Friday, May 27, 2016

Just Stop Hitting Yourself

The Navy has long used sequestration as a crutch and blame for the abysmal condition of the fleet.  Sequestration took effect as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011.  News Flash!!!!  The Navy’s maintenance problems were already well entrenched by then.  Sequestration assuredly did not help the situation but the Navy was already committed to irresponsibly reduced and deferred maintenance before then.  Sequestration is just the convenient scapegoat for a Navy that has no idea how to manage its budget or its assets.

Here’s the latest round of insanity as reported by Navy Times.

“US Navy leaders have made no secret the fleet’s maintenance accounts are underfunded. “

The Navy has an $848 million shortfall in its current operations and maintenance accounts …”

If only there were some way to shift money from highly questionable acquisition programs and into maintenance funds.  If only there were some way to ask Congress to fund one less pointless Zumwalt or a bunch less worthless LCS’s and, instead, put the money towards maintenance.  Alas, there appears to be no way for such things to happen – at least, no way the Navy can think of.  I, on the other hand, would simply pick up a phone, call the relevant Congressman, and make the request.  But, hey, I’m not a professional like CNO Richardson so what do I know?

The Navy claims an $848M maintenance shortfall and yet is unwilling to sacrifice one or two LCS which would more than cover the entire shortfall.

Ouch … It hurts.  Every time I hit myself with a hammer, it hurts.  Make it stop.


So, what’s the Navy’s solution for dealing with sequestration?

  • “Deferring overhauls on four surface ships and one submarine from the fourth quarter of fiscal 2016 into fiscal 2017’s first quarter;

  •  “descoping” or deferring continuous maintenance for the assault ships Makin Island and America amphibious ready groups and the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group;

  • Restricting Carrier Air Wing 1 (CVW-1) flying hours, including imposing a four-month no-fly period, and limiting other flying hour program costs; and

  • deferring “various other contracts.”

More deferred maintenance on top of the previous deferred maintenance just makes the situation worse, not better.

“The Navy itself, Forbes [Rep. Randy Forbes] said, notes that the service is at its “lowest readiness point in many years.”

Readiness is at an all time low so the Navy’s solution is to defer more maintenance and further degrade readiness??? 

Ouch … It hurts.  Every time I hit myself with a hammer, it hurts.  Make it stop.

“Non-deploying aircraft were regularly being robbed of parts to keep deployed planes flying, he [Capt. Randy Stearns, commodore of Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic]  said, with the result that the fleet had little surge capacity should more aircraft be needed in action.”

We have no surge capacity so the Navy’s solution is to defer more maintenance and ground entire air wings???

Ouch … It hurts.  Every time I hit myself with a hammer, it hurts.  Make it stop.

The Navy doesn’t even know where the maintenance problem began – or, at least, they refuse to acknowledge it.

“Asked where the problems began, Stearns [Capt. Randy Stearns, commodore of Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic] replied, “sequestration – we’ve never caught up.””

No sir, that’s not where the problem began.  The problem was well established before sequestration.  Get your facts straight and lay the blame where it belongs:  squarely on the Navy.

As USNI News website reports,

“The Navy has been warning Congress for years that extended deployments since 2001 have led to more severe maintenance problems … “ (2)

There, Capt. Stearns, is where the problem began – not with sequestration but with the Navy’s own ill-advised decisions about deployments and maintenance since the beginning of this century.  How can you fix a problem if you don’t even understand how it started?  Want more proof?  Here’s a statement from Adm. Phil Davidson, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, during a Congressional readiness hearing.

“I will not embark on a path that partially accomplishes all availabilities across the entire fleet. That is a dangerous practice that rapidly builds maintenance and capability backlogs that are difficult to recover. Indeed, we are digging out from that sort of policy more than a decade ago.” (2)

So, Adm. Davidson acknowledges that the problem is at least a decade old, far older than sequestration.

The article also cites maintenance impacts on personnel.  The Captain of a submarine caught in an extended drydocking and unable to put to sea has opted to retire.  The XO and Engineer of the sub, being unable to get to sea and demonstrate their fitness for promotion, have had their careers ruined.

