Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Answer Is 35

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

The answer is,


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

The question is,

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

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

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

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

June 2005 – 1 round, 59 miles

Aug 2011 – 2 rounds, 45 miles

Aug 2012 – 4 rounds

June 2013 – 4 rounds, 45 miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. IIRC, the 5-inch ERGM guided round was cancelled in 2009 after its unit costs reached a reported $190,000 per round for a 10,000 round buy. Like the 5-inch guided round, the 155mm LRLAP round is in fact a gun-launched rocket-boosted gliding missile, it is not a "projectile" as that term is commonly used.

    The USMC's written requirements for Naval Surface Fire Support call for the capability to accurately fire tens of thousands of rounds of 155mm equivalent ammunition at distances up to 100 nautical miles.

    I can find no reliable source for the LRLAP's procurement numbers and for its current estimated unit procurement cost. If someone can cite a reliable reference, I'd be curious to know what the official figures are. It is difficult to believe that even the incremental unit cost will be as low as $50,000.

    In any case, it is impossible for the three DDG-1000's now on the order books to come anywhere close to supporting the USMC's written requirements for naval fire support. People who are familiar with current trends in where naval gun systems are headed say it is quite unlikely 155mm AGS will ever appear aboard another warship.

    Regardless, once the 155mm AGS enters service, even if mounted aboard just three warships and with only a few thousand rounds of 155mm LRLAPs being available, it is likely the Navy's leadership will declare that the USMC's fire support requirements have been fulfilled, and that no further work will be done on conventional gun systems larger than 5-inch.

    One of the excuses given for the decision to end research into larger conventional gun-fired ammunition types will be the supposed emergence of practical railgun technology in the decade of the 2020s.

    That claim will be completely specious if and when it is eventually made, given that a railgun which could handle guided long-range ammunition types in the 155mm size class in support of indirect fire missions is complete science fiction at this point in time, and will remain so far into the future.

    1. The Marine were smoking something when they wrote those requirements.

      It's unfortunate, really. The USMC used to be the service that did more with less. They have gone through a recent period of insanity where they demanded all manner of Rube Goldberg machines in the hopes of keeping their core mission relevant. Heavy, large STOVL supersonic stealth fighters. Tilt rotor helicopters. High swimming speed tanks.

      "Hey, let's pay hundreds of thousands of dollars per unit for shrunken Jeeps that fit in our massively expensive tilt rotors that are too small to fit a real vehicle."

      All in the name of STOM/OMFTS. The most complex and expensive way to move small numbers of Marines deep behind enemy lines with little support. Because Operation Market Garden worked out so well.

      Are we really getting our money's worth here?

      The Marines need $7-8 billion dollars worth of ships to keep all of a reinforced infantry battalion forward deployed.

      A battalion!

      AGS is yet another foolish program driven by the same insanity. A "gun that only fires expensive missiles" mashes together the worst aspects of both concepts. Guns are best firing inexpensive munitions with relative accuracy. Missiles are expensive but are extremely accurate, have scalable range and effects and simple, inexpensive launcher requirements (VLS).

      Instead, we have a super expensive, extremely heavy launcher that imposes significant engineering challenges on a relatively small missile to withstand the in-bore firing environment. The launcher is so big that it requires an entirely new ship to carry it.

      In fairness, all of the services went through similar periods of "leap-ahead-itis". The Army had the FCS debacle. The Air Force had key programs canceled on them just as they began to bear fruit. We all know about the Navy.

      Ok, I'll stop ranting now.

  2. CNO, I an very disappoint with this article. You are either ignorant of the engineering deign process, or you are deliberately misleading your reader. The posting you quote is about the LRLAP and has nothing to do with the testing of the AGS. Beyond that the posting is about the state of the LRLAP engineering design being ready to be put into early production, not if it is ready for use in the Fleet. There are many hundreds of test firing to go before the LRLAP id determine to be safe and preforms as designed before its final testing begins.

    We reader expect much more from you, your story misleads anyone reading it into believing that the Navy was not doing its job.

    1. Greg, one would think that a device called a "gun" firing an ammunition type called a "projectile" would require the firing of many hundreds of rounds of ammunition -- if not thousands of rounds -- to determine with some confidence that this first-of-its-kind collection of system components is reliable end-to-end as a total integrated system.

