Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ouch! That Had To Hurt.

The Air Force just released a document describing its vision for the future (1) and it contains an amazing statement that warrants our attention.

I’m not an AF expert and this isn’t an AF blog so I won’t go into any great detail about this document beyond the one statement that has meaning for DoD in general and the Navy, in particular. 

As a lead-in to the statement, the document defines agility as an organizational characteristic.

"... the term “agility” is meant to capture the attributes of flexibility, adaptability, and responsiveness."

It then describes the purpose of agility.

"Agility is the counterweight to the uncertainty of the future ..."

That’s a fascinating statement that borders on profound, if applied properly.  I’ll leave it at that.

Now, the statement of interest.

"Huge, long-term programs limit our options; we are too often left with “all or nothing” outcomes and “double or nothing” budget decisions."

Ouch!!!  That had to hurt.  I don’t think there can be any doubt that the statement is a direct and scathing indictment of the F-35 program.  That the AF would be the organization to make this statement is amazing.  That the AF would appear to have learned this lesson is amazing.  Of course, it remains to be seen how the AF will pursue its next generation bomber and other programs without falling prey to yet another long term, big budget program.

I wonder what the AF’s industry partners think about this?

If the AF recognizes the severe handicaps imposed by the F-35 program, such as the loss of institutional agility and handcuffed budgets, then why don’t they cut their losses and terminate the program before it does further damage?  The F-35 could be terminated and redesigned, programmatically, as a much smaller effort without forfeiting any of the sunk costs of R&D.

The Navy needs to read this statement and re-evaluate their F-35C/B commitments.  Further, the Navy would do well to take this lesson to heart regarding the rest of their programs.

(1) America’s Air Force: A Call to the Future, July 2014

Sunday, July 27, 2014

LCS Operating Costs and Lessons Learned

GAO just issued a report on the operating costs of the LCS and some operational lessons learned from the Freedom’s Singapore deployment (1).  Here are some of the main points.

The Singapore deployment gave the Navy an opportunity to collect operating cost and methodology data for the Freedom variant in a real world setting.  In contrast, the Navy still has no data on the Independence variant.

The report addressed maintenance problems as they impacted time at sea.

“… mechanical issues reduced time at sea with 55 total mission days lost, limiting the operational lessons learned. The operational effect of these lost mission days was that the ship had to cut short its participation in two joint exercises and did not complete at least two of its planned presence operations.  … mechanical failures contributed to limiting the ship’s underway time to 35 percent of its deployment …”

That’s 65% of the deployment spent in port!  In comparison,

“… other ships deployed to the 7th Fleet area of responsibility typically spend about 20 percent of their time in port.”

The maintenance problems resulted in Freedom being limited to 93 underway days out of 265 days deployed.  The underway figure includes the transition time to and from the Singapore area.  Subtracting out the transit times, Freedom was only able to spend 53 days underway on assigned missions.

The report noted Navy official’s partial explanation for the low underway figures,

“LCS program officials explained that the unique LCS maintenance concept—USS Freedom returned to port every 25 days to undergo a 5-day preventative maintenance availability and every 120 days for more-intensive 2-week intermediate maintenance—resulted in a rigid deployment schedule with more port time than other deployed Navy ships.”

The report also noted the Independence variant’s underway figures.

“While the Navy deployed a Freedom variant LCS to Singapore for nearly all of 2013, our analysis found that, over the same period, USS Independence spent about 8 months, or 65 percent, of 2013 in port or dry dock maintenance periods, limiting any operational data that the Navy could obtain when operating the ship out of its homeport in California. In addition, according to Navy officials, from October 2012 to December 2013, USS Independence spent only 44 days under way.”

The report addressed the manning level issue.  Sailors averaged six hours of sleep or less per day.  Further, the ASuW module crew and onboard contractors were co-opted into routine watchstanding in order to meet operational requirements, contrary to the manning concept.  The core crew manning was inadequate for routine daily operations and will, undoubtedly, be increased over time.

