Monday, April 24, 2017

Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile

The Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is being considered for the LCS and, possibly, other US Navy ships.  Let's get to know it a bit better.  It was developed for the Royal Norwegian Navy as an anti-ship missile capable of being launched from Skjold class corvettes and Nansen class frigates as well as coastal defense batteries.  A related variant, the Joint Strike Missile, is being developed as an air launched version intended for use by the F-35.  The missile has been in production since 2007.

Features

The NSM is a sea skimming, completely passive missile with advanced terminal maneuvering and Autonomous Target Recognition (ATR) capability (1).  The missile airframe is somewhat stealthy but not extremely so and incorporates reduced radar cross section and IR signature (5).  The manufacturer claims the missile is resistant to countermeasures.


Naval Strike Missile with Booster 


 Here are some relevant characteristics of the missile:

Length     3.96m / 13′ (2)
Wingspan   27 inches
Weight     407 kg / 900 pound (2)
Range      185+km / 100+nm (2) with a low flight profile;  300+nm with a high flight profile
Speed      high subsonic (4)
Warhead    120 kg / 265 lb titanium blast fragmentation with programmable fuze (2)

Power is provided by a solid propellant rocket booster which is subsequently jettisoned after launch and a Microturbo TRI-40 turbojet engine (2).  The missile uses JP8 or JP10 fuel (4).

“The TRI-40 is a single spool turbojet engine, consisting of a four-stage axial compressor, annular smokeless combustor and a single-stage turbine. It delivers a maximum thrust of 2.5-3.3kN.” (4)

Launchers are clustered packs similar to the US Navy’s Harpoon rack launchers.  They are available in single, 2, 3, 4, or 6 pack arrangements.  The launcher can be angled from 10 – 60 degrees elevation (5).  A 4-pack launcher weighs 8,600 lbs (5).  Individual launch canisters (Launch Missile Module – LMM) are 4.1 m long x 0.85 m wide x 0.90 m high and weight 1951 lbs (5).

4-Pack Launcher

The launcher requires around 4 minutes to power up to full operation and the launch cycle is 2.5 seconds (5).

Guidance is provided by GPS/INS and terrain profile matching (TERPROM). The missile is claimed to use software programming to fly an unpredictable path which enhances survivability (2).  The missile is capable of in-flight retargeting (2).  The missile can also be launched in bearing-only mode (5).

Flight profile control can include no-attack and no-flight zones for safety as well as altitude restrictions (5).

Terminal guidance uses an imaging infrared (IIR) seeker with Automatic Target Recognition (ATR) database and is reportedly capable of targeting specific features of a ship (2).  The manufacturer claims, “Close to zero probability for inadvertently attacking a civilian ship”.

The missile uses high-g terminal “bobbing and weaving” maneuvers to defeat point defense weapons.  Here is a target’s-eye view of a typical terminal flight path (5).


NSM Terminal Flight Profile As Viewed From Target


The lack of a conventional radar seeker makes the missile completely passive which decreases the chance of detection and, thereby, increases the missile’s survivability.

In 2016, Raytheon and Kongsberg announced plans to produce the NSM in Raytheon’s US facilities. (3)

USNI News website suggests the missile will cost slightly less than a Tomahawk Block IV which would put the cost in the $800,000 range. (3)

Kongsberg has reportedly consulted with Lockheed regarding Mk41 VLS integration of the NSM.


Assessment

The manufacturer believes the combination of passivity, low altitude approach, airframe stealth, and terminal maneuverability obviates the need for supersonic speed.  This approach is at odds with much of the rest of the anti-ship missile world which has emphasized supersonic speed and it remains to be seen whether the manufacturer’s assumption is valid.

The lack of radar guidance capability, while it enhances the stealth of the missile, could also prove to be a detriment.  In a GPS-denied environment, the missile will have only inertial guidance and terrain matching (not really applicable over water) and one has to wonder whether this will provide sufficient accuracy.

The manufacturer puts great stock in the Advanced Target Recognition (ATR) capability but the statement, “Close to zero probability for inadvertently attacking a civilian ship”, recognizes that autonomous targeting capability is less than perfect.  To be fair, this is a weakness inherent in any autonomous weapon and represents a possible (likely?) significant limitation in the weapon’s usage analogous to the restrictions imposed on Phoenix BVR (Beyond Visual Range) missiles and any other BVR weapon.  The US historically has declined to take advantage of BVR weapons due to the possibility of inadvertent civilian damage or friendly fire.  Thus, autonomy, while theoretically useful, is not as useful on a practical basis.

Range is decent, at 100 nm for the manufacturer’s suggested low flight profile but not outstanding compared to many of its competitors.  On the other hand, the range is compatible with likely sensing range, especially for use on smaller ships which will have limited sensor range and limited access to high value, long sensor range, theater surveillance assets.  Thus, the NSM seems suited to the LCS but less so for a Burke which could benefit from a longer ranged missile.

A NSM was test fired from the deck of the USS Coronado, LCS-4, in Sep 2014.  However, the test was nothing more than an NSM “parked” on the deck of the LCS.  It was not integrated into the ship’s combat system, sensors, or fire control.  The test could have equally been performed from a dock or parking lot as far as what it demonstrated about the shipboard usefulness or suitability of the missile.  It was simply a public relations stunt.

Kongsberg’s proposal for the LCS shows dual 6-pack launcher arrangements for the LCS-1 variant and three 6-pack launchers for the LCS-2 (5).

Proposed NSM Launcher Arrangements


In summary, the NSM seems like a potentially useful anti-ship missile for smaller combatants although the entire passive/subsonic/non-stealthy approach is questionable until proven in realistic testing.  If the Navy is willing to subject the missile to realistic testing and the manufacturer’s assumptions prove out, the missile could provide a welcome boost to the LCS’ firepower.



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(1)Kongsberg website, retrieved 21-Apr-2017,

(2)Defense Industry Daily website, retrieved 21-Apr-2017,

(3)USNI News website, “Raytheon, Kongsberg Ink Deal to Build Naval Strike Missile in U.S.”, Sam LaGrone, 13-Jul-2016,

(4)navaltechnology.com website,


(5)Kongsberg, “Kongsberg Naval And Joint Missiles Update”, Precision Strike Annual Review, PSAR-14, 13-Mar-2014

Saturday, April 22, 2017

F-35 And Dogfighting

The shilling for the F-35 is absolutely breathtaking in its scope and inaccuracy.  “Experts” of all varieties are regularly trotted out to talk up the aircraft and explain why it is the greatest flying machine ever built or that likely ever will be built.  Careful analysis invariably demonstrates the falsity of the claims.

Recall the Marines declaration of IOC after a stunningly successful operational test?  Of course, after we read the DOT&E report we found out that the mission availability rate was 50%, at best, and the evaluation relied on spare parts and even spare aircraft being flown onto the ship during the test.

