Sunday, July 26, 2015

Aegis Overhaul

Here’s an interesting tidbit about Aegis cruiser maintenance and upgrades.

BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair, Norfolk, Virginia, is being awarded a $38.6M modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-11-C-4403) for USS Leyte Gulf (CG-55) fiscal 2015 extended docking selected restricted availability (ED-SRA).  Work is expected to be completed by February 2016.

Remember that the Navy told us it would take 4 years to modernize an Aegis cruiser which is why they had to take 11 cruisers out of service?  Well, here’s a significant maintenance and upgrade for an Aegis cruiser that is only going to cost $38.6M and be completed in less than seven months (it doesn’t say when the start date is).

To be fair, I don’t know what the complete scope of work is for either this availability or the Navy’s proposed four year modernization.

The other interesting aspect to this is that we often discuss modernization upgrades as a possible alternative to new construction.  For example, what if the Perry’s had been upgraded instead of retired in favor of new LCSs?  During these discussions, people often fling costs around with little or no supporting data – the costs, predictably, being either outrageously high or low as needed to support the position being argued. 

I’d like to gather some supporting costs for those types of discussions.  Of course, an Aegis cruiser ED-SRA is not an exact match for anything other than what it is.  It is not, to use the previous example, an exact match for, and estimate of, the cost to modernize a Perry.  Still, this is a pretty extensive piece of work on a pretty sophisticated ship and should, therefore, offer some insight into modernization costs.  The next time someone argues for modernization and claims a cost of $10M, I’ll have data that suggests that’s not a realistic figure.  Similarly, the next time someone argues against modernization and claims a cost of $750M, I’ll have data that suggests that’s not a realistic figure.


I’ll gather a few of these data points over time and across a range of upgrades and maintenance and see what kind of cost numbers are realistic.  I’ll share them with you as I come across them.

Friday, July 24, 2015

STOVL

In the discussion comments about restarting the F-22 production line, a comment was made that the F-22 and F-18 aren’t STOVL (Short TakeOff Vertical Landing).  This comment prompted me to think - is there really any value to STOVL for the USN? 

Before I go any further, let me be quite clear and upfront about why I’m writing this post.  I am absolutely not using this as an opportunity to embarrass the person who wrote the comment.  Just the opposite, in fact.  The comment inspired me to continue the discussion and for that I sincerely thank the writer.  So, moving on.

Once upon a time we dreamed of hordes of jump jets operating from patches of jungle, rising up from nowhere, striking, and vanishing again with the enemy left helplessly trying to track down individual, well hidden mini-bases.  A nice idea, huh?  Well, reality has long proven that the dream is just that - a dream.  The logistics of supplying dozens of remote bases with fuel, munitions, and parts renders the concept void.  Further, modern stealth jets, the F-35B, in this case, require exquisite and extensive maintenance – hardly an enabler of remote bases.

The concept has never been used and as modern aircraft become ever more complex, the likelihood of it ever happening is as close to zero as can be.

That leaves operating from LHx amphibious vessels.  Now this is the real question: does the ability to operate a dozen STOVL aircraft really gain us enough to justify the impact on the LHx's main function which is delivery of fully equipped troops ashore? 

Given the significantly reduced size of current air wings, couldn’t we base the dozen extra F-35s on one of the carriers?  There will always be one or more around if we’re conducting amphibious operations.  Operating from a carrier will free up spots on the LHx for transport helos/V-22s and eliminate an entire maintenance line.  The carrier will already operate and maintain F-35s so, again, it makes sense to base the F-35Bs on the carrier.

Of course, this immediately leads to the next logical question:  why do we even need the F-35B if we’re going to base them on a carrier?  They have less range and less payload.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to simply have more F-35Cs?

OK, that covers the USN’s needs.  What about our allies?  Well, they have small carriers or limited carriers (like the Royal Navy) and may well have to operate a STOVL aircraft.  Honestly, I’m not familiar enough with foreign navies to understand their situations with certainty.  Still, are the needs of our allies enough to justify the abomination of a program that F-35 has become – and the F-35B is one of the major contributors to the disaster? 

What are we talking about for total F-35B sales?  A couple hundred?  Is that sufficient justification?  If it is, let the STOVL aircraft be a dedicated program with our allies paying the full cost.  I suspect we’d find that STOVL wasn’t all that important to them.

Recognize that I’m not trashing our allies.  They’re quite logically jumping on board to gain what benefit they can.  However, both the US and our allies need to recognize what the F-35 is doing to their budgets and their force structure.  The countries that want the F-35 will be forced to sacrifice major assets to free up enough money to get the aircraft or they will have to cut the buys to the point where, again, you have to ask what the value is.


