Friday, July 31, 2015

Bad to Worse?

It has been widely report that around 20% of Marine Corps aircraft are grounded awaiting maintenance.  What aircraft are these?  They’re mostly Hornets but also include Harriers, MV-22s, and helos.  In other words, they’re older, legacy aircraft.  Compared to modern F-22/35s, we could go so far as to say they’re simple and basic machines.  And yet, 20% are grounded awaiting maintenance.

OK, that’s not a good situation but what’s the point?

Consider that 20% figure and the “simpleness” of those aircraft and ask yourself what the maintenance situation will be like when the Marines convert to the F-35, a vastly, hugely, immensely, greatly, stupendously [alright, that’s enough adjectives to covey the meaning] more complex aircraft.  Do you think maintenance availabilities will increase?  Of course not!  If we can’t keep “simple” machines running, how will we keep profoundly more complex machines running?  The incredibly more complex F-35 will suffer even worse maintenance availability. 

Adoption of the F-35 by the Marines will exacerbate an already deplorable maintenance situation.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

F-35B Not As Ready As Reported?

The Marines are preparing to declare operation readiness for the F-35B.  Their confidence is buoyed by the testing in May of six aircraft aboard the Wasp.  Testing was roundly declared an unrivaled success.  Come to find out, though, that there were some problems.

A memo from Michael Gilmore, DOT&E, reported by Bloomberg, describes maintenance problems during the test period that reduced readiness rates to around 50% (1).  According to Gilmore,

“…aircraft reliability was poor enough that it was difficult for the Marines to keep more than two or three of the six embarked jets in a flyable status on any given day.”

This poor reliability occurred despite the maintenance crews having ready access to spare parts from shore (something that won’t happen on a deployment) and “significant assistance” from Lockheed and sub-contractor personnel.

So, under absolutely ideal conditions with all aircraft tweaked up for the test, access to spares beyond the norm, and with significant manufacturer assistance,  the F-35 still struggled to achieve 50% readiness. 

“Six F-35Bs, … were available for flights only half of the time …”

And the Marines are going to declare the F-35 operational?

(1), “Lockheed F-35’s Reliability Found Wanting in Shipboard Testing”, Anthony Capaccio, July 28, 2015 

DDG 105 Overhaul Cost

BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair, San Diego, California, has received an $11M contract for the 2015 selected restricted availability (SRA) for USS Dewey (DDG 105).  As stated in the official announcement, the SRA contract includes the planning and execution of depot-level maintenance, alterations, and modifications that will update and improve the ship's military and technical capabilities.  The SRA will take place in San Diego and is expected to be completed by January 2016. 

In addition, BAE has received a $13.7M contract for the drydocking SRA of USS O'Kane (DDG 77).  A drydock SRA also includes maintenance of the hull not normally accessible.

ComNavOps has always wondered what the periodic maintenance and overhauls cost.  These give us a couple of datapoints.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Evolving Threat

It’s occasionally instructive to look at the nature of the threats the Navy faces and how they have evolved over time.

During the Cold War, the threats were fairly well defined.  The Navy faced primarily a submarine threat augmented by a reasonably robust aviation based cruise missile threat.  Soviet subs were numerous, seemingly everywhere, lethal, and rapidly improving in performance and quieting.  In response, the Navy developed and refined ASW tactics and practiced them in the real world on a continuous basis.  Likewise, the Soviet long range bombers (Tu-XX) carrying cruise missiles constituted a serious if somewhat intermittent threat.  In response, the Navy developed Aegis, Tomcats, and a variety of AAW tactics to deal with the threat.  Again, the Navy practiced those countermeasures in the real world and on a continuous basis.

Well, the Soviet Union is gone (notwithstanding Putin’s efforts to resurrect it) so how have the threats evolved?  Here are the main threats from each of the likely enemy countries.

China – Mines constitute the main threat to the Navy.  China is believed to have hundreds of thousands of mines and the regional geography lends itself to numerous chokepoints, ideal for the employment of mines.  Combined with the Navy’s near absence of effective MCM, mines are clearly the major threat to Navy operations in the A2/AD zone. 

A secondary threat is anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles.  China’s missiles are lethal although their effectiveness is compromised by a lack of long range targeting capability.  The media-famous DF-21 ballistic missile, the “carrier killer”, is the prime example of this.  It is a missile that, on paper, is quite lethal but, in reality, is quite limited by an inability to provide effective targeting.

A lesser but growing threat is China’s submarines.  While currently few in number and questionable in effectiveness, the submarine fleet is growing rapidly and the quality is improving steadily.

Iran – The restricted waters around Iran make mines the biggest threat to the Navy.  A secondary threat is land launched anti-ship cruise missiles.  The small craft swarm threat is only a threat prior to the outbreak of all-out hostilities.  After that, US aircraft can quickly deal with small craft.

North Korea – NK has nothing that constitutes a realistic and effective threat to the Navy.  Yes, they have a few small and mini-subs but while those might threaten an individual ship, they do not threaten the Navy as an operating force.  Mines could be a threat but it is unlikely that the Navy would seek to operate in any area suitable for mining (meaning that amphibious assaults into NK would be unlikely).

Russia – The main threat to the Navy is aviation.  Russia has large numbers of capable, modern aircraft of all types.  Mitigating this threat is the fact that AAW is the Navy’s strength. 

The Russian submarine threat is real but the available numbers are insufficient to constitute a major threat although this may change if Russia continues to rebuild its sub fleet.

What do we learn from this?

We see that mines are, far and away, the most serious threat the Navy faces.  With this realization, it is inexplicable that the Navy has allowed their MCM capability to atrophy almost to the point of non-existence and certainly to the point of near total ineffectiveness.  Consider that if an enemy such as China or Russia were to lay even a token amount of mines in a couple of US harbors, the Navy would have insufficient MCM resources to clear and maintain the homeland harbors while simultaneously clearing tens of thousands of mines from overseas operational areas.