The Navy calculated LCS lifetime operational costs at around $49M per ship per year (FY2010 dollars).  The GAO report now puts the costs at $79M per ship per year.  Of course, this number is subject to change as the class settles in to routine operations.  By comparison, the GAO offers the following operational costs for other ship classes,

Cyclone PC-1             $8M
Avenger MCM-1        $24M
Perry FFG-7             $54M
Burke DDG-51 (IIa)    $88M
Ticonderoga CG-47  $126M

So, the LCS costs are greater than the Perry and approaching the Burke costs despite being a smaller ship with a significantly smaller crew.  This is disturbing in that the LCS was intended as a lower operational cost (mainly due to decreased manning) vessel of the future.

Regarding maintenance and manning,

“Flyaway maintenance teams of about 30 contractors were flown to Singapore for the 5-day maintenance periods, and about 60-70 contractors for the 2-week periods.”


“The number of shore personnel to support the ship has more than tripled—from 271 to 862—since the estimate was developed in 2011.”

The impact of the frequent maintenance was noted,

“Because of the regular returns to Singapore for maintenance availabilities, the USS Freedom had a somewhat limited range in theater, and Navy officials noted that this rigid maintenance periodicity limited operational flexibility.”

The report noted that a lack of host nation shore support facilities and capabilities caused issues including lack of Internet support, substandard routine cleaning services, and inadequate warehousing of tools and parts.  Additional, expanded permanent facilities will have to be constructed to support the planned four LCS basing in Singapore.

Well, now we have some real world data and lessons learned.  The Navy has long claimed that the LCS would be cheap to operate, flexible, forward, and max deployed.  As with every other LCS claim, that appears to have been incorrect.

(1) Government Accountability Office , “Littoral Combat Ship - Deployment of USS Revealed Risks in Implementing Operational Concepts and Uncertain Costs”,  GAO-14-447, July 2014

Friday, July 25, 2014

SeaBee Unit Deactivated

The Navy's Construction Battalion (CB - SeaBee) 74 has been deactivated.  You'd think with all the difficulties facing the Marines as regards amphibious assaults and the movement of supplies across the beach that the Navy would want more SeaBee units, not less.  Along the same line, if the Marines are serious about conducting expeditionary air warfare using F-35B's based out of remote, austere fields then you'd think SeaBee units would be highly valued.  Finally, although ComNavOps deplores humanitarian assistance missions, the Navy is firmly committed to them and, again, SeaBee units are quite useful in this role.

Hmmm ........  The litany of questionable decisions continues.

T-AOE Early Retirement

Among the Navy’s newest support ships is the Supply (T-AOE) class fast combat support ships which combine the functions of fleet oilers (AO), stores (AFS), and ammunition (AE).  The class consists of four ships which entered the fleet in the mid to late ‘90s.  The ships provide underway replenishment and have the speed necessary to operate with carrier groups.  Cargo capacities are 156,000 barrels of petroleum products, 1800 tons of munitions, 400 tons of refrigerated stores, and 250 tons of dry stores.  Crew size is around 200 compared to the preceding Sacramento class T-AOE crew of around 600.

Unfortunately, the Navy, in its all-consuming quest to find funding for new construction (see, "The Altar of New Construction"), is considering retiring the class after only 16-20 years of service.  As reported by Defense News website (1),

"By 2013, the service announced it would inactivate the Bridge in September 2014 and the Rainier a year later."

Additional proposals envisioned placing the remaining two ships in reserve status.

As reported in the article, fleet-wide reaction to the retirement/reserve plans was overwhelmingly negative.  The response may prompt the Navy to revise its plans.  We’ll have to wait and see.

T-AOE - Another Early Retirement?

The point is that the Navy is continuing its seemingly never-ending series of bad decisions.

The newest carriers or Burke Flt III’s are useless if they can’t be kept supplied.  More generally, the Navy seems totally unmindful of the reality that all the newest ships in the world can’t compensate for poor maintenance, sub-optimal manning, inadequate training, limited replenishment, etc. which are the result of the Navy’s obsessive fixation on new construction.  That fixation at the expense of all else is crippling the Navy’s fleet size and readiness.

(1) , Defense News, “Big Supply Ships May Get Reprieve - For Now”, Chris Cavas, 12-Jul-2014

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Attack the Gaps

Breaking Defense website had an article with a title that stated (paraphrased), Marines won’t attack head-on but will find gaps.  I won’t bother citing the article because I’m not going to quote anything or even reference any information from it.  The phrase “find the gaps” is the only relevant item, for my purposes.

