Friday, February 12, 2016

Navy Wants To Deactivate Air Wing

ComNavOps has long been saying that the carrier force is on a steady downward trajectory and that we are headed for a 8-9 carrier force.  Here is further proof of the trend, as reported by USNI News website (1).  The Navy is asking Congress for permission to deactivate Carrier Air Wing 14 which would reduce the number of air wings to 9.

Absorb that number:  9 air wings.

That means that, regardless of the number of carriers we have, we can only ever deploy 9.  By law, the Navy is required to have 11 carriers even though we only have 10 now since Enterprise was retired and Ford won’t be commissioned for a few years, yet.  The Navy obtained a Congressional waiver for this period.  By law, the Navy must maintain 10 air wings.  Ten air wings was one less than the number of carriers and recognized the reality that one carrier is always in extended overhaul and unavailable for combat.  Thus, 10 deployable carriers and 10 air wings.  Now, the Navy is claiming that two carriers will always be in extended overhauls so only 9 carriers are deployable and, therefore, only 9 air wings are needed.

This is simply paving the way for a permanent reduction from 11 carriers to 10.  Eventually, the Navy will make the argument that with only 9 air wings, it makes no sense to maintain 11 carriers and they’ll propose eliminating a carrier, probably the next one slated for a mid-life nuclear refueling.

We’ve repeatedly noted that the air wings of today are far smaller than the air wings when the Nimitz class first commissioned and yet we’re building bigger carriers.  Some people have suggested that this is not a problem and, in fact, is a good thing since it allows us to surge aircraft to the carriers in the event of war.  My response to this nonsensical notion is, where will these surge aircraft come from?  We only have 9 air wings.  Each will be deployed in war.  Where are these extra surge aircraft?  There aren’t any and dropping another air wing is only going to make the situation worse.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Navy is so desperate to build new ships, whether useful or not, that they’ll sacrifice anything to do so.  Now, it’s an air wing.  Next it will be a carrier.

We’re pivoting to the Pacific, supposedly, an area that is lacking airbases and the Navy is trying to drop air wings and carriers?  What kind of sense does that make? 


(1)USNI, “FY 2017 Budget: Navy Asks Congressional Permisson to Shutter Carrier Air Wing”, Megan Eckstein, February 9, 2016,


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, our military leadership shows that they can accomplish new lows.  From the Washington Times comes this,

“A new Pentagon report says that climate change is an “urgent and growing threat to our national security” and blames it for “increased natural disasters” that will require more American troops designated to combat bad weather.

The Pentagon is ordering the top brass to incorporate climate change into virtually everything they do, from testing weapons to training troops to war planning to joint exercises with allies.

To four-star generals and admirals, among them the regional combatant commanders who plan and fight the nation’s wars, the directive tells them: “Incorporate climate change impacts into plans and operations and integrate DoD guidance and analysis in Combatant Command planning to address climate change-related risks and opportunities across the full range of military operations, including steady-state campaign planning and operations and contingency planning.” (1)

So, don’t worry about new Russian heavy tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.  Don’t worry about Russian expansionism.  Don’t worry about Russian and Chinese stealth fighters.  Don’t worry about Chinese expansionism.  Don’t worry about the massive buildup of Chinese military forces.  Don’t worry about N.Korea’s nuclear ambitions.  Don’t worry about Iran’s nuclear program, their state sponsored support of terrorism.  Don’t worry about any of that.  Climate change is our real enemy.

Ignoring that there are as many or more scientific studies that debunk climate change as support it and that the bulk of climate change studies have been shown to be flawed or outright falsifications, it’s not the job of the military to be concerned about climate change.  The military exists to fight wars.  It’s that simple.  Everything else, whether it’s social engineering, diversity, gender equality, humanitarian assistance, or whatever, just takes away from that.

Where are the military leaders who are willing to resign in protest over the emasculation of our armed forces?




Tuesday, February 9, 2016

LCS Range Downgraded Again

The LCS’ range has, again, been downrated.  According to the 2015 DOT&E Annual Report,

“Based on fuel consumption data collected during the test, the ship’s operating range at 14.4 knots (the ship’s average speed during the trial) is estimated to be approximately 1,960 nautical miles (Navy requirement: 3,500 nautical miles at 14 knots) …”


That’s 1960 nm at 14 knots.  Well, that gets the ship clear of the harbor, I guess, before it has to turn around to refuel.

