Sunday, June 28, 2015


No, that post title is not a random assortment of letters.  The Navy has issued a Request For Information (RFI) to industry to solicit ideas for an over-the-horizon (OTH) missile system for the LCS.  The two obvious candidates are an upgraded Harpoon and Kongsberg’s Naval Strike Missile (NSM) was “test fired” from an LCS in an absolutely worthless test in which the missile launcher was simple placed on the deck of the LCS-4, USS Coronado, last year and launched with absolutely no tie in to the ship’s weapon systems.  The same test could have been equally well performed from a dock or a parking lot in a shopping mall. 

In any event, the assumption was that the test was paving the public relations way for selection of the NSM as the OTH weapon for the LCS.  It is unclear why the Navy is taking a step that could be construed as a step back by issuing this RFI.  Presumably, something has come to light regarding the NSM that renders it less than ideal for use with the LCS.  Aside from mundane issues like cost or production capacity, the only technical issue I can imagine is an inability to smoothly integrate into the fire control system.  Supporting this thought is the RFI’s language calling for industry information regarding complete weapon systems for the OTH role.

ComNavOps will continue to keep an eye on this.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pegasus Class Hydrofoils

Ever the historian, ComNavOps likes to re-examine ships, tactics, and campaigns to glean lessons learned.  In that vein, let’s take a look at the remarkable Pegasus class hydrofoils (PHM, Patrol, Hydrofoil, Missile).  These vessels are often cited as possible alternatives or adjuncts to the more conventional fleet assets.  Here’s a quick reminder of their characteristics.

PHM (Patrol, Hydrofoil, Missile)

Number:                   6
Cost:                        $870,000 each (1)
Service:                   1977 – 1993
Length:                    132 ft
Displacement:          240 tons
Speed, hullborne:    12 kts
Speed, foilborne:     48 kts
Sensor:                    Mk92 Mod 1 Fire Control
Armament:               8x Harpoon, 76 mm Oto Melara gun
Propulsion:              1 GE gas turbine (foil) and 2 diesel (hull) with water jets
Range:                     750 nm – 1200 nm, depending on propulsion mix
Draft:                        7.5 ft (foils raised), 23 ft (foils lowered)

For their size, the vessels had good range and excellent seakeeping with an ability to maintain high speed in high sea states.

The PHM was a bit of a pet project of then CNO Zumwalt.  The PHM was to be part of the hi-lo mix concept being championed by Zumwalt.  Costs were an issue, apparently, although the degree of unconventionality may have largely contributed to the price tag.  Regardless, upon Zumwalt’s retirement, funding was redirected towards more conventional ships and the project languished until Congress intervened and forced completion of six of the vessels.

The PHM program was originally envisioned as a NATO response to the numerous Warsaw Pact missile boats and included plans for around 30 ships and participation by Germany and Italy.  In the end, only six vessels were built and none for any foreign buyers. 

The PHMs were envisioned to be minimally manned and include a mothership for maintenance and support.  Manning and crew activities were to be limited to port/starboard watches.  Maintenance, logistics, and support were to be provided by a converted LST acting as the mothership.  We see, then, that the ships were designed to the same operational manning and maintenance concept as the LCS.

It was originally intended to operate the PHMs in the Mediterranean, Baltic, and North Seas with a homeport in Sicily.  In actuality, the PHMs wound up operating exclusively in the Caribbean, largely involved in the war on drug efforts where they were quite successful due to their high speed and maneuverability.

The class was eventually terminated and retired though no reasons were ever offered beyond vague cost issues that were not valid.  The real reason was, undoubtedly, that lacking the sponsorship of the CNO, the “big” Navy simply had no use for small vessels and no desire to attempt to integrate them tactically or operationally into Navy missions.

Pegasus Class Hydrofoil

The PHM packed a large punch for its size and represents the Hughes approach to distributed lethality.  The weakness in this approach is the lack of over the horizon sensing.  The weapon, the Harpoon anti-ship missile, outranges the sensor.  Such a vessel would either be dependent on off-board sensors or need to get much closer to the target, thus negating much of the standoff range of the weapon and increasing the risk to the launching vessel.  In littoral warfare where coastlines might offer concealment and ambush possibilities, the lack of sensor range might be acceptable.  The PHM offers a real world experiment in the Hughes distributed firepower concept.  Unfortunately, the vessels never had the opportunity to operate in their intended environment and this limits the ability to draw conclusions about their potential combat effectiveness.

The PHM was a remarkable vessel and the similarities and parallels between it and the LCS are interesting.  The PHM was intended to use the exact same manning and maintenance model that the LCS is now attempting to use.  The firepower (76mm and 8x Harpoon) of the PHM is, arguably, greater than the LCS and certainly far greater in terms of weapon density.  Further, the indifference of “big Navy” to both their uses is striking.

It is worth noting that the Chinese (and other countries) are developing the Type 022 Houbei class missile boat which is a functional equivalent of the Pegasus PHM.  Would squadrons of PHMs offer a viable counter to Chinese missile boats?  It’s something to think about. 

Here’s a nice summary of the class.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Anywhere, Anytime ... But Why?

USNI News website has an article about the Marines testing the feasibility of operating from non-traditional bases and ships including foreign ships, AFSBs, T-AVB aviation logistics ships, etc. in response to the Commandant’s Planning Guidance document (1).  For example,

“A few weeks ago, a crane on a T-AVB aviation logistics support ship – one of the original Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) ships from the 1980s – lifted onboard a LCM-8 “Mike boat” – which made its debut in the fleet in 1959.

Are these vessels intended to be the equivalent of the standard Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) LHAs, LPDs, and such?  Of course not.