We also see that since the Cold War ended we have seen a shift away from constant, real world practice of tactics to today’s situation where realistic tactics are only occasionally exercised.  We have lost our tactical proficiency through lack of practice.  Contrast the Cold War era Spruances that conducted actual ASW tactics against Soviet subs on a daily basis versus today’s Burkes that conduct a scripted ASW exercise once a year, if that.  It’s no wonder that the Spruances were the most effective ASW vessel the Navy ever had.  Of course, the same applies to the Los Angeles class ASW effectiveness versus today’s Virginias.

Recognizing the threats, what is the Navy focused on?  Presumably, it would be MCM.  Instead, it is AAW (Aegis) and ballistic missile defense (BMD).  While there is certainly a need for AAW, the almost total focus on AAW to the exclusion of MCM and ASW is, frankly, baffling.  Further, BMD, today’s pet focus of the Navy, is arguably not even most effectively performed by ships and, if it is, may well be better performed by a dedicated BMD vessel or a combination of a dedicated radar and fire control vessel that simiply uses Burkes as shooters.

Thus, the Navy’s developmental and tactical path seems not to be in sync with the threats we face.  We need to stop our haphazard procurement programs and PR type training exercises and start getting serious about growing to the actual threats.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Aegis Overhaul

Here’s an interesting tidbit about Aegis cruiser maintenance and upgrades.

BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair, Norfolk, Virginia, is being awarded a $38.6M modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-11-C-4403) for USS Leyte Gulf (CG-55) fiscal 2015 extended docking selected restricted availability (ED-SRA).  Work is expected to be completed by February 2016.

Remember that the Navy told us it would take 4 years to modernize an Aegis cruiser which is why they had to take 11 cruisers out of service?  Well, here’s a significant maintenance and upgrade for an Aegis cruiser that is only going to cost $38.6M and be completed in less than seven months (it doesn’t say when the start date is).

To be fair, I don’t know what the complete scope of work is for either this availability or the Navy’s proposed four year modernization.

The other interesting aspect to this is that we often discuss modernization upgrades as a possible alternative to new construction.  For example, what if the Perry’s had been upgraded instead of retired in favor of new LCSs?  During these discussions, people often fling costs around with little or no supporting data – the costs, predictably, being either outrageously high or low as needed to support the position being argued. 

I’d like to gather some supporting costs for those types of discussions.  Of course, an Aegis cruiser ED-SRA is not an exact match for anything other than what it is.  It is not, to use the previous example, an exact match for, and estimate of, the cost to modernize a Perry.  Still, this is a pretty extensive piece of work on a pretty sophisticated ship and should, therefore, offer some insight into modernization costs.  The next time someone argues for modernization and claims a cost of $10M, I’ll have data that suggests that’s not a realistic figure.  Similarly, the next time someone argues against modernization and claims a cost of $750M, I’ll have data that suggests that’s not a realistic figure.

I’ll gather a few of these data points over time and across a range of upgrades and maintenance and see what kind of cost numbers are realistic.  I’ll share them with you as I come across them.

Friday, July 24, 2015


In the discussion comments about restarting the F-22 production line, a comment was made that the F-22 and F-18 aren’t STOVL (Short TakeOff Vertical Landing).  This comment prompted me to think - is there really any value to STOVL for the USN? 

Before I go any further, let me be quite clear and upfront about why I’m writing this post.  I am absolutely not using this as an opportunity to embarrass the person who wrote the comment.  Just the opposite, in fact.  The comment inspired me to continue the discussion and for that I sincerely thank the writer.  So, moving on.

Once upon a time we dreamed of hordes of jump jets operating from patches of jungle, rising up from nowhere, striking, and vanishing again with the enemy left helplessly trying to track down individual, well hidden mini-bases.  A nice idea, huh?  Well, reality has long proven that the dream is just that - a dream.  The logistics of supplying dozens of remote bases with fuel, munitions, and parts renders the concept void.  Further, modern stealth jets, the F-35B, in this case, require exquisite and extensive maintenance – hardly an enabler of remote bases.

The concept has never been used and as modern aircraft become ever more complex, the likelihood of it ever happening is as close to zero as can be.

That leaves operating from LHx amphibious vessels.  Now this is the real question: does the ability to operate a dozen STOVL aircraft really gain us enough to justify the impact on the LHx's main function which is delivery of fully equipped troops ashore? 

Given the significantly reduced size of current air wings, couldn’t we base the dozen extra F-35s on one of the carriers?  There will always be one or more around if we’re conducting amphibious operations.  Operating from a carrier will free up spots on the LHx for transport helos/V-22s and eliminate an entire maintenance line.  The carrier will already operate and maintain F-35s so, again, it makes sense to base the F-35Bs on the carrier.

Of course, this immediately leads to the next logical question:  why do we even need the F-35B if we’re going to base them on a carrier?  They have less range and less payload.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to simply have more F-35Cs?

OK, that covers the USN’s needs.  What about our allies?  Well, they have small carriers or limited carriers (like the Royal Navy) and may well have to operate a STOVL aircraft.  Honestly, I’m not familiar enough with foreign navies to understand their situations with certainty.  Still, are the needs of our allies enough to justify the abomination of a program that F-35 has become – and the F-35B is one of the major contributors to the disaster? 

What are we talking about for total F-35B sales?  A couple hundred?  Is that sufficient justification?  If it is, let the STOVL aircraft be a dedicated program with our allies paying the full cost.  I suspect we’d find that STOVL wasn’t all that important to them.

Recognize that I’m not trashing our allies.  They’re quite logically jumping on board to gain what benefit they can.  However, both the US and our allies need to recognize what the F-35 is doing to their budgets and their force structure.  The countries that want the F-35 will be forced to sacrifice major assets to free up enough money to get the aircraft or they will have to cut the buys to the point where, again, you have to ask what the value is.

