Wednesday, September 2, 2015


I’ve suggested in comments and posts that the US geopolitical “strategy” regarding China is one of appeasement.  Well, here’s the latest piece of evidence via Breaking Defense website (1).

“…we understand from two well-informed sources that the US is effectively observing a 12-nautical mile limit around the piles of coral, rock, and sand the Chinese have erected  to bolster their claim to the waters inside their Nine Dash Line.”

There you have it.  It’s illegal to build man-made “islands” and claim territorial sovereignty rights but that’s what China is doing and the US is honoring those claims.  The Chinese takeover of the South and East China Seas is all but complete. 


Missile Pylon Costs

You all know what the LAU-115/6 is, right?  You don’t?!  OK, I didn’t exactly recognize the item right off the bat either.  LAU-115 and -116 are the launch pylons used on the Navy’s Hornets to carry and launch AIM-120 and AIM-9X air to air missiles.

Typical Launch Pylon

What do you think they cost?  Maybe $1000 each?  Naw, probably more than that.  The military doesn’t buy anything cheap.  Maybe $5000 each?  They couldn’t be more than $10,000 each, could they?  They’re just relatively simple racks that carry and eject the missiles. 

Well, Raytheon Technical Services was given a $38M contract to supply 228 LAU-115 launchers and 30 LAU-115 launchers for the Navy.  Some quick math gives us a price of $144,000 each.  Wow!  I’m in the wrong line of work.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Center of Gravity

Although ComNavOps abhors the use of buzzwords and phrases such as synergy or center of gravity (CoG), some of them nevertheless convey an accurate image.  A center of gravity is just what it implies:  a major concentration of capability.  In the case of the military arena, a CoG is a concentration of a critical warfighting capability.  We attempt to identify the enemy’s CoGs and attack them but do we examine our own CoGs?  What are our CoGs and how might an enemy attack them?  China is undoubtedly devoting a great deal of time and effort to exactly this task and we would do well to anticipate their actions and have ready responses.

So, what Navy CoG do we want to examine today?  Well, I’m willing to bet that the Navy’s most important, least recognized, and, potentially, most vulnerable CoG is its vast system of networks.  By “network”, I mean all the weapons and systems that generate, collect, transmit, use, and manipulate data.  This would include GPS signals, Link XX, SATCOM, UAV comm links, weapon guidance signals, straightforward communication channels, and every other data transmitting or receiving device the Navy has. 

Consider that the Navy uses data transmissions of one sort or another to guide nearly every weapon it has.  How many weapons are GPS dependent, for example?  How many weapons use mid-course guidance signals?  We’re actively pursuing in-flight reprogramming of cruise missiles (though the benefit of that is highly debatable).

Consider the wondrous F-35 which will be a combination of E-2 Hawkeye, P-8, F/A-18G ECM, J-STARS, and fire control for every aircraft and weapon within a million mile radius.  Setting aside my mockery of it, its performance is predicated on seamless and flawless data flow (the Navy having all but admitted that it won’t be used as a frontline combat aircraft but, rather, as an enabler of other aircraft).

Consider the Navy’s next generation Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), the Navy Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air (NIFC-CA) which will tie every sensor and shooter system together in an impenetrable defensive network, according to the brochures.  This is nothing but data flow and data sharing on an immense scale.

I submit that data flow is the heart of the Navy.  It is the Navy’s CoG. 

And it’s vulnerable.

China knows this.  Do you think they aren’t working on disrupting our data flow?  Jamming?  False signals?  Data overwrites via signal injection?  Physical destruction of nodes?  Dozens of other electronic and cyber disruptive possibilities I haven’t even begun to think of?  We’ve seen them conduct their own anti-satellite missile tests so there go our GPS signals.  They’re continually practicing cyber warfare (hacking) on a daily and massive scale – and quite successfully, too, from what information is released publicly.

We need to look closely at our own COGs and their vulnerabilities and begin strengthening them. 

We need to develop better methods of data transmission, improve the security our data and comm lines, develop better methods of authenticating our data, and develop better means of handshaking our data to ensure that complete packets are received.  This is way outside my area of expertise.  I can see the problem and I know the general direction we need to go but the specifics are way beyond me.  The Navy, however, needs to work on this.

In addition to strengthening our networks, we need to train to operate in electronically degraded environments.  Conducting set-piece training exercises that utilize the full range of networking and data flow is worthless because none of that will happen in a real conflict.  Instead, we need to conduct every training exercise in the face of the best ECM and counter-data effort we can generate.  This will accomplish two things:  it will show us how to operate in a real world scenario and it will vigorously exercise our ECM and counter-data capabilities.  We’ll get two levels of training for the price of one, so to speak.

