Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Answer Is 35

ComNavOps will now amaze and astound you by answering a question before it is asked (apologies to Carnac the Magnificent).  The question has been kept in a guarded and hermetically sealed envelope and is completely unknown to ComNavOps.  Only ComNavOps’ all-seeing and all-knowing military knowledge and expertise could possibly allow him to divine the answer prior to knowing the question. 

The answer is,

35

There you have it.  The answer is 35.  But what does it mean?  Let’s open the envelope and see what the question is.

The question is,

How many rounds must be test fired to certify the maturity and performance of the Zumwalt Advanced Gun System (AGS)?

Boo!  Hiss.  That’s wrong.  No way.  Boo!

Alright, calm down.  I admit the answer seems way too small.  A mere 35 rounds isn’t nearly enough to demonstrate the maturity and performance of a brand new, major gun system.  Could ComNavOps have answered incorrectly?  I mean, not knowing the question at the time of the answer would ensure that any mere mortal would only have a 1 in a gazillion chance of answering correctly.  Still, ComNavOps is far superior to normal men.  Let’s see if ComNavOps is wrong.

A search for announcements about AGS test firings reveals the following events over the past several years.

June 2005 – 1 round, 59 miles

Aug 2011 – 2 rounds, 45 miles

Aug 2012 – 4 rounds

June 2013 – 4 rounds, 45 miles

Sep 2013 – 9 rounds, 45 miles, demonstrated multiple round simultaneous impact (MRSI)

Wow!  That’s really not many test rounds fired.  Maybe I missed some announcements or maybe there were a ton of test firings that just weren’t publicized. 

Well, note this comment, reported after the Jun 2013 test (1),

“ 'These tests bring us closer to completing the 35 tests required by the U.S. Navy to demonstrate the maturity and performance of the system,' said Richard Benton, LRLAP program manager at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control."

Well, that seems to pin it down.  There are only 35 test rounds (each round is considered a “test”) required to demonstrate the performance and maturity of the AGS.  So, ComNavOps’ answer was right!  That’s an amazing demonstration of clairvoyant and prescient knowledge.  All right, back to the AGS.

Seriously, does anyone consider 35 rounds, broken up in very small groups over a several year period, to be a demonstration of the performance or maturity of the system?

Note that with one documented exception, all the test firings were at a range of 45 miles.  The AGS, you’ll recall, is claimed to be able to hit targets at 70+ miles with pinpoint accuracy.  Well, how do we know it will really do that since we haven’t tried it yet?  What’s the sustained firing performance like?  How will accuracy be affected as a function of sustained firing?  We have no idea since we haven’t tried it.

System maturity?  With only 35 rounds?  How does 35 rounds fired over the course of a few years tell us anything about the maturity of the system?  That doesn’t tell us anything about the required maintenance, systemic problems, mean time between failures, material fatigue, barrel and system longevity, or anything else that might describe the maturity of the system.

Why is the threshold for acceptance so low?  I don’t know.  I do note, however, that the rounds are reported to cost $35,000 - $50,000 each depending on the source.  I suspect that with that kind of cost, the Navy is simply cutting the testing woefully short to save money. 

If 35 rounds is the limit for testing of the system, you have to wonder how many rounds, if any, an operational ship will be allowed to fire during the course of a year for normal training.  I suspect we’re going to have operators who will come and go from the ship without ever firing a round.

Do we really want to wait for actual combat to tell us what’s wrong with the AGS rather than spend a little bit of money and find out now?  For the cost of one stinking LCS we could fire 14,000 rounds.  Isn’t a thorough evaluation of the Zumwalt’s main armament worth building one less useless LCS?  If you don’t want to sacrifice an LCS, we could fire 5700 rounds for the loss of one F-35C.

We’re pouring money into the black hole, money pits of useless programs but we won’t even thoroughly test the AGS?

On a related note, is it possible that one of the lessons to be learned from this is that when your weapons become too expensive to routinely test and train with you may be hurting yourself more than helping?