We have the Red Flag exercise in which the military claimed the F-35 achieved a 10,000:1 kill ratio or maybe it was only 20:1.  When you’re making up numbers, it doesn’t really matter what they are, does it?  Of course, we have no actual data and conditions upon which to assess the validity of the claim and given the history of lies associated with this aircraft, I flat out don’t believe the claim.

Rather than tediously list all the exaggerated claims that have been made and disproved, let’s just skip ahead and look at the latest.  SNAFU website gets the credit for the heads up on this story about F-35 dogfighting which was posted on Business Insider website (1).

“But according to retired US Marine Corps Maj. Dan Flatley, who helped design the training syllabus for F-35 dogfights, the F-35's lackluster performance against legacy jets had more to do with old habits of the pilots and a weapons system in its infancy rather than anything wrong with the F-35 concept itself.”

Right off the bat, let’s note and acknowledge that Maj. Flatley is as biased as it is possible to be.  Anyone who helped design the training syllabus for the F-35 has a huge stake in the game and a clear bias.  However, let’s also be fair and recognize that merely having a bias does not mean that what he has to say is wrong.  What it means is that what he has to say has to be taken with a huge grain of salt until proven.  So, moving on …

The problem, according to Flatley, is not the aircraft but the bad habits of the highly trained fighter pilots.  Now that sounds like an excuse for a poor aircraft.  Again, though, to be fair, any weapon system has to be used to its strengths to be effective.  The Major, then, appears to be saying that the F-35 is not a dogfighter, which confirms the well known “secret” that we’ve heard for some time, but that it can be an effective aerial combatant if flown to its strengths.  Okay, let’s accept that for the moment and keep going …

“If you try to fight it like a fighter it isn’t, you’re going to have terrible results,” Flatley said of the F-35.”

“Flatley stressed that dogfighting, where the close range diminishes the F-35's stealth and sensor fusion advantages, is certainly not the purpose of the Joint Strike Fighter … “

Again, confirmation of the well known “secret”.

And now, the key part where Flatley explains how the F-35 can effectively engage in aerial combat.

“Unlike dogfighters from World War II, the F-35 mainly focuses on flying undetected while using its array of fused sensors to paint a clear picture of the threat environment for miles out and to engage with targets before they're ever seen.”

According to Flatley, the F-35’s aerial combat role is to be a sniper around the periphery of a battlefield – unseen but seeing all that is around it and sniping unsuspecting enemy aircraft who will never know what hit them.  I have no problem with that, whatsoever.  In fact, it’s kind of the ideal goal of aerial combat – to achieve that 6 o’clock position and gun down the enemy before they know you’re there.  Of course, with modern missiles, the 6 o’clock position isn’t necessarily required but it conveys the concept.

Do you see the problem – two problems, actually – with this concept?

The first problem is that the concept assumes that the F-35 can remain far enough away from the aerial battlefield to remain undetected and yet still be able to see all enemy aircraft.  If the enemy has nothing but early legacy aircraft, this will work and work wonderfully.  MiG-21/23/25/27’s will be toast, without a doubt, as will early Sukhois.  However, what happens when recent legacy aircraft that are semi-stealthy are in the air?  Modern, updated, late series MiGs and late variant Sukhois are moderately stealth, highly maneuverable, hard to detect, and harder to kill.  What happens when those aircraft don’t stand out like radar beacons and the F-35 doesn’t see all of them or has to move closer to the battlefield to get viable returns and images?  And – you can anticipate this coming – what happens when the F-35 encounters peer stealth fighters like the Russian T-50/PAK FA and Chinese J-20/31 on the near future battlefield?  What happens when the F-35 can’t see the enemy aircraft or, at least, no better then enemy aircraft can see the F-35?  In fact, enemy aircraft seem somewhat more advanced in IRST capability so they may actually possess the detection range advantage over the F-35!  How does the F-35 concept work when the F-35 can’t see the enemy aircraft?  The short answer is, it doesn’t!

“As exciting as dogfights are, it's been decades since a US jet engaged an enemy in a turning dogfight, and the F-35's design reflects that new reality.”

That leads us directly to the second problem which is, how many times, now, has the era of the dogfight been declared dead?  The first few times, it was over due to the advent of missiles.  Of course, that proved to be wrong and we had to scramble to relearn how to dogfight.  Now, dogfighting is over due to stealth.  Is it?  Or, will we wind up having to relearn how to dogfight, yet again?  When two stealth aircraft meet in combat and neither can reliably lock missiles on the other, the combat will, inevitably, devolve into a close range, guns-only, high-g, turning dogfight.  Recent anecdotal evidence from exercises suggest that this is exactly what happens.  Now, you have no choice but to dogfight and, according to Maj. Flatley, the F-35 is extremely ill-equipped to do that.

What happens when you can’t see the stealthy enemy but he, with his superior IRST, can see you and the F-35 is now the hunted?  Again, you’re going to be forced into a dogfight for which the F-35 is not designed and not capable.

Let’s put this in terms we can all understand.  Can an F-35 employ the peripheral sniping concept against another F-35/22, successfully?  If not, then the F-35 is a failure on the future aerial battlefield and is relegated to fighting only older legacy aircraft.  That’s a hideously expensive aircraft to be able to engage only older legacy aircraft.  Heck, we have F-15/16/18s that can already do that!

Had the F-35 made it to squadron service ten or twenty years ago, as intended, it would have been successful as an aerial sniper because there were no enemy stealth fighters.  Now, however, that advantage has been squandered due to the obscenely long development time of the F-35 and the near future battlefield is going to be populated by stealthy and semi-stealthy enemy aircraft.  The F-35’s design combat concept is already obsolete.  Once again, our unwise assumption that technology makes dogfighting a thing of the past will prove disastrous in combat.

Ironically, Major Flatley, in his attempt to praise the F-35, has told us all about the failing of the F-35. 



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(1)Business Insider website, “Here's why the F-35 once lost to F-16s, and how it made a stunning comeback”, Alex Lockie, retrieved 19-Apr-2017,


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Misandry Rears Its Ugly Head In The Military

Well, you knew this would happen.  The scared sheep of Navy/Marine leadership have opted to make the male portion of the nude photo sharing incident a criminal act under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and have done nothing about the female portion, the actual posing for nude photos (1).  This kind of man-hating misandry (meaning, strongly predjudiced against men;  the counterpart word to mysogeny) has been demonstrated by shallow minded, timid, PC-cowed Navy/Marine leaders before but this incident has raised the phenomenon to new levels.  The actual posing and generation of nude photos/pornography, no matter how reprehensible, is allowed because it is done by women but the sharing of the photos has been criminalized because it is done by men.