The Marines will find the gaps.

That seems reasonable.  Why attack the enemy’s strength when you can find the gaps?  There’s only one problem with that concept:  gaps usually exist because there’s nothing worth defending, or, conversely, worth attacking there.  A gap exists because the enemy doesn’t care about it. 

Well, sure, the gap doesn’t contain anything worthwhile but exploiting it allows us to get our forces ashore and then they can advance to the actual objective.

That seems reasonable.  Only, there’s a few problems with that concept.  First, given the long range of modern artillery, rockets, helos, cruise and ballistic missiles, and whatnot, the gap will probably be a very long way from the actual objective.  That means that we’ll have to travel/fight on land for a very long distance to get where we really want to be.  Traveling and fighting for long distances requires a very robust logistics tail.  As we’ve discussed, our current ability to supply such an endeavor is suspect, at best.  How will we get huge amounts of supplies over the beach and then transport them long distances to the advancing force?  That’s a challenge that I don’t think we’re currently equipped for or doctrinally/tactically prepared for.

Second, while exploiting the gap may allow us to bypass the enemy’s initial resistance, once we arrive at the actual objective it will, presumably, be heavily defended and we’re right back to attacking the enemy’s strength only now it will be at the end of a very long and shaky logistics trail.  Yes, we will have gotten the bulk of our forces ashore but they will be in a precarious position logistically and will be “fought out” to a degree, just having had to fight through a long distance of enemy territory to get to the objective.

The concept of a gap is almost a leftover from the days of line-of-sight combat.  If the enemy soldiers and tanks couldn’t directly see you, they couldn’t engage.  Yes, there were mortars and artillery but they still required line-of-sight contact for targeting.  In other words, the gaps were already close to the objective – just beyond line-of-sight.  Today, if you have to move fifty or a hundred miles away from the objective to find a gap, that leaves the attacking force a very long way from its actual objective, as described above.

Certainly, for smaller, less important objectives I’m sure there will be exploitable gaps that aren’t too far away but for any major objective the concept of exploiting gaps may be far more problematic than anticipated. 

One last point about gaps …  An implicit assumption about gaps and logistics is that we will be able to freely move troops, equipment, and supplies about the battlefield with helos and MV-22s.  That, in turn, contains the implicit assumption that we have aerial supremacy.  Against any peer enemy we will find that we do not have air superiority.  At best, we’ll be lucky to achieve a no-man’s land in the sky.  Our ability to move men, equipment, and supplies through the air will be severely constrained.  Remember, we’ll be fighting on enemy soil where the enemy can make use of thousands of man-portable SAMs, an established air defense network, the entire weight of the region’s air forces disbursed and operating from multiple bases, and likely against superior enemy numbers.  In contrast, we’ll be at the end of a very long logistics trail (we’ll be fighting in China, Iran, N.Korea, or somewhere far from friendly bases) with very limited and sporadic Air Force support due to lack of bases in theatre and naval aviation that will probably be fully occupied defending the fleet.  Yes, we will attack enemy bases and defense networks but the point is that our assumption of freedom of movement in the skies is invalid.

Who’s gaming this out?  Has anyone tried an exercise simulating a contested march across a hundred miles to test the logistics of this?  ComNavOps is not a land combat expert by any means but so much of the Marine assault concept seems disjointed and poorly thought out.  Perhaps all of this has been carefully conceived, planned, exercised, and proven but nothing I’ve seen indicates that is so.

Gaps?  Let’s exercise this concept before we commit to it.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Future Connectors - The Marine Corps View

As mentioned in the previous posts (see, "Out Of The Business"), CSIS hosted a Q&A session with BGen. William Mullen (1).  He covered several topics that are noteworthy and deserve some additional attention.

Mullen addressed the major limitation of the current connectors,

“Because the connectors we have, the LCACs, the LCUs, the Joint High Speed Vessel, none of those things will go into an unprotected beach.”

The consequence of that, according to Mullen, is,

“We have to have the ability to have that thing [connectors] bring us in to just outside small arms range and then get off it and swim ashore.”