The F-35, in general, and the F-35B, in particular, have wrecked the US Marine Corps force structure and many of our allies budgets and force structures, all in the name of a STOVL capability that is of very limited value.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

VL-ASROC Repair

Lockheed Martin Corp., Akron, Ohio, has received a contract for $7.6M for the repair and refurbishment of 11 vertical launch anti-submarine rocket motors (VL-ASROC). 


Wow!  That’s a lot of money for simple repair and refurbishment of rocket motors. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

F-22 Production Line Restart Costs

How often have we had discussions about various aircraft (and occasionally ships) that involved the question of reopening production lines?  Invariably, someone makes the claim that reopening a production line would be more expensive than a new design.  That’s ridiculous for a variety of reasons but no one has actual data or facts to prove or disprove the contention.  One common proposal and point of debate is the F-22.  Given the cost and questionable performance and usefulness of the F-35, it has been proposed that we simply reopen the F-22 production line.  Along the same line, people have proposed a navalized F-22 but the idea gets shot down by the contention that reopening the line would be cost prohibitive. 

ComNavOps hates debating points that have no supporting data.  Well, I stumbled across a data point for the F-22 production line courtesy of a Reuter’s article (1).

“… the Air Force has taken steps that leave open an option to restart the premier plane's production relatively cheaply.”

“The Air Force is preserving the hardware used to build the jet, not scrapping it … “

“A total of more than 30,000 jigs, fixtures and other "tooling" used to build the plane are being logged into a database and tucked into containers, some custom built, for long-term storage at Sierra Army Depot, Herlong, California.”

“Lockheed is under Air Force contract also to preserve the shop-floor know-how used to manufacture the fighter. It is accomplishing this through a video library of "smart books," DVDs designed to capture such things as how to hold a tool for best results.”

Now, here’s the ultimate point.

“Bringing back the F-22 line would take less than $200 million, "a fraction of the costs seen in previous line restarts of other weapons systems," Alison Orne, a Lockheed spokeswoman, said by email, citing preliminary analysis.”

So, for the cost of a one or two aircraft, the F-22 production line could be reopened.  That should answer a lot of questions.  Even if the aircraft were altered, say for a navalized version, the vast majority of tooling would still be applicable and available.

No matter what you do to the restart cost estimate (double it, triple it, whatever), it remains a cheap option.

As an interesting and related side note, the article mentions a few other production lines that have been reopened but does not offer any costs.

“Arms production lines have shut in the past only to be brought back, including aircraft such as the submarine-hunting P-3, U-2 spy plane and B-1A bomber resurrected as the B-1B.”

Of course, this represents the best case scenario where the production tooling is carefully preserved along with the production knowledge.  This doesn’t apply to most other programs although companies generally do crate and retain tooling against future need.  So, reopening the Perry FFG production line, for example, might cost significantly more but probably less than the cost of a single ship (there I go, offering an opinion with no supporting data – I hate that!).

The point is that options involving restarting F-22 production are viable and financially attractive.  So, go ahead and offer up your favorite F-22 restart scenario and know that it is feasible.


(1)Reuters, “U.S. to mothball gear to build top F-22 fighter”, Jim Wolf, 12-Dec-2011,



Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chain Gun Research

Alliant Techsystems Operations LLC, Plymouth, Minnesota, has received a contract for $12M to lease a test vehicle to the Navy for chain gun prototype development.  The work will include prototype fabrication, pre-production, integration, testing, evaluation and development of chain gun weapon systems hardware, associated gun control system software and ammunition.  The work will be performed in Mesa, Arizona, and is expected to be completed by July 2020. 


That’s interesting.  I wonder what the Navy is doing with chain guns?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Hornets Deleted?

Here’s a fascinating little tidbit that almost escaped me.  The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) is asking Congress to remove the 12 extra F/A-18E/Fs that were included in the defense authorization budget bill.  You may or may not know that the Navy included 12 extra Hornets on their unfunded requirements list which is a list submitted to Congress containing “wish list” items if Congress feels so inclined as to provide extra funding.  Essentially, it’s a priority list for unanticipated, extra funding.  Guess what?  To everyone’s surprise, Congress actually funded the extra Hornets and now OSD is trying to remove them from the budget.

So, what do we make of this?  The Navy has extra Hornets on their unfunded requirements list, Congress funds them, and now OSD is asking Congress to delete them.  ComNavOps can see only one explanation.

Someone is nervous about the viability of the F-35 and wants to ensure that there are no viable competitors in the form of the Hornet and that no one gets the bright idea to keep the Hornet production line going.  An active Hornet production line represents a viable alternative to the F-35 and people higher than the Navy don’t want that.  Add in the possibility of the Advanced Super Hornet with some of the F-35’s technology and you’ve got a seriously viable alternative.  It’s easy to see why that would make F-35 program managers nervous.

