Monday, September 18, 2017

Amphibious Assault - Strategic Level

We’ve devoted much discussion to amphibious assaults in this blog and we should given that it’s both a traditional US military capability and the foundation of an entire branch of the military – namely the Marine Corps.  We’ve talked about specifics like connectors, naval gun support, LST’s, logistics, etc.  Let’s back off a bit and look at the larger picture – the strategic level, as opposed to the operational level.

The first, and only, question is whether amphibious assaults are even needed from a strategic level.  I’ve repeatedly addressed this in comments and, obliquely, in posts and it’s time to formally address this.

From a geopolitical strategy perspective we have five foreseeable “enemies” that we can identify that will be concerns for the next twenty years.  The enemies are,

  • China
  • Russia
  • Iran
  • North Korea
  • Third World / Non-State

Let’s take a hard look at each enemy and consider the likelihood of needing to conduct an amphibious assault against each.

China.  Unless we are insane, we are never going to want to land troops on mainland China.  There is no geopolitical need to do that.  The land, itself, has nothing we need and comes with many problems (extensive land borders, cultural and ethnic issues, population problems, etc.) that make forcible entry into, and occupation of, China undesirable.  That only leaves the artificial islands that China has constructed and militarized or similar small, natural, militarized islands.  However, those islands will never be subject to amphibious assault if for no other reason than they are too small to hold any troops!  They’ll be destroyed with cruise missiles and forgotten – somewhat akin to the island hopping strategy of WWII.  The only conceivable use for an amphibious assault would be to reclaim a foreign country that China has seized, such as Taiwan, Philippines, or Vietnam

From a geopolitical perspective, the only one of those that would realistically justify an assault is Taiwan.  We simply don’t care enough about Vietnam to fight for it.  China has already begun the annexation of the Philippines but will conclude that “peacefully” as they’ve done with the South China SeaChina will conduct political maneuvers aimed at ousting US influence and enhancing Chinese influence, as they’ve already started to do.  They’ll flood the country with state sponsored immigration (already underway) until the balance of population shifts to Chinese and then simply and slowly absorb the economy and government and the “Philippines” will align with China and become a Chinese state in all but name.  At that point, the US will have no internationally recognizable rationale for an invasion. 

Within the context of a Chinese Philippines (Chilippines?), seizing the Philippines as part of a larger war effort might be a possibility.  However, we are likely looking at a Chinese fortified Philippines scenario as being 20+ years down the road and, therefore, beyond the time frame of this post subject.

Taiwan remains the one possible amphibious assault scenario.  In any war scenario, Taiwan will be seized by China as the first order of business for two reasons:  one, China has always stated that Taiwan belongs to them and the opportunity of a war simply makes the seizure inevitable and, two, China cannot afford to leave Taiwan as a possible base of operations for the US so deep in its territory and so close to its mainland.  The seizure will occur quickly – far quicker than the US could possibly respond.  The US will be faced with a fait accompli.  If the US wants to retake Taiwan, it will have to be after a massive amphibious force buildup.  Given the proximity of Taiwan to mainland China, an amphibious assault to reclaim the island would be conducted under the very near umbrella of mainland China’s air power, missile power, naval power, and with a close and ready resupply of an almost unlimited amount of manpower.  This is the farthest possible scenario from a “quick” Marine Corps assault using existing forces.  Such an assault would require years of build up.  Is the US likely to do that?  I think not.  A Taiwan seizure will, unfortunately, be a one-way affair.  China will seize it and it will not come back.

Thus, there is very little need for amphibious assaults in a China war scenario.

Russia.  There is very little usable or useful Russian shoreline to assault!  That’s one of the geopolitical problems that Russia faces and is probably one of the reasons they seized Crimea.  A war with Russia will be a land war conducted through Europe.  The Cold War plans still largely apply.  There is a very remote possibility that an assault against the far eastern regions could occur which would be intended to seize military bases along the Sea of Ohkotsk.  Far more likely, though, is that those bases would be neutralized with cruise missiles and relegated to unimportance.  There is just no reason to attempt to seize the bases or the region.  There is nothing there that the US would want.

Further, there is no foreseeable scenario in which US troops would attempt to enter mainland Russia.  Combat would occur around the periphery of the Russian borders and would be aimed at restoring the pre-war boundaries.

Thus, there is no need for amphibious assaults in a Russian war scenario.

Iran.  Most combat forces would enter Iran through Iraq.  While there is a possibility of wanting to land troops somewhere along Iran’s coastline, this would not be an amphibious assault but just an unopposed unloading of troops and supplies through an already seized port or across an uncontested beach.  Iran simply does not have the capability to oppose a landing. 

Thus, there is no need for amphibious assaults in a Iranian war scenario.

North Korea.  There is some small possibility of the need for an amphibious assault along the northern shoreline.  This would be a diversionary assault or raid rather than a major, sustained assault.  The bulk of combat will be land based and troops and supplies will enter through South Korea via secured ports and airbases. 

NKorea possesses a vast inventory of mines which will be used to protect the northern shoreline.  Coupled with our almost complete lack of mine countermeasures, there is probably little likelihood of attempting even a small scale diversionary assault.

Thus, there is no need for amphibious assaults in a NKorean war scenario.

Third World / Non-State.  This is the case that is most likely to require amphibious assaults.  Assaults into Middle East locations or Africa to deal with terrorist threats or, less likely, South America to stabilize collapsing countries are conceivable.  However, given the nature of the threats, any amphibious assault would be limited in size and scope and the assault itself would likely be unopposed and revert to a simple unloading.  A single MEU/ARG would be the likely force size required, at the high end.

Thus, there is a conceivable need for amphibious assault of a limited and, likely, unopposed nature.

