Thursday, May 30, 2013

Counterbattery Fire

We previously discussed the conceptual origins of the LCS as presented in a Proceedings article (1).  Read the post, here.  The Proceedings article is one of the best naval writings I’ve read in recent years.  I urge you to find a copy of the magazine and read the article in its entirety.  One of the aspects of the original LCS concept that we mentioned but did not dwell on was the ability to conduct counterbattery fire.  I’d like to examine that concept in more detail.

The article listed several capabilities that a littoral vessel should have and one of them was the ability to conduct counterbattery fire.  The article had this to say about the conceptual vessel,

          “It should have some kind of counterbattery capability to respond in real time to
           a shore-based missile attack.”

The original LCS concept, as we see, was to include the ability to stand in littoral waters and fight back against shore-based attacks on ships.  The key phrase is in the quote is “… respond in real time …”.  Thus, the littoral vessel would identify an attack, backtrack its point of origin, and conduct counterbattery fire before the launch site or platform could relocate.

Think about this capability for a moment.  What is the Navy’s biggest fear (well, one of them at any rate) in conducting amphibious operations?  Why, it’s the land-launched anti-ship missile.  That’s the reason the Navy is now doctrinally refusing to close with shorelines and why the Marines are struggling to figure out how to get ashore from amphibious ships stationed 20-50 miles offshore.  What if the Navy had a ship that could stand inshore and counter land-launched missiles?  That would greatly expand the flexibility and range of options for an amphibious force or, for that matter, for any force operating near shore for whatever reason.

Of course, a counterbattery-capable ship would not prevent the initial launch of a missile but it would limit the enemy to one shot per launch site or launch platform.  It wouldn’t take long before the enemy would become very reluctant to conduct land-based anti-ship attacks if the result was a destroyed launch platform each time.  Aegis ships would, of course, deal with the missiles that did launch.  That’s what Aegis is designed to do.  The combination of an Aegis missile umbrella and a littoral ship with counterbattery capability to limit launch sites to one shot would make for a pretty effective overall shield for amphibious operations.
Counterbattery Fire Needed

Remember the Scud hunts during Desert Storm?  The problem was not locating the launch position;  it was getting ordnance to the position before the mobile launchers could relocate.  An effective counterbattery capability would have greatly changed the conduct of that conflict, though with the same end result.  Inordinate resources were diverted to Scud hunts from other missions with largely ineffective results.

Let’s look at counterbattery fire a bit deeper.  Although not explicitly called for in the article, a reasonable extension of the counterbattery capability would be the application of counterbattery to artillery and mortar attacks as well as anti-ship missiles.  In general terms, ships frequently operate in close proximity to land during passages (canals, straits, and various chokepoints) and other missions.  This creates a vulnerability to artillery and mortar attacks.  Picture a ship trapped in the Panama Canal and having to fight off terrorist mortar attacks.  The ability to conduct counterbattery fire on artillery and mortars would be invaluable.  Further, the ability to actually defeat incoming ballistic ordnance would be very desirable.  In fact, the basis for doing so already exists.  The Phalanx CIWS has been adapted by the Army for land use in exactly that role and is referred to as C-RAM (Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar).  Adding that capability to the Navy’s CIWS would enhance a ship’s ability to operate in near-shore scenarios.

I believe that counterbattery was one of the most important, arguably the most important, of the capabilities in the original littoral ship concept.  Unfortunately, it was never pursued.  Even the aborted NLOS was not a counterbattery weapon but, rather, just a general land attack capability.

While I remain dubious about the actual need for a littoral vessel, if the Navy is determined to pursue such a ship, counterbattery fire should be one of the first requirements.  Counterbattery would also make a reasonable addition to the Zumwalt which is intended to fight moderately near-shore.

 (1) United States Naval Institute Proceedings, “Birth of the Littoral Combat Ship”, Captain Robert Powers (Ret), Sep 2012, p.42

Sunday, May 26, 2013

BMD Performance

Actual performance data for AAW systems is hard to come by, as we've seen.  The May 2013 issue of Proceedings (p. 65) offers a bit of data for the Ballistic Missile Defense system.  Proceedings reports that Aegis/SM-3 have intercepted 22 of 27 (81%) missiles in test firings.

There are two ways to interpret this information.

We should be encouraged because both Aegis and SM-3 are still developing and and 81% success rate is outstanding and will only get better as the system matures.

We should be disappointed because these test firings are highly staged affairs with perfectly tweaked missiles and radar systems launched under absolutely ideal conditions against extremely simple targets in a non-ECM environment.  A failure rate of 19% doesn't bode well for actual combat situations against high performance ballistic missiles with on-board ECM.

Where does the truth lie?  Somewhere in between, undoubtedly.  Both perspectives are true although I lean far more towards the latter.  The Navy is famous for staging test firings which are ridiculously slanted towards success.  Nonetheless, the data offers a hint that China's carrier-killer missiles that so many people are so terrified of won't be quite the wonder weapons that they're made out to be.  Aegis/Standard is capable of some level of BMD success.

