Friday, April 19, 2019

Australian ESSM Test

Be still my beating heart!  Someone has finally conducted live fire missile testing that wasn’t completely useless and, to the shame of the US Navy, it was the Australian Navy that did it.  HMAS Perth (FFH-157) conducted several live fire exercises for the ESSM and CEAFAR/CEAMOUNT sensor systems at the US Navy's Pacific test range and the testing apparently included multiple targets and supersonic targets.

HMAS Perth is an Anzac class (MEKO 200 variant) frigate with an 8-cell Mk41 VLS, single 5” gun, and two triple torpedo launchers.  Sensors include the CEAFAR/CEAMOUNT S and X band radars.  Wiki has a good description of the ship.

HMAS Perth


To be sure, the tests were still highly scripted, staged events with all the attendant unreality imposed by US Navy safety regulations.  Consider the following quotes extracted from Robert Macklin's report describing the Anzac program and the live fire testing that was conducted.

Now the targets being fired at Perth included two supersonic Coyote missiles—each costing $4  million—which would come screaming out of the blue, cutting a path across Perth’s station as the combined radar and combat system on board responded with the ship’s own relatively slow ESSMs in the hope of intercepting the incoming target. In addition, Perth would track at least seven subsonic missiles, some of which would be in combination with supersonics. (1)

This statement is a bit misleading as it suggests that Perth faced seven or more missiles, some of which were supersonic, at the same time.  That would be a major challenge, indeed!  The reality, as best I can tell, is that the Perth faced a total of seven missiles over four or so separate tests (referred to in the quotes as “profiles”).  There is a YouTube video that shows three missiles being fired from Perth simultaneously so three seems to be the maximum number of simultaneous threats faced in the exercise.

As indicated in the next quote, a subsonic and a supersonic were paired in a single test.  Whether the two missile types appeared in the engagement window at the same time or whether they arrived separately is not clear.

First up, he says, they did the seven subsonics but on occasion they were mixed with supersonic interference. The test, he says, ‘was designed so you could potentially be attracted to the subsonic target at the expense of the supersonic. And in fact I can assure you each of them was a success—in fact probably more successful than we thought possible.’  (1)

Note is made of the difficulty of intercepting a crossing missile as opposed to a head-on target.  The write up suggests that Perth did test a crossing missile and, if this was the case, this is a degree of difficulty and reality that the US does not test.

The ESSM missile has traditionally been a point defence system designed for a weapon coming in directly, which is easy [to take out]. But once it starts crossing—heading for a highvalue unit, especially if it’s doing mach 3—then it becomes exponentially more difficult.

We’d simulate being a short distance from a highvalue unit on its quarter, so when we’d take out the incoming supersonic mach 3 missile with the ESSM, they’d never seen it done before. (1)

If the US Navy had never seen a supersonic missile being intercepted by an ESSM before (referring to a crossing missile?), that speaks volumes about the lack of realistic testing by the Navy.

On one occasion—I think in profile three—we actually lost the target momentarily—and that happens sometimes in the fog of war—and when it came up again a young operator, a sailor who was literally in front of me in the Operations Room—saw it and intuitively pressed a ‘hostile’ and a missile went and took it out at the minimum engagement range. So at the last moment we were able to save the [highvalue unit]. (1)

The next quote illustrates the point that we’ve made repeatedly and that is that the engagement window against a supersonic threat is very short.

They saved the last two profiles for the supersonic Coyotes. The first one, Goddard says, came at them skimming at its minimum safe height. ‘You probably have 10 to 11 seconds to react, and as soon as you’ve made it “hostile” the system just automatically does it and of course it’s just “hands off.”’

In fact, when that first Coyote came at them the system fired two missiles. The first smashed into the target and the second took out the debris. ‘The Americans said “We’ve never seen that. You’ve actually taken out the target and we thought the second missile would just disappear. But all of a sudden it turned and actually took out the debris on the way through.”’  (1)

In the next quote, note the reference to a ‘ghost’ radar image and the resultant wasted defensive missiles.  We recently noted a ‘ghost’ image of sorts being part of the reason why a US Aegis cruiser was hit by an out of control drone.  Also, in terms of overall system efficiency and performance, the unintended and unnecessary expenditure of extra defensive missiles is a problem.  To be fair, if the main target(s) is destroyed, no Captain is going to begrudge a few wasted missiles.