As a general observation, unless someone miraculously takes over the entire Pacific, as Japan did, we’re never going to need to island hop our way across an ocean again.  That recognition, alone, eliminates a huge chunk of the need for amphibious assaults.  Similarly, unless someone miraculously seizes all of Europe, we’re never going to need to conduct another Normandy invasion.  That recognition eliminates most of the remaining chunk of need for amphibious assaults.

We see, then, that there is no compelling geopolitical need for major amphibious assaults and no resulting military strategy requiring major amphibious assaults to support the geopolitical needs.  There remains a possibility of small assaults that would be more akin to unopposed unloadings than opposed assaults.

So, what does this tell us about our amphibious fleet force structure?

The obvious conclusion is that we don’t need 33 large deck amphibious ships!  A single MEU/ARG consisting of three ships is sufficient.  If we want to play it safe and call it six ships to allow for reinforcement and overhaul unavailabilities, that’s fine.  So, six amphibious ships should be sufficient.

In fact, since we just concluded that amphibious assaults are so unlikely, we now have to ask, why do we have forward deployed MEU/ARG’s?  And, if we don’t need forward deployed MEU/ARG’s, we don’t need the traditional 3-ships-to-support-one-forward-deployed.  Instead, we can take our six amphibious ships and keep them home ported until needed and provide proper maintenance along with occasional training stints.

The one valid argument for forward deployed, amphibious Marines is crisis response:  embassy protection, evacuation, terrorist response, short term stability operations, etc.  There is a valid and ongoing need for this capability but this leads to the next question which is, is an Amphibious Ready Group the best way to provide this kind of response?  Is keeping several major warships and an entire Marine Epeditionary Unit afloat for months at a time the best way to meet the need?  Alternatively, could the Army’s rapid response, aviation transported units better meet the needs?  There is a valid argument to be made that keeping crisis response troops home-based with aviation transport available on short notice is a more economical and more effective method of providing crisis response.  A MEU can only be in one area at a time and can only respond within that specific area.  An aviation transportable Army unit, however, can respond anywhere. 

The problem that any crisis response force faces is escalation – the threat rapidly escalates beyond the original level and reinforcements are needed very quickly – Mogadishu, for example.  That specific issue – excalation/reinforcement – is, however, a topic for another time.

We should also note that crisis response forces have historically been small and very light compared to a full MEU.  Again, this argues against the need for a forward deployed MEU/ARG.

All of this suggests that we should reevaluate our amphibious doctrine.  Rather than prepare for major amphibious operations that are extremely unlikely, perhaps we should be preparing for small, uncontested landings/unloadings and, perhaps, the Marine’s aviation-centric shift is not without merit.

To sum up,

  • We only need around 6 major amphibious ships.
  • We should keep our amphibious ships home ported.
  • We should investigate whether a MEU/ARG is the most economical and effective crisis response force.
  • We should reevaluate the MEU force structure in light of the historical “light” nature of crisis responses.
  • We should reevaluate Marine manning levels.

I love the Marines and desperately want to see them remain part and parcel of the US Armed Forces.  However, I just don’t see the need for major amphibious assaults in the next 20+ years.  That doesn’t mean that the Marines should be eliminated but it does mean that we should reexamine their missions and force structure.

Now, there is one other potentially useful function that the Marines can perform and which I see as far more likely than the classic amphibious assault and that is port/airfield seizure.  In any war, we are going to need access to ports for unloading the massive amounts of supplies required to keep any invasion going.  To a much lesser extent, the same applies to seizing airfields although it is simply not possible to keep an invasion going via airlifted supplies.  The tonnage and volume movement is just not there.

Port seizure is a completely different game than an amphibious assault.  The operations, tactics, and equipment are radically different.  Also, since most (all?) major ports are intimately and physically intertwined with cities, a port seizure becomes a specific case of urban warfare which brings its own set of challenges which are entirely different from the classic amphibious assault.

The likelihood of port seizures within the context of geopolitical and military strategies should be carefully evaluated.  Unfortunately, I’m simply not in a position to make that evaluation. 

All that said, my conclusions can and would change if we felt port seizure was a likely strategic need and made it a Marine mission.  Right now, however, port seizure is not a specific Marine mission in the sense that they have the equipment, doctrine, tactics, and training to accomplish it.  To the best of my knowledge, the Marines/Navy have never practiced a port seizure.  If you ask a Marine general whether port seizure is a mission, I’m sure they would say yes but it’s not really a mission if you aren’t equipped for it and have never trained for it.

I understand that most of you are going to disagree with the conclusion of this post.  That’s fine.  Feel free to tell me why.  However, do not engage in “what if”.  What if Russia takes over Europe and we need to conduct another Normandy invasion?  What if China suddenly launches an instantaneous seizure of the entire Pacific Ocean?  “What if” is not a viable or logical argument.  If you think we need to retain significant amphibious assault capability, tell me, specifically, where and under what circumstances it would be needed.  Nothing else is reasonable or logical.

Also, do not engage in “you never know” – we need to keep our current Marine force structure because you never know what will happen.  “You never know” is an argument that has no logical basis and can’t be countered.  It’s also an argument for unlimited capabilities because …  well …  you never know.  Using that argument, we should have 98 super carriers, a ten million man Marine Corps, and a thousand B-2 nuclear armed bombers in the air continuously because …  you never know.

The practicalities of budget, industry, and manpower preclude “you never know” force structures.  Therefore, “you never know” is not a valid argument.

Give me something specific or accept the conclusions of the post.


Friday, September 15, 2017

China's Carrier Construction

The Chinese are embarked on a massive aircraft carrier building program.  Here’s a brief look at the current state of affairs.

