Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Filling the Gaps

We spend a great deal of time arguing over the LCS and F-35 and other pieces of highly advanced military hardware.  However, can we win a future major war with just military equipment?  Presumably, a major war will not be over in 90 days.  Presumably, it will last years since both the US and China/Russia/Iran/NKorea all possess large inventories of military assets and sufficient resources (to greater or lesser degrees) to build new ones as losses occur.

Consider, now, the rate at which we can replace combat losses.  It’s not fast!  A single ship takes years to construct.  We won’t be replacing many combat losses.  Even modern aircraft take quite awhile to build.

ComNavOps has previously suggested that the winner of a major war will be the side which has the greatest number of second tier assets.  Think about it.  The initial period of a major war will see both sides throwing their best units at each other and attrition will ensure that after that initial period both sides will be left with many lesser units.  The side with the most, wins!  Also, building lesser (meaning less complex and, thus, easier and quicker to build) assets as replacements for top level units may be a way to achieve a relatively quick and cheap advantage.

This ties directly into one of our previous posts in which we stated that numbers are the most important factor in winning a war.

How else can we sustain an effective military force in the face of attrition and insufficient replacements?  Well, one way is by conscripting civilian equipment and painting it green.  Our fathers made extensive use of civilian ships, small craft, and equipment during WWII.  Consider the many amphibious ships of WWII.  They were either purely or essentially civilian ships.  The landing craft, while built exclusively for military use, derived from civilian small craft and were built to civilian standards using common materials.

This leads to several thoughts about civilian equipment usage.  For example, once we run out of giant amphibious ships and turn to civilian transports, how will we get troops and equipment on and off the ships?  Perhaps, amid our fixation on LCACs, we should pause momentarily and think about a landing craft that can operate from and with civilian ships.

The flip side of the civilian usage issue is that perhaps we should be requiring that all civilian ships be built with certain military interface capabilities such as RO/RO or helo flight decks.  The Chinese do this – their entire civilian merchant fleet is military compatible.

We’ve already seen that the military made an extensive effort to maintain the tooling and expertise required to reconstitute the F-22 production line.  Perhaps we should also be maintaining the ability to reconstitute the A-4, A-6, F-14, F-15, F-16, and similar lines, assuming that they can be produced faster than an F-22/35.  Again, if we devolve to second tier assets, the side with the most, wins.

And, of course, it goes without saying that we should be maintaining an extensive reserve fleet of ships.  Consider what we could have in a reserve fleet right now:  the entire Spruance class, the Kidd class, the entire Perry FFG class, Forrestal, Saratoga, Independence, Ranger, Constellation, Enterprise, America, Kennedy, Kitty Hawk, the Tarawa class, and so many others.  The nine supercarriers that have been retired would be completely capable of being reactivated for emergency war duty and would totally outmatch any enemy capability.

It may not be our best, frontline assets that win a major war;  it may be our second line and civilian assets.  Maybe we should begin planning accordingly and preparing for war with secondary, civilian, and retired assets.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Good On The Army - ECM

ComNavOps has long preached the impact of electronic warfare.  All of our weapon systems are highly susceptible to electronic warfare countermeasures (ECM).  This is bad but even worse is the Navy’s head-in-the-sand view of the problem.  The Navy is not testing its systems against realistic and extensive ECM to see what our weaknesses are and fix them.  We are not developing tactics for working in an electromagnetically challenged environment.  In short, we’re sitting around fat, dumb, and happy, secure in the misguided belief that our systems are somehow immune to ECM and all will function perfectly in combat.

Well, at least the Army has begun to get the picture and is now initiating a series of weapon tests against realistic (I hope!) ECM, as reported by Breaking Defense website (1).  In the first,

“… the US Army conducted an unprecedented wargame this spring to test its new air and missile defense network against advanced electronic warfare techniques. “

“The exercise tested an early version of the Integrated Air & Missile Defense Battle Command System, which links together sensors, launchers, and command posts. The idea is that a battery no longer has to rely on its own radar but can get targeting data from any radar in the system — even if the two weren’t originally designed to work together, for example a Patriot launcher and a THAAD AN/TPY-2 radar.”

That’s a great start.  Test the weapon system you’re betting your future on in a realistic ECM environment before you have to pay in blood to find out the hard way.

There is an ominous note, here.

“The original inspiration for IBCS [Integrated Battle Command System] was simple efficiency. It will replace a half-dozen different command and control systems for air and missile defense, and it will allow the Army to mix-and-match elements from different weapons systems as needed. But the Army also realized that IBCS could help defeat radar jamming. If one battery’s radar is jammed, spoofed, or hacked, IBCS allows it to stay in the fight using data from radars that are in different locations and/or on different frequencies. Better yet, IBCS will combine data from different radars into a single “composite track” of a given target, allowing radars with an accurate picture to correct radars that are being spoofed.”

