Thursday, June 20, 2019

Poop Or Get Off The Pot

For those of you keeping score, the Iranians have now shot at three US UAV drones this month, downing two of them.

6-Jun-2019 – Destroyed;  MQ-9 Reaper;  shot by SA-6

13-Jun-2019 – Miss;  MQ-9 Reaper;  shot at by SA-7

19-Jun-2019 – Destroyed;  Navy MQ-4C Triton (BAMS) (variously reported as RQ-4A Global Hawk)

This is in addition to at least six tanker minings attributed to Iran in the last few weeks.

You’ll also recall the 2011 capture by Iran of an RQ-170 Sentinel that may have had its control communications hacked.

Does allowing a country to conduct this many attacks seem like a good idea?

These incidents illustrate a couple points we’ve made.

  • UAVs are not survivable over the modern battlefield.  These UAVs are flying in a very permissive air space (surface to air shots notwithstanding!) and are being attacked by a third rate (if that) military.  Imagine the life expectancy of such UAVs against China.

  • These UAVs are just promoting incidents.  If we’re not going to respond aggressively and stomp on Iran HARD, then we should pull pack and leave the area.  At the moment, all we’re doing is antagonizing Iran to no good purpose and wearing out our men and equipment, in addition to losing expensive drones.

This is the ‘shit or get off the pot’ moment.  We need to respond FORCEFULLY or leave.  

China Training Hard

China is training hard.  Here's their amphibious tank firing from the water.

Chinese Type 05 Amphibious Tank 

From China Defense Blog

If you were the defender, would you rather face the US Marine's AAV with a 0.50 cal machine gun or the Chinese ZTD-05 amphibious tank with a 105 mm gun, 12.7 mm gun, and 7.62 mm gun plus 105 mm laser guided anti-tank missiles?

We kick around the idea of an amphibious tank, though not very seriously, while the Chinese actually have built and deployed them.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Air/Sea Battle Revisited, Fads, and the Future of Warfare

As we know, the military (and Navy) has no actual military strategy for dealing with China.  Instead, they substitute technology for strategy and, occasionally, toss out operational concepts which become passing fads.  Do you recall the hype and craze about Air/Sea Battle (ASB) from a just a few years ago?  It was all the rage for a while but we haven’t heard a peep about it for some time now.  It came and went.

To refresh your memory, ASB, as articulated by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment think tank, envisioned a long, drawn out roll back of the Chinese Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) zone in what amounted to a battle of attrition.  Aside from the inherently losing nature of a battle of attrition when you don’t have superior numbers, ASB offered no actual victory conditions and didn’t suggest what to do after the roll back had been achieved.

Flaws aside, ASB was the hot operational thinking for few years.

ASB was published in May 2010.  The astute military observer might wonder why a think tank was publishing military strategy that the military immediately latched onto?  Are our professional military leaders incapable of formulating their own strategy and have to use a civilian think tank’s offering?  The answer, of course, is a resounding yes!  Our military lacks any semblance of strategic thinking.

Moving on, in Oct-2013, the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee held a hearing on AirSea Battle (ASB) with a panel of senior uniformed leaders from each of the services (see, “AirSeaBattle Testimony”). (1)  The hearing was striking for the utter lack of planning by the military and culminated with Congress asking the military leaders what our military strategy was.  The resulting blank looks and silence was proof our professional leaders incompetence.  But, I digress …

In January of 2015, the Pentagon announced a major ASB development.  They announced that they were renaming it to Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC).  And … that’s pretty much the last we heard of it.

So, ASB arose from out of nowhere, was enthusiastically embraced by the military, and, in the space of some four plus years … vanished.

This illustrates the fad-ish nature of our military strategic thinking.  Let’s examine that fad-ish tendency a bit closer.

Do you recall the fad that came before ASB?  That’s right, “littoral”.  Starting in the early 2000’s, all naval warfare was going to take place in, and be solved by, “littoral” combat ships.  Yes, the LCS the key to winning wars and would render all other ships obsolete.  Well, we know how that turned out.  LCS aside, when was the last time you heard discussions of “littoral”?  Yeah, that’s pretty much died out unless it’s trotted out to justify another LCS purchase.

Do you recall the fad that came after ASB?  That’s right, distributed lethality which popped into existence a few years ago, around 2016 or so.  Distributed lethality, whereby cargo ships, amphibious ships, and, according to the Navy, anything that can float, will be armed with a few anti-ship missiles and sent into enemy territory alone to wreak havoc and rain destruction down of a bewildered enemy, totally confused and operationally paralyzed by the multitude of targets.  Of course, even distributed lethality talk has been dying down of late. 