On the second attack, only one ESSM was needed—the Coyote was pulverised. However, a ‘ghost’ image had appeared briefly on the screen and Lee Goddard actually fired three ESSMs, two of which weren’t needed. ‘So it was all very positive,’ he says. (1)


In summary, Perth’s testing was far more extensive and realistic than anything I’ve read about the US Navy conducting.  Is this enough?  Not by a long shot!  They should conduct similar tests ten times over to get a feel for long term reliability and success rates.  They should use different approach angles.  They should conduct the test under adverse weather conditions.  They should try the test with a ship that wasn’t ‘tweaked’ for the test and didn’t have tech reps helping out.  Still, for whatever drawbacks, limitations, and flaws the test might have had, it was still leaps and bounds beyond what the US Navy does and the Australians are to be commended. 



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(1)Australian Strategic Policy Institute, “Rearming the Anzacs”, Robert Macklin,
https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/ad-aspi/2017-12/Rearming%20the%20ANZACs_3.pdf?ttG8fYqc_iQGzyArk.LvSIL_1xo4rIpj

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Unfriendly Skies

WWII ushered in the rise of air power as the pre-eminent form of warfare at sea (and, to a significant extent, on land).  Ships that attempted to operate under enemy controlled air generally paid the price and were sunk.  Examples include the Repulse, Prince of Wales, the entire Pearl Harbor battleship fleet, the Yamato, and many others.  Interesting, though, isn’t it, that the examples seemed to largely occur at the beginning or the end of the war?  This probably reflects a lack of understanding of the power of aviation at the start of the war (Repulse and Prince of Wales, for example)  and then the lack of any options at the end of the war (the Yamato, for example). 

What about the in between times?  Did every ship, on both sides, always and only operate under total friendly air cover?  Well, no.  For example, the entire Guadalcanal naval campaign was fought under uncontrolled skies where, at any given moment, either side might have localized and immediate control of the air.  Despite this aerial uncertainty, both sides continued to operate naval forces.  Yes, they made allowances and adjustments, such as operating at night to avoid aerial detection and attack but the point is that they routinely operated without assured aerial supremacy and did so with varying degrees of success.

We should probably ask ourselves why neither side was able to obtain aerial supremacy?  The answer is simple – at that point in the war, it was still an even match.  In other words, it was a peer war (before it evolved into a completely one-sided, lop-sided affair) and both sides were evenly matched.  Neither could gain a permanent advantage. 

Adding to the inability to obtain aerial supremacy was the long ranges involved.  Both sides had to fly long distances in order to engage which made ‘time on station’ short.  Yes, Henderson Field on Guadalcanal was on scene but, until the end, there were never enough aircraft available at the field to establish uncontested control of the air.  Replacement aircraft for the US had to come from thousands of miles away.  Japanese aircraft were largely based at Rabaul which was around 500 miles from Guadalcanal – a very long flight in those days.

There are lessons to be learned from this which are applicable today to a peer war with China.

Air Control

In a peer war, aerial control of a given operational area will, by definition, be sporadic and will flip back and forth at a moment’s notice as groups of aircraft arrive, or depart, the immediate area.  There may well be times when there are no aircraft in the area, at all.  The reality is that if we want to accomplish anything we’ll need to figure out how to operate our naval forces without the absolute control of the air that we’ve become accustomed to, and dependent on.


The Tyranny of Distance

Simply having aircraft available at bases near the operational area isn’t enough.  Aircraft on the ground are useless.  They have to be in the air in the operational area to matter.  For the US, even our nearby bases are going to be hundreds to thousands of miles from likely operational areas.  Aircraft from Guam, for example, will have to fly several hours just to get to an operational area and will then only have brief moments of loiter time.  This is the Tyranny of Distance.  Distance will render even the aircraft we have in theatre only marginally available and useful.


Aircraft Resupply

Both sides will begin the war with large inventories of aircraft.  The challenge will be to get the aircraft to the operational area.  In the Guadalcanal example, both sides were operating at the end of enormously long supply trains.  In a conflict with China the US will, again, have to supply aircraft at the end of an enormously long supply train.  This resupply challenge will be exacerbated by the very long time it takes to build modern aircraft as opposed to, say, a WWII Hellcat which could be built in a matter of days.  To some extent, manufacturing time will also be a problem for China although the delivery distance will, of course, not be a factor.


