Monday, March 30, 2015

Dual Band Radar

I’ve had this post in the works for a bit and a comment by “Nick” prompted me to post it.  Thanks “Nick”!

The Navy has been developing an active array Dual Band Radar (DBR) for some time, now.  The radar operates over two distinct bands utilizing a single software suite and control interface.

AN/SPY-3 X-band – provides horizon search and detection of low altitude targets and offers illumination and data unlink/downlink for Standard and ESSM missiles.  The radar was originally intended to have three array faces.

VSR S-band (SPY-4?) – provides volume search and tracking.  The radar was originally intended to have three array faces.

The two bands can operate in multiple modes and are intended to fill the roles of separate radars for air traffic control, target illumination, tracking, surface search, and navigation, thus eliminating multiple legacy radar units.

The radar system is intended to operate with minimal operator input.  In theory, this would eliminate operate mistakes or ineffective actions due to human threat assessment and response. 

You’ll recall that the radar was intended to be installed in the Zumwalt and Ford classes.  As it happened, the S-band half of the system was removed from the design of the Zumwalt class as a cost reduction move.  Now, the Navy reports that the DBR will only be installed on the Ford and future ships of the class will receive a new, as yet unspecified radar.  Navy spokesmen have suggested that the termination of the system is based on “economics and need”.

ComNavOps has long questioned the need for a cutting edge radar system for a carrier that has no area air defense missile system and is constantly surrounded by Aegis cruisers and destroyers.  Apparently, the Navy now agrees.

I have not seen any cost figures for the DBR but given the hype the system has received from the Navy, to terminate its production must indicate that the system is very expensive.  One Navy spokesman stated that the system was on the order of $500M and that selection of an alternate system for subsequent Fords would produce savings of $180M (1).  As an aside, simple arithmetic suggests, then, that the replacement radar would cost on the order of $320M.  Hopefully, this won’t be an F-22/35 case where the cheaper replacement turns out to actually be more expensive.

The Navy has suggested that the DBR replacement radar will be a simpler, off-the-shelf system that will be fitted to multiple ship classes.  If so, this is a step in the right direction.  ComNavOps has long advocated simpler systems that meet only the class requirements and no more – in other words, no Aegis on patrol boats, to engage in a bit of hyperbole for the sake of dramatic impact.  A carrier has no need for a world class DBR so why give it one?  All that would do is add cost.  While the decision to eliminate the DBR from the Ford class is a good one, the original decision to include it is an example of very poor decision making, devoid of tactical usefulness and ignorant of cost considerations.  This is just one of many reasons why the Ford cost has escalated to $13B and additional construction and costs are being deferred to post-delivery in order to get around the Congressionally imposed cost cap.

The Ford DBR will, therefore, be a one-off radar system.  You’ll recall what happened to the Enterprise’s original radar system?  We’ll undoubtedly see the DBR removed from Ford sometime down the line.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

War Funds Used for Maintenance

The Virginian-Pilot newspaper recently published an on-line article describing the Navy’s use of war funds to repair submarine propellers (1).  You’ll recall that the war funds are the Overseas Contingency Operations funding which was established in 2001 for the purpose of funding operations directly related to the global war on terror.  The fund is separate from DoD funding.  The article points out that use of war funds for construction or maintenance is inappropriate. 

I don’t normally like to simply point to articles without offering any analysis but, in this case, I have no independent information to verify the report and, therefore, no analysis to offer.  However, given the pattern of fraudulent Navy accounting practices, the article strikes me as completely believable and, if true, is well worth a read.  I leave it to you to read the article (1) and draw your own conclusions.  This is hardly the first accusation that the military has begun using the account as a slush fund to pay for all manner of things other than anti-terrorism operations.

Friday, March 27, 2015

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Our uniformed military leadership is currently parading in front of Congress, pleading for more money and inferring (actually, flatly stating) that all of the military’s problems are the fault of sequestration.  Yes, funds are tight (only on relative basis – the military is still very, very well funded) and, like every family in America, the military is being asked to live within a budget.  Like every family in America, they’ve had to make some hard decisions.  The difference is, every one of their decisions has been wrong.

Depot level maintenance is lagging far behind with backlogs approaching 150 aircraft.  Depot manning is woefully understaffed.  Parts inventories are severely depleted.  That’s all due to bad decisions made by the military.  Congress didn’t tell the military to let depot capability wither.

But the F-35 is fully funded.

The Marines have told Congress that 20% of their aircraft are grounded awaiting parts and maintenance.  Congress didn’t make the decisions to short maintenance and parts inventories – the Marines did.

But the LCS is fully funded.

Surge capability has vanished to the point of non-existence.  We are barely getting a reduced level of deploying units out the door.  There are no parts and no training for the surge forces.

