Designed during the Cold War, all three legs of the sea-, air-, and land-based nuclear “triad” need replacement fairly soon. The means spending potentially hundreds of billions of dollars on new subs, bombers and ballistic missiles to replace today’s Ohio-class boats, B-2 and B-52 bombers and Minuteman missiles.
That’s hundreds of billions of dollars we can’t afford. A sane reform strategy would consider a seemingly drastic move—entirely eliminating one leg of the triad.
Problem is, the triad holds almost religious significance for nuclear weapons theorists. In the 1950s, analysts worried that a surprise Soviet atomic strike would knock out nearly all of the Air Force’s nuclear-capable bombers.
Category: Robert Farley
As an educator, I can attest to some frustration in relating to students that the United States operates ten aircraft carriers, plus another nine ships that we would refer to as aircraft carriers if they served in any other navy. And while I appreciate the desire of analysts to differently categorize the capabilities of Wasp and Nimitz-class carriers, I wish that people had a firmer grasp on the abject silliness of claiming that a 45,000 ton flat-decked aircraft-carrying warship is not, in fact, an aircraft carrier. Think of the children.
I’ve now finished restoring the March 2005 archive. In fairness, the last few days of 3/2005 had survived the changeover, and I’d restored some of the posts in an earlier iteration of this project. In any case, some stuff of interest from the earliest days of LGM:
- Useless List Department: Twenty-Five Great Simpsons Episodes (Farley)
- A Rear View of the Shark (Lemieux)
- The Taboo That Kills (Lemieux)
- America’s Worst Blogger (Farley, opening the great Kim Du Toit Controversy)
- Institutions, Agreements, and Navies (Farley)
- Doing things with right–wing democracy promotion (djw)
- Bullying (Farley)
- Single Payer: Now More Than Ever (Lemieux)
- Ozu Blogging (I) (djw)
- My Grim Future (Farley, on adjuncting)
- Why Roe Was Not Counterproductive: A Reply (Lemieux)
- On the Impossibility of “Strict Construction” in Constitutional Interpretation (Lemieux)
- Cruel and Unusual (djw, although the post says Lemieux)
It was a very good month. As the April 2005 archive is already complete, I’m now finishing up with June 2004.
And thanks to Putin, we now have a template to make this happen:
Put together, the United States and Canada would be a colossus, with an economy larger than the European Union’s—larger, in fact, than those of China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea combined. We would control more oil, water, arable land and resources than any jurisdiction on Earth, all protected by the world’s most powerful military.
Far-fetched? Maybe. But consider this: Two Canadian prime ministers – one after the First World War and another after the Second World War – seriously considered proposing a merger with the United States. They did not proceed for political reasons.
I’m very much looking forward to the seizure of important government buildings in Vancouver and Toronto by pro-American “activists,” followed by sketchy referenda…
At War is Boring, I extend my remarks on the proposal to send B-52s to Israel a bit:
“B-52s for Israel,” as we’ve dubbed it, is a silly little proposal with approximately zero chance of actually being implemented. And it’s possible Deptula and Makovsky don’t even mean for anyone to take its details seriously.
Their bomber idea could be part of a media game of sorts, one that certain political constituencies are playing in order to broadly influence policy, rather than comprise policy.
But just for fun, let’s consider “B-52s for Israel” as a sober proposal.
My latest at the Diplomat thinks through the reasoning behind future military engagement between China and the United States:
Because effective communication requires shared priors, China and the United States both have an interest in developing a common understanding of military problems and capabilities.
U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh and General Hawk Carlisle displayed a deft understanding of this dynamic in an article in the January-February 2014 issue of Air and Space Power Journal, which recounted the two officers’ recent visit to China. The visit was conducted mostly at the strategic and institutional level, giving the USAF leaders an appreciation for how the PLAAF understood the role of airpower in Chinese history. While the visit displayed only some of the PLAAF’s most modern technologies, it did serve to highlight the institutional reforms that drive improvements in Chinese capabilities.
The Pentagon has developed the MOP bomb specifically for destroying hardened targets. It can penetrate as deeply as 200 feet underground before detonating, more than enough capability to do significant damage to Iran’s nuclear program. There are no legal or policy limitations on selling MOPs to Israel, and with an operational stockpile at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, the U.S. has enough in its arsenal to share.
Israel, however, also lacks the aircraft to carry the MOP. Which means the U.S. would need to provide planes capable of carrying such a heavy payload. Only two can do so: the B-52 and the stealth B-2.