Are we really going to send sailors into combat with a gun that’s only been fired 35 times?



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Another Relief

In another disturbingly repetitive occurrence, the CO and XO of the Tortuga were relieved due to “loss of confidence” in their ability as a result of their ship striking a buoy.

There are no publicly available details so we can’t pass judgment as to whether their relief was appropriate or not.  However, at some point, don’t we have to start questioning either the standards that we’re holding our commanders to or the process used to select our commanders?

Every year, dozens of COs are relieved due to “loss of confidence”.  Are every one of these guys total incompetents and deserving of relief or are we unrealistically demanding absolute perfection with zero tolerance for any mistake no matter how minor? 

The problem with setting the standard to absolute perfection is that it leads to several bad outcomes.

  1. Potentially good commanders are lost to the service because of a single mistake that may not even be directly their fault.
  2. The Navy loses the enormous investment that goes into producing a commanding officer.
  3. Zero tolerance fosters an atmosphere of micromanaging.
  4. Zero tolerance absolutely squelches a mind-set of healthy risk-taking.
  5. Zero tolerance discourages delegation of responsibility to junior officers because they might make a mistake that will cost the CO their job.

On the other hand, if these dozens of COs are, indeed, incompetent then we need to look very carefully at the screening process that selects such incompetent people.  In fact, I would argue that for each CO who is relieved for incompetence we should also relieve everyone involved in screening and recommending them for command because clearly the screeners were totally incompetent and utterly failed at their job.

Finally, consider that the dwindling number of available ship commands combined with the brevity of command tours and the atmosphere of avoidance of risk taking is actually causing some of the problem.  The opportunities for the practice of shiphandling are becoming limited and the unwillingness to allow junior officers to freely practice is creating COs who have limited shiphandling experience.

We’re our own worst enemy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Washington Refueling and Overhaul

As you know, carriers undergo a mid-life nuclear refueling and comprehensive overhaul (RCOH) and the USS Washington is the next up in line.  She was scheduled to begin the refueling in 2016 but budget questions have delayed the work until at least 2017.  In fact, the Navy had floated the possibility of an early retirement for the carrier and had publicly stated that they would wait until the 2016 budget to make any decision, thereby ensuring further schedule delays.  Predictably, this caused a bit of an outcry in Congress which responded by including $850M in the 2015 budget for Washington’s refueling.

The $850M was widely reported as ensuring that the Washington would be refueled, overhauled, and retained, thereby maintaining the 11 carrier force level.  Unfortunately, that’s not even remotely correct.  The RCOH is estimated to require 44 months and will cost around $4.7B.  The $850M is little more than enough to get the ship into drydock.  At best, it might cover the removal of the spent fuel which has to be done whether the ship is refueled or retired. 

Thus, the ship’s RCOH is hardly assured, yet.  Add in the fact that a second round of sequestration is scheduled to hit in Oct 2015 with the attendant likelihood of additional budget cuts and the future of the Washington is anything but assured.  The Navy was willing to retire the Washington before and future budget cuts will probably ensure that retirement.

There’s another factor at play, here, that we’ve touched on briefly and that is the fact that the Navy only has 9 active air wings.  A carrier without an air wing is useless.  If Washington is retained, we’ll have 11 carriers (one is always in long term overhaul so that equates to 10 active carriers) and 9 air wings.  So, only 9 carriers could actually operate.  Does anyone think the Navy will pay for the operation and upkeep of an idled carrier that has no air wing?  Some carrier is going to be early retired.

I believe the Navy deactivated the tenth air wing in anticipation of Washington’s retirement and have found a bit more resistance from Congress than they anticipated.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that the Navy could form a new air wing but the procurement cost of the aircraft alone would be on the order of $6B and that’s without considering the personnel costs and all the other associated costs.  Does anyone think the Navy is going to come up with $6B for a new air wing?  Not likely!  Add to that the near certainty that the Navy’s F-35 buy will be significantly reduced and we see that air wings are going to continue to shrink, not form new air wings. 