Type 001.  This is the former Soviet Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier that eventually became the Chinese carrier Liaoning.  It arrived in China in March 2002.  The rebuilt Liaoning began sea trials in August 2011 and was commissioned in September 2012.

Type 001AChina has since initiated the construction of a domestically built Type 001A carrier which was launched in April 2017 and is now undergoing fitting out and trials (1).  Construction had begun in March 2015.  This carrier is, outwardly, a copy of the Liaoning with a ski ramp for aircraft launches.  The design is, no doubt, much improved over the Liaoning.  The ship is tentatively scheduled to be commissioned around the 2020 time frame.

Type 002.  A third carrier is under construction – begun in Feb 2016 - and is likely to be a conventional cat and trap carrier with a steam catapult.  The ship is reported to be around 85,000 tons.

Type 003.  A fourth carrier is reported to be under development as a 100,000+ ton, nuclear powered supercarrier that will feature EMALS launch systems and a fully functional air wing with AEW, EW, and tanker aircraft.


Admittedly, the first two carriers are not Nimitz class supercarriers by any stretch of the imagination.  The Type 002 will likely be equivalent to the early Forrestal class or the modernized Midway.  The Type 003 will probably be China’s attempt at a true supercarrier to rival the US Nimitz/Ford carriers.  The takeaway from this is not the number or quality of China’s carriers but the pace of development and construction.  China has gone from no carriers to multiple carriers in service, under construction, and under development in less than fifteen years.  That’s breathtaking when compared to the glacial pace of U.S. military development and construction.

Yes, China’s development efforts have been aided by massive technology acquisition efforts, both legal and illegal that have allowed China to make significant “unearned” leaps in technological expertise.  For example, China’s carrier development efforts have been aided by its acquisition of the former Australian carrier, HMAS Melbourne.  Reportedly, the Chinese used the Melbourne to reverse engineer the catapult system.  The salient point, though, is that however they’ve done it, the Chinese have embarked on a very rapid climb up the capability mountain.  It is the trend that should be worrisome rather than the current status.



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(1)China Defense Blog, “Construction of China's 1st homegrown aircraft carrier ahead of schedule”, 4-Sep-2017,


Thursday, September 14, 2017

USS McCain Cyber Attack Investigation

The Navy is investigating the possibility that cyber hacking was involved in the recent collision between the USS McCain and a merchant ship (1).  The Navy is doing this as a cyber warfare test case exercise rather than because anyone believes that cyber hacking occurred.  I so often criticize Navy leadership but this deserves accolades.  This is an excellent opportunity to do a live warfighting test of the Navy’s counter-cyber capabilities and to begin establishing procedures.  Who knows, maybe there was hacking involved?  Until you do the investigation, you won’t know.  Therefore, treat it like there was an attack until you prove otherwise.  That said, please don’t misconstrue what I’m saying.  I’m not even remotely suggesting that a cyber attack occurred.

One interesting aspect of this incident that the article points out is that a cyber attacker would have been more likely to hack the merchant ship’s systems, causing it to steer into the McCain, than to try hacking the destroyer’s systems.  That presents a challenge from an investigative perspective, in trying to get access to the merchant ship’s systems.  That, in itself, is a lesson learned, already!

I would also hope that the investigation might uncover cyber vulnerabilities, as they proceed, even they weren’t exploited.  There is nothing but good that can come from this.

This needs to become routine and, indeed, it appears that it will be.

“The Navy is making cyber investigations automatic after any mishap, starting with the at-sea collision that killed 10 sailors aboard the USSMcCain.”

That’s outstanding, if overdue.  We know that China, Russia, NKorea, and Iran are conducting cyber attacks on US systems routinely – and that’s only from the incidents that have been made public!  There are, undoubtedly, many more that have not been publicized.

I cannot say enough good about the Navy’s action on this.  In fact, the only negative is how long it has taken the Navy to initiate this investigation.  They should have been on the case immediately but, hey, this is the first test case so I’ll cut them some slack.

Well done, Navy!


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(1)Breaking Defense website, "Was The Merchant Ship Hacked? McCain Collision Is First Run For Navy Cyber Investigators",Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 14-Sep-2017,


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

We Didn't Bring The Tanks

I’ve been waiting for this one for a while, now, and it’s finally happened.  The Marines are deploying a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) without any tanks.  Perhaps it’s happened before and I just didn’t notice.  As noted in the May 2017 issue of Proceedings,

“Despite the maneuverability, lethality, and survivability that tanks provide, the 15th MEU will deploy without its battalion landing team’s (BLT’s) M1A1s.  The unit will embark on the USS America (LHA-6), the USS San Diego (LPD-22), and the USS Pearl Harbor (LSD-52);  these ships lack adequate space for the unit’s equipment, driving the decision to deploy without the tanks.”

The article’s author goes on to note that, in addition to the obvious benefits of armor, firepower, infantry support, and survivability, tanks also offer a great deal of flexibility due to their dozer blades and mine plows which allow the tanks to create and remove obstacles, clear safe paths through mine fields, provide breeching capability under fire, etc.

The point of this post is not to analyze or extol the value of tanks but, rather, to note the insanely stupid decisions that have led to not having enough room for the MEU’s equipment and the highly questionable choice to leave the tanks behind.

Let’s start with the decision to remove the well deck from the LHA America.  Without a well deck and LCAC, there’s no point loading a tank since you can’t unload it.

“To that end, its commanders [Col. Joseph Clearfield, commander of the 15th MEU] say, the 15th MEU/ARG remains a highly-capability and perhaps more flexible force. The lack of a well deck, often cited by critics in recent years, won’t diminish its combat and operational might, they said.” (1)

Losing the MEU’s entire tank platoon doesn’t diminish the MEU’s combat capability?  Spin is one thing, lies are another.


