Monday, August 19, 2019

Naval Bombardment Philosophy

Current US Navy gun support for amphibious landings has a capability gap – we have none!  The question is, is that due to a belief that naval bombardment as a vital element of an amphibious assault is not needed or is it due to mere neglect and stupidity?  In other words, is our utter lack of gun support due to philosophy or neglect?  One would be tempted to say that it must be due to neglect because the value of naval bombardment is so incontestable as to be self-evident.  However, historically, this has not always been the case.  Naval bombardment has not always been seen as necessary for the success of an amphibious assault.

The largest amphibious assault in history, Normandy, employed only brief and perfunctory pre-assault bombardment that was intended only to suppress the defenses, not destroy them. (2)  Contrast that to the Pacific assaults on Iwo Jima and Okinawa where the Navy conducted non-stop bombardments for weeks prior to the actual assault.  There you have the two extremes – nearly none and almost unlimited.  Which philosophy is right?  They can’t both be right, can they?  Let’s look a bit closer at the historical basis for the two different philosophies and, with that understanding, try to assess our current naval bombardment needs, if any.

As noted by historian and former naval amphibious planner, Christopher Yung, in his book “Gators of Neptune (1), which documented the naval amphibious planning for Normandy,

Another point of departure with Pacific amphibious doctrine was the Mediterranean view of the purpose, effectiveness, and duration of a naval bombardment of coastal defenses just before an amphibious assault.  Admiral Cunningham [Command in Chief, Mediterranean Fleet, First Sea Lord] … stated that, “the Americans in the Pacific placed a high value on naval bombardment in support of amphibious assaults, particularly by battleships, much higher than I thought was really justifiable.” (1, p.38)

However, Yung further notes that Admiral Cunningham changed his mind.

Following the war, Cunningham felt he should have given greater credence to the value of naval gunfire support for an amphibious landing … (1, p.38)

Based on their experience with various Mediterranean assaults, the US Army believed that pre-assault bombardment served only to alert the enemy and ruin the element of surprise. (1, p.38)  The Royal Navy’s RAdm. L.E.H. Maund seconded this philosophy but ascribed it to the British military’s deficient resources. (1, p.39)  We see in this thinking the belief, potentially correct, that if the attackers have less than overwhelming force that the element of surprise may be more important than pre-assault destruction.  Of course, one could ask why anyone would attempt an amphibious assault with less than overwhelming force but that’s a separate issue.

Supporting this minimal bombardment belief was British data on artillery effectiveness against hardened defenses which led the British to conclude that naval gunfire could, at best, provide suppressing fire which might temporarily neutralize the defenses but would be ineffective at destroying them. (1, p.39) It should be noted, however, that there is a world of difference between artillery fire and very larger caliber battleship and heavy cruiser fire with up to 16” guns.  The British did not appear to take that difference into consideration.

Yung notes, however, that this ‘Mediterranean’ minimal bombardment philosophy was not unanimous.  VAdm. Hewitt (commander US naval forces, Mediterranean) noted that pre-assault bombardment was an essential precursor for a successful assault. (1, p.39)

It is also noteworthy that the Mediterranean philosophy was derived from early war experience with less accurate and less lethal artillery and naval guns.  As the war went on, naval gunfire accuracy and lethality improved immensely

Eisenhower, himself, weighed in on the value of naval bombardment, stating that,

Pre-assault and support naval gunfire on beach defenses and pre-arranged targets was so devastating in its effectiveness as to dispose finally of any doubts that naval guns are suitable for shore bombardment. (1, p.39)

His thoughts did not, however, wind up dictating the extent of the Normandy pre-assault bombardment which was, by Pacific standards, minimal, at best.

RAdm. Hall (Commander, 11th PHIBFOR, Force Omaha), expressed his dissatisfaction with the pre-assault bombardment after the Normandy operation was over.

It is believed that the time available for pre-landing bombardment was not sufficient.  German defensive positions were well camouflaged and strong.  It is considered that these positions should be destroyed by slow aimed fire from close range prior to the landing.  Something more than temporary neutralization is required when troops face beach mines, wire, anti-tank ditches and similar obstacles after landing. (1, p.208)

Note Hall’s call for close range naval fire (enhanced accuracy) as opposed to standoff fire (reduced accuracy).  As it happened, there were instances of individual destroyer Captains, on their own initiative and in violation of planning, moving their ships very close in to provide effective and critical point-blank gunfire.  This illustrates the element of risk in effective naval bombardment and the acceptance of that risk in order to achieve objectives.  Contrast this with today’s exceedingly risk averse Navy culture!