“But the ability to put them [Marines] onboard surface ships for select periods of time – an amphib can carry a Marine unit virtually indefinitely; you can’t do that with these other platforms, they’re not designed [for that] – but for select, short periods of time, yeah, you could put … units and aircraft onboard. Your biggest limitation with aircraft would be the maintenance and support capabilities that the ship has for the V-22.”

We see, then, some of the glaring limitations of such an approach using vessels that were not designed for the use.

Flight Deck Space – Flight deck space on these alternate vessels is generally pretty limited.  A T-AVB, for example, has space for only two helo spots and could probably handle only a single MV-22.  The vaunted AFSB has space for operating two CH-53 helos and parking two more.  Likely, it could operate only two MV-22s.  That’s not much aviation capability.

Limited Hangar Space – Similarly, alternate vessel hangar space is non-existent or quite limited.

Berthing – Ships that are not designed for hosting large numbers of troops lack the facilities to berth and support troops for more than a very short period.

Vehicle Storage – Again, most of these vessels lack the facilities to store and, more importantly, handle (meaning, move into and out of storage) vehicles in a combat timely fashion.

Maintenance – Alternate vessels generally lack the maintenance capabilities to support Marine vehicles and aircraft or even troop gear.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with experimenting with alternate means of deploying Marine units, is there?  OK, that seems reasonable on the face of it.  Remind me, though, why are we doing this?

“ ‘A lot of these are just old ideas that are fresh and new. A lot of it’s back to the future. But we’re aggressively pursuing that because that’s what it says to do here,’ he [Jim Strock, Marine Corps Seabasing Integration Division director] said, referring to the Commandant’s Planning Guidance.

So, we’re doing it because the Commandant said so.  Fair enough … assuming he’s right.

Let’s think about this a bit deeper.  What is this going to accomplish?  Well, it could put Marines and a very few of their aviation units onboard a ship for a brief period of time.  The question is whether that’s a useful capability to have.  Alternate vessels will be ill-suited to the task and quite limited resulting in a Marine force that is very light (likely no tanks, artillery, or heavy vehicles) and has very limited aviation support available.

So, what can a force like that do that’s useful?  This is where the concept falls apart.  Aside from a very light embassy evacuation or hostage rescue operation, such a force can’t do much.  Even in those low end combat scenarios there will be a significant degree of risk due to the lack of aviation support.

Honestly, this concept feels a bit haphazard to me – like the Marines are floundering around in an attempt to look amphibious but without a serious purpose behind the effort.  Consider this statement from the article.

“What’s the right mix of non-amphibious ships to do that? I don’t know. Do you need three JHSVs plus an MLP plus a tug boat? What’s the right mix? And I think over time we’re going to have to sort that out. … The ARG/MEUs sail out with a pre-defined mix: a big-deck, an LPD and an LSD. That’s pretty routine. But if you are able to get three or four platforms together to support a 90-day patrol for the rotational force out of Darwin, if you did that a year from now with three or four ships, the time they did it after that I doubt if it’s going to be the same three or four types of ships. What’s the right mix? I think that will be exciting over time to capture the lessons learned and be able to go back to the operating forces with some decent data.”

The spokesman is describing a best case scenario using an ad-hoc group of mismatched vessels to conduct a short deployment.  What he doesn’t describe is a useful mission for such a group.  Simply sailing around aimlessly for 90 days is a waste of time.  I’m not an expert on Marine tasking, especially out of Australia, so maybe there is a useful mission that could be conducted by a very light force for a very short period of time.  If so, this is a good experiment.  However, I suspect there really isn’t much of a valid purpose for such a deployment other than to say it can be done.

I have no problem with experimenting with concepts.  In fact, I’m all for trying things out and I’m all for attempting to get maximum usage out of existing assets.  My concern is that this is not really an experiment but, rather, another step on the path of the new Marine Corps – Light.  This is cementing the notion of a fighting force that is entirely air-mobile (though few of those alternate vessels can host enough aircraft to “mobile” the troops) and lightweight. 

It feels like we’re giving up our heavy assault capability in favor of lightness for reasons that, frankly, escape me.  Instead of seeing how light a force we can briefly shoehorn onto an ill-suited vessel, we should be trying to figure out how to get M1 Abrams and artillery ashore in the initial assault waves.  As an interesting counterpoint, the Chinese have developed a family of Infantry Fighting Vehicles and 105mm light tanks that are completely amphibious along with modern LPDs and LCACs (see SNAFU website for an excellent pictorial look at a Chinese armored landing force).

(1)USNI, “Marines Testing Operating from Foreign Ships, Near-Forgotten Platforms to Bring Units Back to Sea”, Megan Eckstein, June 23, 2015

Monday, June 22, 2015

Testing Reality

USNI News website reports that the Navy and Raytheon conducted a test of an over-the-horizon engagement of a supersonic target by an SM-6 missile (1).  No test details were released and there’s apparently nothing special about the test.  Navy tests are highly scripted and every effort is made to ensure test success.  The interesting part is the hype surrounding the data sharing using remote sensors linked through the Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air (NIFC-CA) system.  Even this is nothing particularly noteworthy.  This is just an outgrowth of the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC).

However, consider these comments.

“ ‘This weapon multiplies the amount of defended space the U.S. Navy can protect,’ Mike Campisi, Raytheon’s Standard Missile-6 senior program director, said in a company statement.

“ ‘The ships can now use data from remote sensors to support the engagement of targets. Sailors can now launch at threats much sooner than ever before.’ ”

So what’s the problem?  The ability to incorporate off board sensor data to allow engagements far beyond the horizon is a good thing, isn’t it?  Well, yes, it is.  If the enemy obligingly allows us to spread our sensor platforms all over the battlespace without hindrance and allows us to communicate between the various sensor platforms and the launch platforms without interference, jamming, ECM, or other electronic disruptions then we’ll be in great shape. 

