Air Superiority and Expeditionary Warfare

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

The U.S. Marines brass is happy about the recent performance of the F-35.

Well, no one can say the Lockheed JSF team hasn’t had a good week. First came the hover and short takeoff and short landing. Today, they capped it with the plane’s first true vertical landing.

The Marines were officially happy. “Having the F-35B perform its first vertical landing underscores the reality of the Marine Corps achieving its goal of an all STOVL force,” said Lt. Gen. George Trautman, deputy commandant for aviation. “Being able to operate and land virtually anywhere, the STOVL JSF is a unique fixed wing aircraft that can deploy, co-locate, train and fight with Marine ground forces while operating from a wider range of bases ashore and afloat than any other TacAir platform.”

In the end, the Marines’ relentless pursuit of forcible entry and expeditionary warfare capabilities, along with their penchant for operating alone, is driving them to be disconnected from the U.S. Navy.

The future of Marines on aircraft carriers may hinge on the F-35 program.

The Marine Corps, which is the only U.S. service that has not announced a significant delay for the Joint Strike Fighter, remains fully committed to the F-35B Lightning II short take-off, vertical landing variant. Marine officials already have purchased 29 planes in the fiscal 2008-2010 budgets and officials insist they are on track to see a squadron operational by December 2012.

The test plane, BF-1, conducted its first vertical landing March 18, checking off a major milestone in the F-35B program. But that event was delayed by almost a year. Still, officials with Lockheed Martin, the F-35’s lead manufacturer, and the Corps said they are confident the timeline will be met, adding that the first two training aircraft are expected to be delivered by the end of 2010.

“We are going to be able to operate our planes from the sea, on our amphibious force fleets initially, and we’ll move ashore to the same kinds of forward operating bases that we operate the AV-8B,” Lt. Gen. George Trautman, the deputy commandant for aviation, said in a conference call with reporters.

Trautman said nothing about the Corps’ jets operating from carriers — as the Marines F/A-18 Hornets do today — but he did say the first F-35 squadron is expected to deploy with a Marine expeditionary unit in 2014.

Some observers say the Corps’ commitment to the F-35B is driven by a long-term desire to break away from Navy carriers. A powerful and versatile fighter jet that could operate from smaller-deck amphibs would grant the Marines more autonomy than ever before.

Commandant Conway is also still bullish on the redesigned EFV (Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle), but take particular note of this comment concerning the order of battle concerning the most expensive forcible entry vehicle ever conceived.

Interesting that our Marines would be expected to fight their way ashore, and then dismount to add armor so they can actually drive around? Would one vehicle protect the others while some put on additional armor? Would the armor be pre-positioned where the Marines were gonna storm ashore???

All programs can have high hopes – until tin is bent and problems show up.

Since the EFV has a flat hull in order to speed along the top of the water, it must be armored-up to survive IEDs on land.  So how does it get that way?  Why, the U.S. Marines put the armor on it.  They shoot their way on to shore and then stop, get out, wait on Navy supplies, and then fix up the EFVs.

Doesn’t sound like a good plan to you?  Well, this confused thinking permeates the expeditionary concept at the moment.  Consider also this comment.

So we’ve got 60% of the world living in cities near the ocean. We think those cities will be the areas where Marines are called upon to restore stability, work with local security forces, etc.

How do you protect the ships from missiles with stand-off distance, yet get the Marines some sort of armor protected vehicle? EFV was the answer.

Or, we just wait until all the bad guys go to bed, then we row ashore with M1’s on LCACs!

So this commenter poses the following scenario: we are conducting forcible entry to a shoreline where the Navy must be protected from missiles by being over the horizon (i.e., 25 miles out to sea), but these missiles are coming from a nation-state that is in such bad need of stabilization that the Marines must conduct forcible entry to work with security forces.

So you say that it sounds like someone is working with an infeasible or implausible scenario?  The QDR doesn’t help, giving no hint that the DoD even pretended to study the future situation and appropriately plan budgetary expenditures to match the needs.  One searches in vain for any forward thinking or strategic vision beyond adequate funding for fourth generation warfare and transnational insurgencies.

Crush at Blackfive links two studies performed out of Australia:

Why the F-22 and the PAK-FA have the “Right Stuff” and why the F/A-18 and the F-35 do not

Assessing the Sukhoi PAK-FA

Crush questions whether we may be surrendering our air superiority if we relinquish the F-22 in favor of the troubled F-35 program.  I have also clearly sided with the F-22 as being a far superior fighter.  W. Thomas Smith also smartly points out that the aircraft do completely different things.

Russia and China will continue to be almost bankrupt into the near future (just like we are).  But it’s also important not to allow our current air superiority to lull us into a false sense of security.

In conclusion, I would offer up the following points from these links and previous ones at The Captain’s Journal:

  1. Existing air frames will need continued and even increased refurbishment in order to keep them functional.
  2. The U.S. is in need of an air superiority fighter.  The F-35 is not it.  The F-22 is it.
  3. The QDR doesn’t even begin to give us a starting point to determine how to properly utilize the F-35 or why it is needed.
  4. The Marines are off on their own with their expeditionary warfare doctrines, and want to be even more off on their own than they are.  Who they intend to attack with the EFV is anyone’s guess.
  5. I have previously recommended that the Marines invest in an entirely new generation of helicopters in addition to continued investment in the V-22 Osprey.
  6. It isn’t obvious why the Marines need aircraft beyond rotary wing.  The Navy should be able to handle support, and if they aren’t. they should become capable.
  7. Whatever the disposition of the F-35, there is no obvious reason for it to replace the awesome A-10.

One final thought is in order.  I am convinced that fighter drones (ones to which we can truly entrust the security of America) are many years off, if they are even feasible.  Beyond this, true leadership is needed for such expensive weapons systems – the kind of leadership that has vision rather than the kind that conducted the Quadrennial Defense Review.


Marine Corps Commandant on DADT and Expeditionary Warfare

Strategic Decisions Concerning Marines and Expeditionary Warfare

Arguments Over EFV and V-22

F-35 Over Budget and Behind Schedule

Scraping the F-22?

Concerning U.S. Defense Cuts

Just Build the F-22, Okay?

  • FastEddy

    Captain – Agree with most of your seven points but I can’t figure out why the Marines aren’t leading the charge for a true COIN CAS platform for use where air superiority is assured – like Helmand. A beefed up well armed Super Tucano or the like with long loiter time, relatively fast response (compared to a Cobra) and CAS weapons to match or beat the Cobra would be a godsend. Factor in that most of that shoreline in Marine doctrine is going to be the third world somewhere and air superiority will likely be a given and that some of these birds could probably be modified to take off from an amphib (assuming the Marines ashore can secure a dirt strip or stretch of roadway for landing) and this should be something the Corps should be all over. God knows the USAF and USN jet jockeys will never go that route.

You are currently reading "Air Superiority and Expeditionary Warfare", entry #4767 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Air Force,Air Power,Expeditionary Warfare,Marine Corps and was published March 30th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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