A carrier is going to be retired early. 

Alternatively, though less likely, the Washington might be refueled and returned to service and the next carrier in line, the Stennis, I believe, might be the candidate for retirement.

ComNavOps has been saying for some time that the carrier fleet is on its way down to 8-9.  This is the next logical step and the budget issues make it almost inevitable.  Note that I do not agree with this trend – I merely observe it happening.

On a somewhat related note, we’ve seen that the Navy has attempted to early retire a carrier, half the Aegis cruiser force, several big deck amphibs, and various auxiliary support ships, all while aggressively pushing for 52 toothless LCS’s.  Honestly, if the Chinese had slipped an agent into the CNO’s position and instructed him to disrupt and dismantle the Navy, he couldn’t do a better job than we are doing to ourselves.  But, that’s another topic …

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What's New In Combat?

As we know, China, Russia, and virtually every other country in the world is working hard at developing high end combat power.  Hardly a week goes by without reading about new ships, aircraft, and armored vehicles being developed and acquired.  In addition to churning out equipment at a prodigious rate, the Chinese have been training hard at carrier operations, amphibious assaults, and high end armored operations.

OK, let’s take a peek at what our own United States Marines are working on.

As reported by Marine Times, a new non-lethal mortar is under development (1).

“A new 81mm mortar can deliver a terrifying barrage of flash bangs to distances beyond a mile while minimizing collateral damage.

Grundy [manufacturer’s rep] was inspired to pursue a non-lethal mortar after a visit with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, at Camp Pendleton, California, in the summer of 2008, shortly after the unit returned from a deployment to Iraq. The unit's Marines described the harassing fires they took. Rogue mortarmen would lob rounds toward their forward operating base from civilian populated areas, the executive officer said.

‘Three-five had restrictive firing rules so they couldn't respond in kind because of the risk of non-combatant casualties,’ Grundy said.”

There’s your situation.  Marines taking mortar fire can’t respond in kind and need a non-lethal option.  The rest of the world is gearing up for high end combat and that’s what we’re working on.  Outstanding!

Seriously, if avoidance of collateral damage is the number one priority (and clearly it was in this case if Marines can’t return mortar fire) then let’s simply not be there.  Let’s stay home and then there won’t be any risk of collateral damage and we won’t have to spend money on non-lethal weapons.

Once again, ComNavOps motto:  In it to win it, or don’t get in it.

Well, that wasn’t very pleasant but let’s see what else the Marines are working on.

Another Marine Times report describes challenges facing the Marines as they integrate women into combat units (2).

“Early into weapons training at the Ground Combat Integrated Task Force, Marines with the provisional rifle platoon encountered a very gender-specific problem.

The regulation hair buns of the female Marines would cause their Kevlar helmets to slide forward over their eyes and prevent them from maintaining good visibility on targets through their rifle sights in the prone position. When the trouble persisted, female noncomissioned officers with the platoon met for an hour-long brainstorming session with the unit's male leaders. They emerged with a solution: women with the platoon would wear French braids, allowing them to stay neat and professional while keeping their helmets in place.”

So, the Marines have now come up with a woman’s hair style that is neat and professional in combat.  Outstanding!

The world is gearing up for high end combat and we’re working on looking neat and professional.

Yes, I cherry picked these articles but the fact they even exist is troublesome.  That we would spend time on non-lethal weapons given what the rest of the world is working on is just asinine.  Does anyone think China is working on non-lethal weapons?  That we would devote precious time and resources to women’s combat hair styles is beyond belief.  Seriously, women, if you want the equality that gets you into combat that badly then buzz your heads like the men and be equal.  Again, asinine.

The Marines:  The Few.  The Neat.  The Non-Lethal.

I weep for the Corps.


(1) Marine Times, "Marines, soldiers could soon carry 'flash bang' mortars", James K. Sanborn, 6-Dec-2014,

(2) Marine Times, "Marines grapple with combat integration test challenges", Hope Hodge Seck, 7-Dec-2014,

Budget Winners and Losers

Defense News website reported some highlights from the new defense budget that just passed Congress (1).  Here’s a few of the noteworthy items.