On the other hand, if the enemy opts to shoot down our slow, marginally stealthy UAVs, BAMS, and defenseless E-2 Hawkeyes and sink our far ranging (almost didn’t get that one out without laughing) LCS network nodes or blanket our communications with electronic noise, jamming, and all manner of ECM and cyber disruption, then I can’t help but wonder how well our NIFC-CA dream will work.

The logical reality is that our sensor platforms won’t be able to penetrate very far in the direction of a likely enemy attack and their data relays will be severely degraded.  Thus, the peacetime promise of AAW intercepts occurring hundreds of miles away, cued by a vast network of sensors, will likely remain an unfulfilled promise.  Our engagement window will not be hundreds of miles away but will be not too far beyond the horizon.

The larger issue, here, is the constant focus by the Navy on highly unlikely scenarios in which advanced technology is allowed to operate unhindered by enemy action.  We’re becoming dependent on unrealistic scenarios that can’t and won’t be realized in actual combat.

Instead of conducting the test they did, the Navy and Raytheon would have been better served conducting the test in the face of an “enemy” that could find and eliminate the off board sensor platforms and apply the full spectrum of electronic countermeasures.  Let that be the test scenario and see what works.  I think we would quickly realize that we’re wasting our time on a lot of fantasy projects.

Now, the wasted time and money is bad but what’s worse is that we’re “growing” a generation of soldiers and sailors who believe that this technology is going to work just as they’ve seen it used in these unrealistic, scripted tests.  Our future combat leaders are learning tactics that are not based on reality.  We need to drastically increase the realism in our testing.

Consider this simple test.  Had we conducted it under realistic conditions, as I’ve described, we would probably conclude that we need to drastically alter our sensor platform approach (maybe many, many more smaller and shorter ranged UAVs flooding an area?), significantly enhance our electronic resistance and communications security, and, the big one, perhaps realize that long range intercepts may not be a realistic expectation and that medium to short range intercepts are what we should be concentrating on.

The Navy desperately needs to begin injecting realism into their tests and stop obsessing over fantasy technology that won’t work in the face of enemy actions.  We need to start designing against the worst case instead of the ridiculously optimistic best case.

(1)USNI News, “Navy, Raytheon Test Standard Missile-6 Against Supersonic Over-the-Horizon Threat”, Megan Eckstein, June 17, 2015

Friday, June 19, 2015

Chinese Amphibious Assault Ships

We took a cursory look at Chinese surface combatants but what about Chinese amphibious assault ships?

China operates several types of amphibious assault vessels ranging from true LPDs to LSTs and LSMs.  Here is a brief summary of some of the recent amphibious ship classes.

Type 071  (Yuzhao-class LPD) – 6
20 armor vehicles, 500-800 troops, 4 LCAC

Type 072A  (Yuting III-class LST) – 13
5 tanks, 250 troops, LCAC well deck

Type 072III  (Yuting II-class LST) – 10
10 tanks, 250 troops

Type 072II  (Yuting-class LST) – 4
10 tanks, 250 troops

Type 072  (Yukan-class LST) - 3
10 tanks, 200 troops

Type 073  (Yudao, Yudeng and Yunshu-class LSM/T) – 13
4-6 tanks, 40 troops

Type 074, 074A (Yuhai-class LSM) – 18
2 tanks, 250 troops

What jumps out from this examination is the emphasis being placed on local/regional assault.  The LSMs and LSTs are suitable for short range transport and assault as opposed to the US Navy/Marine Amphibious Ready Group extended deployment concept.  Clearly, China sees the possibility of local assaults against neighboring countries.

Type 071 LPD

The other noteworthy aspect is that China is beginning to move from local assault capability to blue water, long range assaults. The Type 071 is a thoroughly modern and capable LPD, analogous to the Navy’s LPD-17 class.  China is clearly looking further afield and looking to operate amphibious forces on an extended deployment basis.

Further, China is reportedly designing and building an LPH/LHA type vessel.  This will cement China’s ability to conduct long range assaults and extended deployments.

ComNavOps is not a land combat expert by any means but China’s growing amphibious assault capability combined with their heavy armor emphasis in an assault means that someone is going to be facing a formidable assault force down the road, unlike the Marines who are heading down the path of light assault forces.

The US and regional countries need to keep a close eye on Chinese amphibious assault capabilities and ask themselves where they will be used.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hubris Follow Up

It's clear from the preceding post that either I failed to convey the problem with industry telling the military what to do or there are readers with an inaccurate understanding of the customer-company relationship.  I'll try to briefly clarify the issue.

A company, and its Board of Directors and CEO, have a legal fiduciary responsibility to the company's shareholders to wisely manage the company's finances and direct its performance.  A company cannot spend money in a manner that might lead to bankruptcy. If a company opts to "bet" a portion of its earnings on a particular piece of R&D, it does so with no more money than it can afford to lose.  In this respect, a military supplier is much like a customer in Las Vegas - don't bet more than you can afford to lose.

Further, it is vital to understand who a company is "working" for.  Boeing, for example, is not working for the United States or even the US military.  It is working for its shareholders. This is an incredibly key point.  What it means is that Boeing is not trying to develop and sell the product that best suits the military - instead, Boeing is trying to develop and sell the product that best suits Boeing, meaning the product that best fits their existing or desired product line and generates the greatest profit and cash flow.  Think about it - if Boeing and every other company were trying to develop the best product for the military they'd all agree on who's product was best and the other companies would drop out of any procurement competition. Well, of course they don't do that.  That means that in any given competition several of the competitors are knowingly putting forth sub-optimal products without saying so and are happily trying to take the taxpayer's money regardless.  There's nothing wrong with that. That's how the market system works and the onus is on the military to be able to distinguish between good and bad products (an argument for establishing internal design capability and technical expertise within the military!).

