Monday, February 29, 2016

P-8 and PBY

ComNavOps has long had doubts about the wartime role of the P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft.  The doubts arise from the combination of the aircraft’s slow and defenseless nature plus the necessity that it broadcast its presence (operating its radar) when performing the maritime patrol function (MPA).  Thus, the enemy is given a free location fix against a high value, slow, defenseless asset.  In other words, the P-8 is a sitting duck in combat if used as envisioned. 

“Used as envisioned”, of course, brings up the subject of the concept of operations (CONOPS).  How will the P-8 be used?  What will its main function be – ASW, MPA, both?  Will it perform its searches actively or passively?  Will it be defended by fighter aircraft or used independently? 

Most importantly, how close to the contested air/water space will it be used?  Certainly, the further back from the front line, the safer.  Of course, the flip side of that is that the further back from the front line, the less useful and effective it is.

The next question is where is the front line?  Well, that’s a nebulous concept that depends on the weapons being considered.  Considering an enemy rifleman, the front line is a hundred yards or so.  Considering enemy surface to air missiles which would be targeted at a P-8 aircraft, the front line is the range of the SAM systems which is 250 -300+ miles.  Here’s some range data on Russian SAM systems for consideration.

S-200 (SA-5)             190 miles
S-300 (SA-10)           121 miles
S-400 (SA-21)           250 miles
S-500 (?)                   250 – 300+ miles

Of course, the reported Russian SAM ranges are, undoubtedly, maximum theoretical ranges.  Effective ranges are probably half that.

Now, compare the SAM engagement ranges to the P-8’s detection range which is reportedly up to 200 miles for large targets with low resolution.  An effective range is probably more on the order of 100 miles. 

Comparing the SAM ranges and the P-8 detection range, it’s clear that the P-8 will have to enter the SAM’s engagement range to see anything assuming the SAM systems are on the front line.  The point is that unless we’re willing to consider P-8s as expendable, they’ll have to be held well back from the front line.  With that in mind, what will the P-8s be looking for? 

So far, this is considering only SAM ranges.  If thousand mile fighters and UAVs are considered, the P-8’s will be pushed even further back from the front line.

Knowledge of the location and movement of enemy units behind the front lines is immensely useful.  Knowledge of the location and movement of enemy units many hundreds of miles on our side of the front line is useful (certainly!!!) but highly unlikely other than the odd submarine.  In simple terms, the P-8 will offer us no intelligence about what’s happening inside the Chinese first island chain which is exactly the kind of intel we’d like to have.

P-8 Poseidon - Useful in War?

Let’s switch gears, momentarily.  ComNavOps is ever one to study and learn from history and it occurs that the WWII PBY Catalina is a relevant comparison to the P-8.  The PBY was designed as the MPA aircraft of its time and, indeed, functioned in that role for the first couple of years of the war before being superseded by long ranged, land based aircraft.  Like the P-8, the PBY was large, slow, and defenseless.  Data is difficult to come by but here’s the best summary of the early PBY loss rates that I could assemble, divided into the two main operational areas.  The operating area is followed by the number of PBY’s deployed and then the number of PBY’s lost.

Location                     Deployed       Lost

Pearl Harbor                   68               56
Philippines                      28               26

The loss rates are staggering.  Admittedly, many of the aircraft were destroyed on the ground but the loss rates in the air were also appalling.  On the other hand, the aircraft performed its function.  For example, the 30 PBY’s based on Midway found the Japanese fleet and set the stage for the battle that followed.  Thus, as a cheap, plentiful, expendable detection system the PBY was effective.  We had lots of PBYs and could afford to send them deep into potential enemy waters as expendable detection devices.  Locating an enemy fleet was deemed worth the loss of the aircraft.  Does this hold true today?  Are we willing to send $200M P-8’s on one-way missions?  Even if we are, we’ll likely only have around 80 P-8’s after the production run is done.  Note that we lost 82 PBY’s in the first couple years of WWII in just two relatively localized theaters.

PBY Catalina - WWII's P-8 Poseidon

Also note that the preceding discussion is focused on the MPA role, using radar for long distance surveillance.  The situation becomes far worse for the ASW role.  ASW detection does not occur at 100-200 mile radar ranges – it occurs at sonobuoy range.  How will P-8’s possibly penetrate far enough into the battlespace to perform useful ASW without being shot down?  I have no answer for that and, indeed, the answer would seem to be that it can’t.

This suggests a disturbing scenario – that we have spent the last few decades building a military force optimized for uncontested operations and one ill-suited for contested operations.  How will we perform ASW inside the first island chain?  Our own submarines can perform ASW and that is, of course, one of their main functions but that then brings the looming submarine shortfall into much sharper focus.  If submarines are to be our main ASW platform why are we allowing such a shortfall in numbers?.  Far from a shortfall, perhaps we should be increasing our submarine numbers?

All of the preceding also leads to the inevitable question, why do we even have P-8’s if they won’t be effective in war?  Why did we ever begin building P-3/8’s?  That answer lies with the nature of the enemy when long range patrol aircraft were developed.  During WWII, with only very short range surveillance systems available, enemy fleets could be anywhere in the Pacific.  Thus, PBY’s were needed to cover the entire ocean (or, at least, the areas of more immediate concern).  In more modern times, the Soviet Union was also a world-ranging naval force (submarines, in particular).  Thus, again, a patrol aircraft was needed to cover the entire world.  The plus side of this was that while the Soviet Union had far ranging submarines that needed to be detected their SAM systems and fighter aircraft were not present world wide.  Thus, the P-3’s were free to roam the world, hunting for submarines and conducting area surveillance, secure in the knowledge that they were relatively safe.

Today, however, our enemy of interest, China, is not a world ranging naval force (though they are moving in that direction) and is, for the foreseeable future, content to operate largely behind the first island chain.  Thus, we need to go into the anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) zone thus created if we hope to generate useful intel.  This means that our primary ocean surveillance platforms, the P-8 and BAMS (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance) UAVs are particularly ill-suited for the mission.