The Navy tells Congress what it needs.  Congress funds the need.  OSD attempts to prevent that.  That’s a seriously screwed up system.  Is there any further doubt about who’s calling the shots in the military?  I’m looking at you, Lockheed.

The request from OSD to Congress states that,

“…the additional 12 F/A-18E/F aircraft unfunded requirement is not required.”

Well, they’re not needed by Lockheed Martin, that’s for sure!  However, the Navy seems to think they’re needed.  I guess we see who’s running the Department of Lockheed Martin Defense.


(1)USNI, “Pentagon Asks Congress to Reverse Decision to Add 12 Super Hornets for Navy”, Megan Eckstein, July 17, 2015,

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Offensive Mine Warfare

What has been the most effective naval weapon since WWII?  I think you all know it’s the mine.  I won’t even bother to list the statistics concerning damage done to the US Navy by mines.  You either know them in a general sense or can readily find them on the Internet.  With the demonstrated combat and cost effectiveness – mines are among the cheapest weapons available – you’d think navies would be heavily focused on the offensive use of mines.  Indeed, most countries are except for the US.  Now that’s a head scratcher.  The US would, apparently, prefer to spend billions on questionable ships and aircraft rather than spend thousands on proven and highly effective mines.

Let’s look closer at the Navy’s state of offensive mine warfare (MIW).

According to the Navy document, “21st Century U.S. Navy Mine Warfare” (2009), the only active mines in the Navy inventory as of 2009 were the Mk62 (500 lb bomb), Mk63 (1000 lb bomb), and the Mk65 Quickstrikes.  The Navy website lists the Mk62/3/5 and SLMM as the active mines in the Navy’s inventory as of Dec 2014 with the SLMM having been reactivated. 

Here’s a quick review of our offensive mines.

Mk60 CAPTOR (Encapsulated Torpedo), ship/aircraft/sub laid, bottom, acoustic – Phased Out

Mk62 Quickstrike, aircraft laid, bottom, magnetic/seismic/pressure, converted 500 lb general purpose bomb;  highly inaccurate for laying out a precision minefield

Mk63 Quickstrike, aircraft laid, bottom, magnetic/seismic/pressure, converted 1000 lb general purpose bomb;  highly inaccurate for laying out a precision minefield

Mk65 Quickstrike, aircraft laid, bottom, magnetic/seismic/pressure;  dedicated 2300 lb version

Mk67 SLMM (Submarine Launched Mobile Mine), submarine laid, shallow, magnetic/seismic/pressure, converted Mk37 torpedo

Improved SLMM – proposed program to replace the Mk65 SLMM with a conversion of the Mk48 torpedo – Cancelled (4)

We see, then, that our mine inventory is antiquated and ad hoc in nature with adapted general purpose aerial bombs being our main mine weapons.  Why is this?  Surely the Navy must be more focused on MIW than I’m suggesting, here?

Well, aside from the pretty damning evidence of our obsolete inventory, consider that the “21st Century U.S. Navy Mine Warfare” document has approximately one page of the 31 page document devoted to offensive mine warfare.  The remainder is dedicated to mine countermeasures (MCM).  For some reason, the Navy considers MCM to be far more valuable than MIW.

Here’s an example that further illustrates the near total lack of MIW emphasis.  An official Navy news release dated Oct 2013 described an SLMM exercise that involved the training, certification, and launch of an SLMM (inert) by a Los Angeles class submarine (1).  The implication in this is a bit disconcerting as it implies that submarines are not routinely trained and certified for offensive mine operations.

On the plus side, work is underway to convert or modify the SLMM to be deliverable by Large Diameter Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (LDUUV) as documented in a Navy presentation (2).  Again, the lack of emphasis on MIW is evidenced by the single slide addressing the subject out of seven.

The LDUUV delivery is, apparently, part of a developmental effort by the Navy to construct an Advanced Undersea Weapon System (AUWS) which is envisioned to be a networked system with nearly unlimited options and power.

