to India AND guarantee the price. Either of those was a reasonable ask on its own, but both together was absurd and the compromise they ended up with gave them yet another family of fighters.

    They need to pick as few of their existing families as they can and move towards standardization as quickly as possible. If it were up to me, I'd go with the Tejas, Su-30, and Rafale. That's far from ideal, but it gives them a mix of domestic and international production, let's them trade one against the other (both in the sense of local vs imports and among the types) to balance cost, and covers a wide range of capabilities. You could come up with worse fleets, and they probably will.

  84. July 05, 2020AlexT said...

    the net effect is a flow of money to US citizens and businesses

    Sure. The problem I see is the fact that, since oil price rises, US consumers will consume less. IE, fewer things and people will travel from place to place in the US. If it's a small decrease, who cares, probably even better if people walk more. But if consumption is eg halved, I don't think the cascading effects, on the economy and society as a whole, are easy to predict.

  85. July 05, 2020quanticle said...

    The main reason for that was, I guess, that no one else wanted to sell them weapons or the cost was considered too high.

    Well, it's not just that. In addition to the whole "non-aligned" thing, India historically pursued a strategy of military autarky. In practice, this meant significant local production of any complex military gear. The Soviets were willing to grant that, and the US wasn't, which meant that India ended up buying Soviet for much of the Cold War. This meant that Indian forces had significant experience with Russian systems, which meant that India continued to buy Russian, to some extent, even after it had relaxed its procurement standards.

    In related news, India just signed a $2.4 billion dollar deal with Russia for 21 MiG 29s, a dozen Su-27s and upgrades to 50 other planes. This is largely seen as a response to the recent altercations along the Line of Actual Control on the disputed border between India and China.

  86. July 05, 2020bean said...

    The recent discussion of books on Leyte Gulf has brought up a name I've had mixed feelings on: H.P. Willmott. He was a reasonably well-known naval historian (who sadly passed away recently.) A few years ago, I found a copy of his book Battleship in the man LA library. (Which is amazing, by the way, even if there are a bunch of things it does wrong.) When I got it home, as was and is my habit, I first looked to see if there were any interesting bits on the Iowas. And I found two huge errors. First, there was about a paragraph on the reactivation, which basically amounted to "the idea of the Iowas fighting the Kirovs was stupid, so the reactivation was a bad idea". Obviously, I agree with the first half of the description, and disagree violently with the second.

    The second problem was a claim that New Jersey had been carrying subcaliber shells on her Vietnam cruise (which IIRC got more page space than the reactivation did) and used them on long-range targets, maybe even in the Hanoi area. Now, if I got this story from a former crewman on the Iowa, who heard it from a buddy who heard it from a chief on his former ship who had been on the Jersey in 68, I wouldn't be surprised. Veterans told me things way more ridiculous than that all the time. But this is a book by a reasonably prominent naval historian, and I don't know of another source which makes the same claim. (I wish I'd checked the references more thoroughly at the time, but such is life. Also, I had a zillion other books, so it ended up on the "don't have time for pile".)

    I could probably forgive either one of these errors alone, but I'm not sure what to do with Willmott now. On an epistemic level, two glaring errors on stuff I know doesn't bode well. And I'm not sure he's actually among the first rank of naval historians. Some of his stuff seems well-regarded (particularly The Barrier and the Javelin), but the names on the reviews of his other stuff aren't ones I recognize, and I haven't seen many cites to his work. Also, he looks to be a WWII specialist, which could sort of explain these errors, except for the fact that the Jersey error in particular should be very hard to make.

    Thoughts? Advice? Anyone read any of his stuff?

  87. July 05, 2020cassander said...


    My acid test is always what they say about the wildcat vs. zero. If they repeat the old aw about how the wildcat was a hopeless plane that was simply outclassed, I know I can't take them seriously on aircraft related matters, and I'll be skeptical of anything they say about hardware generally.

  88. July 06, 2020bean said...

    That’s a good test, but one I sadly can’t apply here because he doesn’t talk about that. I did find an equivalent, which his The Last Century of Sea Power (2009) seems to fail miserably. Specifically, he seems to have an extraordinarily obsolete view of the battlecruisers. There’s no discussion of their role in commerce protection (prominently raised by Sumida 20 years earlier) and he is extraordinarily negative on the Indefatigable class. He also and most damningly repeats the story about the battlecruiser losses being due to magazine hits. DK Brown’s The Grand Fleet discussed this extensively, and it was published in 1999. (I’m not sure it was the first work on the subject, it’s just the one I have most easily to hand.) There were also some more minor factual errors, like a claim that Japanese battleships didn't have torpedo tubes. None of this is stuff that a competent researcher should have made. If it had been written sometime in the 80s or 90s, I'd give it the same verdict I gave Massie, but 2009 isn't that long ago, and someone active in the field should have known better.