We essentially replaced the P-3 with a duplicate, the P-8 – upgraded a bit, to be sure, but for all practical operational and tactical purposes, the same aircraft.  Over the life of the P-3, the operational and tactical landscape changed immensely from world wide surveillance to relatively small, focused surveillance on A2/AD zones and the threat to the aircraft changed from almost non-existent to very long ranged and lethal.  Despite those immense changes, we simply replaced the P-3 with its duplicate.  Perhaps we should have examined the CONOPS a bit closer and come up with a better means to accomplish the mission – a means that might have been something other than the P-8 or other than an aircraft, at all.

Some will say that the F-35 is how we will obtain our deep penetration intel.  This ignores the reality that the F-35 has neither the flight range nor the radar/sensor range to cover the entire East/South China Seas.  The F-35 might be useful for looking at a specific, tiny spot but it is not a maritime patrol aircraft.  Add to that the likelihood that every available F-35 will be fully occupied trying to establish air superiority and none will be available for generic surveillance work.

Thus, we are left with the conclusion that the P-8 and BAMS will not be particularly useful in high end combat and the question, how will we gather useful A2/AD zone surveillance information?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Post-Delivery Construction Costs for LCS

Here’s another interesting budget item.  Read it and then we’ll discuss it.

“BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair, San Diego, California, is being awarded a $15,589,527 cost-plus-award-fee contract for the accomplishment of post shakedown availabilities (PSA) for USS Detroit (LCS-7) and USS Montgomery (LCS-8).  The PSA encompasses all of the manpower, support services, material, non-standard equipment and associated technical data and documentation required to prepare for and accomplish the PSA.  The work to be performed will include correction of government responsible trial card deficiencies; new work identified between custody transfer and the time of PSA; and incorporation of approved engineering changes that were not incorporated during the construction period which are not otherwise the building yard's responsibility under the ship construction contract.  This contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $103,999,092. 

This is showing the hidden costs of ship construction that the Navy is engaging in more and more frequently.  The Navy is deferring portions of construction to the PSA and other post-delivery periods as a means to fraudulently artificially contain and obscure legitimate construction costs.  This contract is somewhere between $15M - $104M for two ships that were supposed to have been delivered complete.

Note the type of work.

“The work to be performed will include correction of government responsible trial card deficiencies; new work identified between custody transfer and the time of PSA; and incorporation of approved engineering changes that were not incorporated during the construction period which are not otherwise the building yard's responsibility under the ship construction contract. “

PSA's are supposed to be for the purpose of correcting deficiencies revealed in trials.  They are not supposed to be used for deferred construction.  You can bet the LCS supporters (both of them) will not include this cost in their construction cost claims.

This is relatively small money for these ships.  The major one is the Ford which is having significant construction deferred until post-delivery because they’ve bumped up against the Congressionally mandated cost cap and this is how they’re getting around it.

This practice is disgusting and is, unfortunately, becoming more and more common.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Ford Update

Let’s check in with DOT&E and see how the Ford is coming along.

The electromagnetic catapult and arresting gear continue to show severe maintenance issues.  DOT&E flatly states,

“Absent a major redesign, the catapults and arresting gear are not likely to meet reliability requirements.”

Maintenance is complicated by an inability to perform repairs on catapult components without shutting down the entire system.

“…the Navy identified an inability to readily electrically isolate EMALS components to perform concurrent maintenance. This inability to readily electrically isolate EMALS components could preclude some types of EMALS maintenance during flight operations, decreasing EMALS operational availability.”

So, the catapult system is unreliable and the design does not lend itself to repair during operations.  Kind of a double whammy, there!  As DOT&E points out, on Nimitz carriers a steam catapult can be isolated and worked on while the other catapults continue to operate – a major operational advantage.

Here’s some data on the EMALS reliability courtesy of DOT&E.  The requirement for Mean Cycles Between Critical Failure (MCBCF) – a cycle is one launch – is 4,166.  That means, on average, there should be one critical catapult failure every 4,166 launches.  The actual data to date show a MCBCF of 340.  That’s not even in the remote ballpark of meeting the spec.  As DOT&E states,

“Absent a major redesign, it is unlikely EMALS will be capable of meeting the requirement of 4,166 MCBCF.”

Think that’s bad?  It’s fantastic compared to the arresting gear.  The MCBCF requirement for the arresting gear is one every 16,500.  That’s a huge number but you really don’t want the arresting gear to fail and, let’s face it, it’s a pretty straightforward piece of equipment.  What’s the actual data?  The actual MCBCF is 20.  That’s a critical failure every 20 recoveries!

Given the launch and recovery problems, I’m guessing that pilots are not yet rushing to sign up for duty on Ford.

The inability to safely launch Hornets and Growlers with fuel tanks continues to be a problem and, as DOT&E points out, precludes normal operations.

“[Testing] discovered excessive airframe stress during launches of F/A-18E/F and EA-18G with wing-mounted 480-gallon external fuel tanks (EFTs). This discovery, until corrected, will preclude the Navy from conducting normal operations of the F/A-18E/F and EA-18G from CVN 78.”

Catapult problems abound, it appears.  Consider this item,

In October 2015, the Navy discovered that one of the three Prime Power Interface Subsystems (PPIS) Transformer Rectifiers (TRs) had been damaged during shipboard certification testing. Two of the three TRs are required for normal catapult operations. The TRs were designed to last the life of the ship.”

Life of the ship?  It came up a bit short!  I hope they bought the warranty option.

DOT&E reports that the failed transformer is 11 ft wide and weighs 35,000 lbs.  Replacement will require cutting a hole in the side of the ship and will take several months to complete.

There are other problems like manning and berthing shortfalls, dual band radar issues, etc. but the items listed here are sufficient to provide a grasp of the magnitude of the problems facing Ford.