Although I've stated it many times, it bears repeating that China (and the US) have not solved the far-over-the-horizon targeting challenge.  That weakness combined with some level of BMD intercept capability suggests that ballistic missiles are no more than a low level threat for the time being - a threat to be respected, for sure, but not a game changer, yet.

Friday, May 24, 2013

FY 14 Budget Markup

The House Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces has released its markup on the FY14 National Defense Authorization Bill – H.R. 1960.  In essence, Congress has inserted its specific comments into the Navy’s budget.  Here are some highlights.

CVN-78.  Congress agrees to increase the previously mandated spending cap on the Ford, CVN-78, from $11.755B to $12.9B which is the Navy’s new estimate of the final completed construction cost.  The previous cap had been adjusted and set in 2010.  That’s more than a billion dollar overrun since that point !!!!  And, you know more is coming as the various new technologies like EMALS, AAG, radar, etc. are integrated into the ship.  The Ford is going to cost well over $13B when done.  We simply can’t afford that when the entire yearly shipbuilding budget is $15B.  Carriers are either pricing themselves out of existence or pricing the rest of the fleet out.

Amphibious Combat Vehicle.  Congress has directed the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct an annual review of the Amphibious Combat Vehicle program including costs and analysis of alternatives.  That’s Congress’ way of telling the Marines and the Navy that they don’t trust either of them to tell the truth and make fiscally sound decisions.  When Congress tells you that you’re not trustworthy, that’s gotta hurt!

UCLASS.  Congress has directed the Navy to demonstrate the air-to-air refueling capability of the X-47B no later than 1-Oct-14.  This statement is astounding but I’m not entirely sure why.  That Congress is now specifying test procedures is unheard of.  Does Congress not trust the Navy to carry out a demonstration of such an important capability if left on their own?  That’s entirely possible given that the Navy refused to carry out shock testing on the LCS and Ford class carriers in a relevant and useful time frame.  The Navy is clearly being called to task over something but I’m unsure exactly what.  This bears further watching.

Congress goes further with the UCLASS program by specifying that a Milestone A technology development contract may not be awarded

“… until a period of 30 days has elapsed following the date on which the Under Secretary certifies to the congressional defense committees that the software and system engineering designs for the control system and connectivity and aircraft carrier segments of such program can achieve, with low level of integration risk, successful  compatibility and interoperability with the air vehicle segment selected for contract award with respect to such program.”

Again, Congress is letting DoD and the Navy know that they don’t trust them.  There’s a background issue at work here that I’m unclear on.

Flt III AMDR.  Congress has directed the Navy to submit a report on the proposed use of the AMDR radar on the Burke Flt III that will address capabilities of the system, limitations of the Burke with regard to hosting the AMDR, and an analysis of alternatives.  Again, Congress is making it clear that they don’t believe the Navy’s own assessment and want to force the Navy to directly address some of the issues that the Navy has, thus far, skirted around.

There’s one resounding theme amongst Congress’ actions and that is a mistrust of the Navy.  Congress seems not to believe that the Navy will provide timely, relevant, and accurate information upon which Congress can base their decisions.  As a result, Congress is starting to get into the nitty-gritty details of weapons development and procurement.  On the one hand, that’s great.  Congress has, for far too long, abdicated their oversight role of the military and procurement spending by simply going along with pretty much whatever the military has requested.  It’s about time Congress started asking questions and demanding answers.  On the other hand, it’s a sad state of affairs when the Navy no longer retains the trust of Congress.  As regular readers well know, the Navy has squandered their reservoir of trust on a seemingly endless string of poor decisions, abrupt changes in direction, misinformation, and incomplete or poorly performed analyses and assessments of weapons systems.  The Navy’s chickens are coming home to roost and they have no one to blame but themselves.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

LCS Breaks Down Again!

I know, you think you're reading a repeat of earlier posts but I kid you not, USS Freedom, LCS-1, has broken down again due to another lube oil failure, this time from sediment in the oil.  The Navy Times website reported the story today.  USS Drydock Freedom is giving the off-board maintenance concept a real work out, at least.  As you recall, Freedom lost power three times on the way to Guam and twice, now, in Singapore.  Quite a cruise, so far!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Whatever You Want It To Be

There has been a trend over the last decade or two by the military to say whatever serves its purpose.  Kind of a vague statement, I know.  Let’s look at a few specific examples.  Maybe that will make my meaning clearer.

The LCS was originally sold to Congress and the public as a kick-butt littoral combat vessel that could conduct ASW, ASuW, and MCM without needing help from anyone else.  Why, a single LCS could win a war all by itself, it was claimed!  Later, after many failures, and with Congress showing signs of balking at additional purchases, the story changed to a much more limited mission set with the LCS being described as operating around the periphery of a conflict and under the protective umbrella of Aegis ships and carrier aviation.  Why are we committing a quarter of our future combat fleet to a ship that can only function around the periphery of combat?  But, I digress …

The Zumwalt DDG-1000 started life as the absolutely vital ship of the future, the Navy claimed, before suddenly being cast off as obsolete on the modern battlefield in the most amazing and abrupt change of story I’ve ever witnessed in the annals of weapons procurement.  Astoundingly, though, the Navy is building three of these obsolete ships and now claims that the ship is the wave of the future, maybe.  Yes …  No …  Well, let’s build it and then we’ll figure out what to do with it.  But, I digress …

You get the idea.

