Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Undisputed and Unaccepted

There are certain enduring naval debates such as large carriers versus small carriers.  One of these debates is the value of small missile boats versus large multi-function vessels.  The leading proponent of the missile boat is Captain Wayne Hughes Jr., USN(Ret.).  He has literally written the book on the subject.

To summarize, his contention is that naval combat power is better distributed among many small vessels (the missile boat) than concentrated in fewer and larger vessels (Burkes, for example).  A mathematical model has been developed which factors in the various characteristics of naval warfare such as offensive power, defensive power, damage resistance, numbers of vessels, etc.  The model clearly shows that the single most valuable characteristic of a naval fleet is numbers.

It is a major irony that Capt. Hughes theories are simultaneously undisputed and unaccepted.  The model results are what they are.  There’s no disputing them.  What can be disputed, however, are the underlying assumptions that go into the model.  To repeat a saying as old as computers, “Garbage In, Garbage Out”.  If the data or assumptions are flawed then the results will also be flawed even if they are mathematically correct.

Chinese Houbei Missile Boat - Distributed Power


Is the Hughes model flawed?  I believe so.  For starters, the model is based on the assumption of fleet versus fleet.  It only loosely takes into account air power, for example.  Consider the contention of distributed power (small boats) versus centralized (Burkes).  While the salvo model reasonably models the surface versus surface action and associated factors, it does not really account for air power.  The lowly helo, or any other form of air power, would be essentially 100% effective against any number of missile boats since they have no AAW capability.  In contrast, a Burke would offer a significant defensive capability against air power.  So, the model suggests that missile boats are the preferred force structure but a consideration of air power suggests the opposite.

Or, consider the effect of scouting.  The model considers scouting but in a generic way.  As such, the model predicts the value of numbers and dispersion when evaluated against a generic scouting factor.  However, the model does not consider the impact of modern satellite systems, over-the-horizon radars, ESM dectection, and other scouting methods on the pre-combat scenario.  If the missile boats can be tracked before they ever get into the area of operations then they are just another drone target exercise for the defenders.

One of the central implications of Hughes’ model is that the enemy who faces a distributed fleet (missile boats) faces a dilemma – does the enemy radiate to find the distributed forces and thereby reveal his own location or does he remain silent and risk detection and destruction by the distributed force.  What is not considered is the third option which is to remain silent and let air, space, or subsurface assets do the detecting.

Another example…  The model does not really take into account the impact of an area AAW capable ship which can extend and provide its level of defense to the ships around it.  Further, CEC (cooperative engagement) effects are not accounted for.

One more …  Electronic warfare is not factored except in a generic way such as an improved defensive “rating”.  Things like deception and misdirection via decoys and false signals can have a huge impact on the conduct of a battle and yet are unaccounted for.  Small craft have little or no capabilities to wage this type of combat. 

Finally, the model deals only with the actual combat portion of the force structure issue.  It does not address seakeeping, range, endurance, support requirements, refueling, supply, or any other issues that strongly influence ship type selection.  The small missile boats are just “there” at the start of the battle in the model.  How they got there, or even whether they’re capable of getting there over vast distances and through heavy weather, is not addressed.  The combat model may suggest that small vessels are useful but the logistics and other issues may (or may not) preclude their use and this is not addressed.

Study of Hughes’ model quickly reveals that the model is very simplistic which is ideal for grasping basics or performing quick and dirty analyses, however, it falls well short of simulating actual combat involving the full range of combat assets and effects.  The model is equivalent to an introductory exposure to modeling and tactics.  It’s a good starting point for further, in-depth study but is not the end point.  To be fair, Hughes makes no claim that his model is a full featured simulation.  It is his supporters that have taken the model’s results and run with them beyond the model’s capabilities.

So, what is the takeaway form this discussion?  Hughes model is too simplistic to be an authoritative answer to any question of force structure.  Thus, the conclusion that distributed forces are the preferred force structure is a suspect conclusion.  The model offers suggestive conclusions that merit further investigation but far more factors need to be accounted for.  We have, therefore, a model which is undisputed but, because of the limitations, unaccepted and rightfully so.  A more distributed force structure may well be desirable but the model does not prove it.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Amphibious Assault Doctrine

We’ve had several recent posts on Marines and amphibious assaults.  We’ve looked at various specific issues.  What we need to look at now is the broad picture view of amphibious assaults.  We need to look at the doctrine of amphibious assaults.  This will be a longer than normal post but it’s necessary and worth the time to read.

