If you dig around a bit, you can find more and more about the Tactical Lessons Identified (learned is a totally different concept) from the Libyan operations. Like all real world operations, when looked at with a clear eye you can learn what theories were good in practice, what old lessons you needed to remember, and who was being too optimistic or too academic when it came to the realities of combat.

Robbin Laird has a great article out based in a large part on his interviews with the French military. What is so interesting is to hear from other nations what we are used to hearing from our own – expeditionary and littoral combat. This is good and healthy for all – and exceptionally valuable to the military professional who is willing to listen.

Make sure and read it all – but here are the things that stuck with me the most;

A main point underscored by the French military was the impact of the political process on military planning. The French President clearly saw the need for the operation and had worked closely with the British Prime Minister to put in place a political process which would facilitate a Libyan support operation for the rebels. But until NATO received the UN Mandate was obtained, no military action could be authorized. This meant that there was little or no planning for military operations with the result that, in the words of one French military officer, “we were forced to craft operations on the fly with little or no pre-planning or pre-coordination. We did some on our own but until the authorization for action was in place, we could not mobilize assets.”

That is why it is so critical that you have a Commander identified early in a process with a Staff in place. Many an Operational Planner has received the, “We are not supposed to do any planning for this. So, I want the core planning team to just … what shall we call it … talk about this. Don’t plan … just, ahem, talk. Have the Chair see to me in four hours about your, ahem, discussions …. ” speech with a nod-nod-wink-wink from the N/J/CJ-5.

There is no reason to go without a plan on the shelf … unless … you don’t have one. If you don’t have one in work – then someone needs to have a serious talk with their planning staff. Even with a pick-up team – you should already have a plan in work once a crisis rears its head. Sounds like they had something to work with – but given the sloppy start to the Libyan operations; no shock we had to improv a bit at the start.

…. and now – one of my favorite topics, NSFS.

An aspect of the operation of the helos off of the Mistral is noteworthy as well. The frigate with which it was deployed used its guns to support the helo deployment. The guns provided fire suppression to enhance the security of the insertion of the helos off of the Mistral.

The ship’s C2 is first rate and was part of the link to the air fleet for receiving and processing information to shape an intelligence picture in support of strike operations. This demonstrated that integrating maritime with land-based air can provide a powerful littoral operations capability, one which may prove very relevant to the United States as it rethinks the relationship between the USAF and the USN-USMC team in shaping 21st century operations.

Hasn’t this been true since, well, we had aircraft flying early last century? The critical importance and flexibility of the naval gun known for centuries? Modern combat from The Falklands, to the Haiphong gunline, to Five Inch Friday, to Libya reminds us – have your gun ready. None of this is new or shocking – but the fact we have to relearn fundamentals is a reminder how much we need to focus on them – “we” of course being the USA and its allies.

For the veterans of the Balkan operations in the ’90s to AFG the last decade – some habits never go away.

First, rules of engagement were being proposed by the partners of France in NATO that were “ridiculous,” to quote one French officer. “We received from NATO sources the directive that there were to be NO civilian casualties from our air strikes. My view was, why not just not do airstrikes. We pushed back and insisted on something sane: ‘No excessive civilian casualties from NATO air strikes.'”

Here is one final thing that I think we need to ponder on in depth; UAV/S. Too many people are enamored by the PPT and the promise. Not content with having an improved tool – they want to think they have a new tool that can do it all. It is hard even in peace for them to accept the very real bandwidth, loss rates, and other issues – what is harder to explain to the UAV/S true believers are the tactical limitations.

FROM UCAV-N to BAMS – the transformationalists really think that the F-35 will be the last manned fighter. Kind of the same mentality that I read in a book after the Falkland Island War about the Harrier stating that it was likely that the Harrier will ever see combat again. Silly, but there it was. The Future does not like to be taunted. She is touchy like that.

In that light – everyone needs to keep this reality check in mind. In this case, our French friends are exactly right.

the notion that unmanned systems are going to replace the pilot is ludicrous in a dynamic targeting situation. If we are reluctant to give a guy with SA in the pilot’s seat authority, why are we going to give some guy in Nevada or Paris looking through a soda straw the authority to do dynamic targeting.”


Posted by CDRSalamander in Aviation, Hard Power, Navy
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  • Grandpa Bluewater

    All those Comtac Pubs safe in the safe, and unread.

  • NavyDave

    The now almost blind faith in the primacy of UAVs is a reflection of how Americans are enamored with technology. It is also another example of how we tend to fight the last war and project the success of a particular technology and the associated TTPs into the future. The fact is, UAVs have been very successful over the past decade in a fight against third-world, extra-national, almost primitive forces. It’s a great tool to use against Taliban fighters who have no air force, no access to space, no ability to project power from the sea, no serious electronic warfare capability or capacity, etc, etc. From a strategic perspective, we should be thinking about the next potential peer competitor. BAMS and Reaper aren’t capable of thinking on their own. Any successful degradation of either GPS or the control/comms link to UAVs will make them useless and put the operator back in CONUS on a coffee break. Of course the technology worshipers will claim that the next step is to make the UAV autonomous so it can “think” on its own. This will be good for very limited mission profiles but we’re a long way from creating a true seat-of-the-pants thinking machine. And don’t forget the expense of such a quest. Those primitive fighters have just about broken the U.S. bank based on our desire to fight their low-tech with our high-tech. We need to take a lesson from the old Soviets on that note.