Distributed Lethality

I used to watch my beloved Detroit Red Wings hockey team back when they were derisively referred to as the “Dead Wings” due to their inept play.  I recall one game where I watched the Wing’s only decent player, a center, flit about the ice going from corner to corner, always out of position, and accomplishing nothing.  Finally, a fan several seats away stood up and yelled, “Hey, [player’s name], pick a position!”  I chuckled about that and never forgot it because it illustrated a life lesson.  You can’t accomplish much if you’re trying to accomplish everything.

Similarly, the Navy seems unable to pick a position.  They’ve jumped from Hi-Lo to SC-21, the 21st Century Family of Surface Combatants, to the Zumwalt, the mandatory future of naval warfare which quickly gave way to being unwanted, to littoral combat, to AirSea Battle, to Pacific Pivot, to Third Offset Strategy, to UCLASS – no UCLASS, and so on – each the guaranteed future of naval warfare and each abandoned in short order.  Every year or so the Navy throws out another game changing, future of naval warfare concept and tries to sell us on it.

The current concept du jour is distributed lethality.  This concept envisions anti-surface (and land attack?) missiles on everything that floats, according to the Navy.  This will greatly complicate the enemy’s strategy, operations, and targeting since they will have to account for every floater in the Navy, so the story goes.  Let’s look a bit closer at this concept.

Attack missiles on every ship.  That’s the fundamental concept.  Okay, what ships are floating today?

The combat fleet, meaning Burkes, Ticonderogas, carriers, and amphibious ships constitute around 190 ships.  Burkes and Ticonderogas already have Tomahawks, Harpoons, and Standards (anti-ship mode) to varying extents.  Thus, those already have distributed lethality.  The carriers don’t need distributed lethality since they already have aircraft that far out range likely missiles.  That leaves amphibious ships.

Are we really going to load anti-ship missiles on our amphibious ships, loaded with Marine troops and equipment and send them on anti-ship attack missions in forward areas?  Remember, these ships have no credible self-defense capability.  Will we risk amphibious ships and entire Marine units to launch a handful of bolt-on Harpoon missiles?  Not unless we’re dumber than a roomful of Admirals.  So, there’s nothing to be gained from attempting to modify the 190 combat ships.

Well, what about the remaining 100 or so ships in the fleet?  These are the tankers, and various replenishment ships, LCS, JHSV, hospital ships, MLP/AFSB, MCM Avengers, and the like.  Are we going to risk the tankers and replenishment ships, the key to fleet operations, in an attempt to mount and launch a few Harpoons?  I certainly hope not!  Are we going to risk the 2-4 MLPs, the key to offshore basing, in an attempt to launch a few Harpoons?  No way!  Hospital ships are out for obvious reasons.  Are we going to risk MCM Avengers, our only functioning mine countermeasures ships, trying to engage in some misbegotten attack mission?  I hope not.  That only leaves JHSV and LCS.  The JHSV is, by law, prohibited from front line combat since they are crewed by civilians.  They also have absolutely no self defense capability.  That leaves the LCS. 

The LCS could accommodate Harpoons and the newer version might be able to accommodate Tomahawks depending on the VLS cell size.  The problem with the LCS is that the weapons far outrange the ship’s sensors.  Thus, the LCS must have an off-board platform supply targeting data.  During combat, in an electromagnetically challenged environment, this may prove problematic.  If the LCS attempts to close with the enemy to the point where they can employ their own sensors, the LCS will likely not survive since it has little effective AAW capability.

Thus, the much touted distributed lethality concept being pushed by the Navy amounts to putting Harpoons on LCSs and hoping to find a way to get them close enough to a target, with actual targeting data, to be useful.  Given the LCS’ extremely limited range/endurance, the need to put back into port every two weeks for scheduled maintenance, and the need to put back into port every 4-6 weeks for extensive maintenance, the odds on the LCS being a useful strike platform are poor.