Does this sound a lot like the F-35 which supposedly ties together every sensor on the aircraft in a single composite picture? Of course, that’s not working.  Further, remember the descriptions of the F-35 being a collating center for every sensor in the theatre, tying disparate systems and platforms together and directing their functions, allocating their weapons, and rerouting weapons in flight?  Sounds awfully similar, doesn’t it?

It’s not just the F-35, either.  Remember, the promise that the LCS fleet would be nodes that would establish a vast sensor network comprised of every sensor in theatre?  How’d that work out?

This also sounds a lot like the Navy’s Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) or its repackaged cousin, Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air (NIFC-CA).

On the plus side, if it can be made to work, who wouldn’t want a sensor system that ties together every system into one vast battle network?  On the other hand, one of the problems with such a system is that if the data from every sensor and function is concentrated into one central physical location, it becomes a single point of total failure.  Destroy the master control center and you’ve incapacitated an entire theatre of weapons and sensors.  Of course, one could create many duplicates of the central control system that would take over in the event of the destruction of the master but then the gain in efficiency is lost.  In combat, distribution of assets and capabilities equates to survivability.  We figured this out long ago but have steadily forgotten it.

There’s also an inherent contradiction at work, here.  The Army is testing their systems against realistic ECM because they’re rightly afraid that the systems won’t work as advertised.  In the same breath, however, they’re stating that their new system will flawlessly assemble data and commands from many separate systems, ignoring that the transmission of that data and commands is susceptible to the very same ECM that they’re testing against.  Unless the systems are tied together with hard lines (fiber optics), the data transmission signals are susceptible to the same ECM that the Army is afraid will affect the individual systems.

The overdependence on networks and data, and the inherent assumption that they are somehow invulnerable to ECM, is a military wide phenomenon although the Navy, in particular, seems especially fond of, and susceptible to, it.  The Navy’s dream is to tie every weapon and sensor in the world together.  Of course, if that network is disrupted you’ve lost everything – and that ignores the fantastic lack of success we’ve had doing this, so far.

So, we see again the tendency of the military to take a good idea and try to jam it well past the point of technological feasibility.  Oh well, at least the Army is going to be doing some realistic testing and that’s a vast improvement over the Navy.

The article points out the leap in ECM capability that has come from modern electronics.

“Traditional analog jamming can be effective, but it’s pretty obvious, Thurgood said: It just blasts out interference in selected wavelengths in a given area. But the Russians, Chinese, and others are using advanced digital jamming which attacks specific frequencies and can spoof the radar. Essentially, they record an incoming radar pulse and play it back in distorted form, confusing the radar receiver.”

The exercises also point out our own ECM shortcomings.

“The Army’s own electronic warfare arsenal is painfully thin, with offensive jammers not set to enter service until 2023.”

We’ve previously discussed that the Navy’s offensive and defensive ECM is being hugely, and unwisely, shortchanged at the altar of new ship construction.  The Navy needs to realize that all the shiny new ships in the world will be of no use if they can’t fight and survive in an ECM environment.

The time to figure all this out is now.

“That’s a problem the Army wants to figure out in wargames before it ever faces it in real life.”

Well, they got that much right!  Good luck to them and hopefully the Navy will take note.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

CIWS Support Contract

Here’s an interesting contract related to the Phalanx CIWS.

“Raytheon Co., Tucson, Arizona, is being awarded a $159,958,743 firm-fixed-price contract for MK 15 Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) upgrades and conversions, system overhauls and associated hardware.  … This contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $461,712,911.“

I’m surprised by this.  I had thought the CIWS was considered obsolete by the Navy, being superseded by the RAM/SeaRAM system.  The announcement did not specify how many systems were covered under this contract but it’s quite a bit of money, regardless, for a system that is being phased out.

LCS Deployment Support Contract

Here’s an interesting contract related to the LCS.

“Lockheed Martin Corp, Baltimore, Maryland, is being awarded an $8,676,460 modification to previously awarded basic ordering agreement N00024-12-G-4329 to support fiscal 2016 USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) deployment.”

The announcement didn’t say and I have no idea what specific actions are included under the contract.  I assume this refers to the LCS’ model of deferred shore maintenance.  Still, $8.7M to support a deployment seems like a lot.  I strongly suspect that the minimal manning model for the LCS is costing more than a regularly manned ship would.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Russian Middle East A2/AD

This post is going to verge on political but I will do my best to keep the focus on the military aspects.