Dispersion

The distance challenge is complicated by dispersion.  In the Guadalcanal example, both sides were attempting to spread supplies (aircraft, in this case) across many operational areas over the entire Asian and Pacific regions.  For the US, it was even worse as we were having to provide aircraft to operations spanning the entire world! 

We see that all of the above factors can be combined into one broad issue: 

- placing aircraft, in the air, in the operational area. 

This supply challenge will remain an issue in a modern war with China.  The US will, again, have to supply aircraft at the end of an enormous supply train while maintaining ready aircraft around the world to cover all our other commitments (an argument for weaning Europe off our support?).  China will be fighting at the short end of the supply train and will have an inherent advantage in that it can focus all its military might on the immediate fight since it has no worldwide military commitments.

Unless the US pulls back and refuses to engage (a win for China), it is quite likely that we will have to operate under skies that we do not control.  How do we do that?  Isn’t it now conventional wisdom that ships that operate without air cover are doomed?  How can we operate under skies we do not control?

At this point we have to recognize the boundaries of the problem.  When we ask how we can operate under skies we do not control, that is not the same as asking how we can operate under skies the enemy owns.  Operating in areas where the enemy has established aerial supremacy is, indeed, foolish and suicidal.  What we are really asking is how can we operate under skies that neither side owns? 

Let’s make sure we understand what ‘neither side owns’ means.  It means what it says.  Neither side will have continuous control of the air but either side may, at any given moment, have momentary control.  The key characteristics of such contested control are:


Limited numbers – neither side will have enough aircraft to establish continuous control so even the momentary control will be established by limited numbers.  This means we won’t have to fight off a thousand aircraft but, instead, maybe just a flight or two of aircraft at a time.  Perhaps the enemy will manage to fight an attack group of half a dozen to a couple of dozen aircraft into the area.  This is a radically different situation than having to fight off never-ending waves of saturation attacks as so many people seem to argue when attempting to make their points.

Limited time – given the distances and the need to fight their way into the operating area, neither side will have a great deal of loiter time in the area.  Thus, attacks from aircraft will be brief.  Chinese aircraft will, of course, have a longer loiter time.


Our concept of operating under skies we do not control is beginning to take shape, isn’t it?  We see that we’re talking about contested skies that will feature fairly small groups of enemy aircraft that come and go.  This is a completely doable concept.  Aegis, for example, was designed to handle much more than this.  Several Aegis ships should be able to survive and operate in such a scenario.  Thus, we can operate under skies we don’t own.

I’ve already addressed it but it’s necessary to repeat it:  China and the US will be contesting many operational areas simultaneously.  That’s what war is – it’s combat along a broad front with many, many points of contention.  Both sides will be splitting their resources and assets many times over.  Too many people want to look at utterly ridiculous situations in isolation.  I know that despite this paragraph someone is still going to comment that our ships can’t fight off the thousands of aircraft that the Chinese have.  Well, those thousands of aircraft are going to split across a hundred operational areas plus they’ll be fighting their own battles for survival as we attack their bases with cruise missiles, bombers, etc.

So, recognizing the need to operate under skies we don’t control, is there anything we can do to enhance our ability to do so?  Yes, there is.


Carriers

Building more carriers is the obvious answer.  A mobile air base provides the ability to tip the aerial balance of power in a localized operational area.  What we have to do, however, is stop building $20B Fords that we won’t risk in combat, can’t afford to lose, and can’t build enough of and start building smaller, simpler Midway/Forrestal size carriers in large numbers with larger air wings.


Purpose Built Ships

We need to design a class(es) of ship that is intended to fight under uncontrolled skies.  We need an independent operations cruiser that is optimized for the kind of combat we’ve just described.  I’ve described one such class of ship, the independent cruiser (see, “Independent Cruiser”)


Tactics

We need to adjust our thinking about how we will conduct naval missions.  Too many people have the idiotic notion that we’ll conduct a war just like peace – that we’ll deploy ships to the area for months at a time and that they’ll cruise around the area, back and forth, fighting continuously.  This is absurd.  We’ll need to conduct quick missions, as navies have always done:  in and out without lingering.  This is actually the standard for wartime naval operations, anyway.  We’ve just forgotten that’s how naval missions are conducted.  We need to remember and start training for such missions.  It’s been so long since we’ve had actual missions that we’ve forgotten what a mission is and how to conduct one.  A mission has a specific goal, the forces are assembled, the group makes a high speed run to the operational area, executes the mission, and retires at high speed.  We need to start training Admirals and Captains to conduct such missions.  Today’s Admirals and Captains are just glorified cruise directors shepherding around a bunch of tourist/sailors for several months at a time.


