Wednesday, October 22, 2014

LRASM and Targeting

Let’s follow up on the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) a bit, shall we?  For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that we now have a 500 nm, ship launched (VLS), high subsonic missile that doesn’t, yet, have complete and fully functional autonomy.  In other words, it’s a missile like all the rest of our missiles.  It requires a destination (target) and then it can use it’s own on-board sensors (short range radar and/or EO) for final guidance.  That’s exactly what ComNavOps suggested ought to be produced in the previous post as an interim product while the fantasy autonomy was being perfected.

So, we have a missile.  Somewhere out there we think there might be a surface target.  How do we find the target (the right target!) and generate a shooting solution? 

Well, the first possibility is the ship’s own radar, Aegis/AMDR.  Unfortunately, the detection range will be on the order of 50 nm (the Navy has declined to tell me the exact detection range in this scenario).

Another possibility is a carrier AEW Hawkeye.  Two problems here, though.  One is the range is still limited to probably around 150 -200 nm.  Yes, the claimed detection range of the APS-139/145 radar is 300+ nm but that’s for large airborne, non-stealthy targets.  A semi-stealthy ship (and every ship built today is semi-stealthy) in the “ground clutter” of the ocean’s surface is not going to be detected at anywhere near those ranges.  The second problem is that if we’re going to be dependent on a Hawkeye then that means that our LRASM is only effective as part of a carrier group.

Of course, we could always postulate that we extend the Hawkeye’s location out a couple hundred miles in the direction of the anticipated threat.  However, since we’re going to launch a missile, presumably we’re at war.  That means that the enemy will be busy doing pesky little things like shooting down Hawkeyes that stray away from the protection of the carrier group.  In fact, the reality is that the Hawkeye may actually operate somewhat behind the group for greater protection.  So, I guess that option is out. 

Satellites?  They don’t generate shooting solutions despite what popular belief might hold.

Submarines?  Possible, though that’s a very unreliable, hit and miss proposition complicated by the difficulty the sub would have transmitting targeting data without giving up its location.

The ship’s own helos?  Helos have relatively short ranged radars and extending their location carriers the same risk as the Hawkeye.  It’s just not realistic to send a helo a few hundred miles out to attempt targeting.

UAVs?  That’s a possibility.  I don’t think we have a surface ship launched UAV with the requisite range, sensors, and stealth but such a UAV could possibly be developed.

Passive sensing?  That’s a very real possibility but would involve triangulation of multiple sensor sources.  This is, at least partly, what I believe the Navy’s OUBOARD/COBLU system is designed to do.  The actual capabilities of the system are not public knowledge so I have no basis to comment further.

F-35?  Well, here’s an option that has some possibility.  A stealthy, survivable aircraft that can operate on its own and penetrate enemy air coverage and defenses would be just the ticket for this type of targeting challenge.  This may be a mission the F-35 could excel at.  Of course, as with the Hawkeye, this ties the LRASM to F-35A land bases or F-35C carriers and limits our ability to operate our surface ships offensively on their own.  This also assumes that the F-35 works as advertised which it does not, as yet.  Aside from stealth and flight issues, the F-35 apparently lacks a “stealth” means of communication to transmit targeting data, as we’ve discussed in previous posts (see, "Can Anyone Talk To The F-35?").

Hopefully, by now you’re getting the idea.  A weapon is only half the problem.  The other, and more important and more challenging, half is targeting (see, "Weapons Don't Matter!").  There’s no point having a 5,000 nm missile if you can’t reliably target beyond 50 miles.  [that’s why the Chinese “carrier killer” is a joke]  So, am I suggesting that we only design short range missiles and abandon the LRASM?  No!  I’m suggesting that we give equal thought to development of targeting capabilities and development of appropriate tactics that will enable long range targeting.

The astute among you will have noticed that I haven’t addressed target discrimination.  It’s not enough to simply detect a “blip” a few hundred miles out.  You also have to know whether that blip is friendly, neutral, or hostile.  Generally, that means getting the detecting platform and sensor even closer to the enemy – a difficult problem becomes even more difficult.

I’ve also not addressed the use of air launched LRASM.  That’s a separate topic with its own considerations.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Network Contradiction?