In the linked article, CNO Richardson wonders why men continue to disrespect women.  He is oblivious to the fact that, as we recently posted, you disrespect those for whom you have no respect and you have no respect for those who are not held accountable to the same standards.  Shame on you, women!  Where are the female voices rising in protest over the questionable judgment of their sisters?  Where are the female voices demanding equal treatment in the form of criminalizing the posing for nude photos?  The women appear to want respect without the effort of earning the respect.  That’s the definition of hypocrisy. 

Once again, men have been prejudicially singled out for one-sided punishment and ill-treatment.  We must eliminate this kind of misandry from the military.

Women, I have no respect for you.  Get out of my military until you’re willing to earn your way in and accept accountability for your own behavior.  Take your vile misandristic prejudices and go back to your unenlightened caves.



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(1)Navy Times, “Sailors, Marines Have New Regulations on Sharing ‘Intimate’ Images Without Consent; Violators Could Face 2 Years in Prison”, Sam LaGrone, 19-Apr-2017,


Monday, April 17, 2017

Contractor Support

The military has been relying more and more on contractor support as systems have become more technologically advanced and complex.  On the plus side, contractor support provides the technical expertise that the military doesn’t have and doesn’t seem to want to train for.  Contractors also represent a limited investment for the military.  They can be used as needed and then terminated to save money.  On the minus side, contractor support breeds a dependency that weakens the military’s ability to sustain their own equipment.  Most importantly, the contractors will not be present during combat.

A Defense News website article touches on this issue as it affects the Army. 

“Because of the rapid fielding of an enormous amount of equipment during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army’s ability to sustain equipment without the help of contractors [has] weakened, service leaders have long noted.”

Of course, the issue affects the Navy, as well.

“In a decisive action,” like early operations in Iraq, he said, “there was no place for contractors or civilians to be on the battlefield. It was the soldiers’ responsibility.”

This statement recognizes the reality that contractors won’t be available, at least not near the front lines, to provide support.  If we don’t learn how to provide our own support, we’re going to wind up fighting with degraded and unrepairable weapons and systems.

Well, fine, you say, when war comes we’ll train our own people to take over the support.  Unfortunately, the level of technical expertise required to support modern systems is far beyond the ability to quickly generate competent technicians by running them through a quick training course.  It now requires years of study to learn the complex electronics, physics, engineering, and software that go into a typical modern system.  Worse, today’s systems require a combination of many skills.  For example, an AESA radar system requires knowledge of particle and wave physics, advanced electronics, software programming, materials engineering, etc. to be able to diagnose and support the system.  You’re not going to send a kid out of high school to a six week training course and expect him to be a master of the system.  The contractors that support the various systems are often PhD level scientists and even the low level contractor technicians are dedicated system specialists who have spent years working with the system and spend the entire time doing nothing but working with the system.  The military simply can’t match that kind of expertise and dedication with average soldiers.

An interesting case study is the Navy’s Aegis radar system.  When the system was first introduced to the fleet the systems received top level contractor support and the systems functioned at peak performance.  As time went on and the system became well established, the Navy reduced the level of contractor support and slowly, over time, Aegis became degraded across the fleet.  The situation got to the point where the Navy had to commission one of their infamous Admiral-chaired oversight panels in an attempt to correct the systemic degradation.  For those interested, Aegis degradation is described in the 2010 Fleet Review Panel of Surface Force Readiness (the famous Balisle Report), p.43.

This raises an interesting question that I’ve brought up repeatedly.  Is it better to have an immensely complex but theoretically highly capable system that can’t be maintained or repaired easily, usually operates degraded, and is overly sensitive to blast effects or is it better to have a lesser system that is easily maintained, easily repaired in the field, and operates at max performance?  In other words, is it better to sacrifice some performance for the sake of reliability and maintainability? 

Consider the F-22/F-35 availability.  The fleets seem to run around 50% availability.  Is it better to have exquisite aircraft that are only 50% available – and in war that figure will sharply decrease – or to have previous generation aircraft that are 90% available?  Highly capable but stuck on the ground or less capable but in the air and fighting?

I think a pretty good case can be made for less capable equipment that is more reliable.  That doesn’t mean you abandon all technological advances but it does mean that you should maintain a healthy proportion of “lesser” capabilities that can be maintained without contractor support.  For example, don’t throw those A-10’s away.  The F-35 that you think is going to do your close air support just isn’t going to be available when you need it.

The other obvious lesson, here, is that if the military is going to buy technologically advanced systems, they must also “buy” the in-house technical support that is required, meaning, they must commit to providing sufficiently trained military technician, spare parts, manuals, logistics support, etc. rather than rely on contractor support.  Of course, this means that the true cost of fielding and operating a new system extends well beyond the purchase price.  If that overall support cost is too great for the budget to bear, perhaps we need to rethink the degree of technology that we want?



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(1)Defense News website, “Ditching Pre-Positioned Activity Sets, Army Now Deploying Equipment From CONUS”, Jen Judson, 13-Mar-2017,


Saturday, April 15, 2017

New 57 mm Anti-Swarm Munition

ComNavOps has noted that the Navy’s LCS gun defense against small craft in the swarm scenario is ineffective.  It appears that the Navy has also recognized this because they deleted the LCS’ Mk110 57 mm gun from the Zumwalt class in favor of a smaller 30 mm gun which they claimed was more effective and more lethal.  Further proof of the gun’s ineffectiveness can be seen in early gun test videos intended to promote the gun but which actually show its ineffectiveness.

The main problem with the gun is the lightweight, airburst munition for the gun.  The round generates a lot of shrapnel which can kill unprotected crew but has little actual stopping power on a boat.  If a small craft is not stopped, the ship/gun cannot shift fire to the next target and while the ship/gun try to pound the target into stopping, all the remaining swarm boats continue their approach.  To be fair, guns, in general, are ineffective in such a scenario.  What is needed is a one-shot, one-kill weapon like a small, guided, fire-and-forget missile.

BAE Systems seems to have recognized the shortcoming of the Mk110 57 mm gun and has developed a new munition intended, specifically, for the small boat, anti-swarm scenario.  The new munition is the ORKA (Ordnance for Rapid Kill of Attack Craft) Mk295 Mod 1 57 mm guided projectile.

The projectile has a semi-active imaging seeker that can be laser guided or can seek its target autonomously by downloading an image of the target prior to firing (1).  The data sheet suggests that the target image is cued from a designating laser (2).  Guidance motive capability is accomplished via a system of four folding canards.

The round contains a bit over 200 g of PBX high explosive that delivers 1.4 kg of steel fragments (2).  Fuzing modes are timed, proximity, or point detonation (1, 2).

Maximum range is cited as 10 km (2) versus the claimed 17 km range using the current Mk295 Mod 0 projectile.



BAE Systems claims that the projectile will accomplish a one-shot, one-kill efficiency.  Note, however, that the burst mode is still the original weakness.  Presumably, the claimed increase in lethality is attributed to the guided nature of the round with the hope being that the round will burst in closer proximity to the target and thus prove more lethal.  Alternatively, the point detonation fuze mode might provide disabling hits but I don’t think the odds of hitting a small, high speed, maneuvering target are very great, even with a degree of guidance/seeking.