Why am I pointing these out?  Let’s be honest and fair.  All new ships and all new systems have problems that are eventually worked out.  I’m pointing these out because they involve developmental systems that were non-existent technology when ship construction started.  They should have remained developmental programs until they matured instead of trying to develop them during production.  It is a near certainty that the Ford will be operating under severe performance constraints for several years.  What good does an essentially crippled carrier do the Navy?  The Navy seems unable to grasp the concept of leaving developmental technology in the R&D realm until it’s ready.  Failure to do so leads to stunning program failures like the LCS, F-35, and Ford.

I’ve said this repeatedly and I’ll keep saying it:  learn a lesson, Navy!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

$3000 Laptop Follow Up

Well, the recent post about $3000 laptops caused quite a stir with the overwhelming response being that I have no idea what I’m talking about and $3000 laptops are not only justified but probably a bargain to boot.

You know, I not only post to educate and entertain readers but occasionally to learn something myself.  Maybe this is one of those cases.  Honestly, I had no idea such a laptop existed.  If they are fully justified then I stand educated.

However, I'm disappointed to see the widespread, almost kneejerk reaction to any hint of cost awareness.  On a larger scale, this is what leads to $14B carriers or $200M F-35s.  

Maybe every one of those 2600 laptops has to be absolute, top of the line, throw it in lava and have it still work.  On the other hand, I note that the contract only calls for 450 carrying cases which suggests that most of the computers are not going to be slung around and dropped from airplanes at 30,000 ft but, rather, wind up sitting undisturbed in an office or sheltered area.  It's possible, just barely, faintly possible, that those office laptops could be Dells or even the CF-21 for half the cost.

I also note that the contract calls for a couple hundred spare hard drives.  Assuming they're for failures, that's a 10% failure rate from a $3000 laptop that everyone seems to claim can never fail.  Dell laptops don't have a 10% failure rate within a reasonable lifetime (about three years).  Thus, I see a contract that is paying for a never, ever, under any circumstance, fail, computer that includes a built in 10% failure rate.  So, the common argument from readers that the military can’t afford to allow laptops to fail seems contradicted by the contract, itself.  If 10% are going to fail, anyway, then why not use $300 Dells?

I don’t know enough to argue this further (and neither do any of you) but I can analyze the contract announcement and draw a reasonable conclusion that we might, just might, be over-spec’ing and overpaying.  If not, then great but it’s the failure to ask these kinds of questions that leads to F-35s, LCS’s, and Fords.

Those of you who didn’t at least briefly entertain the possibility that we might have overpaid are either subject matter experts on this (and none of you identified yourself as such) who already know the answer or you are thinking non-critically.  There’s nothing wrong with asking the question – are we over-spec’ing and overpaying – and, based on verifiable evidence, concluding that we aren’t.  There is, however, something wrong with refusing to ask the question. 

Non-Compete Clause For Admirals

One of the common frustrations cited in discussions of uniformed military leadership is the blatant conflict of interest represented by Admirals and Generals who retire and then take positions on the boards of defense industry companies.  It doesn’t take much imagination to see the conflict of interest.  Is an Admiral more or less likely to be offered a lucrative board position if he supports the company’s product offering while he is in active service?  Of course he’ll be more likely to get a position if he supports the product!  Unfortunately, that lessens the likelihood that he’ll kill flawed programs while actively serving. 

Our uniformed leaders are intense pressure from the defense industry and Congressmen who have a vested interest in the manufacturing/jobs opportunities of defense programs as it is.  To add on the pressure of prospective board positions is asking a lot of our leaders.  Well, actually, it’s not.  It’s just asking that they act with honor, integrity, and courage – you know, the kind of stuff that’s routinely expected from the job position.  Clearly, though, we have far too few men of honor, integrity, and courage in the upper ranks since we have lots of flawed programs and almost no uniformed nay-sayers.  Once in a while we get an Admiral or General who speaks out about something – after they retire!  What good does that do?  Where were these people while they were still serving?  I give no credit to someone who speaks out after they retire.  That’s just a lack of courage and conviction.

All right, I could rant on about this all day but the problem is evident and further complaining won’t accomplish anything.  So, what can realistically be done?  Sure, I’d like to fire every serving Admiral and General but that’s not realistic.  Plus, more would take their place and the problem would continue.  I’d like to investigate and arrest them all but, again, that’s not realistic although it would be effective.  So, what can be done?

One simple solution is to ban Admirals and Generals from joining defense industry companies.  There is precedent, of a sorts, for this.  In industry, mid and upper level employees have to sign a non-compete clause as a condition of their employment.  The non-compete document prohibits them from working in the same field for which they are currently working for a period of time, typically one to several years.  Thus, an employee can’t join a company, accumulate detailed technical knowledge about a product, and then quit and go work for a competitor for more money and do the same job.

A similar non-compete clause for Admirals and Generals would ban them from working for defense companies and eliminate the conflict of interest while serving.  They’ll still be under pressure from defense companies but at least there won’t be the lure of lucrative board positions to influence their decisions.  Maybe then, bad programs will be more likely to die.

Will this solve all our procurement problems?  No, not by a long shot!  It will, however, eliminate one obvious problem and at no cost.  It’s a simple document that Admirals and Generals would have to sign as a condition of employment and it’s realistic and easy to implement.  It would be step in the right direction.

Monday, February 22, 2016

$3000 Laptop Computers?

Here’s an acquisition item I can’t quite believe.  From the contract award site,

“OSI Federal Technologies Inc.,* Aldie, Virginia, is being awarded a $7,897,437 fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for the procurement of a minimum quantity of 750 to a maximum quantity of 2,605 commercially available laptop computers that serve as mission planning computers in the aircrafts deployed to the fleet.  In addition, this contract includes 100 to 248 spare hard drives; up to 88 docking stations; and 450 carrying cases. 

If I’m reading this right, that’s $7.9M for a maximum of 2605 commercially available laptops.  Commercially available means you or I could buy them.  If we do the math, we get a cost of $3031 per laptop.  I think we all know what laptops cost and it’s not $3031 each.  Yeah, there’s some miscellaneous hard drives and whatnot but those are minuscule costs.  

I’m not sure I could find a $3000 laptop even if I wanted one.  It’s hard to believe they even sell them – nobody would buy one.

It's a fixed price contract.  What if the government only buys the low end of 750?