In similar fashion, AirSea Battle (ASB) started life as a way to defeat an adversary (China, though no one will say it out loud) who had the technology to implement an Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy.  The original CSBA AirSea Battle document described a war of attrition resulting in the rollback of China’s A2/AD capabilities as a prelude to offensive operations.  Now, according to CNO Greenert and General Welsh (1), Chief of Staff of the Air Force, ASB is more of a defensive concept aimed at breaking the enemy’s kill chain, meaning the ability to stop an enemy weapon from hitting us by disrupting one of the steps (location, targeting, launch, impact) in the chain that leads to a weapon impact on target (US forces being the target).

As a secondary goal, ASB also encompasses a fantasy wish list of anything-can-do-anything capabilities such as using submarines to defeat airborne threats (in some mystical, unspecified manner), having F-22s retarget Tomahawk missiles (when, how, and why would an F-22 ever have better targeting information than the Tomahawk possessed upon launch?), having Army land units guide Navy surface-to-air missiles (when would they ever be in position to do that better than the Navy could?), and so on.

In short, ASB is morphing into something very different from what it started as.  Now, this alone is not necessarily a bad thing.  We should constantly be examining our weapons and strategies and changing them when necessary.  However, there is a difference between changing for valid military reasons and changing for political reasons. 

I see the latter happening with ASB.  What started out as a valid, though poorly articulated, military concept seems to be changing to support procurement wish lists of the Air Force and Navy.

Disturbingly, I also see a movement away from the original generalized combat philosophy document and towards a gold-plated, fantasy procurement wish list that bears a remarkable resemblance to the LCS technology wish lists that crashed and burned so badly.  Failing to learn from the LCS debacle, this latest offering from Greenert and Welsh calls for a host of non-existent, technically complex capabilities that are unlikely to be achieved in any relevant time frame and have little practical use that I can see, even if they could be achieved.

I’m firmly convinced that, whatever it started as, ASB is now just a marketing tool for the Navy and Air Force to pressure Congress into giving them more toys.  Keep a close eye on ASB and let’s see where it goes.  My bet is nowhere useful.

Monday, May 20, 2013

AAW - Hard or Soft Kill?

The Navy has been firmly committed to the hard kill option of the Aegis/Standard Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) system as the main line of defense against attacking planes and missiles.  Additional hard kill elements include a variety of shorter range missiles and guns such as RAM, SeaRAM, CIWS, and various rapid firing guns in the 3”-5” range.  A secondary, soft kill system of decoys and electronic countermeasures (ECM) is also used but has not been developed and upgraded with the same attention and priority as Aegis and the various hard kill components.  For example, the Navy’s main ECM system, the SLQ-32, is well behind the times, bordering on obsolete, and the Navy is only just now beginning to look at upgrading it.

SLQ-32 - Not Enough Love?

We see, then, that the Navy uses both hard and soft kill systems for AAW with an overriding emphasis on hard kill.  Is this wise?  What is the success rate of each?  Which is more likely to be successful against future threats?  Is the Navy pursuing the best course in AAW development?

We’ve already discussed the historical data regarding anti-ship missile attacks on passively defended (soft kill) vessels.  The data shows defensive success rates of around 80%.

Historically, there have been very few combat AAW missile launches so there is not much of a database to draw conclusions from.  The best data set that I’m aware of is from the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina.  During that conflict, at least 26 Sea Dart missiles were launched.  Wikipedia reports that of 5 missiles launched against helicopters or high flying, relatively slow aircraft, 4 hits were achieved.  By contrast, there were only 2 hits out of 19 launches against low flying aircraft.  The Falklands totals for the Sea Dart, then, were 6 hits out of 26 launches (23% success).  Wikipedia further notes that an unspecified number of launches were made without guidance in an attempt to break up low level attacks as a result of limitations of the missile system.  In addition, the Sea Wolf missile, designed for use against low level targets, achieved 2 kills in 8 launches for a 25% success rate, according to Wikipedia.

Note that the Falklands AAW actions were against planes, mainly, rather than missiles which are a much more difficult target.

To the best of my knowledge, Aegis/Standard has never been fired in combat in the AAW role so there is no direct data to examine.

We’ve also discussed from time to time that Aegis is such a complex system that it has fallen into a fleetwide state of reduced performance and readiness.  The Navy has had to implement special programs in an attempt to bring Aegis back up to standard but the system remains degraded across the fleet.  The complexity of the system largely precludes on-board repairs by the crew and, in fact, makes it virtually impossible for the crew to even spot degraded performance.

What do all of these bits and pieces tell us?

