Monday, November 20, 2017

Just Say No

How do you fix readiness issues?  According to the Navy, you cut back on maintenance!

“In prepared remarks for the House Armed Services Committee, Vice Adm. Troy Shoemaker testified that some carrier air wings have already cut maintenance back from two shifts to one due to lack of manning amid constant deployments" (1)

Only the Navy could be dumb enough to do this. 

What’s the solution?  Just say NO to constant, worthless deployments.  When the choice is between saying no or creating a hollow force, the choice is easy and obvious.

Just say NO.

Wait, you whine, the military can’t say no.  They have to follow orders.  Right, but they’re not even attempting to say no.  You say no and force the Commander in Chief to publicly order you to conduct a deployment that will jeopardize readiness.  No president is going to do that.  The problem is that the Navy keeps saying yes and then keeps cutting maintenance to enable the ill-advised deployment.

Just say NO.

How bad is the situation?

“As of October, Shoemaker said, only half of all Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets were flyable, and only 31 percent were fully ready to fight and deploy.” (1)

Only 31% of Hornets are combat capable today.  If this isn’t the time to say no, when is?  0%?

Just say NO.



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(1)DoD Buzz website, “Navy Cutting Maintenance, Cannibalizing Planes Amid Readiness Crisis”, Hope Hodge Seck, 9-Nov-2017,


ASW Corvette

Well, the frigate debate is on!  Observers are weighing in with their favorite candidates for the Navy’s frigate competition.  Here’s a couple relevant thoughts.

-          ComNavOps is on record as saying that the Navy will go with the Freedom LCS frigate which would be the worst possible decision in every sense.

-          ComNavOps is also on record as stating that the Navy does not need a frigate – it needs a small, cheap, expendable ASW corvette.

However, observers are all enthusiastically promoting large, powerful frigates which are just mini-Burkes.  I’ll say it again, we don’t need mini-Burkes because we have plenty of full size Burkes!  Instead, observers and, sadly, the Navy are focused on how many VLS cells they can squeeze in and how powerful a radar they can mount.  In essence, they’re trying to see how close they can get to a Burke.  Hey, if you want a Burke, build a Burke.  A “frigate” that is nearly the match for a Burke is going to have a cost that is nearly a match for a Burke.

Here’s an example of what we really need: the Indian Kamorta class corvette

The Kamorta is a stealthy shaped ship that is small (358 ft) and ASW focused with

  • single ASW helo/hangar/flight deck
  • RBU-6000 anti-submarine rocket launcher
  • 4x heavyweight torpedo tubes
  • towed array
  • bow mounted sonar
  • sound isolating, raft mounted machinery

Additional armament is defensive

  • 76 mm gun
  • 2x CIWS

The radar is a reasonable medium range 3D planar array.

Add an 8-cell VLS for 32 ESSM and you have the basis of a nice, small ASW corvette which would be immensely useful to the Navy as opposed to mini-Burkes.

Kamorta Class ASW Corvette

Being slightly smaller than the Freedom class LCS and without the expensive focus on high speed, hopefully the construction cost would be a good bit less than the LCS.  If costs were too high, though, I’d drop the helo/hangar/flight deck since a single helo doesn’t contribute all that much to ASW simply due to its very limited availability.

This kind of ship can perform the peacetime “show the flag” and patrol duties that are currently using up our Burkes and preventing their proper maintenance and crew training.  In war, these ships can provide the numbers and expendability we need for shallow water ASW, peripheral patrol duties, can augment task forces, and can perform convoy escort duties.


This is what we need, not mini-Burkes.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Korean Supercavitating Torpedo

As reported by Navy Recognition website, South Korea displayed a supercavitating torpedo it’s developing at the MADEX 2017 International Maritime Defense Industry Exhibition held in October 2017 (1).  Development began in 2013 and at sea tests will take place around 2020.

The “vehicle” as it’s referred to in the article, is 125 mm (~5 “) diameter, is solid fueled, and has a top speed of 100 m/sec (around 200 kts).

If one believes Russian reports (always a risky business!), their supercavitating Shkval torpedo is 533 mm diameter, 200 kts, and 20 km (~12 miles) range.

Iran supposedly is developing a reverse engineered version of the Russian Shkval and a German firm developed a supercavitating torpedo although it never transitioned to a service weapon.

The takeaway from this is that the US Navy is falling significantly behind in torpedo development.  The Navy’s standard heavyweight Mk48/ADCAP torpedo was designed in the 1960’s and became operational in 1972.  There has been little development since then although some effort has been directed towards enhancing shallow water performance.  Beyond that, though, torpedo development has been stagnant.

On a related note, the major challenge with a supercavitating torpedo is guidance.  The formation of the air "bubble" that the torpedo travels in is deafeningly loud as far as sonar guidance is concerned.  Supercavitating torpedoes are blind.  Supposedly, a Russian version was intended to sprint to the target location and then slow down to "normal" torpedo speeds in order to acquire the target.