Without seeing a demonstration or some other proof, I conclude that the new, guided projectile will have only a marginally better performance and will still be totally ineffective in the anti-swarm scenario.  Still it’s small step in the right direction, I suppose.


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(1)Navy Recognition website,

(2)BAE Systems website, data sheet,





Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Syrian Tomahawk Strike - Politics

This is not a political blog but I do occasionally touch on politics as they directly impact naval matters.  Such is the case for today’s post.  I’m going to examine a limited political aspect of the recent Syrian strike and how it relates to the Navy.

The obvious question is, why was the strike conducted?  What was the purpose of the strike?

The strike apparently did a significant amount of damage to the airfield but did not completely destroy it nor did it attempt to.  Hangars, some aircraft, and peripheral buildings were damaged or destroyed.  The runways, the chemical weapons storage (I’m accepting the chemical weapons claims by the President at face value for the purpose of this discussion), and other vital facilities were left untouched.  In other words, the strike was a half-hearted effort at attacking the airfield.  It could just as easily have been a full fledged destruction with no more effort than the launch of some more missiles. 

It seems clear, then, that the attack was meant as a message rather than serious retaliation or, more reasonably, an attack to eliminate the threat of chemical weapons.  The message, presumably, was a warning not to use chemical weapons again and the strike itself was intended to prove that the US would take military action if it happens again.  The significant aspect of the strike was that the chemical weapons were left untouched and intact, ready to be used again.

Given that the strike was a message, what was the point?  We’ve delivered many messages over the last few years, we’ve warned Syria about chemical weapons repeatedly.  We’ve drawn red lines in the sand and then watched while they were ignored.  Is one more warning going to somehow make a difference?  It seems to me that we’re long past the point of warnings.  It’s time to either shut up or take effective action.

The disturbing aspect of this entire incident is that the US clearly knew about the existence and location of the chemical weapons long before they were used.  In the Pentagon’s description of the Tomahawk strike, they specifically mention that the chemical storage facility was not targeted.  That means that they knew of its existence and location.  This raises an ugly question:  if we knew that chemical weapons existed and were in the hands of a madman who had used them [reportedly] multiple times in the past, why didn’t we take action to destroy the weapons before they could be used?

  • The US could have exposed the weapon’s existence on the international stage and put immense pressure on Russia to explain why they didn’t remove and destroy the chemicals as they promised to do and claimed they did.  This would have been a major embarrassment for Russia.

  • The US could have conducted a Tomahawk strike at any time to destroy the weapons.  The airfield is in an isolated location and release of the chemicals would have had little or no effect other than, perhaps, on some Syrian troops which we not shed any tears over.  In fact, it is quite likely that a fuel-air explosive or some similar weapon could have destroyed the chemicals with no release.  I’m not an explosives/chemistry expert so I’ll leave that one to those who are but I note that the disposal method for the chemicals is incineration which is exactly what certain bomb types do.

  • The US could have conducted a raid to seize and secure the chemical weapons.  The airfield was isolated and minimally manned according to the Pentagon with reports of 12-100 personnel on site.  This is exactly the kind of action that the vaunted Marine MEU/MAGTF/SPMAGTF/whatever should be able to execute.

  • The US could have conducted covert destruction of the chemical weapons by SEAL forces.  Again, the airfield was an ideal target for this type of action, being isolated and lightly manned.

  • The airfield and weapons could have been seized by the Army which has units dedicated to airfield seizure.

So, there were a number of options to have dealt with the existence of the chemical weapons prior to their use.  Instead, we waited until they were actually used.  If we were that horrified by their use why didn’t we take proactive action?  Seriously and cynically, how outraged are we, really, if we didn’t bother to take any action prior to the weapon’s usage? 

At this point, we also have to note that the bulk of responsibility for all of this lies with former President Obama.  President Trump has simply not been in office long enough to have had much chance to deal with this.

In summary, we could have acted preemptively but opted, instead, to wait until the weapons were actually used and then we sent a message via Tomahawk.  If we are so horrified by chemical weapons use, why didn’t our message include the destruction of the chemicals?  Instead, the chemicals still exist and can be used yet again.  What will we do then?  Send another message?  This is hypocritical on our part.  By all accounts, the worst that could have happened if we had destroyed the chemical weapons would have been exposure of a small number of Syrian and Russian troops – the very troops responsible for using the chemicals.  Do we really care if the troops using chemical weapons are exposed to the chemicals?  Sounds kind of fitting to me.

Clearly, we were okay with the existence of chemical weapons in the hands of a madman.  We didn’t care enough about the people who were attacked by chemicals to take any preemptive action.  I’m not going to express an opinion about whether we should or should not have taken action but to claim to be horrified by something we knew was eventually going to happen, and could have prevented, is completely hypocritical. 

The selection of Navy Tomahawks as the strike weapon was, no doubt, from a desire to avoid the possibility of downed and captured pilots.  However, I suspect that it was also due to a lack of options.  While the various Marine and Army units/capabilities that I cited as options theoretically exist, I strongly suspect that we have allowed our forces to degrade and become hollow to the point that their use is not really a viable option.  I'm pretty sure that none of the optional forces have been aggressively training and equipping for their assigned roles.  Note, this is just reasonably informed speculation on my part but, if true, leads to the obvious question, what's the point of maintaining the units if they aren't fully mission capable?

The Navy has been put in the position of delivering the hypocritical message and possibly suffering the backlash, if any materializes.  This is an ill use of the Navy in pursuit of a hypocritical and only marginally effective policy.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Integrity

To say that the Navy is integrity-challenged is to put it mildly.  Let’s refresh our memories.  Here’s the history of relieved CO’s over the last several years with the number of firings shown for each year.  The numbers in parentheses are just the reference citations as listed at the end of the post.

2016 – 18 (1)
2015 – 20 (2)
2014 - ?
2013 – 17 (3)
2012 – 25 (3)
2011 – 22 (3)

That’s an average of 20 commanding officers fired each year.  To add some perspective, the Navy only has around 280 ships.  To be fair, not all of the relieved commanders were ship captains.  Many were but some were base or organizational commanders.

Well, perhaps you think those numbers, while not pleasant, are not really indicative of a systemic problem.  Let’s look at more evidence. 

The “Fat Leonard” scandal that has rocked the Navy and the 7th Fleet, in particular, has, thus far, seen several current and former Navy commanders, including admirals, convicted of various charges with several others “censured or disciplined” for ethics violations.  Currently, 30 admirals are still under investigation (5).  Charges and violations cover the gamut from “simple” ethics violations to bribery, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal investigators.  So, that’s somewhere around 40 people involved in just one scandal and the investigation is still ongoing.  More people will, undoubtedly be charged.  The 7th Fleet command structure was, apparently, riddled with criminals.

