I’ve watched Lockheed Martin propose a few memorably far-out ideas: for example, a carrier-based C-130 Sea Herk or slingloading a cage under an unmanned helicopter to transport detainees. Neither idea moved much beyond a PowerPoint slide (er, thankfully?).
But I’ve read one new idea this morning that could top them all: selling F-22s to the US Marine Corps.
Unlike my previous examples, this idea did not come from Lockheed’s business development department.
It comes from Air Power Australia — that hotbed of pro-F-22/anti-F-35 advocacy. I know the source will immediately disqualify the concept for some. But I think it’s worth reading, at least for its novelty value. I’m sure the USMC wouldn’t mind getting their hands on a few F-22s, as long as they didn’t have to pay for them or give up their beloved F-35B.
Check out the commentary published on defpro, but or click on the jump below.
OpEd: F-22A Raptors for the Marine Corps
07:26 GMT, February 9, 2009The USMC has a proud, 233 year history of unexcelled service to theircountry. Projecting US power from US Navy ships, they are the first toengage the enemy, often in deadly fights where weakness brings rapiddeath and high casualty rates. In amphibious assaults, they take andhold territory to provide safe bases for US and Coalition operations.If the President wants something difficult done, he asks the Marines.
In the very near future, the Marine’s military dominance could come toa crashing, jarring halt. Their equipment is obsolete, overmatched andout of life.
In their next embarked transit to a battlefield, they could beferociously attacked with modern weapons of war. The nightmare for theUSN is to have a swarm of supersonic anti-ship missiles target theCarrier Battle Group. The formula for missile saturation swarm attackis simple – count the number of Aegis class DDGs, multiply by four,then add a few for good measure. Launch the missiles so they overwhelmthe defences. Attack aircraft could be Sukhoi Flankers with one to foursupersonic missiles apiece, the modified H-6K Badger that can carry upto six missiles with an un-refuelled radius over 2,000+ nautical miles,or the Tu-95M/142 Bear with multiple wing and fuselage hard-points anda combat radius of almost 4,000 nautical miles. K Supersonic weaponsinclude the Kh-41 BrahMos / Yakhont ‘Stallion’, the Kh-41 ‘Sunburn’ andthe 3M54 ‘Sizzler’.
If the Marines are lucky, and reach the assault point, more bad thingswill await them. The future enemy Integrated Air Defence System (IADS)is a symbiotic coupling of air combat fighters (ACFs) andSurface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs), with active and passive multi-spectralsensors that guide the air and ground intercepts of incoming fightersand cruise missiles. The SAMs protect the ACFs bases, and the ACFsprotect the SAMs.
If the USMC attempts to assault a shore without air dominance, theenemy can attack the Marines and the USN unhindered. A Sukhoi Flankercan carry up to three KAB-1500 guided bombs. If the fill isthermobaric, and the bombs GPS or EO guided and air-fused, then asingle Sukhoi can annihilate a battalion of Marines in the toughtransit from ship-to-shore. These same weapons create such anover-pressure, they will break the back of many ships.
The Marines are often given a raw deal with their equipment. They areassigned the toughest jobs, but are given hand-me-down, tired andineffective war-craft. While their courage and aggression may havecompensated for second-rate equipment in the past, this is not a safepolicy to extrapolate into the future.
In modern warfare, the old F/A-18A/C/D Hornets have little capabilityagainst new Sukhois and SAMs. The ‘Super Hornet’ is already obsolete.The much delayed, untested, battlefield interdictor Joint StrikeFighter was never designed to impose air dominance against modern ACFs,nor will it penetrate a modern IADS with SAMs that can detect and fireon the radar returns from pigeons when the radar reflections of theJoint Strike Fighter will be more of the size of a goose. Courage inthe face of a technologically superior enemy unjustly results in thedeath of many fine warriors.
So, if the USMC is going to spearhead future US military operations, why not give them the sharpest spear?
No change of role is required – intercept and destroy enemy aircraft,and support the amphibious force. Let the Marines develop their owntactics, but here are some suggestions.
Their first task is to get the USN Battle Task Group safely to theamphibious assault point. With careful routing, by flying top cover,the Raptors can find and destroy missile carrying aircraft before theyreach an anti-ship missile launch point. Supersonic anti-ship missilesare fearsome weapons, but they consume prodigious amounts of fuel inthe process. So while their ‘below radar horizon range’ is longer thanship’s radar and missile systems, it is still quite close to the battlegroup – typically 100-200 nautical miles. The Raptors need to’sanitize’ this launch doughnut, killing the launch aircraft beforerelease, preferably enroute to their attack and well away from theCSG/CVBG. In the fog of war, some ‘leakers’ always get though, but ifthe number is much reduced, then the Aegis DDGs can cope with theattack.