That’s a major doctrinal statement there.  He’s saying that the Marines do not view the current connectors as survivable in an opposed landing, hence, the Marine’s focus on an armored amphibious vehicle (AAV/ACV/EFV/whatever).  You’ll note that this is somewhat at odds with the emphasis on aviation assault but that’s just one of many contradictory views the Marines currently hold.  If this is true, then the armored amphibious vehicle is the key to the Marine’s future (again, at odds with the aviation emphasis) and makes the decades long dithering over such a vehicle almost incomprehensible.

This statement from Mullen gives us the Marine’s view of an amphibious assault.  Connectors will transport armored amphibious vehicles to a point short of the beach and the vehicles will swim the rest of the way.  What this vision doesn’t allow for is the transport and landing of heavier assets like tanks and artillery, at least in the initial wave.  That makes the initial combat somewhat problematic and, at the very least, requires close co-ordination with Navy and aviation assets for the missing heavier punch.  Unfortunately, given the probable lack of air superiority in a contested landing against a peer, aviation support will probably be sporadic, at best, and naval support is doctrinally non-existent, at the moment.

Referring to connector alternatives, Mullen made sure to emphasize the importance of the traditional amphibious ship,

“Anything we do alternatively can’t replace any of those gray hulled ships.”

That sounds like a scripted Navy-Marine talking point!

Mullen noted that one of the significant differences between the Army and Marines is that the Marines have never used an armored fighting vehicle (AFV) whereas the Army has, in the form of the Bradley.  He gave no impression that a Marine AFV is under consideration and stated that Marines use armored vehicles as transport.  Again, a significant doctrinal point whose wisdom is highly debatable.

The Marines have requested that the LCAC replacement, the Ship to Shore Connector (SSC), be given the ability to launch AAVs or a similar vehicle while at sea rather than having to wait to get to the beach since the SSC is not going to land on a hostile beach.  That makes sense given the previous statements.

Mullen addressed a question about interim AAV upgrades and responded by stating that an upgrade program is in progress but won’t start “turning wrenches” until 2019.  I’m not an expert on combat vehicles but a relatively simple upgrade program requiring 5 years to even begin seems absurd.

The Marine’s plans for the near future seem to be centered on the ACV 1.1/1.2.  He stated that the ACV 1.1 would be purchased in small quantities to experiment with and then the 1.2 version would incorporate the lessons learned and constitute the bulk of the procurement. 

Mullen had this to say about the focus on the ACV over the AAV,

“Frankly, we had such problems with our AAVs in Iraq that we stopped using them outside the gate and we never even took them to Afghanistan.”

Well that’s interesting!

EFV/ACV - Key To The Future?

Mullen noted the relationship between aviation based assault and ground/amphibious assault.  He acknowledged that the aviation assets had only a limited ability to transport vehicles and then only in a permissive environment.  The difficulty in achieving a suitable permissive environment provides the rationale for the continued need for a ground/amphibious capability, according to him.

Addressing the general need for an AAV type vehicle, Mullen stated,

“To us, we see the ability to have an independent deployer that swims ashore without any connector as a service defining capability.”

Mullen addressed the connector issue shortcomings,

“With the route we’re taking, LCUs and LCACs probably aren’t going to be enough.  What else is there out there?  What else can be done?”

So, the Marines apparently recognize a serious shortcoming but are doing little about it beyond a few paper studies and investigations.  With such a significant problem, one can’t help but wonder why the Marines budget and focus is so skewed to the aviation side especially given the previous statement recognizing the vulnerability of aviation transport.

He went on to cite the JHSV with an at-sea ramp capability as an option that the Marines are requesting.  The JHSV would transport vehicles to just outside small arms range and discharge the vehicles into the sea.  Of course, the JHSV is built to purely commercial standards and operating it to just outside small arms range still leaves it squarely in rocket and missile range.  That’s a questionable use of the JHSV.

Of course, one could ask why, if the Marines see the combination of LCAC and LCU as insufficient, are we pursuing a simple replacement of the LCAC and a perhaps somewhat more capable LCU rather than far more capable and robust replacements that would be sufficient?

