Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

USMC should drop the F-35 and V-22 — and perhaps the F-18 while it’s at it

Plus, more on the future of the UCAV carrier.

Makin Island Deployment
Makin Island Deployment

 

So argued, about the first two aircraft, a retired Marine Reserve lieutenant colonel in the July issue of the Marine Corps Gazette.

Lt. Col. John Arsenault’s larger argument is that it is time for the Corps to return to its roots of being a naval raiding force. So, he says, cut force strength to 100,000 or less, get out of most aviation, shift support jobs back to the Navy, and train the remaining force to be “Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command-level ‘Raiders.’”

 

So argued, about the first two aircraft, a retired Marine Reserve lieutenant colonel in the July issue of the Marine Corps Gazette.

Lt. Col. John Arsenault’s larger argument is that it is time for the Corps to return to its roots of being a naval raiding force. So, he says, cut force strength to 100,000 or less, get out of most aviation, shift support jobs back to the Navy, and train the remaining force to be “Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command-level ‘Raiders.’”

The V-22 and the F-35 come in for his particular ire. “These programs are embarrassingly over-priced and not provide significant operational gain over other Department of Denfese systems for the combat Marine.”

I am impressed that the Gazette’s editors were willing to publish such an iconoclastic article. In doing so they live up to the highest traditions of their Corps.

Similarly, Lt. Brian Hayes, U.S. Navy Reserve, argues in the September issue of “Proceedings” that it is time for the Marine Corps to dump the F-18 Hornet. He notes that one report in 2016 said that of 276 such aircraft in the Corps, only 87 were airworthy. “The Corps could decide to stop throwing good money into bad Hornets,” Hayes writes.

Ironically, three pages later, there is a full-page advertisement from Raytheon/Northrop Grumman/General Electric/Boeing arguing that, “The Super Hornet also sets a new standard of availability, maintainability and cost per flight hour” that the U.S. Navy will enjoy “for generations to come.”

Meantime, the debate over the future of the unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) continues to play out in the pages of the same magazine. Cdr. Thomas Shugart calls on the Navy to build all-UAV carriers, which he says would be “very different from existing aircraft carriers.” For example, the planes might land vertically. Launches could be automated and vertical, with wings folded, eliminating the need for a flight deck, and so radically changing the profile of the ship. One way to ensure that the full capability of such a ship and air wing be realized, Shugart avers, is “to require CVQs be commanded by UAV-specialized officers, just as manned-aircraft carriers have been commanded by aviators.”

Not so fast, the chief of naval aviation says a few pages later in the same issue. “I don’t envision Naval Aviation having an unmanned community in and of itself,” states Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker.

My guess, based on my reading histories of military innovation over the last couple of years, is that the commander is right and the admiral is wrong. Innovations that don’t have their own community and promotion path tend to wither on the vine. (Oddly, the spotty history of British naval aviation is one of the leading examples of this.) And the qualities of naval UCAVs might very quickly make them quite unlike manned aircraft in how they operate and fight. Think of the difference between a racing motorcycle and a Mack truck.

Photo credit: Department of Defense 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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