    From a tactical responsiveness perspective, another difficulty with UAVs like Predator and Reaper is the fact the pilot is not in situ at risk with the guys who are being supported. The visceral bond that is felt by those who provide close air support with those who need it is going to be shared in greater measure by those who are in the tactical space than by those sitting in a safe control room 8000 miles away. Which brings us to another potential problem with UAVs controlled from other than the local commanders; the 8000 mile screwdriver. Priorities for a strategic, HDLD asset like Predator are going to come from those higher up the chain, those who can also become mesmerized just watching what we like to call Predator Porn in the Fleet. Fact is, having a couple of pilots in a King Air responding in real time to the ISR needs of those on the ground without loading up already scarce satellite bandwidth has become a growth industry. Wanna guess which costs more?

    Speaking of costs, let’s not forget how much should actually be considered in that calculus. First, the notion that Predator (or the others) is “unmanned” is ludicrous. A USAF general I met once liked to describe them as “uninhabited,” certainly a better descriptor since there are tons of people needed to conduct a Predator mission. Second, the aforementioned satellite bandwidth for the C3 on these is a scarce resource. Just put more satellites into orbit, you say? Sure, that’s an easy and cheap solution. Not. And not to mention the fact that on orbit real estate is also scarce. It’s hard to keep track of the 20,000 pieces of space junk already up there, not to mention how dwindling the orbits are. And what happens when space is militarized by a peer competitor. Wanna bet they would target our UAV C3 satellites and our GPS?

    OK, enough on that. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Fact is, UAVs have and will have a place in the inventory for a long time, even against a peer competitor in the future. We just shouldn’t let ourselves become too enamored with the technology and throw our resources at it like it’s a panacea for all our airborne needs. Manned military flight is going to be around for another century. Let’s hope we don’t have to learn that the hard way when all of our UAVs meet their match against an enemy who can also own the skies and the night. Finally, having spent the last decade of my career training and educating Naval Aviators and others in flight school and graduate school, I’d pit this new generation of aviators against any UAV we (or a potential, technology-enamored foe) could pit against them.

    As the father of a Marine, I’d also remind everyone that the only true precision weapon…is a sniper!

  • Mike M.

    Two points:

    First, I think this highlights the need to have war plans for ALL contingencies on the shelf. Stop arguing about PPT fonts and start planning.

    Second, those of us who have hands-on experience with heavy UAVs are all too well aware of the limits. It’s a niche technology. Extremely powerful when used properly – but not a panacea.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    As someone who has spent more than a little time mucking about the signals spectrum and a Life Member of the Association of Old Crows (among others) I can only add my voice to the chorus. There is no bandwidth so wide, so secure or so powerful it can’t be screwed with in some way or another. The bean-counter fascination with PPT rationalizations to make all things “Unoccupied” (or whatever) due to the ephemeral “it costs less” mantra will become self-defeating. I recall the vast sums of treasure spent in sought of the Grail of remote control going back even to BGPHES and Aquilla. Yes, for certain ISR and other, very limited measures, UAV’s are nice. For all else, in the end, manned platforms are actually a lot more effective.

  • virgil xenophon

    This conversation reminds me of those about the supposed dwindling need for “tanks” (MBT & otherwise.) and their replacement as anti-tank wpn platforms by other “cheaper” more “flexible” platforms. Once one starts to talk about the limitations of wx on attack helos,& fixed-wing (think Battle of the Bulge) vulnerability of short-legged helo FOBs near the FEBA, suppressive ability of anti-personnel and HE arty on exposed (relatively speaking) other more lightly armored-to-open/exposed gnd-based anti-tank wpns, etc., one eventually finds ones’ way back whence one started to the tank as the best all-around, all-wx anti-tank system after all is said and done. Same here with the UAV/E viz manned aircraft. Oh, and what everyone else has said so far as well.

  • Regarding the supposed disengagement of drone pilots from ground troops, I heard a highly-decorated USAF pilot say in public that he’d never had as close a rapport with the ground troops as he had flying his drone. It was the loiter ability and repeated orbits that did it for him – he was able to assure a comrade that his son was safe because *he could see his sleeping bag* — something he couldn’t do at 300kts in an A-10.

    Everything brought up about the brittleness of whiz-bang networks and limited autonomy is true — and there are ways around that fragility. For example, a drone strike mission off a carrier could consist of a flock of drones with a few manned aircraft for close-in control (and refueling). Could an F-14 be used as a test platform to explore the concept?

    In a few short years drones will no longer be mere machines but neo-animals, and we have thousands of years of experience interacting with, commanding, and using animals in war. Let’s begin looking closely at what’s worked in the Navy’s marine mammal program and the Army’s long history with cavalry and transport, for starters.