In contrast to Hall’s deprecating view of the bombardment effort, Adm. Ramsay (Allied Naval Commander, Expeditionary Force) thought the minimal pre-bombardment was adequate and justified.

That naval gunfire neutralizes rather than destroys is still considered to be true … the policy of beach drenching [ed. short term suppressive fire] has been fully justified. (1, p.208)

Ramsay, then, believed it preferable to momentarily neutralize (suppress) enemy defenses rather than put any great effort into destroying them.

In the actual event, post-assault observation and analysis indicated that relatively few fortifications, gun housings, and casemates were outright destroyed.  This should come as no surprise given the inaccuracy of fire control at that time and the minimal amount of time the bombardments were conducted.  Pacific experience differed greatly.

The use of high velocity guns at [Kwajalein] showed, at least according to the US Navy, that this weaponry could be effective at smashing concrete pillboxes. (1, p.77)

As the Army noted, pre-assault bombardment does, indeed, notify the enemy of the coming assault.  At that point, it becomes a race between the attackers getting sufficient force ashore to achieve their objectives and the defenders getting sufficient reinforcements to the area to ward off the assault.  For Normandy, where the potential pool of reinforcement was vast, it was feared that a prolonged pre-assault bombardment might have allowed the Germans time to reinforce beyond the point that the assault force could overcome.  In contrast, in the Pacific, the Japanese forces on a given island had no source of reinforcement.  Hence, losing the element of surprise was irrelevant – the defenders couldn’t reinforce and couldn’t leave.  They were fixed and isolated and every additional hour of bombardment meant fewer and less effective defenders and defenses.

Naval Bombardment

While the concept of minimizing pre-assault bombardment in order to minimize the enemy’s time for reaction and reinforcement has some surface appeal and, indeed, logic behind it, the larger driving force of overwhelming force ought to negate the concept.  If one has overwhelming force (and if you don’t, why are you attempting the assault?) then the enemy’s reinforcement efforts can be interdicted with air power, airborne infantry, and long range battleship gunfire.  This presents the best of all worlds: extensive pre-assault bombardment reduces the immediate enemy defenses and the overwhelming force interdicts the reinforcement effort.  Thus, both the immediate defenses and the reinforcements are attrited before the actual landing occurs.  To a large extent, interdiction of reinforcements actually occurred at Normandy, thanks to overwhelming force, although the interdiction was divorced from an extensive pre-assault bombardment.

The British view that the element of surprise was necessary to make up for a lack of resources – meaning, a less than overwhelming assault force – was not an issue for the Americans in the Pacific as every US assault did involve overwhelming force.  Thus, surprise was, again, irrelevant.

In contrast to the Mediterranean view that bombardment was ineffective at destroying defenses, Pacific bombardments did achieve the objective of forcing the Japanese to concede the actual landing and retreat to inland prepared defenses in the form of caves, tunnels, and other fortifications that could be hidden from easy observation and protected from heavy bombardment.  Shore defenses were, in fact, found to be susceptible to prolonged bombardment, hence, the relocation of the defending assets to inland locations.

From the preceding discussion we see, then, the tension between the two conflicting philosophies:
  • The desire to maintain the element of surprise
  • The desire to inflict as much pre-assault destruction on the enemy as possible

While both philosophies offer seemingly valid arguments and rationales, it appears that the Mediterranean philosophy of minimal bombardment is largely based on assault force shortcomings and failings such as the lack of overwhelming force, limited resources, and doctrinally ineffective application of naval gunfire.  Thus, for a properly resourced amphibious assault the Pacific practice of prolonged pre-bombardment would appear to be the correct choice.

Having examined the issue of pre-assault bombardment, it is important to note that the discussion has nothing to do with bombardment support during and immediately after the assault landing.  Regardless of whether the assault used minimal or maximum pre-assault bombardment there is an undisputed need for naval gun support during the actual landing and immediately after, until the landing force can get their own artillery ashore and operating.

How does all this impact our views on naval gunfire today?  As you might expect, the exact same considerations and conclusions about pre-assault bombardment still apply.  However, technology has introduced some modifications into the methodology:

Range – Today’s defenders can use cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges of hundreds or thousands of miles.  Even modern artillery and rocket launchers have ranges of many dozens of miles.  Thus, bombardment must not be limited to the immediate landing area but must take into account defending ‘batteries’ located hundreds of miles away.  These remote targets may need to be serviced by air power rather than naval guns but, regardless, they must be accounted for.