    This makes it pretty easy to understand why only a few of his books were published by USNI. They probably had someone read them that also reads their other books. I may try The Barrier and the Javelin at some point, but I don’t feel bad for ignoring him otherwise.

  89. July 06, 2020bean said...

    Also, I checked some notes I made at the time, and found a couple of other things. First, he apparently said that Jersey was firing 14" RAP shells against targets in Laos, which is beyond bizarre. That's not even something they looked at. Second, he also said that in Desert Storm, Wisconsin fired her guns for the first time since 1952, having overlooked "in anger" in his source (Dulin & Garzke).

  90. July 06, 2020David W said...

    @bean: The first error you describe is at least arguable - doesn't seem to get any facts wrong, you mainly disagree with his interpretation. At most it seems like a reason to skim his summaries and focus on facts reported. And to assume that he may be missing important facets of a situation, but you should probably make that assumption about all sources as a general principle.

    The second one sounds much more concerning. Can you elaborate - which part of the claim is in error? Are subcaliber shells actually a thing? Would there have been a reason to use them? Can they be used in the manner described? Are we talking 'a bucket of steam' level error or 'reported something that could have happened without enough evidence'? Not that I'm even sure the latter is tolerable in a historian, mind.

  91. July 06, 2020bean said...

    The actual first comment (checking some notes) was more about "they only carried as many missiles as a Burke, so why bother?", which makes a lot of sense, right up until you look at when the Burkes entered service. It's not a reason to completely ignore him, but it doesn't make me positively disposed towards him.

    Can you elaborate - which part of the claim is in error?

    Pretty much all of them, and it was actually worse than I'd remembered. His claim was that Jersey was firing 14" rocket-assisted shells into Laos. I have no idea how that came about. There were proposals for a non-rocket 11" subcaliber projectile in the 60s, and experiments with similar saboted shells in the 80s, but neither of them saw service. None were rocket-assisted. The idea behind all of these efforts was to extend the range of the projectile. There's more detail in Shells Part 4 on some of these. The problem is that there were no 14" projectiles (although some of the 80s ones may have been close to that), no rocket-assisted projectiles, and no operational subcaliber projectiles at all. So he's got imaginary shells being fired at a country that was largely out of range of the Jersey. I don't even know how someone could make that mistake. As I said earlier, if I heard it as a sea story from a veteran, I'd understand, but this is in a published book by someone who claims to be a historian. Google appears to be totally ignorant of such claims, which is actually saying something.

  92. July 07, 2020quanticle said...

    In more "does Turkey really want to be in NATO" news, French and Turkish naval vessels had a bit of a tussle last month. A French frigate attempted to stop a cargo ship, the Cirkin, suspected of carrying contraband in violation of the UN arms embargo on Libya. However, when it approached the cargo vessel, the frigate was "harassed" by three Turkish naval vessels escorting Cirkin. According to the French armed forces ministry, the Turkish vessels flashed their lights at the French ship and their crews donned bulletproof vests and manned light weapons in an attempt to intimidate the French ship.

    Turkey, for its part, denies that the ship was carrying any contraband, and accuses France of harassing a ship carrying humanitarian aid to Libya under Turkish protection.

    As a result of this disagreement, France has ended its participation in NATO's Mediterranean mission, "Sea Guardian" and is instead operating under a parallel EU mission that is also enforcing the UN arms embargo. The difference, of course, is that the EU does not include Turkey. In addition, France has sought support from other NATO countries to put pressure on Turkey to abide by NATO and UN rules concerning Libya.

  93. July 07, 2020AlphaGamma said...

    It looks like the overhaul of the Jackie Fisher post is well-timed- his great-granddaughter is looking for funding for a biopic.

  94. July 07, 2020AlphaGamma said...

    Correction: great-great-granddaughter.

  95. July 07, 2020bean said...

    I would be extremely interested in a Fisher biopic. Personally, I'd rather it focused on his earlier years than on his second stint at the Admiralty, but I'll take what I can get. I'm sure they'd get their money from me. Probably several times, if it's any good.