      On the the other hand, the LRLAP "projectile" is in fact a gun-launched rocket-boosted gliding missile, and the AGS "gun" is -- for all practical purposes -- a fast-reloadable trainable missile launcher which uses chemical propellants to force the missile out of the launcher (aka "the gun") at very high speeds.

      Here are two documents concerning the DDG-1000 from DOT&E and from the Congressional Research Service:

      All LRLAP firings to date have been done as part of the initial pre-installation unit testing phase of weapon system testing. Neither document says anything of real substance about how much further testing will be done for the LRLAP and the AGS in a context of describing post-installation operational testing aboard the ship itself.

      5-inch ERGM was cancelled after its unit cost reached $190,000 for a 10,000 round buy. I have seen no published numbers for the LRLAP buy. Certainly, some number of LRLAPs will be bought, but how many, and at what unit cost?

      Should any large number of LRLAPs be purchased at all before it is known with reasonable certainty that the Zumwalt as a class design performs to expectations, and that all three ships will likely be in operational service for the next two decades at the very least?

      It is quite unlikely the AGS will ever appear aboard another US Navy warship, and so let's speculate here that only a few thousand LRLAPs will ever be procured; and that only enough will be purchased to refill each AGS gun's 300-round magazine twice, for a total of 3600 rounds to cover a total of six AGS gun mounts spread across three Zumwalt hulls.

      Assuming for purposes of discussion that 3600 rounds are all the LRLAPs there will ever be, then the question must be asked, is there a real justification for doing the kind of very extensive field testing which can demonstrate the reliability of the total integrated AGS-LRLAP system beyond the roughly 2,000 LRLAP rounds one of those six deployed LRLAP gun mounts might see over its entire service life?

      Anyway, I should think that enough data can be gathered with a few hundred test rounds to support an estimated total service life of roughly 2000 LRLAP rounds for each AGS mount.

    2. GLof, there is a reason why I footnote and source all of my main points. Many of the subjects I bring up cause dismay to the readers. Let's face it, the Navy is not doing a very good job in many, many areas right now and hearing that bothers many readers who have a rosy view of the service and don't want their happy picture disturbed. For example, you have a very happy view of Navy engineering and development efforts. Unfortunately, your view may not be supported by the facts which is why I footnote and source. If you can find a source that supports your belief then I'll gladly accept it. If not, the post stands as written.

      You make a valid point that the gun, separate from the LRLAP, may be undergoing additional testing - though what it would fire, if not LRLAP, I can't imagine since that's the only round it's capable of firing. Again, if you believe this to be the case, find a source.

      I know some of my posts upset your view of Navy engineering - again, that's why I footnote and source - but the reality is the Navy didn't get into their current state of shrinking fleets, aging equipment, outdated technology, and poor system performance by making an endless series of good decisions. They got there by making an endless stream of bad decisions and the lack of thorough developmental testing is just one example of that. The DOT&E reports are full of examples of the Navy's reluctance to thoroughly test systems.

      Show me the source to support your contention that the AGS and LRLAP will undergo "many hundreds of test firing". Until then, the post stands!

      Thanks for checking in!

    3. Scott, you're on a streak of good comments! That is some excellent conjectural logic regarding the ultimate LRLAP purchase quantity. You lost me though, when you jumped from 3600 total rounds to 2000 rounds per gun which would be a total of 12,000 rounds. What did I miss?

      You also suggest that a few hundred test rounds should be able to gather the required data. That's reasonable. The point of the post is that the test plan seems to end at 35, as quoted in the post. Are you aware of any source indicating additional testing will occur beyond the 35?

    4. Scott, you know the development Pentagons process better than I do, The 35 test CNO was expounding on were what we civilians call a "Fit Test." It is intended to test if basic design will work, that the projectile can be loaded into the AGS, that it can be fired out the gun, that the fins don't fall off ( a real concern from previous guided projectiles), and that the electronics don't fall apart. Basically the that the engineers did not make some basic mistake.

      Because of these tests Lockheed Martin is now permitted to set up a real production line, Only then can real the testing of real projectiles occur.

    5. ComNavOps, if we assume strictly for purposes of discussion that the US Navy buys a total of 3600 LRLAP rounds; and if we assume also that at any given time, only one of the three DDG-1000's is available for servicing a combat scenario in which USN surface naval fire support of 155 mm capability is required -- and over a very short timeframe as well -- then it is possible that all 3600 LRLAP rounds ever procured by the US Navy would pass through just one warship, with 1800 being fired from each of the two AGS gun mounts aboard that one Zumwalt Class warship.