UAVs

One of the main benefits of aerial control is the situational awareness (surveillance) that the aircraft provide.  Without aerial control our situational awareness will be severely limited.  Therefore, we need large numbers of shorter range, cheap, expendable UAVs to provide area situational awareness.  I’ve suggested that all ships should carry large numbers of such aircraft (in place of helos, if necessary) and that we should build small UAV carriers.


Toughness

Ships conducting missions under uncontrolled skies are at greater risk of damage.  We need to stop building one-hit ships and start building tough ships that can take damage, conduct repairs at sea, and keep fighting until the mission is over.  Armor is a good start towards building tougher ships along with greater redundancy and separation of key systems and equipment.  We can’t build Burkes that have two of their three illuminators located within about ten feet of each other.  A single hit can eliminate two-thirds of a Burke’s AAW capability!


Manpower

Increased manpower is another vital aspect of toughness and independent operations.  Ships need to be able to absorb casualties and keep functioning and the only way to do that is with larger crews.  Larger crews are also absolutely vital to damage control efforts and are generally considered to be the single most important aspect of damage control.



It is clear that we will need to conduct naval operations under skies we do not control and it is also clear that doing so is quite viable.  We will, however, have to begin designing and building ships intended for those conditions and we have to begin developing doctrine and tactics for such missions.  As I’ve said so many times, peacetime is the precious time to prepare for war and we’re squandering it on idiotic concepts like distributed lethality, distractions like gender sensitivity training, and worthless deployments and humanitarian missions.

We need to figure out what future war will look like (hey, Navy, I’m telling you what it will look like, since you haven’t got a clue and can’t seem to figure it out for yourself – you’re welcome!) and begin preparing for it.  Everything we buy, build, or do must run through the filter of combat.  How will [fill in the blank] enhance our combat capability?  If the answer is it won’t, we shouldn’t do it.  That, alone, would eliminate all the sensitivity sessions, green energy initiatives, new uniform of the year programs, humanitarian missions, etc.

Accept that we won’t control the skies.  Embrace the concept and begin preparing for it.

We need to focus.  Combat, combat, combat.  Nothing else matters.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Someone's Been Reading The Blog

Apparently, someone in the Navy has been reading this blog.  ComNavOps has long pointed out and lamented the fact that the Navy has become a largely defensive force, existing only to protect itself.  Now, the Navy has finally come to that same realization.

“We’ve spent a lot of time over the past years playing defense,” Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall, director of surface warfare, said at the West 2019 conference here. “Waiting for them to come to you, waiting for the missile to come, for the airplane to come. The best defense is a good offense, and the idea that we will go after the threat — at range — is something that we have to be able to do.”

Welcome to the blog, Adm. Boxall.  Of course, you could and should have had this epiphany long ago – all you had to do was be a regular reader of this blog (see, "Offensive Aegis").  Still, better late than never.

The Navy may have also latched onto one of our pet concepts and that is heavy weight torpedoes on surface ships (see, "Surface Ship Torpedoes").  It’s unclear from the statement below whether Adm. Davidson is referencing surface ship torpedo armament or just subs.  Either way, torpedo development is a very worthwhile effort.

Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. Phillip Davidson …  added that he is most interested in innovations in heavy-weight torpedo technology which can “provide force-multiplying effects that currently do not exist, including long-range in-port or at-sea attack and shallow water covert mine laying.”

We’ve also harped on the need for more frequent, extensive, and realistic training (see, "Train To Fail") and the Navy may be starting to come around.

The Navy has already instituted new training methods for its submarine commanders to ensure they’re more combat ready, and “we have shifted underway periods to be high-end combat operations. Instead of doing a lot of peacetime, shallow water [maneuvers] and ISR stuff, it’s all about combat.”

Unfortunately, the submarine commanders don’t actually know anything about combat because they’re the ones that have spent their careers “doing a lot of peacetime” stuff because the Navy forgot its reason for being.  Still, it’s a step in the right direction.