Interestingly, the potential remote range of defenses might, in some cases, mean that there are relatively fewer defenses/defenders at the actual landing site as compared to the WWII scenarios of highly concentrated, localized defenses and defenders.  If this is the case, the need for local bombardment may be reduced. 

The effect of range, then, results in a modification of the definition of bombardment to include not just naval guns but also missiles and aircraft/bombs.

Interdiction – The ability to defend from hundreds or thousands of miles away means that the concept of interdiction has to be greatly expanded.  Interdiction may have to occur hundreds or thousands of miles away.  This also leads to the possibility that there may be no interdiction in the strictest sense of the word since the enemy may have no need to physically move reinforcements to the landing site.  Still, there will almost certainly be some movement of enemy defenses toward the assault site and that movement, however far away, must be interdicted.

Precision Guidance – Many observers mistakenly believe that massive bombardments are no longer necessary thanks to precision guidance.  However, the reality is that precision guidance is a very limited capability in a peer defended assault scenario. 

For example, laser guided rounds are useless in bombardment because there will be no assets available to laser designate.  In a peer defended assault scenario, aircraft laser designators will be unable to loiter over the battlefield providing target designation and ground forces won’t even be available until well after the initial landing and will be too busy surviving to calmly and casually laser spot targets.  Further, the ground forces will be too localized and ‘compacted’ to designate targets more than a hundred feet in front of them even if they were willing to lift their heads above cover long enough to do so. 

Ships can, if so equipped, provide their own laser designation but that would be valid only for visible, line of sight targets and a smart enemy is not going to provide many of those.

GPS guided rounds would be effective but only against known, fixed, visible targets.  The reality is that a smart enemy will not provide many fixed, visible targets.

The reality is that unguided area bombardment is the only generally effective method.

  • For a properly resourced amphibious assault, prolonged and heavy pre-assault bombardment is clearly the preferred action and is essential to ensure a successful landing.
  • Post-assault gun support is always required.
  • In order for bombardment to be effective and worth the effort, naval gunfire must employ large caliber, heavy guns of 8” or greater size.  As demonstrated by WWII experience, 5” guns simply don’t have the power to effectively destroy hardened fortifications. 
  • The area of bombardment on today’s battlefield will likely have to be greatly expanded although the bombardment may take the form of aircraft or missiles in order to achieve the required range.
  • Precision guidance is only marginally useful in an amphibious assault.  Old fashioned area bombardment is still required.

Today’s US Navy utterly lacks the capability to provide amphibious pre-assault bombardment or supporting fires during the landing.  If we continue to insist that we want and have this capability, we need to procure bombardment capability.  The Marines long ago gave up their battleship gun support in exchange for a handful of magic beans and promises by the Navy that never came to fruition and they are now left with no naval gun support, whatsoever. 


(1)“Gators of Neptune”, Christopher Yung, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2006, ISBN 1-59114-997-5

(2)Ibid. p.80-81,
From the Overlord Outline Plan: “As preliminary bombardment compromises surprise, it should be confined to the shortest possible duration consistent with the achievement of the required degree of neutralization.”

Friday, August 16, 2019

Not A Clue

USNI News website has an article citing comments from RAdm. Bill Galinas (1), program executive officer for ships, who was speaking at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ annual Fleet Maintenance and Modernization Symposium.  His comments are an attempt to show how the Navy ‘gets it’ when it comes to new ships but, instead, it reveals just how clueless the Navy really is.  Let’s look at some of his comments.

The Navy is striving to field “revolutionary combat capability” in new ships and through mid-life modernizations, but it can do so while keeping risk low by focusing on new weapons and systems rather than radical new hull designs, the program executive officer for ships said.

Noting previous challenges with revolutionary ship designs such as the Zumwalt-class destroyer and the Littoral Combat Ship, Rear Adm. Bill Galinis spoke in praise of the “evolutionary” approach that adds new capabilities while still leveraging mature and therefore less risky ship hull designs. (2)

Hmm …   Well, there’s the basis for a rational approach to shipbuilding there but, already, he’s failing to recognize lessons.  ‘Evolutionary’ development is what should occur in shipbuilding.  ‘Revolutionary’ should stay in the R&D lab until it’s ready.  Consider the “revolutionary combat capability” that the Zumwalt’s Advanced Gun System (AGS) was supposed to offer.  Unfortunately, we designed and built an entire ship around the gun only to find out that the AGS failed to deliver the desired performance and suffered out of control costs that were headed for $1M per round.  Thus, Galinas’ belief that we can keep “risk low by focusing on new weapons and systems rather than radical new hull designs” was completely false.  Zumwalt’s AGS was a colossal failure and we now have three $8B white elephants.  How is that “keeping risk low”?  The Admiral utterly fails to grasp the lesson and yet he sees it.