Something’s wrong with this.

Where's My Tool Box?

Here’s an interesting little item.  Snap-On Industrial tool company has been given a $10.2M contract to supply 1821 tool boxes for F-35 maintenance.  That’s around $5600 per tool box.  I know there are often specialized tools required for ship and aircraft work but these are not those.  Snap-On is just a supplier of run of the mill commercial tools.  Those are some mighty expensive tool boxes.  Must be more than just a set of socket wrenches!

Do the aircraft mechanics not already have tools? 

That’s almost one tool box per planned F-35.  Do mechanics not like to share?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

SeaRAM Test Fraud

Here’s an item from the previous post (see, “LCS Update”) that I just have to highlight.  It’s about the SeaRAM testing on the LCS.

“The Navy completed the first at-sea demonstration of the SeaRAM system in LCS 4 in 2015 during an engagement against a non-maneuvering, subsonic aerial target (BQM-74) with radio frequency and infrared augmentation that were not consistent with the characteristics of realistic threats.” [emphasis added]

I recall when this test was first announced.  I read it and figured that it was one of the Navy’s typical unrealistic live fire exercises that prove little more than mechanical operation of the missile system.  Little did I realize until reading DOT&E’s report that the exercise set new lows in realism and usefulness.

Note the underlined portion which states that the target was not only non-maneuvering but had an artificially enhanced tracking signature.  This was the test that the Navy was so proud of?  The only way they could have made the test easier and less realistic was to hang the target directly in front of the missile cell on the launcher so that the missile had to bump into it on its way out.

I know the Navy is afraid of conducting realistic tests but this is absurd.  Do we really not want to know what our missiles and systems can do before we find out the hard way – in combat – and people get killed?

This is yet another indictment of Navy leadership – a common theme of mine and you can see why.  

LCS Update

The DOT&E has released its latest annual report on various Navy programs.  The LCS is, to no one’s surprise, heavily featured and for all the wrong reasons.  At this point, further trashing of the LCS is just beating a dead horse (except that the horse refuses to die!).  Rather than offer a litany of pages of problems, I’ll simply highlight a few of the more noteworthy items.  You can read the rest for yourself, if you wish.

“…DOT&E concluded that the now-planned use of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) as a forward-deployed combatant, where it might be involved in intense naval conflict, appears to be inconsistent with its inherent survivability in those same environments.”

“…an LCS employing the current MCM mission package would not be operationally effective or operationally suitable if the Navy called upon it to conduct MCM missions in combat and that a single LCS equipped with the Increment 1 MCM mission package would provide little or no operational capability to complete MCM clearance missions to the levels needed by operational commanders.”

“During developmental testing, the LCS 4 crew had difficulty keeping the ship operational as it suffered repeated failures of the ship’s diesel generators, water jets, and air conditioning units. LCS 4 spent 45 days over a period of 113 days without all 4 engines and steerable water jets operational. This includes a 19-day period in May when 3 of the 4 engines were degraded or non-functional.”

“LCS 2 was unable to launch and recover RMMVs on 15 of the 58 days underway …”

“The LCS 3 Total Ship Survivability Trial (TSST) revealed significant deficiencies in the Freedom variant design. Much of the ship’s mission capability would have been lost because of damage caused by the initial weapons effects or the ensuing fire.”

“Neither LCS variant has been operationally tested to evaluate its effectiveness against unmanned aerial vehicles and slow-flying aircraft.”

“Aircraft tracking events conducted during operational testing aboard LCS 3 demonstrated that the crew was unable to detect and track some types of air threats well enough to engage them.”

“The anchoring system could not securely anchor the ship in an area with a bottom composed of sand and shells. On several occasions, the ship was unable to set the anchor despite repeated efforts.”

“The Navy completed the first at-sea demonstration of the SeaRAM system in LCS 4 in 2015 during an engagement against a non-maneuvering, subsonic aerial target (BQM-74) with radio frequency and infrared augmentation that were not consistent with the characteristics of realistic threats.” [emphasis added]

“…the program decided to cancel all subsequent live fire events, conceding that the Independence variant is unlikely to be successful consistently when engaging some LSFs (Low Slow Flyers) until future upgrades of SAFIRE (the optical targeting system for the 57 mm gun) can be implemented.”

“Gun accuracy problems have been observed in both LCS 2 and LCS 4, with the 57 mm gun consistently firing short of the target when shooting to port and beyond the target when shooting to starboard.”

“LCS 4 has long-standing problems with her ride control system hardware, including interceptors, fins, and T-Max rudders, that affect her maneuverability. The ship also had reported recurring problems with frequent clogging of the gas turbine engine fuel oil conditioning module pre-filters and coalescers, and found it difficult to maintain high speed for prolonged periods.”

I won’t even offer any comment or analysis beyond saying that this is a great big steaming pile of LCS.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Still Trying To Retire Cruisers

The Navy is at it again.  You’ll  recall that the Navy attempted to retire 11 of the 22 ship Aegis cruiser force under the guise of “idling” them while slowly modernizing them and then eventually bringing them back into the fleet as one-for-one replacements for retiring cruisers.  [See, “Idled Cruisers” and “Idled Cruisers – Update”]  Of course, ComNavOps pointed out that if you remove half the cruiser fleet and then bring them back on a one-for-one replacement basis you will have effectively retired 11 of the 22 cruisers since, in one fell swoop, the cruiser force would be reduced from 22 to 11 and never rise above that number again.

Of course, that was the best case plan.  More realistically, the “idled” cruisers would never sail again.  Can you really see the Navy following through, several years from now, on modernizing ships that are even older at that point?  Of course not!  Once idled, these ships are done.  The operating costs disappear, crews vanish, money is saved, and new construction is assured.

Why, you ask, would the Navy conceivably want to early retire the most powerful warships in the world, some with BMD capability already, all with potential BMD capability, and all with many years of service life left?  The answer is two-fold:

  1. As we just discussed, saving money for new construction.
  2. Eliminating a potential and very viable alternative to the Burke Flt III which, if exercised, would threaten new Burke Flt III construction funding.  This was the same tactic used when the Spruance class was literally sunk to prevent competition between the Spruance/NTU and the, then, new Aegis system.  The Navy also did the same thing by neutering and retiring the Perrys to avoid competition with the LCS.