Torpedo development is one of several areas that the Navy has, bafflingly, neglected.  Offensive mine warfare has all but halted, mine countermeasures have atrophied to near non-existence, naval gun support is non-existent, anti-ship missile development has only recently made any advancements after many years of neglect and, even now, significantly lags Russian, Chinese, and Indian weapons.

The Navy’s myopic focus on new Burke, carrier, and LCS funding and construction has led to neglect of vital but less “sexy” weapons, equipment, and systems.  We are now being surpassed by friend and foe alike in many of these areas.



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(1)Navy Recognition website, “MADEX 2017: South Korea Developing a Supercavitating Torpedo”, 10-Nov-2017,


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Marines, Sea Control, and HIMARS

I love the Marine Corps but, I’m sorry, they’ve gone off the rails.  What is their core mission?  Well, actually, that’s a good question because I don’t think Marine leadership currently has a viable answer – they’ve forgotten their mission.  Presumably, though, the answer ought to involve some form of amphibious operations (I won’t say assault because it doesn’t have to be although that would be the classic example).  With that in mind, the Marines should be focusing on how to get as much firepower and armor ashore against peer opposition as possible, right?  But, that’s not what the Marines are concentrating on.  Instead, they’re concentrating on becoming a third air force, a light infantry force (for what reason, I can’t imagine since light infantry will get annihilated on the modern battlefield), a social/psychological warfare service (hearts and minds), a 3D printing force, and all kinds of other non-core activities.  Their latest is an apparent desire to become a land based navy to conduct anti-surface ship operations using their high mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS).  The Marines want to get into the business of sea control from the land.  I guess they’ve solved every other problem they face and are looking to expand.

We’ve talked about this recently in somewhat general terms but let’s get into the weeds and really look at this.

A Breaking Defense website article describes the Marine’s newly desired mission (1) thusly,

“It also means the Marines need a highly mobile system that can come ashore with the grunts and keep moving to evade retaliatory fire while staying connected to Navy fire control networks. That’s a much more demanding mission than static coastal defense, the role of most anti-ship missile batteries around the world …”

The article hints at some of the challenges.

“But buying the missile is just the start. You need to integrate it with a launcher, a fire control network and a supply chain.”

The launcher is the easy part, in the Marine’s eyes.  They already have the HIMARS so they just need to find a missile that can fit it.

How is all this going to work?  Here’s the Marine’s vision.

“The Marines would provide additional “distributed” firepower from Expeditionary Advance Bases. Carved out of hostile territory by landing forces, kept small and camouflaged to avoid enemy fire, EABs would support F-35B jump jets, V-22 tiltrotors, and drones, as well as anti-ship missiles for the fleet. It’s a high-tech version of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal (part of the Solomons) in 1942. Like Henderson Field, the EABs would provide a permanent presence ashore, inside the contested zone, to support Navy ships as they move in and out to raid and withdraw.”

The unspoken assumptions that go into this vision are staggering in their magnitude and fantasy.  Let’s examine them.

That we’re going to be able to enter a “contested zone” with a big enough force to land heavy construction equipment, build a base, equip it with advanced computers, comm. gear, sensors, spare parts, fuel, and munitions without the enemy noticing is wishful thinking at its best – and we’re going to have several of these bases!

That we believe we’re going to be able to operate the highly temperamental F-35B which, under ideal and pristine conditions on a highly advanced and well equipped airbase, has only a 50% readiness rate is ludicrous. 

That we’re going to be able to transport fuel, food, munitions, spare parts, etc. to these bases in the “contested zone” without being seen is pure fantasy.

It also occurs to me that another unspoken assumption in this concept is that the expeditionary base will either be on a previously unoccupied island or chunk of land or the Marines will have to seize it.  If the Marines have to seize the land then there is no secrecy.  The enemy, having had the location wrested away from them, will be fully aware of our presence and any base that we might construct there.  That kind of defeats the fantasy of secret bases with missiles and aircraft appearing and disappearing as if by magic.  That leaves the use of previously unoccupied land.  Are there really that many unoccupied pieces of land in a “contested zone” and near enough to something of value that the enemy will have ships passing by but will not be monitoring the land for just such secret bases?  I’ve got to believe that the number of such locations are exceedingly few.

I’ve got to stop here.  We’re wandering off topic by discussing the fantasy of these disbursed, magically invisible bases.  The topic is the use of HIMARS anti-ship missiles so let’s get back to that.

There’s a fundamental problem with launching a missile, any missile.

“Once you launch a rocket, however, the enemy can see your location on radar and infra-red, so the missile batteries must practice “shoot and scoot” tactics: move to a firing point, launch, and move again to a hiding place before enemy retaliation rains down.”

Shoot and scoot!  Well that’s easy.  The HIMARS will be able to move before any counterfire can arrive.  Just out of curiosity, though, how does a 12 ton HIMARS scoot through the jungle, mountains, or whatever that the Marines have carved their forward expeditionary bases out of?  And if we limit ourselves to only relatively flat, open areas that a HIMARS can easily travel, doesn’t that negate the “hidden” part of the expeditionary base concept?  Plus, doesn’t the act of firing kind of call attention to the base itself?  Presumably the enemy can reason out that an anti-ship missile didn’t just appear from land by magic.  Once alerted, the enemy has only to conduct a cursory scan of the area and they’ll notice any base big enough to operate F-35B’s, MV-22s, drones, HIMARS.  Plus, they’ll likely notice the buildings, warehouses, comm. facilities, sensors, etc. that even a “primitive” base requires.  Henderson Field was not a secret to the Japanese!