On Zumwalt, for example, “we had a new hull form, we had a new propulsion plant, a new combat system, a new ship control system, new signature shaping on the hull form, arrays. A tremendous amount of new technology that went in there. And frankly, that probably didn’t work out quite the way we intended when we started it.” (2)

So, he acknowledges that the revolutionary approach didn’t work but wants to keep adding “revolutionary combat capability”.  That’s excellent, Admiral.  Keep repeating the mistakes and hope they produce a better outcome.  That’s also the definition of insanity.

Galinas goes on to cite examples of evolutionary improvements in combat capability for ships:

… he cited the Navy’s Expeditionary Sea Base ships, which began as a commercial tanker built here in San Diego by NASSCO, and was then adapted to serve as an Expeditionary Transfer Dock (ESD) to support the movement of goods from large resupply ships to shore, and then was again adapted to support special operations and mine countermeasures operations as the ESB. (2)

Flying [unmanned aerial vehicles] off of those ships. (2)

… 3D air search radar on USNS Woody Williams (T-ESB-4) right now, which is a capability the fleet has long asked for to get that on there to support the flying of UAVs on there. (2)

… upgrades to the berthing compartments … (2)

… additional crew berthing and messing and habitation facilities … (2)

Tripoli and Wasp … the propulsor has evolved from steam to a gas turbine, … electrical system moved to a zonal system … command and control system on the new LHA will be the first to include full F-35B compatibility upon ship delivery … (2)

Even on the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, … Galinis said the hull is the same but the underlying information technology infrastructure will be greatly improved. Compared to the Ship Wide Area Network (SWAN) on USS San Antonio (LPD-17) that delivered to the Navy in 2005, “the CANES network that’s going on today brings orders of magnitude more capability … (2)

So, the good Admiral’s idea of evolutionary combat improvements are flying UAVs, more and better berthing and messing, electrical changes, shipboard networks, and the ability to talk to F-35s?  Are those really improvements to combat capability?  Do you note what’s utterly missing?  That’s right, there’s nothing about ‘boom’!  There’s nothing about firepower and things that will actually destroy enemy ships and planes.  Where’s the bigger and better guns?  Where’s the more powerful missiles?  Where’s the improved armor?  Where’s the better stealth?  Where’s the combat capability?

Galinas wants to keep hulls the same because they’re proven and low risk.  That’s fine, but only if the hulls are good to begin with!

He cites the Burke as an example of keeping the hull and just adding capabilities.  However, consider that the Burke hull is not stealthy, it is structurally very weak (the Navy had to add strengthening strakes just to deal with the stresses of normal sailing), it has very poor range, it’s at or past its weight allowances and growth margins, has little deck space for defensive weapons (only one CIWS!) and is suffering from stability issues with the new AMDR installations.  That’s not a hull you want to keep using!

Admiral Galinas utterly fails to grasp the lessons from the Navy’s recent string of ship design and construction failures.  Well, Admiral, I’ll lay it out for you since you seem incapable of learning these lessons on your own.

  • Design ships for a 15-20 year service life and then you don’t have to future-proof the design.  You can add in new technology at regular intervals since you’ll be building new ships on a regular basis.
  • Leave ‘revolutionary’ in the lab
  • Don’t continue building flawed hulls.
  • Focus on firepower, not amenities.
  • There’s no such thing as ‘revolutionary’.  ‘Revolutionary’ inevitably fails and degenerates into evolutionary development, anyway.
  • Unless you try building unstable hulls like the Zumwalt, conventional hulls are the least risky part of a new ship design.  It’s the weapons, sensors, and equipment that are the high risk items – just the opposite of what you’re claiming!

In short, Admiral, whatever you think is good practice, do the opposite and you’ll be okay.


(1)Currently, Galinis is serving as program executive officer, ships, where he is responsible for Navy shipbuilding for surface combatants, amphibious ships, logistics support ships, support craft and related foreign military sales.