Finally, and related to the training issue, we need to think the unthinkable.  We need to consider designing less brilliant weapons.  Conceptually, which is more useful:  a gravity bomb that is unaffected by any jamming or cyber disruption or a GPS guided weapon that won’t do anything if it has no GPS signal?  We are so enamored of our technology and networking that we’ve forgotten that simplicity reigns once combat begins.

Both sides have CoGs and we need to recognize our own and anticipate their weaknesses so that when the enemy attacks we’ll be prepared.

Monday, August 31, 2015

MCM Module Failures Continue

As you know, ComNavOps prefers not to simply repeat another website’s posting information.  ComNavOps’ job is to add value through analysis but occasionally another website has information that is just too important and too self-explanatory and must, therefore, simply be largely repeated.  Such is the case with Defense News website’s reporting of the continued failure of the LCS mine countermeasures (MCM) module (1).

You’ll recall that the Navy bet all in on the LCS as the MCM platform of the future.  The existing Avenger class dedicated MCM vessels were literally allowed to rot pierside and the Navy has had to scramble to try to bring them back to operational status due to the failure of the LCS MCM module.  The module has been under continuous development since the beginning of the LCS program and has nothing to show for the effort. 

Hints of the problems have been available in the DOT&E annual reports as well as the relative scarcity of glowing public information releases from the Navy.  The Independence (LCS-2) has been the dedicated test platform for the MCM module and has been employed nearly full time testing the system.

The individual components of the MCM module have been documented to fail to meet their performance requirements and the overall module has never operated with the mandated degree of reliability.

Defense News now reports that the Director of DOT&E, Michael Gilmore, has issued a memo to Pentagon acquisition chief, Frank Kendall, detailing the continued failings of the MCM module and, worse, the Navy’s attempts to mislead concerning system reliability.

“Recent developmental testing provides no statistical evidence that the system is demonstrating improved reliability, and instead indicates that reliability plateaued nearly a decade ago.”

“The reliability of existing systems is so poor that it poses a significant risk to both the upcoming operational test of the LCS Independence-variant equipped with the first increment of the Mine Countermeasures (MCM) mission package, and to the Navy’s plan to field and sustain a viable LCS-based minehunting and mine clearance capability prior to fiscal year 2020.”

What is the actual reliability data?

“… reliability has improved since then, but continues to fall far short of the threshold of 75 hours’ mean time between operational mission failure (MTBOMF).

So, the standard is set at 75 hours between failures.  What is the actual reliability performance?

“But despite all the efforts to improve reliability, Gilmore assessed the RMS system’s current overall reliability at 18.8 hours between failure, and the RMMV vehicle at 25.0 hours.”

Wow!  That’s quite a failing.  The standard is 75 hours and the equipment is achieving 19-25 hours.  That’s not even close.  But it gets worst.  The Navy is attempting to mislead concerning reliability data.

He [Gilmore] took consistent issue with Navy reliability data, pointing out that in some instances, ‘the Navy inflated operating time estimates for the MTBOMF calculations by assuming that post-mission analysis time (when the vehicle is not in the water and not operating) could be counted.’ ”

So not only is the MCM module failing but the Navy is trying to hide the failure.  I’ve stated repeatedly that the Navy’s integrity is highly suspect, to put it as politely as I can.  This is all on CNO Greenert.  He is condoning this type of fraudulent reporting. 

Now, here’s the even more stunning part of this sad story.  Despite all this failure, the Navy is set to restart production of the module!  The module isn’t even close to working so the Navy’s response is to buy more.  This is stupidity at a staggering level.  Way to go Greenert.

There is one more aspect to this that caught my attention.  You’ll recall that the Pentagon recently ordered the Navy to conduct shock testing on the new carrier Ford even though the Navy was attempting to postpone the testing for several years until the next carrier or even indefinitely (see, “Shocking”).  The Pentagon, through the office of the acquisition chief, Frank Kendall, issued the order to the Navy directing the earlier testing.  At the time I wondered who had the authority and was pulling the strings on this.  Now, it appears we have an answer.  Michael Gilmore seems to be communicating directly with Frank Kendall and Kendall seems to be buying in to Gilmore’s thoughts on acquisition and testing deficiencies in the Navy.  This is about as good news as ComNavOps could hope for.  Gilmore has apparently gotten fed up with the Navy’s games and is taking his case to higher authority in the form of Kendall.  This can only benefit the Navy although it’s almost criminally shameful that the Navy has to be forced in this manner to do what’s right.