Nope - Didn't Bring 'Em


There’s another aspect to all this and that is the Navy/Marine’s obsession with disaggregated Amphibious Ready Groups wherein the individual ships go their separate ways on deployment.  What happens when the USS America, with no well deck and no connector craft, has to conduct a solo operation?  If it requires nothing more than light infantry, they’ll be fine.  If it requires a bit of heavy support, they won’t have any.  In any single ship, contested operation, the aircraft will be largely tied up defending the ship and will be unavailable for ground support.

The Marines are supposed to be a medium weight force.  Leaving the tanks behind and using an LHA without a well deck is just another step on the path to a pure light infantry force.  Light infantry are not survivable on the modern battlefield.

If this MEU has to conduct a contested amphibious operation and the troops are being pounded and screaming for armored firepower, someone is going to have to tell the troops, “We didn’t bring the tanks.”



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(1)USNI News website, “Navy, Marines to Test, Stretch Aviation-heavy USS America Before Deployment”, Gidget Fuentes, 23-Jan-2017,


Monday, September 11, 2017

The Widening Gulf

Some time ago, we had a post about Secretary of Defense Carter’s ill-advised desire to improve recruitment by lowering standards (see, “Drug Users Welcome”).  In the comments, mention was made of the widening gulf between society at large and the military (we’re also seeing a divide between society and the police but that’s a topic for some other blog) and that mention has stuck with me.  After much thought and much self-debate about the desirability of posting on the subject, I’ve decided to offer my thoughts.  Be warned, if you don’t want to read a sociological commentary post, leave now and wait for the next post. 

Observers have offered various reasons for the divide between society and the military.  The reasons generally focus on politics, policies, involvement in unpopular conflicts, and so on.  All probably contain a degree of validity.  However, the main reason for the gulf is something different, I believe.

The gulf between the military and society stems not from politics, policies, and actions but from a widening difference in values.  The military has traditionally valued order, discipline, honor, integrity, sacrifice, and identification with something larger than self.  Society has, over the last couple of decades, turned away from those characteristics and moved towards blaming others for one’s own failures, a focus on self, and elimination of accountability and personal responsibility.  Consider these examples.

  • Suing the seller because you were dumb enough to spill hot coffee in your lap
  • Participation trophies
  • Sanctuary cities
  • Failure to prosecute Hillary Clinton
  • Enforced feminization of boys in elementary schools
  • Banning of Christian references to Christmas
  • Legalization of drugs
  • Programs to forgive IRS and credit card debt
  • Welfare, in general

It all comes down to standards and standard’s handmaidens:  accountability and responsibility.  Our society is systematically removing standards.  No one is held to any civil or criminal standard.  No one is accountable for their actions.  No one is expected to demonstrate responsibility.

Is it any wonder that military age young adults who have grown up in this society and have come to see it as normal see little that they can identify with in the military?

Of course, in the last few years the military has also begun to abandon standards, accountability, and responsibility so the gulf may actually be narrowing a bit.  We see this abandonment in the Fat Leonard scandal that has rocked the Navy, the disgraceful, willful failure by 7th Fleet to follow mandatory training requirements, the lying by the Marine Corps regarding IOC of the F-35, and so on – I won’t bother presenting an endless litany of the moral and ethical failings of Navy leadership.  Read the blog and you’ll see all the examples you need.

Ironically, anecdotal evidence suggests that the military’s recent social engineering policies are turning off those who do identify with the military culture but now see it being eroded.  I’ve heard from endless veterans who tell me they will actively steer their children away from military service because of the erosion of traditional values.  The long, unbroken lines of familial service are being broken.  The widespread failure of veterans to promote military service may be more damaging to recruitment than the general gulf between society and the military.  Veterans are, arguably, the most effective recruiting tool there is and if they have stopped recommending service then recruitment will, indeed, become a challenge.  Recruitment-wise, the military has shot themselves in the foot by abandoning traditional values.

A functional society must have standards and hold its members accountable to those standards or it will fall.  Is our society climbing or falling?  I’ll leave it to you to answer that question for yourself.

The military has traditionally been the caretaker of society’s standards but is now rapidly abandoning its standards.  This is not a good trend and our civilian leadership’s response of further lowering standards could not be more wrong.  Now is the time to strengthen and reinforce military standards.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

CNO Richardson Must Be Fired

Since the report came out about the lapsed certifications among the deployed 7th Fleet ships and crew, I’ve been trying to find out more about the mechanism by which this state of affairs was sanctioned.  The mechanism was the “risk assessment and management plan” (RAMP).  Apparently, RAMP was used to directly and consciously bypass mandatory Navy training and certifications.  Among 7th Fleet deployed destroyers and cruisers, around 40% of crew certifications in damage control, navigation, flight operations, and basic seamanship had lapsed (1)

Despite my efforts, I’ve been unable to find any mention of RAMP as an official Navy program.  It appears that it may have been a locally (local to the 7th Fleet) devised and implemented program that lacked official Navy sanction.  Whether it was universally know throughout upper Navy leadership and unofficially sanctioned is unknown.

The conclusion from this is obvious.  The program has led to disasters, deaths, and horribly damaged ships.  Someone must be held responsible and pay the price and, indeed, VAdm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the 7th Fleet, has been relieved.  Of course, the firing may have been largely symbolic since he was due to retire in a few weeks, anyway.

There is another person who must pay the price and that is current CNO Richardson.  

If he did not know about an unsanctioned program intended to bypass mandatory Navy readiness certifications for an entire major fleet then he should be fired for incompetence and obliviousness.  

If he knew about the program then he should be fired for violating the trust of the country, the Navy, and the sailors serving under him and hazarding the military preparedness and security of the country.  