Even more disturbing than the violations and the number of people fired or charged with crimes is that none of these people were called out by their peers.  Do you really think that all these hundreds of people were able to conduct their misdeeds in utter secrecy from those who worked closely with them on a day to day basis with some of the misdeeds covering years?  Of course not!  Other people knew that wrongs were being committed and those who knew but said nothing are just as guilty of a failure of integrity (if not actual crimes!) as the principals.

For the period 2011-2016, we see that there were around 120 firings and another 30+ firings, charges, and convictions in the Fat Leonard scandal.  Those, alone, give us a total of around 150 people who demonstrated a direct lack of integrity.  If we assume, conservatively, that five other people knew about each individual’s failures but said nothing, we have an additional 750 command level people who also demonstrated ethical cowardice and a lack of integrity by not speaking up and reporting.  That has us approaching a thousand integrity-challenged command level people who failed themselves, the Navy, and the nation.

Note that we’re not even considering executive officer and below levels – just command levels.

There’s yet another level of integrity failings that we’ve documented in this blog and that is the commonplace practice of retired admirals taking jobs with the very defense industry companies that they were supposed to be dealing with during service.  At the very least, this represents an egregious conflict of interest and may well constitute actual bribery, extortion, and payback.  Thus, add dozens and dozens of retired admirals to the list of demonstrably integrity-challenged command level people.  While taking such jobs may not be against the law, it’s certainly a clear case of a lack of integrity and judgment unworthy of flag officers.  Admirals have a pretty nice retirement package so it’s not like they desperately need the money.

Thus far, this post is depressing but the real point has not yet been made.  The real point is that the Navy is clearly systemically integrity-challenged and yet, if we go to war tomorrow, these are the very people who will be leading us in combat.  Do we really want these kinds of people to be our combat leaders?  Do we really think people with no integrity will lead us to victory?

Even more immediately relevant is the fact that these people are making today’s decisions about tomorrow’s weapons, systems, and platforms.  We’ve repeatedly noted the highly questionable (baffling?) decisions being made about various acquisition programs that seem to have no other explanation than graft, corruption, and payback in the form of retirement jobs with defense companies.  Are these the people we want shaping our future Navy?

CNO Richardson recently described what he called the four core attributes of the Navy:  integrity, accountability, initiative, and toughness (4).  Note the first – integrity.  Does CNO Richardson really believe that the Navy is exhibiting widespread integrity at the command level?  The evidence would overwhelmingly suggest that the Navy is failing and, thus, CNO Richardson is failing by failing to recognize that.  I had cautious hopes for CNO Richardson but he has become as big a disappointment and failure as his predecessor, CNO Greenert.

Integrity?  Sadly, it’s not common in the Navy command ranks.



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(4)Navy website, “CNO Identifies 4 Core Attributes to Guide Navy Leaders”, Story Number: NNS151206-02, Release Date: 12/6/2015,

(5)The Washington Post, “Admiral, seven others charged with corruption in new ‘Fat Leonard’ indictment”, Craig Whitlock, 14-Mar-2017,




Saturday, April 8, 2017

Syrian Tomahawk Strike

By now, you all know that the US launched a cruise missile attack against a Syrian airfield in retaliation for a chemical weapon attack by Syrian forces.  I’m not going to address the quality of the evidence for the chemical weapon usage or the geopolitical aspects of the retaliation.  What I’m going to address is the military lessons that can be gleaned from the open source information about the cruise missile attack itself.

Defense News website has the best writeup that I’ve found so far (1).  USNI News website has some additional information and some bomb damage assessment photos (2).

The Navy's Tomahawk missile strike from two Burke class destroyers, Ross (Flt I) and Porter (Flt II), offers some insights into modern naval strike warfare.

VLS Mix.  The destroyers did not have time to return to a home port and load missiles.  Therefore, the missiles were part of the standard VLS missile mix.  Assuming the missiles were split equally among the two destroyers, that means each had at least 30 missiles in their mix.  Ross has 90 VLS cells while Porter has 96.  Thus, the 30 Tomahawk missiles represent 33% and 31% of the VLS load, respectively.  This gives us some insight as to the “standard” VLS missile mix.  Of course, there is nothing that says the destroyers used all their Tomahawk missiles.  The may have had more and the mix may be greater.  In fact, one extra missile was fired so clearly at least one of the ships did not use all its missiles.

Reliability.  The initial missile launch involved 60 attempted launches.  One launch failed and a replacement missile launched.  Thus, 61 launches were attempted with 60 being successful.  One missile plunged into the sea during flight so only 59 missiles reached the target area.  Thus, of 61 launches, 59 successfully reached the target area which is 96.7%.  It is unknown how many actually hit their intended targets.

SAM Defense.  There were surface-to-air (SAM) missile defenses around the airfield but none, apparently, engaged the Tomahawk missiles.  Reports suggest that the Russians were operating the SAMs, were pre-warned by the US about the attack, and opted not to engage.  Thus, we cannot learn anything about the viability of Tomahawks versus a modern, peer SAM defensive system. 

Airfield Weapon Density.  The US launched 60 Tomahawks at a single, relatively small airfield.  That seems like a lot of missiles especially when the runways were deliberately not targeted and other structures were deliberately avoided that would likely have been targeted in an all out attack.  Still, this gives us some idea of the weapon density the US believes necessary to destroy a single, small base.  Of course, the US may not have known whether the SAM defenses would engage and the seemingly large number of Tomahawks may have been what planners felt was needed in order to overcome a defense.  Either way, it offers some insight into the number of Tomahawks needed to attack an airbase.  It’s a bit more than I would have thought.

BDA.  The bomb damage photos that have been released do not seem to show 59 hits.  Note, however, that I am the farthest thing from a bomb damage assessment (BDA) photo analyst!  It may be that several missiles were targeted on a single hardened hangar and there appear to have been several of those so that may account for a significant chunk of missiles.  If so, that also suggests what planners think of the resilience of a hardened hangar versus the destructive power of a Tomahawk.


Had this been an all out attack to totally destroy the airfield, presumably many more missiles would have been used.  This gives us some insight into the Tomahawk weapon density needed to take out a facility.  It’s higher than I would have thought.  Given that our total Tomahawk inventory is somewhere around 4000 missiles, that should tell us something about our ability to wage an all out war and how long our inventory would last.  This has to be worrisome given that Tomahawks cannot be quickly replaced from the manufacturer.

This should also tell us how useful (or useless, as the case may be) our Virginia class submarines that carry only 12 Tomahawks will be – not very.  It would have required five subs to carry out this attack and this was only a partial attack against a small airfield.  Those who believe that our subs will constitute a significant land strike capability are mistaken.  The subs are more likely to be used as snipers, taking out smaller, undefended targets.  The retirement without replacement of our four SSGNs which each carried 154 Tomahawks may come to be viewed as a mistake.

