Thursday, April 30, 2015

Not Deterred In The Least

By now, you’re undoubtedly aware that Iran has seized a Marshall Islands flagged merchant ship (1).  The reason is unclear although it seems to ComNavOps that it is in retaliation for the US using a carrier group to turn back the Iranian convoy bound for Yemen.

The rationale for the action doesn’t matter.  What matters is the US’ nearly non-existent response to the seizure of a US protected vessel.  The Navy is doing nothing more than monitoring.

“In response to the taking of the ship on Tuesday by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy patrol boats, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has ordered a Navy guided missile destroyer and three Cyclone-class patrol craft to monitor the situation.

Marshall Islands is an American protectorate and the U.S. is responsible for its defense and the defense of vessels under its flag.”

Navy supporters continually make the argument that forward presence is required to deter potential enemies.  However, time and time again, the Navy (and US military, generally) stands aside as unfriendly countries abuse the boundaries of acceptable behavior right up to, and including, acts of war.  We have allowed the force-down and seizure of electronic surveillance aircraft and ships, harassment of US forces, and many other acts constituting war.

The point of this post is not to debate responses but to point out that if we are completely unwilling to use military force to respond to these incidents then there is no point and no justification for maintaining those forces forward deployed.  They aren’t deterring anyone.

The Navy can’t have it both ways.  If they want to make a case for a given force level based on forward deployment and deterrence then they have to use the forces for that purpose.  If they have no intention of using the forces then they don’t need the forces and certainly don’t need them forward deployed.  A strongly worded letter is just as effective as unused force.

(1)USNI, “Pentagon Unclear Why Iran Seized Maersk Tigris; U.S. Destroyer, 3 Patrol Craft Nearby”, Sam LaGrone, April 29, 2015,

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Short Legs

Reader “Nick” pointed out some interesting data on the LCS operating range that is worth repeating as a post. Thanks “Nick”!

As reported in the DOT&E 2014 Annual Report, the LCS-1 variant failed to meet its endurance/range requirements by a substantial amount.

“During operational testing, LCS 3 did not demonstrate that it could achieve the Navy requirement for fuel endurance (operating range) at the prescribed transit speed or at sprint speed. ... Based on fuel consumption data collected during the test, the ship’s operating range at 14.4 knots is estimated to be approximately 1,961 nautical miles (Navy requirement: 3,500 nautical miles at 14 knots) and the operating range at 43.6 knots is approximately 855 nautical miles (Navy requirement: 1,000 nautical miles at 40 knots). … The shortfall in endurance may limit the flexibility of the ship’s operations in the Pacific and place a heavier than anticipated demand on fleet logistics.”

We’ve previously noted that the speed requirements have been steadily downgraded and now the endurance/range are also being downgraded on top of previous downgrades to range!  This severely limits the usefulness of the class.  

Given that the LCS is planned to make up a third of the Navy’s combat fleet (setting aside the nearly non-existent combat capability of the class), it should be a bit disconcerting that a third of the fleet won’t be able to venture far from their bases.

Honestly, this is an embarrassment for a blue-water, global navy.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

LCS Operating Costs - Follow Up

Here’s a follow up note about the LCS operating costs.  The LCS was sold, in large part, as a lower operating cost vessel whose operating concept would establish the pattern for future ship classes of all types.  The crew would be minimal.  Maintenance would not be performed at sea but would be deferred to, and performed by, shore support groups.  Multiple crews (similar to Blue/Gold of SSBNs but on a 3 crews for every 2 ships ratio) would maximize underway time.  Ships would be forward deployed.  And so on.

All of this was supposed to minimize operating costs.  The main impact in minimizing costs was, presumably, the greatly reduced crew size given that the Navy claims that personnel costs are the biggest contributor to operating costs.  As we saw in the previous post (see, "LCS Operating Costs and Lessons Learned"), that has not turned out to be the case.  The issue we want to address today is not whether the original operating cost estimates turned out to be inaccurate but whether the original estimates were ever even remotely realistic.

Smaller crew size means smaller operating costs.  Seems straightforward, right?  But was it?  Setting aside the issue of core crew size, which everyone but the Navy knew on Day One was ridiculously undersized, there is a bigger issue.  The twin concepts of reduced manning and multiple crews per ship meant that the personnel costs were going to be bigger than simply adding up the core crew size costs.  With the new core crew size of around 50 and the 3:2 crew:ship ratio, that means that the Navy is maintaining 150 crew for each pair of ships or an average of 75 crew per ship.  Throw in a helo detachment and the module specialists and the average crew size increases to around 110-120.

