PORTSMOUTH, VA: For decades, America’s Pacific strategy has focused on the northeast corner of that vast theater, with major forces and bases in Korea and Japan. But as economies boom and tensions rise in Southeast Asia, the Pentagon has played catch-up, deploying more forces to Australia, Singapore, and Guam. At a conference here last week, the… Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: The American who leads the leading edge of our sword in the Pacific — the Air Force — worries that China‘s sometimes “aggressive approach” in using its fighters, bombers and ships to signal its territorial claims across the Pacific creates “the potential” for a serious incident in the region. But Air Force Gen. Herb… Keep reading →
Watch the F-35B, the Marines’ fighter of choice, execute a very cool maneuver in this video, taking off straight up into the sky. While very cool, this is not something the Joint Strike Fighter is actually expected to do very often. For one thing, it requires enormous amounts of fuel. Instead, the B model is… Keep reading →
CAPITOL HILL: Navy Secretary Ray Mabus talked up the controversial Littoral Combat Ship days before departing for Asia to visit the first LCS, USS Freedom, which recently arrived in Singapore (sporting a sniffy camo paint job). Freedom has been bedeviled by cost overruns, delays, and manufacturing defects, with a new problem, seawater contamination in lubricant fluid, arising on its trans-Pacific trip. But the bigger picture Mabus said, is how this new class of small and nimble ship will cooperate with foreign partners to keep the peace in the volatile South China Sea and the strategic Strait of Malacca.
“Freedom is the first of its class, and it was built as an experimental ship, and every first of the class has some issues,” Mabus said of the seawater contamination, speaking to reporters after a Friday speech on energy security hosted by the Truman National Security Project. “One of the reasons we sent Freedom forward on deployment was to see what those issues were.” Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: Singapore is expected to announce sometime in the next 10 days that it plans to buy its first squadron –12 planes — of some 75 of Lockheed Martin’s F-35Bs, further bolstering what had been the flagging fortunes of the world’s most expensive conventional weapon system.
The fact that American allies in the Pacific are the ones committing to the controversial and over-budget aircraft is telling. If you want to understand the calculus driving these choices, first look at China, which to countries such as Singapore, Japan, Australia, and South Korea is the primary long-term threat. Keep reading →
Amidst all the budgetary gridlock, it’s nice to know something still works in the federal government. The first of the Navy’s controversial Littoral Combat Ships, LCS-1 Freedom, will sail for Singapore, our not-quite-ally, this Friday, March 1st — the same day the sequestration cuts will start taking effect — sporting a new camouflage paint job that sets its apart from traditional naval vessels.(Paint schemes and the cost of applying them to something as massive as a warship are a big deal in the Navy).
Intended to build a new class of small, agile, and innovative warships, the LCS program has come under bitter criticism that the ships are too expensive for their size and too fragile for major combat. Freedom in particular has taken flak for hull cracks, which contractor Lockheed Martin insists are all repaired and won’t reoccur on redesigned follow-on ships. After years in development hell, the first LCS is finally underway on a real-world mission — headed for the Pacific amidst rising tensions between China and its neighbors. Keep reading →
CRYSTAL CITY: From standardizing paint schemes to buying fewer types of valves, the Navy is going all-out to save money as budgets tighten. This new emphasis on affordability goes beyond the usual mundane economies to a sea change in how the service develops new vessels and technologies, with the much-criticized Littoral Combat Ship as the high-stakes pilot project.
“You can’t just do some really effective system anymore; it’s got to be effective and highly affordable,” declared Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, who heads the Office of Naval Research. ONR is normally associated not with cost-cutting but with high-tech, high-cost innovations such as railguns. But at last week’s Surface Navy Association conference in Crystal City, just south of the Pentagon, Klunder framed even the case for railguns in economic terms, arguing they would let the Navy shoot down incoming threats much more cheaply than firing interceptor missiles. Keep reading →
Pundits tend to forget that the 21st century is not the 20th repeated. As much as the US competition with a rising China is framed as a reprise of the Cold War with the Soviets or of the Pacific war with Japan, the game has changed.
The rise of China changes the opposing player. The limits of US power projection across the Pacific changes how we can play the game. The opening of the Arctic changes the shape of the board. And America’s key allies in the Pacific are not the same as those of the 20st century. Keep reading →
The pivot to the Pacific started more than a century ago. The United States first became a Pacific power in 1898, the year the US first annexed Hawaii and then gained Guam and the Philippines (as well as Puerto Rico) from Spain after a “short, victorious war.”
The United States is at a turning point as it contemplates the way ahead for its defense and security policy in the Pacific. With the decline of the physical number of platforms and assets, our ability to project dominant power out from the West Coast of the United States and Hawaii is increasingly in question.
The simple, inescapable reality imposed by the sheer size of the Pacific Ocean is that the continental United States is many miles from the Western Pacific. In previous articles for AOL Defense, I have looked at the US and the Pacific seen from a perspective east of Hawaii, but now turning to Hawaii and further west, where the challenge is to shape a credible presence and projection of power in the region for the 21st century.
If the projection of power is seen to be about pushing platforms and capabilities out from the continental United States (CONUS), Alaska and Hawaii, we face significant challenges dealing with the growth of Chinese power and the needs for interoperability and support to empower both our allies and the United States operating in the region.
But if a different approach is shaped, one which rests increasingly on a plug-in strategy, the challenge is manageable. US allies are shaping new defense and security capabilities for the 21st century, investing resources into the re-crafting of their capabilities going forward. How can these efforts be combined more effectively going forward so that both the allies and the US end up collectively with significantly expanded but cost-effective capabilities?