(1)Defense News, “Official: Minehunting System Shows No Improvement”, Christopher P. Cavas, August 30, 2015,

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Fort Worth's Successful(?) Deployment

Here’s an example of why it is so important to dig into the Navy’s endless stream of glowingly effusive reports about the latest hugely successful accomplishment regarding whatever program is being discussed.  If one were to take the Navy’s reports at face value, one would assume that every weapon system was an unmitigated success with the only source of puzzlement being that fact that the weapons under discussion are consistently so much more effective than even the designers imagined. 

The Naval Institute’s website has an article about the USS Fort Worth’s (LCS-3) current Singapore/Pacific deployment.  The article raves about the success of the Fort Worth’s deployment from a maintenance perspective, citing statistics such as being underway for 96 days (89 planned) out of the first 180.  Fort Worth’s success is compared to the Freedom’s dismal deployment as evidence of the maturation and success of the current LCS program.  Certainly, Fort Worth’s deployment is a success compared to Freedom’s but the only way it could have been worse is if the ship sank – Freedom’s deployment was that bad.  Claiming success by comparing to a previous deployment that was a dismal failure is to grasp at a very low bar, indeed.

Still, though, meeting the entire planned days underway (plus an extra week) seems like a success, right?  Let’s dig a little deeper and see if the claim holds up.

Let’s start with the days underway claim.  OK, they met the planned days underway.  Hmm …  Days underway?  On deployment, isn’t almost every day a day underway?  Consider a typical surface ship deployment.  Subtracting a few port calls, every day is a day underway.  Fort Worth was planned to be underway for 89 out of 180 days.  That’s 49%.  So, 51% of the time the ship was not planned to be underway.  Well, sure, that seems kind of low but maybe that just means that they had a lot of port calls scheduled.  They can’t be faulted for that, right?

Recall that the manning and maintenance concept for the LCS requires that they return to port for around 5 days every few weeks for maintenance and that they return to port for around 14 days every four months.  So, for a 180 day deployment (6 months), that would require around 44 days of scheduled in port repair and maintenance.  Thus, right off the bat as the deployment is being planned, before any other commitments or before anything has gone wrong, the ship is required to sit out 44 days of 180 or 24%.  That’s right, 24% of the deployment is planned to be unable to function and that’s just the minimum.  Obviously, unplanned repairs will occur as things break and since the LCS can’t repair even the simplest things at sea, that’s another chunk of unavailability that must be counted on even if it can’t be planned for.  What other ship, by concept, can’t be available for operations 24% of the deployment?  None.

Now, consider the LCS’ endurance.  For the current expanded crew size, the ship is only sized and fitted to support the crew for about 14 days at sea without needing to return to port to resupply.  Thus, unless the ship’s operating area is just a few miles outside port, the LCS will spend a few to several days transiting to the operating area and a few to several days returning to port out of every 14 day cycle.  That only leaves around 7 days actually operating in each 14 day cycle.  So, while the ship may be underway for 14 days, it’s only doing its assigned task half the time, at best.  Of course, resupply affects all Navy ships but not to the point of requiring a return to port every two weeks.

We see, then, that the Navy loudly and proudly trumpets the Fort Worth’s days underway without noting that the ship is, by design, limited to only about 50% time-on-task availability on deployment.  That’s an atrociously poor performance compared to any other ship.  The Navy didn’t tell you that in their glowing report, did they?

Let’s look closer at the Fort Worth’s maintenance as reported by the Navy.  The vast improvement over the Freedom must mean that problems have been eliminated, right?  I mean, the Fort Worth incorporated design improvements and lessons learned from Freedom so the maintenance and problems must be better.

The article presents a table of data about Casualty Reports (CASREP) for the deployment.  Before I give you the actual data, here is the descriptive wording accompanying the data:

For Freedom:  “Higher severity average”, “Longer average time to correct”
For Fort Worth:  “Lower severity average”, “Shorter average time to correct”

Well, that seems clear enough.  Freedom’s CASREPs were obviously more numerous, more severe, and required more time to correct.  Now here’s the accompanying data provided by the Navy.  For those not familiar with the CASREP system, all CASREPS are reports of equipment malfunctions severe enough to impact the ship’s ability to perform its primary and secondary missions.  Category 2 is the least severe and the Category 4 is the most severe.  The first figure is the number of events for that category and the second is the average time the report was open which is another way of saying the number of days required to fix the problem.

