Wednesday, October 26, 2016


A reader put me onto this article about artificial intelligence (AI) for unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV).  According to the article, an AI program has been developed that is capable of consistently beating fighter pilots in simulators.  If this is true, and that’s a huge if, this is the enabler that makes UCAVs a reality and I’ll have to readjust all my thinking about force structure, doctrine, tactics, etc.

I’m not going to recap the article.  Instead, I urge you to read it for yourself via the link at the end of this post (1).

The basic concept of the program is claimed to be a combination of fuzzy logic and programmatic evolution.  Fuzzy logic has been around for a long time.  The most interesting aspect of this, to me, is the use of programming evolution – survival of the fittest program.  Apparently, numerous, differing versions of the program were created and exercised.  As time went on, the more successful versions survived and were utilized to create newer and better versions and so on in a form of Darwinian evolution.

I’m sure there are limits to this program that prevent it from replacing pilots, yet.  For example, I’m assuming that it’s been developed as a one-versus-one (1v1) combat program as opposed to a one-member-of-a-team program.  An actual pilot not only needs to be able to win 1v1 aerial duels but also function as a member of a group and make evaluations about supporting other team members, assess mission accomplishment versus personal survival and supporting teammates, make decisions about mission accomplishment versus collateral damage risks, etc.  I’m sure the program can’t do any of that.  However, if they’ve managed to create a working UCAV AI then there’s no reason they couldn’t fold in the other aspects of piloting.


(1) website, “Beyond video games: New artificial intelligence beats tactical experts in combat simulation”, M.b. Reilly, June 27, 2016,

Monday, October 24, 2016

Independence LCS Aviation

On a relative basis, the Independence variant LCS is a bit of an unknown.  In part this is because the class’ first operational deployment is only now being undertaken despite the class having been first commissioned in Jan-2010.  That’s six and half years without a deployment by a vessel of that variant!  So, we don’t have much operational data to look at.  Now, with the arrival of USS Coronado, LCS-4, in Singapore for a deployment, we’ll hopefully get some insight.

USS Coronado

One of the unknown aspects is the variant’s aviation capabilities.  Outside of brochures, there is little actual operational data.  It is being reported that the ship is operating two MQ-8B Fire Scout UAVs and one MH-60S Knighthawk/Seahawk helicopter on this deployment (1).  This is significant because multiple sources have reported to me that the Freedom variant’s flight deck, while large, is significantly understrength, structurally, thereby limiting the variant’s ability to operate numbers or weights of aircraft.  The structural strength was reduced early in development as a cost saving measure.  I have no reports as to the Independence variant’s flight deck structure so it’s interesting to note the simultaneous operation of two Fire Scouts and one Seahawk.  Of course, the Fire Scouts are the smaller “B” version rather than the larger “C”.  This is an arrangement and number that has not been operated on the Freedom variant, yet, as far as I know.  This may, possibly, indicate that the Independence variant’s flight deck strength and aviation capabilities are a bit more robust than the Freedom’s.

Fire Scout MQ-8B

Also of interest is the note that the Fire Scouts are equipped with the Telephonics Corporation AN/ZPY-4(V)1 radar.  Of course, radar performance data shows ranges on the order of 14 miles so this is not exactly AWACS type monitoring (2). 

We’ll keep an eye on this deployment – assuming no more engineering breakdowns! – and see what we can learn.


(1)USNI News website, “Littoral Combat Ship USS Coronado Arrives in Singapore”, Mike Yeo, 18-Oct-2016,

Friday, October 21, 2016


ComNavOps just read that an MQ-8B Fire Scout was used to laser designate a target for a Hellfire missile launched from an MH-60S helicopter.  I’m hearing more and more of these kinds of disparate pairings.  A submarine designates a missile for an Aegis cruiser.  An F-35 designates a surface target for a missile fired from a Poseidon.  And so on.

What’s the point?  What practical combat purpose does it serve? 

In combat, is a submarine really going to come to the surface to designate a target?  Is our supposed top of the line strikefighter aircraft really going to spend its time being just a target designator?  Is it really necessary for a UAV to designate for a helo given that they’re both the same distance from the target (Hellfire range is only a few miles)?  This strikes me as technological masturbation - pardon the crudity.  We feel good about cobbling together yet another unlikely and nearly useless combination of technology but what does it really get us?

This has become our idea of preparing for combat – stringing together useless bits of technology for its own sake.  Unfriendly countries, on the other hand, are developing bigger and bigger explosives and armor.  They’re developing the boom that will dominate the next battlefield while we’re developing apps for our soldier’s tablets.

I’m sorry but explosives trump techno-toys on the battlefield.  We’re focused on trying to figure out whether that enemy soldier in the foxhole is right-handed or left while our enemies are developing high explosive artillery barrages that render the question moot.  If you can obliterate an acre at a time it really doesn’t matter what, if anything, was in that acre – it’s gone!