Let’s consider the missile’s range.  The Marine Request For Information to industry (2) cited a range of “80 miles or greater”.  The problem, here, is that the longer the range, the bigger the missile must be and the bigger and less mobile the launcher must be – refer back to the “shoot and scoot” issue.  Further, the larger the missile, the more expensive it is.  This strongly suggests a fairly short range missile.  Range leads us directly to the next problem which is sensor/targeting.

HIMARS - Scooting Through The Jungle?

An 80+ mile missile is useless if you don’t have 80+ mile sensors to provide targeting data.  What are these sensors and where are they going to come from?  The obvious sensor is radar.  The problem is that a land based radar has a range of only the radar’s horizon, say, 20 miles or so.  Of course, the radar could be mounted on top of a high hill or mountain (how do we get it there from a primitive expeditionary base without calling attention to the effort?) if one happens to be handy.  Data transmission from a remote radar sensor presents another problem. 

Also, if we have a powerful 80+ mile radar scanning the area, that will certainly call the enemy’s attention to it and our “secret” base won’t be secret anymore.

Well, why not use networked sensors from other assets in the region, like the Navy?  The Navy has made an extensive investment in, and commitment to, distributed sensor networks so tapping into that should solve the problem, right?  Of course, if the Navy has to be in the area to provide sensor coverage then that means that the Navy can’t leave the area and if the Navy is in the area, why do you need a land based anti-ship missile since every ship that floats will be armed with anti-ship missiles anyway, according to the Navy (remember the Navy’s oft-repeated, “If it floats, it fights.”?)?

This smacks of budget grabbing at its worst.  With all the problems the Marines currently face, is trying to take on a new, non-core mission really the best use of their time and budget?  The Marines are on an out-of-control power (meaning budget) grab and need to be reined in.




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(1)Breaking Defense website, “Marines Seek Anti-Ship HIMARS: High Cost, Hard Mission”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 14-Nov-2017,




Monday, November 13, 2017

Lockheed Proposed Frigate

Lockheed Martin recently displayed their US Navy frigate concept at the DSEI trade show in the form of a concept model (1).

The relevant features included:

  • 1x Mk110 57 mm gun
  • 16 cell VLS
  • 16 anti-ship missiles in rack launchers
  • 1x SeaRAM
and,

  • crew=130
  • length=125 m
  • displacement=likely 6000+ tons

That’s a little light for a ship that’s 80% the length of a Burke.  In comparison, the original Perry class frigates had a single arm missile launcher with a magazine of 40 missiles which could include a mix of Standard and Harpoon.  This LCS frigate, with 16 VLS cells is limited to 16 Standard missiles (assuming the VLS length is adequate as suggested by the article), up to 64 quad-packed ESSM, Tomahawks, VL-ASROC, or a mix thereof.

While 64 quad-packed ESSM is quite useful for a frigate size ship that would preclude more capable Standard missiles.  Having anything less than 16 Standards would be just about pointless which probably limits the frigate to the 64 ESSM.  Of course, if any cells are to be used for Tomahawk or, more likely, VL-ASROC, that would cut deeply into the ESSM loadout.  For example, if the ship carried 8 VL-ASROC, as would seem reasonable for an ASW focused frigate, that would only leave 8 cells for a maximum of 32 ESSM.  As I said, for any reasonable and likely mix of missiles, the loadout is a bit light for a ship that’s 80% the size of a Burke.




The crew size of 130 is a recognition by the Navy that its LCS minimal manning and deferred (pier side) maintenance concept is a failure.  It is also quite likely that 130 crew would turn out to be too small. 

The final noteworthy aspect of this is that unless the fundamental structure of the ship is changed, an LCS frigate retains all the inherent weaknesses of the base LCS.  These include stability problems and inadequate stability margins, non-existent weight margins, structural weaknesses, use of aluminum for a ship that is now expected to stand and fight, loud waterjets (a concern in ASW), apparent lack of a hull mounted sonar (due to excessive self-noise in the base LCS), inadequate range/endurance, etc.  To be fair, what was presented was just a simple concept model but it’s hard to believe that all the inherent flaws that make the base LCS such a poor warship can be rectified in a somewhat enlarged frigate version.

Honestly, this is just warmed over LCS crap and compares quite poorly to the many outstanding frigate designs around the world.  I hope the Navy has the sense to walk away from this.  Sadly, given the Navy's history of horrible decisions, I think it's quite likely that you're looking at the winner of the frigate competition.  