The F-35, in general, and the F-35B, in particular, have wrecked the US Marine Corps force structure and many of our allies budgets and force structures, all in the name of a STOVL capability that is of very limited value.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Lockheed Martin Corp., Akron, Ohio, has received a contract for $7.6M for the repair and refurbishment of 11 vertical launch anti-submarine rocket motors (VL-ASROC). 

Wow!  That’s a lot of money for simple repair and refurbishment of rocket motors. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

F-22 Production Line Restart Costs

How often have we had discussions about various aircraft (and occasionally ships) that involved the question of reopening production lines?  Invariably, someone makes the claim that reopening a production line would be more expensive than a new design.  That’s ridiculous for a variety of reasons but no one has actual data or facts to prove or disprove the contention.  One common proposal and point of debate is the F-22.  Given the cost and questionable performance and usefulness of the F-35, it has been proposed that we simply reopen the F-22 production line.  Along the same line, people have proposed a navalized F-22 but the idea gets shot down by the contention that reopening the line would be cost prohibitive. 

ComNavOps hates debating points that have no supporting data.  Well, I stumbled across a data point for the F-22 production line courtesy of a Reuter’s article (1).

“… the Air Force has taken steps that leave open an option to restart the premier plane's production relatively cheaply.”

“The Air Force is preserving the hardware used to build the jet, not scrapping it … “

“A total of more than 30,000 jigs, fixtures and other "tooling" used to build the plane are being logged into a database and tucked into containers, some custom built, for long-term storage at Sierra Army Depot, Herlong, California.”

“Lockheed is under Air Force contract also to preserve the shop-floor know-how used to manufacture the fighter. It is accomplishing this through a video library of "smart books," DVDs designed to capture such things as how to hold a tool for best results.”

Now, here’s the ultimate point.

“Bringing back the F-22 line would take less than $200 million, "a fraction of the costs seen in previous line restarts of other weapons systems," Alison Orne, a Lockheed spokeswoman, said by email, citing preliminary analysis.”

So, for the cost of a one or two aircraft, the F-22 production line could be reopened.  That should answer a lot of questions.  Even if the aircraft were altered, say for a navalized version, the vast majority of tooling would still be applicable and available.

No matter what you do to the restart cost estimate (double it, triple it, whatever), it remains a cheap option.

As an interesting and related side note, the article mentions a few other production lines that have been reopened but does not offer any costs.

“Arms production lines have shut in the past only to be brought back, including aircraft such as the submarine-hunting P-3, U-2 spy plane and B-1A bomber resurrected as the B-1B.”

Of course, this represents the best case scenario where the production tooling is carefully preserved along with the production knowledge.  This doesn’t apply to most other programs although companies generally do crate and retain tooling against future need.  So, reopening the Perry FFG production line, for example, might cost significantly more but probably less than the cost of a single ship (there I go, offering an opinion with no supporting data – I hate that!).

The point is that options involving restarting F-22 production are viable and financially attractive.  So, go ahead and offer up your favorite F-22 restart scenario and know that it is feasible.

(1)Reuters, “U.S. to mothball gear to build top F-22 fighter”, Jim Wolf, 12-Dec-2011,

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chain Gun Research

Alliant Techsystems Operations LLC, Plymouth, Minnesota, has received a contract for $12M to lease a test vehicle to the Navy for chain gun prototype development.  The work will include prototype fabrication, pre-production, integration, testing, evaluation and development of chain gun weapon systems hardware, associated gun control system software and ammunition.  The work will be performed in Mesa, Arizona, and is expected to be completed by July 2020. 

That’s interesting.  I wonder what the Navy is doing with chain guns?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Hornets Deleted?

Here’s a fascinating little tidbit that almost escaped me.  The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) is asking Congress to remove the 12 extra F/A-18E/Fs that were included in the defense authorization budget bill.  You may or may not know that the Navy included 12 extra Hornets on their unfunded requirements list which is a list submitted to Congress containing “wish list” items if Congress feels so inclined as to provide extra funding.  Essentially, it’s a priority list for unanticipated, extra funding.  Guess what?  To everyone’s surprise, Congress actually funded the extra Hornets and now OSD is trying to remove them from the budget.

So, what do we make of this?  The Navy has extra Hornets on their unfunded requirements list, Congress funds them, and now OSD is asking Congress to delete them.  ComNavOps can see only one explanation.

Someone is nervous about the viability of the F-35 and wants to ensure that there are no viable competitors in the form of the Hornet and that no one gets the bright idea to keep the Hornet production line going.  An active Hornet production line represents a viable alternative to the F-35 and people higher than the Navy don’t want that.  Add in the possibility of the Advanced Super Hornet with some of the F-35’s technology and you’ve got a seriously viable alternative.  It’s easy to see why that would make F-35 program managers nervous.

The Navy tells Congress what it needs.  Congress funds the need.  OSD attempts to prevent that.  That’s a seriously screwed up system.  Is there any further doubt about who’s calling the shots in the military?  I’m looking at you, Lockheed.

The request from OSD to Congress states that,

“…the additional 12 F/A-18E/F aircraft unfunded requirement is not required.”

Well, they’re not needed by Lockheed Martin, that’s for sure!  However, the Navy seems to think they’re needed.  I guess we see who’s running the Department of Lockheed Martin Defense.

(1)USNI, “Pentagon Asks Congress to Reverse Decision to Add 12 Super Hornets for Navy”, Megan Eckstein, July 17, 2015,

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Offensive Mine Warfare

What has been the most effective naval weapon since WWII?  I think you all know it’s the mine.  I won’t even bother to list the statistics concerning damage done to the US Navy by mines.  You either know them in a general sense or can readily find them on the Internet.  With the demonstrated combat and cost effectiveness – mines are among the cheapest weapons available – you’d think navies would be heavily focused on the offensive use of mines.  Indeed, most countries are except for the US.  Now that’s a head scratcher.  The US would, apparently, prefer to spend billions on questionable ships and aircraft rather than spend thousands on proven and highly effective mines.