One obvious conclusion is that soft kill methods have a far better performance record than hard kill.  That’s probably not all that surprising given the difficulty of trying to guide an AAW missile on to an incoming, high speed, maneuvering target.  To be fair, that conclusion is drawn with no data input from the Aegis/Standard system.  Will Aegis perform markedly better than Sea Dart?  My guess, based on nothing, is that Aegis will perform better but nowhere near the 80% success rate demonstrated by soft kill systems.

Another point to consider is that any AAW system works best in a fully automatic mode.  Unfortunately, commanders are reluctant to operate that way for fear of unintended mishaps.  Indeed, there have been numerous such incidents.  For example, Sea Sparrow has fired on friendly ships during exercises and CIWS has fired on friendly chaff and helos with each example causing damage and casualties.  Contrast that to soft kill systems operating in automatic mode.  There is no danger.  Soft kill systems can be left on continuously, EMCON considerations not withstanding.

Further, consider the cost of upgrading the capabilities of hard and soft kill systems.  Hard kill systems require software upgrades, which are relatively easy to implement, and hardware (the missiles) upgrades.  The Navy has spent a great deal of money upgrading the Standard missile from Block 1 through the various versions to Block 6.  Soft kill system upgrades, by comparison, are almost exclusively software based, again relatively easy, and the hardware upgrades are far less expensive.  Thus, soft kill systems can be more easily kept up to date and responsive to the ever-changing threats.

Next, consider the real estate required for hard kill and soft kill systems.  Missiles and their launchers require enormous amounts of deck space and internal ship’s volume.   Soft kill hardware requires very little space.  The result is that the smaller the ship, the less hard kill defense capability it has.  To a large extent, soft kill systems are independent of ship size.

Finally, consider the danger that hard kill systems pose to themselves.  The missiles represent a source of internal explosions in the event of a hit on the defending ship.  Soft kill systems present little self-threat.

It’s clear, then, that soft kill systems offer historically superior performance, easier upgrade paths, can be operated more freely, require little space, and present no threat to friendly forces or the defender.  The Navy should be much more focused on soft kill systems than they currently are.

Why, then, is the Navy so focused on hard kills?  Well, for one thing, hard kills are dramatic, definite, and occur at some distance away from the defender.  Soft kills tend not to show a definite result until the missile has approached quite closely and passed the defender.  It’s a lot more reassuring to see missiles disappear at a distance!

What’s the takeaway from this discussion?  I’m not suggesting that the Navy abandon hard kill systems, so half of you can take your itchy fingers off the keyboard where they were preparing to lambaste me.  What I’m suggesting is that soft kill systems are part of a layered AAW defense, along with hard kill systems, but that they should be given much higher priority than they have historically received from the Navy.  As stated, soft kill systems are more effective, cheaper, easier to maintain and upgrade, and safer to operate.  You would think those characteristics would garner far more attention than they do.  C’mon Navy, pay attention to what works even if it isn’t the “sexy” approach.  Soft kill provides more bang for the buck – stop ignoring it!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Foreign LCS Maintenance

Internet commentators constantly call on the US Navy to buy whatever their favorite foreign ship or weapon system is, claiming that foreign buys are better, cheaper, and faster.  ComNavOps, too, is not above the occasional suggestion to look at foreign sources.  I’ve also pointed out on multiple occasions that there are very real difficulties associated with foreign purchases that make the prospect far less appealing than it seems on the face of it. 

Austal, manufacturer of the LCS-2 version, has been entering into partnerships with Asian shipyards to provide service and maintenance for the LCS as detailed in an Austal media information release (1).  Austal has partnered with shipyards in Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

Does anyone else see a possible problem with this arrangement?  The US Navy is going to be dependent on Austal for support services (remember, the LCS is not designed or crewed to provide on-board maintenance and support and the Navy does not operate tenders or have bases in much of the Asian region) and Austal is going to, in turn, be dependent on countries that are suspect, at best, as regards their long term availability.  That makes the Navy dependent on Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam. 

If circumstances arise in which China decides to put pressure on those countries do we really think those shipyards will remain available to us?  China can exert much more intense economic, political, and military coercion than the US can, especially given China’s physical proximity to those countries.  Those tiny countries are going to be forced to placate China if it comes down to it and that leaves the Navy without support facilities for the LCS.  I’ve said it before, but I REALLY don’t think the Navy has gamed out the support concept for the LCS.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mine Exercise - IMCMEX 12

The current issue of Proceedings (May 2013, “U.S. Navy in Review, Truver and Holzer) contains a stunning revelation about the state of mine warfare, specifically mine countermeasures (MCM), in the fleet.  Discussing the 2012 MCM exercise billed as the largest international MCM exercise ever conducted, IMCMEX 12, the article states that of the 29 simulated mines dropped in the water, only half or less were found.

I’m sorry, what was that?  The largest international collection of MCM experts and equipment ever assembled, under relaxed peacetime conditions, and knowing exactly where to begin looking, couldn’t even find half the exercise mines???  That does not bode well for actual combat MCM operations.