“The Advanced Undersea Weapon System (AUWS) is a group of unmanned systems (sensors, effectors, communications, and vehicles) that can be pre-positioned to autonomously and persistently influence the adversary at a time and place of our choosing. … The AUWS will give commanders the ability to deploy sensors and weapon nodes as a minefield while maintaining the capability to remotely activate and deactivate the weapons. …

This concept provides asymmetric clandestine solutions that will free traditional platforms to be more effectively employed in a capacity for which they were designed. The AUWS provides commanders with unique operational and tactical options in contested waters without regard to air superiority or water depth, freeing them to act aggressively with autonomous inexpensive tools. Its modular design will allow operators to integrate a wide variety of sensors and weapons, thus tailoring the system for specific missions. Sensors of choice may include short-, mid-, and long-range devices. Kinetic options include submarine-launched mobile mine (SLMM) warheads, torpedoes (CRAW or Mk-54), AIM-9X missile, and projectile explosives. Commanders may also apply deliveries to distort an adversary’s tactical picture through deception (decoys, noisemakers, etc.), ISR packages, and real-time intelligence. The AUWS may be delivered from surface ships, submarines, or aircraft, or it may self-deploy from a friendly port within range. Unmanned vehicles to transport AUWS deliveries may be reusable or expendable.”

Wow!  Who wouldn’t want that kind of do-anything capability using any kind of sensor or weapon deployed by any kind of platform?  Unfortunately, this sounds exactly like the LCS in its original description.  Remember the enthusiastic, near-raving descriptions of the LCS as a network node in a vast battle management system that would revolutionize warfare?  Yeah …  How’d that work out?

There’s nothing wrong with shooting for the moon with respect to technology as long it’s kept to a minimally funded research project.  However, if this is another example of the Navy betting the farm on a fantasy dream that can never happen, we’ll never get anywhere with MIW.  You’ll recall that the Navy bet the MCM farm on the LCS?  Here we are years later and we still do not even have a base level of deployable MCM capability by the LCS while we struggle to keep neglected Avenger class MCM vessels afloat.

According to Second Line of Defense website, even the SLMM was scheduled to be deactivated but was rescued by CNO Greenert (4).

Further evidence of the lack of MIW focus is that the military’s mine deployment capability is severely limited.  The Navy currently has no surface mine laying capability (4).  The only significant mine laying capability resides with the Air Force in the form of B-1 and B-52 bombers.  The B-2 has the capability but does not train for the mission (4).  The B-52 can carry 10-45 Quickstrike mines depending on the base bomb size while the B-1 can carry 8-84.

“A handful of obsolescent SLMMs––with perhaps less than optimum reliability, accuracy, and standoff characteristics––constitute the Navy’s only clandestine mining capability. The air-launched Quickstrikes have less-than-optimal accuracy and are best deployed in less-than-contested environments.”

Thus, the Navy has almost no submarine mine laying capability.

The Navy supposedly conducted an Analysis of Alternatives in 2012 to address MIW, however, that report, if completed, has never been released.

Another small plus is that a Quickstrike wing package has been developed to allow standoff delivery of mines by allowing the bomb/mines to glide for some distance.  A Sep 2014 test involving a B-52H demonstrated a Mk62 mine release with a 40 mile standoff deployment (4).  Presumably, heavier Mk63/4/5 versions would have progressively smaller standoff ranges.  However, given today’s thousand mile A2/AD zones, long range SAMs, and high speed, stealthy fighter aircraft, a standoff range of 40 miles for delivering mines is still way to close to expect the mine laying bombers to survive the attempt.

The only clandestine mine laying capability lies with the submarine launched SLMM, however, the SLMM is based on an obsolete torpedo that is no longer in production.  Further, there are doubts about the functionality of the SLMM due to the age of the Mk37 torpedo that constitutes its base (4).


Who’s responsible for this lack of focus on MIW?  Well, aside from CNO Greenert, it would be the Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command (NMAWC) which has responsibility for the Navy’s mine warfare (MIW) function.

Just as the Navy has, for decades, focused on defense (Aegis, bigger Standard Missiles, BMD) to the detriment of offensive strike and only lately begun to re-emphasize offensive missiles, so too has the Navy focused on the defensive aspect of mine warfare, MCM, to the detriment of offensive mining operations, MIW.  We look at the A2/AD challenge and bemoan the difficulty in combating Chinese activities inside that zone while ignoring the, arguably, most effective weapon we could deploy.  Imagine the havoc caused by minefields laid in Chinese harbors and naval bases as well as around key transit and chokepoints.  We’re focused on billion dollar technologies when simple, basic mines costing mere thousands could offer an enormous “bang” for the buck.


(1)ComSubPac Public Affairs Office, http://www.csp.navy.mil/releases/release_13037.shtml, Oct 2013

(2)Navy OpNav N95 Update, Mine Warfare Association Government-Industry Day slide presentation,

(3)USNI Proceedings, “Mine and Undersea Warfare for the Future”, Edwards & Gallagher, Aug 2014,

(4)Second Line of Defense, “Closing the US Navy’s Mine Warfare Gap”, Scott Truver, 20-Jun-2015