We’ve watched the Chinese steadily advance their goal of controlling the entire first island chain.  We’ve watched the Russians annex Crimea and they are in the process of seizing Ukraine

Now, we’re watching the Russians establish a military foothold in the Middle East, ostensibly in support of Syria’s efforts against ISIS terrorists.  Russian airstrikes against ISIS have begun, as I write this, however, initial reports suggest that the targets are Syrian rebels rather than ISIS terrorists.  That’s not exactly surprising.  Russia is going to prop up Syria while they consolidate their foothold. 

Those of us who can see patterns can clearly see that Russia is beginning a long term game to become the major power in the Middle East thereby securing oil supplies, ports, bases, weapon sales, political power, etc.  Worse, we see the beginnings of a new superpower A2/AD zone over the Middle East.  The US has, over the last several years, vacated the leadership role in the Middle East and Putin has adroitly stepped in to fill the vacuum. 

The problem with both the Chinese and Russian expansions is that sooner or later we will have to militarily confront them.  It might be over a Taiwan invasion.  It might be over support for Israel.  It might be over Russian sponsored terrorism directed at the West.  It might be over the flow of oil and Russia backed Iranian attempts to regulate shipping through the Persian Gulf.  It might be over something totally unexpected.  The point is that by allowing these expansions to happen, we are making our eventual response much more difficult and dangerous.

Don’t believe it?  The Russians today ordered the US to clear the airspace over Syria so as not to interfere with their airstrikes.  We’ll have to wait and see what the US response is but given our policy of appeasement in the South and East China Seas, I can’t really see us not acquiescing to the Russians.  We have no stomach for confrontation. 

Our future military situation has just gotten much, much worse.  We’ll be starting from a decided disadvantage and we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.  We are being completely outmaneuvered politically.

On a related note, Russia is cranking out families of heavy armor vehicles while we’re cranking out jeeps.  While there is little the military can do about our political policies, they can stop the hollowing of our forces and start rebuilding for the high end combat that is coming.

Monday, September 28, 2015

LCS Variable Depth Sonar

There have been several recent articles about the LCS ASW module being overweight and how it’s not really a problem and what amazing new capabilities the module will bring to ASW warfare.  Of course, the module consists of technology that’s been in use for years so it’s kind of hard to figure how the module will bring amazing new capabilities but that’s not the point of this post.  Further, the Navy assures us that modules diet plan to lose weight is not a problem.  Of course, the weight issues have been known for years and, presumably, the Navy has been attempting to lighten the module for quite a while now and this is the result.  This version is, one assumes, the lightest version that the Navy could assemble over the last couple of years of effort while still maintaining the requisite capability.  Thus, it’s hard to imagine where significant additional weight loss will come from without cutting into capability but, again, that’s not the point of this post, either.

Setting the preceding aside, the main component of the ASW module, such as it is, is the Thales CAPTAS 4 variable depth sonar (VDS) or a similar variant.  This, according to the Navy is an amazing piece of technology that will allow us to accomplish ASW feats never before seen.  Of course, the Thales VDS has been around and in use by foreign navies for years and the US Navy never before deemed it worthwhile.  Kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Be that as it may, if the VDS can add capability that’s a good thing.

What is it that makes the VDS useful over a conventional hull-mounted sonar, anyway?  Well, as the name implies, the VDS can be raised or lowered to any desired depth, somewhat akin to a helo’s dunking sonar.  This allows the sonar to listen under thermoclines.  Thermoclines are temperature gradients in the ocean that form layers.  The layers tend to reflect sound at the boundaries between layers.  Thus, sound at a lower layer can be trapped or channeled within that layer and not propagate to the layer above or below it.  A submarine can hide in a lower layer that a surface ship’s sonar can’t effectively penetrate.  Hence, the value of a VDS is that it can be lowered into a lower thermal layer and detect a sub that a ship with just a hull-mounted sonar can’t.

Which, again, begs the question, why hasn’t the Navy pursued VDS systems before?  I have no answer for that.  The old Soviet ships had VDS but I have no idea to what extent, if any, they were used.

Moving on …  Does the VDS bring with it any drawbacks or limitations?  As you might suspect from the question, the answer is yes. 

The first limitation is that the VDS requires around 20 minutes to deploy or retrieve.  Thus, the LCS can’t just hop around the liquid battlefield, nimbly racing to and fro collecting data.  Instead, it’s going to have to carefully pick its spots with the knowledge that once it commits to a spot, it will be there for an extended period.