Fortunately, the LCS and its MCM module will solve all the problems, right?  By the way, the LCS and its MCM module were conspicuous by their absence from the exercise.  What does that tell you about the mighty LCS and the spectacularly successful (according to the Navy’s press releases) MCM trials?  I would have thought the Navy would have been chomping at the bit to let the LCS show off its MCM capability.  Perhaps it’s not as successful as the press releases suggest?

Setting aside the LCS, the Navy is clearly behind the curve in mine warfare which is hard to understand since mines are the number one threat to the fleet.  C’mon Navy, wake up and start focusing on mines.

Friday, May 10, 2013

War With China - Part 2

OK, here's where ComNavOps runs the risk of coming across as a nutcase.

Having established that there are more than adequate grounds for tension between China and the US (more so, from their point of view), we now look for actual examples of war.  Remember that they consider warfare to encompass all actions, not just the violent ones that we consider as war.  Given that this type of not-always-violent war is, by definition, hard to spot or prove, we must look for an ongoing, repeated pattern of acts that, in their totality, could be taken as evidence of war.  Is there such a pattern?  Yes, more than enough. The examples can be grouped into a few broad categories as described below.

Military.  There is a clear, repeated, and long established history of military incidents that go beyond the realm of simple posturing.  The 2001 forcedown and seizure of an EP-3 and the subsequent stripping of its classified gear constituted an actual act of war as defined by international law, though we chose not to respond (!?!).  Ships are routinely harassed such as in the March 2009 incident with the USNS Impeccable or the June 2009 incident with the USS McCain.  There have been routine and repeated military incidents and I won’t bother citing or discussing them further. 

China is engaged in a massive military buildup that goes beyond defensive.  They are building an amphibious force (read the Geopolitical section below to understand how the amphibious force will be used aside from the obvious Taiwan invasion scenario) and developing cruise and ballistic missiles designed to close the SCS and threaten Diego Garcia and other key US bases.  All of this is aimed at an eventual Taiwan invasion. 

Another aspect of the ongoing military actions is the hacking of computer networks in the US.  I’m not talking about the run of the mill viruses and worms that are all over the Internet but rather hacking attacks on military and economic institutions.  China has been directly implicated in several incidents that have been made public and I’m sure there are others that our government has not publicized.  Just recently, computer attacks have been traced to a specific Chinese military unit in a specific building!

Geopolitical.  Establishment of the “territorial” version of the EEZ has allowed China to claim virtually the entire SCS as theirs and they are disrupting the right of passage, at least as far as US military planes and vessels are concerned.  They have publicly stated that the presence of US carriers in the SCS is provocative, unacceptable, and should be eliminated (this alone is justification enough to continue building carriers – your enemy will tell what they fear most, if you listen!).

China is engaged in a policy of “creeping jurisdiction” (to use a phrase from a recent Proceedings article) whereby they are “acquiring” more and more land/ocean by claiming uninhabitable rocks as inhabitable islands (typically, they establish two-man observation posts to “prove” habitability).

More disturbing is China’s policy of state sponsored emigration whereby Chinese citizens are being sent to neighboring small countries such as the Philippines, Marshalls, Solomons, New Guinea, and other small island nations.  When racial/cultural clashes inevitably occur, China has stepped in to ensure the safety of their citizens along the lines of the US actions in Grenada and other places.  To date, China has rarely employed overt military force in these incidents but has recently served notice that it will begin providing military protection, if necessary.  Setting aside the potential military aspects, the effect of this massive emigration policy is that the nearby, small nations are seeing a shift in population from predominately native to predominately Chinese with a corresponding surge in Chinese domination of the local economies.  Thus, countries are being slowly but surely annexed “peacefully”.  Again, China takes the long view.

Economic.  You are undoubtedly aware that China is engaged in a policy of routinely buying up US debt.  It has gotten to the point that US political actions are now being run through the filter of “how will this affect our ability to continue borrowing from China”. 

China has engaged (successfully!) in a policy of economic domination of the US through a combination of state subsidized low cost labor and high import tariffs.  The net effect, as you well know, is that millions of US jobs have been sent to China and we have a huge trade imbalance.  The intent of the economic policy is to ensure that the US will be hesitant to confront China over its various policy issues and incidents for fear of jeopardizing our economic dependence.

There are thousands more examples of “acts of war” that I haven’t got the space to list.  Any of the above examples, taken in isolation, prove nothing.  Only when the overall pattern is seen in combination with China’s cultural fear (security) does one come to the realization that China has, for quite some time, been at war with the US.  OK, so maybe you don’t consider that as war.  Fair enough, but in the end is there any difference between a short physical war and a long drawn out series of non-violent actions that result in the US being dominated to the point where China controls our actions and policies?  After all, isn’t that the point of a “real” war? 

We need to recognize the situation and begin responding.  The most important response should be to increase our tariffs to the point where it’s cheaper for US companies to manufacture in the US than in China.  That will bring the jobs home (there’s your job creation policy!) and begin to eliminate the debt issue.  Of course, the response to China is a subject that could fill a book so I’ll leave it at that.