In any event, Congress didn’t believe the Navy’s “modernization” plan any more than ComNavOps did and they legislated that the Navy continue to operate the cruisers.  Then, when the Navy continued to try to back-door Congress, passed the 2/4/6 law which limited the Navy to 2 “idles” per year, mandated that the modernizations be completed in 4 years, and only allowed a maximum of 6 cruiser to be “idled” at a time.

So much for the history of this.

Undeterred, the Navy is once again attempting to retire 11 cruisers (1) in one stroke.  This time, recognizing Congress’ distrust, the Navy has offered (is insisting, actually) to have Congress write legislation mandating the return of the modernized cruisers to the fleet.  That way, the Navy claims, they can’t renege on the plan and retire the cruisers.

How dumb does the Navy think we are?  This is just a rehash of the original attempt whereby half the cruiser force would be idled for an extended period and then returned to the fleet on a one-for-one basis to replace retiring cruisers.  It still results in 11 cruisers being dropped from the force, permanently.  The article also makes it crystal clear that the Navy recognizes and publicly acknowledges that Congress does not trust them.  As I’ve said, the Navy has squandered whatever good will they ever had with Congress.  Now, though, they’re in the process of squandering their intellectual credibility.

At a time when the Navy is claiming to want to build the fleet up to 300+ ships, claiming that BMD is one of, if not the top, priorities, and is supposedly preparing for a Pacific Pivot and potential confrontation with China, how can the Navy possibly retire 11 of the most powerful warships on earth and replace them, numerically, with LCSs?  Honestly, if China could slip an agent into the Secretary of the Navy’s job with instructions to weaken the US fleet, they couldn’t do it better than this.

This latest attempt demonstrates, yet again, the Navy’s blatant disregard for Congressional wishes and highlights the absolute insanity that is now passing for leadership in the Navy.


USNI, “WEST: Navy Wants Congressional Mandate Preventing Decommissioning Modernized Cruisers”, Megan Eckstein, February 18, 2016,

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Fight or Flight - Part 4

I’ve seen comments about the boats and crews that were seized by the Iranians to the effect that if they had resisted they would have been killed.  This is an improbable statement.  Let’s take a look at the boats and their weaponry.

The boats are the 52 foot long Riverine Command Boats, as they are called by the Navy.  They are actually CB90’s, capable of 40 kts, and they are quite heavily armed for their size. They have at least four weapon mounts for a mix of 0.50 cal machine gun, GAU-19 0.50 cal mini-gun, dual 0.50 cal machine guns, and Mk19 grenade launchers. They also mount a Mk49 Mini-Typhoon remote weapon station. The boats are armored against 7.62 mm.

Of course, we don't know the exact weapons fit of those particular boats. However, if the boats were unarmed or lightly armed when transiting near an avowed unfriendly country it would only make a bizarre situation even more baffling. There is no reason to believe the boats were not armed as typical for the class and every reason to believe they were.

It's highly unlikely that
Iran just happened to have more powerful boats than that. The crews would have had every expectation of successful defense with minimal casualties.

Here's a few photos to illustrate the firepower these craft have.

A Typical Boat

Dual .50 cals

GAU-19 0.50 cal Mini-gun

Mk19 Grenade Launcher

Mk49 Remote Weapon Station

Another General View

These boats were built for exactly this kind of fight and they failed to engage.  Heads must roll !

Monday, February 15, 2016

Upgrade vs. New

You have wonder about the wisdom of constantly building new aircraft and ships at the expense of existing ones.  Here’s an example from the Defense Industry Daily website.

“Lockheed Martin is to perform mid-life upgrades external link to Greece’s P-3 Orion fleet. The US Navy awarded the $141 million modernization contract, which will provide an extension of service life by 15,000 flight hours. Four P-3Bs will undergo the structural mid-life upgrade, while Lockheed Martin also will reactivate one aircraft. Lockheed Martin will also provide for the inclusion of a Greek indigenous mission integration and management system, new avionics, and other ancillary hardware and services. The upgrades are to be completed by July 2019.

Greece will get 5 modernized P-3 Orions for less than the cost of a single P-8 Poseidon.  I think I’d rather have 5 modernized P-3’s than one P-8.  Frankly, the P-8 doesn’t have any capability that’s that much better than a modernized P-3. 

The 15,000 flight hour extension is equivalent to ten years or so, depending on usage rates. 

What capability does the P-8 have that we couldn’t have added to the P-3’s?  We could add new radars, multi-static sonobuoy analysis, or whatever else. 

5 vs 1

Gotta wonder.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Aircraft Cost Update

Here’s some updated aircraft costs taken from the proposed budget documents submitted to Congress (1).  The numbers are self-explanatory.

F/A-18E/F      2016  qty=5                $350M     ($70M ea)

F-35C             2015  qty=4                $928M     ($232M ea)
                       2016  qty=6                $1,062B  ($177M ea)

F-35B             2015  qty=6                $1,288B  ($215M ea)
                       2016  qty=15              $2,292B  ($153M ea)

Those F-35 costs are a bit more than the numbers that F-35 supporters like to throw around.  It’s hard to imagine the costs dropping to $80M ea or less as has been recently claimed.


(1)Department of Defense Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 President's Budget Submission, Feb 2016 Navy Justification Book, Volume 1 of 4, Aircraft Procurement, Navy Budget Activity 01−04

Navy Again Trying To Retire Aegis Cruisers

ComNavOps is highly critical of Navy leadership but one thing I have to give them credit for is their sheer refusal to accept legislative direction.  Now, when I say that I give them credit, it’s akin to giving a bank robber credit for pulling off a successful robbery – it’s against the law but they showed determination in flouting the law.  Similarly, the Navy doesn’t even blink at Congressional mandates and things as silly as actual laws.