Let me summarize.  Boeing (and everyone else) is not investing R&D to help the military.   They are investing to help themselves.  Boeing (and everyone else) is not producing the best product for the military.  They are producing the best product for Boeing.

The mere fact that Boeing "bet" on a particular line of research and product development does not in any way, shape, or form obligate the military to pursue that path from some sense of responsibility (that's corporate welfare sponsored by the military) or in response to some veiled (or, in this case, explicit) threat from industry.  Response to a threat is extortion.

Those of you who worry that Boeing will fold because their product was not chosen are not grasping the Microsoft-IBM example.

Eisenhower warned us about this and some of you are buying into the very phenomenon he pointed out.  Think harder about this.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Industrial Hubris

Breaking Defense website had an article that just infuriated ComNavOps.  Apparently, Boeing has warned the Pentagon about pausing or reconsidering acquisition programs.  Boeing has threatened to spend less of their own money on military projects unless the military continues along Boeing’s designated path.  Read the relevant quotes for yourself,

“The Pentagon’s decision to pause as it reconsiders what path to pursue with the drone fighter known as UCLASS prompted Boeing to send a warning note today that the US military had better keep its commiitments if it wants companies to invest their own money in new technologies."

“Asked about the program today, Boeing’s Chris Raymond noted pointedly that his company ‘had spent a lot of time, and frankly, a lot of money on UCLASS over the years. We were — in our minds — in a great place,’ he told reporters at a briefing in the company’s headquarters … ‘It was disappointing to see them pause.’”

Where to start?

Well, first, the US military does not exist to ensure the profitability of Boeing or any other company.

Second, any company is free to spend their money on whatever internal projects they deem most likely to be of benefit TO THEMSELVES.  If spending money on potential military projects is helpful to Boeing then they’re free to do so.  If spending money would not be helpful, they’re equally free to refrain from doing so.  How they spend their money is of no concern to the US military.  Let’s be very clear, here.  Boeing does not spend money on internal projects out of a sense of patriotism or civic duty – Boeing spends money on internal projects because they believe it will give them a competitive advantage and enable them to make more money.

Third, the military needs to break the cycle of taking whatever new product that industry gives them rather than clearly defining a product and then asking industry to build it.  Boeing (and every other company, to be fair) offers the military products that are financially beneficial to Boeing.  That the product may or may not suit US defense needs is a side issue to Boeing.  Make no mistake, they would sell a useless product to the military if the military would buy it (anyone want an LCS or F-35?).

Fourth, the military issues untold millions of dollars to companies to conduct DIRECTED research.  If private companies opt to conduct research on their own, it’s on their own heads whether it ever pays off.

Fifth, this is a blatant example of precisely the type of unwarranted influence by the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex that Eisenhower warned us about.  When companies feel free to dictate to the military how to run their acquisition programs then those companies have become too powerful and need to be slapped down.  Perhaps the military should start focusing on smaller companies and let the larger ones die?

Sixth, the military should instantly stop issuing contracts to Boeing.  There are other companies that can do the same job.  Sure, the other companies are, undoubtedly, just as bad but they have at least had the good sense not to publicly demonstrate their hubris.

This demonstrates a very sad state of affairs.  Now, to be fair, the military is hardly blameless in this, having willingly gone along with the entire situation.  Unfortunately, the practice of Generals and Admirals retiring and then taking seats of the Boards of these companies precludes any attempt to break the stranglehold of industry on the military.

Well, this is all very unfortunate and ComNavOps has every right to be upset but does he have anything to offer other than handwringing?  Yes!

The military needs to immediately reestablish its own internal design competency.  For the Navy, that means reestablishing the General Board and BuShips (see, General Board and BuShips).  Breaking the stranglehold of industry starts with being able to generate internal designs rather than depend on industry to give us what best serves their needs rather than the military’s needs.  Once we can generate our own requirements and designs, we can then parcel out the actual building under much smaller, separate contracts rather than the single, massive contracts that are issue today.  This approach offers the ability to break the project into smaller packages and opens up competition to many other, smaller, specialized companies.

Now, before I get the usual bilgewater from industry apologists who insist that we can’t risk losing the industrial base or upsetting our industrial “partners” or losing our technical expertise, let me remind you of the example of Gates and Microsoft.  IBM wouldn’t, or couldn’t, respond to a market need so Gates simply started what would become a new giant of industry.  Similarly, if Boeing is no longer responsive to the military’s needs, let’s find the next up and coming Microsoft and start funneling contracts to them.

Jobs (and expertise) are neither created nor destroyed, they simply move.  If Boeing dies, all their personnel and expertise will simply move to the new company(s) that takes their place.  Sometimes drastic change is good.  Most of us agree that Microsoft was a good thing.  Perhaps it’s time for some drastic change in the defense industry.

(1)Breaking Defense, “Boeing To Pentagon: Be Careful When You Pause IRAD Programs”, Colin Clark, June 14, 2015,

Monday, June 15, 2015

Chinese Surface Combatants

We talk a lot about Chinese naval capabilities.  Some view the Chinese navy as a significant threat perhaps already exceeding the combat power of the US Navy.  Others view the Chinese navy as a paper tiger with numerically abundant forces but little high end combat power.  With such divergent views it might be helpful to do a cursory review of their naval forces.  This information is gathered from open source documentation and should be considered with a degree of skepticism. 

