The U.S. Navy should acquire B-1s and Marine Corps A-10s

Saturday, January 25th, 2020

Both Marine Corps air wings and Navy Tactical Air have glaring capability holes, which could be filled by repurposing Air Force platforms:

The U.S. Navy should acquire B-1s and Marine Corps A-10s.


The Air Force’s number one priority is procuring a fleet of more than 1,700 F-35s and 100 B-21 heavy bombers, which is an enormously expensive goal. The Air Force is also updating its part of the nuclear triad, beginning to develop its sixth-generation air-dominance platforms, recapitalizing elements of the F-15 fleet, procuring the KC-46, re-engining the B-52, and more. To help pay for these priorities, the Air Force has published plans for accelerated retirement of both the B-1 and the B-2 and continues to loudly proclaim its desire to retire the A-10. (Warthog).


It would be difficult for the Marine Corps to imagine a better aircraft than the A-10. The current A-10C configuration provides a partial glass cockpit, a full suite of laser and GPS precision-guided weapons, targeting pods, and tactical data links, as well as a mission-computer capable of continuous upgrades. The A-10 is equally capable in roles such as close air support, strike coordination and reconnaissance, forward air controller airborne, and tactical recovery of aviation personnel. It can execute offensive air support, air reconnaissance, and self-defense anti-air warfare. It could also readily fill the Corps’ light-attack gap due to its legendary ability to dispense and absorb damage and its gun.

For a Marine air-ground task force commander, especially a special purpose or Marine expeditionary unit (MEU) commander, a Marine A-10 has sufficient loiter and slow speed capability to provide both close and stand-off escort to air combat element (ACE) tilt rotor and rotary wing elements while having enough speed to work with Harriers, Hornets, and Lightnings. Such capability would allow ACE assets escorted access into higher threat areas than are currently feasible. For a Marine expeditionary brigade or Marine expeditionary force, A-10s would massively enhance ACE offensive air support, deep air support, and close air support capabilities. With an upgrade to fly Intrepid Tiger II pods, A-10 EW capabilities could even support Marine maneuver non-kinetically.

Though the A-10 is exclusively land based, the expeditionary nature of a Marine air-ground task force in no way precludes its employment. OV-10s were always land based as are F/A-18Ds. Marine EA-6Bs were exclusively land based until their retirement. F/A-18C squadrons remain split between those that support a Navy carrier air wing (CVW) and those that remain land based. The C-130s attached to a MEU ACE remain land based while the MEU is afloat. Having a land-based component to an afloat expeditionary force is the norm for the naval services, not the exception.

Close air support is a classic example. Though the F-35 can provide close air support, the role does not capitalize on the aircraft’s capabilities. An F-35 knocking down air defenses and attacking command-control nodes followed by A-10s executing close air support in the newly lowered threat environment is the definition of a synergistic effect. The Marine A-10s providing close air support in the newly lowered threat zones free F-18s and F-35s to stay forward and shape the battlespace. The combination of aircraft creates and sustains a virtuous circle. The A-10 thus complements and enables the F-35 instead of competing with it.

The A-10 is also an inexpensive aircraft to fly. At $6,118 per hour, the flight hour costs for the A-10 are minuscule compared to any fixed wing aircraft the Marine Corps is currently flying.


With the reintroduction of a B-1 as a maritime patrol bomber, the Navy would reconstitute a capability that was divested after World War II—a capability that takes distributed fires to a logical extreme. In an airborne operations in support of maritime operations fight, B-1Bs could support fast-attack craft/fast inshore attack craft defense with heavy loads of cluster munitions or other precision-guided munitions, as well as function in a strike coordination and reconnaissance role to bring other assets into the fight. In permissive environments, the B-1s heavy precision-guided munitions load would provide a massive anti-surface warfare magazine. In non-permissive environments, a single B-1B can carry 24 AGM-158C long-range anti-ship missiles from a sanctuary halfway around the world.


At the design level, this not only brings symmetry, but overmatches the current heavy asymmetric anti-surface warfare advantages enjoyed by both the Chinese, with their anti-ship cruise missile equipped H-6 series bombers, and the Russians, with their newly modernized anti-ship cruise missile carrying TU-22M Backfires. A B-1 can also bring all its anti-ship cruise missile back if they are not expended, something that is not guaranteed with a carrier air wing strike.

B-1Bs also bring an aerial mining capability far beyond the current fleet capabilities with both gravity and extended range versions of the Quickstrike series mines. The extended range Quickstrikes mate the mine with a winged joint direct-attack munition kit, meaning the B-1 can sow denser minefields that are faster than anything in the current inventory, while remaining at standoff ranges. En route to a strike, a Bone could provide theater intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance support to a maritime operations center or over the horizon targeting for surface action groups, enhancing their survivability and lethality. With its heavy weapons load it could also free carrier air wing assets for other missions or reduce the numbers of carrier air wing assets needed for a strike, increasing carrier flexibility. B-1Bs already provide close air support to the Joint Force and could continue to do so while providing outstanding armed reconnaissance, strike coordination and reconnaissance, and forward air controller airborne capabilities in support of troops on the ground—plus the heavy conventional bombing capability that the Navy has never possessed.