If only there some way to move those people to sea duties on another ship;  you know, sort of like a transfer where their bodies are physically moved somewhere else.  But I guess there’s no way to move a person and even if there were, there’s probably no openings in the entire fleet so …  Ah, hold that thought.  I just got a note that yet another Commanding Officer has been relieved for loss of confidence in his ability to command.  The Navy is holding to their average of around 25-30 CO reliefs per year and an equal number of XO’s and Senior Enlisteds.  Anyway, back to this post.  Where was I?  Oh yes, I was saying that there probably wouldn’t be a single opening anywhere in the Navy where these people could transfer to even if there were some kind of transfer mechanism.  Seems like an unsolvable problem so I’ll just move on.

Ouch … It hurts.  Every time I hit myself with a hammer, it hurts.  Make it stop.

Hey, side story … A man walks into a doctor’s office and says, “Doctor, my head hurts every time I hit myself with my hammer.  What can I do?”  The doctor answers, “Stop hitting yourself.”

The Navy hurts every time it defers maintenance.  What can they do?  Stop deferring maintenance.

One or two less LCS would cover the entire maintenance shortfall and yet the Navy refuses to give up one or two LCS to improve maintenance and readiness across the entire fleet.

Stop hitting yourself.


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(1)Navy Times website, “US Navy Faces $848 Million Ops & Maintenance Shortfall”, Christopher Cavas, 26-May-2016,

(2)USNI News website, “As Navy Faces $848M O&M Shortfall, Picking What Maintenance To Skip Is Full Of Risk”, Megan Eckstein, May 26, 2016,




Thursday, May 26, 2016

Marine Harvest Hawk

If a policeman spends all day, day after day, year after year, helping old ladies cross the street, he eventually tends to forget that his main job is preventing crime, not being a crossing guard. 

Similarly, if the military spends all day, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, fighting very low end threats, they eventually tend to forget that their main job is to fight and win high end, high intensity wars.  The problem is that part of forgetting what their main job is, is the inevitable drift away from being high end combat capable.  They begin purchasing low end equipment, abandoning high end combat tactics and developing low end ones, shedding tanks and artillery in favor of light vehicles, researching non-lethal weapons, incorporating females into combat units out of a misguided emphasis on sociology instead of combat, buying patrol vessels for “presence” missions instead of warships, and so on.

The latest example is the Marine Corps’ move to convert their KC-130J Super Hercules cargo/transport/tankers into poor man’s gunships by adding the Harvest Hawk equipment.  As any professional soldier will tell you, there are never enough cargo/transport/tanker aircraft available for what needs to be done.  Converting such precious aircraft to second rate gunships is wasting a valuable platform. 

Risking such aircraft in a combat scenario is even dumber.  And for what?  The accuracy of the Harvest Hawk kit is marginal and the weapon load is small (Capability II is 4 Hellfires and 16 70mm rockets).  This add-on is not going to turn a KC-130J into an AC-130 Spectre gunship.

“… the lack of pinpoint-accurate, extreme-volume gunfire will be one of the principal differences between SOCOM’s AC-130s, and kit gunships like the KC-130Js or MC-130Ws.” (1)

The Marines envision additional capabilities being added over time.  Come on, haven’t we learned our lesson about never ending developmental costs?  If the Marines really want a gunship then buy an AC-130 and be done with it. 

It’s possible that there may be some utility for a poor copy of a gunship in the low end conflicts we seem mired in but I have to ask, “Why are we wasting valuable time, money, and resources developing questionable low end capabilities when the rest of the world is gearing up for high end combat?”  If we had no imminent high end threats (like Russia, China, NKorea, and Iran) flexing their muscles and gearing up for war then, sure, why not waste some time with yet another low end gimmick?  However, that’s not the case.  We’re in an arms race and possible countdown to war whether we want to acknowledge it or not.  We desperately need to develop supersonic cruise missiles, high end anti-ship missiles, intermediate range ballistic missiles, a naval air superiority fighter, a Bradley replacement, a new AAV-ish armored landing vehicle, and the list goes on.  What we don’t need is a Harvest Hawk gimmick that is going to tax already scarce aircraft and risk them in unnecessary low end combat.

