posted on Feb, 16 2006 @ 03:56 AM
The US Navy & the evolution of a CBG into a CSF. Carriers in the early days were used to protect a fleet from enemy aircraft.
A myth. The very first carriers being seaplane conversions of light cruisers then employed exclusively in the scout role themselves. As such, they
were to be used to provide a naval ASST recce role with secondary gunfire spotting and force communications as well as /occasionally/ to protect
convoys from other seaplanes and dirigibles.
ASW was another early experiment I think.
Yet even by the end of WWI, Carriers were already being used as a method to strike littoral targets from beyond the reach of contemporary landbases
(it was actually 'safer' to land on a carrier in some ways than a mud field but the absence of a dedicated landing-on deck in most of the thru-deck
conversions made it more hazardous than it seemed.).
One such attack being against a Zeppelin hangar in Denmark around 1916-17.
This experimental mindset continued on throughout the interwar years, culminating in the U.S. 'Fleet Problem' experiments nine and ten off Panama
(1928 or so) with Sara and Langley I think it was. Experiments which long predated the 1930's War Plan Orange idiocy of bringing battlewagons into
Crossed-T conditions with an enemy (naval gun) main force opponent. As well as the logistic stupidity of creeping island capture to establish 'air
and naval bases' (across the blue void of the Pacific, riiiiight).
So, from quite early on, it was recognized that naval aircraft could hostage targets deeper inland, with less risk to mines, subs and PT boat type
threats than heavy gun platform advocates liked to think about. Indeed, one could almost say that the Washington Treaty was established in such a way
as to guarantee the development of carrier airpower as a primary sea based power projection method. And that goes all the way back to 1922 or so.
The F-14 was designed to be a carrier based swing wing fleet defense fighter.
Another misnomer, albeit a conditional one. The _VfAX_ began life as an attack optimized fighter. The official story being that McNamara's TFX
would serve as a FADF. The unofficial version being that the USN, LOMD jealous of the Eagle and wanting to begin design studies that would
'eventuate' in the 303E/Tomcat (when they finally so weighted the spec as to make killing the F-111B inevitable), used the ruse of 'little f, big
A' to get the project going.
The _reality_ of life being rather different.
1. The story of a quest for a perfect FAD platform having begun back in the mid 50's with the RAFAD study. This showed that the (F-4H Phantom
Baseline) ability to perform DLI or Deck Launched Intercepts terminating in Mach 2 Sparrow launches against AVMF bombers increasingly switched to
standoff missile attack.
The resulting 'better choice' being the F6D which could carry a 5ft wide radar dish along with 6-8 missiles for 6-10hrs while /already at/ 200-250nm
standoff from the boat. Working in concert with the E-1/E-2 for area surveillance before lofting AAM-N-10 Eagles up to 160nm into the face of the
enemy at well over Mach 5.
The Navy nixed this because it wasn't macho enough and they refused to purchase 'another mission on an already crowded deck'. Despite McDonnell
Douglas' argument that converting the F6D to perform utility missions (EW, targeting, tanker) could be done as readily as had been the case with the
F3D Skyknight and indeed as /would/ be done with similar types such as the Intruder, Sky Warrior and Viking.
2. McNamara, hearing of the turf war between the USN and MACDAC decided everyone could use with a little humility lesson and dictated that the USN
employ a modified version of the USAF TFX.
The resulting F-111B, while falling short of all specs (because that's the way the Squid Fighter Jockeys wrote them), coming closer to meeting them
than either the F-4 or the F-14 did _as an FADF missileer_. Which is to more missiles to farther with more time on station and closer to spec
boarding rates (maximum speeds etc.) carrier suitability.
Obviously, being based on the F-111 structure, it could very well have been the jet to replace /both/ the F-4 -and- the anachronistic at start A-6 as
a combined roles platform.
Even as a basic FADF, it carried 4 AIM-54 to 250nm and stayed on station for about 3hrs, courtesy of twice the gas as the F-14.
The problem being that, by the mid-60s, nearly all AShMs were not only long ranged (250nm+) but increasingly supersonic and light enough to be carried
in multiple. Thus the ability of any FADF to provide useful kill capability was dependent on it's killing the parent force at ranges greatly beyond
what the early Kennel/Kangaroo weapons could let the Russian bombers standoff from the fleet. Something made all the more difficult by the fact that
the AWG-9 followon to the APQ-81 was only 36" across. And the AIM-54 was roughly a 70-90nm ranged, slow (single stage) weapon. 'Half the missile'
that the Eagle had been spec'd to be.
At the same time, ballistic missiles had replaced ALL manned penetrating systems as the primary means of both strategic and theater nuclear force
'deterrence' (trip wired as it was) at half the cost.