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(1)Navy Recognition website, 13-Sep-2017,


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Constitutional Misuse Of The Military

I dislike posting about articles for which I offer no value-added analysis.  However, occasionally an article comes along that is so good that I feel I simply must bring it to your attention even if I have little or no analysis to offer.  Such an article is a Breaking Defense piece about the use and misuse of the military.  It’s written by Daniel Davis, a former Army lieutenant colonel with four combat deployments who is now a defense expert at Defense Priorities, a Washington think tank

The author touches on the Constitutional issues of military control and purpose and the current misuse of military forces and the abdication of Congressional control over the military.  It should sound familiar to regular followers of this blog.

It’s a short article so do yourself a favor, follow the link below, read it, ponder the Constitutional issues, and let me know what you think. 



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(1)Breaking Defense website, “Stop The Malignant Misuse Of America’s Military”, Daniel L. Davis, 9-Nov-2017,


Friday, November 10, 2017

Collision Comprehensive Review Findings

The Navy has issued its comprehensive review report of the recent ship collisions (1).  The report has generally garnered praise for its openness, honesty, and degree of self-examination ……  Bilgewater!

The report is the typical Navy collection of low level fault finding, meaningless recommendations (few of which will ever be implemented), calls for more oversight (as opposed to more competence), and vague generalities and platitudes about the Navy’s desire to prevent this from happening again.  The reality is that these are not the first collisions and groundings that have ever occurred and will not be the last.  If the Navy were serious, all these “fine” recommendations would have been implemented long ago – but they weren’t.  When we investigate the next incident – and there will be a next – we’ll find the same low level faults and make the same useless recommendations.  The Admirals will congratulate themselves on another investigation well done and move on with no meaningful improvements made.

Here’s a specific example.  The Aegis cruiser Port Royal ran aground a few years back for all the same reasons that are identified in this report.  Why didn’t the Navy implement the obvious and desperately needed changes after that incident? 

Here’s another.  The Iranians seized two of our riverine boats after the boat crews committed every mistake possible, wandered into Iranian territorial waters, and allowed themselves to be captured.  The Navy initiated studies and wrote reports which identified the myriad failings in training of basic seamanship and failure to follow procedures.  What impact did those studies, reports, and recommendations have?  None – as evidenced by these recent incidents.

Those examples produced no change.  Why do we think this report will produce any change?  It won’t.

Now, just to beat the issue to death, I’m going to highlight a handful of findings from the report for you to consider.  The page numbers of the quotes are included for your convenience.

The report begins on an incorrect note,

“Today, proficiency in seamanship and navigation competes for time and attention with the expanding tactical duties of our naval professionals at sea.” (p.6)

Fundamental seamanship proficiency is not competing for training time with tactical duties, it’s competing for time with gender equality seminars, women’s sensitivity workshops, diversity training, sexual assault awareness counseling, climate change studies, green energy initiatives, uniform redesigns, transgender accommodation efforts, endless surveys that change nothing, and inspections that improve nothing.  The failure to understand even this basic truth demonstrates that the report’s authors are as incompetent as the people they investigated.  This complete lack of understanding sets the tone for the rest of the report. 

The report notes that nearly every ship had/has expired certifications.

“…nearly 100 percent of Japanbased ships have one or more expired certifications, and in each case, a Risk Assessment Mitigation Plan (RAMP) is in place.” (p.71)

The report authors then go on to discuss the proper use of RAMP and the shortcomings in the program as it was being applied.  The real finding should have been that not a single flag rank officer had the moral courage to say “no” to the continued excessive demands that led to every ship having expired operating certifications.  Every single one of those officers is, therefore, complicit in the deaths of the sailors.  They violated the trust of those they were charged with leading and protecting.

Written policies codify minimum standards and exist due to a lack of competence.  If the personnel involved were competent there would be no need for a written policy – it would never come up.  Consider the following statement from the report regarding the temporary assignment of outside personnel to a ship.

“… the Review Team found no formal ISIC or Type Commander policy exists that specifically addresses the temporary assignment of the right personnel or manage their qualification process for the (temporary) gaining ship for Yokosuka-based ships.” (p.73)

The report notes that no written policy existed and finds fault with this lack.  What this statement is really saying is that no command authority had the competence to manage this practice.  This statement is actually a condemnation of every command authority involved in the practice even though the authors of the report are too incompetent to realize it or lack the moral courage to say it, if they do recognize it.

The report presents a Matrix of Mishap Attributes for the various incidents (p. 115-6).  The matrix includes 33 attributes.  The matrix omits the most important attribute: the fact that every flag officer in the Navy had full knowledge of the condition and state of those ships and chose to do nothing about it.  There’s the attribute that is common to every incident!

The report’s authors made 68 recommendations, if I counted correctly.  However, there is only one meaningful recommendation and they failed to make it so I’ll make it.

Recommendation:  Replace every serving flag officer with people who will hold themselves accountable to those they lead.

Implement that and all the other recommendations will take care of themselves.



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(1)“Comprehensive Review Of Recent Surface Force Incidents”, 26-Oct-2017

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Speak Softly And Carry A Big Stick

Here in America, we take comfort from the presence of police with guns on their hips, secure in the knowledge that effective, forceful help is always at hand should we need it.