Either way, he has to go.

Get used to it.  You’re going to hear me continue to harp on this.  CNO Richardson is the Captain of the Navy and the Captain is accountable for everything that happens on his ship – his ship being the entire Navy.  I have lost confidence in his ability to command.

Richardson has allowed, and may have actively aided and abetted, the readiness and basic seamanship of the Navy to fall to dangerously low levels.  If our Navy is no longer capable of basic navigation, anchoring, and other acts of basic seamanship, how are we going to fight a war?  If we no longer have a grasp of basic seamanship, what are the odds that we’re tactically trained and proficient?  Through actions and inactions he has endangered the security of the country.  That’s tantamount to treason.  Further, he is directly responsible for the deaths of sailors and hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to US military assets.  He should be court-martialed and punished severely.

Let’s be fair.  This didn’t all happen on Richardson’s watch.  His predecessor, Adm. Greenert is at least equally culpable.  He should be recalled to active duty and court-martialed. 

A Chinese or Russian mole agent could not do more damage to the Navy and our nation’s security than our own Navy leadership is doing.



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(1)Defense News website, “US Navy worked around its own standards to keep ships underway: sources”, David B. Larter, 7-Sep-2017,


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Shoot The Messenger

Shoot the messenger!

That’s a time honored method used by incompetent leaders to deal with bad news.  Now, we see the Navy’s version of that related to the aircraft oxygen deprivation problems being experienced by pilots.  Apparently, there is no problem.  It’s all in the pilot’s heads.  Yep, here’s the Navy’s explanation for the oxygen problems.

“First, the cockpit warning light for the On-Board Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS) goes off too often, making pilots think they had a problem with their air supply when there really wasn’t one, Winter [VAdm. Mat Winter, F-35 program director] said at the DefenseNews conference here yesterday. Since the warning signs of hypoxia are the same as the signs of getting anxious about hypoxia – you have trouble breathing and concentrating – a false alarm can easily send a pilot into psychosomatic symptoms. The program has tweaked the warning light to reduce false positives, Winter said.” [emphasis added] (1)

You’re not passing out, you just think you are!  I love it!  Only the Navy could come up with this response to a physiological and physical problem.  It’s all in your head!

“Second, in this summer’s incidents at Luke in particular, the problem was a combination of brutal temperatures and inexperienced pilots. While pilots who know an aircraft well can jump in the cockpit, run through their checklists, and get in the air ASAP, the F-35 is a new plane and most of its pilots are still mastering it. The result was pilots spending half an hour on the runway in the baking Arizona sun and 100-plus degree heat, all the while sitting in the carbon monoxide from their own jet exhaust. That’s enough to make anyone woozy.” [emphasis added] (1)

So, it’s the pilots fault!  Of course, Winter’s explanations ignore the fact that experienced pilots and instructor pilots were reporting symptoms across a variety of aircraft under a variety of conditions. 

The Navy’s version of shoot the messenger is to throw the complaining pilots under the bus!  This is not going to sit well with pilots who already feel their complaints were being ignored.  This should increase the pilot job satisfaction and reenlistment rate.




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(1)Breaking Defense website, “JPO Fixing F-35 Oxygen, Carrier Landing, Software Glitches: VADM Winter”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 7-Sep-2017,




Criminal Negligence

Read this bit related to the recent spate of groundings and collisions in the 7th Fleet.

“Adm. Scott Swift has taken on direct supervision of the “risk assessment management plan” program, a system otherwise known as RAMP that allowed the local destroyer squadron, fleet trainers and stateside commanders to keep their ships on patrol even if their qualifications in critical areas such as damage control, navigation and flight deck operations had lapsed.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office is set to testify Thursday that nearly 40 percent of the Japan-based cruisers and destroyers were operating without valid warfare certifications.” [emphasis added] (1)

ComNavOps has been preaching the hollowness of the Navy and the criminally negligent behavior of Navy leadership for the last few years.  Now the ironclad proof is beginning to come out.

Is there really anything further I need to say?


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(1)Defense News website, “US Navy worked around its own standards to keep ships underway: sources”, David B. Larter, 7-Sep-2017,


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Combat Radius

So many discussions about aircraft include mention and claims about range.  Unfortunately, range is a very imprecise concept and range numbers are highly variable.  There’s an old saying in statistics that you can make the numbers say anything you want.  The same is true in discussions of range - you can get any range number you want by playing with the conditions. 

Let’s look a bit closer at the concept of range by looking at the specific example of an F-18E/F Super Hornet (SH).  In a recent post, a SH range figure was quoted and I expressed doubt and stated that it was a very optimistic number.  Let’s see why.

As a general prelude to this discussion, we need to agree on some terms. 

Range is, technically, the distance from one point to another – in other words, a straight line, one-way travel.  Carrier aircraft don’t generally do that.  Instead, they fly out, execute a mission task, and return to the carrier.  So, their “range” is actually a radius.  Thus, their maximum radius is half their maximum range. 

Unfortunately, many people use “range” and “radius” interchangeably.  For the rest of this discussion, we’ll attempt to use “range” as meaning a one-way, straight line travel and radius to mean an out and back trip. 

Now, let’s plunge right in and check the range and radius for the F-18E/F.  From the F-18E/F NATOPS Performance Data Manual, Specific Range Chart Fig. 5-37, Alt = 15,000 ft, Wt = 50,000 lbs, we get the following data.