_________________________________

(1)Breaking Defense website, “No More ‘Playing Defense’ For US Navy; Offensive Weapons Are The Play”, Paul McLeary, 14-Feb-2019,
https://breakingdefense.com/2019/02/no-more-playing-defense-for-us-navy-offensive-weapons-are-the-play/

Friday, April 12, 2019

Top Gun For Basic Shiphandling

The Navy has loudly and proudly announced the formation of a Top Gun of sorts for surface warfare operations and tactics.  That’s great but it’s like teaching calculus to a student who doesn’t know their multiplication tables.  It’s jumping the gun.

Where’s the sense in teaching an officer about tactics when he can’t navigate from point A to point B without colliding or running aground?

There are some serious deficiencies in the way the Navy is operating that are contributing to the incompetent shiphandling by its officers.

Time At Sea – As a budget saving measure, ships are being kept docked for excessive periods.  The USS Guardian, as we saw in the recent post, had only been to sea 59 days the entire previous year.  You can’t gain much experience that way.  The Navy’s incompetent handling of maintenance has also resulted in ships being sidelined for extended periods waiting for maintenance.  We have submarines that have been idled for months or years.  Sailors need to sail.

Zero Defects – We can’t learn if our officers are so scared of making a mistake that they won’t explore the envelope of the ship’s performance.  We have to change the culture to allow shiphandling mistakes.  We also need to provide a training environment where mistakes not only can happen but are encouraged.  More on this below.

Time In Position – The Navy rotates officers far too fast.  They’re unable to master their position before they’re moved to the next one.  There are Captains that take command and leave without ever putting to sea!

How can we correct this situation?  How about we form a Top Gun school for basic shiphandling?  Let’s cycle officers through a school that has several vessels of different sizes that the students can actually learn hands on.  Let’s teach them how to navigate, maneuver, anchor, dock, etc. and not just to a barely acceptable standard – let’s make it a master course with each student receiving many hours of actual experience.  Yes, there will be lots of dents in the hulls and we should encourage that!  Let’s make it an intensive academic course, as well, so that the students thoroughly learn the rules of the road at sea and all the other bits of knowledge that a master mariner would have to know.  In fact, let’s culminate the course with the equivalent – if not the actual – licensing exam for the Coast Guard’s Master Mariner license.  And – and this is key – let’s set a very high standard and hold it.  Let’s weed out the unfit.  Not everyone is capable of being a Master Mariner.

I feel the need, the need for basic navigation!

Since a student can’t sail a ship by himself, this would also be a great opportunity to cycle sailors through the various crew positions for intensive training.  We could produce accomplished shiphandlers and well trained crews.

Our current hodge-podge of training methods with its reliance on computer based learning and learning aboard ship, on the job, is clearly not working.  It’s past time to try something else.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

You WILL Comply

Navy aircraft readiness has been abysmal for some time now.  Here’s some data as presented in a USNI News article. (1)


Mission Capable Rate

EA-18G
F-18E
F-18F
2012
64%
56%
55%
2013
59%
53%
48%
2014
54%
53%
43%
2015
55%
54%
46%
2016
58%
53%
45%
2017
54%
51%
47%
2018
51%
49%
46%


What we see is a slow, steady drop in readiness rates for the Growler and single seat Hornet and a steady rate for two seat Hornet.  In all cases, the readiness rates are very low. 

Well, not to worry.  In September of last year, just under 6 months ago, then Secretary of Defense Mattis issued a memo instructing the Navy to achieve an 80% readiness rate by the end of 2019. (2) 

Now, less than 6 months later, Rear Adm. Scott Conn, the Navy’s director of air warfare, just informed the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee that Super Hornet readiness is 63%-76%. (1)  

Wow!!!!!!!!!!!  That’s stunning.

The Navy struggled with readiness for the last several years and was unable to effect any improvement (in fact, readiness was trending down, if anything) but a single memo from SecDef Mattis caused readiness to jump from less than 50% to as high as 76% in less than 6 months when several years of effort were unable to move the needle.  Wow, again!!!! 

If all it took was a memo, why didn’t anyone think to write one several years ago?  That is one powerful, near magical memo, isn’t it?

Years of maintenance manpower shortages, higher than expected corrosion and problems, chronic spare parts shortages, depot backlogs, funding shortages, etc., all cured in less than 6 months by a single memo.  In fact, allowing some time for the memo to be disseminated, digested, understood, and responses formulated, the actual improvement time was more like 5 months or less.  All of those problems solved in 5 months!