You’ll recall that the Navy previously tried to early retire several Ticonderoga class Aegis cruisers and Congress slapped them down.  Undeterred, the Navy then opted for the completely transparent ploy of “idling” the cruisers for “upgrades”.  Eleven cruisers were to be “modernized” for several years and then would re-enter the fleet.  No one, Congress included, bought that fairy tale.  Instead, Congress imposed a 2/4/6 rule whereby the Navy could only idle 2 cruisers per year, the modernization had to be completed in 4 years, and there could be no more than 6 cruisers undergoing modernization at one time.

Now, the Navy wants to retire modernize 7 additional cruisers for a total of 9.  The cruisers would be idled for an unspecified period of time and be brought back into the fleet only on a one for one basis to replace retiring cruisers (1). 

Aside from ignoring Congress’ legislative directive, that would have the effect of early retiring 9 cruisers since they would only return to the fleet as replacements for future cruiser retirements.  Of course, that assumes you believe the Navy would actually bring them back.  Can you seriously see the Navy bringing back ships that, at that future point, would be ten or fifteen years older?  Of course not!  The Navy will argue that the ships are outdated and should just be left idled.  This is nothing but another transparent early retirement ploy designed to bypass Congress’ law and intent.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe early retirements for the cruisers is a good idea or bad.  The point is that the military is run by the civilian government.  That’s what makes our country unique.  The Navy’s willful disregard for civilian authority is breathtaking.  This is just one more reason Navy leadership needs a wholesale housecleaning.  Fire them all.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Navy Wants To Deactivate Air Wing

ComNavOps has long been saying that the carrier force is on a steady downward trajectory and that we are headed for a 8-9 carrier force.  Here is further proof of the trend, as reported by USNI News website (1).  The Navy is asking Congress for permission to deactivate Carrier Air Wing 14 which would reduce the number of air wings to 9.

Absorb that number:  9 air wings.

That means that, regardless of the number of carriers we have, we can only ever deploy 9.  By law, the Navy is required to have 11 carriers even though we only have 10 now since Enterprise was retired and Ford won’t be commissioned for a few years, yet.  The Navy obtained a Congressional waiver for this period.  By law, the Navy must maintain 10 air wings.  Ten air wings was one less than the number of carriers and recognized the reality that one carrier is always in extended overhaul and unavailable for combat.  Thus, 10 deployable carriers and 10 air wings.  Now, the Navy is claiming that two carriers will always be in extended overhauls so only 9 carriers are deployable and, therefore, only 9 air wings are needed.

This is simply paving the way for a permanent reduction from 11 carriers to 10.  Eventually, the Navy will make the argument that with only 9 air wings, it makes no sense to maintain 11 carriers and they’ll propose eliminating a carrier, probably the next one slated for a mid-life nuclear refueling.

We’ve repeatedly noted that the air wings of today are far smaller than the air wings when the Nimitz class first commissioned and yet we’re building bigger carriers.  Some people have suggested that this is not a problem and, in fact, is a good thing since it allows us to surge aircraft to the carriers in the event of war.  My response to this nonsensical notion is, where will these surge aircraft come from?  We only have 9 air wings.  Each will be deployed in war.  Where are these extra surge aircraft?  There aren’t any and dropping another air wing is only going to make the situation worse.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Navy is so desperate to build new ships, whether useful or not, that they’ll sacrifice anything to do so.  Now, it’s an air wing.  Next it will be a carrier.

We’re pivoting to the Pacific, supposedly, an area that is lacking airbases and the Navy is trying to drop air wings and carriers?  What kind of sense does that make? 

(1)USNI, “FY 2017 Budget: Navy Asks Congressional Permisson to Shutter Carrier Air Wing”, Megan Eckstein, February 9, 2016,

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, our military leadership shows that they can accomplish new lows.  From the Washington Times comes this,

“A new Pentagon report says that climate change is an “urgent and growing threat to our national security” and blames it for “increased natural disasters” that will require more American troops designated to combat bad weather.

The Pentagon is ordering the top brass to incorporate climate change into virtually everything they do, from testing weapons to training troops to war planning to joint exercises with allies.

To four-star generals and admirals, among them the regional combatant commanders who plan and fight the nation’s wars, the directive tells them: “Incorporate climate change impacts into plans and operations and integrate DoD guidance and analysis in Combatant Command planning to address climate change-related risks and opportunities across the full range of military operations, including steady-state campaign planning and operations and contingency planning.” (1)

So, don’t worry about new Russian heavy tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.  Don’t worry about Russian expansionism.  Don’t worry about Russian and Chinese stealth fighters.  Don’t worry about Chinese expansionism.  Don’t worry about the massive buildup of Chinese military forces.  Don’t worry about N.Korea’s nuclear ambitions.  Don’t worry about Iran’s nuclear program, their state sponsored support of terrorism.  Don’t worry about any of that.  Climate change is our real enemy.

Ignoring that there are as many or more scientific studies that debunk climate change as support it and that the bulk of climate change studies have been shown to be flawed or outright falsifications, it’s not the job of the military to be concerned about climate change.  The military exists to fight wars.  It’s that simple.  Everything else, whether it’s social engineering, diversity, gender equality, humanitarian assistance, or whatever, just takes away from that.

Where are the military leaders who are willing to resign in protest over the emasculation of our armed forces?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

LCS Range Downgraded Again

The LCS’ range has, again, been downrated.  According to the 2015 DOT&E Annual Report,

“Based on fuel consumption data collected during the test, the ship’s operating range at 14.4 knots (the ship’s average speed during the trial) is estimated to be approximately 1,960 nautical miles (Navy requirement: 3,500 nautical miles at 14 knots) …”

That’s 1960 nm at 14 knots.  Well, that gets the ship clear of the harbor, I guess, before it has to turn around to refuel.

Distributed Lethality

I used to watch my beloved Detroit Red Wings hockey team back when they were derisively referred to as the “Dead Wings” due to their inept play.  I recall one game where I watched the Wing’s only decent player, a center, flit about the ice going from corner to corner, always out of position, and accomplishing nothing.  Finally, a fan several seats away stood up and yelled, “Hey, [player’s name], pick a position!”  I chuckled about that and never forgot it because it illustrated a life lesson.  You can’t accomplish much if you’re trying to accomplish everything.