And so the USN was once again stuck with the notion of being a coastal/amphibious support 'reaction force' in pissant battles. As a REFORGER
alternative to maintaining blue water SLOCs against a 'navy designed by a field marshal' which was predominantly interested in submarine attack.
3. Along comes the F-14. A fighter which is designed around carriage of 'up to six' of the AIM-54s but which rarely flew with more than two
because of boarding issues with faulty flight controls, and underrated powerplants. A fighter which can be defeated by a well flown F-4 and whipped
easily by the A-4. A fighter whose agility is volumetrically (fuel fraction) further compromised around a 'similar' FORCAP requirement of 2hrs at
/150/nm with reserves for either a supersonic dash or a return to the carrier. But which needs a KA-6D as an overhead-or-declared-emergency
'standard whale' even if it doesn't sprint, on a 3hr cycle. A fighter whose standard deckload compliment is two 12 plane squadrons. Whose only
job is Fleet Air Defense. Even though they have less than one complete load of Phoenix, per jet, in the magazines. A fighter which exists in an era
where the missiles are supersonic and 400nm capable. And the bombers which fire them are supersonic and /air refuelable/. So that multiple missile
loadouts are now standard. A fighter which must protect not only a CVBG whose value has tripled since the Nimitz class came online. But also a
REFORGER convoy which is upwards of 100nm long. And _impossible to hide_ from satellite (ROR/EOR) targeting which is now standard. A fighter which
is coming online with nuclear armed Terrier/Tartars 'unacknowledged' as a response to similarly lethal Russian AShM. A fighter which is less than
10 years from being faced with a TRUE Fleet Air Defense Asset in the Ticonderoga.
i.e. Tom Connelly's 'Cat is a concept as much as platform marginalized by the amount of time it took to bring the airframe to service. At least if
you believe the BS about how 'only' longrange defense of carriers justifies the equipment of a jet with LRAAM. The latter being actually the EXACT
point at which you need max standoff because an LTA with Sparrow or AMRAAM can kill bombers formations in transit more effectively than a fighter can,
at lower weight penalty for the required radar antenna. But a fighter cannot simply 'ignore' the S2A defenses which deny it's TARCAP approach to
many targets, no least being S-300 protected airfields.
BLUNTLY: The fighter pilot penile envy desire for a hot rod ruined the F-14 as a FADF even as it made the excuse used (too many types on deck) used
to deny the F6D ludicrous for the number of Tomcats needed to replace either the it or the F-111B on a number-of-rounds-vs.-airframe basis of
'auxilliary mission' coverage. Unfortunately, it also ruined it as an EM platform in the eyes of most (the IDFAF being one of the particularly
respected 'experts in the field' and the ones who beat the Tomcat, repeatedly, easily, with F-4E and A-4N during evaluations).
What is particularly 'ironic' is that the F-14 has always been a potentially more capable interdictor than either the F/A-18 or the F-111B. The
former because it cannot go anywhere (or bring back anything) without marginalizing it's catloads and A2G/SEAD varieties with added fuel. The latter
because it doesn't have the effective wingloading or self-protect ordnance to go in without the aid of (much shorter ranging) other fighters anyway.
The F-14 carries more fuel internally than an F/A-18 does with two tanks. With external fuel, the F-14 can carry more 2,000lb class munitions than
two F/A-18A/C's can. The F-14 has a RIO that can run a complex A2G weapons system as readily as an AAW biased one. Legacy Hornet two seaters don't
have the weight margin to operate aboard carriers. Lastly, at a time when a multiyear contract would have truly benefited the F-14 as a /developed/
weapons system (reliability, F401 engines, upgrades to multirole) both it and the F/A-18 were 'neck and neck' at around 36 million dollars apiece
(the latter later went as low as 27 million before again increasing to over 40 in the later Lot-XII and on airframes with the LO treatments, new
engines and radar/FLIR upgrades).
'Given it's original designation', where the USN screwed up, mightily, on the Tomcat was in not doing a boot strap mod with a period targeting pod
along the lines of Pave Spike or ATLIS to allow the aircraft to employ PGMs sooner.
As Carriers are now used in many different missions, a multi-mission fighter was needed. Hence the F/A-18E/F "Super Hornet".
Carriers are used in more or less the exact number of roles as they always have been. The F/A-18E/F came about as a flybynight attempt to get 'under
the radar' after the A-12 fiasco. Largely by stating that the airframe was a 'non developmental' modification of the baseline Hornet rather than a
clean sheet of paper design. This allowed the USN to avoid the consequences of a prototyping effort at a time when the precursors to the Center
Barrel problem was manifesting itself as a function of 4G service limits on a 'fighter' airframe whose original VFX-AS (Air Superiority) mission was
to escort cheap attack aircraft with cheap fighters on bombing raids. Resulting in yet another 'mix' of airframes which can do half as much because
they /carry/ half as much. To half the distance.
Diluting the airwing and adding more types.