Here are the modern destroyers, their numbers (active, building, and ordered), fittings, and a brief description.

Type 052D destroyer (Luyang III-class) – 12

-130mm gun, 64 VLS, AESA radar

-This is the most advanced surface combatant.  It has an area defense AAW capability with a flat array, AESA radar/combat system whose capabilities are claimed to approach or be on par with Aegis.  Reports claim the ability to detect stealth aircraft.  The ship has data link capability, medium and close in AAW protection, hangar and flight deck, and torpedoes.  What may be lacking is a capable ASW suite.  This vessel is roughly equivalent to a USN Burke albeit with less VLS.

Type 052C destroyer (Luyang II-class) – 6

-100mm gun, 48 VLS, 8 ASuW missiles, Active Phased Array Type 348 radar

-This is an area AAW combatant with a radar system claimed to be able to detect stealth aircraft.  The ship has a hull mounted sonar, medium and close in AAW protection, hangar and flight deck, and torpedoes.  This vessel is roughly equivalent to something between a USN Burke and Spruance.

Type 052B destroyer (Luyang I-class) – 2

-100mm gun, 2x missile launchers (48 SA-N-12 missiles), 16 ASuW missiles, 3D radar

-This was the first ship with an area AAW capability.  The ship has a stealth hull shape, close in AAW protection, hangar and flight deck, and torpedoes.  This vessel is roughly equivalent to a USN Spruance.

Type 052 destroyer (Luhu-class) – 2

-These were among China’s initial attempts at a modern guided missile destroyer and are considered to be prototypes and technology demonstrators.

Sovremenny-class destroyer (Sovremenny-class) – 4

-2x2 130mm guns, 2 single arm launchers with 48 SA-N-12 AAW missiles, 8 ASuW missiles, 3D radar

-This is an anti-surface and local area AAW combatant with powerful, supersonic anti-ship missiles.  The ship has a hull mounted sonar, medium and close in AAW protection, hangar and flight deck, and torpedoes.  This vessel is roughly equivalent to an improved Spruance.

Type 051x destroyer (Luda/Luhai/Luzhou-class) - 9

-Various fittings

-This class represents initial attempts at developing modern indigenous surface combatants with an area AAW capability and have been superseded by newer classes.  This vessel is roughly equivalent to an early USN guided missile frigate.

We see, then, that the Chinese navy is still a long way from matching the US Navy in numbers of modern surface combatants.  However, the current vessels being constructed are a fairly close match to the USN Burkes, at least on paper. 

What’s most impressive is the speed of advancement of Chinese naval development.  The Type 052 began in 1994 and since then has leaped ahead to near-Burke capabilities.  In that same span, the USN surface combatants have made only modest advances.  Further, the rate of construction is impressive and accelerating.

The Chinese surface navy is not on par with the USN but a comparison of the technology and production trends clearly favors China and should serve as a wakeup call for the US Navy.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Offensive Carriers

We’ve had previous discussions about the future of the Navy’s supercarriers and their role in major combat operations.  ComNavOps has opined that the role of the carrier has devolved to become that of an escort for the “shooters”, meaning the Burkes/Ticos with their load of Tomahawks, and an escort for the Air Force’s long range bombers, meaning that the carrier’s air wing will establish local air superiority to allow the AF bombers to carry out their penetration missions.

We’ve also discussed the migration of the Navy from an offensive force to a largely defensive one.  A purely defensive force, of course, becomes the epitome of the self-licking ice cream cone – existing solely to protect itself.  Unfortunately, that is pretty much what the Navy has become.  The Burke class is a defensive platform.  The carrier is largely defensive.  Our focus is on ballistic missile defense for its own sake rather than as an adjunct to offensive operations.  We have allowed our offensive mine warfare capability to atrophy.  Our amphibious fleet is doctrine-less.  And so on.

Tying these two thoughts together is this article from Breaking Defense website which touches on the origin of the supercarrier and suggests a future based on a return to the past (1).  The article notes the A-3 Sky Warrior as the justification for the supercarrier and the offensive nature of carrier air power during that time.

“ ‘The A-3 came online in the early to mid 1950s, and for most of the next fifty years the Navy was able to do long-range deep strike,’ said retired Navy captain Jerry Hendrix, who moderated today’s discussion with Rep. Forbes. Most of those old strike aircraft had an unrefueled range of 1,000 to 1,2000 miles, he told me after the event, but the A-3 itself ‘had a range of 1,800 nautical miles — unrefueled — and could carry a 12,000-pound atomic bomb.’

‘If you look at the A-3 Sky Warrior….that plane was the reason why we developed theForrestal-class, the first super-carrier, [in the first place],’ said Hendrix, who’s writing a study of carrier air wing evolution at the Center for a New American Security. The 1,000-foot flight deck of a modern carrier was originally designed to give large, long-ranged jet aircraft room to take off. Its massive maintenance spaces and ordnance storage were originally intended to support heavy bombers, not just strike fighters. As anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles get more threatening, it may be time to use the super-carrier for its original purpose again.”

The article suggests, correctly, that the carrier is, or should be, an offensive weapon.  If not, its reason for existence becomes highly questionable.  Today’s short range aircraft and shrinking air wings are severely limiting the offensive capability of our carriers.  Sure, today’s carrier is still a formidable threat against a third rate opponent but so is a prop driven aircraft launched from a barge and at a fraction of the cost.  The carrier justifies its price tag in combat against a peer and that’s where today’s air wing comes up short – literally, when you look at its combat range.

I stated that the role of the carrier is to escort the “shooters”.  That statement is based on the current (Hornet) and near future (Hornet + F-35) air wing composition and the recognition that the air wing composition will not significantly change from that mix for the next few decades.  However, if the Navy would acknowledge its offensive responsibilities, drop or severely curtail the F-35, and develop a truly long range, penetration strike aircraft, my opinion would change.