Similarly, the Navy seems unable to pick a position.  They’ve jumped from Hi-Lo to SC-21, the 21st Century Family of Surface Combatants, to the Zumwalt, the mandatory future of naval warfare which quickly gave way to being unwanted, to littoral combat, to AirSea Battle, to Pacific Pivot, to Third Offset Strategy, to UCLASS – no UCLASS, and so on – each the guaranteed future of naval warfare and each abandoned in short order.  Every year or so the Navy throws out another game changing, future of naval warfare concept and tries to sell us on it.

The current concept du jour is distributed lethality.  This concept envisions anti-surface (and land attack?) missiles on everything that floats, according to the Navy.  This will greatly complicate the enemy’s strategy, operations, and targeting since they will have to account for every floater in the Navy, so the story goes.  Let’s look a bit closer at this concept.

Attack missiles on every ship.  That’s the fundamental concept.  Okay, what ships are floating today?

The combat fleet, meaning Burkes, Ticonderogas, carriers, and amphibious ships constitute around 190 ships.  Burkes and Ticonderogas already have Tomahawks, Harpoons, and Standards (anti-ship mode) to varying extents.  Thus, those already have distributed lethality.  The carriers don’t need distributed lethality since they already have aircraft that far out range likely missiles.  That leaves amphibious ships.

Are we really going to load anti-ship missiles on our amphibious ships, loaded with Marine troops and equipment and send them on anti-ship attack missions in forward areas?  Remember, these ships have no credible self-defense capability.  Will we risk amphibious ships and entire Marine units to launch a handful of bolt-on Harpoon missiles?  Not unless we’re dumber than a roomful of Admirals.  So, there’s nothing to be gained from attempting to modify the 190 combat ships.

Well, what about the remaining 100 or so ships in the fleet?  These are the tankers, and various replenishment ships, LCS, JHSV, hospital ships, MLP/AFSB, MCM Avengers, and the like.  Are we going to risk the tankers and replenishment ships, the key to fleet operations, in an attempt to mount and launch a few Harpoons?  I certainly hope not!  Are we going to risk the 2-4 MLPs, the key to offshore basing, in an attempt to launch a few Harpoons?  No way!  Hospital ships are out for obvious reasons.  Are we going to risk MCM Avengers, our only functioning mine countermeasures ships, trying to engage in some misbegotten attack mission?  I hope not.  That only leaves JHSV and LCS.  The JHSV is, by law, prohibited from front line combat since they are crewed by civilians.  They also have absolutely no self defense capability.  That leaves the LCS. 

The LCS could accommodate Harpoons and the newer version might be able to accommodate Tomahawks depending on the VLS cell size.  The problem with the LCS is that the weapons far outrange the ship’s sensors.  Thus, the LCS must have an off-board platform supply targeting data.  During combat, in an electromagnetically challenged environment, this may prove problematic.  If the LCS attempts to close with the enemy to the point where they can employ their own sensors, the LCS will likely not survive since it has little effective AAW capability.

Thus, the much touted distributed lethality concept being pushed by the Navy amounts to putting Harpoons on LCSs and hoping to find a way to get them close enough to a target, with actual targeting data, to be useful.  Given the LCS’ extremely limited range/endurance, the need to put back into port every two weeks for scheduled maintenance, and the need to put back into port every 4-6 weeks for extensive maintenance, the odds on the LCS being a useful strike platform are poor.

I’ve read that the Navy has conducted wargames that demonstrate the tactical validity of distributed lethality.  Specifically, the games involved LCSs with (Harpoons?) involved in some type of fleet action and the remarks from Navy spokesmen claim that the ships cause immense problems for the enemy.  What is not discussed are any details.  How did the short-legged LCS arrive in the battle area?  How did they get there undetected and undestroyed since they have no significant AAW?  How did they manage to stay on station long enough to strike given their lack of endurance?  How did they acquire targets given that their weapons outrange their sensors?  Are you getting an inkling of the likely wargame scenario – that the game started with the LCS magically in place and with targets acquired?  Well sure, in a scenario like that the LCS (or a rowboat with a Harpoon, for that matter) would constitute a threat.  In a real world scenario, the odds on achieving that kind of pre-strike arrangement is near zero.  But the Navy wouldn’t conduct a rigged wargame, you say?  Answer – Millenium Challenge 2000 which we recently described.

Distributed lethality appears to be just another Navy marketing ploy to entice Congress to allocate more money.  I wish the Navy would “pick a position” as my fellow hockey fan put it.  I wish they would pick a strategy and approach that is consistent with their core mission and stick with it rather than grasping at new fads every year.  Of course, that assumes that the Navy understands what their core mission is and, horrifyingly, there is no indication that current leadership has any grasp of what that is which probably explains the desperate flailing around as they try to find a justification for existence. 

I wonder what the next revolutionary Navy concept will be?

Monday, February 8, 2016

How's That For Congressional Oversight?

The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, John McCain, and the ranking Democrat, Jack Reed, sent a letter to SecNav Mabus and CNO Richardson which absolutely rips the LCS program and the Navy’s lies concerning it.  Yes, there is no other way to characterize the Congressmen’s take on the Navy’s statements other than to call them lies.

I’ve been unable to obtain a copy of the letter in a format from which I can cut and paste to present selected passages but, honestly, you need to read the entire letter.  Here’s the link.

                         McCain/Reed LCS Letter

The letter is self-explanatory.  What I’d like to comment on is not the myriad issues – those are well known.  Instead, I’d like to point out the tone of the letter.  Clearly, Congress is getting fed up with the Navy’s games and lies and is tired of waiting for non-existent technology to mature.  Of course, one could wonder where the corresponding outrage over the F-35 is but, I digress.