  • Funding was provided to continue the refueling of the carrier Washington.  This is the truly baffling item in the budget.  The Navy currently only has 9 airwings.  If the Washington is refueled, the carrier force will be 11 when the Ford joins the fleet.  One carrier is always in extended overhaul and refueling so that will leave us with 10 carriers and 9 air wings.  Given the current budget restrictions why would the Navy want to pay for the operation and maintenance of a carrier that has no air wing?  I don’t think they would.  I think an early retirement of a carrier is a foregone conclusion with the resultant permanent drop from 11 carriers to 10.

  • Ship operations and maintenance (O&M) took a $1.7 billion cut from the Navy’s $39.3 billion request.  The fleet is suffering from over a decade of neglect and poor maintenance and yet the O&M is cut?  That’s astounding.  That’s also poor leadership and management by the Navy.  They should have told Congress that O&M was their number one priority over any new purchases.  Instead, as they’ve always done, they’ve sacrificed everything to ensure new construction.

  • The MQ-4C Triton broad area maritime surveillance program was cut by $41M.

  • Three unrequested MQ-8C FireScout unmanned helicopters were added.

  • Congress largely shot down the Navy’s request to inactivate 11 cruisers and three amphibious ships.  No more than two cruisers per year will be allowed to undergo the Navy’s “modernization” program.  As you know, this was the Navy’s attempt to informally retire ships.
  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

New LCS - AAW

As we just noted, the Navy has selected their new “frigate”, a slightly upgraded LCS (1).  All right, it’s a decision I strenuously disagree with but it’s a matter of professional opinion and perhaps the Navy has information that is not publicly available that puts the decision in a different light.  If that were the extent of my disagreement I could leave it at the level of a professional difference of opinion.  Unfortunately, when you have to lie to justify a decision it moves the disagreement from professional opinion to fraud.  What am I talking about?  Consider the issue of AAW protection.

You’ll recall that one of the major conceptual faults with the LCS was its inability to provide even a small degree of credible self-defense from aerial and missile threats - not surprising given that the ship’s only AAW capability was a single SeaRAM launcher on the Independence version or a single RAM on the Freedom version.

Now, however, the Navy claims that the new LCS (or Small Surface Combatant, SSC, to use their nomenclature) is completely capable of operating independently.  According to Assistant Secretary Sean Stackley,

“Are you going to need an Aegis ship to protect this ship? The answer is no,” said Stackley. One major criticism of the original LCS was that it lacked the anti-aircraft and anti-missile defenses to survive on its own against any serious threat, requiring escort by expensive cruisers and destroyers equipped with the Aegis defense system. While threat environments vary, Stackley said, “we have given this multi-mission [LCS] the degree of self-defense that it needs so it does not have to be operating underneath the umbrella of an Aegis ship.”

What is this remarkable degree of self-defense?  It’s a single upgraded SeaRAM which, for the Independence version, means that nothing has changed.  For the Freedom version it means swapping out the RAM for the SeaRAM which might be considered a very modest upgrade for that version.  However, the Independence version’s self-defense was previously considered inadequate and remains unchanged while the Freedom merely comes up to that same inadequate level so how does that constitute a sufficient increase in self-defense to claim that the LCS no longer needs Aegis protection?

Let me summarize and repeat that.  The AAW weaponry is unchanged and yet the LCS no longer needs protection.

Now, to be fair, they’ve added some decoys and a stripped down ECM system.  That will help the AAW situation, to be sure, but if that’s all that’s needed to no longer need Aegis protection then why do we even have Aegis?  It sounds like all we need is to add some decoys and a stripped down ECM to any of our ships and we don’t need Aegis at all.

This is absolute garbage that goes way beyond a positive spin.  This is, pure and simple, fraud and lies.  We’re going to send sailors into situations that they are hopelessly unprepared and improperly equipped for and people are going to get killed.