    6. ===================================

      G Lof / December 21, 2014 at 8:51 AM

      Scott, you know the development Pentagons process better than I do, The 35 test CNO was expounding on were what we civilians call a "Fit Test." It is intended to test if basic design will work, that the projectile can be loaded into the AGS, that it can be fired out the gun, that the fins don't fall off ( a real concern from previous guided projectiles), and that the electronics don't fall apart. Basically the that the engineers did not make some basic mistake.

      Because of these tests Lockheed Martin is now permitted to set up a real production line, Only then can real the testing of real projectiles occur.


      Greg, what you have said is correct. The complexity of the LRLAP gun-launched rocket-boosted gliding missile means that you can't just knock off a few hundred LRLAP test units and then see what happens in further extended testing before proceeding with production.

      If extended operational testing is to be performed in the field, the LRLAP must go into at least low-rate initial production as a true production-qualified manufacturing operation, its low rate of initial production not withstanding.

      Somewhere in the recesses of my memory comes the figure of a Navy specification of a 3000 round barrel life for an AGS gun mount before the ship must return for a depot-level barrel replacement operation. I also remember seeing a post from someone who works on the AGS / LRLAP program that there has never been a stated requirement for purchasing more than a few thousand LRLAP rounds.

      I suspect that based on these realities, there will be much temptation on the Navy's part to buy roughly 4000 LRLAPs in just one production run -- let's speculate 400 for testing and 3600 for operational deployment -- and then call it good. The Navy will fire several hundred test rounds from the AGS, make a few minimum adjustments as they see fit, at which point the USN leadership will certify that all of the USMC's written requirements for naval surface fire support have been met.

      At a speculative unit cost of $200,000 per LRLAP round, this will cost the USN roughly $800,000,000 -- not a bad price to pay from their perspective given the billions it would cost to fulfill the USMC's fire support requirements as those are currently written.

      OK, what if the DDG-1000 hullform proves to have serious seakeeping issues, and none of the three ships go to sea except in low to low mid-range sea states? If that happens, then possibly a way could be found to launch those 3600 LRLAPs from a suitably-configured Mk-41 VLS system aboard a Burke.

      Assuming of course that someone in authority doesn't begin asking serious questions about what particular advantages that option has over using a navalized version of GMLRS launched from a quadpacked Mk-41 VLS cell.

    7. Scott, ah, I see now what you meant by the 2000 rounds through a gun. Thanks!

      Regarding additional testing, you, GLof, and myself all might believe that the Navy should conduct additional testing but there is no evidence that will occur and the Navy's recent history suggests that it is quite likely that it will not. For example, every ship every built by the Navy undergoes shock testing and yet the Navy has, thus far, steadfastly refused to conduct such testing on the LCS. We would have assumed they would conduct the test as a matter of course and if I had suggested otherwise several years ago, GLof would, undoubtedly, have attacked me as ignorant of engineering processes and yet, here we are, years into the LCS and no shock testing. Another example, the Navy has declined to finish the LCS-2 acceptance trials as I've previously documented. One more, the Navy has refused to procure or develop a target surrogate for the torpedo development program, again as I've previously documented and as called out in DOT&E reports.

      So, we can wish and hope all we want for additional AGS/LRLAP testing but until I see an actual plan, I'll stick with the evidence that suggests that 35 tests are all we're going to see.

    8. ComNavOps, everything we might say one way or the other about what kind of testing will be done, and when, is contingent upon the total program buy and the proposed production schedule for the LRLAP.

      Without that information, it is impossible to make reasonable speculations as to what specific portion of the LRLAP's future production will be devoted to operational testing at sea, if any.

      If that information has been made public, then perhaps someone who reads this board can tell us where the numbers can be found, and where the LRLAP production schedule currently stands relative to the DDG-1000's DOT&E testing schedule.

  3. I don't think the author of this article understands the difference between developmental test (DT) and operational test (OT).

    DT is essentially a proof of concept. Is the system safe and feasable? OT comes later and validates that the capability is effective under operational conditions.

    My understanding is the 35 rounds were mainly for DT. I would assume that they will shoot a lot more shots for OT.