The Marines and the Navy pretty well mastered the art of amphibious assaults by the end of WWII.  They had the equipment, the training, the experience, and, most importantly, the doctrine.  With the benefit of hindsight, can we look back and come up with some improvements that could have been implemented?  Probably, but the point is that they had developed a system that worked and worked well.

Let’s consider the doctrine of amphibious assaults.  What has changed since the end of WWII?  The answer is, remarkably little.  The doctrine is largely unchanged despite the evolution of guided missiles, better sensors, more advanced weaponry, attack helos, advanced aircraft, and so forth – and I’m talking about the enemy’s side more so than ours though all the same advances impact our side, offensively, as well.  Despite all these changes our amphibious assault doctrine remains substantially the same as it was.

Three factors stand out as significantly different from the WWII scenarios and yet are not specifically accounted for in current doctrine beyond vague, generic statements.

Weapon Ranges – The development of rockets and missiles of various types have greatly increased the effective range of the enemy’s defensive efforts.

Weapon Lethality – The development of guided munitions of various types has greatly increased the lethality and destructive efficiency of weapons.  In addition, shaped charges have conferred great lethality on small warheads;  the ubiquitous RPG being a good example.  Finally, the widespread availability of mines greatly enhances anti-access efforts.

Sensors – Sensors, including radar, IR, satellite, etc. have greatly increased  detection ranges and target classification capabilities.  Surprise is much harder to achieve.

One might also be tempted to add the development of helos, especially attack helos, to the preceding list of factors.  These highly lethal platforms offer a formidable defensive capability.  Their effectiveness is, however, countered by their vulnerability to shoulder launched SAMs.

The preceding factors have not been directly and systematically accounted for in our current doctrine.  For example, increased defensive weapon ranges have been dealt with only to the extent that the Navy has shifted the amphibious force location from the horizon to 50+ nm.  No allowance has been made for dealing with defensive weapons fired from distances well beyond the landing area.  Thus, even with outstanding suppression or destruction of landing area defenses, the landing force may still be subject to significant fires.

The existence of guided weapons grants the defender greatly enhanced combat efficiency.  A handful of troops with a supply of RPGs could wreak havoc on the armored amphibious vehicles and connectors.  Small guided anti-ship missiles (Hellfire-ish, Maverick-ish) would be a significant danger to connector craft.  Despite this, no change in doctrine has been made to provide protection for the connectors beyond the general hope that such weapons will be suppressed or destroyed in the general support fires.

Mines are a significant impediment to an amphibious assault and yet the Navy has no effective means of mine clearance and mine countermeasure forces are dwindling almost daily.  The LCS may or may not pan out as an effective MCM platform and will, in any case be far too few in number, given the curtailed buy, to be tactically effective.

Increased sensor effectiveness will greatly impact the degree of surprise that can be achieved at both the strategic and tactical levels.  The concept of exploiting gaps, in particular, as an alternative to a direct frontal assault is rendered suspect.

The combination of the above factors suggests that the doctrinal concept of the establishment of a “supply dump” on the beach may be highly suspect.  Such a lucrative target will be easily detected and long range, guided, lethal weapons may render such a setup nothing more than a spectacular pyrotechnic display.  The total lack of a doctrinal means of protecting the immediate landing area from incoming fires is a major weakness.

The guiding document for amphibious assaults is Joint Publication 3-02, “Amphibious Operations”.  Here are some interesting observations from the document.

  • No mention is made of port assaults;  only beach, despite the fact that we probably no longer have the capability and capacity to move sufficient amounts of supplies and equipment over an unimproved beach as was done at Normandy, for example.

  • Over-the-horizon (OTH) is mentioned as a less desirable option to a close assault despite the fact that it now appears to be the norm.

  • There is an emphasis on establishing aviation assets ashore despite the fact that the maintenance and operating demands of modern aircraft almost preclude this option, short of the seizure of an existing airbase.

  • Rehearsal is considered a vital aspect of an assault plan.  I’m doubtful that we have the afloat resources and supplies to conduct the actual assault let alone a full dress rehearsal.  Look at the training exercises (very few!) we currently conduct and the amount of shortcuts and simulations we take during them due to lack of money and resources.