A-3 Skywarrior - Offensive Threat

Of course, hand in hand with a long range, penetrating strike aircraft must be a long range air superiority fighter.  Modern surveillance has advanced too far for an unescorted, defenseless aircraft to have a hope of penetrating an enemy defense zone.  The path of the multi-role strike/ECM/AEW/surveillance fighter is a false one.  It produces a mediocre aircraft for any specific role.  We need to return to optimized, single function aircraft (yes, a pure air superiority fighter can have a secondary role as a strike aircraft as long as it doesn’t detract from its primary role). 

I’m not going to discuss the single versus multi-role aircraft debate any further.  That’s not the point of this post.  The point is the offensive nature of the carrier and how to restore it.  If a multi-role aircraft can fill that requirement (it can’t) then I’m fine with it.

We must return to offensive carrier groups and an offensive Navy, in general.  As we’ve discussed in the past couple of posts about A2/AD combat, the Navy desperately needs new, very long range strike missiles, IRBMs, very long range aircraft, long range tactical targeting, and other ships and weapons that recognize the reality of the vast distances of modern A2/AD zones.  Of course, to play the broken record, we also need a viable strategy and operational concept for combatting an A2/AD zone.  The strategy and operation concept will serve as the guide for the specific developments and acquisitions required.

We had all of this figured out, once upon a time, but have since wandered far afield in the name of transformation, cost efficiency, or whatever other misguided fad-ish notion ruled the day and led us astray.  We need to look to the future with one eye firmly on the past and solid grip on history.  The Gods of the Copybook Headings will allow no less.

(1)Breaking Defense, “From Sky Warrior To UCLASS: Back To The Future Of Carrier-Based Strike?”, Sydney Freedberg Jr., June 11, 2015,

Friday, June 12, 2015

Combat Fleet Dips Under 200

Here is another periodic update on the combat fleet size.  The fleet continues to shrink and for the first time has dropped under 200.  

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  197

You can check the fleet size for yourself at .

The Perry class is now completely removed from service.

While the shrinking fleet size is appalling enough on its own, the really scary part is that the Navy is continuing to try to reduce the size even further.  Although prevented by Congress, the Navy has, at various times, proposed early retirement for 11 Aegis cruisers, a carrier, and a few LHDs.  In addition, they have proposed early retirement for several fleet supply vessels.

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

CNO Greenert assumed his post in 2011.  At that time the Navy had around 220 combat ships.  Since then, the fleet has lost around 23 combat vessels.  Nice job of leadership! 

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.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tomahawk Inventory

We've been discussing cruise missile use in the A2/AD penetration scenario, specifically, and combat in general.  Just a quick reminder that our total Tomahawk inventory is estimated at around 3000 missiles.  That's not a lot in the context of a major peer war.

It's easy to postulate cheap commercial ships loaded with cruise missiles (an arsenal ship, essentially), actual high density Arsenal Ships, or other very large capacity cruise missile launch ships (or even aircraft!) but with a total inventory of only 3000, there quickly comes a point where you wind up with far more launch cells than missiles.

Further, the risk of concentration is real.  Suppose we design a platform that can carry 300 cruise missiles (to pick an arbitrary number).  If it gets destroyed, we've instantaneously lost one tenth of our total inventory.  There's a lot to be said for distribution of inventory (the Hughes small combatant philosophy, to an extent).

Finally, we are quick to assume that we can ramp up production but that isn't really the case.  Cruise missiles are not like simple bombs in WWII.  They require sophisticated electronics among other components.  That can't be instantly and infinitely ramped up.  Even if they could, the cost of $2M per is a consideration.

So, hypothesize away but bear some of the realities of modern weapons in mind!

IRBMs in the A2/AD Scenario

In the previous post, a reader brought up the possibility of Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM) as an A2/AD weapon.  I had considered mentioning them, specifically, in the post but opted not to because I feared they would bog the discussion down and obscure the more general topic.  However, now that it’s been brought up, let’s look a bit closer at IRBMs in the context of A2/AD.

The Chinese, of course, have developed IRBMs for various uses including the so called “carrier killer”, the DF-21.  This IRBM has generated much press coverage due to its combination of lethality and survivability.  A ballistic missile is a difficult weapon to counter.  Indeed, the USN is expending a great deal of money and effort in the attempt to defend against these weapons.  The entire Burke class is being modified to counter ballistic missiles.  Lethality and survivability are two of the characteristics that would be highly useful in an A2/AD penetration scenario.  Thus, a US IRBM would seem to meet the needs for a weapon with extremely long range, massive destructive ability, and survivability.

Of course, this immediately brings up the first objection to the use of IRBMs and that is the possibility of misinterpreting a conventional ballistic missile as a nuclear strike missile.  I’ll pause a moment, now, to allow some of you to finish wailing, gnashing your teeth, and wringing your hands in hysteria.  I can hear you saying we can’t use an IRBM – the Chinese would assume we were launching a nuclear attack and it would mean instant nuclear Armageddon.

Take a deep breath … 

OK, you did note the previous paragraph where we noted that the Chinese have already developed their own IRBMs and, apparently, have every intention of using them.  They, clearly, aren’t worried about us misinterpreting their usage so why should we worry about their reaction?  Well, some would answer that their missiles are incapable of reaching the US and so could not be a nuclear threat to us whereas ours could reach their soil and could constitute a nuclear threat.  Hogwash!  First, their missiles can reach US carriers which are sovereign US territory and they can reach bases such as Guam which, again, are US territories.  Second, if the Chinese are that concerned about nuclear misinterpretation, all they have to do is enter into an agreement with the US to ban IRBMs – clearly they have no concerns.  So, there is no problem with using IRBMs.