We’re focused on developing little scooters for our soldiers to flit around the battlefield on but all the agility in the world isn’t going to matter when a Russian 9A52-4 Tornado 300 mm rocket launcher fires a full salvo which can cover 32 hectares (1) or a Chinese WS-2 MLRS fires a salvo of 400 mm rockets.

The Navy is building an entire class of LCS ships that have no boom whatsoever.

Hey, Navy and Marines, where’s the boom?


Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Word Of Warning

With possibly a single exception, not even the most ardent supporter of the LCS still believes the program accomplished what it set out to do.  In short, it’s a failure.  Beating that dead horse is not the point of this post.  Instead, let’s recall who the LCS’ biggest supporter was and who may be the single exception I referred to.  That person was Bob Work, now Deputy Secretary of Defense.  The man made outrageous claims that the LCS was the greatest warship in the world.  He flatly stated that the Navy got the ship it wanted, with the capabilities it wanted, at the price it wanted.  He demonized critics and cowed supporters.  In short, he was Adm. Rickover if Rickover had been completely wrong.

So, after championing one of the biggest failures of the Navy, Mr. Work has been rewarded with a new position as Deputy Secretary of Defense.  That alone is scary.  Worse, Mr. Work is, apparently, taking charge of the so-called Third Offset strategy which will, he claims, maintain our military edge over a resurgent Russia and China.

Think about this.  The man who championed the biggest failure in recent Navy times is now setting the military’s path for the next few decades?  Is this wise?  Is there any reason to believe that the man’s zealous backing of an epic failure is now going to produce a viable and successful result with an unproven and questionable approach to future warfare?

Still worse is that Mr. Work’s demonstrated demonization of opposition speaks poorly for the possibility of legitimate debate about the course he is attempting to place the military on.  The Third Offset’s dependence on networks, unmanned vehicles, data sharing, etc. are all highly suspect and, at the very least, deserve close scrutiny before we irreversibly commit to them.  Unfortunately, that type of scrutiny and debate is exactly what Mr. Work is famous for discouraging.

It is truly frightening how quickly and completely the military seems to have rolled over and acquiesced to this path.  Meanwhile, Russia, China, and, seemingly, every other country in the world is frantically developing heavy armor, more powerful artillery, stealth aircraft, advanced SAM systems, armored amphibious capabiity, advanced submarines, extensive mine warfare capability, supersonic cruise missiles, intermediate range ballistic missiles, etc.  In short, the rest of the world is rapidly developing the means to blow things up faster and more efficiently while we develop networks, operate green fleets, and factor climate change into our military planning.

Is the man who was so thoroughly wrong about the LCS the man to be setting the military’s future?  I don’t think so.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What Kind Of Contract Is That?

Here’s an Oct-17 contract announcement from the website.

“Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, is being awarded a $743,169,377 fixed-price-incentive, firm target and cost-plus-fixed-fee modification to the previously awarded low-rate initial production Lot 9 F-35 Lightening II Joint Strike Fighter advance acquisition contract (N00019-14-C-0002).  This modification provides additional funding and will establish not-to-exceed (NTE) prices for diminishing manufacturing and material shortages redesign and development, estimated post production concurrency changes and country unique requirements.  In addition, this modification will establish NTE prices for one F-35A aircraft and one F-35B aircraft for a non-U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) participant in the F-35 program. 

There’s a couple of interesting points here.  First is the absolutely baffling contract type description:  “fixed-price-incentive, firm target and cost-plus-fixed-fee modification to the previously awarded low-rate initial production Lot 9 F-35 Lightening II Joint Strike Fighter advance acquisition contract”.  Huh????  Be honest, do any of you understand exactly what that means?  Isn’t “cost-plus-fixed-fee an oxymoron?

Second, is the not-to-exceed (NTE) prices.  I understand what the phrase “not-to-exceed” means but how does it apply here?  There is no actual Lot 9 purchase contract in effect, yet, so how can not-to-exceed prices be established?

Why are the Lot 9 contract negotiations continuing to drag on?  Probably because no one understands what the contract says!

All this tells me is that there are way too many lawyers in the world!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Nice To Meet You, Wouldn't Want To Be You

Nice to meet you, wouldn’t want to be you!  That’s how Navy officers must be looking at prospective LCS commands these days.  LCS command is beginning to look like a one way ticket to career suicide.  Two LCS CO’s have been fired this year.  Given how few vessels are in service and how very, very few cumulative days at sea have been racked up by the LCS’s, that’s a staggering firing rate!

“Cmdr. Michael Wohnhaas, who commanded LCS Crew 106, was relieved “due to loss of confidence in his ability to effectively lead and carry out his assigned duties” on Oct. 13 by Commander of Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet (SURFPAC) Vice Adm. Tom Rowden.” (1)

“Cmdr. Michael L. Atwell, formerly the commanding officer of LCS Crew 101, was relieved of his position on Monday as a direct result of the investigation following the Jan. 12 propulsion casualty that has left the ship sidelined in Singapore.” (2)

It would be one thing if these CO’s were fired for committing a crime or for gross personal misconduct but these officers were fired for no reason other than having the bad luck to be in command when engineering breakdowns occurred – the same breakdowns that have systematically afflicted the LCS class and led to every LCS that has put to sea being sidelined for one problem or another.  Six of the seven commissioned LCS’s have experienced engineering breakdowns.  In its infinite wisdom, the Navy has concluded that the engineering breakdowns were, somehow, the fault of the command officers.  I understand the concept of ultimate responsibility resting with the CO but to blame the Captain for what is clearly a class-wide, systemic problem is insane.  All that’s going to do is scare prospective CO’s away from the LCS program!