Now, here are some interesting quotes from the document.

“With no current capability to conduct OTH surface gun fire support, missions normally conducted by NSFS will initially rest with aviation assets.”

Wow!  We are formally recognizing that we have no fire support capability.  What we are failing to recognize is that against a peer defender the aviation assets will be tied up protecting the fleet and protecting themselves.  They will be only sporadically available for air support.  So, we have no naval fire support and only sporadic air support and yet this issue is not addressed in our doctrine.

“Although ships can use land attack missiles for OTH fire support, their quantities are limited.”

So much for the magic of Tomahawks.  Effective but limited.  How many thousands of rounds of naval gunfire were used in pre-invasion bombardments during WWII?  Our entire national Tomahawk inventory would be totally depleted in the first hour of the first assault.

“Fire support has a major effect on the development of the LF [Landing Force] plan for operations. Until the LF’s organic artillery is ashore, NSFS and aviation assets (fixed- and rotary-wing) are normally the only means of fire support for the LF. A portion of these assets may also be tasked to defend the AF [assault task group] as a whole, limiting their availability to the LF.”

See the logical inconsistency?  The previous statements noted that there is no naval fire support from OTH and yet this vaguely hopeful statement ignores the reality and counts on gun support.  The statement also notes that initial support will have to come from aviation assets, as well, while simultaneously noting that aviation assets will be limited.  Remember, the number one priority of aviation is to protect the carrier.  The issue is not addressed doctrinally.

“Initially, the LF is able to employ only a small fraction of its total potential power. Tactical operations are initiated by small units that are normally only supported by NSFS and attack aircraft. Before long, the preponderance of the LF is ashore and functioning as a cohesive organization exerting its maximum combat power.”

Well, there’s a bland statement that relies mainly on hope!  A previous statement from the document acknowledged that there is no gun support and yet doctrinally we’ll depend on gun support to assist the initial small unit actions!  Further, despite all the enemy’s increased weapon ranges, lethality, and sensing, we will casually move most of our combat power ashore “before long”.  We should doctrinally include sending a polite thank you note to the enemy for their cooperation in allowing us to move our combat power ashore unhindered and in a timely manner.

“As a general rule there will be one NSFS ship in direct support for each battalion and one NSFS ship in general support for each regiment.”

And that one ship has only a single 5” gun.  Yikes!  And that assumes the Navy is willing to move within range which they have stated they will not do.  So, that statement should actually read that there will be NO ships in direct support of each battalion!

Finally, here is a historical quote found within the document that recognizes the logistical aspect of an assault.

“The logistical effort required to sustain the seizure of Iwo Jima was enormous, complex, largely improvised on lessons learned in earlier . . . operations in the Pacific. . . . Clearly, no other element of the emerging art of amphibious warfare had improved so greatly by the winter of 1945. Marines may have had the heart and firepower to tackle a fortress-like Iwo Jima earlier in the war, but they would
have been crippled in the doing of it by limitations in amphibious logistical support capabilities. These concepts, procedures, organizations, and special materials took years to develop. . . .”

“From Closing In: Marines in the Seizure of Iwo Jima, Joseph Alexander”

This is exactly the issue that we’ve discussed in some of our posts – the Navy no longer has the numbers of ships or connectors or the transport capacities to sustain the flow of material needed for a successful combat assault.  Further, as every example of combat throughout history has demonstrated, our estimates of the amount of supplies needed will be woefully insufficient, further compounding our already suspect logistics capability.

So, does the preceding sound like we have a solid doctrinal grasp of modern amphibious assauts?  No, it sounds like a re-hash of WWII doctrine updated with a few references to helos. 

Here are some of the doctrinal gaps that need to be addressed.

  • How will preparation of the landing site occur given our near total lack of naval fire support (Zumwalt notwithstanding)?

  • How will we provide counter-rocket, counter-artillery, and counter-missile protection for the initial landing wave given the Navy’s refusal to operate inshore?

  • How will we move sufficient quantities of supplies over the beach without the plethora of WWII craft and devices dedicated to just that task?