Setting aside the geopolitics, this incident has proven to be instructive as regards modern naval strike warfare.



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(1)Defense News website, “The Pentagon’s Play-By-Play of the Syria Strikes”, Aaron Mehta, 7-Apr-2017,

(2)USNI News website, “How the U.S. Planned and Executed the Tomahawk Strike Against Syria”, Megan Eckstein, 7-Apr-2017,


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Government Owned Shipbuilding Yards

Discussions of naval shipbuilding have noted the scarcity of active shipbuilding yards in the US.   Up to, and during, WWII, the US operated dozens of shipbuilding yards.  Now, US shipbuilding has shrunk to a very few.  The reasons are many and include increased safety, environmental, and labor laws and regulations that have put US shipbuilders at a disadvantage relative to foreign shipyards.  Naval shipbuilding demand has also steadily decreased over the last few decades which has increased the cost of what new construction there is which, in turn, has further lowered the numbers of new construction – a classic death spiral.

The lack of shipyard competitors has created a semi-monopoly with all the attendant problems such as elevated prices, limited selection, stagnant designs, corruption, etc.  One of the common suggestions is for the government to operate its own shipyards.  If nothing else, the elimination of profit would lower costs, according to proponents.  With that background, let’s take a deeper look at the concept of government operated shipbuilding yards.

Once upon a time, the Navy did own and operate shipbuilding yards.  These yards were required to competitively bid on construction projects just like private yards.

“Since the nation's earliest days, the U.S. Navy has operated its own shipyards.  There were 13 in total, four of which are still active.   In addition, eight naval stations - one in the U.S., seven overseas - had some shipbuilding capability.  At the end of WWII, the Navy terminated or cancelled almost all new ship construction contracts and only a few new ships were built in the Naval Shipyards thereafter.  Then, in 1972, a report was published that demonstrated that ships built in Naval Shipyards cost, on average, about 30% more than ships built by private-sector shipbuilders: as a result, all new ship construction in the Naval Shipyards ceased and five of the nine remaining yards were closed.” (1) [emphasis added]


“In 1972, Booz-Allen compared the costs of comparable ship work, including new construction, conversions, and overhauls In public and private yards for the fiscal years 1966-71. They found that the cost of new construction was, on average, about 35 percent higher in naval shipyards.” (2)


There are now only four shipyards and none engage in shipbuilding.  They are limited to repairs and upgrades.  The surviving yards are listed below.

  • Portsmouth Naval Shipyard - overhauls, repairs, and modernizes Los Angeles-class submarines

  • Norfolk Naval Shipyard - specializes in repairs, overhauls, and modernization of ships and submarines

  • Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard - repairs, maintains and modernizes the U.S. Pacific Fleet

  • Puget Sound Naval Shipyard - Maintains, modernizes, and retires ships

We see, then, that while the supposition that government owned and operated shipbuilding yards would be cheaper seems reasonable on the surface, the historical data indicates otherwise.  This is in line with almost all other large government programs.  For example, the US Post Office is far more expensive than private firms such as FedEx or UPS.  Similarly, Social Security, which is a form of insurance/annuity, is inefficient, costly, and failing compared to private sector insurance and annuity financial firms.  In fact, if the Social Security program were private, it would not be allowed to operate as it fails to meet private sector laws and regulations.  One final example, the Veteran’s Administration hospital service is a complete failure compared to private sector hospitals.  Thus, there is overwhelming current and historical data that indicates that government owned and operated shipbuilding yards would not provide cheaper ships but would, instead, provide more expensive ones.  

Government shipbuilding yards are not the solution to our out of control shipbuilding costs.



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(2)“Overhaul Costs In Public And Private Shipyards: A Case Study”, Marianne Bowes, The Public Research Institute, Oct. 1981, CRC 442

Monday, April 3, 2017

LCS - Can't Give 'Em Away

We’ve beaten the dead horse of an LCS program for years.  It’s almost gotten to the point where it’s not even fun anymore.  That said, people have lately suggested several things we should do with the LCS’s ranging from serious to tongue-in-cheek and from SinkEx’ing them to giving them to the Coast Guard.

I thought I’d take a moment to look at a couple of semi-serious alternative uses.

The “give ‘em to the Coast Guard” is the most popular semi-serious proposal.  Unfortunately, the LCS offers no capabilities that the Coast Guard needs.  The CG’s National Security Cutter is, arguably, a better warship so they gain nothing from that.  The LCS was designed with very limited at-sea endurance which doesn’t help the CG any.  The LCS is way too expensive to operate.  Given the designed-in land-based maintenance requirement, the CG would have to set up multiple dedicated service centers for the LCS with extensive shore-side maintenance facilities and a significant number of dedicated maintenance personnel and that’s just way more infrastructure than the CG can afford.  The Navy is learning that the required shore-side personnel are 2-3x what they had originally, if stupidly, estimated. 

Even if the CG wanted to scrap the minimal manning and give the LCS a full crew, the LCS doesn’t have the capacity for more crew.  It lacks food storage, cold storage, water storage, berthing, showers, heads, galley space, etc. to accommodate more crew.  While it might be possible to add berthing in the previous modular spaces, there is just no realistic way to increase galley space, food storage, cold storage, etc.  The LCS was designed around the two week deployment model and any increase in personnel further reduces that deployed time. 

Related to the short deployment model, the LCS range is only around a few thousand miles.  Compare that to the CG’s National Security Cutter which Wiki credits with a range of 12,000 nm (speed unspecified).  The LCS range does not meet CG needs.

In short, the LCS offers nothing to the CG in terms of capability and is far too expensive to operate.

Sell ‘em to other countries, is another popular refrain.  Unfortunately, the LCS has been proposed to numerous countries as a sale item and no one has yet bought one.  Even at vastly reduced prices just to unload them, the same problems as outlined for the CG apply to other countries.  The limited combat capability and extremely limited endurance combined with the need for an extensive land-based maintenance infrastructure make the LCS undesirable even at giveaway prices.

LCS?  Can’t even give ‘em away!

LRASM Update

The more I hear about the LRASM (Long Range Anti-Ship Missile), the more I like it.  Obviously, the Navy desperately needs a replacement for the obsolete and expired Harpoon and the LRASM is one of the options being seriously considered.  In fact, evidence to date suggests that LRASM is the only replacement option being seriously considered, at the moment, although the Kongsberg JSM and Tomahawk are also possibilities.

Scout Warrior website has a nice review and description of the LRASM program (1).

To briefly review, plans call for the LRASM to initially be launched from aircraft, the B-1 (in 2018) and F-18 (in 2019), specifically.  This will be followed by launch capability from standard VLS cells.  The missile will have a range of 200+ nm, is stealthy, and has a speed in the high subsonic range.  On board targeting sensors include radar, infrared, and optical imaging.  The missile requires initial target location and can accept mid-course guidance before falling back on its on-board sensors and autonomy for terminal guidance.  The warhead is a 1000 lb penetrator with blast fragmentation.