On top of that are the mandatory shore maintenance personnel.  We don’t know exactly how many of those there will be but we’ve seen that the manning has already tripled over the original estimates, to 862 according to the Navy.  Averaged over the initial buy of 32 LCS, that adds an additional 27 crew per ship. 

Added to that are the contractor personnel that are dedicated to the LCS.  The Navy used teams of 30-70 for Freedom’s Singapore trip.  If all 32 LCSs are putting into port every couple weeks for routine, scheduled maintenance, that’s going to require a LOT of contractors.  They, too, have to be accounted for in the operating costs – say, the equivalent of an additional 20 crew per ship.

If you add the total crew and crew equivalents you get an average crew size of somewhere around 165.  That’s around the Perry class crew size.  Is it really that surprising that operating a Perry size vessel requires a Perry size crew?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Rolling In Hot

Breaking Defense website has a report on a Close Air Support (CAS) summit sponsored by the Air Force (1).  There were a few nuggets of information that reveal just how little interest the AF has in CAS.

"Carlisle [ed. Gen. Hawk Carlisle, head of Air Force Air Combat Command] told us “gaps” were spotted in training and to, some degree, in future equipment.

The biggest gap in Close Air Support right now, Carlisle told reporters, is the training CAS pilots currently have to operate in what the Air Force nicely calls “contested environments” — places where the enemy has a decent chance of shooting you down."

"Pilots have operated in uncontested environments over the last 13 years and haven’t had time to train for high-end operations, the general said."

The biggest gap in AF CAS is training for contested environments!?  Isn’t that kind of what CAS is all about – providing direct air support to ground forces at the front edge of the battlefield in what is, almost by definition, a contested environment?  That the AF is not providing that training pretty well indicates their level of commitment, or lack thereof, to CAS.  However, beating up on the AF about their lack of commitment to CAS, which has been a poorly kept secret for many years, is not the point of this post.  We’ll move on.

"... the three versions of the F-35 will, Carlisle noted, be the main CAS weapons operating in hot environments."

The F-35 is not even remotely an optimal platform for CAS.  That’s not even a debatable point and, again, that’s not the point of this post. 

Instead, for the sake of discussion, let’s accept the use of the F-35 in the CAS role.  What I want to look at is the F-35’s ability to provide gun support in CAS. 

What we currently have, in the A-10, is the GAU-8 30 mm Avenger rotary gun which carries and fires up to 1350 rounds of depleted uranium armor piercing shells at a rate of 3900 rounds per minute.  The gun is installed at a slight downward angle to assist in strafing runs.  Contrast that to the F-35’s gun system, the 25 mm, four barrel, 3300 round per minute, rotary GAU-22/A.

The A-10 projectiles weigh 13.3-14.0 oz, depending on type.  The F-35 projectiles weigh 6.5-7.5 oz.

The A-10 carries up to 1350 rounds compared to the F-35A which carries 182 rounds.  The F-35B/C do not have an internal gun.  They carry the gun in an external pod with a capacity of 220 rounds.  Of course, the external pod impacts the aircraft’s stealth.

So, we see that the A-10 has a larger gun with around 5 times the ammo capacity, firing depleted uranium shells that are twice the weight, from a gun that is mounted and optimized for ground attack, compared to the F-35 whose gun is, literally, an afterthought add-on for the Marines and Navy.  Anyone claiming that the F-35 is capable of performing the CAS role is playing loose with the facts.  The F-35 is capable of performing the gun support portion of the CAS role only in the sense that it has a gun that can be pointed at the ground.  In no other way is it capable or effective.  A man shooting a handgun from a glider can be claimed to perform CAS, too, I guess.

Of course, there is much, much more to CAS than just the ability to fire a gun at the ground.  There is also much more to it than just the characteristics of the CAS platform.  Training is paramount.  The understanding of ground force strategy and tactics, the understanding of where, when, and how to best support ground forces, the ability to effectively interface with ground controllers, knowledge of the local terrain, understanding of enemy forces and their movement, and so on are as important or more so than the weapon characteristics of a given platform.  There are also many more CAS weapons than just a gun and we won’t examine those today.

Today’s post simply points out the inadequacy of the F-35 gun system when used for CAS when compared to the A-10.  Combine that with the AF’s acknowledged lack of training and it’s obvious that anyone claiming the F-35 will adequately fill the CAS role is kidding themselves and their audience.

