I commend this essay to my colleagues, and ask that the full text of the letter be printed in the Record immediately after my remarks.
The letter follows:
The recent cancellation of the A-12 program could be just the opportunity the Navy needs. We can redefine our mission in light of what is possible with existing platforms, and get ourselves off an agonizing hook.
Naval aviation communities tend to be fairly parochial, and tend to blow a lot of smoke about each particular community's capabilities. Unfortunately, this smoke rises to the top of the National Command Authority, where in competition with smoke from other services, it may obscure reality. Well, the other services will have to explain their failures in due time. Most naval air tacticians I know realize that the `deep strike' so identified with the medium-attack community is a true shot in the dark, at best. The alone-and-unafraid mission to a high-value strategic target deep in enemy territory is very expensive to undertake, and presupposes worthy, attainable, strategic targets beyond tactical aircraft range, yet within the carrier air wing's sphere of responsibility. While each of these concerns raises reservations about putting strategic bombers on the carrier, an accurate definition of the carrier air wing's sphere of responsibility is the key to the future of carrier aviation. Don't we have enough to do without the deep-strike mission? I don't think we can do it, and I don't think we need it. We need to challenge ourselves out of the medium-attack parochial view. Doesn't the national Command Authority already have strategic bombers and ballistic missiles to cover this remote military mission?
I suggest the role of Navy air is to support the maritime strategy of maintaining sea lines of communication (SLOCs) and of supporting that portion of strategy involving power projection ashore. Maintaining open SLOC's involves the carrier air wing's (CVW's) war-at-sea fighting capability. We should look at the CVW's
capabilities without regard to those of the surface and sub-surface naval forces. The CVW must, above all else, contribute to the establishment of the necessary level of maritime air superiority. Large, sub-sonic aircraft are a step backward in interceptor/fighter design. Air warfare would be better served by replacing the A-6s/A-12s by simply increasing the numbers of F-14s/F-18s on the carrier. For striking the enemy fleet, air-defense suppression, standoff, and shoot-wait-shoot hardware and doctrines have surfaced the S-3B as a truly effective multi-mission platform, in addition to the Tomcat and Hornet. In short, loss of the A-12 will not adversely affect the CVW capability in war-at-sea. In fact, if the deck loading is maintained by simply increasing the numbers of S-3Bs/F-18s/F-14s in place of the A-6s/A-12s the CVW will better complement the warfighting capability of attack squadrons.
In power projection, I view the carrier as a tactical platform. The carrier's strategic implications come from her mobility and tactical potential once in the area of concern, not in having an embarked strategic bomber. The large, slow, relatively vulnerable-in-daylight A-12 would have tied up a significant portion of the flight deck with a platform that has restricted tactical application, compared with existing tactical platforms such as the Hornet, Tomcat, or the Strike Eagle--all of which can strike with precision, self-escorted, day or night. In World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Libya, Grenada, and Panama, carrier aviation has been tasked to provide tactical air power, not strategic deep strikes. The carrier-based, subsonic strategic bomber does not qualify as a dinosaur--it's a myth.
Ultimately, the dying gasp from the medium-attack community will ask about range. The answer is we don't want it. The alone-and-unafraid deep-strike platform is incompatible with the typical sphere of responsibility. Now is our chance to redefine our capabilities in power projection along lines we know are realistic and compatible with a martime strategy we are happy supporting, based on the loss of the medium-attack A6/A-12. This is more accurately described as a transition from medium attack to the strike-fighter community. This will complete the transition of Navy attack begun by the light attackers when they had the foresight to come up with a strike fighter as their own replacement. The carrier air wing will emerge from this transition as a hard fighting asset with tactical flexibility and the strategic mobility of the carrier.
I frankly do not view this loss of next-generation technology as total. It can be in the next aircraft we buy. We do not need that technology soon. It appears that a little stealth is cost-effective for a carrier based strike-fighter, but a lot is not.
Naval advocates in the National Command Authority need not represent the carrier as an end-all do-all asset. It has limitations, and naval aviators who grow up to be somebody without losing their parochial blinders simply overload our agenda. We are facing significant budget cutbacks, so why not take something off our agenda? Whether we adapt the F/A-18 or an F-14 strike version to replace the A-6, we can come out of this smelling like a rose--with the same or better operating and training budget the same or better deck loading, a more palatable obligation to the National Command Authority, and an air wing capable of delivering what we promise. Let's take this opportunity to redefine our sphere of responsibility in light of what is possible, without medium-attack/deep strike, and get ourselves off our painful hook.