Finally, let’s specifically address the argument that China would never risk war with the US because we’re their major trading partner.  That argument is based on simple self-interest and cost/benefit assessment.  If the benefits to peace and trading outweigh the benefits to war, then peace will likely prevail.  However, China sees the benefits to war as being greater than the benefits of the current peace.  War, as we’ve defined above, will eventually gain China complete economic domination over the US, physical control of a great deal of additional islands and land around the East and South China Seas, control over Taiwan, greater security, domination over surrounding countries with the US influence eliminated, and status as the undisputed most powerful country in the world.  China will gladly forfeit its trade with the US to gain all that.  Besides, once they’ve gained all that they can simply resume trading with the US – it’s what we did with Japan and Germany after WWII.

So, am I a nutcase or do I have at least the possibility of a valid concern?  Does all of this at least make you stop and reconsider?

Setting aside whether you agree or not, now you know why I’m always harping on the China scenario in our discussions.  I absolutely believe that armed conflict with China is inevitable.

Have at the comments!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

War With China - Part 1

This is a short post and can only barely cover the main points in the briefest of detail.  Hence, I’ll make a number of statements without backing them up.  Bear in mind that I’ve been studying Chinese military and political writings for a long time and that my conclusion that we’re at war came about only slowly and with great doubt.  That said, I’ll also acknowledge that I’m the farthest thing from an expert on Chinese culture and politics. 

China views the US as a world threat based on America’s historical behavior of imperialism and aggression (China’s view, not mine!).  In no particular order, here are some actions that China views as supporting this position.

  • US invasion of the Pacific and seizure of Guam, Wake, etc., using the Spanish-American War as an excuse
  • US invasion of N. Korea
  • US invasion of N. Viet Nam
  • US provocation regarding Taiwan
  • US economic domination of the world which allows the US to dictate behavior to other countries
  • US military conquests using flimsy excuses (Granada, Panama, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.)

In short, China sees the US as all too willing to use its military to further its imperialistic aspirations.  The only way China can ensure its continued survival is to subjugate the US.  Chinese culture does not recognize co-existence as a political solution as we do.  The strongest country will always seize the weaker, given time.  Remember that Chinese history going back thousands of years absolutely supports this belief.  China has been invaded repeatedly and believes that the only long term security is to defeat all other countries.  This is a belief embedded in their cultural psyche.

Of course, all of the above apply not just to the US but to India, Japan, Russia (and all the newly formed Russian states), and all other countries in and around the South China Sea (SCS).

Is fear (meaning the desire for absolute security) the only reason for war?  No.  Natural resources are also a reason.  China lays claim to virtually the entire South China Sea and, in particular, the undersea resources including fishing and ocean bed minerals.  China believes they have an historical claim to every island (most of them just points of rock protruding above the surface) in the SCS (as an example, read up on the Spratleys for more info).  Remember that in addition to the 12 mile territorial limit that goes with ownership of land, there is also a 200 mile Economic Exclusion Zone which gives the owning country exclusive resource rights in the area.  By claiming pieces of rock as inhabitable land, it allows China (in their view) to extend the 200 mile EEZ limit around every “island” in the SCS.  Viewed that way, the Chinese EEZ covers virtually the entire SCS.  Further, China claims that the EEZ gives them territorial rights within the 200 mile limit, meaning that no other country can fly or sail through their EEZ.  This, of course, contradicts international law but is the reason why China routinely harasses our ships and planes.

So, are fear (security) and resources the only reasons for war?  No.  The desire to maintain simple power (meaning political, physical, societal, etc.) is also a reason.  The Chinese government has seen the US wage unceasing war on communism since WWII and views the US as a threat to that power.  The US is continually criticizing China’s civil rights policy, lecturing China on the treatment of its citizens, fomenting revolution via calls for democracy, undermining government control of its citizens by the introduction of technology such as the Internet, attempting to limit China’s trade (particularly, weapons sales), and destabilizing China by recognizing the breakaway state of Taiwan.

All of the above presents fairly compelling evidence for the existence of tension between China and the US but tension is not war.  Are we actually at war?  Well, first it must be understood that China carries the long view of history;  understandable since they’ve been a country for thousands of years and will be for thousands more, in their view.  China views war as the totality of all actions, not just violent ones.  Thus, actions such as economic manipulation, emigration, political maneuvering, etc. are all acts of war.  China has no problem with working slowly over many decades to achieve their ends.  Witness their handling of the Taiwan situation. 

Are there any examples that China is conducting “warfare” with the US?  Yes.  Lots, in fact, if we view them objectively.  I’ll cover them in Part 2.

War With China

Regular readers of this blog know that ComNavOps is often focused on possible conflict with China.  It's the benchmark by which I evaluate our strategies, tactics, equipment, and leadership.  Frankly, war with any other country is a much less demanding affair and we have more than enough resources to deal with it.  War with China sets the standard against which we should be preparing.

Is war with China inevitable?  No, but I see armed conflict as highly likely.  That is by no means a universally held opinion, however.  There is a large body of thought that sees war as unlikely with the most commonly cited reason being that trading partners the likes of China and the US would never risk their relationship.