As ComNavOps has perused the reports about various weapon systems, one common aspect has stood out and that is the Navy’s heavy betting (all in?) on networks, data links, sophisticated communications over long ranges, common tactical pictures, mid-course guidance, and, in general, all forms of electronic networking.  In short, the Navy’s vision of warfare is a completely networked battle force where every asset is a node and all nodes know everything that any node knows.  The corollary to this is that any weapon or system can control any other weapon or system.  This leads to seemingly idiotic statements of conceptual capability such as submarines guiding AAW missiles launched from some other platform.

What are examples of the Navy’s obsession with network warfare?  Well, you’ll recall the recent post discussing electromagnetic maneuver warfare in which the Navy would develop a fleet wide electromagnetic battle management network?  Or, how about the LCS which was supposed to have utilized a rapidly deployable sensor net?  Or, how about the oft-repeated descriptions of the LCS as nodes in a battle management network?  Or, the entire Co-operative Engagement Capability (CEC)?  Or, the brilliant NLOS munitions that were supposed to have dynamically networked themselves to allocate targeting in real time?  I won’t bother citing any more examples as the media is full of stories of various Navy weapons and systems being described as networks or components of networks.

The implied requirement in this approach is that the Navy must have totally uncontested command of the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

This brings the discussion to the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM).  LRASM is currently in development under a DARPA research contract.  The contract concludes in 2016 at which time the Navy is expected to provide funding for production.  The LRASM is expected to be ready for use by B-1 bombers in 2018 and F/A-18E/F's in 2019.  A VLS-compatible ship launched version is also under development.  Developmental and initial production contracts have been, and are expected to continue to be, sole-sourced to Lockheed Martin (LM).

As a reminder, the basis for the LRASM is the JASSM-ER which is currently in production and approved for use by the Air Force's B-1 bomber.  The missile will use multiple RF and EO sensors for target location, missile navigation, and terminal guidance.  The business end of the missile is a "1000 lb penetrating blast/fragmentation warhead".  Missile range is stated as 500 nm.

As a point of reference, Military and Aerospace Electronics website has an excellent article summarizing the history and status of the LRASM (1).  Beware, though, and note that the article is full of glowing statements of success, all from a LM VP.  Here’s a quick example,

"... JASSM offers what some people have called 'eye-watering' stealth capabilities ..."


Anyway, back to the point of this post …  One aspect of the LRASM program stands out as related to subject of this post and that is the completely different approach that this weapon takes toward networks and communications.  Consider the following snippets describing the features of the LRASM.

"... mission effective in satellite-enabled, satellite-constrained, and satellite-denied environments ..."

"... network enabled, but not network dependant ..."

"... navigation and control with GPS denial ..."

The common theme is that they all recognize that communications, whether for networking, data links, or guidance may well be disrupted and that the missile needs to be able to operate in an electromagnetically contested environment.  This is exactly the opposite of most current and envisioned Navy programs.  It’s also the realistic view of war against a peer.  The Navy has Growlers and shipboard ECM capability designed to disrupt enemy communications, guidance, and networking.  Do we really think the enemy won’t apply similar measures against us?  An enemy will shoot down GPS satellites, disrupt GPS signals, disrupt communications, jam frequencies, initiate cyber attacks, and so on, just as we will.  To design weapons and systems that are dependent on electromagnetic dominance is folly.  Fortunately, in this case, someone has recognized reality and is designing a weapon that can deal with electromagnetic disruption. 

LRASM - Network Independent

Of course, the result of loss of communications is that the weapon or system must function autonomously.  For an unmanned system, be it missile or UAV, that’s quite a software challenge.  The risk in LRASM development is that the entire program may be delayed for inordinate amounts of time trying to prefect the required degree of autonomy.  It might be advisable to field fully functional increments of the missile that contain more sophisticated autonomy over time rather than try to achieve the final product all at once.  For example, a fully functional anti-ship missile with 500 nm range would be a welcome addition to the fleet right now, even without autonomous capability.  I don’t know the status of the programming effort or the developmental plans for autonomy so I can’t comment about whether it’s being developed wisely or not.  We’ll have to keep an eye on this aspect of the LRASM.

Networking is one of those ideas that is appealing on paper but generally results in an overly complicated and, as a result, unworkable system in real life. 

Complexity = Unreliability

It’s as simple as that.  Whether it’s an Aegis system that is degraded fleetwide because it’s too complex to maintain, a Ship Self Defense System that is unworkable after years of development, or an LCS whose every module has failed due to overly complex and unachievable technology, complexity leads to failure.