Responding to a question about the vulnerability of connectors to shore based missiles, Mullen noted that the Marines would operate with the Navy and Air Force who would suppress shore based anti-access (A2) fire.  However, he then went on to say that the Marines see their role as getting a “bubble” of capability ashore to aid in the counter A2 operation.  That’s fine, but there’s a Catch-22 at work:  how do the Marines get ashore to aid in the counter A2 operations if the counter A2 operations haven’t yet succeeded?  - and, if the counter A2 operations have succeeded enough to get the Marines ashore then their assistance in the counter A2 operations isn’t really needed.  He did not acknowledge that logical inconsistency.  He also cited the V-22 as aiding in getting the Marines ashore to help with the counter A2.  Again, he did not address the vulnerability of the V-22 to air defenses in a counter A2 environment.  I’m sorry but the Marines doctrine and concept of operations seems heavily dependent on wishful thinking!

Finally, although this was not his closing statement, it should have been.

“As the fiscal environment gets more constrained, we have to think harder.”

Please, Marines, think a LOT harder than you currently are!!

(1), Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Future Amphibious Connectors:  Getting From Ship To Shore”, Brig. Gen. William Mullen, Director, Capabilities Development Directorate, 15-Jul-2014

Friday, July 18, 2014

Can Anyone Talk To The F-35?

ComNavOps at one time reported on a communications problem associated with the F-35.  Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to get any details or even a vague understanding of the scope of the problem.  Well, finally, I’ve found a bit more information and it’s an eye-opener. 

To summarize and simplify, apparently the F-22 and F-35 each have their own unique communications equipment, protocols, and formats.  They can talk to other F-22s and F-35s, respectively, but not to other platforms nor to each other, at least not without compromising their stealth.  They seem to have the ability to use Link 16 to talk to other platforms but only at the expense of compromising their stealth.

You’ll recall that the F-35 has been advertised as being able to penetrate air defense networks and act as an information node for all other platforms.  That’s a nice concept except that apparently they can’t actually communicate without giving away their position.

From an Aviation Week website article come these statements (1).  The article was written from an F-22 and Air Force focus but the F-35 issues are common for the Navy’s versions of the F-35.

"... the service has two stealthy fighters—each costing more than $100 million per aircraft—that cannot effectively share data with the fleet (or each other) without compromising the very stealthiness that drove up their cost."

"At issue, however, is a decades-long haphazard approach to data links. By design, the F-22 was developed to communicate only with other F-22s via the in-flight data link (IFDL)."

"The single-engine F-35, by contrast, uses the Multi-function Advanced Data Link (MADL) system, which employs a different waveform and retains its low probability of intercept/low probability of detection (LPI/LPD) by using directional antennas and operating over short distances ..."

Unfortunately, no other platform has MADL and no other platform can receive the communications from it.

"The F-22 can receive on Link 16 and the F-35 can both transmit and receive on the system, but in terms of detection, data delivery via Link 16 is “like turning on a big light bulb in the sky,” an industry source says."

The F-22 apparently can’t even transmit on Link 16!

This next statement is a stunner.

"The F-22 issue has already become a hindrance. It was considered for use in the Libya campaign in 2011, but planners were stymied by an inability to deliver data collected by the F-22s back to other forces, according to one industry source, forcing the Air Force’s premier asset to sit on the sidelines."

Our most advanced fighter aircraft sidelined because it can’t talk to anyone!

"The Air Force had planned to equip all aircraft with the F-35 MADL to facilitate fleetwide connectivity, but its cost proved prohibitively high."

Presumably, that applies to the Navy as well.

Well, there you have it.  The F-35 is intended to be a data node for the rest of the platforms in its region and yet it can’t communicate with them while retaining its stealth. 

Do you recall the LCS MCM module that was intended to use the helo to tow the MCM equipment but it turned out that the helo had insufficient power and couldn’t do it?  We all wondered why someone didn’t check that on day one of the development program?  Well, this is kind of the same thing.  We designed a stealthy aircraft that would be a data node for the entire fleet (air and sea) and yet no one thought to ask whether it could actually talk to the fleet and remain stealthy? 

Seriously, is it a requirement to be brain dead before you can manage these programs or can you take the job and then have a lobotomy?

(1) , “Air Force Fifth-to-Fourth Plan Questioned”, Amy Butler, 17-Jul-2014