The missile depends heavily on autonomous target identification specifically to avoid a vulnerable dependence on networking, GPS, and other electronic communications that could be subject to countermeasures.  This is an outstanding design philosophy in that it recognizes a potential vulnerability and works around it.  Of course, the challenge is to develop software capable of that degree of autonomy while still providing the requisite degree of safety.  No one wants a weapon that will sink commercial shipping due to mistaken identity.  The challenge is compounded due to the electronic countermeasures that the missile will face.  The radar signatures that the missile will search for will be distorted and yet the missile will still have to reliably identify target from non-target.  Still, this is the only viable way to attack a target that we can’t keep continuous “sight” on during the final approach and terminal attack phases.

Apparently, the LRASM can also be launched from a deck mounted launcher in addition to VLS.  This has obvious advantages in some situations.  Deck launchers would be appropriate for smaller ships that don’t have VLS cells or have small clusters of them and don’t want to sacrifice any of their few AAW cells for anti-ship missiles.  The LCS comes to mind as an example of a ship that could benefit from a deck mounted LRASM launcher.

“We developed a new topside or deck-mounted launcher which can go on multiple platforms or multiple ships such as an LCS or Frigates,” Callaway [Scott Callaway, Surface-Launched LRASM program manager, Lockheed Martin] said.

The adaptation of the surface-launcher weapon, which could be operational by the mid-2020s …“

  
Of course, the inherent weakness in the weapon is still the requirement to provide the missile with initial target detection at long range, prior to launch, unless we’re going to blind fire a million dollar missile on the hope that it will find a target.  Long range targeting remains a key shortcoming of all Navy attack systems and one that is not being given adequate attention.  As we’ve noted repeatedly, a 200+ mile missile is useless if the initial sensor range is 30 miles, as would be the scenario for the LCS or Burke when operating independently.

As I said, I’m pleased with this program, overall.  It may not be the ultimate, best choice for an anti-ship weapon (I’d prefer a supersonic missile, for starters) but it represents a vast improvement over the venerable Harpoon and is a solid step in the right direction for a Navy that continually seems to find the wrong direction.  This is also a reasonably significant addition to the firepower side of the Navy which has been badly neglected in recent years with the likes of the non-combat capable LCS and  the Zumwalt which has no munition to fire.

It’s nice to be able to discuss a positive aspect of the Navy even if it’s not perfect.  I’m a big believer in the adage, “perfect is the enemy of good”, and this is a good program.



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(1)Scout Warrior website, “Navy Weighs New Ship-Deck-Launched Attack Methods for LRASM Weapon”, Kris Osborn, 7-Jan-2017,


Thursday, March 30, 2017

What Do The Marines Bring To The Table?

The Marine Corps has been renowned for being a tough fighting force with certain skill sets that make it unique.  Individual Marines have traditionally been considered tougher, more formidable fighters than Army soldiers – at least, if you ask a Marine.  The Corps has mastered (and now forgotten) skills such as amphibious assaults that the Army can’t perform.  However, times have changed.  The effects of social experimentation (women in service), technological emphasis (digital and electronic capabilities over close combat), and doctrinal changes (aviation combat emphasis and tactical mobility have trumped brute force combat) have significantly altered the characteristics of the “ideal” individual Marine or, at least, the perceived requirements.  Similarly, the Corps as a whole has changed.

For example, in WWII, women could not have passed the Marine Corps training program and, even if they could, would have been an absolute detriment in the field being unable to perform the basic activities such as climbing over the side of an attack transport in full gear, humping a battlefield load of equipment, carrying injured comrades to safety, etc.  Now, though, with the “gentling” of the Marine training program, gender norming, and the previously mentioned trends, women are deemed capable of serving, including front line combat.  This is not a post about women in service/combat.  I’m merely illustrating one of the ways in which the Corps has changed over time.  The Marines are no longer the Few, the Proud, the Marines.  They are now an equal opportunity, social organization that is the farthest thing from exclusive or unique.

As a whole, the Corps has moved away from the concept of frontal beach assaults in favor of inland, airborne assaults.  That’s fine (well, no it isn’t – a word or two on that, below) except for the fact that we have another group that does that and, at the moment, does it better – the Army.  In fact, the Army is aggressively moving to conduct operations from Navy ships and is aligning their future platform acquisitions with naval requirements.

The Corps is also moving away from the heavy end of the combat spectrum with recent announcements that tanks and artillery will be cut along with personnel. 

The Corps lacks a modern, effective amphibious battle vehicle and has spent many years dithering over the AAV replacement.  They’re no closer to an answer now than they were when they began the ill-fated EFV program.

We’re left with a Marine Corps that is currently only capable of short duration, small, light infantry operations.  The entire aviation assault concept that the Corps seems to be moving towards has some potentially serious weak points such as the survivability of the MV-22 and helos in an inland, opposed scenario and the questionable ability to adequately resupply an inland assault.

Further, the Corps’ apparent movement towards an expeditionary air force role is logistically and tactically suspect, at best.  They seem to want to take part in the high end, aerial combat, distributed lethality type of war that so many of our professional warriors seem to believe, incorrectly, will be the future of combat.  The problem with this, aside from the incorrect nature of the very concept, is that that is not the Corps’ fight.  That is not their job.  That is not their war.  We have a very high tech Air Force whose job it is to do that.  We have a Navy whose job, partially, is to do that.  The Marines have another job, though they seem to have forgotten what it is.

Finally, the Marine’s main unique attribute, their ability to execute an amphibious assault is highly suspect, now, from both a doctrinal and strategic point of view.

Doctrinally, the Marines cannot execute an amphibious assault.  They lack the landing craft to transport troops from 25-50 miles offshore to the beach in fighting condition.   They lack the ability to put heavy firepower ashore with the initial wave, when it is most needed.  In short, the Marines have no ability to execute an opposed landing against a peer.  They have no ability to execute their own doctrine.

Strategically, the need for amphibious assaults against foreseeable enemies over the foreseeable future is highly suspect.  Consider the likely cases:

China – We are not going to invade mainland China (at least, I hope we’re not that stupid).  The first island chain islands and bases are too small to justify an assault.  They are pinpoint, concentrated targets that will be destroyed by cruise missiles.  So, there is no reasonable need for amphibious assaults.

Russia – War with Russia will be a land and air war with minor naval contributions.  The war will be supplied and conducted through Europe and fought around the periphery of Russia.  There will be no need for amphibious assaults.

North Korea – War with NKorea will, as with Russia, be supplied and fought from South Korea in a south to north movement.  This will be the closest thing to a WWII type conflict.  There could be a use for a small, diversionary amphibious assault along the coast of NKorea although, given the threat of mines and the Navy’s almost complete lack of mine countermeasure capability, the likelihood of an amphibious assault is very small.