    One question. What is this about a mistress? As far as I know, Fisher was faithful to his wife. I checked the Mackay biography (still the standard) and he only mentioned Nina Hamilton once. Her husband was mentioned a few more times, and appears to have been a good friend of Fisher. No suggestion of an affair. There's also no suggestion in Bacon's biography, but I also wouldn't expect there to be, because it was written in the 20s and Bacon was a close friend of Fisher.

  96. July 07, 2020bean said...

    Re France and Turkey, the question is which of them is more likely to leave NATO. I don't give great odds either way.

  97. July 07, 2020Lambert said...

    Are there any reasons for Turkey to be in NATO other than the Straits?

  98. July 07, 2020Ian Argent said...

    The Straits are a pretty big reason for Turkey to be in NATO, though.

    Plus Turkey is convenient to a bunch of places NATO is showing flags in the past 20 years. (Also, it's only recently that they've been ... well, present-day Turkey.)

  99. July 07, 2020bean said...

    In a lot of ways, NATO can lose France more easily than Turkey, given that France is still going to be in the EU. Although given what's going in in Turkey right now, the other costs of keeping Turkey in are likely to be too high.

  100. July 07, 2020bean said...

    Also, this thread has reached 100 comments, which I believe is a milestone for Naval Gazing. Thanks to everyone who participates in these.

  101. July 08, 2020quanticle said...

    Tanner Greer has an article in Foreign Policy raising questions about the Marine Corps' new China focused strategy. Greer summarizes the new US Marine Corps Commandant's Planning Guidance as the Marines realizing that they do not necessarily have the ability to pierce Chinese anti-access/area-denial in the opening stages of a conflict. Instead the planning guidance envisions transforming the Marine Corps into a force that can be pre-positioned in the South China Sea, imposing on the Chinese the same sorts of anti-access and area denial that they seek to impose on the US Navy and Air Force.

    The article then raises the following questions about this new strategy:

    1. Did the Marine Corps consult with the rest of the military and US allies prior to developing this strategy?

      The planning guidance envisions a Marine Corps that is deeply integrated with Navy and Air Force systems. This integration does not currently exist. Have the Navy and Air Force planned for it? Do those plans have the same timelines as the Marine Corps?

      More importantly, did the Marine Corps consult with US allies? The future battle plan assumes that the Marines will be operating from dozens of small but heavily armed bases established on allied territory. What happens if those allies wish to concentrate the Marines in a few large bases, as the Japanese want to do? What happens if, for example, the Filipinos say that Marine Corps bases on the Philippines cannot be used for offensive strikes against China (like the Turkish denial of the use of Incirlik during Operation Iraqi Freedom)? The Taiwanese have not hosted US troops since the 1970s. What happens if, in a last ditch effort to avert war, they refuse entry to US forces on the eve of a conflict?

    2. Is the Marine Corps optimizing for the full range of possible conflicts with China, or just the war it wants to fight?

      The plan assumes that a relatively small number of precision missile strikes will make a significant difference in the opening stages of a war. However, the most likely kinetic conflict with China in the near future will be an invasion of Taiwan. How much of a difference will a bunch of missile batteries in the South China Sea make in a conflict whose center of gravity is in the Taiwan Strait?

      Second, if the war against China turns out to be a protracted conflict, how will these small bases fare against the inevitable Chinese retaliation? Mainland China has far deeper magazines of missiles than these small bases ever will, and once it knows where these bases are, the Chinese rocket forces will be able to lob missiles at will from secure locations in the Chinese mainland. What will the Marines do once their supplies of long-range precision munitions are depleted?

    3. What if the Marine Corps is totally wrong about the direction of future conflict?

      The Marine Corps' plan focuses to a high degree on a potential naval conflict with China. What if the next conflict is neither naval, nor against China? The opportunity cost of the Marine Corps hyperspecializing to focus on this one scenario is that the other services, especially the Army, will have to step up to handle other contingencies. This is a huge shift, because during the Cold War, it was the Marines who were the general-purpose self-contained expeditionary force that could handle a variety of contingencies, while the Army and Air Force focused on defeating their opposite Soviet numbers in Europe. Are the other services ready to pick up the missions that the Marine Corps will be dropping?