But 22 admirals are getting a second star.

The fleet is steadily shrinking.  Worse, our combat power is being replaced by useless LCSs, non-combat JHSVs, questionable MLPs, and hospital ships.

But the Ford CVN is fully funded.

We have significant sea billet gaps.  Minimal manning has proved to be an abject failure resulting in ever worsening maintenance problems, task overload, and spectacular ship performance failures (the Port Royal grounding, for example, was due, in part, to a shortage of personnel).

But the number of admirals is at an all time high.

Tactical training has all but ceased and the Navy is desperately trying to re-establish some form of training (in the middle of the desert!).  Our commanders have no idea how to tactically handle individual ships or task groups.  No commander has ever practiced combat ops for a multi-carrier group.

But we are at an all time high in diversity, cultural awareness, and gender sensitivity training.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Funds are tight, at least compared to the bottomless well of funding that we used to enjoy, and military leadership is making all the wrong decisions and putting the available funds into all the wrong areas. 

Consider fleetwide maintenance.  Navy leaders are standing before Congress, right now, stating that because of sequestration, maintenance will deteriorate and that Congress needs to allocate more funds.  Well, maintenance has been deteriorating for a couple decades – long before sequestration happened.  The truth is that the Navy long ago opted to short maintenance in pursuit of new construction.  The decision to cut depot funding occurred many years ago.  Sequestration may have exacerbated the problem but it certainly didn’t cause it.  Maintenance problems are a voluntary, self-inflicted problem that is wholly the responsibility of Navy leadership.  It is simply lying to stand before Congress and blame maintenance problems on Congress and sequestration. 

What’s wrong with this picture?  What’s wrong is Navy decision making and priorities.  Navy leadership has failed America.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cooperative Strategy - Review

The 2015 update to “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower” has been released.  As with its predecessor, it is largely a meandering statement of naval desires that is not a strategy in any way, shape, or form.  That said, let’s take a bit closer look and see if there is anything of interest in it.

One of the items that stands out is the statement describing our overall military requirements.  The combat requirements for the U.S. military have steadily shrunk over the years from fighting two major conflicts and containing a third to the current requirement to fight one major conflict and contain another.  Sadly, the decrease in requirements has been based on after-the-fact rationalization of decreasing capabilities rather than some kind of logical, strategic based requirement.  This is, frankly, a worrisome devolution of our national will and military capacity.

On a positive note, the document actually states the name of potential enemies, China included!

The document elucidates five essential functions:

All Domain Access – This provides recognition of the increasing importance of cyber warfare in all its forms.  The Navy is currently highly dependent on data flow, networks, and communications which are increasingly subject to disruption.  While it is encouraging that the Navy now recognizes the importance of this broad area of warfare the reality is that it is only lip service, at the moment.  The Navy is not conducting data, comm., and network denied training, is not challenging itself to find its own weaknesses, and is not aggressively pursuing offensive cyber warfare.  Recognition is a good first step but the time is long overdue to begin practicing what is preached.

Deterrence – This correctly identifies our core combat power (carriers, subs, Marines, etc.) as the key to deterrence (to the extent that one believes deterrence is a real phenomenon) and yet fails to reconcile that recognition with the reality of a shrinking fleet, carrier and submarine shortfalls, and increasing numbers of non-combat vessels like LCS and JHSV.  Additionally, deterrence can only work if the enemy believes we have the will to use our deterrent forces – something that we have been severely lacking of late.  Rather than back down from Chinese forces, for example, and allow an Aegis cruiser to be chased off on the high seas, we need to steadfastly counter aggression even at the risk of escalation.  Rather than accept highly risky harassment from Russian and Chinese aircraft we need to aggressively counter these moves even at the risk of escalation and combat incidents.

Sea Control - This section blandly states the obvious and offers nothing.

Power Projection – See the preceding.

Maritime Security – This is the one area where cooperation with smaller foreign naval forces makes sense since this function is best conducted by patrol type vessels.

One positive item stood out regarding the relationship between offensive and defensive aerial threats.  The document seems to recognize the self-defeating path of ever more complex weapons as counters to increasingly sophisticated cruise and ballistic missile threats.

“…greater emphasis on force-wide, coordinated non-kinetic capability and counter-targeting techniques as opposed to engaging each threat with increasingly expensive kinetic weapons. In short, we must become more comprehensive in our offensive capability to defeat the system rather than countering individual weapons.

Barring a Star Wars type of breakthrough in laser employment, defensive systems are on the losing end of the cost effectiveness curve versus aerial threats.  Recognition of this reality requires that we focus on shorter range kinetic defenses, much greater emphasis on electronic countermeasures (soft kill options), and a willingness and capability to attack the source of aerial threats rather than dealing with the result, meaning incoming weapons.