(2)USNI News website, “Navy Prefers Fielding ‘Revolutionary’ Combat Capability Through New Weapons Rather than New Hull Designs”, Megan Eckstein, 13-Aug-2019,

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Ukrainian Nuclear Weapons Agreement

After Ukraine voted for independence in 1991 and the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine retained a very large complement of nuclear weapons.  The country agreed to give up those weapons in exchange for security assurances.  The 1994 Trilateral Statement and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances involving Russia, the US, the UK, and Ukraine finalized the removal of nuclear weapons from Ukraine in exchange for assurances that Russia would respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. (1,2)  Of course, in 2014 Russia invaded Crimea and officially announced their annexation of the territory.  This was quickly followed by a thinly veiled proxy invasion of the rest of Ukraine.

So, how did that security agreement work out for you, there, Ukraine?

The only real point to this post is that international agreements with our ‘enemies’ are often of little value or lasting applicability.  In particular, Russia, Iran, and China have been shown that they will adhere to agreements only as long as it suits their purposes and will abandon/violate those agreements without a second thought when doing so is to their advantage.

In our zeal to secure ‘peace’ we need to be exceedingly careful about agreements with enemies and recognize that those agreements are nearly worthless.

One might note that Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons and wound up being invaded.  ‘Might makes right’ is still a viable geopolitical factor in the world despite the desire of the US to view the world as a loving and caring place where everyone can be trusted.


(1)NPR website, “The Role Of 1994 Nuclear Agreement In Ukraine's Current State”, 9-Mar-2014,

Monday, August 12, 2019

Roles - Cruiser

Continuing our ‘roles’ theme (see, Roles – Frigate), let’s now examine cruisers.  What’s a cruiser?  Well, one classic and pretty good definition is that it’s a ship that’s strong enough to defeat anything it can’t outrun and fast enough to outrun anything it can’t defeat.  This concept can be traced back to the frigates in the age of sail.  Despite their name, sailing frigates did not give rise to modern frigates.  Instead, they filled the role that eventually became the modern cruiser.

Sailing frigates acted as scouts for the main fleet or acted independently by providing a cheap, plentiful, and reasonably powerful presence intended to keep/enforce the peace, secure trade routes, provide security from pirates and opportunistic foreign ships, provide a means of communication (if not particularly rapid communications), escort convoys, and generally patrol an area while upholding and reinforcing the parent country’s territorial claims and interests.

The English Navy’s famed frigates and captains, such as HMS Indefatigable and Edward Pellew, set the standard that would, ultimately, lead to modern cruisers.

HMS Indefatigable

Similarly, the United States’ sailing ship USS Constitution might be considered a prototype cruiser.  It was well armed and strong enough to defeat all existing frigates and even some larger ships and fast enough to run from any ship of the line that it couldn’t defeat.

When the age of sail gave way to steam and steel, the vastness of oceans and empires gave rise to the first modern cruisers such as the USS Olympia, Commodore Dewey’s flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish American War.  In keeping with the sailing frigates, cruisers were seen as ocean-ranging commerce raiders, scouts, and, often, the backbone of small surface groups.  Cruisers often were designed with great speed to enable them to operate with destroyers and to cover large areas quickly in the scouting role.  For example, the American Chester class ‘scout cruiser’, built beginning in 1905, was designed with high speed but light armor and armament.  Thus, cruisers of this era were used as ubiquitous global ‘presence’ ships while the battle line generally stayed in home waters.

USS Olympia

The advent of aircraft further emphasized the cruiser’s role as a scout as the cruisers now had the means to greatly extend their ‘sensor’ range.  The Brooklyn class light cruiser of the mid-1930’s, for example, carried 4 floatplanes and 2 catapults.

USS Brooklyn CL-40

In more modern times, the definition of a cruiser was a ship that was bigger than a destroyer and smaller than a battleship.  This was more a description than a definition, however.  Still, prior to the advent of WWII, the scouting role was still emphasized and cruisers were often used as scouts for the battle line. 

WWII saw the development of a wide range of cruisers from light anti-aircraft cruisers such as the Atlanta class which was armed with 5” guns to the near-battleship Alaska class cruisers with a main battery of nine 12” guns and heavy armor.  The range of designs reflected the range of missions that cruisers were used for.  The missions included,
  • Scouting (early war)
  •  Anti-air escort
  •  Land bombardment
  •  Independent surface group core

Thus, the WWII cruiser was, in a sense, a ship type that didn’t have a clearly defined role.  As an overall group of ships, cruisers could be considered multi-function ships in an era of single function design.  However, on closer examination, the multiple functions were filled not by one design type but by several designs, each specialized and optimized for the intended role.  Thus, the Atlanta class anti-air cruiser had numerous 5” anti-air guns while the Alaska class heavy gun cruiser was optimized for anti-surface and land attack.  So, while the overall classification of cruiser performed many roles, the roles were actually filled by purpose designed, single function classes.