However, somewhere along the way, our military and civilian leaders have developed the misguided notion that we must, as a country, look peaceful and that the way to do that is to hide any visible display of force.  In other words, we must look weak in order to look peaceful.

This is absolute bilgewater.  The rest of the world does not want to see us looking peaceful, they want to see us looking strong and ready to step in at a moment’s notice to protect them just like the police officer on the corner of the street. 

You don’t look strong and ready by leaving your weapons in barracks or walking around with unloaded guns.  You look strong and ready by having all the guns and ammo with you that you might need.

Of course, there’s one other aspect to looking strong and ready and that is you have to occasionally demonstrate that you’re willing to use them.  You can’t surrender two boats, ten crew, and overwhelming weapon superiority to the Iranian equivalent of the Three Stooges.

Much (all) of our comfort and sense of security when we see police comes from the knowledge that they will, with absolute certainty, act when a crime is committed.  Of course, of late, this principle has been violated repeatedly and ordinary citizens are beginning to lose faith in the police and the police themselves are beginning to hesitate to do their duty due to, again, misguided efforts to create scapegoats out of the police – but that’s for some other blog to address.

In the 1983 Lebanon Marine barracks bombing, the sentries did not have magazines loaded in their weapons and could not respond to the suicide vehicle.

We failed to act when Iran seized our boats and crews and now Iran is engaged in more aggressive acts, not less.  A recent example is the incident involving four Iranian boats approaching an American destroyer at high speed before breaking off at 300 yds, well within rocket attack range (1).  Our previous failure to use force is creating more unsafe incidents.

Theodore Roosevelt is credited with the saying,

“Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

Hand in hand with that is the implication that the stick must be used now and then.

Of course, hand in hand with using the stick occasionally is the need for the usage to be meaningful.  Our recent retaliatory Tomahawk strikes on some isolated radar sites that no one appears to have claimed ownership of (if the sites even existed) is not a meaningful use of the stick.  It harmed no one to any appreciable extent and, therefore, meant nothing.  Conversely, the recent Tomahawk strike on the Libyan airbase associated with chemical weapons was somewhat more meaningful but even that stopped short of sending an unequivocal “don’t tread on me” message.

We are so afraid of collateral damage that we have relegated our big stick to a twig.

Other countries, in particular our potential enemies, understand this and are working to create their own big sticks and, when necessary, use them. 

From the recent Russian “National Security Strategy” document comes this,

“…the role of force as a factor in inter­national relations is not declining.” (2)

Russia and Putin understand that military force is the underlying foundation of political power.  Mao, too, understood it when he said,

“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

Those who abdicate their military power also abdicate their political power.  Such is the position the US finds itself in today.  We are speaking loudly but no one is listening because our stick has shrunk and we refuse to use it.  Contrast this with our enemies.

China is building a very big stick, is actively using it, and is speaking softly and being listened to by the Pacific Rim countries.  They have annexed the entire East and South China Seas and have, for all practical purposes, ejected the US from those waters and are in the process of solidifying their gains in the form of construction of military bases on artificial islands – a pretty impressive display of the use of the stick and the word.

Russia is rebuilding its stick and is using it actively and frequently – they seized Crimea and have invaded Ukraine.  Russian words are once again being heeded throughout Europe and Asia causing something of a panic among European militaries.

We need to rebuild our stick, stop talking uselessly, and start using our stick judiciously so that when we speak, someone will actually listen.  The stick makes the words effective.  We’ve lost that and we need to regain it.



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(1)USNI News website, “Video: Destroyer USS Nitze Harassed by Iranian Patrol Boats”, Sam LaGrone, 24-Aug-2016, 


(2)Defense Intelligence Agency, “Russia Military Power”, 2017

Monday, November 6, 2017

Distributed Lethality - Leyte Gulf

A recent Anonymous comment suggested that the WWII radar picket lines around Okinawa were an example of distributed lethality.  That’s a fascinating example that I hadn’t thought of and it prompted this post.

The radar pickets weren’t exactly distributed lethality as envisioned by the Navy.  The ships were mutually supporting, to a degree, and had air cover although leakers were, obviously, commonplace.  Further, the ships were tied to a known, fixed location.  Finally, the picket mission was completely defensive in nature versus the offensive nature of distributed lethality.  Still, it’s an example of what happens when individual (distributed) ships are expected to survive in enemy waters under enemy air cover.  The ships accomplished their purpose but paid a very heavy price doing so.

Another, possibly more relevant, example of WWII distributed lethality is the Japanese actions at Leyte Gulf which actually were a combination of multiple battles.  I won’t bore you with the details of the actions – they’re readily available on-line.

Here’s the interpretation of what occurred from a distributed lethality perspective.