    While I certainly agree with Greer as to the importance of these questions, I don't necessarily share his pessimism. By focusing on the Marine Corps side of things, he misses the fact that, in some ways, the Marine Corps is going back to its roots as a branch of the Navy. The new operational concept for the Marines emphasizes their role as a naval support force, establishing bases of fire that force enemy naval assets to spread out and stretch themselves thin, which then gives the US Navy substantially more time and space to maneuver. It was this one-two punch that worked wonders in the Pacific campaign in World War 2, and the Marine Corps' planning guidance envisions an updated version of the same against a resurgent China.

    Greer asks whether the US Navy and US Air Force are ready for the sort of close coordination that the Marine Corps' planning guidance requires. I think the answer to this question is, "Not yet, but they're getting there." Both the Navy and the Air Force appear to support multi-domain operations, a new operational doctrine which emphasizes close and organic cooperation between the Air Force and Navy in responding to threats in the Indo-Pacific. The Marine Corps' proposed force structure can then be viewed as the Marine Corps redesigning itself to plug into an existing multi-domain infrastructure that the Navy and Air Force have designed. Indeed, former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said just that in a talk at the Brookings Institute, stating that the Marine Corps Commandant and the Chief of Naval Operations were "fully aligned" on their goal to bring the Marine Corps back to its roots as a naval expeditionary force.

    I do share many of the concerns about basing rights and allies allowing their territory to be used for offensive strikes against China. However, I would note that many of the same concerns applied to NATO during the Cold War. Despite the supposedly ironclad guarantee of Article 5, there were persistent and ongoing doubts about e.g. Turkey or Greece allowing US forces on their territory to launch offensive strikes against the Soviet Union. While US alliances in the Indo-Pacific are considerably looser than NATO, I do hold a fair amount of (perhaps foolhardy) confidence that the US would be able to muster support from its allies in the event of clear Chinese aggression.

    Moreover, I think Greer underestimates the degree to which Chinese territorial claims are undermining support for China and driving countries towards greater coordination with the US. While the leadership of the Philippines is currently charting a course that seeks to balance the US and China, military-to-military ties between the US and the Philippines remain strong. Chinese aggression over mineral rights has alienated Vietnam and Malaysia, and Japan also expanding its navy to counter a potential Chinese move against the Senkaku Islands. Although US foreign relations in the Indo-Pacific are currently at a low ebb, I have confidence that the US will be able to repair its alliances to present a more united front against Chinese aggression in the future.

    Secondly, I think argument about the Marines being isolated in the event of a protracted conflict misses the point. If the Marines are in that situation, then the strategy has failed. These intermediate bases create the same sorts of dilemmas for Chinese forces that the Chinese hope to create for us with their artificial island bases. The goal is to stretch Chinese naval assets across a broader front, enabling concentrated breakthroughs by US carrier strike groups, which can then disrupt Chinese ISR, supply chains and cause general havoc among Chinese forces without having to worry about being cut off inside Chinese-controlled waters.

    The purpose of these bases isn't to go missile-for-missile against the Chinese mainland. Even an armchair analyst can see the foolishness of that approach. Instead, the USMC sees its strategy as preventing China from using its own island bases to zone the US fleet out of the South China Sea. If the USMC can contest the waters of the South China Sea on day 1 of a conflict, that buys crucial time for the US Navy to isolate and neutralize Chinese naval assets, leaving China's reinforced reefs to wither without the steady stream of food, water, ammunition and spare parts that they need to remain militarily effective.

    Even if the center-of-gravity of a future conflict is in the Taiwan Strait rather than the South China Sea, the mere presence of these forces on China's south-eastern flank will force China to devote some forces to guard against opportunistic strikes. Chinese resources are limited, just like ours, and every ship, aircraft and missile they devote to guarding against these bases is either one more they have to build or one they cannot use against Taiwan or Japan. These bases will raise the cost of conflict for China everywhere, not just in the South China Sea, and thus represent good value, even when the conflict takes place farther north.

    Finally, while I agree that the Marine Corps have been the United States' go-to contingency force for unexpected emergencies, I don't think that they should be this force. The major military theater of the Cold War was on land, in Europe, against the Soviet Union, which was a land-based power. In this context, it made sense for the US Army and the US Air Force to specialize for the "big threat" while the US Navy and Marine Corps handled contigencies elsewhere. However, the incipient contest against China is not the Cold War. While China historically has been a land power, it is increasingly investing in naval forces to counter US naval supremacy and secure maritime assets. Given this context, I think it makes sense to have the US Navy and Marine Corps specialize against the new "big threat" while the US Army handles contingencies elsewhere. There's no law of nature that says that the Marines have to be the specialists in brushfire wars. Why not let the Army handle that contingency, as it does in so many other militaries?