 (1) Breaking Defense, "Close Air Support Summit Sparks Nod To Textron’s Scorpion", Colin Clark,  March 09, 2015,

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Surface Warfare Perfect Storm

USNI website has an interesting article about the size of the future surface warfare fleet.

“Rapid growth in the capability and quality of guided missiles — mostly Chinese in origin — is causing the U.S. Navy to rethink the number of surface ships it needs to effectively fight a high-end war.

“Early estimates based [on] ongoing war games could mean the current number of 88 large surface combatants — the Navy’s fleet of guided missile destroyers and cruisers — needs to grow to more than a hundred into the 2020s just to keep to today’s current level of risk, USNI News has learned.”

From 88 ships to more than a hundred?!  As you digest that, consider that we’ve documented the steady decline in combat fleet size and the coming shortfall in destroyers as retirements outpace new construction.  We’ve also discussed the extremely unwise decision to forego maintenance and upgrades.

This is all very disturbing but we’ve already covered it and warned about the shortfall.  So, what’s the point of this post?  Well, the article touches on some interesting implications.

For instance, the article states that the existing requirement for 88 surface vessels is based on, among other factors, a requirement to provide 5 major surface combatants as escorts for each carrier group.  However, the new requirement places the escort number at 7 or 8 per carrier group.  OK, again, aside from not having that number available, what’s the point?  The point goes back to one we’ve previously addressed which is tactics and training.  Carrier groups currently deploy with 2 or 3 escorts.  If we intend to fight with 5-8, where and how are our commanders learning to tactically handle a group that is 2-3 times larger than what we routinely deploy with?  We have Admirals who have never commanded or tactically exercised the size group that they would fight with.  This is not the way to prepare for combat!

Another interesting point that the article makes is the impact of the LCS on the major combatant force level.

In addition, decisions to leave the two emerging Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) variants without a significant AAW capability also stresses the cruiser and destroyer fleets, since the LCS could not then help protect non-combatant ships like oilers and logistics ships in an escort role …”

Thus, we see that the decision to continue producing the non-combat LCS and to add only very minimal improvements to the follow on “frigate LCS” have the consequence of requiring more Burkes.  Thus, the LCS, which was supposed to free up major combatants is actually tying down more Burkes conducting low end missions because the LCS is so impotent and ineffective.

Finally, the article documents the Navy’s decision to forego Burke upgrades that would allow the ships to conduct simultaneous BMD and AAW.  Thus, in many cases, it may require two Burkes to fill the role of a single upgraded one. 

“Planned upgrades that would allow destroyers to fight ballistic missiles and aircraft at the same time have been scaled back in some cases, requiring two less capable ships to do the mission of one upgraded destroyer.

The prioritization and decision making of the Navy is mystifying, at best (that’s my polite way of saying incompetent).

Please read the linked article.  It’s well worth it.

The surface warfare perfect storm is coming and the Navy is ignoring it.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Confusion and Training

The Navy is in the process of establishing a TopGun type training program for surface warfare after decades of neglect.  During that time the Navy came to depend on simulation training and highly scripted exercises.  While a dedicated training program is a step in the right direction, it is woefully inadequate.  The simple fact that the training facility is going to be located at NAS Fallon in Nevada, far from any sea, is ample proof that the training will be inadequate.  By reason of its location, the training can’t be anything more than tabletop study and wargaming.  As I said, that’s better than the current situation but completely inadequate.  No amount of simulation can prepare a student for the chaos and confusion of actual battle.  No amount of simulation can replicate the physical sensations of a wildly heeling ship, the confused reports of crew, the inevitable mistakes and failures associated with a real situation, the darkness, the fog, the rain, the waves, and the resulting adrenaline and mental pressure that will be encountered in a real situation.

Let’s consider an historical example from WWII.  The first battle of Savo Island, off Guadalcanal, resulted in one of the worst defeats ever for the US Navy.  I won’t recap the battle.  Summaries are readily available on the Internet and in many books.  One of the main reasons (among many) was the utter confusion that reigned despite all the training that the ships, crews, and command personnel went through.  Here are some quotes from Wiki that illustrate the level of confusion.

Prior to the battle, the approaching Japanese force was sighted by a US sub and a contact report was sent. 

“The warnings, however, were considered vague and the size of the force reported did not suggest an attack was pending.”

The approaching force was also spotted by RAAF Hudson reconnaissance aircraft. 