Using the Optimum Cruise line at the median Drag Index gives

Speed = 456 mph
Fuel Flow = 6500 pph
Specific Range = 0.058 nm per pound of fuel

So, for a SH with a full internal fuel load of 14,400 lbs, that gives a range of (14,400 lbs x 0.058 nm per lb = 835 nm), radius = 417 nm

Calculated alternatively,

Flight time = (14,400 lbs / 6500 lbs/hr = 2.2 hrs)
Flight range = (2.2 hrs x 456 mph = 1003 miles or 872 nm), radius = 501 miles or 436 nm



We see, then, that the combat radius of the SH is about 420 nm at a cruise altitude of 15,000 ft and a weight of 50,000 lbs and using optimum cruise speed.  As a reminder, the recent post quoted the SH range figure as 450 nm.  Well, that’s almost exactly the figure we just calculated so that seems like a reasonable and valid range number, right?  Why did ComNavOps express doubt and claim it was extremely optimistic?

Well, here’s where the discussion breaks down.  The calculated range is for straight line cruising at the specified altitude, speed, and weight but how did the aircraft get to that altitude?  It didn’t just appear there.  It launched from a carrier using maximum thrust which consumes huge amounts of fuel.  It had to climb to altitude which consumes additional fuel over and above that needed to simply cruise.  So, in the real (operational) world, the fuel required to launch and climb to altitude has to be subtracted from the available fuel in our calculations.  How much fuel is that?  I have no idea – 20%, maybe?  A pilot would have to tell us or I would have to dig even deeper into the NATOPS manual.  The point is that the calculation assumes the aircraft starts at altitude and with a full load of fuel which is impossible.  So, the calculated range/radius must be significantly reduced.  That 420 nm radius now becomes 350 nm, maybe?

But wait, there’s more confusion.

The 420 nm radius assumes a straight line, unwavering, constant speed flight.  On a combat mission, aircraft don’t generally fly straight, level, and constant speed.  Typically, a combat mission will involve changes in direction to weave around known dangers (radar sites, enemy bases, etc.) and/or to approach from a direction other than straight on.  So, even if you could fly 420 nm in a straight line, if you throw in several course changes that take you off that straight line, you’ll consume additional fuel which has the effect of shortening the apparent radius. 

Further, on a combat mission the aircraft don’t fly at a constant speed or altitude.  They increase speed, especially near the target when they use fuel gulping maximum power.  They fly at different altitudes.  For example, a mission might consist of a high altitude cruise to the target, a low altitude approach, and a high altitude return cruise.  The altitude changes not only consume additional fuel but change the flight efficiency – lower altitudes are generally less fuel efficient.

So, the actual combat mission flight profile is going to consume additional fuel.  That 350 nm radius now becomes 260 nm, maybe?

Of course, if the aircraft expends ordnance at the target, the aircraft’s weight decreases which improves the fuel efficiency on the return leg.  Also, as fuel is burned, the aircraft becomes lighter, further improving fuel efficiency and that 260 nm radius becomes 290 nm, maybe?

So, we see that combat radius is totally dependent on the specific conditions of the combat mission.  The point is that the published range/radius is generally significantly unrealistic.  Nowhere is this more evident than in discussing the much-hyped and much-lied about F-35.  You know those ranges are works of fiction!

So, is that the end of the discussion?  No, not by a long shot!

The problem is further compounded by actual carrier aircraft operating procedures.  Aircraft don’t actually launch with a full load of fuel, go out, execute their mission, and return, all on one load of fuel.  Instead, the aircraft usually launch with a partial fuel load and top off over the carrier, after launch.  Additionally, they are often partially refueled during the return leg and/or at the carrier for recovery.  Making the issue more complicated is that fact that aircraft don’t usually take off and immediately begin flying straight to the target – they take off and marshal at some point waiting for the rest of the strike package to launch and assemble.  This waiting burns more fuel.  The assembly point may also include a partial refueling. 

So, what does combat radius refer to?  Is it the radius after having launched and refueled and factoring in a return refueling or two?  If so, then the combat radius can be any distance you want just by adding in more refuelings!  When the Navy cites a combat radius of xxx nm, do they mean the radius with the benefit of multiple refuelings because that’s what a typical mission consists of?

Carrier aircraft rarely fly “unrefueled” missions so citing an unrefueled radius is a combination of unrealistic, pointless, meaningless, and confusing.  Yikes!

So how do we usefully compare the combat radius of one aircraft to another?  We intuitively know that aircraft differ in their inherent “range” but how do we compare the differences?  Well, for practical purposes, we can’t.  About the best we can do is get our hands on flight manuals and extract specific range numbers (nm miles per pound of fuel) under a specific set of conditions.  This will give us directly comparable fuel efficiency numbers which will reveal which aircraft is more fuel efficient and from that we can infer, and calculate, actual combat radii.  But, even that isn’t the end of the story.

Different aircraft fly different types of missions.  An air superiority fighter flies a different mission and flight profile than a strike aircraft so trying to compare combat radius at a single, arbitrary set of conditions is pointless and unrealistic. 

Further, different aircraft have different fuel efficiencies under different conditions.  Some aircraft are optimized for lower level flight while others are optimized for higher level flight.  How do we compare those?  Again, we really can’t.  The best we can do is try to compare apples and apples.  We can’t meaningfully compare the combat radius of an A-10 low level close air support plane to the combat radius of a high altitude F-22 air superiority fighter.  We can, however, compare the F-35C to the F-18E if we specify the mission, weapons load, and flight profile – assuming we can get our hands on NATOPS flight data.

What’s the overall conclusion from this discussion aside from the realization that published range/radius values are virtually meaningless?  The conclusion is to assume the published range/radius numbers are maximum and unrealistic values that would only be obtained under unrealistic, non-operational conditions.  If you want an “actual” operational combat radius, take 60% of the published figure and you’ll be somewhere in the realm of an actual combat mission radius.