Let’s look closer at the Navy’s state of offensive mine warfare (MIW).

According to the Navy document, “21st Century U.S. Navy Mine Warfare” (2009), the only active mines in the Navy inventory as of 2009 were the Mk62 (500 lb bomb), Mk63 (1000 lb bomb), and the Mk65 Quickstrikes.  The Navy website lists the Mk62/3/5 and SLMM as the active mines in the Navy’s inventory as of Dec 2014 with the SLMM having been reactivated. 

Here’s a quick review of our offensive mines.

Mk60 CAPTOR (Encapsulated Torpedo), ship/aircraft/sub laid, bottom, acoustic – Phased Out

Mk62 Quickstrike, aircraft laid, bottom, magnetic/seismic/pressure, converted 500 lb general purpose bomb;  highly inaccurate for laying out a precision minefield

Mk63 Quickstrike, aircraft laid, bottom, magnetic/seismic/pressure, converted 1000 lb general purpose bomb;  highly inaccurate for laying out a precision minefield

Mk65 Quickstrike, aircraft laid, bottom, magnetic/seismic/pressure;  dedicated 2300 lb version

Mk67 SLMM (Submarine Launched Mobile Mine), submarine laid, shallow, magnetic/seismic/pressure, converted Mk37 torpedo

Improved SLMM – proposed program to replace the Mk65 SLMM with a conversion of the Mk48 torpedo – Cancelled (4)

We see, then, that our mine inventory is antiquated and ad hoc in nature with adapted general purpose aerial bombs being our main mine weapons.  Why is this?  Surely the Navy must be more focused on MIW than I’m suggesting, here?

Well, aside from the pretty damning evidence of our obsolete inventory, consider that the “21st Century U.S. Navy Mine Warfare” document has approximately one page of the 31 page document devoted to offensive mine warfare.  The remainder is dedicated to mine countermeasures (MCM).  For some reason, the Navy considers MCM to be far more valuable than MIW.

Here’s an example that further illustrates the near total lack of MIW emphasis.  An official Navy news release dated Oct 2013 described an SLMM exercise that involved the training, certification, and launch of an SLMM (inert) by a Los Angeles class submarine (1).  The implication in this is a bit disconcerting as it implies that submarines are not routinely trained and certified for offensive mine operations.

On the plus side, work is underway to convert or modify the SLMM to be deliverable by Large Diameter Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (LDUUV) as documented in a Navy presentation (2).  Again, the lack of emphasis on MIW is evidenced by the single slide addressing the subject out of seven.

The LDUUV delivery is, apparently, part of a developmental effort by the Navy to construct an Advanced Undersea Weapon System (AUWS) which is envisioned to be a networked system with nearly unlimited options and power.

“The Advanced Undersea Weapon System (AUWS) is a group of unmanned systems (sensors, effectors, communications, and vehicles) that can be pre-positioned to autonomously and persistently influence the adversary at a time and place of our choosing. … The AUWS will give commanders the ability to deploy sensors and weapon nodes as a minefield while maintaining the capability to remotely activate and deactivate the weapons. …

This concept provides asymmetric clandestine solutions that will free traditional platforms to be more effectively employed in a capacity for which they were designed. The AUWS provides commanders with unique operational and tactical options in contested waters without regard to air superiority or water depth, freeing them to act aggressively with autonomous inexpensive tools. Its modular design will allow operators to integrate a wide variety of sensors and weapons, thus tailoring the system for specific missions. Sensors of choice may include short-, mid-, and long-range devices. Kinetic options include submarine-launched mobile mine (SLMM) warheads, torpedoes (CRAW or Mk-54), AIM-9X missile, and projectile explosives. Commanders may also apply deliveries to distort an adversary’s tactical picture through deception (decoys, noisemakers, etc.), ISR packages, and real-time intelligence. The AUWS may be delivered from surface ships, submarines, or aircraft, or it may self-deploy from a friendly port within range. Unmanned vehicles to transport AUWS deliveries may be reusable or expendable.”

Wow!  Who wouldn’t want that kind of do-anything capability using any kind of sensor or weapon deployed by any kind of platform?  Unfortunately, this sounds exactly like the LCS in its original description.  Remember the enthusiastic, near-raving descriptions of the LCS as a network node in a vast battle management system that would revolutionize warfare?  Yeah …  How’d that work out?

There’s nothing wrong with shooting for the moon with respect to technology as long it’s kept to a minimally funded research project.  However, if this is another example of the Navy betting the farm on a fantasy dream that can never happen, we’ll never get anywhere with MIW.  You’ll recall that the Navy bet the MCM farm on the LCS?  Here we are years later and we still do not even have a base level of deployable MCM capability by the LCS while we struggle to keep neglected Avenger class MCM vessels afloat.

According to Second Line of Defense website, even the SLMM was scheduled to be deactivated but was rescued by CNO Greenert (4).

Further evidence of the lack of MIW focus is that the military’s mine deployment capability is severely limited.  The Navy currently has no surface mine laying capability (4).  The only significant mine laying capability resides with the Air Force in the form of B-1 and B-52 bombers.  The B-2 has the capability but does not train for the mission (4).  The B-52 can carry 10-45 Quickstrike mines depending on the base bomb size while the B-1 can carry 8-84.

“A handful of obsolescent SLMMs––with perhaps less than optimum reliability, accuracy, and standoff characteristics––constitute the Navy’s only clandestine mining capability. The air-launched Quickstrikes have less-than-optimal accuracy and are best deployed in less-than-contested environments.”

Thus, the Navy has almost no submarine mine laying capability.

The Navy supposedly conducted an Analysis of Alternatives in 2012 to address MIW, however, that report, if completed, has never been released.