Harvest Hawk - Poor Man's Gunship


Yeah, but, you say, we still have to deal with low end threats year after year and this Harvest Hawk can help us do that.  My answer to that is send an armored division to wherever the low end threat is and crush it.  Turn the division loose, exercise some serious explosive power, accept some collateral damage, and be done with it.  ISIS, for example, would be a one month live fire exercise for a WWII Gen. Patton and an armored division and there would be no threat left after a month.  Any collateral damage or civilian deaths would be far less in the long run than allowing ISIS to continue killing people day after day on a never ending basis.

You deal with low end threats by crushing them, not by allowing the threat to linger and developing gimmicks like Harvest Hawk that just perpetuate the threat.


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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Navy Admits AAG Failure

The Navy may be forced to abandon the Advanced Arresting Gear system for the Ford class carriers after huge cost increases, schedule delays, and continuing technical challenges.  As reported by USNI News website (1),

“…SASC [Senate Armed Services Committee] laid out a pattern of cost increases from about a $476 million in costs for research development and acquisition in 2009 for four systems to a 2016 cost estimate of $1.4 billion – about a 130 percent increase when adjusted for inflation.”

A 130% increase – sounds about right for a Navy project!

USNI suggests that the Navy will replace the AAG in subsequent Ford carriers with a traditional arresting system.

“Ultimately, USNI News understands, the goal is to have the planned AAG systems on the ships that follow carrier Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) – John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) and Enterprise(CVN-80) – replaced with a more traditional but enhanced version of the current Mk-7 MOD 3 arresting gear.”

At least the Navy recognizes the problem as evidenced by the following statement.

“Last year Program Executive Officer for the Navy’s carrier program told reporters that the service and General Atomics discovered the water twister – a complex paddlewheel designed to absorb 70 percent of the force of a landing – was under engineered and would be unable to withstand prolonged use without failing.”

“ ‘The Advanced Arresting Gear has become a model for how not to do acquisition of needed technology,’ a senior Navy official told USNI News on Tuesday.”

The issue is not the AAG, per se, but the concurrency of attempting to develop a non-existent technology while also initiating production.

Aside from the excess costs and schedule delays, a larger issue is what to do with the Ford.  We can put conventional arresting systems in the subsequent carriers but what do we do with For?  If the AAG is installed, it becomes a one-of-a-kind system that will prove difficult or impossible to maintain and eliminates any commonality between Ford and any other carrier in the fleet.  If we retrofit a conventional system to Ford, the costs to remove the AAG system, re-engineer a conventional system into place, and actually procure and install it will cause further cost overruns and schedule delays. 

This is a classic no-win situation.  The Navy’s foolish insistence on concurrent development and production has bit them in the ass once again.  You’d think the Navy would learn but they remain incapable of learning lessons.

This is why you don’t begin production that depends on non-existent technology.

The lesson can’t be any simpler or clearer.  Even the Navy’s mentally challenged leadership should be able to grasp it by now.  But, of course, they won’t.



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(1) USNI News website, “Navy May Back Away From Advanced Arresting Gear for Ford Carriers”, Sam LaGrone, May 24, 2016,


Monday, May 23, 2016

LCS Anti-Ship Missile

The Navy is going to “install” long range anti-ship missiles on two LCS over the next year or so for demonstration purposes (1). 

Harpoon will be installed on Coronado for demonstration during this summer’s RIMPAC 2016 exercise.

The Naval Strike Missile (NSM) will be installed on Freedom prior to its next deployment.

Certainly, long range anti-ship missiles (ASM) can only help the toothless LCS but we’re still a long way from having an actual functioning ASM.  For example, the Freedom’s NSM will not be integrated into the ship’s combat system and will only receive navigational data from the ship.