    1. Just for fun and the sake of courtesy, let's assume that the author of this article does understand the difference. Further, let's assume that the author of this article is also intimately familiar with the DOT&E reports that document dozens (hundreds?) of tests that the author of this comment would probably assume would be done for various systems but that haven't occured. For example, the LCS has not been shock tested although any reasonable person would assume that would have been done long ago. Thus, the author of this article has overwhelming evidence that the Navy is engaged in a pattern of deferred and skipped testing across all systems.

      Perhaps additional testing will occur but there is no evidence of that, at this time, that I'm aware of and the only relevant quote I've been able to find, which I've documented in the post, strongly suggests that this will be the extent of the testing. If events prove otherwise, I'll gladly document the additional testing.

    2. One point that should be made is that most casual readers of the industry press release don't know the difference between DT and OT, leaving the impression with those readers that once these 35 tests are completed, the LRLAP is now ready for combat use.

      It has been long noted by critics of the DDG-1000 program that placing all of these ambitious new technologies aboard one tightly integrated platform in one great transformational leap for military mankind has the effect of integrating all of their various technical and programmatic risks as well -- in my view, magnifying the total project risk of the effort well beyond the total risks had the R&D for each system proceeded independently. (Synergistic effects can work against you as well as for you, especially when it comes to managing project risks.)

      The 155mm AGS is a gun system which will never see use outside of the DDG-1000 platform; and unless the Zumwalt Class supporters in industry and in the US Northeast are successful in bypassing the Navy and selling more Zumwalts directly to the Congress, there will only be three of these ships, and only six operational AGS gun mounts -- a far cry from the 64 mounts that would have been deployed had 32 Zumwalts been procured instead of three.

      As things stand today, the greatest utility the 155mm AGS system has for the US Navy is to provide justification for claiming that the USMC's interim requirements for fire support have been covered.

      Once AGS has been declared to have reached IOC, then the Navy leadership will certify that the interim requirements for fire support have been met, and will give no more attention to pursuing further advancements in conventional naval gun technology.

      Once that piece of paper has been signed, then it won't matter to the Navy leadership if another 155mm LRLAP round is ever fired again for any purpose whatsoever -- more so if the Zumwalt design as an integrated platform fails to live up to expectations in some major way and the three ships are then quietly set aside to guard their respective piers.

    3. CNO, you claim you understand such about testing, yet you still demand the navy perform a dangerous, costly, and useless experiment. like a shock test because you assume you think it necessary. Personally I think you only desire to see either Freedom or Independence to be sunk or CTL by such a test. And yesy, both the navy and the build understand that the four prototype vessel would like sink if they were shock tested, as they were intended more as experimental projects than as real functioning warships.

      Let me tell you, it highly unlikely we will see any of the four LCS prototypes are ever shock tested. I will also tell you the it high likely that the first two production LCS will be shock tested within the first two years they are commissioned. That is what really knowing what understanding testing and develop tells me.

  4. I wonder how high up the chain you have to go to authorise fire of a $50,000 shell?
    To empty the magazine on a target?

    1. A fundamental issue in thinking about that topic is the reality that in a Big War scenario with capable adversary, high volume fires will be as important as high precision fires.

      The problem with controlling the expense of the ordnance in a high volume fire situation is that the distances involved in 21st Century warfare demand that high-volume fires must also be precision-guided fires, with the implication that some form of onboard guidance must be carried aboard the majority of the ordnance types that might be fired from a naval gun.

    2. Scott, yes and no. Long range doesn't necessarily demand precision guidance but, if not, it does require that we accept a larger CEP. Personally, I have no problem with that within limits. I don't advocate indiscriminate shelling but I have no problem with acceptance of a degree of collateral damage due to larger CEPs.

      We've grown so used to limited, low end conflicts and having the time and unchallenged aerial and electromagnetic enviroment that allows precision guidance that we've forgotten that in an all-out war against a peer we're going to have a hard time applying that level of precision guidance. We're going to find ourselves needing and calling for area effects just to get any ornance on target while it's still meaningful. Real, high end war is going to be a rude, eye-opening experience for us. Our military has devolved into a beefed up police force to a large extent. But, that's another topic.

    3. How far up the chain apparently depends on the service. The similar performance 155mm Excalibur M982 the Army/Marines field have been fired over 690 times in combat. Not of Sept. 2013. (
      This included a record 38km combat shot from a Marine M777.