Evolving Capabilities and New Approaches
The evolution of 21st century weapon technology is breaking down the barriers between offensive and defensive systems. Is missile defense about providing defense or is it about enabling global reach, for offense or defense? Likewise, the new 5th generation aircraft have been largely not understood because they are inherently multi-mission systems, which can be used for forward defense or forward offensive operations.
Indeed, an inherent characteristic of many new systems is that they are really about presence and putting a grid over an operational area, and therefore they can be used to support strike or defense within an integrated approach. In the 20th Century, surge was built upon the notion of signaling. One would put in a particular combat capability – a Carrier Battle Group, Amphibious Ready Group, or Air Expeditionary Wing – to put down your marker and to warn a potential adversary that you were there and ready to be taken seriously. If one needed to, additional forces would be sent in to escalate and build up force. With the new multi-mission systems – 5th generation aircraft and Aegis for example – the key is presence and integration able to support strike or defense in a single operational presence capability. Now the adversary can not be certain that you are simply putting down a marker.
This is what former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne calls the attack and defense enterprise. The strategic thrust of integrating modern systems is to create an a grid that can operate in an area as a seamless whole, able to strike or defend simultaneously. This is enabled by the evolution of C5ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance), and it is why Wynne has underscored for more than a decade that fifth generation aircraft are not merely replacements for existing tactical systems but a whole new approach to integrating defense and offense. When one can add the strike and defensive systems of other players, notably missiles and sensors aboard surface ships like Aegis, then one can create the reality of what Ed Timperlake, a former fighter pilot, has described as the F-35 being able to consider Aegis as his wingman.
By shaping a C5ISR system inextricably intertwined with platforms and assets, which can honeycomb an area of operation, an attack and defense enterprise can operate to deter aggressors and adversaries or to conduct successful military operations. Inherent in such an enterprise is scalability and reach-back. By deploying the C5ISR honeycomb, the shooters in the enterprise can reach back to each other to enable the entire grid of operation, for either defense or offense.
US allies in the Western Pacific already possess Aegis systems and will most likely add F-35s to their operational inventory, if the United States can have the imagination to shape an integrated attack and defense enterprise with those allies, significant capabilities for defense can be made available to both allies and the United States at the same time. For the allies, their own capabilities would be individually augmented, but the foundation would also be created for de facto and explicit integration of those assets across the Western Pacific. By being able to plug into the F-35 and Aegis enabled honeycomb, the United States could provide force augmentation and surge capability to those allies and at the same time enable forward deployments which the United States would not own or operate.
In effect, what could be established from the United States perspective is a plug in approach rather than a push approach to projecting power. The allies are always forward deployed; the United States does not to attempt to replicate what those allies need to do in their own defense. But what the United States can offer is strategic depth to those allies. At the same time if interoperability and interactive sustainability are recognized as a strategic objective of the first order, then the United States can shape a more realistic approach than one which now rests on trying to proliferate power projection platforms, when neither the money nor the numbers are there.
Now let us apply this approach to a strike and defense enterprise to some fundamental geo-political realities. As things stand now, the core for the US effort from Hawaii outward is to enable a central strategic triangle, one that reaches from Hawaii to Guam and to Japan. This triangle is at the heart of America’s ability to project power into the Western Pacific. With a 20th century approach, one which is platform-centric and rooted in step by step augmentation of force, each point of the triangle needs to be garrisoned with significant numbers of platforms which can be pushed forward. To be clear, having capability in this triangle is a key element of what the United States can bring to the party for Pacific operations, and it remains fundamental. But with a new approach to an attack and defense enterprise, one would use this capability differently from simply providing for push forward and sequential escalation dominance.
Rather than focusing simply on the image of projecting power forward, what is crucial to an successful Pacific strategy is enabling a strategic quadrangle in the Western Pacific, anchored on Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Singapore. This will not be simple. Competition, even mutual suspicion, among US allies in the Western Pacific is historically deep-rooted; as a former 7th USAF commander underscored, “history still matters in impeding allied cooperation.” But in spite of these challenges and impediments, enabling the quadrangle to do a better job of defending itself and shaping interoperability across separate nations has to become a central strategic American goal.
This will require significant cultural change for the United States. Rather than thinking of allies after we think about our own strategy, we need to reverse the logic. Without enabled allies in the Western Pacific, the United States will simply not be able to execute an effective Pacific strategy. Full stop. We are not about to have a 600-ship navy, and putting Littoral Combat Ships into Singapore is a metaphor for the problem, not the solution.
Figure 1 Intersecting and Converging Capabilities: A Strategic Triangle with a Strategic Quadrangle Keep reading →
UPDATED: Boeing statement added
NATIONAL HARBOR: Boeing has been plowing through its KC-46 management reserve for much of the last six months, according to a senior Air Force official.
“The burn rate of their management reserve rate has gone up significantly over the last six months or so,” the official told reporters today. While this technically does not qualify as a cost overrun since this is a fixed price contract, it does raise questions about the program. The Air Force official was not willing to share either the percentage of the reserve nor the dollar amount.
“We have brought forward the allocation of management reserve largely to expedite risk mitigation opportunities in the program, including the system integration laboratories. However, the overall management reserve plan for the program remains unchanged,” Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling said in an email.
Breaking Defense readers will remember that Boeing had already wracked up roughly $300 million in what we would otherwise call a cost overrun by July last year. Most close observers of Boeing’s successful bid believe the company is more than willing to take a “loss” on the first phase of the deal and make it back once it moves beyond the development phase. Keep reading →