  • How will we provide sufficient air support given the decreasing number of carriers, shrinking size of airwings, likely reduced buys of F-35s, and the recognition that protection of the carrier is the top priority for aviation assets?

  • How will we utilize helo support in the face of determined shoulder launched SAMs?

  • How will we protect the connectors from small guided weapons?

  • How will we counteract the threat of mines in the landing area and how will we do so while under fire?

  • Where will we get sufficient numbers of connectors from given the limited carrying capacity aboard current amphibious ships (smaller or no well decks in newer ships)?

  • How will we stage and/or protect suppy dumps on the beach in the face of modern sensing and weapons?

  • How will we address the suppression and destruction of long range missiles, rockets, and artillery launched from well outside the landing area?

If the Marines wish to remain in the opposed landing, amphibious assault business they will need to address these doctrinal gaps.  Failure to do so will render the Corps irrelevant in the minds of our military planners.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Minimal Manning

The LCS is in the fleet.  The Zumwalt and Ford will be joining the fleet in the next few years.  What do they have in common?  -They’re all minimally manned.  OK, so what?

Minimal manning means that there are no spare crewmembers.  Only the absolutely necessary watch functions or battle stations are manned.  Well, that’s the way it should be, right?  In this time of constrained budgets the Navy has to cut personnel costs and minimal manning is the obvious way to do it.

Well, what happens when you take a few near misses in combat and lose several crewmembers to shrapnel wounds or other injury?  The ship is relatively undamaged and still mission capable but now you’re down several crew.  A minimally manned ship has no spare crew and no unnecessary functions or battle stations.  How do you fill the manning holes?  Do you have to return to port due to lack of crew?  Have we reached a point where the enemy can achieve a mission kill simply by wounding a few crew???

What happens when the ship takes some damage?  Flooding and a fire, perhaps.  Nothing immediately fatal but requiring damage control efforts.  Where do the damage control parties come from since there are no extra crew?  If crew are pulled from active functions to provide damage control how do we fill the missing functions and how does the ship continue to operate?  Do you have to return to port or, at best, immediately halt your mission at the first sign of non-fatal damage?  Have we reached a point where minor damage is an automatic mission kill?

I’m sure someone is going to offer the comment that in war we’ll add additional crew.  Really?  The entire fleet is moving to minimal manning.  The current fleet is something like 15% gapped in sea billets, right now, according to the Navy.  There are no spare crewmembers lying around.  In addition, service on an LCS requires a year long, specialized training program.  You can’t just grab random sailors and throw them on an LCS.  Finally, come war, the LCS is going to be at the bottom of the priority list.  No one is going to pull sailors away from Burkes and carriers to man LCSs.  For better or worse, the LCS is going to fight with a minimally manned crew.

The preceding applies equally to the Zumwalt, Ford, or any other ship that is minimally manned.

Consider the accidental explosions and fires that ravaged the Enterprise and Forrestal.  The only thing that saved those carriers was large numbers of excess crew that were available for damage control efforts.  The same was true of the Stark and Cole, among other notable examples.

Do we really want to be writing off billion dollar ships due to lack of crew for effective damage control?  Do we really want to accept mission kills due to a few injuries or minor damage?  The Navy has made some epically poor decisions over the last couple decades but minimal manning may be worst of all.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Navy Lasers

According to reports, an Israeli Patriot missile shot down a Hamas drone.  If the report is accurate, consider the cost effectiveness of the engagement.  A $3M missile was used to shoot down a drone costing a few thousands of dollars.  No one knows the exact drone type but it was unlikely to have been too sophisticated.  This is not exactly an economical exchange rate.

The Navy has been pursuing laser weapons and possibly in a realistic manner.  While Navy laser development news is hard to come by, it appears that the Navy laser development is aimed not at Star Wars type technology but at a much more realistic and scaled back goal.  Reports suggest that the Navy is looking for a laser weapon that can engage small, slow objects such as mortar shells, small boats, and drones.  It is the latter goal, targeting drones, that offers a reasonable and effective use of a laser. 

As noted with the Israeli example cited above, shooting down cheap drones with expensive missiles is a waste.  A laser would offer a much more cost effective solution and presents a technical challenge that may well be achievable in a reasonable time frame.  Of course, power and effective range are among the technical obstacles that remain to be overcome.  Still, that level of performance may well be realistically achievable.