Before you all order your celebratory cake, let me pose one question:  do you think there’s even the slightest chance that nothing has changed except how readiness is reported?  Do you think readiness is unchanged and we’re just pencil-whipping and gun-decking the readiness reports?  Before you answer, consider all the Navy fraudulent statements and practices (lapsed certifications, acceptance trial waivers, fraudulent shock trial success claims, and hundreds of other examples) that we’ve exposed on this blog alone.  Now, let me repeat the question … Do you really think readiness surged that much in 5 months or less or is it unchanged and the Navy is just pencil-whipping the readiness reports?

Still unsure?  Well, consider who the Navy turned to for help:  the commercial airlines.

The Navy received help from logistics specialists from airlines, including Southwest, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer said at an event last year. (1)

The airlines.  The people who, in order to claim on-time departures, routinely disengage a loaded plane from the boarding ramp and then let it sit for extended periods until it can actually take off.  It’s a fraudulent, disingenuous practice that covers up routine failure. (3)

The airlines.  The people who chronically falsify maintenance reports. (4)

What do you think these airline consultants taught the Navy?  Do you think it’s more likely that they taught the Navy how to improve maintenance or how to improve reporting practices?

I guess when the Secretary of Defense orders you to achieve miraculous improvements in readiness rates in very little time, you’re probably going to start bending and twisting the reporting in order to comply and save your job.

Well done, Navy.

Now, how many of those supposedly ready aircraft are actually ready?  I’m guessing it’s the same 50% or less that it was just 5 short months ago.




_______________________________

(1)USNI News website, “Navy Fighter Readiness Nearing 80 Percent Mission Capable Target”, Ben Werner, 5-Apr-2019,
https://news.usni.org/2019/04/05/42436

(2)USNI News website, “SECDEF Mattis Wants 80 Percent of Super Hornets Mission Capable by Next Year”, Sam LaGrone, 9-Oct-2018,
https://news.usni.org/2018/10/09/secdef-mattis-wants-80-percent-super-hornet-mission-capable-next-year

(3)Smarter Travel website, “The Truth About Deceptive Airline Practices”, Tim Winship, 26-Jun-2008,
https://www.smartertravel.com/the-truth-about-deceptive-airline-practices/

(4)Orlando Sentinel website, “FAA INSPECTOR: WORKERS SAID FALSIFYING RECORDS IS COMMON”, Roger Roy, 10-Jun-1997,
https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-1997-06-10-9706090542-story.html

Monday, April 8, 2019

Neosho Lessons

ComNavOps is ever the student of history.  The lessons history offers us are of immeasurable value and free for the learning, if only we’ll listen.  One such lesson comes to us from the example of the sinking of the USS Neosho (AO-23), a Cimarron class fleet oiler during WWII.

From Pearl Harbor until her sinking in May 1942, Neosho operated directly with the US carriers as they fought to stem the Japanese advances at the start of WWII.  On 6-May-1942, at the beginning of the Battle of The Coral Sea, Neosho refueled the carrier Yorktown and the heavy cruiser Astoria before leaving the carriers with a single escort, the destroyer Sims (DD-409), to proceed to the next refueling location.  On 7-May, a Japanese search plane found the Neosho and Sims and mistakenly reported them as a carrier and a cruiser.  The Japanese quickly launched three attacks involving a total of 61 aircraft.  Sims was hit by three 500 lb bombs and quickly sank.  Neosho was hit by seven bombs and a kamikaze crash and left a blazing wreck.


Neosho Refueling Yorktown


Neosho remained afloat until 11-May when the USS Henley (DD-391) arrived, took off survivors, and sank the Neosho with gunfire.

From Wiki,

One of her crewmen, Oscar V. Peterson, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts to save the ship in spite of his severe injuries suffered in the attack.

So, what lessons can we learn from this episode?

Forward Operations – There is immense risk in having valuable auxiliaries operate too far forward.  Neosho was retiring from the immediate battle and yet was still found and destroyed.  We need to carefully balance the benefits of forward auxiliary support versus the risk of loss of a vital ship.  The risk and the impact of loss is exacerbated by the limited numbers we have of the valuable support vessels.  This illustrates the kind of operational and doctrinal exploration and evaluation that the Navy should be engaging in on a daily basis.  How do we intend to support our fleets in combat?  Do we have enough auxiliary ships to support our fleets?  How many can we risk in exposed, forward areas?  Can we absorb the inevitable attrition from forward operating auxiliaries?