Once again, Navy leadership has violated the trust of the men and women they lead.


(1)“LCS Lives: Hagel Approves Better Armed Upgrade”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 11-Dec-2014,

Friday, December 12, 2014

New Frigate - Wrong Again!

The Navy has selected their new “frigate”, according to a Breaking Defense report (1), and in a continuation of a nearly unbroken string of incompetent and incorrect decisions has decided to continue the LCS rather than pursue a foreign design or a new design.  Of course, this is the exact outcome forecast by ComNavOps and nearly every other commentator in the world.

What makes the story noteworthy is the degree to which the Navy has decided to stick with the LCS.  Even ComNavOps did not foresee this.  I assumed that the Navy would choose the LCS but would add VLS and a larger gun (76 mm was my prediction) among other additions.  However, the new LCS is going to add very little.

The new version will not have the Vertical Launch System (VLS) and will, therefore, have no area air defense capability, no ability to launch the forthcoming vertical launch Harpoon replacement (LRASM), no ability to launch Tomahawk, and no ability to launch ASROC ASW torpedoes.  Frankly, I’m stunned.  I had assumed a VLS was a given.  I was wrong.

The new version will, apparently, keep the flawed 57 mm gun it currently has and which the Zumwalt program rejected.  This gun is not even radar guided and has been demonstrated to be unusable at speed due to excessive vibration.  I had assumed that a new, radar guided 76 mm or larger gun was a given.  I was wrong.

The new version will, apparently, retain its high speed engine which has so negatively impacted the rest of the design, consumed so much internal volume, and contributed so much weight.  I had assumed the engine system would be changed to a moderate speed, conventional system.  I was wrong.

So, what will the new version gain?

  • An upgraded version of the existing SeaRAM missile launcher
  • An unspecified number of additional 25 mm guns
  • New decoy launchers
  • A degaussing system
  • A downgraded version of the electronic warfare system, dubbed SEWIP-lite
  • An unspecified over-the-horizon anti-ship missile (hint: remember the recent LCS test launch of the Norwegian Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile?)


That’s it.  That’s the improved LCS.

This is as far from being a capable, modern frigate as you can get without being the original LCS.

By the way, do you remember the post about the weight and stability issues of the LCS (see, "Fat, Drunk, and Stupid Is No Way To Go Through Life")?  We noted that the LCS simply has no weight margins and this is the result.  By sticking with the LCS, there was no weight margin for VLS, bigger guns, etc.  I had assumed that the engine system would be “conventionalized”, thereby freeing up large weight reserves and that the ship would likely be lengthened, also allowing greater weights.  Again, I was wrong.  The new LCS will remain badly weight challenged.  The article states that the Navy is going to have to look very closely at shaving every pound it can just to be able to squeeze in the minor improvements that have been listed.

In addition, all the fundamental flaws that made the LCS such a poor design still remain.  The ship has weight and stability issues, lack of compartmentation, structural weaknesses, excessive vibration at speed, weak flight decks, poor seakeeping by both versions, insufficient stores, inadequate range, poor endurance, sub-standard survivability (though some additional shrapnel protection will be added), etc.

Finally, and note this well, the new version will not be able to function as an MCM vessel, according to the Navy.  MCM is, arguably, the Navy’s number one need and we’ve now dead-ended our MCM program.  The original dozen or so vessels can still be MCM and I assume that they will be dedicated to that function but there has been absolutely no indication that the Navy intends to buy additional MCM modules, assuming they can get them to work.  This may be the most noteworthy and serious development in this whole saga.  The Navy will come to regret this.  A single mine detection can halt a carrier group in its tracks.  We need a robust MCM capability and this confirms that we won’t have it.

The Navy, given the opportunity to select a better way forward for its force structure, has made yet another incredibly bad decision – worse, even, than ComNavOps thought they would do.  When you think the Navy has lowered the bar as low as it will go, they dig a trench and lower it further.


(1)“LCS Lives: Hagel Approves Better Armed Upgrade”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 11-Dec-2014,