The US military is firmly committed to operating drones of all types over the battlefield and there is no reason to expect that our enemies won’t do the same.  We need a cost effective method for dealing with them.  If this type of use is the goal of the Navy’s laser program then they deserve praise.

To be fair, I have no explicit confirmation of the Navy’s goals for its laser program.  I’m ascribing a goal based on bits of information rather then hard documentation.  I’ll continue to look for confirmation.  For those of you who are interested in more information, CSBA put out an excellent report on the subject (1).


(1) Center For Strategic And Budgetary Assessments, “Changing The Game, The Promise of Directed Energy Weapons”, Gunzinger and Dougherty, 2012

Friday, August 8, 2014

Israeli Combat Lessons - Follow Up

Well, that was interesting.  The comments on the preceding post (see, "Israeli Combat Lessons") on combat lessons from the Israeli-Hamas conflict confirmed exactly the problem I highlighted in the lesson about aerial suppression and collateral damage.  [By the way, I’m not going to refer to it generically as suppression any more.  I’m going to call it reduction, instead. - “Aerial reduction of enemy assets”-  Some of you focused on the strict definition of the word as it related to supporting fires and thereby got sidetracked.] 

Most commenters started their comments, observations, and arguments from the premise that collateral damage was inherently bad – I would go so far as to say they believed that it was inherently prohibited.  This also confirms another of the lessons, that we’ve forgotten what war is.

If this had been WWII, do you honestly believe that the US Army (the Israelis in this example) would have held back on area bombardment when faced with taking a city (Gaza, in this example) containing 9000 German (Hamas, in this example) artillery pieces and thousands of German soldiers?  Do you think the US would have attempted to enter the city without thorough preparatory area bombardment?  Of course not! 

Now, why is the answer “Of course not!”?  It’s because the US Army understood what war was.  It was ugly, vicious, and destructive and the best thing that could be done was to end it as quickly and decisively as possible.  Added to that was the implicit belief that, since lives had to be lost, it was far better that they be German lives, both military and civilian, than US lives.  That’s ugly but that’s what war really is.  Area reduction of enemy assets is just common sense.

We’ve gotten so used to fighting limited police actions that we’ve forgotten what real war is.  If we have to fight Iran, N. Korea, or China we’ll quickly be reminded what war is.

Given the absolutely overwhelming technological superiority and numbers, the Israelis suffered an unwarranted number of casualties.  They should have suffered next to none.  Frankly, I don’t know how the Israeli government can justify to the families of the dead soldiers that they placed more value on enemy lives than the lives of their own soldiers. 

If your country is faced with a threat, you destroy it utterly, totally, and completely.  You don’t engage in a limited operation that has to be repeated every few years with never-ending casualties on both sides, year after year.

This is not a political issue, it’s a doctrinal issue.  I have the same problems with the way the US conducted its actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The US was more concerned with preventing collateral damage than preventing US deaths. 

If we’re not willing to engage in real war then we should seriously be asking ourselves whether we should be engaged at all.  Our tendency to jump into one nation building, limited conflict after another is highly suspect.  We’re getting US soldiers killed for little or no gain. 

If we do opt to engage in a conflict with total commitment then area bombardment and the acceptance of collateral damage is quite logical.  Of course, I’m not advocating indiscriminate destruction for its own sake.  However, if there’s reason to believe that enemy assets are in an area then the area is a target.

Most of us have been conditioned by the limited actions of the last couple decades to believe that combat can somehow be clean and precise and that no one but the enemy soldier will be killed and no property will be damaged.  We need to remember what war is, remember how to wage it, and engage in it only infrequently and as a last resort.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Israeli Combat Lessons

The Israeli-Hamas conflict offers some combat lessons for the US Navy and Marines.

This is not a political blog so I’m not going to address the political aspects of the conflict.  Further, I’m working only from publicly available information, most of which is based on propaganda from each side.  Nevertheless, there are patterns to be seen and lessons to be learned.

Interestingly, the conflict can be viewed from the perspective of an amphibious assault.  Gaza is, essentially, a port city – exactly the kind of assault target the Marines are supposed to be prepared for.  The Hamas rocket attacks simulate, to a degree, A2/AD attacks on an invading fleet while Israel’s Iron Dome mimics a fleet AAW defense.  The Israeli army can be thought of as an amphibious assault force that has managed to land and is moving to seize its objective.  Here, then are some observations and lessons.