If the Navy really wanted to affix blame where it belongs and demonstrate a loss of confidence they would fire the person who came up with the minimally manned crew concept that put overworked, overstressed personnel in situations they weren’t prepared to handle.  They would fire the person who developed the obviously inadequate training process for LCS engineering personnel.  They would fire the person who purchased such complex machinery that the best trained engineers in the Navy (according to the Navy) can’t seem to operate the equipment without screwing it up.  They would fire the person who developed a needlessly complex LCS engineering plant.  They would fire the person who specified a speed requirement that has no tactical utility but resulted in an overly complex engineering plant.  And so on.  Unfortunately, the Navy is more interested in PR and scapegoats than actual accountability.

Prospective LCS commanding officers …….  run away !!!


(1)USNI News website, “USS Freedom Crew CO Relieved Of Duty After Investigation Into Engine Damage”, Megan Eckstein, 14-Oct-2016,

(2)USNI News website, “USS Fort Worth CO Relieved Over January Propulsion Casualty”, Sam LaGrone, 28-Mar-2016,

Monday, October 17, 2016

Maddox / Mason Attacked Again?

The networked, unmanned vehicle Third Offset Strategy is absolute garbage.  It’s a concept put forth by a US military that’s floundering and has no clue about the future of warfare.  Want proof?

I covered this in a recent post (see, "Respond or Leave") and we’ve now seen it demonstrated again.  The USS Mason may have been attacked again, for a third time (1), after the retaliatory Tomahawk strikes on some radar sites.  Wait, what now?  “May” have been attacked?  Were they or weren’t they? 

Burke destroyers are fitted with the miraculous, all-seeing, all-knowing Aegis radar system, EO/IR/laser sensors, electronic warfare systems, signals analysis software, and helos for aerial surveillance.  All this is backed up by a network of other sensors in the region from surveillance aircraft, other UAVs, other ships, satellites, etc., all contributing to a digitally fused composite picture of the battlespace capable of counting the buttons on an enemy’s shirt.  We have layers of Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) software, regional analysis monitoring and software, various intel group’s analysis, unit and regional command staffs that monitor and analyze activities, and so forth.  Despite all this, we’re not sure whether the Mason was attacked?  It may have been?  We’ve spent a gazillion dollars on all this equipment, software, sensors, and analysis and our best assessment is that there may have been an attack?

Note that our befuddlement takes place in an environment unhindered by any electronic countermeasures.  In other words, we had “clear skies”, electronically, and still don’t know if an attack occurred. 

Despite this continued confusion, we’re going to base our entire future military superiority on this exact system of networks, sensors, and unmanned vehicles?  Recall the recent seizure of the two US riverine boats and crews in the middle of the most heavily surveilled region in the world and yet no one had any idea where they were. 

Let’s face it – our dreams of a Third Offset Strategy consisting of perfect battlespace awareness is just a fantasy conjured by people who have no idea of what war is or how to win one.  We’re seeing the proof of the fundamental failings of networked sensor systems on a daily basis but refuse to acknowledge it.

Having shredded the fantasy of the Third Offset Strategy, let’s now turn to the other disturbing aspect of the recent Mason incidents.  Does this sound at all familiar?  You all study military history or you wouldn’t be on this blog, right?  Recall the Gulf of Tonkin incident where the USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy spent several hours on 4-Aug-1964 fending off attacks from North Vietnamese torpedo boats.  The attacks were indicated by radar, sonar, and radio signals – except that it later turned out that the purported attacks never happened.  That incident led, in part, to the US involvement in Vietnam.

Yeah, but that was a long time ago, you say.  Now we have sophisticated sensors.  That couldn’t happen today.  Cause now we have sensors that apparently can’t say if earlier missile attacks were shot down or just, mysteriously, dropped into the water short of the US ships.  Sensors that can’t say whether the Mason was again attacked or not.  Were any of the purported attacks on the Mason real or was it a case of a nervous crew seeing what they expected to see (recall the Vincennes airliner shootdown)?  Fifty some years apart, generations of electronics improvements, and we still can’t distinguish reality in a small, localized battlespace.  Fifty years ago, that confusion dragged us into Vietnam and now this incident(s) is dragging us into Yemen.  We should remember our history and tread very, very cautiously before jumping into yet another ill-considered venture.


(1)USNI News wesite, “CNO Richardson: USS Mason ‘Appears to Have Come Under Attack’, Sam LaGrone, 15-Oct-2016,