The US had established a large and powerful anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) zone around the Philippine islands of Leyte, Samar, and Luzon in October of 1944.  The A2/AD defensive forces consisted of submarines, PT boats, fleet carrier task forces, battleships, and all manner of escorts along with total air supremacy.  Into this powerful A2/AD zone, the Japanese sent three independent (distributed) forces to search for and attack US forces.  The Japanese plan was complex, convoluted, and depended on a degree of command coordination (networking) that was simply unachievable (the self-imposed radio silence and the fog of war being the equivalent of attempting to operate in today’s electromagnetically challenged environment).  As a result, the three Japanese forces wound up operating independently and largely ineffectively.  The overall action resulted in heavy Japanese losses and the end of Japanese naval power.


Japanese Battleship Musashi Under Attack At Leyte


As you ponder that, now consider that the US Navy plans to send individual ships, or small groups of small ships, into China’s A2/AD zone (defined by the East/South China Seas and the first island chain) which is defended by overwhelming numbers of aircraft, submarines, missile boats, frigates, destroyers, land based anti-ship cruise missiles, anti-ship ballistic missiles, and all manner of sensors.  Is this beginning to sound a lot like Letye in reverse? 

The US forces will depend on complex, real time data sharing and command coordination to enable the distributed ships to conduct massed attacks on Chinese targets.  Does this sound a lot like the wishful command and control thinking that the Japanese planners depended on?

According to the Navy, this highly questionable concept will succeed because it will “complicate” the Chinese tactical picture.  The only complication for the Chinese will be deciding which of many assets should be given the honor of destroying which Navy ships. 

The historically inclined among you may note that the Japanese plan actually succeeded, to an extent, in that it did decoy the US fleet carriers away from the intended main action.  You may consider that a “complication” of the American tactical picture.  In the end, though, the lack of effective command and control and the operational stupidity embodied in the attempt to make inferior forces penetrate a heavily defended A2/AD zone led to the almost complete annihilation of the Japanese forces and any complications that arose were more than compensated by overwhelming A2/AD numbers and firepower.

Why we think our attempt at distributed lethality, using vessels that are far less powerful on a relative basis than the Japanese battleships and heavy cruisers, will be more successful is a mystery that no one has yet been able to explain to me.

Believing that distributed lethality will be successful because it will complicate the enemy tactical picture is tantamount to believing in victory because God is on our side.  It may be comforting but it is tactically and operationally lacking.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Tu-95 Intercept

In an otherwise yawner of a news story about Hornets from the USS Reagan, operating in the East China Sea, intercepting a couple of Russian Tu-95s which flew to within 80 miles of the carrier, there are two aspects worth questioning.

First, why were the Russian aircraft allowed to get within 80 miles unescorted when, presumably, we could see them hundreds of miles away?  I say “presumably” because I would also have presumed that we could navigate a Navy ship out of the way of a giant cargo ship and that turned out not to be the case - twice.  Did we not see them until they were that close?  Has the recently demonstrated ineptitude carried over to our combat detection capability?  It wouldn’t surprise me.

Second, why were aircraft “scrambled” as opposed to simply having the Combat Air Patrol (CAP), or whatever it’s called nowadays (probably something with the word “Joint” in it), make the intercept?  Do we no longer maintain a CAP over carriers?  Are we that unprepared for combat around China and North Korea?

Now, note that this is the farthest thing from a professional, accurate report so the language used may well be less than precise.  Still, it raises interesting questions.



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(1)Navy Times, “Report: Hornets scrambled to intercept Russian jets near carrier”, Staff, 1-Nov-2017,



Thursday, November 2, 2017

Distributed Lethality in WWII

An Anonymous reader’s comment sparked a thought for me regarding distributed lethality.  Can you imagine, in WWII, sending out a bunch of individual destroyers, vital attack transports with a 5” gun or quintuple torpedo tube, or precious oilers with the same, to look for enemy ships and conduct distributed attacks?  What an idiotic idea.

Well, wait, you say, the technology has changed.  We now have long range sensors and long range weapons so the distributed ships don’t have to get as close to the enemy.  They’ll be able to safely stand off and attack!  You’re right, the technology has changed.  Unfortunately, it’s changed for the enemy, too.  They don’t need to get as close to our distributed ships to attack them.

There’s just no getting around it.  A lone ship is not a complication for the enemy’s tactical picture – it’s a floating target waiting to be sunk.  If an idea was bad in WWII, it’s bad today!  Apparently, the Navy no longer teaches military history.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Stupid Is Growing!

We’ve discussed the utter stupidity of the Navy’s distributed lethality concept.  We’ve pointed out the idiocy behind risking high value amphibious or logistic support vessels in an attempt to mount 4 or 8 Harpoons and somehow “complicate” the enemy’s tactical situation.  We’ve pointed out that none of those ships have access to the long range targeting that distributed lethality would require.

Despite the obvious stupidity of distributed lethality, the Navy has decided to double down on “distributed” and is now proposing distributed mine countermeasures (MCM). (1)  Having recognized that their all-in bet on the LCS as the future of MCM has turned into a dismal failure, the Navy now proposes a piecemeal distribution of MCM components across the fleet. 

“…the Navy now wants at least some mine-hunting gear on a vessels ranging from modified oil tankers to catamarans to aircraft carriers.” (1)

It’s a grand vision, isn’t it?  A task force encounters a minefield and barely even hesitates as every ship unleashes remote MCM drones that clear the field in short order and the task force sails on, hardly even delayed.  Another enemy stratagem foiled!