Aerial Suppression.  A few Zumwalts notwithstanding, the Navy has given up its shore bombardment capability in favor of aerial suppression of enemy capabilities.  Marine amphibious assault doctrine depends heavily on aerial suppression during the early stages of an assault.  We see, though, that the Israelis, despite having absolute aerial supremacy, were totally unable to prevent frequent and regular rocket attacks (some 3000 rockets launched over the course of a couple weeks).  This is the most one-sided application of aerial force against an enemy with next to no AAW capability one could imagine and yet it produced no discernible suppression of Hamas strike capability.  Will Navy aviation be able to suppress enemy capabilities during an assault?  This suggests that suppression will be extremely problematic. 

If aviation can’t accomplish the task, what can?  This offers an argument for greater naval gun support and leads to the next two lessons.

AAW.  The Israeli Iron Dome system has performed well at what it was designed to do.  My best guess is that the system has achieved about a 50%-75% success rate, Israeli claims of 90+% notwithstanding.  That success rate is tempered by the fact that the attacking weapons are unsophisticated rockets unsupported by any electronic countermeasures or AAW suppression to aid penetration.  While nowhere near an apples-to-apples comparison, this still offers lessons for the Navy’s Aegis system.  While Aegis is far more sophisticated than the Iron Dome system, so too is the threat (supersonic cruise and ballistic missiles).  The conclusion is that AAW systems can provide a degree of protection but that the degree will be far less than hoped for.  This has implications for the Navy’s doctrine of vast stand-off distances from land and the number and types of weapons that should constitute a ship’s layered defense.  There is no need for the Navy to cower far from land – stand in and fight and let Aegis do its job.  Along with that, the Navy needs to re-evaluate the number and types of short range and close in weapons it uses.  We need far more short range AAW and CIWS weapons in recognition of the number of leakers that will be encountered.

Precision Versus Area Attack.  In keeping with Israeli doctrine, strikes were as precisely focused as possible so as to minimize collateral damage.  While the specific targets were, undoubtedly, largely neutralized, the flip side of such precision targeting is that no benefits accompanied the strikes beyond the immediate destruction of the specified targets.  Rockets, launchers, personnel, weapons, and munitions mere feet away from the intended targets were left untouched and available for use.  In other words, any target that the Israelis did not specifically know about gained a large degree of immunity from attack due to the Israeli’s unwillingness to use area bombardment.  A doctrine of area bombardment would, undoubtedly, have resulted in a significant degree of destruction of unknown targets.  Again, I’m not discussing the political aspects of such a doctrine, merely the tactical considerations.  Area bombardment would, undoubtedly, have suppressed the rocket attacks.  The degree of that suppression is, of course, a matter of speculation.

It’s clear that if an attacker limits itself to only known targets, it will open itself to attack by all the unknown assets which will probably be quite substantial.  The US unwillingness to inflict collateral damage is quite literally akin to fighting handicapped.

Urban Combat.  Given the degree of technological superiority and prevalence of armored vehicles of various types, the Israelis have suffered a somewhat surprising number of casualties among their infantry.  Of course, not knowing what specific objectives the Israelis were pursuing and what tactics they were using, it is difficult to assess whether the number of casualties were acceptable or not.  Still, it is possible to make the general observation that urban combat is a messy and dangerous undertaking.  This is hardly a surprising finding as the Marine’s experience in Iraq has amply demonstrated.  Further, the presence of armor is no guarantee of safety or tactical success. 

I can offer no specific tactical lessons or suggestions but I can state that the Marines need to re-evaluate their approach to urban combat.  The rate of losses suffered by the US Marines in Iraq and the Israelis in Gaza are tactically unfounded.  Losses could be greatly reduced by a willingness to inflict greater collateral damage.  Further, I suggest that tactics need to be re-evaluated to better integrate infantry and armor in an urban setting.  The Marines tend to view urban combat as an infantry exercise and that view is just going to get soldiers killed unnecessarily. 