Freedom                    Fort Worth

Category 2     58        36 days          61        35 days
Category 3     9          23                    8          22
Category 4     1          14                    0          -

The data shows that Fort Worth had 3 more Cat 2 incidents than Freedom and 1 less Cat 3 & 4.  The days open were virtually identical.  Thus, Fort Worth had nearly the exact same maintenance issues as Freedom and yet Fort Worth’s deployment is a raving success according to the Navy.

In summary, we see that, while the Fort Worth had more days underway, the LCS’ entire availability concept is poor in the extreme with around 50% availability being the MAXIMUM that can be attained.  Further, Fort Worth’s successful deployment has been identical to Freedom’s in terms of maintenance Casualty Report numbers, severity, and time required to fix.  No improvement at all.

This is why you have to dig deeper into the Navy’s ridiculous reports and this is why ComNavOps offers this blog and this level of analysis – so you can see the reality, good or bad.

(1)USNI, “LCS Fort Worth Integrates Fire Scout UAV, RHIBs Into Bilateral Exercises For First Time”, Megan Eckstein, August 26, 2015 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tailhooks and Helmets

As we discuss various aircraft and ship construction options, we often fling around opinions about the supposed ease, or difficulty, of the associated technology.  Most of us are of the opinion that adding existing, understood  technology to a ship or plane should be relatively easy and relatively inexpensive.  Let’s consider a few specific examples and see if that assumption holds up.

First, let’s consider the higher end of the technology spectrum.  The F-35’s magic helmet is, arguably, the key component which enables the power of the F-35 (to the extent that one believes the F-35 has combat power – but that’s not the point of this post).  Stunningly, F-35 production began before the helmet even existed.  Today, after a couple decades of development, a functional helmet still does not exist.  Well, OK, that’s to be expected.  Non-existent technology doesn’t spring into being overnight.  Everyone except the military seems to understand that.

We can cite innumerable additional examples of cutting edge technology that proved too difficult to apply.  Remember, NLOS, for example?  Or, the entire original LCS ASW module?  Enough said.

Let’s look at the other end of the technology spectrum because, surely, basic, almost primitive technology should be easy to incorporate, right?

The technology, such as it is, of the tailhook has been well understood for decades.  Adding a tailhook to an aircraft design should be child’s play.  And yet, the F-35 managed to botch it, totally.

Hey, stop picking on the F-35.  OK, let’s look at galvanic corrosion on ships.  Galvanic corrosion (oxidation due to dissimilar metals) has been understood since the time of Nelson’s sailing ships.  Every ship built since the age of sail has had galvanic corrosion protection measures.  Nothing new about this.  And yet, the LCS managed to botch it, totally.

Again, we can cite many examples of basic technology that failed to be successfully incorporated into new designs.  Remember the missing LCS bridge wings?

So, what’s the point, here?  There are two, related points, actually.

The first, and incredibly obvious point, is that non-existent technology belongs in the realm of reseach, not production.  The military insists on repeatedly attempting to apply non-existent technology to production programs with utterly predictable results.

The second, and equally obvious point, is that existing, well understood, basic technology is only understood and basic if you have engineers who know it.  The Navy has abdicated their in-house design expertise to manufacturers.  When less than knowledgeable people, whether Navy or manufacturer, begin making design decisions, problems and costs will follow regardless of how simple the technology is.  Unfortunately, for those of us who argue for the construction of aircraft and ships using proven, basic technologies, this means that even such a design may well turn out to be costly beyond any reasonable estimate.  Thus, the assumption that we can produce good, solid designs based on existing, understood technology is suspect.  It shouldn’t be but given the Navy’s demonstrated incompetence even with basic technology, it often is.

This leads to the question, how can the Navy so consistently fail to recognize the need for basic technology and then fail so completely to properly implement it?  I’ve answered this one before – it’s the loss of in-house expertise.  Unfortunately, that means that even solid, basic designs may be beyond the Navy’s ability to produce.  That, in turn, means that every developmental/acquisition program may be doomed to massive cost overruns and performance failures.  The Navy really needs to take a long, hard look at its internal design expertise and try to honestly recognize why almost every program is deemed a failure by any rational criteria.  Or, if that intellectual exercise is beyond them, and it certainly seems to be, then they can simply cheat and read this blog to find out what’s wrong.  The answers are free!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy

The Department of Defense has released its Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy (APMSS) document.  We just recently reviewed the DoD’s National Military Strategy (NMS) document and decided that it was an utter waste of time and effort, contained absolutely nothing of value, totally failed to even meet the definition of a strategy, and was an embarrassment to our so-called professional military leaders.  Now, let’s take a look at this strategy document.