The document’s recognition of this is commendable.  What’s needed now is suitable doctrine, tactics, and equipment to implement this modified approach to dealing with incoming threats.

And, finally, of course, there is the ever present Pentagon Buzzword Bingo!  What military document would be complete without it?  Some examples,

“Cross-domain synergy is achieved when these elements are synchronized, providing Joint Force commanders a range of options in all domains to defeat anti-access/area denial strategies.”

“Modernize the Navy’s total force personnel system with a holistic strategy that evolves the All-Volunteer Force, creating more agile and family-friendly career paths in line with 21st Century social and economic realities.”

So, if this document isn’t a strategy, what is it?  Well, I can best describe it as a sales and marketing brochure aimed at securing Congressional funding for the Navy’s acquisition wish list.  There’s nothing wrong with that but an actual strategy would sure be nice!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cooperative Strategy - Foundational Principles

The 2007 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower has been updated and we’ll be taking a look at various aspects of it.  The document starts by flatly stating two foundational principles. 

The first is forward presence.

“First, U.S. forward naval presence is essential to accomplishing the following naval missions derived from national guidance: defend the homeland, deter conflict, respond to crises, defeat aggression, protect the maritime commons, strengthen partnerships, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster response. … “

Forward presence is a debatable but valid approach to achieving the Navy’s goals.  Forward presence implies several things such as increased costs for forward basing and maintenance, an acceptance of a certain degree of inefficiency due to multiple, disbursed storage, maintenance, and training requirements, and a degree of vulnerability of bases and ships to initial attack due to proximity to enemy long range ballistic and cruise missiles.  Properly implemented, it also offers the ability to respond quicker to crises and promotes a degree of local familiarity with geography, climate, oceanic conditions, and enemy forces and tactics that would be unavailable to surge forces.  It also offers the theoretical possibility of deterrence through presence although history suggests that the reality of that is suspect. 

Most significantly, it offers the possibility of head to head confrontational containment, if we have the will to do so.  For example, China’s steady encroachment across the East and South China Seas, backed by localized small scale military force, could be countered by similar counter-encroachments by U.S. naval forces as long as we are willing to accept the risk of small engagements.  It is this ability to apply counter-encroachment that is the most valid justification for, and use of, forward presence.

This principle is also notable as much for what it precludes as what it includes.  It rules out the concept of home-based naval forces (sometimes referred to as a nodal strategy) that operate via the surge mechanism as the primary means of naval employment.  Similarly, it rules out the various concepts of cadre/reserve/garrison approaches that would have the bulk of our forces home based in some type of reduced status and only responding to a crisis as necessary.

The second foundational principle is global naval cooperation.

“Second, naval forces are stronger when we operate jointly and together with allies and partners. Merging our individual capabilities and capacity produces a combined naval effect that is greater than the sum of its parts. By working together in formal and informal networks, we can address the threats to our mutual maritime security interests. Maximizing the robust capacity of this global network of navies concept, we are all better postured to face new and emerging challenges.”

This is pure and utter bilge water.  While there is nothing wrong with cooperating with allies, the belief that some kind of magical global naval network can exist and provide an enhanced level of naval might is pure fantasy.  We’ve seen in the past that every country has its own objectives and priorities and those only rarely coincide with ours.  How many times have we been denied overflight rights by allies?  How many times have we been denied basing and operational rights by allies?  How many times have allies balked at joining us in military operations? 

Further, with the exception of the UK, Japan, and, possibly, Korea, what other country has naval power significant enough to be worth attempting to cooperate with?  I’m sorry but teaming up with countries whose most powerful vessel is a patrol boat doesn’t gain us anything.

Even partnering with the UK, Japan, and Korea has limitations.  The UK has very limited numbers and no significant naval aviation capability.  Japan is a localized force only, though a powerful and capable one.  Korea is completely occupied with their own defensive needs.  When it comes to meeting our global needs and responsibilities, these countries are marginally helpful but hardly significant global participants. 

I’m all for naval cooperation but to make some kind of nebulous global naval network a foundational principle is idiotic.  As with any country, our needs and requirements must be met by our own resources.  Dependence on foreign assistance is a sure path to disappointment, as history has amply demonstrated. 

A better version of this foundational principle is that America’s Navy stands alone.  As such, the Navy must be sized to meet all its needs and requirements on its own.  If, in a given situation, we can obtain assistance from an ally, so much the better but to count on such assistance as a foundational principle is just pure fantasy and folly.