I’ve read that the Navy has conducted wargames that demonstrate the tactical validity of distributed lethality.  Specifically, the games involved LCSs with (Harpoons?) involved in some type of fleet action and the remarks from Navy spokesmen claim that the ships cause immense problems for the enemy.  What is not discussed are any details.  How did the short-legged LCS arrive in the battle area?  How did they get there undetected and undestroyed since they have no significant AAW?  How did they manage to stay on station long enough to strike given their lack of endurance?  How did they acquire targets given that their weapons outrange their sensors?  Are you getting an inkling of the likely wargame scenario – that the game started with the LCS magically in place and with targets acquired?  Well sure, in a scenario like that the LCS (or a rowboat with a Harpoon, for that matter) would constitute a threat.  In a real world scenario, the odds on achieving that kind of pre-strike arrangement is near zero.  But the Navy wouldn’t conduct a rigged wargame, you say?  Answer – Millenium Challenge 2000 which we recently described.

Distributed lethality appears to be just another Navy marketing ploy to entice Congress to allocate more money.  I wish the Navy would “pick a position” as my fellow hockey fan put it.  I wish they would pick a strategy and approach that is consistent with their core mission and stick with it rather than grasping at new fads every year.  Of course, that assumes that the Navy understands what their core mission is and, horrifyingly, there is no indication that current leadership has any grasp of what that is which probably explains the desperate flailing around as they try to find a justification for existence. 


I wonder what the next revolutionary Navy concept will be?

Monday, February 8, 2016

How's That For Congressional Oversight?

The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, John McCain, and the ranking Democrat, Jack Reed, sent a letter to SecNav Mabus and CNO Richardson which absolutely rips the LCS program and the Navy’s lies concerning it.  Yes, there is no other way to characterize the Congressmen’s take on the Navy’s statements other than to call them lies.

I’ve been unable to obtain a copy of the letter in a format from which I can cut and paste to present selected passages but, honestly, you need to read the entire letter.  Here’s the link.


                         McCain/Reed LCS Letter


The letter is self-explanatory.  What I’d like to comment on is not the myriad issues – those are well known.  Instead, I’d like to point out the tone of the letter.  Clearly, Congress is getting fed up with the Navy’s games and lies and is tired of waiting for non-existent technology to mature.  Of course, one could wonder where the corresponding outrage over the F-35 is but, I digress.


The Navy has completely used up any stockpile of goodwill that it ever had and needs to immediately begin dealing honestly and openly with Congress if they are to have any hope of moving from an adversarial relationship to one of cooperation.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

LCS Anti-Swarm Exercise Video

Below is Navy released video of the recent LCS anti-swarm testing that received such negative comments from DOT&E.  Watch it and then we'll discuss it.





OK, what did we see?  Well, for starters, and most importantly, it was clearly a highly edited and truncated video clip.  We did not see the entire exercise, the number of shots fired at each target, the ranges involved, etc.  We also did not see whether the boats were taken under fire in earlier sequences and, therefore, damaged.  We did not see whether the LCS was at speed and maneuvering which would degrade gunnery.  What we did see was just one or two boats approaching at a time with the remainder floating at rest in the background rather than a complete swarm and the boats did not actually approach - they motored across the field of fire rather than straight at the LCS as would actually happen in combat.  This is equivalent to firing at a tow sleeve being towed back and forth - it serves no purpose other than to prove mechanical operation of the gun which, according to the report cited in the previous post, was fraught with problems.  There was no indication how many shots were fired to achieve the kill.  In fact, in the brief sequence, there were multiple shots that were well off target.  How long had the boat been under fire before a successful shot occurred?  

We also see the single boat continue to advance after being hit.  This is the dwell time issue that we've frequently discussed.  The video sequence ends after the boat is hit and explodes and yet the boat continues.  The target is still alive and potentially viable as an attack platform.  For any of you who might claim that no one could have survived such an explosion, read any WWII combat damage report and you'll see nearly constant uses of the phrase "no one could have survived" and yet they did - routinely.  Further, the craft could well be remote controlled and not have any crew.  Thus, the boat continuing under power and with some or all of its weapons intact would still constitute a threat.  Again, dwell time.  How do you know the target is dead and its okay to shift targets?  That's the challenge and the weakness in using small caliber guns against a swarm attack.

