Friday, November 18, 2016

Come On, Fourth String!

American military operations continue over Libya with USS San Antonio ready to launch helicopter gunship sorties against ISIL targets there. Because, it floats and it can carry helicopters.

We're watching ISIL forces outside of Sirte, where our air strikes were important in helping local forces defeat ISIL there:

U.S. Africa Command is tracking Islamic State fighters who have fled the battle in the coastal Libyan city of Sirte, a possible prelude to more expansive U.S. airstrikes in the country, the top U.S. general for Africa said.

“We have to continue to develop those targets and have certainty of who we are seeing and what the activities are,” AFRICOM’s Gen. Thomas Waldhauser said in an interview with Stars and Stripes late Wednesday. “We just need to have that level of certainty if we decide to strike outside the limits of Sirte.”

The article itself doesn't mention the major naval asset we have there, but the picture caption does:

U.S. Marines with 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit prepare an AH-1W Super Cobra for flight aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio on Nov. 8, 2016. The 22nd MEU is conducting precision air strikes against Islamic State targets in Sirte, Libya, as part of Operation Odyssey Lightning.

San Antonio is a class of amphibious warfare ship (LPD) with a fairly small flight deck at the rear capable of handling rotary wing aircraft (helicopters and V-22s). She is mostly to carry Marines and get them to shore with rotary wing aircraft. Normally 4 helicopters or 2 V-22s can be operated.

San Antonio is there because a full deck amphibious warfare ship that formerly conducted strikes with Harrier jets and helicopters was moved elsewhere.

A full-deck amphibious warfare ship was used because our full-scale super carriers are few in number and tasked with much higher priority tasks in Central Command and Pacific Command.

So AFRICOM has the third string in sea-based air power.

And AFRICOM is lucky to have that given that we have so little naval power in the Mediterranean other than ships transiting the sea going to and from higher priority missions.

So I will ask again, couldn't AFRICOM put together a modularized auxiliary cruiser using a leased container ship and systems housed in deck-mounted shipping containers to arm it --which I called The AFRICOM Queen--to conduct air strikes and other missions off the coast of Libya that won't be yanked by the Navy for other missions that always seem to rank higher on priority lists from other combatant commands?

UPDATE: While some ISIL forces are fighting to the death in Sirte as Libyan forces squeeze their area of control down to buildings, many more have fled. This is surely a lesson for the ongoing fight for Mosul, Iraq. Some ISIL defenders will die in place and some will flee.

That's not too shocking. The questions are how many of each; and how will our superior quality troops, firepower, and surveillance more effectively kill ISIL forces in Mosul who stand and fight or those who flee.

UPDATE: No word if the Lewis B. Puller (the first Expeditionary Sea Base) will go to AFRICOM's area of responsibility in 2017.

UPDATE: Why yes, we might want a more persistent presence off the shores of North Africa than transiting warships can provide:

A new report, the most extensive on illicit weapon flows in the Sahel in several years, confirms arms looted from huge Libyan stockpiles after the ouster of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi have fueled Islamist insurgencies in North and West Africa since 2012.

But jihadists and Tuareg fighters have diversified their supply chains and have added new sources as the outflow from Libya has decreased, due partly to interdiction efforts and a rising internal demand in Libya for weapons as the conflict there looks set to escalate.

Armed chaos on southern Europe's southern door step is not a good thing, to say the least. Do we really need added problems in NATO when the Russians are probing NATO from Norway to Turkey?

UPDATE: The second string is being tested with F-35Bs and V-22s:

Currently, onboard the USS America, the USN-USMC team is validating the proof of concept of the Lightning Carrier, i.e., a large deck amphibious ship with combined F-35B and Osprey assault capabilities.

The capability to insert ground forces and to support them with a 360 degree combat system overhead will prove to be significant in a wide range of contingencies.

A pressing one is to change the attack calculus against ISIS to provide for a very flexible, and unpredictable strike capability against ISIS without operating from ground or land-based air bases.

I mentioned this capability potential 9 years ago. Do not forget that America is not a carrier and so is not an alternative to a carrier.

And while a Modularized Auxiliary Carrier configured for troop and aviation assets would not even be a large deck amphibious ship, it would add to the ability to strike from unpredictable directions.