A country and a Navy that would count on global cooperation as a foundational principle is a country and a Navy that is setting itself up for disappointment and defeat.  No other country has our interests at heart and we should, therefore, count on no one but ourselves.  The Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower document is flawed from the very start because of this misguided principle.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Forward, Engaged, Ready

Forward, Engaged, Ready

Those are the three words emblazoned on the front of the Navy’s guiding document, “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower”.  I don’t know if those words are intended as a slogan or motto or guideline or whatever.  Regardless, they’re not bad words to live by if you’re a warfighting organization.  I can think of better words but they’re not bad. 

However, are they true?

Are we forward deployed as a Navy?  Well, we’ve idled many of our ships.  Most of our carriers are idled along with their air wings.  We now generally only have a single carrier group and one or two MEUs deployed at a time.  Ship deployments are being cancelled.  That hardly adds up to a robust forward presence.  I’d say that one is not true.

Are we engaged?  I’m not quite sure what that refers to but we’re not engaging the Chinese in an aggressive campaign of counter-encroachment.  We’re not engaging the Russians in any way shape or form.  We’re not supporting the Philippines against the Chinese in any substantive manner.  We’re not engaging Iran.  We’re not engaging N. Korea.  I’d say that one is not true.

Are we ready?  Ships and air wings are sitting idled.  Air wings are barely flying enough hours to stay flight qualified.  We have a backlog of around a hundred Hornets lying in wait for depot maintenance.  Our ships have failed so many INSURV inspections that the results have been classified and the inspections have been reduced to advisory exercises.  Our Aegis systems are degraded fleetwide.  Ships are exiting drydock periods with significant amounts of incomplete maintenance.  New ships are being accepted with significant amounts of incomplete work.  Our main anti-ship weapon, Harpoon, has exceeded its shelf life and remaining functional weapons are being rationed out to deployed ships.  I’d say that one is not true.

Forward, Engaged, Ready?  More accurately,

Absent, Idle, Hollow

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Useless UAVs

There are a large group of people throughout the military Internet community who extol the virtues of UAVs in combat scenarios.  I’m talking now about the use of UAVs as surveillance platforms rather than strike or A2A combat.  Supporters believe that UAVs will cruise for extended periods through contested or enemy held airspace and send back precise intel and targeting data. 

However, ComNavOps has long questioned the value of UAVs in such situations.  UAVs are slow, not particularly stealthy, and lack situational awareness.  In short, they’ll be nothing more than target drones in a contested environment.  We wouldn’t allow enemy UAVs to observe us so why would we think an enemy will allow our UAVs to observe them?

Despite this, the US military seems intent on building a massive force of UAVs.  Just as the military has developed an over-dependence (addiction) on GPS that won’t be available (or only sporadically so) in actual combat, we are also well on our way to developing an over-dependence on UAVs which won’t be available in actual combat.

Are UAVs really that non-survivable?  Is ComNavOps right about that?

Consider all the UAVs that have been lost during operations.  Many have been claimed to have been shot down or “comm’ed” down.  The military has not acknowledged any of those but common sense suggests that many were, indeed, lost to enemy actions of one type or another.  Common sense further suggests that in actual combat against a peer or near-peer UAVs will have a very short lifespan.

Still don’t agree with ComNavOps?  OK, let’s see what the Air Force has to say on the subject, as reported by Defense News website (1).  The report was triggered by news that an MQ-1 Predator was just shot down over Syria.  The loss was confirmed by defense officials but, as usual, the cause was not.  From the article,

“But Air Force officials have long warned that the current generation of remotely piloted aircraft cannot survive airspace that is defended by enemy aircraft and ever-more sophisticated anti-aircraft systems."

The article cites an example demonstrating the severe mismatch between a UAV and even a low level opponent.

"A Predator armed with a Stinger reportedly got into a brief dogfight with an Iraqi plane in 2003 — and lost."

The article goes on,

"... Gen. Mike Hostage, then head of Air Combat Command, was much more serious when he told reporters at the same conference that Predators and Reapers are "useless" in contested airspace ..."

Consider that word: “useless”.  That’s from the Air Force.

" 'Today … I couldn't put [a Predator or Reaper] into the Strait of Hormuz without having to put airplanes there to protect it,' Foreign Policy quoted Hostage as saying on Sept. 19, 2013."

There you have the situation in a nutshell.  UAVs can’t operate in contested airspace without escorts.  Well, if you have to have escorts then you don’t need the UAV since you already have aircraft there.  Further, if you have to allocate several aircraft to operate a single UAV then you haven’t gained anything by operating the UAV.

UAVs are a wonderful peacetime surveillance asset but when the shooting starts they’ll be “useless”.