Another small plus is that a Quickstrike wing package has been developed to allow standoff delivery of mines by allowing the bomb/mines to glide for some distance.  A Sep 2014 test involving a B-52H demonstrated a Mk62 mine release with a 40 mile standoff deployment (4).  Presumably, heavier Mk63/4/5 versions would have progressively smaller standoff ranges.  However, given today’s thousand mile A2/AD zones, long range SAMs, and high speed, stealthy fighter aircraft, a standoff range of 40 miles for delivering mines is still way to close to expect the mine laying bombers to survive the attempt.

The only clandestine mine laying capability lies with the submarine launched SLMM, however, the SLMM is based on an obsolete torpedo that is no longer in production.  Further, there are doubts about the functionality of the SLMM due to the age of the Mk37 torpedo that constitutes its base (4).

Who’s responsible for this lack of focus on MIW?  Well, aside from CNO Greenert, it would be the Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command (NMAWC) which has responsibility for the Navy’s mine warfare (MIW) function.

Just as the Navy has, for decades, focused on defense (Aegis, bigger Standard Missiles, BMD) to the detriment of offensive strike and only lately begun to re-emphasize offensive missiles, so too has the Navy focused on the defensive aspect of mine warfare, MCM, to the detriment of offensive mining operations, MIW.  We look at the A2/AD challenge and bemoan the difficulty in combating Chinese activities inside that zone while ignoring the, arguably, most effective weapon we could deploy.  Imagine the havoc caused by minefields laid in Chinese harbors and naval bases as well as around key transit and chokepoints.  We’re focused on billion dollar technologies when simple, basic mines costing mere thousands could offer an enormous “bang” for the buck.

(1)ComSubPac Public Affairs Office,, Oct 2013

(2)Navy OpNav N95 Update, Mine Warfare Association Government-Industry Day slide presentation,

(3)USNI Proceedings, “Mine and Undersea Warfare for the Future”, Edwards & Gallagher, Aug 2014,

(4)Second Line of Defense, “Closing the US Navy’s Mine Warfare Gap”, Scott Truver, 20-Jun-2015

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Prepositioning Maintenance

As announced by the Department of Defense, Crowley Technical Management Inc., Jacksonville, Florida, has received a $43M contract for operation and maintenance of six government-owned Marine Prepositioning Force (MPF) ships. These ships make up part of the Military Sealift Command worldwide prepositioning fleet. The contract includes four one-year options, which, if exercised, would bring the total value of this contract to $232M. Work will be performed at sea and is expected to be completed September 2016. If all options are exercised, work will continue through September 2020.

There is no particular point to this post other than to note the cost of simple maintenance of the MPF vessels - $7M+ per ship per year.  That seems like a lot of maintenance for vessels that don’t really operate much.  I wonder what all is done that costs that amount of money?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

D-Day Conclusions and Lessons

This is a wrap up of the previous posts based on the book, D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climatic Batle of World War II, by Stephen Ambrose. 

Here are some overall conclusions and lessons from the D-Day assault.  Note that these are my own interpretations of the book’s lessons.  The author did not present an itemized list, as such.  Also, these are not meant to be all-encompassing.  These are just some of the lessons emphasized by the readings in the book.


·        Almost nothing went right.
·        Naval gunfire from destroyers was instrumental in aiding initial infantry progress.
·        Numbers were our biggest advantage and, ultimately, ensured success.
·        The Germans failed to pick the right defensive strategy.
·        The Germans failed to pick a single defensive strategy and wound up distributing their assets among multiple commanders with multiple strategies for defense, thus diluting their capabilities.
·        Mines were devastating.
·        Airborne assault troops were effective only by staying within physical proximity of the main assault force, thereby able to link up within 24 hours, and accomplished their missions, to the degree they did, through sheer, overwhelming numbers.
·        The US lack of specialized engineering vehicles proved costly.
·        The lack of tanks in the initial assault waves proved costly.

Unsurprisingly, the conclusions and lessons mirror each other.


·        Mines are a devastatingly effective weapon against an amphibious assault.  We need to vastly increase our MCM capability and our offensive mine warfare (mine laying) capability.
·        Naval gunfire is mandatory.  Naval guns will be the only source of high explosive available during initial phases of an assault.  The Navy’s doctrine of standing off 25-50 miles, out of range of the few 5” guns we have, is unsatisfactory and will leave the Marines without support.
·        Numbers matter and are the most important factor in the success of an assault. 
·        Everything will go wrong.  Our arrogance regarding our faith in complex networks of data, communications, shared sensors, GPS, etc. is breathtaking.  None of those will work and we need to train for loss of the electromagnetic spectrum and we need to develop many more old-fashioned weapons that work without external input and communications.
·        Inland airborne assault forces are unsustainable beyond 24 hours and will become combat ineffective after that period if not relieved.
·        We will need orders of magnitude more supplies and equipment than are currently allocated for an assault

The overwhelming conclusion from an examination of D-Day is that the US military is totally incapable of conducting an assault anywhere near this scale today.  That’s not necessarily surprising or even disappointing – it took the Allies a couple of years to build up the strength to conduct the assault.  What is disappointing is that we have lost the ability to conduct even a small scale assault against a peer defender. 

Consider just the mine aspect of an assault.  The Allies used hundreds of minesweepers for one operation.  The Navy has 11 minesweepers and some helos available today.  A relative handful of mines can absolutely paralyze and negate our assault options.

Reading the book conveys a stunning appreciation for the tonnage of supplies and equipment that were thrown at the assault.  Tons were destroyed before they could get a hundred feet beyond the shore and yet untold tons more kept coming.  Today, we have an utterly unrealistic view about the amount of weapons and supplies needed to conduct high end combat.  We have neither the tonnage of supplies nor the means to transport them to support and sustain even a minor assault involving high end combat.

D-Day saw the use of over 5,000 vessels including over 1,000 warships.  Today, the entire Navy consists of only 280 ships.  The Navy has nowhere near the numbers or types (LCT, LST, LSM, LCVP, MCM, etc.) of ships to support an assault.