Let me give you the broad view right up front.  This document is a vast improvement over the NMS.  It contains most of the elements of an actual strategy and, largely, refrains from the PR marketing that was the hallmark of the NMS.  It describes the problems in a succinct and yet thorough manner, lays out some fairly clear and definite goals though still a bit generic, and then lists methods for achieving the goals.  The flip side of this is that the goals and methods are still a bit on the generic side, are extremely passive, and some are what I would consider political rather than military.

So, while I disagree with the goals and methods the document does, at least, meet the minimal definition of an actual strategy. 

That said, let’s get into a bit of the details.

First, a strategy should lay out the problem and this is probably the strength of this document.  With a bit of tiptoeing around the China issue, it still does a very nice job of describing the problems and challenges we face in the Asia-Pacific (AP) region.  The document is worth a read for this section if no other.  It clearly and concisely describes the challenges in the region related to the multitude of conflicting territorial claims.  I wish it would have tied the region’s challenges into the US national and strategic interests a bit more.  The US dependence on regional commercial shipping and the related rights of passage are pointed out but not much more.  Why does it matter to the US who claims which islands?  That’s the key question and it went largely unanswered.  I suspect this is part of the tiptoeing around China aspect.

Second, a strategy should lay out the goals and objectives.  The document lists three main objectives:

  • safeguard the freedom of the seas
  • deter conflict and coercion
  • promote adherence to international law and standards.

Those are still a bit generic but do offer at least some degree of usefulness.  Their main failing is that they are supposed to be a means to solving the described problems and they don’t.  At best, they can be said to preserve the peace while doing nothing to actually solve the problems in a manner beneficial to US interests.

Third, a strategy must lay out the methods to accomplish the goals and objectives.  This is the weakest part of the document. 

  • Strengthening our military capacity
  • Working with allied and partner nations to build their maritime capabilities
  • Leveraging military capacity to reduce risk of conflict
  • Working to build regional security organizations

These are fairly generic and the specifics that are described as pertaining to these are non-specific and have little demonstrable connection to, or impact on, the stated method.  Some of these, such as building regional security organizations, are more political methods than military.

Now for my biggest criticism ...  The overall theme of the strategy is one of conflict avoidance at almost all costs.  The strategy notes but does nothing specific and effective to address China’s creeping land (and air/sea) grab efforts which have, thus far, proven highly successful and are inexorably solidifying China’s claims (possession being nine tenths of the law).  This borders on appeasement and that’s an approach that has failed every time throughout history that it’s ever been used.  As I stated in the previous post, a better goal would have been,

“Contain China’s expansionist activities and prevent any Chinese territorial gains in the South and East China Seas using military confrontation to augment diplomatic efforts.”

The very passive nature of this strategy calls into question the degree of need for the military and its many new weapon systems and associated huge expenditures.  We could accomplish all that’s called for in the strategy with nothing more than an ocean-going coast guard.  See?  That’s the problem (and strength) of having a strategy.  The strategy will tell you what military needs you really have and this is saying that we already have far more than enough.  If the DoD really believes this strategy, as written, they should be making major, across the board cuts (some would say they are, I guess).

Also, the very concept of deterrence is indirectly called into question by this strategy.  We’ve been engaged in deterrence for years and if this is the result of our efforts (China slowly annexing the entire South Pacific) then deterrence has failed miserably as a policy and that should be acknowledged and addressed in the strategy with an alternate approach spelled out (see my previous offering of a better objective).  Instead, the strategy essentially calls for more of the same failed deterrence and, thereby, implicitly cedes the entire South and East China Seas to China.

Let me sum up by saying that the document is head and shoulders above the NMS in terms of laying out an actual strategy and is well worth the time to read.  I urge you to do so.  It’s readily available on the Internet.  The goals and methods are suspect and unwise but at least they’re spelled out.

Let me close by offering the absolute standout statement in the document.

“China’s actions are having the effect of increasing uncertainty about its intentions, and this is shrinking space for diplomatic solutions to emerge.” [emphasis added]

Now, if the DoD would read their own statement and take heed …