We need to greatly scale back our developing dependence on surveillance UAVs.  Further, the non-survivability of UAVs strongly suggests that affordability should be the number one characteristic the aircraft since the loss rate will be high.  As long as they’re affordable (meaning expendable), there’s nothing wrong with using large numbers of UAVs to collect what data they can before they’re destroyed.  What we can’t do is become so dependent on their data and presence during peacetime that we’re lost without them during combat.

That Triton/BAMs that will solve all the Navy's surveillance and targeting problems?  Don't count on it!

(1) Defense News, "Predator UAV lost over Syria", Jeff Schogol, March 17, 2015,

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Chickens Have Come Home To Roost

The chickens have come home to roost.

For years now, we’ve discussed and bemoaned the Navy’s short-sighted and ill-advised focus on new construction to the detriment of maintenance.  Well, now the chickens have come home to roost.  The Navy is facing a strikefighter shortfall of their own making, as Defense News website reports (1).  As CNO Greenert plainly puts it,

"We have a shortfall in Super Hornets, we do."

As the article points out, the shortfall is not new.  It's been anticipated for some time and the Navy thought they could "manage" their way past it.  However, depot funding cuts, greater than anticipated aircraft usage, greater levels of corrosion than anticipated, and continued delays in the F-35 program have combined to worsen the fighter gap.

On paper, the Navy has plenty of aircraft, however, the earlier Hornets have exceeded their service lives.  The Navy has around 600 F/A-18 A/B/C/D in inventory but many are not serviceable.

"The fleet has about 600 F/A-18C Hornet "legacy" aircraft — pre-Super Hornet strike fighters — in its current inventory ... About 300 of the 18Cs are out of service, according to the Navy."

The lack of legacy Hornets impacts the Super Hornets.

"With fewer F/A-18Cs flying, newer E and F Super Hornets are being used up at higher rates than planned."

All of this ties back to the Navy’s decision, many years ago, to reduce depot level maintenance funding.  This ill-advised decision resulted in increased wear and premature retirement of aircraft in addition to backlogs of idled aircraft awaiting maintenance.  The Navy is now scrambling to restore depot funding but is finding that maintenance capabilities, once lost, are not easily restored.

"Greenert told reporters Tuesday that by this summer he would have the depots fully staffed ..." (2)

However, funding alone will not solve the depot problems (1).

"While the Navy has restored the depot funding, the backlog has expanded from 65 to 100 aircraft, and the service is struggling to hire more skilled labor to work on the planes."

The Navy is also looking at extending the service life of the aircraft.

"Thus the legacy Hornets need to keep flying longer. While they were rated up to a lifespan of 6,000 flying hours, the Navy figures it needs a service life extension program (SLEP) to get 150 of those planes out to 8,000 hours."

The issue is only going to worsen as the Super Hornets shortly begin reaching their mid-life maintenance points.

"Another key factor, Manazir [Rear Adm. Mike Manazir, the Navy's director of air warfare] noted, is the Super Hornet mid-life refit program expected a decade from now.

‘I have to get 563 Super Hornets out to 9,000 hours,’ he noted. ‘Ten years from now I'm going to be in the middle of SLEP'ping 563 airplanes. Do I have enough depot capacity?’ “

The Navy is now suggesting a need for 36 new Super Hornets to meet the coming fighter gap.


USNI News website also sums up the problem (2).

"Adm. Jonathan Greenert explained the problem as a multifaceted one: the Navy is working to extend the life of its legacy Hornets, the Boeing F/A-18 A-D Hornet frames. ‘We’re finding that’s it’s very complicated and it’s harder than we imagined,’ he said. So as the Navy depots keep the legacy Hornets out of commission for longer, the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets are picking up the slack and eating through flying hours faster than planned."

Hmmm ……  That makes the decision to cut depot funding look pretty bad!

"The Super Hornets have been further drained over the past decade with a high operational tempo in the Middle East and the fighters often acting as tankers to refuel other planes."

We see, then, another short-sighted decision coming home to roost.  The Navy abandoned its tanker aircraft and opted to use its front line fighters as tankers.  This not only reduced the number of available fighters (4-6 are always used as tankers and, thus, unavailable for strikefighter duty) but added flight hours and wear to the front line aircraft.  This is an absolutely idiotic use of the mainstay aircraft of the fleet.

The Navy is now looking at extending the service lives of the Super Hornets.

"While pushing for more Super Hornet sales, Boeing is also working with the Navy to determine what it would take to bring the planes from a service life of 6,000 flight hours to 9,000 flight hours, to help mitigate the fighter shortfall.

"He [ed. Dan Gillian, Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet and Growler program manager] expects that the Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) for the Super Hornets will go smoother than for the legacy Hornets ..."

He expects the Super Hornet SLEP to go smoother???  Why?  Nothing goes as smooth as predicted.  Only an idiot would expect the next SLEP to be easier than the previous ones.  Remember the definition of insanity – to repeat a set of actions and expect a different outcome?  The Super Hornet SLEP will not go smoothly.  It will take longer and cost more than anticipated.