The U.S. has only 20 B-2s and would not share such a core component of nuclear deterrence. Nor is the Pentagon willing to part with active B-52s. Of the 744 built since 1955, all but roughly 80 have been decommissioned, sent to the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, and, in compliance with arms-control-treaty obligations, mostly rendered inoperable. With plans for a new long-range bomber delayed by defense-spending cuts and sequestration, current plans call for keeping the active duty B-52s in service for at least another 20 years.
But there are more than a dozen of the relatively “newest” B-52H bombers—built in the early 1960s—in storage. Some of these should be delivered to Israel. There’s no legal or policy impediments to their transfer; they would just have to be refurbished and retrofitted to carry the MOP.
Let’s set aside all of the political questions, and just focus on the tactical problems. The GBU-57 is a precision guided gravity bomb. This means that the B-52 cannot use it from standoff range; it has to get close to the target in order to drop the weapon. The B-52 thus becomes vulnerable not only to Iranian interceptors (including F-14s which may still operate a version of the long-range Phoenix missile), but also to Iranian surface-to-air missile sites. This is why air forces don’t normally fly B-52s through contested air space. If you’re the sort of country that can carry out a massive SEAD (suppression of enemy air defense) campaign that will destroy long range SAMs along the bomber route, short range SAMs near the target, and every conceivable interceptor base that could launch fighters that could plausibly get in range of the B-52s flight path, then this is a manageable problem. Or you could just send a B-2.
Israel could carry out this sort of campaign against Syria, both because of the deterioration of the Syrian air defense network and the Syrian Air Force, and because the distances are manageable. The IDF Air Force cannot carry out a large scale, prolonged SEAD campaign against Iran, in large part because the distances are un-manageable. Iranian fighters can move outside of the range of Israeli fighter-bombers, and Iran can disguise its SAMs. This isn’t such a problem for a single strike package, or even a series of strikes, because the aircraft Israel would expect to use are small enough and fast enough to either evade Iranian SAMs or destroy Iranian interceptors. Moreover, the Iranians have little incentive to expose their SAMs and their interceptors to destruction in order to kill one or two out of a hundred or more fighter-bombers.
Israeli B-52s would immediately become the juiciest target available to Iran, and the Iranian military would likely take significant risks in order to shoot one or more down. Especially if the Israelis operated only a dozen, downing one would become a significant political coup. The presence of B-52s would, accordingly, make the Israeli SEAD problem immensely more complex, and significantly increase the potential costs to Israel of carrying out the strikes. This is to say nothing,
of course, of the problems the Israelis would have in developing sufficient expertise to maintain the B-52s, and to fly them in combat situations. These issues are not lost on the Israelis, who retired their last large, multi-engine bombers in 1958. Essentially, Deptula is asking the Israelis to use B-52s in circumstances more dangerous than the USAF itself has been willing to use them since at least 1991, and probably since 1972.
In short, it would be dumb for the US to offer B-52s, but fortunately it’s unlikely that the Israelis would be dumb enough to accept them. David Deptula almost certainly understands this.
One of the reasons for creating an independent air force is to develop a cadre of experienced, professional airpower experts. These experts are supposed to do two things. First, they manage the use of military airpower in the most efficient and effective way possible. Second, they provide expert advice to civilian policy-makers and to the public with respect to how the military can utilize airpower to accomplish national objectives. This second role means that both active-duty and retired Air Force officers have a responsibility not to spout nonsense about airpower in public fora, largely because the patina of professional expertise leads civilian policy-makers and the public at large to take this nonsense seriously.
If the Air Force cannot either a) sufficiently educate its officers such that they appreciate the consequences of the tactical and operational advice they are providing to civilians, or b) inculcate a sense of responsibility with respect to their professional obligations as managers of airpower violence, then we’re better off without an Air Force. I suspect that people know where I stand on this question.
And here are our final standings for the 2014 LGM Tourney Challenge:
|1||Lexington Bearded Ducksfarls0||260||160||200||160||160||0||940||99.3|
|4||maybe this timesullivap||240||200||200||160||0||0||800||97|
|5||War On ErrorSouthSideFan773||270||240||200||80||0||0||790||96.4|
|6*||The ed17 1The ed17||270||220||200||80||0||0||770||94.9|
Thanks to all for a good, clean fight, etc. etc. Recollect that LGM Baseball Challenge remains available…
The good people at SunAnt (who I cannot recommend highly enough) are currently in the process of updating LGM to the latest versions of WordPress and of the various plugins that make the site functional. This will hopefully eliminate the spam problems recently seen in the RSS feed and the mobile site. We’ve also been hit with an enormous increase in comment spam, most of which has been caught by our “pending” folder before reaching the comment section. This matters if you’ve had trouble commenting over the past week or so, as you may have inadvertantly been dropped into the spam file. Send me a note if you’re concerned.