    Overall, while Greer's questions are good ones, I disagree with his concern that they are unanswered. I think these questions have been answered, but not by the Marines. He's missing the fact that the Marine Corps' force redesign only makes sense in the context of broader shifts in the Navy and Air Force. As a result, it's easy to study the Marines' plan in isolation and notice all these holes, without necessarily realizing that the Marines are relying on the other branches of the military (most notably the Navy) to fill them. Instead of viewing the Marine Corps' force redesign as a fatally flawed half-plan, I choose to view it as a plan that's complementary to the Navy and Air Force's plans for the same scenarios. The future of the military is ever more "jointness" and we should be celebrating the Marine Corps for wholeheartedly embracing that attitude.

    (PS: happy comment 100, and I hope this is a worthy comment 101)

  102. July 08, 2020Johan Larson said...

    Also, this thread has reached 100 comments, which I believe is a milestone for Naval Gazing. Thanks to everyone who participates in these.

    Perhaps some sort of Crossing the Line ceremony is called for. Self-administered, of course.

  103. July 08, 2020quanticle said...

    I must have administered something to myself when I spent like 90 minutes writing a 1700 word comment responding to someone's response about a DoD PDF.

    (That something was tea. It's a hell of a drug.)

  104. July 08, 2020bean said...


    I've been following this casually for a while, and your take more or less matches mine. They've been spinning this as a return to traditional missions, which it sort of is and sort of isn't. The missions they're talking about largely went away 75 years ago, and even then, they weren't really A2/AD like this (because that didn't exist back then like it does now). It's definitely a concept designed to plug into joint operations, and they've been very upfront about this. (I've been tracking USNI's coverage, which is both better and worse than DOD pdfs).

    The downside is that I don't think the Army can pivot as well as we might hope into the bushfire role. The Marine/Navy ARG/ESG team is a powerful one, and one the Army is ill-equipped to take over. Their amphibious manuals haven't been updated in decades, which I think shows how much they care about that facet of warfare. At the same time, if this change in the Marines comes at the expense of their "second army" capabilities (the peak of this was about 10 years ago) then it won't be a big loss.


    It's carrying lots of boxes of naval books around.

  105. July 09, 2020Blackshoe said...


    Perhaps some sort of Crossing the Line ceremony is called for. Self-administered, of course.

    /puts down firehose he was turning into a shillelagh

    Well, what's the fun in that?

  106. July 09, 2020Blackshoe said...


    In my unkinder moments, I've referred to EABO as "FOBs, but by the ocean."

    More broadly, I think the USMC's strategy has a couple of flaws, and one that all of DoD shares in it's thinking on China.

    DoD-wide: there is a persistent belief in how people frame actions that implies that we could attack the islands in the SCS, and deal with them, but leave the mainland alone and that would be okay. 1, I'm not sure the CPC sees a distinction in them. 2, Even if they do see a distinction, their constant hammering of how the SCS islands are Chinese (and Chinese sovereign territory!) to me means they'd have to act the same way regardless.

    To reverse it for a US-centric view, would we act differently if the PRC launched a conventional attack against Pearl Harbor vice San Diego? My suspicion is no, we wouldn't. What about Guam vs PH? Not sure. I know we think of the PRC islands as contested territory, but I don't think the PRC (and especially the CPC) does, or can afford to.

    USMC: Given we live in a world where bellingcat exists and I can watch people geolocate random jihadi videos of their GoPro'd gunbattles with Turkish soldiers (set to Duel of the Fates, naturally), it's very optimistic to me to think that if you have forces ashore in the SCS or surrounding areas and anywhere near Local Nationals, that China will not be able to acquire base location information won't get out one way or another. There are places I'd believe are exceptions to this (Vietnam is the big one), and places you could put forces away from LNs far enough that it might not notice...but not a lot of those either way. I also think it underestimates the amount of damage that can be done to those FOB-Ns without evening going kinetic.

    Finally, sort of like the idea of Distributed Lethality that especially SURFOR from the USN is pushing, I get how this strategy, as pursued, would be good for the USMC. I get that this may be an idea of how to deter further aggression from the PRC (not sure about that, but hey, it's something).