Moving on …

What platform would launch an IRBM?  Two candidates come to mind.  One is the submarine with it’s attendant benefits of survivability and stealth and the other is a surface ship with either the newer and larger Mk57 VLS (currently only installed on the Zumwalt, as I recall) or a new, purpose built launch system, presumably a VLS variant similar to an SSBN launch tube. 

The Mk57 VLS is a larger version of the venerable Mk41 and is intended to accommodate future, larger missiles.  The canister is around 23 ft long and 28 inches in diameter and can support around a 9000 pound load.  Whether this is sufficient to house an IRBM developed for the A2/AD scenario, I don’t know.  Remember, a 1000-2000 mile conventional IRBM is probably a significantly different beast from an ICBM.  Can we build one to fit existing VLS systems?  I don’t know.

Cost is an issue and I have no idea what the cost of a suitable tactical IRBM would be and, thus, what the cost-value relationship would be.

Numbers are also an issue and are closely related to cost.  Can we build enough missiles to be effective?  Presumably, these missiles would be tasked with destruction of fixed, high value targets.  How many such targets are there and how many missiles would be required for their destruction?  Again, I don’t know.

It would seem that IRBMs offer a partial solution to the A2/AD penetration requirement, at least in theory.  Whether we could build them in sufficient numbers and come up with a suitable launch system is an open question although nothing I’ve read suggests we couldn’t.  Certainly, the very characteristics of lethality and survivability that make defending against an IRBM such a headache for the Navy suggest that they would make an effective offensive weapon against an A2/AD zone.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A2/AD Combat

The May issue of Proceedings has an interesting article about using an Arsenal Ship as a means of breaching an A2/AD zone (1).  The author’s contention is that an Arsenal Ship represents a survivable concentration of firepower which is necessary to breach an A2/AD zone.  One of the author’s underlying premises is the need to,

“… provide a precise, persistent, and continuous volume of fire directed at the enemy’s command-and-control (C2), communications nodes, and long- and mid-range weapon systems.”

This is a reasonable requirement and ties in with other, related philosophies such as the best defense is a good offense (attack the launch sites and weapons rather than defend against the launched weapons), attack the supporting bases, etc.  The key in any of these related concepts is the need for very long range, survivable weapons or, conversely, the means to deliver shorter range weapons in a survivable manner.

Setting aside actual strategies and operational plans, let’s look a bit closer at the Navy’s ability to deliver weapons through or across a sizable A2/AD zone (a thousand miles or so).

Currently, the Tomahawk missile is the only Navy weapon with sufficient range for A2/AD penetration.

The Navy surface force has the ability to launch Tomahawk missiles with thousand mile range from surface ships.  Burke and Ticonderoga class vessels can carry around 100 vertical launch missiles (VLS cells).  That’s potentially a lot of strike power.  Given the Navy’s current practice of three Burke/Tico escorts per carrier strike group, that equates to 300 missiles.  However, the Navy’s top priority will always be defense of the carrier so the escort ships will be heavily weighted towards AAW missiles rather than strike.  For sake of discussion, let’s speculate that an escort ship would contain 80% AAW and 20% strike.  That means that the 300 missiles carried by the escorts would be 240 AAW and 60 strike.  While not an insignificant amount, 60 missiles from an entire carrier group is not much of an impact against the entire mainland “target” of an enemy with a sizable A2/AD zone (oh come on, we’re talking about China, right?).  Attacking China with 60 missiles won’t make much of a dent in their defenses.

Surface ship strikes are also problematic in that they carry a higher degree of risk to the launching vessel and the launch locations are reasonably predictable.

The subsurface force also has Tomahawk launch capability.  Virginia class SSNs carry 12 or 40 Tomahawk vertical launch missiles, depending on version.  In addition, the legacy SSGNs carry 154 Tomahawks and the later Los Angeles class SSNs carry 12.

Submarine launched missiles offer the greatest degree of stealth.  Subs are very difficult to detect even after having announced their presence via the “flaming data point” of launch.  Unless the sub launches in the close vicinity of ASW forces, by the time appropriate forces can arrive at the launch location the sub will be sufficiently far away to make detection an enormous challenge.  Of course, the first island chain geography dictates somewhat predictable points of entry into the area and offers the possibility of sub traps and enemy SOSUS-like detection arrays.  Still, subs are a very survivable means of delivering volumes of missiles.

The drawback to both surface and sub launched missiles is that, once expended, the ships must return to port to reload.  Thus, a sizable pulse of firepower could be generated but a high volume sustained attack scenario would be extremely challenging or impossible.

Of course, we fight jointly and the Air Force can offer long range, deep penetrating strike capabilities on a regular and frequent basis though at great risk and attrition will likely render such a contribution ineffective in fairly short order.  A force of 19 or 20 B-2 bombers simply cannot operate for long.  Combat attrition combined with simple mechanical failure would render the force too small to be operationally effective in a fairly short period.  The 100 B-1 bombers offer a more robust capability numerically but their ability to conduct and survive deep penetration A2/AD missions is questionable.

We see then that the Navy’s ability to apply large volume firepower across a sizable A2/AD zone is marginal.  This leads to several conclusions.  The most obvious conclusion is that the Navy needs more, and preferably longer ranged, missiles.  In addition, the Navy needs to examine its strategy and operational planning for A2/AD combat.  If we can’t effectively generate much more than a single pulse of firepower then we need to ensure that we have plans to take maximum advantage of that pulse.  Finally, we need to closely examine the potential for complementary actions between the Air Force and Navy.  We’ve covered this in previous posts.  It may be that the best use of the carrier strike group is to establish corridors of local aerial superiority for the Air Force bombers to use.  This, in turn, dictates the development of a certain type of naval fighter – one not exemplified by the F-35, unfortunately.

