Friday, October 21, 2016

Boom!

ComNavOps just read that an MQ-8B Fire Scout was used to laser designate a target for a Hellfire missile launched from an MH-60S helicopter.  I’m hearing more and more of these kinds of disparate pairings.  A submarine designates a missile for an Aegis cruiser.  An F-35 designates a surface target for a missile fired from a Poseidon.  And so on.

What’s the point?  What practical combat purpose does it serve? 

In combat, is a submarine really going to come to the surface to designate a target?  Is our supposed top of the line strikefighter aircraft really going to spend its time being just a target designator?  Is it really necessary for a UAV to designate for a helo given that they’re both the same distance from the target (Hellfire range is only a few miles)?  This strikes me as technological masturbation - pardon the crudity.  We feel good about cobbling together yet another unlikely and nearly useless combination of technology but what does it really get us?

This has become our idea of preparing for combat – stringing together useless bits of technology for its own sake.  Unfriendly countries, on the other hand, are developing bigger and bigger explosives and armor.  They’re developing the boom that will dominate the next battlefield while we’re developing apps for our soldier’s tablets.

I’m sorry but explosives trump techno-toys on the battlefield.  We’re focused on trying to figure out whether that enemy soldier in the foxhole is right-handed or left while our enemies are developing high explosive artillery barrages that render the question moot.  If you can obliterate an acre at a time it really doesn’t matter what, if anything, was in that acre – it’s gone!

We’re focused on developing little scooters for our soldiers to flit around the battlefield on but all the agility in the world isn’t going to matter when a Russian 9A52-4 Tornado 300 mm rocket launcher fires a full salvo which can cover 32 hectares (1) or a Chinese WS-2 MLRS fires a salvo of 400 mm rockets.

The Navy is building an entire class of LCS ships that have no boom whatsoever.

Hey, Navy and Marines, where’s the boom?


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32 comments:

  1. What's wrong with our "booms" like the GMLRS and ATACMS? Both have which have been used in combat.

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    1. What's wrong with a WWII Sherman tank round? It goes "boom".

      I fear you completely missed the point of the post. The rest of the world is going down the path of preparing for high end, violent, combat by developing bigger, heavier, armored vehicles and bigger, longer ranged artillery. Conversely, the US is pursuing lightness. We're shedding tanks and artillery. We're not developing new, bigger, more powerful explosives, as a general statement. We're not developing the ability to decimate large areas instantaneously and thoroughly. Instead, we're trying to incapacitate people with non-lethal weapons. Misguidedly, we think networks will trump firepower. We're trying to determine where an individual enemy soldier is so that we can fire a multi-million dollar brilliant munition at him and him alone while the enemy is focused on wiping out huge tracts of land and anything in it without caring where our soldiers were or what kind of collateral damage is caused and they're doing it with cheap munitions.

      Before you comment again, look up the Russian and Chinese systems I cited, and others, and compare them to our GMLRS. Also, look up the numbers of the various systems. We're light on firepower and very light on numbers. That's not a winning combination.

      Big booms beat small booms, all else being equal, and lots of booms beats a few booms.

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    2. "Big booms beat small booms, all else being equal, and lots of booms beats a few booms."

      Lovely, I Like it.

      BUT, all types of boom are useless if they arn't in the right place.

      Worse than useless if its a really big Boom and your troops happen to be close by.

      You CAN just devastate the planet to win the war, We can do that now ! but we decided not to back in the 80's remember.

      Best to get your boom in the right place first. No matter how big it is. Even a Trident D5 is 10 meters accurate.

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    3. I'm pretty sure you understand that I'm not advocating spraying explosives blindly in a 360 deg circle around the shooting platform.

      The point is that you can spend your R&D time and money trying to pinpoint the exact location of every soldier on the battlefield in front of you and then spend gazooks more money trying to develop a non-lethal weapon that will gently disarm the enemy soldier while simultaneously converting them to truth, justice, and the American way or you simply develop a big booming explosive that carpet bombs the suspect area, kills whatever's in the area without risking your own troops, and do so for pennies. One of the two approaches sounds good on paper and the other works in real combat. I'll leave it to you to figure out which is which.

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    4. Some days, you do make me chuckle. You sometimes have quite the turn of phrase.

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    5. A little entertainment to go with the education!

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  2. I could see a few scenarios of value especially with a UAV. Basically the manned killer helos could stay extreme low while the UAV pops up (hunter) to designate targets for the killers manned to unload the barrage at. I am pretty sure it was a thing for the apaches when attacking soviet armor formations so as only one or few at a time was exposed while getting targets but all could then fire on a formation. At sea with no terrain/trees for one to duck in not sure.