Upgrades could unlock even more potential with anti-submarine warfare on the table, as B-1Bs could be modified to carry the HAAWC air-launched torpedo, creating synergy between hunter P-8s and heavily armed killer B-1s. It could be modified to carry the Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile Extended Range (AARGM ER) and its developmental cousin the Stand-in Attack Weapon (SiAW) and team with carrier based Growlers to knock down air defense radars with anti-radiation homing shots.[5] It could serve as an arsenal jet, supporting hitherto unexplored air to air combinations for defensive counter air and offensive counter air missions or be a mothership for a future air launched unmanned aerial vehicles or unmanned underwater vehicles.

Two of the greatest advantages to Navy acquisition of the B-1B are directly associated with the Air Force’s desires to divest itself of the bomber: its lack of nuclear role and its lack of broadband low observability. The lack of a nuclear role means there is no treaty obligations preventing its retention. The B-1 was intended to be a penetrating nuclear bomber, but the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) removed its nuclear capabilities and made it subject to yearly inspections by Russian observers. Because of the required yearly inspections, the Air Force has fully invested in the infrastructure to support them. The Navy could retain all the existing infrastructure to support New START inspections without paying for them. This precludes costly spending to build new hangars or other base infrastructure.

The lack of low observability capabilities is also highly advantageous to the Navy. Though overland penetration demands the highest levels of survivability, the open ocean provides a wholly different threat environment, especially when coupled with standoff weapons. Additionally, because the B-21 will need extensive, specialized hangarage to support its maintenance, the existing B-1 infrastructure will not suffice, even if the B-1 is retired. Since the Air Force will not be able to use those hangars, signing them over to the Navy will function create infrastructural savings, freeing up budget dollars for B-21 infrastructure. A true win-win situation.

B-1Bs cost $49,144 per flight hour, a little more than flying a section of F-35Cs or a division of F/A-18Fs but with intercontinental range and 75,000 pounds of munitions.


  1. Voatboy says:

    I doubt that the Navy can spend money reasonably. I have noted many procurement scandals.

  2. SWBTH says:

    Problem: If the Marines acquire A-10s which is a land based platform, it moves them that much closer to people asking “WHY do we need TWO separate armies?”.

    The Marines are awesome. They’re also an unnecessary redundancy.

    One navy. One army. One Air Force. One Space Force (maybe). But all that plus an extra really small army? That’s just nuts$$$.

  3. Alex J. says:

    The idea of B-1s for maritime patrol makes sense, but insofar as A-10s are good for the Marines, wouldn’t they be good for the Army in the same way?

  4. Kirk says:


    Fundamental problem for the Army would be the culture clash trying to integrate fixed-wing combat assets into the force. Also, budget… The Army is a perennial last-place winner in the annual budgets.

    The root of the problem is the same sort of parochialism we had to deal with back in the day when the Army had all of its separate branches as nearly autonomous elements within itself, constantly jockeying for power, prestige, and budget. That was somewhat fixed periodically throughout the 20th Century, but the vestiges of that BS are still hanging around with us–You can trace out dozens of examples, over the years. The ones I’m most familiar with are between the Engineer Branch and the rest of the maneuver forces. We identified a need for a mobile excavator that could keep up with the armored forces sometime around 1944. Various designs were put forward over the years, but we didn’t get the damn thing until the late 1980s when the M9 ACE was finally procured and deployed. And, having had to trail that mobile HAZMAT site around the NTC for a couple of years, I’m here to tell you that we didn’t get much out of the exercise. When it comes to earthmoving, there is no substitute for a D7 bulldozer except a D8 or a D9.

    That whole delay thing was not due to us not needing the capability, but to pure politics and budget. The Engineers didn’t have the money, and the maneuver guys didn’t think it was important enough to help pay for, soooo… Not until the M1 came in did we get them. And, of course, the usual comments came in from the ignoramuses out in the peanut gallery of the press, who decried the M9 as “scandalous”, because they thought a tank should be able to magically dig itself in. Astounding ignorance of the issues was on display, which isn’t surprising since most of those loons knew slightly less about the Army and mechanized warfare than my dog does.