So, did that clear things up?  Yeah, I didn’t think so but it’s the best we can do.  Hopefully, it will at least allow you to more intelligently discuss combat “range” in the future and more realistically assess published values.

On a related note, this discussion makes the published range/radius values for the SH and F-35 all the more disappointing when compared to the actual Pacific theater requirements.  It also emphasizes the need for an operationally effective tanker.  Above all, though, it clearly points out the need to build aircraft that are inherently longer ranged.  When we're talking about thousand mile A2/AD zones, it quickly becomes obvious that the F-18 and F-35 are both woefully short on their useful combat radii.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Navy Aerial Tanker Update

Details on the Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray unmanned tanker have been hard to come by, especially the most relevant ones like fuel loads and range.  Now, however, we see some details in a USNI News article (1).

“Air Boss Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker said the service’s goal was for the Navy’s first operational carrier-based unmanned aerial vehicle to be able to deliver about 15,000 pounds of fuel at 500 nautical miles from the carrier to the air wing’s strike fighters, which would almost double their operational range.”

So, that’s interesting … 15,000 lbs of fuel at 500 nm from the carrier.  Let’s examine that a bit closer.

An F-18 Super Hornet has an internal fuel capacity of around 14,000 lbs.  So, the unmanned tanker could completely refuel one aircraft.  Of course, that’s not exactly how refueling works.  Each aircraft would receive a lesser amount of fuel, say 5,000 lbs.  Thus, the tanker could refuel three aircraft.  I think you can see where this is going.  If there are 30 aircraft in a strike package, and each needed 5,000 lbs of fuel, it would require 10 tankers.  That’s a LOT of tankers.  Of course, more tankers would be required for the carrier overhead/recovery tanking.  We’re looking at around 16 tankers in our strike/recovery scenario.  Yikes!

Now let’s refer back to that quote and the phrase, “double their operational range”.  Here’s the relevant range figure according to the article.

“The strike range of a carrier air wing is now only about 450 nautical miles – the effective unrefueled radius of a Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.”

That range figure is exceedingly optimistic but, hey, let’s work with it for the sake of discussion.

So, if it took 15,000 lbs of fuel to achieve an operational range of 450 nm, adding 5,000 lbs of extra fuel (36% of the aircraft’s full fuel capacity) isn’t going to double the aircraft’s range, it’s going to increase the range by 36% which is an extra 160 nm.  Yes, I know the range calculations aren’t a simple linear function.  I’m just illustrating the concept.  No matter how you look at it, we aren’t going to double an aircraft’s range by adding a small fraction of additional fuel.  The only way we can double the range is to do a complete refueling which takes us back to a 1:1 tanker:aircraft ratio.  In that case, our example strike of 30 aircraft would require 30 tankers!

Does no one in the Navy run these simple calculations?  Apparently not.

Let’s refer back to the excellent post by guest author George Bustamante, “Why The Navy Needs A Really Large Tanker” (2).  In that article, he lists fuel capacities of various tankers and demonstrates why a capacity of 15,000 lbs of fuel is insufficient for a mission tanker.  For example, the old KA-3 Skywarrior tanker carried 29,000 lbs of fuel  - almost double that of the proposed unmanned tanker.  At the high (and useful) end, the KC-135 carries 150,000 lbs!

The MQ-25 Stingray, with a 15,000 lb fuel capacity barely duplicates the current F-18 Super Hornet tanker capacity of ~16,000 lbs.  The F-18 isn’t considered a mission tanker so how will the MQ-25 which barely duplicates the F-18 tanker’s load suddenly and magically become an effective mission tanker?  Unless we’re going to build lots and lots of these unmanned tankers, I just don’t see this as an effective solution for mission tanking – for overhead/recovery tanking, yes, but mission tanking, no.

So, we have fraudulent claims about doubling the air wing’s range combined with an utterly ineffective mission tanker specification.  I don’t see a good outcome, here.  Yes, it can free up the Hornet from overhead/recovery tanking, which is good, but it leaves the Navy with short ranged aircraft and still no effective mission tanker.  The Navy had an opportunity to do something that could significantly enhance the air wing’s combat effectiveness and apparently have declined to do so.  Baffling.




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(1)USNI News website, “MQ-25 Stingray Unmanned Aerial Tanker Could Almost Double Strike Range of U.S. Carrier Air Wing”, Sam LaGrone, 31-Aug-2017,

(2)Navy Matters blog, “Why The Navy Needs A Really Large Tanker”, George Bustamante, 22-Aug-2016,


Friday, September 1, 2017

MH-60R Radar and Distributed Lethality

The Navy’s MH-60R Seahawk family helicopter operates from various ships, including the LCS, and performs various roles such as search and targeting, ASW, ASuW, search and rescue, etc.

One of the keys to the usefulness of the MH-60R is the on-board radar.  The APS-147 and its successor, the APS-153(V), are multi-mode radars with long/short range search capability, Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) imaging, and periscope detection modes, among others (1).

The MH-60R radar is derived from the APS-143(V) which is claimed to have a maximum range of 200 nm (3).  Of course, maximum range is for a large target on a clear day with calm seas.  A more realistic range for smaller targets, such as naval vessels with a degree of stealth, in typical seas with wave clutter will be much, much less.

The APS-147 radar’s design features include wide bandwidth, high average power, fast scan rate (108/minute), frequency agility, scan-to-scan integration over nine scans, and a track-before-detect capability (4).

APS-147 Modes (2)

  • Small Target/Periscope Detection
  • Long Range Surveillance
  • Weather Detection and Avoidance
  • All Weather Navigation
  • Short Range Search-and-Rescue
  • Enhanced Low Probability of Intercept (LPI) Search
  • Target Designation
  • Inverse Synthetic Aperture Target Imaging

The APS-153(V) adds Automatic Radar Periscope Detection and Discrimination (ARPDD) capability to the list of modes.