The years of poor decisions have come home to roost.  Maintenance is the last place to cut funding when facing a budget shortfall.  The depots should have been fully staffed and funded all along.  This is simple mismanagement and incompetence on Greenert's part.

Unfortunately, the poor decisions continue unabated.  Hornets are being used to plink pickup trucks in the “war” against ISIS.  What a waste of service life!  Every pickup truck that a Hornet destroys is a win for our enemies around the world as it shortens the life span of our front line aircraft.  We continue to operate Hornets as tankers with no plans to procure a low end, dedicated tanker.  Instead of buying that next LCS for half a billion dollars, why not invest in a tanker?  As a reminder, S-3 Vikings are sitting idle and would be perfectly suitable as restored tankers.

The Navy will jump through any number of hoops to continue LCS production but won’t make any effort to intelligently manage its fighter shortfall, improve depot maintenance, or procure tankers.  That’s just incompetent management.

Welcome the chickens home!

As an aside, there are shortfalls in carriers, submarines, and surface combatants coming and the Navy is doing nothing about them, either.  Way to learn a lesson, Navy!

(1) Defense News, "US Navy Details New Strike Fighter Need", Christopher P. Cavas, 13-Mar-2015,

(2) USNI News, "CNO Greenert Warns Congress of Fighter Shortfall, Boeing Super Hornet Line to Close in 2017 Absent New Orders", Megan Eckstein, March 12, 2015,

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Assault Aviation Support

The Marine Corps has bet their future on becoming an expeditionary air force.  It’s a foolish path but that’s not the point of this post.  Instead, for the purpose of this discussion, let’s assume that the Marines will use their aviation assets primarily in an assault aviation support or close air support role, if you wish to use that phrase.  Thus, the Marines have fixed wing F-35s and some helos to provide support to their ground troops during an assault.  The Navy has gone along with that concept by building large deck amphibious ships including a couple of America class, aviation-only vessels.

It’s a good thing the Marines have their aviation capability and the Navy has built aviation-centric amphibious ships because we don’t have any shipboard gun bombardment capability to speak of, right?  Still, I wonder how useful air power will be in future assaults? 

Let’s set aside the fact that an assault against a peer will see most of the air assets devoted to protecting the fleet and struggling to establish even an aerial no-man’s land rather than conducting ground support.  Instead, let’s assume that we have helos and fixed wing aircraft available for ground support.  The question, then, is how useful will they be?  Everyone assumes that they will be vitally important – perhaps the key to the success of an assault.  Is that true, though?

Historically, air power used to support assaults has been used to provide suppressive effects and precision attacks against identified enemy targets.   However, over the last few decades, we’ve seen a movement away from area explosive effects (which is what suppressive effects are) in favor of precision attacks.  This movement is due to our obsession with minimizing collateral damage even at the risk of failing to achieve our objectives and failing to protect our own troops.  I’m not going to debate the wisdom of that in this post – it is what it is.  What does it mean, though?

It means that air power is going to be artificially constrained and, therefore, far less effective than it might be.  Let’s look at history to see if that statement is true.

The best example is probably the recent Israeli-Hamas conflict.  Israel essentially conducted an assault with total aerial supremacy and yet failed utterly to eliminate or even slightly suppress the Hamas rocket attacks.  Their air force was limited to occasional strikes against the odd target that could be identified.  For all practical purposes, the Israeli air force was ineffective, bordering on useless (setting aside the valuable surveillance capabilities).  Why?  Like us, the Israelis had an obsession with avoidance of collateral damage to the point of accepting daily, heavy rocket attacks on their country and assaults against their ground troops.

Consider the US efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Air power was certainly useful when specific targets could be identified but, as a general statement, did not make any substantial difference in terms of ground support for the various assaults that were conducted. 

Consider the effectiveness of air power in Viet Nam when used in support of offensive operations.  It was nice to have.  It was occasionally helpful.  However, it was not, generally, the reason for success or failure of an assault operation.

Given our emphasis on avoidance of collateral damage, we have to recognize that aircraft can only attack targets which can be seen and positively identified.  History strongly suggests that only a very small fraction of an enemy’s forces can be so targeted.  That means that air power can only be employed sporadically which means that air power will not, indeed cannot, be a decisive factor in an assault.  Thus, we’re pursuing a fixed wing (F-35B) aircraft that will only be sporadically useful (at least, as a strike platform).  When we consider the aircraft, the carrier (LHA), and all the personnel and materiel required to operate and support them, it becomes obvious that a lot of resources and expense are being devoted to an asset with a fairly minimal benefit.