Thales VDS

This leads to the second limitation and that is the vessel’s speed while the VDS is deployed.  The LCS was predicated on speed, speed, and more speed (not sure why but the Navy assures us that speed is critical).  Unfortunately, the VDS only functions at very low speed and, therefore, the LCS is limited to very low speed while the VDS is deployed.  Higher speeds will not only negate the VDS performance but may damage the unit if towed at too high a speed.  This presents a bit of a dilemma.  If the VDS is deployed and a torpedo is detected, the LCS can’t use its speed to escape.  It becomes a relatively immobile target.  On the other hand, if the LCS chooses to retain its speed capability, it can’t deploy the VDS and, thus, won’t be able to hear a sub or torpedo.  Hmm …  That’s a real Catch-22:  use the VDS and forfeit speed or use speed and forfeit the VDS.  The LCS can’t have both. 

Presumably, the Navy has already made the decision that the VDS is more important than speed or else they would not have pursued the VDS option.  Of course, that leads one to wonder what use the Navy foresaw for speed in the first place.  But, I digress …

If the Navy is committed to using the VDS extensively, that implies that the LCS is no longer removed from the ASW battle.  Sonar performance in littoral waters tends to be short range.  Recall that the original LCS ASW concept called for remote unmanned vehicles and vast underwater sensor nets that would be deployed and allow the LCS to stand off from the actual ASW battlespace.  So, with the LCS now conceptually committed to up close and personal ASW battles, we have to wonder about the LCS’ suitability for such a role.  Lacking the built-in quieting that a purpose-designed ASW vessel would have and operating noisy waterjets would seem to put the LCS at an enormous tactical disadvantage in ASW operations.

All of this leads one to wonder how carefully the Navy thought out the revised ASW module concept.  Has anyone gamed out how a loud, speed impaired LCS with no ship-mounted ASW weapons will fare in an ASW battle?  I strongly suspect that the answer is no and that a lot of sailors will pay the price to find out that the LCS is unsuited for ASW work. 

The VDS was a knee jerk reaction to the abject failure of the original ASW module and was not well thought out.  The Navy has to start thinking ahead and ensuring that they have logical and viable concepts of operation before jumping into development paths that make little sense.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Lost At Sea - A Navy Without A Purpose

ComNavOps has listed and described many Navy programs and policies that seem almost random in their adoption, implementation, and integration into the naval force structure. 

An America class LHA without a well deck – OK, so we’re committing to aviation assaults.  No, the third LHA has a well deck – so, we’re back to waterborne assaults?

LCS will dominate the littorals, clearing the way for the entry of high value units that could not possibly survive on their own.  No, the LCS requires an umbrella of protection from a Burke or a carrier group. 

The F-35 is the world’s most advanced aircraft – except that the Navy doesn’t seem to want it and doesn’t quite know what to do with it.

The Navy has established a training school for ship commanders, sort of a Top Gun for surface warfare – really?  What have we been training ship commanders to do for the last few decades instead of surface warfare and how bad have things gotten that we need a special school?

The carrier air wings are steadily shrinking – nearly half the size of the original Nimitz air wing - and yet we’re building bigger carriers?

BMD is, arguably, the Navy’s self-designated number one priority and yet the Navy has tried repeatedly to retire 11 Aegis cruisers well before their lifespans and all capable of BMD?

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Navy lost its most visible threat and, bizarrely, seemed to lose its self-awareness of its reason for existence.  That, combined with threatened budget cuts as part of the drawdown from the Cold War victory, led the Navy to desperately throw out all kinds of wild rationales for its existence. 

Eventually, the Navy settled on “littoral” – the indefinable shallow water threat that somehow (it was never explained how) rendered every other ship useless and vulnerable.  Thus was born the LCS.

Of course, littoral was eventually exposed for the fraudulent concept it was and the Navy had to find another rationale for its existence.  They came up with the Pacific Pivot and AirSea Battle.  Thus, the A2/AD zone was born.

It has become painfully clear that, as regards its purpose for being, the Navy is lost at sea.  It has forgotten its true purpose and is casting about wildly for anything that can justify its slice of the budget pie.  It does not want to risk becoming the Army which has, depending on your measure, borne the brunt of budget cuts.  And thus we see the Navy’s true purpose as espoused by its leaders:  to absorb budget and sustain itself.

The Navy’s core purpose has devolved into one of simple and base self-preservation – existence for existence’s sake.  The Navy no longer cares whether its acquisitions support any strategic, operational, or doctrinal needs.  It’s sufficient that the acquisitions absorb budget and justify more budget.  We’re lurching from one military fad to the next in the hopes that it will justify more budget:  littoral, unmanned, A2/AD, Pacific Pivot, offset strategy.  These are just marketing buzzwords intended to justify budget.

The Navy seeks to expand simply to expand.  Remember the old saying,

“The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.”

This about sums up the Navy’s purpose as practiced by its leaders:  to grow so as to grow.  To absorb budget in order to sustain itself.

The Navy’s leaders have completely forgotten or abandoned its core purpose.