Returning to the article, the author advocates the development and use of the Arsenal Ship as a means of increasing the long range firepower of the Navy.  That's certainly an option and I leave it to the reader to check out the article and evaluate the author's proposal.

In summary, it is clear that we currently lack the required weapons and platforms to counter a sizable and effective A2/AD zone and operate within it.  The Navy needs to look much closer at how to attack an A2/AD zone, develop operational plans, acquire more and longer ranged weapons, and begin developing and training the required tactics (multi-carrier strike groups, for instance).

(1)USNI Proceedings, “Breaking the Anti-Access Wall”, Capt. Sam Tangredi, USN(Ret.), May 2015

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Overseas Homeporting

“Operate Forward” is one of the three tenets of CNO Greenert’s vision for the Navy.  As such, it is a vital aspect of Navy organization and forms a foundation for the fleet’s operation.

The benefits of forward operation (meaning, overseas homeporting) include greater presence, enhanced deterrence (related to greater presence), and faster crisis response.  These benefits seem logical and likely though difficult to quantify and prove.  In addition, the Navy also makes some dubious claims about increased operational availability and underway time. 

GAO, however, has examined overseas homeporting and found some problems (1).  They found that one of the major problem areas associated with overseas homeporting is maintenance.  Systemic fleetwide maintenance has been an on-going, major problem for some years and a constant subject of posts on this blog.  Navy leaders have publicly acknowledged maintenance problems, have conducted and published studies and reports documenting the problems (the famous Balisle report, for example), and have vowed to improve maintenance.  Sadly, maintenance has not improved and may be getting worse. 

Now, GAO has examined maintenance related to the practice of overseas homeporting and found disturbing, though not unexpected, developments.  Consider the following snippets from the GAO report.

“GAO found that casualty reports—incidents of degraded or out-of-service equipment—have doubled over the past 5 years and that the material condition of overseas-homeported ships has decreased slightly faster than that of U.S.- homeported ships …”

“GAO also found that the high pace of operations the Navy uses for overseas-homeported ships limits dedicated training and maintenance periods, which has resulted in difficulty keeping crews fully trained and ships maintained.”

“GAO found that some ships homeported overseas have had consistently deferred maintenance that has resulted in long-term degraded material condition and increased maintenance costs, and could shorten a ship’s service life.”

“Although the Navy’s decision process for moving individual ships overseas identifies actions and resources needed, it does not assess risks that such moves pose to costs, readiness, or expected service lives of ships that the Navy can expect based on its historical experience operating ships from overseas homeports.”

“Further, the Navy’s high pace of operations for its overseas-homeported ships impacts crew training and the material condition of these ships—overseas-homeported ships have had lower material condition since 2012 and experienced a worsening trend in overall ship readiness when compared to U.S.- homeported ships.”

“However, our analysis shows that the primary reason for the greater number of deployed underway days provided by overseas-homeported ships results from the Navy’s decision to truncate training and maintenance periods on these ships in order to maximize their operational availability.”

“Since the ships are in permanent deployment status during their time homeported overseas, they do not have designated ramp-up and ramp-down maintenance and training periods built into their operational schedules”

“…annual per ship operations and support costs for all ships homeported overseas are about 15 percent, or approximately $9 million, higher than for ships homeported in the United States …”

“We found that high operational tempo for ships homeported overseas limits crew training when compared to ships homeported in the United States. … As a result, these crews do not have all needed training and certifications. Over the course of this review, we found that between 9 percent and 17 percent of the warfare certifications for crews homeported in Japan had expired. Over three-quarters of the expired certifications in January 2015, including air warfare and electronic warfare, had been expired for 5 months or more.”

Thus, we see that the consequences of overseas homeporting include worsened and deferred maintenance, degraded material condition, reduced training, greater costs, and increased wear. 

Now, is overseas homeporting a bad thing, in and of itself?  No.  If implemented wisely, with sufficient maintenance and training and a recognition of the increased costs, there is nothing inherently wrong with overseas homeporting.  However, to simply move a ship overseas and then short its maintenance and training is idiotic and replete with easily forseeable consequences.

What do we learn from this other than the fact that the fleet continues to degrade?  Well, we learn that Navy leadership continues to make poor decisions whose consequences are easily foreseeable and preventable.  The consequences of reduced manning, deferred maintenance, and reduced training are easily forecast.  It is not a case of hindsight providing wisdom.  For example, anyone can correctly anticipate that reduced maintenance will result in degraded ships with shortened lifespans.  Despite the easily foreseen consequences, Navy leadership continues to make one bad decision after another.  This is bad enough but the Navy then goes to Congress and begs for new ships and aircraft after utterly failing to maintain the ones they have.  This is a lesson most of us learn at age 8 or so – take care of what you have before you ask for new things.

Navy leaders, almost by definition, can’t be mentally deficient (stupid) and yet they continue to make horrible decisions on a wide range of subjects.  The group leadership mental deficiency is truly baffling as is the absolute refusal to correct the problems in any meaningful way once highlighted.  Three hundred ships may sound good on paper (setting aside the new practice of counting non-combatant vessels!) but represent nothing but a hollow force unless cared for and properly trained.

(1)Government Accountability Office, “NAVY FORCE STRUCTURE: Sustainable Plan and Comprehensive Assessment Needed to Mitigate Long-Term Risks to Ships Assigned to Overseas Homeports”, GAO 15-329, May 2015