    Same issue with putting the Combat Engineers into Bradleys. They wanted us to “pay” for those by way of giving up slots in the manpower pool to the Infantry, and the problem was that while you might be able to economize on bodies in a mech infantry outfit (something I’m of the opinion that you can’t, but…), doing so in the Engineers basically means you’re not going to be doing much in the way of actual, y’know, combat engineering. Which is kind of the point of those units…

    Irony with that? In 1986, I was a Corporal in a wheeled Corps-level support Combat Engineer battalion. Our MTOE was 11 men, so when we went to do a mission, I generally had around 8-9 dismounts to do it with, once you subtracted the driver and the usual attrition losses you had for medical, schools, or other reasons. By the time I was a Sergeant First Class, and serving as an Observer/Controller at the National Training Center, most of the freakin’ platoons I was the O/C for were showing up with significantly fewer available dismounts, because “reasons”. It was ironic to note that where I’d have been given similar or more complex missions as a Corporal, we were now tasking a 2nd Lieutenant, a Sergeant First Class, several Staff Sergeants, and a random number of Sergeants to do the same mission with even fewer dismounts than I’d had… Oh, and they had, minimum, four APCs, a HMMWV, and a truck to haul around and man, as well. Whole thing was ‘effing ridiculous, especially when I noticed that with all that supervision, the average platoon got less done and with much worse documentation (critical, when you’re laying and recovering minefields…) than the standards I’d been held to as a Corporal all by my lonesome self.

    So, yeah… Put the A-10 under the Army, and you’re gonna see some shit. Mostly, bad shit.

    We badly need to go through the force structure with fire and sword, and do some significant reworking. The branch model for the military is insane; it ought, instead, to be wrapped around mission and environment. What works in a ground role does not work in an aviation role, or in a naval one.

    Then, too, we have the problem of inter-service rivalry and competition. It’s better than it was before, but any of that is intolerable. The idiocy of ruling that the Army can’t operate fixed-wing combat aircraft is only one of the issues–The amount of sheer stupidity that is commonplace and acceptable just because “…that’s how we’ve always done it…” is staggering.

    Don’t even get me started on the accounting BS. Give me ten minutes in charge of the Pentagon, and the budget process, and I could save us billions of dollars a year, if not more–All by the simple expedient of doing away with the annual budget “spree” to use up funds so they aren’t taken away the next year. Granted, a good deal of that is Congress and the way the Constitution handles budgeting the Army and Navy, but… Still, it’s enormously wasteful and counterproductive.

  5. Kirk says:

    Hit “submit” before I should have–The MTOE I refer to as being 11 men was for a squad, which we had three of in each platoon, back then.

  6. Bob Sykes says:

    We have the great advantage that any serious fighting, and all ground fighting, will take place thousands of miles away on the Eurasian perimeter. But that also means that we have an urgent for transport to there, and prioritizes the Navy and Air Force. There is also the fact that the Marines are numerous enough and heavy enough for any likely police action, and they are sitting on ships off shore.

    Desert Storm and the invasion of Iraq were generational events. They also showed just how slowly the accumulation of heavy divisions proceeds. Months in those case, and it was able to occur only because of Hussein’s negligence. He should have hammered the Airborne from day one.

    So, as long as heavy, combined arms warfare is unlikely, our leaders will roll the dice and short the Army. And even then, there would have to be a very large investment in shipping.

    P.S. It ought to be clear that a land invasion of Iran is completely beyond our capabilities, although we might be able to secure a strip of Iran along the Strait of Hormuz.

  7. Kirk says:

    It would be nice if that were always true, Bob, but… It ain’t.

    We were told, after a lengthy session with our Group commander that we would never go anywhere without the time to make up for our lack of training, and that all of our missing equipment would be made good if we ever did get deployed. That was a promise he made us, based on what the nice people from FORSCOM told him, when he’d raised similar issues about readiness and training.

    In January, 2003, we were told we had two weeks to get our shit on the boats, and that we were going to war. I still don’t know how the hell we pulled that off, but it was basically 14 days of 18-hour workdays and an insane amount of work. In the event, our equipment wound up at sea and sitting in the Med for several months because Erdogan’s party wouldn’t let us use the northern route into Iraq.

    What everyone misses about all this “Oh, we’ll never do that…” thinking is that, sometimes, you wind up doing just “that”, and you have to pull it out of your ass. Had Big Army let us do what we thought was right, and kept prepared for deployment, we’d have been a lot better off–But, the planners “knew better”, and didn’t think they’d need us. All I can do is laugh–The guys on the line had a better handle on the realities than all the “smart guys” in the Pentagon.

    You can plan all you like, and project until the cows come home, but when necessity speaks, you answer. And, you’d better have your act together. I fear that an awful lot of the people running things in the US military are relying on wishful thinking and fantasy, rather than cold-hearted pragmatism.

    You and I can’t think of a scenario where we would need to put heavy combat forces ashore somewhere within a few weeks notice, but the sad fact is, the universe is more than capable of coming up with one, and it’ll come from clear out in left field.

  8. Sam J. says:

    I think all these are great ideas. I LOVE the idea of using the B1 as a global mine/strike force for the Navy. Really good idea. Carlton Meyer had much the same idea using Boeing 747 converted to bombers.

    I don’t think we should get rid of the Marines because the Marines have a clear, we will destroy the enemy damn it all culture, that would be hard to fit into the Army. They’re a shock force, know it and embrace it. We need that and the type people who join that willingly. I’m not saying there’s not a lot of people like that in the Army just that it’s not THE FUNCTION(I want to make clear I’m not insulting the Army. The Army just has a different way of doing things. Much slower but grinding the enemy to dust in the process).

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