    What I don't see is how this defeats China, or anything like that. Everything seems to be designed to "Revert to Phase 0 and act like nothing happened."

  107. July 09, 2020redRover said...


    How do you actually "defeat" China without substantial risk of nuclear war?

  108. July 09, 2020cassander said...


    There's an old saw that goes "Wars start when countries disagree about which one is stronger. Wars end when they agree on that question."

    In any conflict you need to it clear to China that (A) we can go on busting them up all night, but (B) we are not an existential risk to Chinese territorial integrity of the sort that requires an apocalyptic response. To do that, you draw a line in the sand and sink every Chinese ship that crosses it, but keep the amphibs very far away. Actually holding the islands doesn't matter much if it's clear that Chinese power doesn't extend to them.

  109. July 10, 2020redRover said...


    That's fair, and the best hope to do so. However, I am less confident about the probability of the Politburo or whoever makes the call in the command bunker taking reports of "we have lost all our submarines, 80% of our aircraft, and 75% of the surface fleet" to be a signal of defeat rather than escalation. At the very least, it seems like a big gamble on their rationality and risk aversion.

    Though on the other hand, I don't see any better option conditional on meaningful war breaking out. (The best option, of course, being massive deterrence)

  110. July 10, 2020Blackshoe said...

    @RedRover: Heck, even ignoring nukes, I'd argue that barring massive decoupling of Western (ie European and American) economies from China, you can't. Any action against them would probably hurt the economy a lot, and would thus be massively unpopular (although I think it would be pretty unpopular no matter what, for other reasons). IMHO the PRC already has pretty significant deterrent power over the US and the West without nukes being factored in.

    I have seen some arguments that amount to, "If we turn off the lights and maybe start blowing up some police stations, the people will rise up and remove the CPC"...however: 1. That hasn't worked that well the last few times we've tried it 2. I'm not sure that the average Zhou on the street rising up is going to create a government friendlier to the US/West; might well be the opposite.

    Greer once said on Twitter that basically something needs to be communicated to the Chinese people; that they can have a prominent and internationally-respected China, or one run by the CPC, but not both. However, I'm not sure that's really true in the sense that it assumes China has to follow "international norms", mostly because the PRC's bending of the WHO to me argues pretty strongly that China is either very close or already has the power to bend the international system to its will.

    Maybe there's a world where China falls apart due to some of its own internal fractures, but I don't think anyone can reliably predict that or even figure out how to map out those fractures.

  111. July 10, 2020quanticle said...

    To reverse it for a US-centric view, would we act differently if the PRC launched a conventional attack against Pearl Harbor vice San Diego? My suspicion is no, we wouldn’t. What about Guam vs PH? Not sure. I know we think of the PRC islands as contested territory, but I don’t think the PRC (and especially the CPC) does, or can afford to.

    I'm not sure about that. For example, look at the latest Chinese/Indian skirmishing along the Line of Actual Control in Arunachal Pradesh. Both China and India claim loudly and proudly that the territory is theirs and theirs alone. They even fought a war over it in 1962. Yet, despite all the rhetoric and skirmishing, neither of them has reacted to the others moves in that area in the same sort of way that the US reacted to Pearl Harbor.

    I disagree that the objective is to drive the PRC from the reefs and small islands that it has reinforced. The objective, in my mind, is to ensure that the PRC respects other nations' sovereign naval boundaries. We don't need LCACs driving up onto the beach to do that. We do need to make it abundantly clear to the Chinese Navy and Chinese Coast Guard that they can't use those islands to zone out or impose a tax on commercial traffic and fishing vessels in the region. If they want to build a bunch of bases that they can't use as prestige projects, well, it's their money.

  112. July 11, 2020ec429 said...


    during the Cold War, it was the Marines who were the general-purpose self-contained expeditionary force that could handle a variety of contingencies

    "When someone makes a move, of which we don't approve..."

    I do hold a fair amount of (perhaps foolhardy) confidence that the US would be able to muster support from its allies in the event of clear Chinese aggression.

    I'd be less sanguine, based on what happened to Operation Haddock. France and Britain were about as close as allies can be, yet local French troops blocked the runways to stop the British bombers taking off because they feared reprisal raids would fall on France.

    Now, I'm not saying that US allies' militaries are as dysfunctional as 1940 France, but on the other hand China is even scarier than Germany was.

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