Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thursday Review-USN 21st Century Air Power

In an attempt to structure the blog entries, i've dedicated blog posts on reference reviews (books, journals, periodicals, manuscripts, etc) for Thursdays.
For this first post, I will provide a review of a short but very insightful work by Benjamin S. Lambeth.

"American Carrier Air Power at the Dawn of a New Century" was prepared for the U.S. Navy by RAND and published in 2005. The soft-cover version was loaned to me by a professor that was lucky enough to pick it up for a mere $0.10. This cost does NO justice to the value in the read, as the loaner quickly confirmed to me that he wanted it back whence complete with my read. Luckily, as with most RAND products this is also available for electronic download here.

A fairly quick read (100 pp), Lambeth's work explores the recent upgrades to USN Aircraft Carrier employment/operations since Operation Desert Storm (ODS), through Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and he presents potential strengths and weaknesses of this 'new' carrier-force beyond 2020.

Lambeth quickly brings the reader's attention to the US Navy's harnessing of it's inherent long-range strike weaknesses during ODS. Through focused acquisition of much-need weapons/technology, force planning restructuring, and force distribution/employment (Fleet Response Plan) the US Navy strike aircraft operated over Afghanistan and Iraq at extremely long ranges with exhaustive time-on station immediately following the September 11th attacks; well beyond most post-gulf war projections. With average aerial interdictions beyond 600NM and missions lasting up to 10 hours, Lambeth presents a new USN carrier force, capable of impactful operations well-beyond the limited ranges of the Cold War.

Through the use of precision guided weapons, integration of SOF targeting, improved C2 systems, and 2.0 carrier presence (minimum), this new carrier force provided analysts at think tanks and experts at OPNAV N3/N5 (Deep Blue) with a new metric lense - successful target aim points- in contrast to the previous 'sortie rate' measurement that bean counters were using as the holy grail of airpower assessment.

Lambeth provides readers with detailed descriptions and comparisons of USN aircraft carrier readiness and deployment schedules pre and post 9/11, leaving you with a much better appreciation of the synchronized ability of senior Navy officers to match emergent capability within the U.S. maritime strategic-operational continuum.

Although written in 2005, Lambeth's work still has immediate consideration with regards to force planning and future operational planning, as fiduciary constraints continue to challenge future-war visions and improved/sustained UAS employments beg the question of what the role of manned aircraft (and their carriers) will hold. Lambeth's notion of the carrier's new role in the dawn of the 21st century starkly contrasts to media outlets focus on pending mouthball-effect of carriers sitting pierside and a supposed reduced need for CSGs.

Operational planners (especially non-navy and airpower critics) are highly recommended to spend a couple hours with this read, as it will dispose of any pre-9/11 notions of carrier operations and most likely provide numerous options and additions for your planning toolkit.