Finally, even if I’m completely wrong, can the half dozen or dozen F-35Bs that might be part of a MEU (or MEB or whatever) really make a significant difference?  The numbers are just too small.  Many people (and the Navy!) will casually state that Hornets or F-35C’s from the accompanying carrier will assist in the ground support, thereby vastly increasing the aircraft numbers.  Again, that’s just fantasy and wishful thinking.  In an assault against a peer, those aircraft will be completely occupied with fleet defense.

Can this situation change?  Can air power be a decisive factor in an assault?  The answer is, guardedly, yes but only if we alter our approach to combat and become willing to accept a significant degree of collateral damage and area effect explosives.  As I’ve said many times, our insistence on precision targeting and avoidance of collateral damage stems from a steady diet of police actions.  We’ve forgotten the reality of war.  We think we can conduct a non-destructive, non-lethal war.  The reality is that war against a peer will involve massive, widespread, and indiscriminate damage and destruction.  We need to relearn, now, how that applies to an amphibious assault or we will pay a steep price in blood to relearn it later.

The next, obvious, lesson from this is that we need a source of area explosives that is available round the clock, is available regardless of weather, is immune to enemy air defenses, is available whether we control the skies or not, and is available in sustained amounts.  Of course, what we’re describing is naval bombardment.  But, that’s another, though closely related, topic.

So, is ComNavOps arguing against air power in an assault?  Of course not!  Air power will be vitally important but not as a surrogate for naval gunfire and not as a decisive ground support element.  Instead, air power’s role should be protection of the assault fleet, establishment of local aerial control to allow relatively unhindered movement of helos, and surveillance.

Air power should function to protect and enable naval gunfire on a massive scale.  Unfortunately, naval gunfire is non-existent.  Hence, aircraft are being pressed into a role for which they are ill-suited.  Even if aircraft were effective as substitutes for naval gunfire, every aircraft so tasked is an aircraft that is unavailable for fleet defense which, against a peer defender, will be a task that requires every aircraft we can muster and then some.

The Navy/Marine assault force needs to re-examine their own doctrine, recognize the gaps, and begin filling those gaps with the proper equipment.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Combat Fleet Count Update

Here is the periodic update on the combat fleet size.  The Navy claims the fleet is growing and is well on its way to 300+ but what are the actual numbers?  Well, previous updates have shown that the combat fleet size is steadily decreasing.

To refresh your memory, the combat fleet is composed of carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, submarines, and amphibious ships (CVN, DDG, CG, FFG, SSN, SSBN, SSGN, LHA, LHD, LPD, and LSD).  Vessels like the JHSV, MCM, PC, hospital ships, LCS (we’ll count them if and when they ever get any combat capability), tugs, salvage ships, and ships whose designation starts with “T” or “A” are not counted as part of the combat fleet.

Here are the updated numbers.

1980  392
1985  421
1990  405
1995  283
2000  243
2005  220
2010  225
2012  210
2014  205
2015  201

You can check the fleet size for yourself at .

The combat fleet count continues to decrease and it will only get worse.  All the remaining frigates will retire this year and the Navy is still attempting to retire or idle half the Aegis cruiser force.

Despite this evidence, the Navy still claims to be on track for a 300+ ship fleet. 

I’ll close this post with the same statement I closed the previous Combat Fleet Count update posts:

Compare the Navy’s trend to China’s and ponder the implications for yourself.

I’ll continue to update this from time to time.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Does The Right Hand Know What The Left Hand Is Doing?

As we just discussed, the Navy has cancelled planned ballistic missile defense (BMD) and NIFC-CA air defense networking upgrades for five Burke class destroyers due to budget constraints (1).  The ships will not receive the Baseline 9 Aegis combat system upgrades. 

However, USNI website reports on comments by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Sean Stackley, chief of naval acquisition, regarding BMD upgrades and modernization in general (2).

"The Navy’s acquisition chief stressed the importance of modernizing ships in the fleet – particularly the ballistic missile defense (BMD) fleet – to keep them operating for their full service life ..."

Stackley went on to say,

"Perhaps most significantly, we’re on the front end of modernizing our Aegis cruisers and destroyers. Come what may in the budget environment, we need to complete this effort.”

“The backbone of our fleet, the workhorse of our fleet is our Aegis cruisers and destroyers. … Two things we’ve got to do: one, we’ve got to get them to their full service life … and we’re going to look to extend their service life. So we’ve got to get them, at that midlife, get their upgrades in place, get the degree of ballistic missile defense that we need to get our BMD ship count up.”

Is Stackley unaware that the Navy has cancelled the very upgrades that he claims are vitally important?  Is he out of the memo loop?