Atlanta Class Anti-Aircraft Cruiser

The last true US cruisers were the California and Virginia classes – ‘true’ in the sense that they had a nice balance of speed, firepower, size, flag facilities, and some armor.  Their replacement, the Ticonderoga class, which the Navy labeled a cruiser, was just a modification of the Spruance class destroyer intended to fill the anti-air role and had none of the physical or operational characteristics of a cruiser.

This brings us to consider the question, what is a modern cruiser and what is its role?

The modern cruiser is represented by the American Ticonderoga class, the Chinese Type 055, and the SKorean Sejong the Great.  The common attribute among these is that all are focused on anti-air warfare.  Thus, they are defensive escorts rather than the scouts or independent sailors of earlier times.

Sejong the Great Class

Further, the distinction between cruiser and destroyer has been so badly blurred that the designations are now meaningless.  The designation ‘cruiser’ is now bestowed, or not, on a ship class for reasons of prestige, public relations, Congressional oversight, etc. rather than because the ships meet any particular historical or functional definition of a cruiser.

We might almost go so far as to say that modern cruisers no longer exist in the sense that there are no ships that fill the traditional roles of a cruiser.  Aviation has taken over the scouting role, AAW-focused ‘destroyers’ have taken over the escort role, and there are no ships performing the independent operations role.

The Soviet Union Kirov class cruiser is an interesting case.  It came very close to the traditional attributes of fairly heavy firepower, moderate armor, decent speed, and high endurance.  In terms of roles, it was used for strike operations, scouting, in a sense (hunting US carriers), and independent surface operations as the core of a surface group.  On the other hand, by modern standards, the Kirovs were so far beyond other countries’ ‘cruisers’ that they could easily be classed as modern battleships, lacking only heavy armor.  It is also interesting that no country has attempted to build a vessel equivalent to the Kirov.

Kirov Class

As stated, from a functional aspect, cruisers no longer exist and current discussions about ‘cruisers’ are merely semantic debates.  Interestingly, though, this blog has called for true cruisers to fill the traditional roles and lend some much needed firepower and presence in an alternative form to carrier groups (see, “Independent Cruiser”).

Thus, the cruiser is no more.  Naval strategists have dropped all the traditional cruiser roles or distributed them out among other platforms.  This seems unwise as the need for an ocean-ranging presence (meaning with firepower) has never changed and, when we find that our vaunted UAVs are nowhere near the omniscient and invulnerable assets that we assume them to be, we may well regret the disappearance of a far ranging scout capable of defending itself.

The trans-oceanic presence role of a cruiser is worthy of some additional consideration.  Once upon a time, cruisers were invested with significant authority and power by their parent countries to enforce national intent.  It was expected that they would, occasionally, exert their influence (again, firepower) for the betterment of their country.  Ship Captains wielded great autonomy and power.  Today, we have removed all such authority and power from ship Captains and have adopted a policy of appeasement instead of enforcement and might.  That being the case, there is no need for a cruiser – some might say there is no need for a navy if appeasement is the policy.  However, history strongly suggests that these changes have led to a worsening of international behavior, not an improvement.  For example, we now have third rate countries dictating policy in the Middle East, seizing ships of all nations, threatening international shipping lanes, etc.  Once upon a time, such Barbary Pirate behavior was terminated by the actions of Decatur and Bainbridge and the young American Navy.  There is still a need for forceful presence around the world.  Of course, that requires a modicum of courage and resolve by our civilian leaders and a willingness to invest ship Captains with autonomy and authority.

Stephen Decatur

In short, while the world navies have abandoned cruisers, the traditional roles of the cruiser have not vanished which makes the abandonment all the more curious.  We could use a couple dozen modern cruisers far more than a couple dozen frigates.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Chinese Type 05 Amphibious Assault Family

We’ve frequently noted that the US amphibious doctrine cannot be executed for a variety of reasons.  It’s pure fantasy.  China, on the other hand, is building a very capable and credible amphibious assault capability and is seemingly leaping right over the obstacles that have plagued the US. 

One example of a problem that has stymied the US is as basic as amphibious vehicles themselves.  Sure, we have the AAV/ACV but it’s a landing craft that, once landed, becomes a poor man’s Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) of sorts.  It has no significant firepower and little armor.  It’s not a combat vehicle by any stretch of the imagination.