Lastly, we didn't see the boats that made it into the Navy's "keep out" zone as they admitted happened in two out of three attempts in the previous post.  Instead, they edited the video to show what was, presumably, the most impressive result which was the single boat that exploded but kept coming.  

Look, Navy, if you want to convert me from skeptic to believer, conduct a true swarm test with 6-12 boats coming full speed, straight on at the LCS and let's see what the ship can do. Show me the full video.  If the LCS handles that then you've got an instant convert believer. If you won't do that then I can only assume the ship can't perform its stated function.  A transparently edited video accompanied by misleading claims that DOT&E directly refutes isn't going to convince any knowledgeable observer.  In fact, it's just going to reinforce the critics beliefs.

Far from demonstrating any anti-swarm capability, this video serves only to reinforce the shortcomings and warnings I've been posting all along.  

MV-22 Crash Findings

An anonymous reader pointed me to this link of an article reporting on the MV-22 crash in Hawaii in May 2015 (1).  I thank him for the heads up and suggestion to write a post.

To refresh your memory, an MV-22, one of a flight of two, attempted an initial landing which resulted in a complete brownout due to dust, hovered for a period of time at an altitude of perhaps 30 ft, rose, hovered again, and then dropped straight down to the ground.  Two Marines were killed and 20 injured. 

The incident report lays the blame on pilot error despite the pilots violating no rules or guidelines, command error for not selecting a better landing site, and command error for the poor emergency response to the crash.  Punishments have been recommended for many personnel associated with the exercise.  The report and the findings are straightforward as those things go but utterly fail to address the more important warfighting lessons to be learned.  In other words, the incident was investigated as a peacetime, commercial flight incident rather than a combat training incident.


Crash Film - Note the Brownout Conditions and Engine Flameout

As a combat training incident, the main lesson should be that the MV-22 is ill-suited to combat landings.  The MV-22 made a very slow descent and approach before any dust was generated.  This offers enemy gunners an excellent opportunity to target and shoot the aircraft.  Comparing this approach to flims of Viet Nam era helo landings reveals the difference in speed and aggressiveness of approach and landing.  Viet Nam helo landings were high speed, compact, and aggressive with a last moment flair to settle.  The landing process took a fraction of the time that the MV-22 landing does.  The longer the landing time, the greater the vulnerability of the aircraft. 

I’m not an MV-22 pilot but it appears that the initial approach got the aircraft to within 10 ft or so of the ground with less than total brownout conditions.  Had the pilot simply continued the landing, even blind, for 10 more feet the result would have been a safe landing.  The decision to stop and pull back up is what doomed the flight.  Once you’ve reached 10 ft, just continue straight down and the worse that can happen is a slightly bumpy landing.  Taking off again may be a problem but the landing could have been accomplished.  Again, I’m speculating as a non-pilot so take this for what it’s worth.

Some might say that this was a peacetime landing and that in war the MV-22 landings will be considerably faster and more aggressive.  If true, then why are we practicing techniques we won’t use in combat?  Train like you fight, fight like you train, right?  That said, everything I’ve read about MV-22 combat landings suggests that this type of slow, spread out landing is our tactical plan for combat and it’s due to the inherent limitations of the aircraft.  The MV-22 appears ill-suited to effective combat landings.

The next lesson is that, contrary to faulting the command elements for not pre-surveying the landing site and selecting a safer one, acknowledgement must be made that, in combat, landing sites can’t generally be pre-surveyed.  You pick a site and go with it, good or bad.  A total abort is always an option but few sites are going to offer perfect landing characteristics.  If the assault aircraft can’t handle the variety of landing conditions that combat might reasonably dictate, then the aircraft is ill-suited to the role.  Is the MV-22 limited to only “perfect” landing spots?  If so, that severely limits the aircraft's usefulness.

I urge you to read the article but read it from a combat perspective rather than a civilian mishap perspective.

______________________

As an aside, the recommended disciplinary measures against a wide variety of personnel including a fair amount of the chain of command is interesting.  I'll watch to see whether the same punishment zealousness accompanies the Iranian seizure of our boats which I view as a much more serious offense.

(1)Military.com, “Billows of Dust, a Sudden 'Pop' and an Osprey Falls from the Sky”, Hope Hodge Seck, Jan 29, 2016,