Finally, Marines need to recognize that urban combat is a unique environment.  As one small example, it may be that instead of tanks, a heavily armored and actively (think Israeli Trophy) protected vehicle equipped with a very short barreled cannon (for maneuverability in physically close quarters) capable of firing wide area munitions,  capable of extensive and sustained use of obscurants and debilitating agents, and capable of transporting and sheltering troops is needed.  Hey, I’m not a ground expert so this is just my own uniformed speculation.  I may be way off base.  The point is that the Marines are not currently equipped for effective urban combat nor do they possess the required doctrine for success in the urban environment.

Collateral Damage.  The Israelis have demonstrated an extreme unwillingness to inflict collateral damage even to the point of accepting additional casualties of their own.  While they have attacked schools and other targets that directly housed enemy weapons, a reluctance to inflict collateral damage has allowed Hamas to freely maneuver throughout the urban landscape and obtain shelter and respite as needed.  Historically, the US has largely shied away from attacking sensitive targets even if they contained enemy personnel and assets.  Unless the US is prepared to accept inordinate casualties, a re-evaluation of the collateral damage issue is called for.  Allowing an enemy safe refuge is tactically indefensible.

Nature of War.  Historically, the US has a tendency to try to fight with half-measures and more concern for public relations than sound tactics.  Israel is also doing that in Gaza.  War, in particular urban combat, is an ugly and vicious exercise.  The only good thing about war is ending it quickly and victoriously.  If that means area bombardment and infliction of collateral damage then the US needs to re-evaluate its doctrine.  Many will argue that the nature of our conflicts calls for more limited actions and “gentler” force to achieve nation building goals or something similar.  I would suggest that such limited conflicts have rarely succeeded long term and, indeed, often have unintended negative consequences.  It might be prudent for the US to give more thought to the wisdom of limited conflicts rather than just leaping into them too readily. 

ComNavOps’ personal philosophy is, “In it to win it, or don’t get in it.

This is veering into the political realm so I’ll leave it at that. 

The point is that the US needs to remember what all out war is and what it entails.  We need to start equipping for high end war and revising or developing doctrine to deal with it.  War is ugly.  Trying to wage a limited, “gentle” war is only going to prolong the conflict and ultimately cause more deaths, both civilian and military.

In summary, the Israeli-Hamas conflict has many of the characteristics of an amphibious assault on a port city – just the type of thing the Marines and Navy claim to want to be able to do.  Even for the casual observer, divorced from any intimate knowledge of the objectives and tactics of either side, there are readily apparent lessons to be learned.  For a Marine Corps that hasn’t conducted an opposed assault for quite some time, this conflict offers an opportunity to observe the realities of urban combat and adjust their doctrine accordingly.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Fat, Drunk, And Stupid Is No Way To Go Through Life

From the movie Animal House, "Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life ...".

While the LCS certainly seems to have been designed by drunk and stupid people, it now appears that the LCS is fat, also.

Weight growth margins have long been a known deficiency of the LCS.  While fairly well documented in the Freedom variant, the magnitude of the problem in the Independence variant has been less clear and many observers have assumed that the Independence variant had little or no weight problem.  Freedom, you may recall, had to have "water wings" (buoyancy tanks) welded on to the stern and they have been incorporated into subsequent ships of the class. 

Stability has also been a known problem for the Freedom class.  Module swap tests revealed that simply shifting normal container weights caused the ship to reach its allowable incline limits.

A new GAO report now sheds some light on the weight situation and provides some actual data (1).

The report notes that the ships have exceeded their expected weights with resulting impacts on performance.

"Weight growth occurred on the first four LCS seaframes, which affected the capabilities of both Freedom and Independence variant seaframes. This situation has led the Navy to accept lower than minimum requirements on two delivered seaframes (LCS 1 and 2) in endurance and sprint speeds, respectively."

From the report, affected performance parameters include,

• range
• sprint speed
• navigational draft
• service life allowance for weight
• stability

The report notes that range has already been significantly reduced,

"In 2009, the Navy received authorization from the Joint Requirements Oversight Council to reduce LCS’s original endurance requirement, which was a 4,300-nautical-mile range when operated at a speed of 16 knots, to the current endurance requirement. [ed: 3,500 nm at 14 kts]"

The report states that the service life allowance (SLA) weight is specified as 50 tons.  This is the required weight growth margin for future equipment additions to the ship.  Only two of the first six ships have met their specifications and the rest have missed by a substantial margin.  Listed below are the individual ships, their target SLA (tons) and their actual margin (tons).