The Marines played around with a high speed Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) for many years before finally admitting failure and cancelling the program.

We’re left, currently, with an AAV which is slow, has no significant firepower, is limited to a few miles of effective swimming range, and lacks significant armor.

Leaping right over these problems, the Chinese have developed and are fielding a family of amphibious vehicles that put what we have to shame.  The vehicle family is the Type 05 which is made up of multiple, specialized variants all based on the common Type 05 chassis. 

Characteristics common to all the variants include:

  • Planing hull powered by two water jets
  • Diesel engine with 1475 hp water / 550 hp land
  • 15 kts (28 km/h) water / 40 mph (65 km/h) land
  • Hydraulic actuated, hinged bow plane that deploys out from the vehicle to create a low drag, hydrodynamic effect for high speed; steering is accomplished via water jets and transom flaps
  • Standard hull armor provides (1):
  • protection at the front against 12.7 mm AP round up to 100 m
  • protection at the sides against 7.62 mm AP rounds
  • protection at the rear against 7.62 mm AP rounds

Production began in 2006.  Production numbers are difficult to come by but estimates suggest 200+ vehicles deliver as of 2016.  The breakdown of variant types is unknown.

Let’s take a bit closer look at the major variants.

ZBD-05 Amphibious Infantry Fighting Vehicle

This is essentially an amphibious Bradley and gives the Chinese the ability to land a mechanized, semi-armored infantry force with mobility and serious firepower and anti-tank capability.

  • Front engine,  rear passenger compartment
  • 30 mm turret;  300 rds/min
  • HJ-73C Anti-tank guided missile launcher; 2x single rail launchers each side of the turret
  • 7.62 mm co-axial gun
  • Crew of 3
  • 7-8 troops (reports vary with some suggesting a carrying capacity of 10 troops)
  • 2x 4-barrel smoke grenade launchers
  • Rear troop door
  • 58,422 lb (26,500 kg)
  • Rated for Sea State 4 (2)

ZBD-05 Amphibious Infantry Fighting Vehicle

ZTD-05 Amphibious Tank

This gives China an initial assault wave, heavy firepower vehicle that is very similar in concept to the US WWII LVT(A)-4 amphibious tank.  The US found this type of vehicle to be absolutely essential for amphibious assaults and I see no reason why the requirement has changed today.  In fact, given the absence of naval gun support, an initial wave heavy firepower vehicle is even more essential.

  • Front engine,  rear passenger compartment
  • 105 mm low recoil, stabilized, rifled gun
  • armour piercing fin stabilised discarding sabot (APFSDS)
  • high explosive (HE)
  • high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) rounds
  • 105mm laser beam riding anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM); indigenous version of the Russian 9M117 Bastion anti-tank missile
  • Capable of firing at sea
  • 12.7 mm anti-aircraft machine gun mounted on the turret
  • 7.62 mm co-axial machine gun
  • 2x 4-barrel smoke grenade launchers
  • Turret face armored against 25 mm (3)
  • Crew of 4
ZTD-05 Amphibious Tank

ZTD-05 Amphibious Tank

Type 05 Command Vehicle

Type 05 Recovery Vehicle


Consider what this family of amphibious vehicles gives China.  It provides a complete package of amphibious capabilities ranging from heavy firepower (105 mm tank gun) to lethal mechanized infantry (IFV with 30 mm and anti-tank missiles) and including command and control and vehicle recovery – all able to swim ashore IN THE INITIAL WAVE.  The US Marines have nothing comparable although they have publicly expressed a desire for a 30 mm turreted variant of the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) as well as command and control and recovery variants.  At the moment, however, the Marines have only the old AAV while China is building and deploying the entire family of vehicles.  Perhaps it's time to start copying Chinese assets like they've been copying so many of ours?


(1)Defense Updates blog, “Chinese Amphibious Type 05 / ZBD05 / ZTD05 Family of IFV / AAV”, 8-Jan-2013,

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Radar Fallibility

I constantly hear from commenters about the infallibility of radar.  For example, I’ve repeatedly stated that it is quite likely most missile defense engagements will start at the horizon and yet there are always people quoting some maximum radar range and stating, with absolute certainty, that an E-2 Hawkeye, for example, will unfailingly detect the missiles and enable engagements hundreds of miles out.  Well, here’s a documented example of a Hawkeye’s (two actually!) failure to detect a low flying, inbound target. (1)

Note: thanks to Navy Matters commenter, “FM” for the link. (1)

The exercise in question occurred shortly after Desert Storm.  A B-52 bomber was tasked with attempting to reach attack range, inside 200 miles, against the USS Ranger and its air wing.  The defending force consisted of two E-2 Hawkeyes, F-14s for CAP, EA-6Bs, S-3s, and A-6s.  The short version is that the B-52 got within 20 miles of the carrier before being detected and announcing its presence.