The Navy has completely used up any stockpile of goodwill that it ever had and needs to immediately begin dealing honestly and openly with Congress if they are to have any hope of moving from an adversarial relationship to one of cooperation.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

LCS Anti-Swarm Exercise Video

Below is Navy released video of the recent LCS anti-swarm testing that received such negative comments from DOT&E.  Watch it and then we'll discuss it.

OK, what did we see?  Well, for starters, and most importantly, it was clearly a highly edited and truncated video clip.  We did not see the entire exercise, the number of shots fired at each target, the ranges involved, etc.  We also did not see whether the boats were taken under fire in earlier sequences and, therefore, damaged.  We did not see whether the LCS was at speed and maneuvering which would degrade gunnery.  What we did see was just one or two boats approaching at a time with the remainder floating at rest in the background rather than a complete swarm and the boats did not actually approach - they motored across the field of fire rather than straight at the LCS as would actually happen in combat.  This is equivalent to firing at a tow sleeve being towed back and forth - it serves no purpose other than to prove mechanical operation of the gun which, according to the report cited in the previous post, was fraught with problems.  There was no indication how many shots were fired to achieve the kill.  In fact, in the brief sequence, there were multiple shots that were well off target.  How long had the boat been under fire before a successful shot occurred?  

We also see the single boat continue to advance after being hit.  This is the dwell time issue that we've frequently discussed.  The video sequence ends after the boat is hit and explodes and yet the boat continues.  The target is still alive and potentially viable as an attack platform.  For any of you who might claim that no one could have survived such an explosion, read any WWII combat damage report and you'll see nearly constant uses of the phrase "no one could have survived" and yet they did - routinely.  Further, the craft could well be remote controlled and not have any crew.  Thus, the boat continuing under power and with some or all of its weapons intact would still constitute a threat.  Again, dwell time.  How do you know the target is dead and its okay to shift targets?  That's the challenge and the weakness in using small caliber guns against a swarm attack.

Lastly, we didn't see the boats that made it into the Navy's "keep out" zone as they admitted happened in two out of three attempts in the previous post.  Instead, they edited the video to show what was, presumably, the most impressive result which was the single boat that exploded but kept coming.  

Look, Navy, if you want to convert me from skeptic to believer, conduct a true swarm test with 6-12 boats coming full speed, straight on at the LCS and let's see what the ship can do. Show me the full video.  If the LCS handles that then you've got an instant convert believer. If you won't do that then I can only assume the ship can't perform its stated function.  A transparently edited video accompanied by misleading claims that DOT&E directly refutes isn't going to convince any knowledgeable observer.  In fact, it's just going to reinforce the critics beliefs.

Far from demonstrating any anti-swarm capability, this video serves only to reinforce the shortcomings and warnings I've been posting all along.  

MV-22 Crash Findings

An anonymous reader pointed me to this link of an article reporting on the MV-22 crash in Hawaii in May 2015 (1).  I thank him for the heads up and suggestion to write a post.

To refresh your memory, an MV-22, one of a flight of two, attempted an initial landing which resulted in a complete brownout due to dust, hovered for a period of time at an altitude of perhaps 30 ft, rose, hovered again, and then dropped straight down to the ground.  Two Marines were killed and 20 injured. 

The incident report lays the blame on pilot error despite the pilots violating no rules or guidelines, command error for not selecting a better landing site, and command error for the poor emergency response to the crash.  Punishments have been recommended for many personnel associated with the exercise.  The report and the findings are straightforward as those things go but utterly fail to address the more important warfighting lessons to be learned.  In other words, the incident was investigated as a peacetime, commercial flight incident rather than a combat training incident.

Crash Film - Note the Brownout Conditions and Engine Flameout

As a combat training incident, the main lesson should be that the MV-22 is ill-suited to combat landings.  The MV-22 made a very slow descent and approach before any dust was generated.  This offers enemy gunners an excellent opportunity to target and shoot the aircraft.  Comparing this approach to flims of Viet Nam era helo landings reveals the difference in speed and aggressiveness of approach and landing.  Viet Nam helo landings were high speed, compact, and aggressive with a last moment flair to settle.  The landing process took a fraction of the time that the MV-22 landing does.  The longer the landing time, the greater the vulnerability of the aircraft. 

I’m not an MV-22 pilot but it appears that the initial approach got the aircraft to within 10 ft or so of the ground with less than total brownout conditions.  Had the pilot simply continued the landing, even blind, for 10 more feet the result would have been a safe landing.  The decision to stop and pull back up is what doomed the flight.  Once you’ve reached 10 ft, just continue straight down and the worse that can happen is a slightly bumpy landing.  Taking off again may be a problem but the landing could have been accomplished.  Again, I’m speculating as a non-pilot so take this for what it’s worth.

Some might say that this was a peacetime landing and that in war the MV-22 landings will be considerably faster and more aggressive.  If true, then why are we practicing techniques we won’t use in combat?  Train like you fight, fight like you train, right?  That said, everything I’ve read about MV-22 combat landings suggests that this type of slow, spread out landing is our tactical plan for combat and it’s due to the inherent limitations of the aircraft.  The MV-22 appears ill-suited to effective combat landings.

The next lesson is that, contrary to faulting the command elements for not pre-surveying the landing site and selecting a safer one, acknowledgement must be made that, in combat, landing sites can’t generally be pre-surveyed.  You pick a site and go with it, good or bad.  A total abort is always an option but few sites are going to offer perfect landing characteristics.  If the assault aircraft can’t handle the variety of landing conditions that combat might reasonably dictate, then the aircraft is ill-suited to the role.  Is the MV-22 limited to only “perfect” landing spots?  If so, that severely limits the aircraft's usefulness.

I urge you to read the article but read it from a combat perspective rather than a civilian mishap perspective.


As an aside, the recommended disciplinary measures against a wide variety of personnel including a fair amount of the chain of command is interesting.  I'll watch to see whether the same punishment zealousness accompanies the Iranian seizure of our boats which I view as a much more serious offense.

(1), “Billows of Dust, a Sudden 'Pop' and an Osprey Falls from the Sky”, Hope Hodge Seck, Jan 29, 2016,