Breaking Defense website at least sees part of the problem with this concept.

“The new plan could finally infuse mine warfare into the mainstream of the Navy — or diffuse responsibility to crews that see it as an unwelcome distraction from their ships’ main mission.” (1)

They’ve got it right.  A Burke, carrier, or other ship has a main purpose and many other side functions that already occupy all their time.  Adding yet another responsibility to an already overloaded crew is pointless – they won’t be any good at it.  Once a year (at best!) the ship will run through a quick, scripted MCM exercise to check off a training box and then promptly store the equipment out of the way and forget about it and the skills required to be competent at MCM.  Despite what the Navy would have us believe about the magical capabilities of remote, autonomous MCM UUVs, mine detection and identification still require a great deal of expertise from the human operators.  Do you think a Burke captain is going to spend his precious training time practicing MCM or AAW?  That’s right, when the time comes for real, the crew won’t even remember how to spell MCM let alone be able to competently execute it.

Do we really want to take a carrier or Burke or high-demand logistics ship away from their main mission and park it next to a minefield for weeks on end?

Do we really want to risk multi-billion dollar ships near a minefield?

Do we really want to tie high value warships to a fixed location for weeks on end, offering the enemy a perfect target that they can pick off at their leisure?

Breaking Defense website sums up the problem.

“Navy culture makes it all too easy for surface commanders to ignore mine warfare unless that is their vessel’s only mission. And hunting mines is a slow, laborious task that requires a ship to stay in one small area until it’s done.” (2)

As retired Navy commander Bryan Clark puts it,

“…adding MCM to the task list of ships that are already unable to stay proficient and certified in their current mission areas is not a good idea.” (2)

Our crews are overworked and unable to master basic seamanship and now we want to add another task to the list of things they’re not competent to do?

I give the Navy the tiniest bit of credit for recognizing that the LCS MCM concept has failed.  However, instead of doing the obvious and building a fleet of dedicated MCM vessels, ranging from small Avenger replacements to large MCM motherships, along with squadrons of MCM helos, the Navy has chosen the stupid option, as they always do.


Our Next Minesweeper!

By the way, does any of this sound vaguely familiar?  It should.  We built six Burkes that had organic MCM capability in the form of the WLD-1 Remote Minehunting System (RMS) which was to be housed and launched from a pocket built into the side of the Burke’s hangar.  That program failed and was cancelled – now we want to do it again and think it will work.  Does anyone recall the definition of insanity?

Burke With Minehunting Modification


Distributed lethality.  Distributed MCM.  I’m waiting for someone to come up with distributed aircraft carriers with every ship carrying one aircraft. 



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(1)Breaking Defense website, “Every Ship A Minesweeper? Navy Looks Beyond LCS”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 30-Oct-2017,

(2)Breaking Defense website, “Worries Surface On New Navy Mine Warfare Plan”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 31-Oct-2017,


Monday, October 30, 2017

Connector Conundrum

The crux of the Marine’s amphibious assault capability is the connector – the vehicle, whether surface or air, that transports the Marines and their equipment from their ships to the shore.  As you know, doctrine calls for the assault ships and their escorts to remain 25-100 nm offshore due to fears of land based anti-ship missiles.  However, this creates a problem since there are no initial wave connectors that are capable of transporting Marines 25-100 nm to the shore.  Let’s see if we can sum up the state of affairs for the amphibious connectors.

Current

There are no surface connectors capable of transporting initial assault waves from 25-100 nm.  The Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) and its planned follow ons are limited to around 3-5 nm travel.  Beyond that, the troops will be incapacitated from seasickness due to the extended travel time.  The LCAC and LCU are doctrinally considered non-survivable in a contested environment and are reserved for follow on waves after the landing area has been secured.

“… Marines now want their connectors to drop amphibious vehicles off five miles from land. That keeps the connectors out of range of ground troops with anti-tank missiles, for one thing. In fact, the fastest current connector, the Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) hovercraft, is so lightly protected the Navy refuses to land it on anydefended beach.” (1)

Aviation connectors (helos and MV-22s) have the range but are incapable of transporting tanks, artillery, and heavy vehicles.  They are also incapable of logistically sustaining an assault.  Additionally, their numbers are limited and attrition of helos and MV-22s will be significant, further weakening any resupply and support efforts.

We see, then, that the current state of affairs is unworkable.  That being the case, what does the Navy/Marine Corps envision as the future of amphibious assault connectors?

Future

The Marines vision for the moderately near future is for high speed (relative to the AAV) connectors such as the LCAC and LCU to transport AAVs to within 3-5 nm or so of the shore and drop them into the water for the final, short leg of the trip.  The thinking is that this will keep the non-survivable LCACs and LCUs safely out of range (they’re still going to be in range of a LOT of weapons!) while keeping the AAV travel time acceptable.  This will require modifying the LCAC and LCU ramp systems – not a particularly challenging engineering feat.