While the technology has changed, the lessons involving amphibious assault have not.  We’ve lost the institutional memory of those lessons but that does not mean that the lessons do not still apply.  They do and we will relearn those lessons when the time comes and will pay in blood to do so.

(4)Second Line of Defense, “Closing the US Navy’s Mine Warfare Gap”, Scott Truver, 20-Jun-2015

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

F-35 Magic Helmet

Defense Industry Daily website reports that Lockheed Martin received a $101.3M contract for production of 383 F-35 magic helmets (1).  That’s $256,000 per helmet.  It’s not clear from the contract announcement whether that is the total cost for the helmets or an incremental modification (2).  Previous estimates had put the helmet cost at $400,000 each.

Regardless, pilots, do not misplace your helmet!

The helmet, you’ll recall, is supposed to provide the magic that fuses all the F-35’s sensor data and allows the pilot to have 360 degree vision.  Of course, the helmet has been under development for a couple of decades and still has problems.  Hey, what do you want for a few hundred thousand dollars each?

Monday, July 13, 2015

D-Day, Part 3

This is a continuation of the previous D-Day lessons post based on the book, D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climatic Batle of World War II, by Stephen Ambrose. 

Here are some more tidbits from the book that offer lessons relevant to today’s amphibious assault concerns.

Communications were a key target.

“Communications was a factor in the German failure.  The American paratroopers had been told that if they could not do anything else, they could at least cut communication lines.  The Germans in Normandy had been using secure telephone and cable lines for years and consequently had become complacent about their system.”

Does this sound familiar?  The Navy has become complacent about its electromagnetic emissions, communications, GPS, etc.  We assume that everything will work just as well in combat as it does in peacetime and against third world countries or terrorists.  Unfortunately, the reality is that combat against a peer or near-peer will see the entire electromagnetic spectrum contested and our communications, data transfers, networks, etc. will be severely compromised.  We must begin designing equipment and training for degraded electromagnetic enviroments.

Allied airpower was counted on to deliver vast quantities of explosives, destroy many targets, and otherwise prepare the battlefield for the infantry.  In the event, little of this happened.  Weather and a fear of dropping on friendly forces resulted in the aerial bombardment being almost totally wasted with the bomb loads landing far from their intended targets.

“For the B-17 crews, flying mainly at 20,000 feet, … such bombing was clearly inappropriate to its purpose. … Eisenhower learned the lesson that the B-17 was not a suitable weapon for tactical ground support.”

This discussion continues today with advocates of bombers claiming their ability to provide precise close air support.  Certainly, the advent of laser guidance offers the possibility, under the right circumstances, of providing a limited and haphazard degree of support.  However, in an assault, there will be no one to provide the laser spotting.  The troops will not be calm, cool, well equipped, well trained, and ready with all necessary gear for precise direction of air support.  Instead, they will be panicked, disorganized, and lucky to have hung on to their rifles.  B-1/2/52 bombers will be of no use trying to provide direct, close support.

The effectiveness of naval gunfire was discussed.

“From the point of view of the soldiers going ashore, the great naval bombardment was as ineffective as the great air bombardment.  According to Admiral Morison, the reason was ‘not enough time was allowed,’ and the fault was the Army’s, not the Navy’s, because the Army did not wish the bombardment to start before daylight.”

So, dozens of battleships and cruisers, all with their big guns, failed to provide the necessary degree of destruction due, in part, to a lack of time and also to the physical strength of the German emplacements, many of which shrugged off major caliber hits.  What does this tell us, today?  It tells us that our non-existent naval gunfire and meager airpower will not significantly degrade an enemy’s defenses.  We need to drastically rethink our view of the delivery of large quantities of high explosives, in general, and naval gun support, in particular.  A handful of Tomahawk missiles will not suffice.

The failure of plans in the face of enemy contact was a notable feature of D-Day.  No operation before or, arguably, since, had been so carefully and meticulously planned, trained, and rehearsed as the D-Day assault.  Every minute aspect was accounted for several times over.  Unfortunately, the plan completely fell apart even before the first soldier landed.  The simplest and most fundamental aspect of the plan was to simply “drive” the troops straight ashore to their designated landing spots.  However, as demonstrated at Omaha beach,

“With the exception of Company A 116th, no unit landed where it was supposed to.”

Weather, tides, German defensive barriers, sand bars, defensive fire, and general confusion combined to scatter the troops widely.  Units were intermingled and too far away from their specific objectives to act effectively.  If the simple act of landing can’t be counted on to happen as planned, what can?  The answer is nothing.  If anything does go right, we should consider it a blessing but not something we can count on.  Our modern tendency to allocate just the bare minimum assets to an objective with the assumption that all will go reasonably well is a recipe for disaster. 

The actions of naval destroyers was noteworthy.  Often in defiance of orders and doctrine, they moved right up to the beach and engaged in duels with German emplacements to good effect.  Lt. Joe Smith, Navy beachmaster, said,

“… the destroyers come right into the beach firing into the cliff.  You could see the trenches, guns, and men blowing up where they would hit.  They aimed right below the edge of the cliffs where the trenches were dug in.  There is no question in my mind that the few Navy destroyers that we had there saved the invasion.”

Contrast this use of destroyers with the Navy’s current doctrine of standing 25-50 miles off shore.  The infantry will be left without any heavy gun support (to the extent that a 5” gun can be considered heavy) during the critical initial phase of an assault.

We see, then, that the historical example of D-Day offers many lessons that are still relevant today.  Yes, technology may have altered a few of the lessons but the alterations are more a matter of degree than obsolescence. 

I’ll post a concluding piece on this book, shortly.  D-Day and its lessons are too important to leave in the dustbin of history.

Friday, July 10, 2015

D-Day, Part 2

This is a continuation of the previous D-Day lessons post based on the book, D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climatic Batle of World War II, by Stephen Ambrose. 