This was a giant, hulking B-52, not some small, sleek, wave-clipping missile!

Radar is NOT the infallible, all-seeing, omniscient eye that so many believe. 

This is analogous to the documented Cold War exercise of a carrier group sitting off the Russian coast and remaining undetected for an extended period.

In the real world, detection of any object by any means is a challenge.  We need to keep that reality firmly in mind as we discuss the various Navy plans and concepts that all assume perfect situational awareness on our part and zero awareness on the enemy’s part.  The reality will be quite different and that reality strongly suggests that many of our plans and concepts desperately need to be re-evaluated.


(1) Username: FM, Navy Matters, “USS Boxer – A Second Drone”, August 5, 2019 at 11:36 PM

Monday, August 5, 2019

Freedom of Navigation Versus Innocent Passage

The US Navy engages in a practice they refer to as Freedom of Navigation (FoN) exercises as an attempt to enforce international rights as regards the movement of ships on the high seas.  While the term, ‘Freedom of Navigation’ is derived from the UNCLOS treaty (1), UNCLOS defines no such FoN procedure.  Thus, as practiced by the Navy, the procedure has no legal backing and is not a recognized enforcement act.  As such, it has no legal standing and accomplishes nothing from a legal perspective.  What it attempts to accomplish is the normalization and acceptance of the FoN rights related to a specific body of water as granted under UNCLOS.  Legally, there is no need to do this as FoN rights cannot be lost by failure to exercise them.  In a practical sense, the Navy procedure attempts to remind other countries of the FoN rights so as to prevent the acceptance of abridgement of those rights by countries making fraudulent claims to international waters.  The practice is intended to ‘send a message’ disputing the subject country’s fraudulent claim.

The US Navy’s FoN procedure is quite simple.  A ship passes through the disputed area, generally within 12 nm of the associated land. 

This passage is intended to demonstrate the UNCLOS FoN rights.  Ironically, the procedure actually reinforces the disputing country’s fraudulent claim because the procedure actually meets the requirements and definition of Innocent Passage, as described in UNCLOS (2).

Summarized, Innocent Passage is the right of a ship to pass through another country’s territorial waters in an ‘innocent’ manner.  The requirements of the passage are laid out in UNCLOS and, essentially, require that the passing vessel proceed in a continuous and expeditious movement with no prejudicial actions.  Thus, the passing ship cannot stop, land or launch aircraft or boats, use sensors to collect information (spy), exercise weapons, fish, or conduct research.

With this definition in mind, we can see that the Navy’s FoN exercises actually conform to the UNCLOS Innocent Passage definition.  Given that Innocent Passage can ONLY occur within a country’s territorial waters, the FoN can be construed as granting de facto territorial status to the waters in question, thereby reinforcing the disputed country’s territorial claim rather than disputing it!

If the Navy really wanted to dispute the territorial claim, the FoN procedure should be modified to have the passing vessel stop, exercise weapons, launch and recover aircraft, and operate sensors.  That would clearly demonstrate that the ship was NOT engaged in Innocent Passage but was, instead, exercising its Freedom of Navigation in the disputed waters.

Thus, sailing past one of China’s illegal, fraudulent, artificial islands actually reinforces China’s claim of sovereignty rather than disputing it because the passage meets the requirements of Innocent Passage which can only be associated with a valid territorial land mass.  The Navy is unwittingly granting and acknowledging China’s claims!

Discussion points:

1. If FoN doesn't work, what can more effectively accomplish the purpose?
2. How do you evaluate Iran's seizure of our riverine boats and crews in light of the legal requirements of Innocent Passage?
3. Does FoN accomplish anything?
4. Should we be using Innocent Passage to 'tweak' China and Russia's noses?  Before you answer, consider that they've done that to the US in Alaskan waters.
5. Is the actual FoN message, perhaps, that we're too weak willed to contest the Chinese expansion?


(1)UNCLOS, Part VII High Seas, Section 1. General Provisions, Article 87 Freedom of the High Seas

(2)UNCLOS, Part II Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone, Section 3. Innocent Passage in the Territorial Sea, Subsection A. Rules Applicable to All Ships, Article 19 Meaning of Innocent Passage