“The first Hudson misidentified them as "three cruisers, three destroyers, and two seaplane tenders".

Another reconnaissance opportunity was squandered due to confusion.

“Mikawa's run down the Slot was not detected by Allied forces. Turner had requested that U.S. Admiral John S. McCain, Sr., commander of Allied air forces for the South Pacific area, conduct extra reconnaissance missions over the Slot in the afternoon of August 8. But, for unexplained reasons, McCain did not order the missions, nor did he tell Turner that they were not carried out. Thus, Turner mistakenly believed that the Slot was under Allied observation throughout the day.”

Confusion continued as the battle approached.

“[Adm.] Crutchley left the southern group in Australia to attend the conference, leaving Captain Howard D. Bode of Chicago in charge of the southern group. Crutchley did not inform the commanders of the other cruiser groups of his absence, contributing further to the dissolution of command arrangements.”

Sighting reports were incorrectly evaluated.

“Turner, Crutchley, and Vandegrift discussed the reports of the "seaplane tender" force reported by the Australian Hudson crew earlier that day. They decided it would not be a threat that night, because seaplane tenders did not normally engage in a surface action.”

More confusion,

“Crutchley elected not to return with Australia to the southern force but instead stationed his ship just outside the Guadalcanal transport anchorage, without informing the other Allied ship commanders of his intentions or location.”

The Japanese launched floatplanes that offered an opportunity for the Allied forces to react but they failed to do so.

“Although several of the Allied ships heard and/or observed one or more of these floatplanes, starting at 23:45 on August 8, none of them interpreted the presence of unknown aircraft in the area as an actionable threat, and no one reported the sightings to Crutchley or Turner.”

Once combat started, confusion increased.

“[USS] Patterson increased speed to full, and fired star shells towards the Japanese column. Her captain ordered a torpedo attack, but his order was not heard over the noise from the destroyer's guns.”

“… knocking out power to the entire ship before Canberra could fire any of her guns or communicate a warning to other Allied ships.”

“[Capt.] Bode ordered his 5 in (127.0 mm) guns to fire star shells towards the Japanese column, but the shells did not function.”

“Bode did not try to assert control over any of the other Allied ships in the southern force, of which he was still technically in command.  More significantly, Bode made no attempt to warn any of the other Allied ships or personnel in the Guadalcanal area as his ship headed away from the battle area.”

“[USS] Bagley, whose crew sighted the Japanese shortly after Patterson and Canberra, circled completely around to port before firing torpedoes in the general direction of the rapidly disappearing Japanese column; one or two of which may have hit Canberra.”

Astoria'​s captain, awakened to find his ship in action, rushed to the bridge and ordered a ceasefire, fearful that his ship might be firing on friendly forces. As shells continued to cascade around his ship, the captain ordered firing resumed less than a minute later.”

Quincy'​s captain gave the order to commence firing, but the gun crews were not ready.”

Vincennes hesitated to open fire, believing that the searchlight's source might be friendly ships.”

So it was that a supposedly highly trained US and Allied force encountered total confusion for which they were unprepared.

Well, some of you say, that can’t happen today.  We have radar, IFF, and communications that ensure total situational awareness.  You’ll claim that actions are conducted from CIC so simulated training is all that’s needed.  History, however, begs to differ.

The highly trained CIC and bridge crew of the Aegis cruiser Vincennes made every mistake possible in shooting down an airliner.

The highly trained bridge crew of the Aegis cruiser Port Royal ran aground in broad daylight.

The highly trained crew of the submarine Greenville collided with a 190 ft Japanese fishery training ship causing it to sink.

There’s a reason why naval aviators qualify on the carrier rather than on the simulator.

There’s a reason why RN submarine command candidates qualify at sea rather than at a desk.

There’s a reason why the AF found that as simulator training increased, so too did crashes.

We’ve shot down friendly helicopters flying a clearly communicated flight plan. 

We’ve inflicted countless examples of friendly fire in recent conflicts. 

And so on…

There’s a reason why the TopGun training program was not a tabletop lecture.  The pilots had to fly to learn the lessons because no amount of lecture can replicate the heart pounding stress of pulling G’s, the possibility of air or ground collision, the effect of weather, the garbled radio communications, and the split second decision making that makes up real actions.

Similarly, no amount of lecture and tabletop training will replicate the confusion of real action at sea.  While we can’t engage in live fire, life and death training we can replicate the stresses as much as possible and the only way to do that is to be at sea.  This latest Navy training program is a step in the right direction but, as with so many Navy decisions, stops short of being a truly worthwhile program.