I'm now going to go a step further.  Not only do I see war with China as highly likely, we are already at war.  That's right, we are at war with China.  OK, to be more precise, China is at war with us and we're oblivious.

Has ComNavOps forgotten to take his medication?  Maybe, but I'm now going to explain and prove my contention.  In honor of ComNavOps' blogging anniversary, I'm going to present a two part post on the subject.  Part 1 will be posted immediately and Part 2 will follow the next day.  My suggestion is that you hold off on comments until you've read the entire essay.

A final caveat - This is not a political blog.  I'm only going to get into the geo-political issues to the bare minimum extent necessary and then only because this topic is so central to the Navy.

Enjoy what's coming!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Happy Anniversary!

It's hard to believe but ComNavOps has been blogging for just barely short of one year now.  This blog started with just ten or so readers per day and now sees hundreds on a typical day and sometimes a thousand or more.  That's quite a leap in just a year's time.  Thanks to everyone for stopping by and a special thanks to those who take the time to participate in discussions!

It's become obvious in recent posts and discussions that some newcomers to the blog haven't read through all the previous posts.  That's quite understandable given the sheer volume of reading involved.  I thought I'd take this opportunity to offer a short list of some of the earlier posts that I feel are of most interest.  Even if you've read them, they're probably worth re-reading!  Studies show that this kind of in-depth knowledge will get you invited to 23% more parties.

Did the Navy make up littoral warfare just to sell the LCS?  Find out from Littoral Warfare - Is There Such A Thing?

Do we have enough amphibious lift?  Too much?  Marine Amphibious Lift - Who Needs Gators? will tell you.

All the arguments for or against the aircraft carrier miss the most important point - but you won't after reading Carriers - It's The Air Wing That Matters.

Do you know what the real problem is with the LCS?  Read LCS - Crippling the Future Fleet to find out.

Ships today cost way too much.  Read Shipbuilding Costs - Impact of Low Volume to learn why.

The Navy puts helos on every ship but can helos survive in the littorals?  Helos In The Littorals will answer the question for you.

All of the Navy's problems can ultimately be traced to one single factor.  Find out what in The Altar of New Construction.

The Navy's problems seem to be getting worse not better.  Learn about The Navy's Death Spiral.

Why can't the Navy build ships as efficiently as commercial shipbuilders?  Shipbuilding Practices - Commercial vs. Navy will tell you why.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ford Delayed

Navy Times website reports that the USS Ford's launch date will be delayed from summer of this year to November 2013 with delivery slipping to mid-2016.  Schedules always slip and the Navy is notorious for missing deadlines so look for the delivery to slip into 2017.  Remember, the Navy obtained a temporary waiver to allow the carrier force to drop to 10, one below the legally mandated 11, until the Ford can replace the Enterprise.  The current force of 10 translates to 8-9 active and available with two currently being unavailable due to mid-life refueling and overhauls. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

LCS-1 Sidelined Again

USS Freedom, LCS-1, has been sidelined again at the start of her Singapore public relations tour naval mission.  You'll recall that the ship lost power three times during the voyage to Guam.  The latest problem is seawater in a lube oil system.  Now I have no particular comment to make about the problem itself.  Ships have breakdowns all the time and seawater in lube oil has happened to plenty of other ships.  What caught my attention is that this relatively simple repair has required the ship to call for assistance from Commander, Surface Naval Forces, Pacific and maintenance personnel are being flown in from NAVSEA.

For any other ship, this repair would be handled by the ship's crew and would hardly rate a notice.  The LCS, however, has been designed without the ability to perform repairs and with the expectation that most maintenance and repairs would be performed by a shore-based support group.  That concept is being put to the test now.  Freedom is deployed on the other side of the world, far away from support personnel and facilities as witnessed by the need to fly in maintenance personnel from NAVSEA and call for help from higher authority.  I'm glad this breakdown occurred.  It will give all involved the opportunity to thoroughly exercise the LCS maintenance and support system.  Will it work as envisioned?  We'll see.  I hope the Freedom suffers more breakdowns so that we can thoroughly evaluate the concept.  Knowing the LCS, I'm sure we'll have plenty of opportunities to exercise the system.

At first glance, having to fly in maintenance personnel for a simple lube oil problem doesn't strike me as an efficient system but I'll wait and see how it all plays out before passing final judgement.  The only nagging question I have is what if we were at war and Freedom needed this repair?  She's a mission kill until support personnel can arrive.  If they had to make their way through a war zone to get to Freedom or if there were higher repair priorities, the LCS would, potentially, be a write-off due to a simple problem.

I really, REALLY don't think the Navy gamed this all out before committing to the LCS.

Friday, May 3, 2013

War? What's That?

It’s been so long since the Navy engaged in combat that they’ve forgotten what war really is.  Now, before any of you jump on me for forgetting about the Viet Nam war aviation strikes or Operation Praying Mantis or whatever your favorite example is, recognize that I’m talking about two-sided war where the enemy gets a vote and fights back – not the one-sided bombing exercises that have occasionally cropped up. 