Still, it’s a step in the right direction and there is no doubt that an anti-ship missile can be integrated into the LCS.  Money, of course, is an issue but not the technology.

The real issue is targeting.  It does no good to have a ten thousand mile ASM if the ship’s sensors are limited to 20 miles.  The question, then, is where and how does the LCS receive targeting data?  That’s the part of the kill chain that the Navy has not yet worked out or tested.  Can a non-stealthy, slow P-8 penetrate enemy air/water space and survive long enough to find targets and send the data back to an LCS?  Can the F-35 find naval targets and get data back to the LCS?  Would someone actually dedicate a rare and powerful F-35 to acting like a UAV for an LCS?  Can a UAV survive in enemy air space long enough to find targets and transmit data?  Or, more likely, will the LCS find itself without off-board targeting data and have to fend for itself?

The Navy has not thought out the targeting portion of the kill chain when it talks about placing missiles on every ship in the fleet.


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(1)USNI News, “Navy to Demo Harpoon Missile on LCS at RIMPAC; NSM on USS Freedom by Next Deployment”, Megan Eckstein, May 4, 2016,


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Chinese Land Reclamation

As has been widely reported, the Navy sent a Burke class destroyer on another freedom of navigation operation, this time near Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands, near the Philippines.  Indications suggest it was another of the worse-than-nothing Innocent Passages which actually wind up acknowledging Chinese sovereignty rather than disputing it.  Setting that legalistic technicality aside, what are these operations accomplishing?  They certainly haven’t slowed the pace of China’s land reclamation efforts.  They haven’t slowed the rate of expansion of Chinese claimed territories.  They haven’t eased any tensions.  In short, they’re accomplishing nothing.

At some point, we have to either abandon the South and East China Seas and leave the neighboring countries to their inevitable Chinese annexation fates or we have to physically stop Chinese expansion activities.  What we’re doing now with an occasional passage that actually solidifies Chinese claims is just ramping up tensions for no good result.


Don't Own An Island?  Make One!


So, what can we do short of declaring war?  Well, here’s a list of suggestions.

Physically herd Chinese supply ships out of the area.  Bump their ships, sail into their path, and make it impossible for them to get to the disputed location.  There is precedence for this since the Chinese have herded our ships and other foreign country’s ships with these tactics on numerous occasions.  The Soviets also did it routinely during the Cold War.

Swamp any supplies that make it ashore.  Make high speed passes as close as possible to create large wakes (a use for the LCS?!) that will wash away supplies and equipment.  After all, we claim that these are international waters so we’re free to sail where and how we want.  Russia has certainly firmly established the precedent of high speed, very close range passes!

Form a physical blockade with ships.  It would only take a few ships.  These are tiny points of reefs, not large land masses.  Form a barrier and don’t let Chinese ships through.

Blow stuff up.  We have drones, subs with torpedoes, and special forces whose job is to covertly blow things up.  If a pile of supplies exploded, it’s probably because the Chinese had explosives or unstable chemicals in the supplies, right?

Conduct land recycling operations on the same location that China is trying to reclaim land.  As fast as they reclaim it, we’ll recycle it back to the ocean!  These are not Chinese lands according to us, so we have as much right to recycle as they have to reclaim – probably more right since we can claim we’re protecting reef ecosystems.

Ultimately, we have to be prepared and willing to escalate in order to stop the Chinese.  If we are not prepared to do so then we should leave.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

MLP Update

Here’s an interesting data point for the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) in its role as a transfer point for pre-positioned cargo.  A DOT&E test verified the design transfer spec, stating,

“When the MLP was positioned 25 nautical miles from the LCAC shore landing site, it met its timed transfer requirement, enabling Marine Corps equipment for a reinforced rifle company to be moved to shore in less than 12 hours.” [from DOT&E 2015 Annual Report]

So, the MLP is capable of transferring the equipment for a single reinforced rifle company over a distance of 25 miles in 12 hours.