At the amphibious assault point, USMC air power must ‘kick down thedoor’ for their assaulting ground forces. They must cut the symbioticlink between the ACFs and the SAMs. They do this by engaging the ACFsfirst. If the enemy fighters show, they are destroyed. If they don’tshow, then the Raptors move onto the SAMs, killing them in aDestruction of Enemy Air Defences (DEAD) operation with close-in SmallDiameter Bomb attacks before the SAMs can ‘shoot-and-scoot’.
Now, the argument against this new capability for the USMC, is that itis ‘land-based’, and couldn’t possibly give the USMC 24/7 air dominancecoverage when and where it needs it. This argument needs to be testedin the crucible of detailed operations research. The Marines have beenoperating successfully from shore basing for many decades, so theargument that the Marines must operate off carriers only isideological, and specious.
What we already know is that the F-22A has superior range/payloadperformance to the STOVL F-35B Joint Strike Fighter in all regimes, andbetter short field performance than both the STOVL F-35B and CTOL F-35AJoint Strike Fighter variants when both are flown as conventionalfighters off runways. This is a key performance criterion, as there aremany 4-5,000 ft airstrips the F-22A can use with undiminished range andpayload, which the F-35 cannot. The F-22A has an identical internalpayload of JDAMs or SDBs as the STOVL F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, butdoes so with twice as many air to air missiles onboard.
Where does the USN need to get to, how will it get there, and can it beprotected by the USMC Raptor fleet along the way? Can some innovative’gap-filling’ solutions be found? For example, would it be possible torefuel a patrolling Raptor from a carrier based aircraft, perhaps arejuvenated KS-3 Viking ‘mini-tanker’?
Could the USMC afford to buy the F-22A? Well, yes, in fact. Financialprovision has been made for purchase of the Joint Strike Fighter – theWorld’s most costly combat aircraft. Look at the USMC Headquarters pageon its Aviation Plan ‘Brainbook 2008′ Aviation Ref Guide (Brainbook) -May 2008, Page 22 (http://hqinet001.hqmc.usmc.mil/AVN/).
Over the 08-13 FYDP, acquisition of 91 Joint Strike Fighter’s areplanned for a Weapon System Unit Cost of $14,412.3M. Forgetting thecomplexities of ‘X-Year’ dollars, this makes the average acquisitioncost of a Joint Strike Fighter of $158.4M. The F-22A’s Unit ProcurementCost is currently around $140M, therefore there are quite significantsavings to be had, moreso, as a fair chunk of the Joint Strike Fighter$3,957.1M RDT&E could be saved, as this work has been whollycompleted for the F-22A Raptor. These savings do not account for thegreater cost/benefit i.e. “bang for buck” provided by the F-22A vsF-35B. The Marines could invest some of these funds in the latestsea-lift Patriot batteries, to provide essential IADS coverage of theirForward Operating Bases.
Conversely, can the USN and the embarked USMC afford NOT to haveRaptors to impose air dominance around its Task Groups? Massed,saturation supersonic missile attacks raise the spectre of ship andpersonnel losses of the scale experienced at Pearl Harbour orGuadalcanal – only this time in blue water where the causalities wouldbe higher. A USMC fleet of Raptors protecting the USN fleet duringcombat operations seems to be very inexpensive insurance for the comingyears.
The USAF should rejoice at the prospect of the USMC being armed withthe F-22A Raptor. The 96 aircraft would add 50% to the existing plannedfleet of 183. If a desperate situation arises as described in the muchquoted RAND Study (see below), then the Marines can fight side-by-sidewith the USAF. They could become the linchpin, bringing the mightycombat power of the USN, USMC and the USAF together to fight and winwhenever and wherever needed.
The Department of the Navy (DoN) and the Pentagon should be happy sincesuch a plan provides an additional avenue for return on the investmentso far made in the Joint Strike Fighter Program particularly in thesystems areas with their inbuilt and advanced interoperability,supportability and sustainability enabling simple porting across to theF-22A.
The new President and his Administration should be pleased with thisadvancing on return of investment with the overall plan generating farmore jobs for Americans over the next five years than the Joint StrikeFighter Program could ever achieve over the same period for the sameprice. The additional bonus being achieving far greater capability inshorter time at far lower risk than the Joint Strike Fighter Programoffers.
Even if the F-35B STOVL Joint Strike Fighter survives the fundamentaldesign problems, which have bedevilled it since its conception, theMarines still end up with an aircraft which lacks the firepower,performance and survivability to do the job required.
A deep rethink of the future of Marine Corps fighter aviation isneeded, and it is needed now. The United States Marine Corps deservesno less.
WgCdr Chris Mills, RAAF (Retd), Air Power Australia – Australia’s Independent Defence Think Tank