One of the things that policy makers seem to inevitably do is repeat history. And repeating history, when talking national defense, usually isn’t a good thing. It usually ends up costing us both blood and treasure.
RAdm John Stufflebeem (USN, Ret), a former 6th Fleet commander and a carrier pilot, lays out an argument for not repeating it in the context he knows best, the carrier battle group and its future. This is transferable to other arms and services as well. Stufflebeem concentrates on the fact that weapons systems have to evolve with strategy, and, that we have a tendency to be short sighted in both areas. He discusses the future role of the carrier battle group in general and why the F-35, specifically, is vital to that future roll.
The bottom line is it’s not enough to keep the 11 carriers we now have. They also have to be equipped to survive and thrive in the future should they be called upon to do so:
A modern U.S. nuclear powered aircraft carrier (CVN) with a life expectancy of at least fifty years is only as good as the power it projects whether in combat or deterrence through its weapon system—the carrier Airwing and the men, women and aircraft that make it up. However, the Airwing of the future is under attack witness - the current call in some quarters to scrap the F-35C Lightning II Carrier Variant (CV). This type of clarion call is traditional following periods of war such as World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam and again as we are witnessing today. But it also follows a flawed and shortsighted strategy to achieve short-term economic gains or cater to parochial interests that, based on history, will have to be made up later at higher costs and possibly lives while depriving our Navy men and women of the best military technology available.
Why does Stufflebeem so heavily tout the F-35?
But many fail to realize that the F-35C, with its data exchange and interoperability capabilities, will make the entire Carrier Strike Group (CSG) more capable, effective and lethal. Using similar methods in exercises like Red Flag, the F-22 Raptor made both air and ground units more effective by providing enhanced situational awareness of the battlespace; so will the F-35 provide better maritime awareness to the CSG including both Airwing assets as well as surface forces. The F-35C will make the CSG a better, more capable fighting centerpiece of American military power and force for good around the globe.
In fact, instead of being a consumer of intelligence, situational awareness (produced by other means) and communication, it will be a provider and enhancer of each in addition to its kinetic role. It will create a synergy that really doesn’t exist right now to, as Stufflebeem points out, “make the CSG a better, more capable fighting centerpiece of American military power and force for good around the globe.”
Of course our potential adversaries are building 5th generation fighters as we speak. And we’re all familiar with China’s reported “carrier killer” missile. Everyone is upping the ante. Common sense says, given those facts, we can’t afford yesterday’s technology to be the technology we send forward into the 21st century.
Stufflebeem provides both a good history lesson - discussing why we must avoid the sort of mistakes of the past we and other countries have made – as well as looking toward the future and its requirements. It’s a good read.