Here are some more tidbits from the book that offer lessons relevant to today’s amphibious assault concerns.

Rommel had an interesting view of the decisive moment to defeat an amphibious assault and how to accomplish it.

“Drawing on his experience in North Africa, Rommel told his chief engineer officer, Gen. Wilhelm Meise, that Allied control of the air would prevent the movement of German reinforcements to the battle area, so ‘Our only possible chance will be at the beaches – that’s where the enemy is always weakest.’  As a start on building a genuine Atlantic Wall, he said, ‘I want antipersonnel mines, antitank mines, antiparatroops mines.  I want mines to sink ships, and mines to sink landing craft.  I want some minefields designed to that our infantry can cross them, but no enemy tanks.  I want mines that detonate when a wire is tripped;  mines that explode when a wire is cut;  mines that can be remote controlled, and mines that will blow up when a beam of light is interrupted.”

Rommel’s focus was clearly on mines.  Even today, mines remain, arguably, the most potent, affordable, anti-assault weapon available.  Despite this, the USN has allowed its mine countermeasure (MCM) assets to dwindle to a nearly non-existent state.  The Navy has, currently, only 11 Avenger class MCM vessels and some helo squadrons to counter countries that are believed to have hundreds of thousands of mines available for use.

Consider the Navy’s current MCM resources versus those the Allies used to accomplish the D-Day assault.

“The first to move out were the minesweepers.  Their job was to sweep up along the English coast in case the Luftwaffe and E-boats had dropped mines in the area, then proceed to clear five channels for the separate assault forces (O, U, G, J, and S), marking them with lighted dan buoys spaced at one-mile intervals along the 400-meter-wide channels, and finally clear the area in which the transports would anchor off the beaches.  There were 245 vessels involved in this mammoth sweeping job.”

The D-Day assault used 245 vessels for just the minesweeping portion of the operation.  The Navy has 11 Avenger MCM vessels and some helos.  Does anyone see any hope of conducting an opposed assault by a country with thousands of deployed mines?  Also, note that the D-Day minesweeping operation had to be completed in just a few hours in order to get the troops ashore before the element of surprise was lost.  Contrast that to the current LCS minesweeping effort which clears mines at the rate of about one mine per hour per LCS.  Do the math.  We have absolutely no hope of executing effective minesweeping operations in a relevant time frame today.

One of the interesting aspects of the D-Day assault was the debate concerning the use of airborne troops (paratroops).  Eisenhower’s view on airborne troops was,

“… an airborne force well inland would not be self-contained, would lack mobility, and would therefore be destroyed.  The Germans had shown time and again, in the war that they did not fear a ‘strategic threat of envelopment.’  Using the road nets of Western Europe, they could concentrate immense firepower against an isolated garrison and defeat it in detail.  …  An inland airborne force, cut off from all supply except what could be brought in by air, without tanks or trucks, immobile and inadequately armed, would be annihilated.”

Again, this a warning to the modern strategist/tactician that airborne assaults such as the Marine Corps is now proposing are a very risky proposition and suited only for very short, very low end combat operations.  The Marines need to carefully re-examine their desire for aviation based assaults.

The role of naval gunfire was recognized by the German defenders.  Responding to Rommels desire to entrench the Panzer divisions on the coast rather than use them for mobile and powerful counterattack forces, Gen. Heinz Guderian, Hitler’s panzer expert, had this to say to Rommel.

“He advised Rommel to pull the tanks back out of range of Allied naval guns.  He insisted that the lesson from the Sicily and Salerno landings was crystal clear – the Germans could not fight a decisive battle while they were under those naval guns.  Guderian knew that an amphibious force is not at its most vulnerable when it is half ashore, half at sea.  It is at its most powerful at that time, thanks to those big naval guns.”

Thus, we see the power of naval gunfire in the minds of the German defenders (at least some of them!).  While this lesson would and should apply today, the sad reality is that the Navy has NO naval gunfire capability.  Even the paltry 5” guns on Burkes are useless in an amphibious assault scenario since doctrine has the ships standing 25-50 miles out to sea, beyond the range of the guns! 

British Gen. Montgomery summed up the requirements for success in the assault at a pre-assault planning meeting,

“Montgomery said, ‘We have the initiative.  We must rely on:
(a)  the violence of our assault.
(b)  our great weight of supporting fire from the sea and the air.
(c)  simplicity.
(d)  robust mentality.’ “

It’s interesting that the first two requirements are about providing an overwhelming degree of explosives, to put it bluntly.  This is nearly opposite of today’s combat philosophy of focused, narrow power with an emphasis on minimizing collateral damage.  Further, we are designing smaller, less powerful weapons rather than larger, more powerful ones.

Equally fascinating is the requirement for simplicity.  Again, this is completely at odds with today’s dependence on exquisitely aligned networks, data, databases, communications, and coordination.  Of course, come combat, none of that will work and we’ll revert to simplicity but we seem unable to grasp that concept today, preferring to focus on our fantasies of clean, analytical, surgical combat with minimal effort and no casualties.

We see, then, that the historical example of D-Day offers many lessons that are still relevant today.  Yes, technology may have altered a few of the lessons but the alterations are more a matter of degree than obsolescence. 

I’ll offer a few more posts of this nature based on this book.  D-Day and its lessons are too important to leave in the dustbin of history.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

LCS-2 Class - What's the Problem?

While not a success by any measure, the Freedom class variant of LCS has at least deployed twice (admittedly, more PR deployments than anything).  What’s the Independence class variant doing?

Let’s check the history.  The first Independence class vessel began construction in Jan 2006.  Since then, 11 more of the variant have been built, are under construction, or on order.  Two vessels have been commissioned, the Independence, LCS-2, and the Coronado, LCS-4.  So, in nine and a half years we’ve commissioned two ships and none have yet deployed. 

Nine years and not a single deployment.

Nine years and not a single deployment.