Of course /later/ when VFX was firmed up to give the Navy an excuse to not take the 'winner of the LWF competition' (the F-16) as suggested by
Congress, the A2G roles were added in as a justification for the first generation Hornet to be 'not really a YF-17 either' _new airframe_ design.
But even so, this is what was stated for VFX's principal roles and missions justification-
High performance, High Radius of action, gun, short and medium range missiles. The new fighter serving to 'augment' attack forces (then the A-6E
and A-7E, both with combat radii over 500nm vs. the Hornets sub-350nm one) with supplemental ordnance while maintaining it's escort role with the
example type comparison being the F-8 Crusader using a notional A2G capability bar defined by 'smart weapons and an A-7E type delivery system'.
i.e. Fly 190-250nm, drop bombs visually while 'protecting' real attack jets which can fly twice as far and will no longer be in service (nor
certainly flying in daylight) by the time you get round to having a significant inventory of these jets available. Either because they will all be
fatigued out of service or flying from different carriers as you _replace them_ with the F/A-18.
And so you see the process of Moreau'ean 'staple the wiggly bits together' bits of unrelated mission justifications being used to justify an
eventual program purchase whose numbered profiteering is both the cause of demise of a 'total package' airwing concept. And the certainty that when
they are gone, you are left with a standard of replacement capability whose SOLE 'smart weapon' then in fleet use was Walleye. And that weighs so
much and is so draggy that no fighter would carry one and expect to perform -as a fighter-.
Mind you, the A-7E does have a good HUDWAC and the F/A-18 is a particularly stable and capable dive bomber, but only to the extent that you drop from
8-10,000ft. Which, in an age of pandemic MANPADS (50 shot at one A-4 Skyhawk during 1982) means putting ALL aircraft at EQUAL risk to a Shouf
Mountain artillery suppression scenario in which you lose 3 reprisal aircraft to airdefense weapons which are effectively unsuppressable. With nary a
fighter in sight.
Why even /have/ an 'escort' then eh?
This being just another STUPID GIT indictment of NavAir incompetence as they had employed LGB from Pave Knife and TRIM equipped aircraft not 10 years
before in SEA. And had pioneered night attack with the Intruder long before that.
Again, all because the LOMD obsessive USN wanted 'a fighter' to match the USAF as hotrods that weren't (F-14) or which couldn't make range as
mudmovers (F-18). And in getting what they wanted, not what this country /needed/, they assured that naval power projection capacities would drop to
sub-WWII levels (similar delivery tactics, less range, smaller deckloads) and _similar attrition levels_.
The USN are cheap losers that are so scared of the USAF as a /purchasing/ agency before Congress that they constantly try to lowball their own
acquisition programs and end up either creating monsters that cannot meet spec. Or cheating the companies to the point where they don't want to make
it do so 'for cost' which is triple what it needs to be. In so doing they have collectively cost themselves:
1. The Roosevelt (Deck) Load of 70 airframes for a Reagan one of 40 (have 'too many types' now do you?).
2. Long range, High altitude, standoff strike (The A-12 and F-14D-as-QStrike, LGB then JDAM instead of SLAM/AIWS.)
3. Independent RSTA and tanking support (CSA dead in the water)
3. Any hope of advanced rollback-as-reachin (AAAM and now AARGM gone the way of the dodo, no advanced netjam /doctrine/ in the wings to replace to
the EA-6B, no unitary glidekit weapons).
Doing all this, despite the fact that they _don't need_ to be as cheap-in-bulk as the AF does because they are a smaller (more value-dense) airpower
agency that cannot generate as many sorties regardless. But whose 'defense' is largely assured by coastal standoff and a huge escort group. Even
as they refuse to complete the switchover to longrange ISR support /inland/ targeting for Tomahawk 'independent' strike at pennies per ton mile
equivalency with bomber cruise.
In this, the F/A-18E/F is less a measure of design incompetence in and of itself (though it most assuredly is that too) than what happens when you
fail so many prior programs that you have to 'win ONE, any ONE' just to keep up with your 10-not-20 year replacement cycle on higher stressed NavAir
airframes. If we had the philosophic and conop sophistication to make /airpower/ (not any one design but the modis) what it should be, the F/A-18
would not look like a bloated Bug-1 trying to be a strike fighter. It would look like a stealthy endurance platform, 'as small as possible' both as
a function of signature reduction and airwing maximization. So as to /avoid/ dealing with 'Fighters and SAMs and MANPADS and Flak' But could
simply employ COE tactics as simple _weapons carriers_ the characteristics of which munitions would (as they always should, being twice as easy and
fast to develop) dominate the nature of the fight as well as it's outcome.
One might even be forgiven for saying that 'what we really need' is a Cheap, Stealthy, 'Missileer'.
More on the character of AESAs and suchlike 'advanced systems on yesterdays design' when I'm not so tired...