Now, am I saying that the Navy should abandon the LRASM because it’s complex?  No.  There’s nothing wrong with pursuing complexity as a research effort – just don’t do it as the cornerstone of a badly needed production program.  As I stated earlier, field the LRASM as an incremental program that delivers usable products along the way (unlike the F-35).

So, why is the Navy taking a realistic approach to the LRASM in the sense of not basing it on unrealistic, fantasy networks while pursuing exactly those types of networks for so many other programs?  I don’t know.  That’s the contradiction demonstrated by this program.


(1) Military and Aerospace Electronics, "Back into the blue: LRASM honed for extended reach, precision punch", 2-Oct-2014,

Friday, October 17, 2014

F-35B/C Cost

Continuing our cost data series, here are the costs for USN F-35 procurement.  The numbers include both the “B” and “C” versions without breaking them out.

Shown below is the quantity purchased and the unit price as reported by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (1)

FY 2011  qty=10  $269M each
FY 2012  qty=13  $282M each
FY 2013  qty=10  $258M each

As before, no point – just data.

(1) “FY 2013 Program Acquisition Costs By Weapon System”, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller)/Chief Financial Officer, Feb 2012

Thursday, October 16, 2014

F-35A Cost

Here are some interesting acquisition costs for the Air Force’s F-35A, as taken from the Department of Defense, Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 President’s Budget Submission, Feb 2012, Air Force, Justification Book Volume 1, Aircraft Procurement, Air Force.  The costs are reported in the document as “Total Flyaway Cost”.

Prior Years (25 aircraft)        $215M each

2011  (25 aircraft)                 $159M each

2012  (18 aircraft)                 $171M each

2013  (19 aircraft)                 $160M each


I don’t know what time period the Prior Years covers.

Engines are included in the cost.

No point to the post – just data.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

F-35 Engine Cost

It’s always difficult to determine costs for various weapons and systems.  Here’s an example that appears to be relatively straightforward.  From a Defense News website article we see the costs for the next batch of F-35 engines (1).

“The cost of the modifications are included in the contract for LRIP 7, which was also awarded Tuesday. That award was for $592 million. When added to a previously awarded sustainment contract from last December, the total cost for LRIP 7 comes in at $943 million in funding for Pratt.

The lot covers 36 engines, as well as associated management and support.”

As I read this, the engine production cost is $592 for 36 engines which is $16.5M per copy.  The engine acquisition cost, including “management and support”, whatever that is, is $943M which is $26.2M per copy. 

Since you can’t, apparently, buy engines without “management and support”, the actual cost of an F-35 engine is $26.2M per copy.

No point to this post – just data.


(1) Defense News, “Pentagon, Pratt Cut Deal for F-35 Engines, Modifications”, Aaron Mehta, Oct. 15, 2014, 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Air Wings - 2014 Update

Here’s the latest carrier air wing update.  Data is from the Sep 2014 issue of Proceedings and is current as of May 2014.

Here are the current air wings with data showing the number of combat aircraft (Hornets) followed by the number of supporting aircraft and helos (Hawkeyes –typically 4, Growlers – typically 5, and MH-60x – highly variable numbers) and, finally, the total air wing count.

CVW-1  (Roosevelt)             44, 15, 59
CVW-2  (Reagan)                 34, 24, 60
CVW-3  (Truman)                  44, 28, 72
CVW-5  (Washington)          46, 25, 71
CVW-7  (Eisenhower)          44, 18, 62
CVW-8  (Bush)                      44, 28, 72
CVW-9  (Stennis)                  44, 29, 73
CVW-11  (Nimitz)                  44, ?, ?      (data incomplete)
CVW-17  (Vinson)                44, 27, 71

After a one year reprieve, CVW-14 has been slated for deactivation leaving the Navy with just 9 air wings.  When the Ford joins the fleet, the Navy will have 11 carriers and 9 air wings.  Allowing for one carrier always in long term maintenance/refueling, that still leaves one carrier without an air wing. 

CVW-2 is listed as having only 34 Hornets.  I don’t know if this is a case of a squadron being inadvertently left out of the listing or if its real.

Air wings also include a COD detachment during deployment but the aircraft are not considered part of the air wing.