The Navy has two MLPs and will have three MLP-AFSBs.  I assume the MLP-AFSB would be capable of functioning as the MLP but I don’t know that for sure.  On the other hand, it’s likely that the MLP-AFSB would not be available for the MLP cargo transfer role because it would be occupied performing its designated MCM role.

The question, then, is whether two MLPs (possibly five) have sufficient throughput capacity to support a major assault in a relevant time frame?  Of course, this also assumes that the MLP can maintain that transfer rate indefinitely.  My guess is that the 12 hour test was something of a max effort and could not be indefinitely sustained by either the crew or the equipment.  Regardless, is this sufficient transfer capability?  I don’t know the answer.  If there’s an amphibious logistics expert among the readers, please chime in!


MLP


Transfer capability and capacity aside, the MLP seems to have met its design specs according to the DOT&E assessment.  Notably, the ship’s tested range significantly exceeded the spec (12,000 nm vs. a spec of 9500 nm).

I’m on record as stating that the MLP seems to be a vulnerable weak point in the amphibious assault scheme in the sense that there are very few of them and they represent such a vital capability.  A semi-intelligent enemy would make them a priority target and the loss of even one would seriously cripple an assault.

All that said, it’s nice to see a vessel at least meet its design specs!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Who Runs The Military?

For decades the Executive branch of the government has been usurping the powers and responsibilities of the Legislative branch.  Without getting bogged down in legalities, Congress is charged with the power to declare war, set funding, and exercise oversight of the military.  Congress has shamefully abdicated those powers for many decades and the results have been illegal Executive actions (by Presidents of both parties but on a scale previously unimaginable by the current President), runaway debt, out of control military expenditures, highly questionable military acquisition programs, and a politicized military leadership that is doing more harm to the country than good.

Very recently, Congress has begun to take minor steps to restore some of their Constitutional powers.  They have started to issue directives to the military (slapping down the Navy’s Aegis cruiser retirement plans, for example), demand reports on questionable programs, reapportion funds among various acquisition programs, and, in general, exercise some oversight. 

Predictably, the Executive branch has not taken kindly to this.  From the Defense News website comes this example.

“Speaking at the annual Sea-Air-Space conference outside of Washington, Carter [Defense Secretary Aston Carter] focused on what he called “unhelpful micromanagement” from the Hill, whether it be over the Senate’s plan to eliminate the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics (AT&L), the House’s plan to end wartime contingency funding in April, or the refusal to allow the Pentagon to shut down installations round the country.”

“I would respectfully suggest that the informed expert judgment of the civilian and military leadership at the Department of Defense which is embodied in our budget proposal should receive greater support and be subject to less micromanagement,” Carter said.”

Unhelpful micromanagement??? 

First, let’s be very clear that Congress has not only the right but the responsibility to exercise the oversight that Carter views as “micromanagement”. 

Second, as I pointed out, Congress has been remiss in exercising those responsibilities for some time and it’s long overdue for them to begin managing the budget and the military whether at a “micro”, macro, or whatever level they so choose.

Third, I would remind Carter that the military and Executive’s record of performance without Congress’ management has been abysmal, to put it mildly.  I won’t even bother to list the litany of debacles that the military has engaged in with Congress rubber stamping the military’s “informed expert judgment”.

Finally, I would remind Carter that the military is owned, funded, and operated by the people through their Congress.  The military doesn’t own the military, the taxpayer does.

This kind of attitude demonstrates the blatant disrespect that the Executive branch has for the Constitution and Congress.  To be fair, Congress has brought this on themselves by abdicating their responsibilities for decades.  Still, America does not consist of the President and His Army.  America is still the people and their army. 

Congress may well make mistakes (he said in a classic example of understatement) but the responsibility for oversight is theirs and the Executive branch and their appointed military leaders need to recognize that or step aside.  For their part, Congress needs to vigorously exercise their powers and re-establish the balance of power that our government was founded on.

This is not a political blog and I post this only because it is directly linked to military procurement which is in the realm of this blog.


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(1) Defense News website, “Carter Hits Hill for ‘Unhelpful Micromanagement’, Aaron Mehta, 17-May-2016,