The major problem with both the LCAC and LCU as regards initial assault waves is that even limiting the approach to 3-5 miles exposes the craft to lots of weapons (artillery, Hellfire type small missiles, rockets, helos, drones, etc.) and if one of these connectors is sunk, they’ll take a lot of troops and equipment down with them as well as cripple the follow on waves.  That is the flip side of having high volume/capacity connectors – if you lose one, you lose a lot of people and materiel.  This makes the Navy’s move to smaller well decks which carry even fewer LCACs/LCUs even more inexplicable.  But, I digress …

Another option popular in the commentary world and that has received Marine Corps attention is the ultra heavy lift amphibious connector (UHLAC).  The full scale version would be 84 ft long with a capacity of three M1 tanks or 200 tons of cargo and a speed of 25 mph in the water although the prototype was only capable of around 5 mph.  How, exactly, the UHLAC, at the same size as an LCAC and much slower, would be any more survivable than an LCAC is a mystery.  It seems likely that this would be relegated to the same follow on role as the LCAC.

We see, then, that the future vision for connectors is still suspect and depends on cobbled together solutions that are highly dependent on the enemy cooperating by not sinking any of our LCACs or LCUs.  This seems like a plan based mostly on wishful thinking.  That being the case, what do we need to actually solve the problem?

Needed

What’s needed is a long range, high speed, small connector.  The Marines tried for many years to develop such a vehicle, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) and failed to reconcile the conflicting requirements of both a high water speed transport and a land based fighting vehicle.  The EFV was symptomatic of the military’s obsession with trying to make every platform a “do everything” asset.  What’s needed is a dedicated water-only landing craft – a Higgins boat with speed, in essence – that can transport troops, tanks, artillery, heavy vehicles, and supplies to the shore quickly, unload, and return to the amphibious ship for more loads.  The fighting vehicle – AAV, ACV, IFV, or whatever that might be – can then be a separate, dedicated, specialized vehicle optimized for land combat and transported ashore via one of these notional Higgins boats.

The need for speed is obvious.  Speed increases the distance that troops can be transported before succumbing to debilitating seasickness.  Speed minimizes the exposure time to enemy weapons.  Speed increases the delivery rate by increasing the number of trips per unit time.

Given the requirement to limit the troop’s time afloat to a maximum of one hour and a desire to stand 25 nm off shore, we get a notional speed requirement of around 25-30 kts.

What’s less obvious is the need to be small although we’ve already touched on the rationale.  The smaller the landing craft, the less we lose when one is destroyed.  Smaller also minimizes the targeting size of the landing craft.  Conceptually, we’d like a landing craft that is so small that it transports a single soldier.  Of course, we don’t have that technology and there is a marked lack of efficiency in such a system.  What’s needed is a balance between risk (loss) and efficiency.  The WWII Higgins boat hit that balance fairly well and had a capacity of around 30 troops.  I would suggest that a modern Higgins boat with a capacity of around two squads (24 or so troops) is about right. 

We also need the ability to transport tanks, artillery, and heavy equipment ashore in the initial assault wave.  Keeping in mind the requirement to remain small and minimize risk (loss), a landing craft with a capacity to transport one tank is needed.

The key to this is separation of the two functions:  transport of the initial assault wave and combat ashore.  The Marines have combined those functions and produced an AAV that is good at neither, and EFV that failed miserably at both, and a doctrine that is unexecutable.  Separating the functions allows for the design of an optimized connector and an optimized combat vehicle while keeping the costs of both down since neither will have any unnecessary functions added on.

Speaking of costs, the conceptual Higgins boat must be cheap.  They will be lost during an assault and cannot be so expensive that attrition will be a problem.  There is nothing wrong with wooden construction, for example.  We’re not building them to last 50 years!  These need to be cheap to the point of being free by modern acquisition standards. 


Model For The Future


We should also re-examine the well deck concept.  In WWII, Higgins boats were mounted externally about the ship’s decks and superstructure and lowered into the water.  A typical attack transport carried a couple dozen landing craft.  They occupied no internal ship’s volume.  The well deck, on the other hand, is a huge penalty in internal ship’s volume – volume that could be used for additional storage of troops and equipment (wouldn’t it be nice to not have to leave the tanks behind when the ship loads?) or to simply make the ship smaller and cheaper if additional storage is not needed.  Some thought would have to be given to how to load tanks, artillery, and heavy equipment into the landing craft, of course – perhaps a RO/RO type ramp at the waterline?

For too many decades we’ve leapt immediately to the far, complicated end of the technology spectrum for every solution and requirement.  The time has more than come to begin thinking of simpler, affordable solutions even they aren’t elegant.  I know the thought of a wooden landing craft would give a modern naval officer apoplexy but, in combat, the KISS principle reigns supreme and we would do well to remember that and begin applying it.  To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, the simplest solution that meets the requirements is, invariably, the correct one.

“Away all boats!”



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(1)Breaking Defense, “Marines Seek New Tech To Get Ashore Vs. Missiles; Reinventing Amphib Assault”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 16-Apr-2014,