    Your point about our artillery is spot on. It is not only about the boom either, we have not signed the land mine treaty but we are abiding by its terms regardless since Bush. That sounds good until you realize cluster bombs are not allowed under the idiotic paper, a critical capability for everything from breaking enemy formations to runway closure. China Russia and pretty much everyone we would have potential fighting of course will be using such. Land mines also a critical weapon under the new terms is now spider a cool sounding but over tech expensive and not nearly effective as land mines without the mass, hidden aspects.

    The whole mindset of our military needs to change immediately back to its roots before we get in a real fight and we learn the hard way by blood. Treaties that only tie our hands should be refused or dropped looking at you IRBM, Land Mine cluster treaties etc... War is not a clean PC pretty romance, it is dirty nasty horrors that if engaged in should be only fought 200% without restriction so our enemy is either broken beaten or dead as quickly as possible with only consideration given to our soldiers.

    These PC wars with imaginary rules dreamed up out of the university debate squads have only give US forever war. Now we are starting to see more and more this mentality seep into our weapons development itself to the point of weapons being designed more for feeling than effect.

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    1. Very good point about the various treaties. We're unilaterally tying our own hands.

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  3. The Fire Scout and MH-60S concept potentially makes sense in that it keeps the manned asset out of enemy MANPADS range.

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    1. The flaw in your statement is two-fold. One, the helo's Hellfire missiles just barely outrange a typical MANPAD, if that, so it may not actually be keeping the helo out of range. Two, if the helo's weapon does outrange the defensive weapons then it can do its own designation with impunity and doesn't need a UAV.

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  4. Similar thoughts expressed by Bob Scales with article on BreakingDefense yesterday on the effectiveness of artillery with cofram, controlled fragmentation, with an order of magnitude improvement in kill rate over WWII munitions and further developed by the Russians.

    "Precision-guided artillery is fine for “plinking” discrete targets such as individual high-value vehicles or people. But delivering precision is a slow and involved process that requires linking aircraft or drones to a firing battery. Such a delicate “system of systems” would be smothered very quickly under the crush of millions of deadly thermobaric warheads landing in a single massed volley. Plus, we have far fewer precision rounds than the Russians have guns and rockets."

    "The Russians went to school on us after witnessing the destruction of their own artillery in the hands of the Iraqis. Over the past 20 years the Russians have improved on our steel rain technology by developing a new generation of bomblet munitions that are filled with thermobaric explosives. These munitions generate an intense, blast wave of exploding gasses that are far more lethal than conventional explosives. A volley of Russian thermobaric steel rain delivered by a single heavy-rocket launcher battalion produces a lethal area 10 times greater than an American MLRS battalion firing conventional, single-point detonating warheads." They have been using these munitions with devastating effect in the Ukraine recently.

    http://breakingdefense.com/2016/10/bring-back-artillery-submunitions-russian-threat-too-great/

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    1. Thanks. I've seen that article and I've got a post in the pipeline that uses material from it.

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  5. I agree the idea a multi billion dollar Submarine surfing and exposing its mast to paint a surface target for an aerial strike is absurd, I can't think of anything stupider.
    However, a UAV painting a target for a manned platform does make sense.
    Agreed, a hellfire is a poor example, as the chopper would have to be flying at sea level to be bellow the horizon for the hellfire range, but as a proof of concept, geared for testing on a future developed AT missile, such as a 25km range AT spike type platform, then it start to make sense.
    Perhaps its a case of trying to run before you can walk. Or it may be laying the groundwork.

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    1. The point is not any one particular system, it's the pattern or trend of developments. The US is focused on playing around with questionable technologies while the rest of the world is focused on bigger and better explosives. The ultimate result is that we'll have perfect knowledge of the enemy that's blowing us to bits.

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    2. Since the US military has not managed to do much that looked heroic recently, they're practicing Hollywood scenarios.

      Meanwhile, procurement is concentrating on pumping money into the defence contractors, because that's what the contractors want their politicians to do, and doing studies and building small quantities of very high-tech kit is more profitable than long production runs of actual weapons.

      The military don't have well-defined and plausible scenarios that would demand those mass-produced weapons, so they can't convince the politicians to buy them.

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    3. "they're practicing Hollywood scenarios"

      That's an apt description of what we're too often seeing. Nice observation!

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  6. I think the reasons we see these "odd" demonstrations of different weapons systems all talking to each other is multi-fold:

    One, DoD is married know to network connectivity god so it's good PR to shop the wonders of a sub "talking" to a destroyer, plus it shows Congress that:"look, it works." Very few Congressmen will understand or bother to inquire if it's necessary!

    Second, you have to show the masses that all this tech works and again, how many people or journalists are going to bother with questioning DoD!?!

    Finally and far more ominous, I think we see these demonstrations because there is no long term strategic thinking left inside DoD so the services are left to show these very expensive weapons systems doing "something" and no one is really asking if any of these extra capabilities are necessary....