LCS-1  50  26
LCS-3  50 156
LCS-5  50  67

LCS-2  50 -16
LCS-4  50  16
LCS-6  50  31

Only LCS-3 and -5 have met their SLA margins.  The rest have missed by a substantial amount.  Interestingly, the Independence variant seems to be significantly worse than the Freedom, contrary to what most people thought.

The report also provides data on the ship's full load weights (crew, stores, module) compared to their naval architectural limits (max allowable weight).  Full load weights that exceed the naval architectural limit risk damaging the ship due to excessive strains and stresses imposed by the excess weight.  Here are the full load weights as a percentage of the naval architectural limits.  The closer the ship is to 100%, the more the strain and stress.  Values over 100% risk damage.

LCS-1  99%
LCS-3  96%
LCS-5  98%

LCS-2 101%
LCS-4  99%
LCS-6  99%

None of the ships have any significant operational weight margins and LCS-2 actually exceeds the allowable limit. 

The report indicates that the Navy will operate LCS-2 at reduced fuel loads so as to reduce the weight to acceptable levels.  As equipment or additional crew (remember that the Navy has increased the core crew from 40 to 50 and will probably add more) is added, the remaining ships may also have to be operated at reduced fuel loads.

Further, the Navy is addressing weight concerns in the Independence variant by designing reductions in fuel capacity (hence, range) in future ships of the class,

"... the Navy is developing design modifications for Independence variant seaframes to reduce fuel capacity—estimated to total over 100 metric tons—in order to restore service life allowances."

The report notes that various ships have failed to meet their range and speed requirements due to excess weight.  This, after the range spec was already substantially reduced!

The specification for sprint speed is 40 kts but the report notes,

"LCS 2 contractor officials told us that the calculated speed in the full load condition LCS 2 is 36.5 knots."

Thus, the shining characteristic of the LCS, speed, which negatively impacts so much of he ship's design, is not even being met.  Yikes!  That's a double hit.

As if all this isn't bad enough, the service life allowances not only aren't being met but it turns out that the allowances aren't even up to industry standard.  As stated in the report,

"Complicating the weight growth on early LCS seaframes is the fact that LCS requirements for service life allowances already fall short of the growth margins called for under Navy and industry recommended practice."

Standards for other ship classes range from a low of 5% margin for amphibious ships to 10% for surface combatants.  The LCS target margin is only 1.5% to begin with.  So, in addition to not meeting the margin, the margin was ridiculously low to begin with.

Excessive weight also affects stability as demonstrated with the Freedom module swap tests.  Other ship classes have stability margins (distance the vertical center of gravity can shift in response to weight growth before stability is compromised) of 0.3 m for amphibious ships to 0.8 m for carriers.  The LCS stability margin is 0.15 m - again, a very low value compared to other classes.

Note that the current weights are with the very stripped down version of modules currently being procured.  As the modules gear up to their target requirements, the module weights will increase and this is already impacting module design and will get worse with time.  As noted,

"According to Navy officials, future additions to mission packages ... will be offset by removing existing systems ..."

Module weight limits may result in modules being developed in variations.  For example, the MCM module may not have all its equipment in a single module.  Instead, it may have to field variations of the module which have subsets of MCM equipment to meet weight limits.

What does all of this mean?  Well, beyond the obvious conclusion that the LCS design is a poor one, one of the major selling points of the LCS was that it would represent the ultimate in flexibility and adaptability over its service life.  This would be the ship that could be adapted and modified to accommodate future needs, thus keeping it relevant over its entire life.  Unfortunately, the reality is that the ship is severely constrained by weight issues and has little or no room for growth.  Module improvements - and let's be honest, improvements always mean bigger and heavier - will have to be severely restricted by weight limits.  Anything added to the ship will have to compensated by the removal of an equivalent amount.  This pretty much eliminates flexibility as a characteristic of this class.

Amazingly, the Navy is about to embark on this same weight limited path with the Burke Flt III.  Talk about an inability to learn a lesson!


(1) Governement Accountability Office, "LITTORAL COMBAT SHIP - Additional Testing and Improved Weight Management Needed Prior to Further Investments", GAO-14-749, July 2014