You recall all those Perry class frigates that we’re retiring and giving away?  Those would make excellent training ships.  Crewed for a few days at a time at sea, they would offer the opportunity to greatly enhance the value and realism of tactical training.  Throw in small boat drone target swarms, realistic cruise missile surrogates, and a dedicated opposing force (OPFOR) and you’d have the basis of as realistic training as possible.

I know some of you will moan about the cost but the cost of operating a dozen Perrys on a greatly reduced manning level pales in comparison to the cost of a ship sunk because we skimped on training.

In combat, confusion and chaos reign.  In a simulator, calmness and clarity reign.  We need to train for the former and the only way to do that is at sea.

Imagine …  Trainees are at sea.  The ship is pitching and heeling radically from constant full speed turns.  Just staying seated is a challenge.  Smoke is introduced into CIC.  Trainees are dressed for combat including gas masks.  Visibility is poor.  Voices are muffled.  Multiple threats are bearing down.  The noise level rises.  It’s harder to hear.  Some reports are completely wrong, some are partially correct, few are totally correct.  A swarm of surface drone boats are approaching quickly.  Friendly forces may be in the area.  Inevitably, data and commands are miscommunicated up and down the chain of command.  Enemy ECM compounds the confusion.  Occasional system failures occur.  GPS is blocked.  Higher authority wants to know what’s happening.   ……..  This level of training is badly needed and it can only take place at sea.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Burke Flt III

The Burke Flt III was originally intended to be the Ticonderoga replacement and mainstay of both the AAW command vessel and the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) role.  As such it was intended to receive the new AMDR radar which could handle simultaneous BMD and AAW roles.  Unfortunately, it turned out that the optimum sized AMDR required more space, weight, and resources than the Burke could provide.  A new design ship was briefly considered but coming hot on the heels of the LCS fiasco, the Navy believed that the challenges in getting a new design approved and funded were too great. 

The Navy is now committed to fielding a down-sized AMDR which it acknowledges is too small to meet the desired performance criteria.  This is admission of an odd situation.  The Navy is, essentially, acknowledging that it is going to build a ship that is inadequate for the intended mission.

The other disturbing aspect of the Flt III is the growth margin.  The Navy is going to have to squeeze the AMDR and its attendant resources into an already overloaded hull.  The resultant ship will have no growth margins during a future in which the Navy anticipates lasers and rail guns reaching the fleet.  We’ll set aside whether that anticipation is realistic and simply consider what the Navy believes.  Why would you begin building the future backbone of the fleet with no significant growth margins for the developments you believe are coming in the relatively near term and which you know are going to require substantial weight, volume, and ship’s utilities, especially for the early versions?

Let’s take a quick look at some Flt III options that the Navy could pursue.

New Design – This would undoubtedly be the best approach from a purely technical point of view.  However, the Navy has been burned so badly on recent acquisitions that they are gun shy and devoid of credibility so they’ve opted to pass on this option.

Zumwalt – The Zumwalt has the size and power to fully field the AMDR and would be a good option, on paper.  However, there are significant questions about the seakeeping characteristics of ship and my guess is that the Navy felt that was too much risk.  The Navy did examine this option though how seriously, I’m not sure.

Lengthen – A lengthened Burke is a viable option and would provide at least some additional weight and space for the AMDR.  Whether it would provide the necessary superstructure mounting without raising the center of gravity unacceptably is unsure.  Again, the Navy supposedly examined this option and rejected it though I’ve never heard why.

Pure AAW – Another option would be to reconfigure the Flt III to be a pure AAW vessel - no guns, ASW, hangar, or anything else.  This would fill the AAW and AAW command requirements while freeing up space and weight.  Again, whether that would allow the full AMDR to be fit is unknown.

Distributed AAW – The AMDR doesn’t have to be mounted on the shooting platform.  Various proposals have been made to mount the AMDR on a ship dedicated to that purpose.  Such a ship would have the required space, weight, and power to support the radar and would be relatively cheap in that it would have no other functions or capabilities.

LPD-17 Variant – Proposals have been made to modify the LPD-17 to an AAW vessel.  Again, the ship would have the space, weight, and power to support the full AMDR.

The point is that when all the possibilities are considered, the Navy’s chosen path of shoehorning the AMDR into the existing Burke hull is arguably the worst option.  It’s just another in the seemingly endless string of poor decisions emanating from Navy leadership.