Escorts – The Neosho, an immensely valuable support ship was given only a single escort in a forward combat zone.  To be fair, the US Navy lacked sufficient numbers of escorts at that time and a single escort was all that could be spared.  We need to determine the number and type of escorts we need to support not only our combat fleets but our auxiliary fleet.

Distributed Lethality – The Neosho incident is an object lesson in the dangers of distributed lethality.  Placing irreplaceable support and amphibious ships in forward combat zones just to be able to launch a few anti-ship missiles is an unwise risk.  These types of ships have very little defensive capabilities and, like Neosho, if found will certainly be sunk.

Air Power – Neosho was operating under a no-man’s sky.  In fact, at the time of the attack, the Japanese controlled the sky at that location.  We’ve talked about the transient nature of air control when fighting a peer.  Neosho and Sims were caught in a moment when the Japanese controlled the air and Neosho and Sims paid the price for operating without air support.  We need to recognize the transient nature of air control against a peer and what the implications of that are for escort numbers, distributed lethality, and forward operations.

Nuclear Versus Conventional Power – This incident illustrates one of the operational advantages of nuclear power for carriers.  Nuclear power reduces the need for conventional oilers and refueling though it does not eliminate it since the escorts are all conventionally fueled.  As opposed to cost arguments, this is an operational factor and should, therefore, carry more weight.  We need to carefully weigh the impact of fueling requirements as we – for the thousandth time! – debate whether nuclear power or conventional power is preferred.

Attrition – Neosho’s loss illustrates that war is all about attrition and, despite our best efforts, losses will occur.  We need to factor that reality into our fleet size goals and, more importantly, into our ship designs.  It’s one thing to lose a basic, cheap ship that can be relatively quickly replaced but it’s another to lose a ship that is so complex and expensive that replacement is not possible in any useful time frame.  Currently, our ships are far too complex to allow for timely attrition replacement.  Thus, we’ve artificially limited ourselves to the ships we’ll have on hand at the outbreak of a war because there will be very few replacements available in any useful time frame.  This also calls into question our decision to forego maintenance of a reserve fleet.  The navy that does not plan for attrition is a navy destined for defeat.



History is, almost literally, screaming lessons at us but our naval leadership refuses to listen.  When you run the Navy’s decisions of the last few decades through the filter of WWII’s lessons, you find very few of the decisions are combat wise.  The Navy needs to institutionally study its history and learn the lessons offered so as to better prepare for the next war.  That doesn’t mean preparing to refight the last war but the refusal to learn lessons and apply them to the next war is the basis for defeat.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

F-35 vs. F-18 Stealth Comparison

Proponents and critics of the F-35 and F-18 bandy stealth claims back and forth despite the fact that there is almost no actual data on the subject.  Well, ComNavOps has no data to offer.  What, you thought I’d have some official, classified data to share?  What I do have is an interesting observation about the front aspect stealth of the two aircraft.  Examine the drawing below of the side-by-side, split frontal view of the F-18 and F-35.



Drawing credit listed below (1)


What jumps out?  It’s that the two are virtually identical !  Be honest now … without labels, how many of you can tell the two apart?

What does this tell us about their relative stealth?  Well, it suggests that the frontal stealth of the two airframes may not be all that much different.  Of course, there is more to stealth than just the shape although the F-35 claims to not use much in the way of exotic coatings to enhance stealth which suggests that shape is the F-35’s main source of stealth.  There may be materials of construction or internal shaping that also contributes to stealth but, if so, I’ve never seen a detailed listing or description of what degree of stealth they contribute.  No one who knows what the differences are is talking but this suggests they are far less than F-35 proponents claim, at least from the front which is the most important aspect since it’s the head-on, approaching profile that enemy radars will be seeing most of the time.

The biggest frontal aspect difference between the two aircraft is the external, pylon-hung weapons and fuel tanks on the Hornet.  Again, no one knows impact those have on the overall stealth.  Do they increase the Hornet’s radar cross section by 10%?  50%?  700%?  Again, anyone who knows, isn’t saying.

My takeaway from this visual comparison is that the two airframes are likely pretty close in frontal aspect stealth with the Hornet losing stealth as pylons/weapons are added.

Don’t get too wound up about this.  It’s not meant to be much more than an interesting observation.



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(1)Drawing prepared and presented by username=payload, 02 Aug 2015, 21:53,
http://www.f-16.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=15013&start=240