Iran – This offers the greatest possibility of an amphibious assault although the bulk of supply and fighting would still pass through Iran’s land borders.  An amphibious assault, if it happened, would only be lightly opposed.  Iran simply does not have the capability to offer serious resistance.

The overall strategic likelihood of amphibious assaults is very low for the foreseeable future.  Combined with the inability to actually conduct an assault, I see very little need for such a capability.

So, given the preceding, what is it that the Marines bring to the table that the Army and Air Force don’t already have?  The unfortunate answer is less and less, bordering on nothing.

Having posed the question and acknowledged the disappointing answer, let’s turn our attention to what the answer ought to be.

The Marines have two primary missions: 

  • Conduct short duration, high intensity, inland actions (raids, rescues, diversions, disruptions, first response, etc.).

  • Seize entry points into enemy territory for follow on forces.  This includes port seizure and landing points (beach or near-shore airfields).

It’s that simple.  It’s that simple and yet the Marine’s have lost their focus.  It’s that simple and yet the Marines are floundering.

Everything the Marines do and buy should be run through the filter of “will it support or enhance the primary missions”?  If so, do it.  If not, don’t.  It’s that simple.

Now let’s look a bit closer at the primary missions and what’s needed to accomplish them.

First response, almost by definition, will be a crisis that was unanticipated to some extent and likely be a situation where we are overmatched locally.  Responding to such a situation will require the Marines to fight above their weight.  They’ll have to hit hard and be able to survive on a battlefield that is not ideal and probably under unfriendly skies.  What will a Marine force need to accomplish this?  They’ll need as much transportable heavy firepower as possible (an M! Abrams provides firepower and survivability but currently presents a transport challenge).  A medium weight, heavy gun vehicle may be needed.  Possibly something along the lines of the M551 Sheridan or M50 Ontos.  Of course, the preferred solution would be to figure out how to transport M1 Abrams tanks!  In addition to tanks of whatever sort, they’ll need artillery and as much of it as they can get along with mortars of all sizes, including, ideally, vehicle mounted, heavy mortars (there’s that transport issue again).

Hand in hand with firepower is survivability.  It does no good to show up on the battlefield and be wiped out in short order.  Survivability requires armor and self-defense weapons.  The current fascination with, and trend towards, light “jeeps” for mobility is a surefire recipe for defeat especially if one has to fight under unfriendly skies.   

Fighting under unfriendly skies requires a robust anti-air (AAW) capability which the Marines (and Army, to be fair) have all but abandoned under the decades long belief that the US would always rule the skies.  We desperately need mobile AAW platforms, both missile and gun (along the lines of the ubiquitous Soviet ZSU).

Entry point seizure is the other key Marine mission.  The Marines have one unique feature that mobile Army units lack and that is ships – large, amphibious ships loaded with many tons of heavy equipment, munitions, and general supplies.  The amphibious ships represent the kind of equipment supply and reserves that Army airborne units just can’t match.  The ships are also mobile and are capable of bringing those supplies to the point of action.  The ships allow the Marines to operate aviation assets in close proximity to the point of battle unlike Air Force assets that must return to distant bases between missions thus drastically reducing sortie rates.

Thus, the distinguishing feature of the Marines is the ability to bring large amounts of heavy equipment to bear on far distant battlefields via ship based transport. 

The ability to bring large amounts of tanks, combat engineer vehicles, artillery, and other heavy equipment to a battle from nearby ships gives the Marines a decisive, hard-hitting capability that the Army-Air Force combination can’t match.  Unfortunately, that advantage is being squandered by ill-advised changes in direction and doctrine (expeditionary air force, for example, or divestiture of tanks and artillery) and failure to develop and procure the requisite supporting equipment (armored, heavy transport connectors, for example, or LSTs, or armored combat/amphibious vehicles).

Port seizure is a special skill set that will be urgently required and has been utterly neglected.  It is quite likely impossible to sustain an invasion without access to a port facility for unloading, especially given our lack of large connectors and the elimination of LSTs.  Port seizure will be critical.  However, the doctrine, operations, and tactics required for port seizure and defense are radically different from a beach assault.  Port seizure will require heavy C-RAM defenses, in-port AAW defenses, new means to actually get ashore (an AAV can't climb a pier, for example), new tactics for port defense since most ports are integrated with large urban cities (urban warfare raises its ugly head), among other unique challenges and needs.  Only the Marines can do this.

The Corps needs to take a step back, refocus on its core missions, re-acknowledge its strengths, and redirect its development, training, doctrine, and procurement efforts towards those strengths. 

Unfortunately, the Marines have all but officially abandoned one of their core missons, entry point seizure, and have seriously jeopardized their other core mission, first response, by downgrading their hitting power from their traditional middle weight status to light weight.  This is not just my opinion.   Here’s what Lt. Gen. Gary Thomas, deputy commandant for programs and resources, had to say to a Congressional panel.

“We are a light general purpose force. One of the things that gives the Marine Corps an advantage on the battlefield is its mobility and its fires. Much of that comes from aviation.” 

Well, there it is.  I’ve been saying for years that the Marines have abandoned their core and now top Marine leadership is confirming that, on the record, to Congress.

A light general purpose force is fine for peacekeeping and low end skirmishes but utterly useless for executing the Marine’s core missions.  A light general purpose force, by definition, is not specialized for anything and, therefore, not highly capable at any given task.  This is utterly wrong.  They are supposed to be medium weight, striving to be as heavy as they can be given transport constraints, specialists in first response and entry point seizure.  They should not be flitting around the battlefield in ultra lightweight jeeps (what is an airburst munition going to do to the troops packed on an open jeep?) or soaring over the battlefield in $150M aircraft that have a 50% readiness rate on a good day and require exquisite maintenance and care from highly trained factory technicians dressed in surgical garb.

In summary, what do the Marines bring to the table that we don’t already have?  Little or nothing.

I know the Corps has a strong Congressional lobby but if they don’t wake up soon, the Army is going to push them right out of a job.

The Marines need to get back to being the toughest, nastiest fighting force on the planet (yes, that means completely dumping women from the Corps and getting rid of the guys who don’t even outweigh their packs).  A Marine carries his rifle in one hand and fires a mortar in the other without bothering to set it on the ground like some Army puke. 

The Marines need to focus on their two core missions.  The days of Hollywood practice landings for the sake of public relations photo ops need to disappear.  The Marines need to focus on brutal raids, desperate defenses, and entry point seizure.  If Marines aren’t getting hurt during exercises then they aren’t training the right way.

The Marines need to bring something unique and valuable to the table or fold up and go away.  There is no middle ground.  Hey, Marine Corps, that sound you hear behind you is the Army sniffing at your butt.  Time to wake up!



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(1)USNI News website, “Lawmaker Worries Marine Corps Investing Too Heavily In Aviation Over Ground Vehicles”, Megan Eckstein, 10-Mar-2017,