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    1. Your last reason, the lack of strategic thinking, is the most compelling. The military, some time ago, shifted from specific enemies with geographic characteristics to generic enemies with weapon systems. Thus, we abandoned strategy and focused on technological counters to theoretical (and real) weapons. It's a mistake we still haven't fully recognized nor recovered from.

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    2. When we were in the middle of the Cold war, DoD at least had the guts to say we were preparing for war with the Soviet Union, DoD doesn't even have the guts to say we are preparing for war with China! Agree, it's some kind of generic enemy!!!

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  7. Serious question - what happens with these designators if the enemy gets their hands on jamming equipment?

    That drone won't have much control if that happens.

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  8. The firing unit can keep its active sensors down (and stay undetected) with second party targeting.

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    1. C'mon, now, Martin. This is way too simplistic. Consider the tactical scenario and think it through.

      Your statement implies that the targeting unit can somehow actively designate targets with total impunity and never be detected or destroyed. If we had aircraft capable of that we'd make them the firing unit and wouldn't need designators.

      If the targeting unit can be destroyed what happens then? Do all the firing units have to go home? Do we have more targeting units? How many more? Do we wind up with pairs of aircraft - one designator for each firing unit - essentially doubling our aircraft numbers? That's unaffordable.

      The firing unit still has to expose itself to fire. How survivable is that compared to the designator?

      Repost after you've had a chance to think about it. I want a better analysis.

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  9. The only way this sort of system could possibly work is with lots of miniature Fire Scout type drones, they could then designate a target and if destroyed while doing so it would be no great loss.
    A drone that is basically a small helicopter itself is not disposable and is only being used because in a low intensity war it may help reduce casualties.
    Against a well equipped opponent with modern sam's ( even manpads) a large helicopter type drone is just target practice
    M.A

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    1. Correct! The MQ-8C is a $20M+ aircraft and we are only acquiring a total of 126 MQ-8B/C combined. Neither the cost nor the quantity is what I would consider throwaway.

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    2. Pure and simple/ this is a jobs program for Northrop Grumman and AIRWARCEN Patuxent.WIKIPEDIA lists this as a $3B program. Has the US Navy received $3B worth of "combat value" out of this program? No!

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  10. These are all really bad examples.

    I cant help but wonder, like you, why these particular examples have gotten press. They seem limited in advantage.

    I was reading about F35 targeting for Aegis anti air, successfully intercepting ASM target with SM6. This is slightly more relevant given CAP duties.

    Its like they swapped all the sencible combinations around just to make them look silly. Shouldn't Fire scout be designating for Excalibur (N5) NGS etc ?

    Beno

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    1. "I was reading about F35 targeting for Aegis anti air, successfully intercepting ASM target with SM6. This is slightly more relevant given CAP duties."

      This is stupid, too. If the F-35 is out far enough to do that, it should be busy shooting down the launching aircraft or missiles, themselves, not loitering around designating one target at a time. Think about the combat efficiency of that. Instead of having an F-35 shooting stuff down AND an Aegis ship shooting stuff down, you want to tie up BOTH an F-35 and Aegis ship shooting down one target?????

      You're being sucked in by marketing glitz and not thinking through the actual tactical scenarios.

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    2. hang on

      Thats not the purpose of an expensive stealth platform. Isn't the idea of a stealth platform penetrating contested air to acquire targets for missile trucks (air or naval, who cares) while ideally staying 'off the radar'
      Should your stealth penetrator instead of sitting pretty and transmitting encrypted data straight up (read hard to intercept) instead start shooting off ARM's then its sure to expose itself.
      Not sure you're assessing this one correctly.

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    3. First, we're talking about the specific scenario of designating for an Aegis AAW shooter. By definition, that's not deep penetration. The Standard missiles are relatively short range so the F-35 would be relatively near the shooter.

      Second, the F-35 was not designed as a stealth target designator. That was an after-the-fact made up role to make the F-35 sound better. The F-35 was designed as a strikefighter. The F-35 has severe communications challenges as a target designator and can't talk effectively to very many (any?) other platforms.

      Third, regarding the concept of a stealth aircraft penetrating deeply and designating targets for cruise(?) missiles, that's an unproven concept, to put it mildly. I've seen nothing definitive about how many missiles a single F-35 can designate for, how effective the F-35's sensors are, whether the F-35 can talk to a cruise missile, whether an F-35 that is fighting for its own survival can even designate while maneuvering, and so on. The US has done absolutely no testing of this concept in any realistic scenario that I'm aware of.

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    4. With Nate on this one. You've got a stealthy aircraft loaded with sensors and shiploads of 250+ nm, mach 3 missiles. The target never comes over any ship's horizon.

      All the bogies know is that the USN must be somewhere over there, because every time they send a plane that way it blows up.

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    5. Good discussion of this in the comments here: https://news.usni.org/2016/09/13/video-successful-f-35-sm-6-live-fire-test-points-expansion-networked-naval-warfare

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