Of course, in a tight budget environment it all comes down to priorities.  ComNavOps has frequently stated that in tight times the Navy needs to emphasize maintenance and readiness even over shipbuilding especially because every round of shipbuilding results in fewer ships in the fleet as larger numbers of existing ships are early retired to pay for small numbers of new construction.

The trend of early retiring ships to pay for new construction is exactly opposite Stackley’s call for getting ships to their full service life and beyond.

Of course, Naval Sea Systems Command commander Vice Adm. William Hilarides followed Stackley’s comments by essentially reaffirming that the Navy will continue to early retire ships and forego upgrades to ensure that new construction continues unabated.

 “That’s all that’s left to give. Unless you want to give up ships and I think you heard the Secretary of the Navy. We’re not giving up shipbuilding programs.”

There you have it.  The Navy will sacrifice anyone and anything to ensure the continuation of new construction.  It doesn’t matter how hollow the fleet is, how poorly maintained it is, how poor the readiness is, or how untrained the sailors are.  … … …  Unless, of course, you ask Assistant Secretary Stackley who has a different story.

Is anyone in the Navy talking to anyone else?  Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing?  It would appear not.

(1) USNI, "Navy Again Reduces Scope of Destroyer Modernization, 5 Ships Won’t Receive Any Ballistic Missile Defense Upgrades", Sam LaGrone, 3-Mar-2015,

(2) USNI, "Stackley: Fleet Needs More BMD Ships to Meet Demand", Megan Eckstein and Sam LaGrone,
March 4, 2015,

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Burke Upgrades Cancelled

The Navy has cancelled planned ballistic missile defense (BMD) upgrades for five Burke class destroyers due to budget constraints (1).  The ships will not receive the Baseline 9 Aegis combat system upgrades.  The cuts in modernization funding will save around $500M over five years.

The cuts also impact the ship's networking and target data sharing capabilities.

"Additionally — without the Baseline 9 upgrade — the ships will not be wired into the Navy’s emerging Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA (pronounced: nifk-kah)) that would allow destroyers to download targeting information from assets outside of the range of their SPY-1D radars to attack air and BMD threats with the Raytheon Standard Missile 6 (SM-6)."

Well, that’s very unfortunate that we can’t afford those upgrades but as CNO Greenert said,

"When asked about the reductions following a House appropriations hearing on Thursday, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert told USNI News the cuts were a result of hard fiscal choices and reflected the service’s priorities."

Well, CNO Greenert is right.  When you have a limited budget, you have to make hard choices based on your priorities and …  wait … let me go back to that cost number …  $500M ?!! … to get 5 BMD and network capable Burkes? … $500M – isn’t that the cost of a single LCS?  So, CNO Greenert is telling us that the Navy’s priorities are that they would rather have an LCS than five BMD/network capable Burkes?  Does that make sense to you?!  I’ve said all along that Greenert is completely focused on low end and peacetime activities at the expense of warfighting and readiness and this just proves it.

I recently posted that, for reasons totally obscure to me, the Navy considers the LCS untouchable and this yet another example.  The Navy would rather pass on five BMD/network capable Burkes than give up one LCS. 

However, according to the article,

"Currently, the Navy’s number one priority is the $100 billion design and construction effort for a new nuclear ballistic missile submarine to replace the aging Ohio-class boomers (SSB)."

I'm not sure if the Navy's internal top priority really is the replacement SSBN.  As I’ve pointed out, the LCS looks to be the Navy’s top priority.  Still, it demonstrates the domino effect that occurs when a program, the SSBN replacement, in this case, is so expensive that it not only limits itself but cripples other programs.  The F-35, for example, is gutting the Marines and Air Force by forcing those services to cancel other badly needed programs to pay for the F-35.  Similarly, the SSBN has long been predicted to gut Navy shipbuilding, operating, and maintenance funding and now we're seeing the first concrete results.

We’ll continue to watch the SSBN funding play out but I predict that we’re going to see many more examples of early retirements, deferred maintenance, cancelled upgrades, and truncated shipbuilding to pay for the SSBN unless the Navy can get the funding shifted to a higher DoD level (of course, that just means that every service will have its budget cut a bit more to pay for the SSBN – there are no free lunches).  This is further evidence that the Navy’s 30 year shipbuilding plan is pure fantasy.  Many future ships will have to be cancelled to pay for the SSBN.

Seriously, how do you defend prioritizing the LCS over five Burke BMD/network upgrades?  Every time I think the Navy has hit rock bottom in decision making they dig a trench and lower the bar a bit more.

(1) USNI, "Navy Again Reduces Scope of Destroyer Modernization, 5 Ships Won’t Receive Any Ballistic Missile Defense Upgrades", Sam LaGrone, 3-Mar-2015,