Yeah, I know I repeated that sentence but it seems noteworthy.

We’ve documented the weight problems with the LCS in general and the Independence variant, in particular.  Further, the Navy performed heavy seas testing on the variant and discovered cracks in the mission bay supports.  As a result, the ships have had performance limits imposed on them.  USS Independence, itself, has never completed acceptance trials.

I’m beginning to think that there are further, serious problems with this variant that have not yet been made public.

Nine years and not a single deployment.

Monday, July 6, 2015

D-Day Lessons

ComNavOps is currently reading the book, D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climatic Batle of World War II, by Stephen Ambrose.  The book is quite extensive at over 600 pages and is more of an oral history than a pure academic study, however, there are strategic and tactical lessons packed in throughout the book if one reads between the lines and can do a bit of self-assembly of the events and lessons.

Here  are some tidbits from the book that offer lessons relevant to today’s amphibious assault concerns.

Discussing the concept of defense of the western European coast from the anticipated Allied amphibious invasion, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, Western European Commander, argued against dependence on fixed fortifications.

“He argued that the Germans should hold their armored units well back from the coast, out of range of Allied naval gunfire, capable of mounting a genuine counteroffensive.”

This was a potentially devastating strategy that the Germans failed to implement thanks in large measure to Hitler and Rommel's personal obsession with fortification defenses.  This strategy offers a warning to us, today.  A peer defender will, undoubtedly hold back reserves and we must be prepared to deal with them.  Simply winning a foothold on the beach (or inland location in the case of vertical assault) is not enough.  Just as there will be defense in depth, so too must there be the ability to apply offense in depth. We must be prepared to attack not only the immediate assault site but the defender’s depth as well.

Not only will defenders withhold troops and armor from the immediate assault point but the existence, today, of long range rockets and missiles adds an additional element of defense in depth.  Given the extreme range of today’s missiles, we must be prepared to extend the assault for hundreds of miles – no easy task.

The importance of combat engineers is emphasized.

“Almost one-quarter of the American troops going in on the morning of D-Day would be engineers.  Their tasks, more less in this order, were to: demolish beach obstacles, blow up mines on the beach, erect signs to guide incoming landing craft through cleared channels, set up panels to bring in the troops and equipment (the color of the panel told the ships offshore which supplies to send in), clear access roads from the beach, blow gaps in the antitank wall, establish supply dumps, and act as beachmasters (traffic cops).”

Contrast this to today’s lack of emphasis on engineering tasks and the lack of specialized equipment for the engineering tasks.  Among other needs, the US desperately needs a modern, specialized Combat Engineering Vehicle (CEV).

The debilitating effects of sea-sickness are pointed out.

“Bingham [Maj. Sidney Bingham, CO, 2nd Battalion, 116th] did an analysis of what went wrong for the first and second waves.  Among other factors, he said, the men were in the Higgins boats far too long.  ‘Seasickness occasioned by the three or four hours in LCVPs played havoc with an idealism that may have been present.  It markedly decreased the combat effectiveness of the command.”

Consider that time frame of 3-4 hours rendering troops significantly less combat effective and then consider the Navy/Marine’s desire to move the assault starting point out to 25-50 miles with the resultant possible increase in transit times.  Yes, an LCAC can travel at high speeds but LCACs are not doctrinally considered as initial assault transports.  At the moment, we only have AAVs.  Various ideas have been put forth for dealing with the extended transit but none have yet been adopted.  Transport to the beach is a serious shortcoming today.

Mobility, on both sides, is discussed.

“Once in France, the Allied paratroops and seaborne troops would be relatively immobile.  Until the beachhead had been expanded to allow self-propelled artillery and trucks to come ashore, movement would be by legs rather than half-tracks or tires.  The Germans, meanwhile, could move to the sound of the guns by road and rail – and by spring 1944 they would have fifty infantry and eleven armored divisions in France.”

This is a potentially profound lesson for today’s proponents of aviation vertical assaults.  Once on the ground, the troops have little mobility and become, in essence, a fixed target.  The enemy can move large amounts of troops (and armor!) to the attack point fairly quickly.  An aviation assault, with its utter lack of armored vehicles must succeed in its mission quickly or risk being overwhelmed by responding enemy troops.  Further, additional support to interdict enemy troop movements by road or rail is mandatory, requiring that the aviation assault be much larger in scope than the mere assault element, itself.  How to provide that additional support at a, presumably, far inland location is a question not answered by current doctrine.

It was recognized that the initial assault was not the only or even the biggest challenge.  Sustainment of the assault was vital and problematic.

“So the Allies really had two problems – getting ashore, and winning the battle of the buildup.”

As we’ve discussed, sustainment of an assault is the real challenge and is a real shortcoming for US amphibious forces today.  We lack the numbers and types of transports and connectors to sustain a major amphibious assault.

The logistics of moving troops from ship to shore was the major impediment to the assault.

“… the chief limiting factor in planning the invasion was lack of sufficient landing ships and craft.  Indeed, that was the single most important factor in shaping the whole strategy of the war, in the Pacific, in the Mediterranean, in the Atlantic.  Churchill complained with some bitterness that ‘the destinies of two great empires … seemed to be tied up in some goddamned things called LSTs.’”

In a similar vein, General Eisenhower is quoted in the book as crediting the Higgins boat with winning the war.

“If Higgins (the inventor) had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach.  The whole strategy of the war would have been different.”

The US has allowed its fleet of LSTs and other such vessels to nearly vanish.  We lack the means to get a sufficient number of troops and, more importantly, armor and artillery ashore in a useful time frame to say nothing of the follow on (sustainment) munitions, food, fuel, etc.

We see, then, that the historical example of D-Day offers many lessons that are still relevant today.  Yes, technology may have altered a few of the lessons but the alterations are more a matter of degree than obsolescence. 

I’ll offer a few more posts of this nature based on this book.  D-Day and its lessons are too important to leave in the dustbin of history.