Note that long range search and LPI are two separate and distinct modes.  LPI uses less power and produces much shorter detection ranges while long range search is more powerful but increases the probability of intercept to a certainty.

Radar is not the only means of finding targets.  The ALQ-210 Electronic Support Measures (ESM) system for provides passive detection, location and identification of emitters  and threat warning (1).  The system emphasis seems to be on threat warning.  I don’t know how effective the system is for targeting or whether it can even generate targeting quality data.

At least among public observers and commentators, if not naval professionals, the helo is seen as the key to distributed lethality and is accorded near-magical capabilities.  As we’ve often noted, long range anti-ship missiles are useless without equally long range target detection and identification.  The helo is seen by non-professionals as being able to provide that long range search, detection, and targeting capability.

When I distinguish between public observers and naval professionals, the distinction I’m making is that I know what observers believe but I have no idea what naval professionals think about this subject.  I have no idea whether the Navy believes that helos are an integral and major component of distributed lethality or not.  It may be that the Navy sees no more than an incidental role in the long range search that is necessary to support distributed lethality.  Of course, if this is true then I have no idea how the Navy thinks they’ll find targets.

The maximum range of the APS-147/153 is unknown but, for sake of discussion, let’s assume it’s around 200 miles.  Again, that’s the maximum range for detection of a large, non-stealthy, non-ECM active target under ideal conditions and using maximum output power – say, a large tanker sailing in good weather.  For a smaller, semi-stealthy, active-ECM target such as a modern frigate or destroyer, the detection range is considerably less than the maximum – let’s call it a third to half the max range.  That puts our useful detection range at 66-100 miles and against a modern, semi-stealthy, ECM cloaked naval vessel even that may be optimistic.

Of course, even if the helo’s detection range is relatively short, the helo itself can fly out from the host vessel thereby extending the effective detection range.  Thus, the effective detection range is the helo’s flight range plus the radar range.  The flip side of this is that if the helo is radiating, it’s going to be seen and tracked at longer ranges than it can detect a target at and will be targeted and shot down before it can detect the shooting platform.  In other words, if the helo is close enough to detect an enemy vessel, the helo is probably already dead.

This is the key concept and it invalidates the use of a helo as the means of providing long range targeting for the distributed lethality concept.  A radiating target (the helo) can be detected at a much greater distance than its own radar can detect the targets it’s looking for.  This is not a prescription for survival and it is not a prescription for successful long range targeting.  Couple this with the helo’s demonstrated non-survivability in a surface-to-air missile environment and it’s patently obvious that the helo cannot survive long enough to find a target.  Could it find a small patrol craft that has no significant SAM capability?  Sure, but that’s not really the kind of target distributed lethality is intended to find and destroy, is it?  Even then, in enemy waters and airspace, an enemy aircraft will likely be called in to dispose of the helo before it can do much good.

As with so many modern naval assumptions, the concept of distributed lethality depends on the enemy allowing us to freely roam the skies conducting our targeting searches.  In a peer war, this is a ridiculous assumption and distributed lethality simply will not work because we have no long range survivable sensor.

I’ve told you why distributed lethality won’t work and why the helo, specifically, can’t be used as the long range sensor.  Now, I’ll tell you how the concept could work.  The key is a survivable long range sensor.  We do have such a sensor available – it’s the small UAV. 


MH-60R


If a ship can put out a constant stream of small, cheap UAVs with a combined flight range and sensor range of 200 nm, then we have a chance, at least, of finding a target.  Of course, many UAVs, being non-stealthy, will be spotted and destroyed.  This is where “cheap” factors in.  If the UAVs can be made cheaply enough then they can be considered expendable, almost one-way, assets.  So what if some, or many, don’t return?  If we have to expend a bunch of UAVs that cost tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars in order to sink an enemy ship that costs hundreds of millions (or billions) of dollars, that’s a great trade.

The key to this cheap, expendable UAV is the sensor’s field of view.  It doesn’t matter how many UAVs we throw out if each one’s field of view is so limited that we can’t cover a significant swath of ocean.  If the field of view is too limited, the search devolves into dumb luck and that’s no way to win a war.  Do we have UAV sized sensors that have a sufficient field of view?  I don’t know.  Manufacturer’s claims are always ridiculously exaggerated so those are useless in assessing this.  This is one of those areas that only the Navy knows for sure.  The fact that I’ve seen no attempt to outfit the distributed lethality ships with a multitude of UAVs suggests that the sensor packages are not up to the task but I just don’t know for sure.

So, we now know what won’t work.  The helo is not the magic answer.  We also know what could work if appropriate sensors were available.

As a parting reminder, distributed lethality is a flawed concept for more reasons that just the long range sensing issue.  Simply solving the sensor issue offers a chance of making the concept work but it is still flawed.  For example, the enemy is going to be searching for us at the same time we’re searching for them.  What happens when a small, lightly armed distributed lethality vessel is found by the enemy before we can find the enemy?  The answer is a foregone conclusion: our distributed lethality ship will be sunk.  When the Navy idiotically starts talking about using amphibious ships, logistic ships, etc. as distributed lethality vessels, we’re talking about risking high value, but nearly defenseless, assets against the remote possibility of surviving long enough to find a suitable enemy target.  It’s not a risk that’s worth taking.




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(1)Lockheed Martin MH-60R informational brochure,

(2)Telephonics data sheet

(3)Data sheet,

(4)U.S. Navy Journal of Underwater Acoustics, “A History of U.S. Navy Airborne and Shipboard Periscope Detection Radar Design and Development”, January 2014, John G. Shannon,