Note the large variation in helos.  The reason for this is unknown but several of the wings have an extra squadron of helos.  If not for the extra squadron, the wings would total right around 60 as with CVW-1 and -7.

Note that the combat aircraft count includes the 4-6 Hornets that are always in use as tankers and, therefore, unavailable for combat, thereby reducing the combat aircraft count to around 38-40.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare????

Breaking Defense has an article describing a new Navy plan to dominate the electromagnetic spectrum, an area the Navy admits has been neglected and is badly lagging (1).  That sounds fine.  The problem is that the plan sounds suspiciously like the initial description of the LCS or JSF:  enormous in scope, breathtaking in capability, and dependent on magical, non-existent technology.  Of course, we know what happened to those programs when reality stepped in. 

The Navy has castigated critics of those programs for Monday morning quarterbacking (for those of you who may not be familiar with the expression, it means criticizing in hindsight) despite the fact that those program’s problems were all thoroughly discussed before the programs even started.  Well, here’s yet another program that has obvious problems before the program has even started.  No need to wait for hindsight.

Consider the following gems taken from the article and see if they don’t sound very much like the hype surrounding the LCS and JSF when those programs were beginning.

"The Navy is crafting a battle plan to retake control of the electromagnetic spectrum, which the Pentagon’s chief of research says we’ve lost."

"What’s really needed is a whole new concept of electronic warfare ..."

Sure, sure.  No sense building on existing concepts in a rational, measured approach that could actually achieve something useful for a reasonable amount of money.

"... the Growler becomes the cornerstone of a network encompassing the entire force ..."

“Network encompassing the entire force”?  Remember the LCS rapidly deployable sensor nets – that never happened?  Remember the LCS being a node in a battle force network – although it turned out that the LCS couldn’t actually survive in a hostile area?

"Coordinated by a yet-to-be-developed “electromagnetic battle management” system, all of these individual platforms will collect data on enemy signals to inform the network while dialing up and down their own emissions to deceive or jam the adversary. The Navy calls this “electromagnetic maneuver warfare.”"

“Battle management system”?  We can’t currently handle electromagnetic management of individual platforms but we’re going to develop an all-encompassing, master battle management system?

“Electromagnetic maneuver warfare”???  I think I just wet myself from excitement!

"... need to do it in deliberately unpredictable ways. “I may not transmit in the same frequency, the same power level; I may not use the same modulation,” Gamberg said.  “I may jump out of the RF [radio frequency] spectrum and go into EO [electro-optical, e.g. visible light].”

Jumping in and out of spectrums and transmitting data using visible light (I assume they aren’t talking about blinker lights!)?  Sounds like the same kind of non-existent technology we saw in the LCS module PowerPoint presentations.

"... we are interweaving electronic warfare into every platform."

“Interweaving”? 

"... the EA-18G will be essential to break the electronic links of the “kill chain” connecting enemy sensors to commanders and weapons."

Buzzword bingo!

"We need machines talking to each other [with] picosecond level timing ..."

Picosecond timing?  Outstanding!  I can’t see that kind of timing being susceptible to enemy disruption (that’s sarcasm, by the way).

The article did contain one piece of genuinely interesting information.  I’ve been wondering why the Navy is looking at acquiring more Growlers and here’s the answer.

"The new concept of operations relies heavily on passive detection."

"... Growlers will probably fly in trios, with one plane mostly in passive mode."

People have speculated that the Navy was looking at acquiring Growlers to keep Hornet production lines open as a hedge against more F-35 delays and that always struck me as unlikely.  At least now we know what the additional Growlers would be for.  Whether the concept makes tactical sense, I have no idea.  I’m also unaware that the Growler has any special passive sensing capability that would enable and justify this approach.  We’ll have to wait and see.


Growler - Maneuver Warfare


Back to the point, ComNavOps is all for improving our operations in the electromagnetic spectrum but not as another magical, all-encompassing, do everything, fantasy program that will cost billions of dollars and take decades of development.  Haven’t we learned our lesson?  We need to take the program and break the effort into manageable chunks that actually produce usable products in a sequenced fashion.

I know it’s not your habit but, c’mon Navy, learn a lesson!  No one will think less of you for exhibiting a small amount of intelligence.


(1) Breaking Defense, “Navy Forges New EW Strategy: Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. and Colin Clark, 10-Oct-2014