Carriers parked off the coast of Viet Nam or Korea or launching sorties during Desert Storm does not constitute naval combat.  Again, before anyone jumps on me, I’m not demeaning the efforts of the naval pilots who risked, and sometimes gave, their lives.  I have nothing but respect and admiration for their courage and skill.  Objectively, though, those missions were performed in relatively benign environments other than the presence of surface-to-air missiles and AAA directly over the targets. 

Combat involving ships has not occurred for quite some time.  We have not had to fight our way into launch position for carriers, fight off enemy air or missile attacks, deal with capable enemy surface ships, operate in submarine infested waters, or conduct an opposed landing since WWII. 

The Navy has forgotten what combat is and it shows in the current ship and aircraft designs.  We’ve discussed the shortcomings in ship design – how ships are no longer designed and built to take damage and continue fighting.  The lack of armor, redundancy, and separation as well as inadequate manning show that the Navy has forgotten the reality of combat. 

What will combat be like?  Supposedly, we train for it all the time so we must know what it will like, right?  Wrong.  We’ve already discussed the nearly useless, setpiece exercises that pass for training today. 

Combat is going to be chaotic with poorly performing weapons (on both sides) which will lead to much closer combat than anyone anticipates.  Our anti-ship missiles are not going to sink ships with flawless ease.  Our Aegis/Standard system is not going to blot aircraft and missiles from the sky with deadly precision.  We’re not going to detect and destroy submarines a hundred miles from our carrier and amphibious groups.  Instead, we’ll find that aircraft will penetrate our defenses with surprising regularity.  Missile attacks will result in many leakers, revealing our inadequate point defense weapons.  Missile exchanges with opposing ships will prove to be mainly a waste of missiles and we’ll find ourselves closing to gun range and regretting our single 5” guns.  Submarines will pop up way too close and, more often than not, our first detection will be a torpedo in the water, inbound.

USS Vincennes - Every Advantage, Total Chaos
 Combat is going to be far more like the naval battles around Guadalcanal than it will be like Star Wars.  Oh come on, now.  How can you say that?  We have AEW, long range radars, satellites, GPS, UAVs, and more.  We’re not going to find ourselves engaged in up close, fumbling in the dark type engagements.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we’re going to experience.  One of the major flaws in our training and thinking is the assumption that our communications, GPS, radar, and, for that matter, all of our electronics will remain magically unaffected during combat.  What we’re going to find is that we will fight in a heavy jamming environment, our GPS will be unreliable, radar detection ranges will be a fraction of what they are in peacetime, communications will be difficult, confused, and sporadic, and we’ll encounter lots of decoys and false targets.  All of this will leave us with no clear picture of our surroundings, the enemy positions, or even our own positions.  We’ll be unsure what targets are real, whether real targets are friendly or neutral forces, and where our own forces are and what they’re doing.  Because of the uncertainty, we’ll hold fire until we can get positive ID which will lead to engagements happening at far closer ranges than we now anticipate or even surprise engagements at very close range.

Don’t believe me?  Look at the few examples of combat or near-combat over the decades since WWII. 
Despite a vast network of AEW, scouting, air cover, and Aegis radar, the Vincennes incident showed a highly trained ship totally overtaken by chaos, confusion, and panic.  Enemy small boats penetrated to gun range and despite dozens or hundreds of 5” rounds fired, we hit none of the boats.  And, as you all know, we managed to shoot down a civilian airliner. 

The Stark was surprised despite the same advantages of unhindered peacetime detection and surveillance. 

The Port Royal and Guardian both grounded due to faulty navigation during peacetime.  It’s only going to be worse during combat when GPS is disrupted.

Our submarines seem to suffer from a tendency to collide with commercial ships.  And that’s without the confusion of combat!

The Gulf of Tonkin incident of 2, 4-Aug-1964 demonstrated a complete lack of situational awareness, especially on 4-Aug, with many false sightings and firings on non-existent targets.

There have been several incidents of Phalanx CIWS accidentally firing on friendly ships and aircraft.  Again, this is confusion and mistakes during peacetime.  Combat will only be far, far worse.

Desert Storm and the more recent Iraq war have had multiple examples of fatal friendly fire.  Will naval forces fare any better in combat?

The Air Force managed to shoot down two friendly helos while enforcing a no-fly zone despite the helos being fully authorized to be where they were.  Will we experience less confusion in combat?

Grenada was a debacle from start to finish.  Confusion was the main attribute of the operation.

There are some constants of naval combat (or combat in general) that transcend time and technology.  One of these is the absolute confusion and chaos of combat.  Another is the historically abysmal performance of weapons when first subjected to combat.  Linked to that is the historically poor performance of commanders when first exposed to combat.  We’ve talked about lessons learned and forgotten but the sad reality is that until the Navy receives a bloody nose, or worse, in combat, we’re not going to design, build, or train for combat.  We’re a peacetime Navy that has forgotten how to fight.

Pivot to the Pacific???  I’d like to see the Navy pivot to combat.