So, we went from Littoral to Air/Sea Battle to Distributed Lethality.  Each was guaranteed to be the key to the future of warfare.  Three “futures of warfare”, all in the space of around 14 years, as seen in the brief time line below.

2002 – Littoral

2010 – Air/Sea Battle

2016 – Distributed Lethality

Where are we now?  Well, we noted that even the distributed lethality talk has been dying down.  What’s taking its place?  Why, the F-35, of course!  The next “future of warfare” is the F-35 – the magic plane that will leisurely make its way, unseen, through enemy air space while simultaneously acting as an all-seeing, all-knowing AWACS, guiding missiles launched by ships or airborne missile trucks, providing ECM support to the battlefield, conducting close air support for ground forces, directing unmanned UAV wingman aircraft, and achieving a kill ratio of … well, infinity because the F-35 can’t be shot down!  The F-35 will change the face of warfare as we know it, proponents claim, rendering all previous operational combat concepts obsolete.  Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that the F-35 is our current fad.  Of course, history says that this fad will pass in a couple of years to be replaced by some new, hot concept.

So much for our professional warriors with a clear and consistent philosophy, huh?


Monday, June 17, 2019

Iranian Tanker Attack

By now, you’ve read about the two tankers, one Norwegian and one Japanese, supposedly attacked by Iranian forces in the Gulf of Oman on 13-Jun-2019.  The US believes the Iranians were responsible.  Publicly released evidence is sketchy but includes,
  • Photos and video, provided by US Central Command, of Iranian boats removing an unexploded limpet mine from a tanker. (1)
  • Unverified report of an Iranian vessel firing a surface-to-air missile at a US MQ-9 Reaper UAV a few hours before the tanker attacks. (1)
  • The belief that no other actor in the region would have the motivation, skill, and resources to conduct such an attack. (2)

On a related note, the crew of the Japanese ship reported being attacked by a flying object but there has been no other such reports or verification. (2)

Also on a related note, you might recall that a month ago four oil tankers were damaged in an attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates using what were likely limpet mines. (2)

The US appears satisfied with whatever evidence it has and is blaming the Iranians for the attacks.

"It is the assessment of the U.S. government that Iran is responsible for today's attacks in the Gulf of Oman," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. "These attacks are a threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable escalation of tension by Iran." (1)

As I said, the publicly released evidence is sketchy although the video of the Iranian boat removing the limpet mine is fairly damning.  One would assume that the US has additional evidence that it prefers not to release so as to protect sources although that’s just speculation on my part. 

Photo From Surveillance Video Showing Iranian Boat Removing Limpet Mine From Tanker

Let’s set aside the question of absolute proof or not and, instead, examine the larger issue of maritime security and the US Navy’s role.

By their own claim, the US Navy’s mission is to ensure the freedom of the maritime global commons.  From the Navy website,

The mission of the Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas. (3)

So, the Navy exists not just to protect US-flagged shipping but to deter aggression, apparently from any source and directed anywhere and at anyone and to maintain the ‘freedom of the seas’ which, again, suggests that the Navy is defending the maritime commons for ALL nations.  Thus, an attack on any country’s ship constitutes aggression, which is the Navy’s self-proclaimed mission to prevent, and a threat to the general freedom of the seas which, again, is the Navy’s job to prevent.  This then eliminates the idea that since the attacked ships weren’t US-flagged, the Navy can’t get involved.

We have, then, ample justification for naval action with the only question being, against whom?  Since we just read that the US Secretary of State is unequivocally assigning the blame to Iran, it follows that the Navy is duty bound to take action against Iran.

Now, suppose we don’t take action.  This would lead one to wonder why we bother with our much ballyhooed forward presence.  What’s the point of presence if we won’t take action when we believe we have clear evidence of aggression and a threat to the freedom of the seas?  The Navy justifies its ships, deployments, operating costs, etc. on the basis of forward presence and yet that forward presence is rarely, bordering on never, used.

We have seen a pattern of inaction in response to provocations, aggression, and threats.  For example, the Iranians illegally seized our boats and crews when they were lost, the Chinese have made outrageous territorial claims and attributed non-existent attributes to EEZ zones, the Russians have conducted multiple unsafe aerial and naval acts around our forces, the Chinese have ordered us out of ‘their’ South China Sea (ignoring the fact that it is international waters!), the Chinese have seized our unmanned underwater vehicles, the Iranians have interfered with our carrier aviation operations, and the list goes on and on – a buffet of aggression and threats to the freedom of the seas.  The only recent exception to this pattern of inaction on our part was the launching of some Tomahawks at purported radar sites in Yemen in response to a claimed attack on a Burke destroyer – an attack that public evidence strongly suggests never occurred.

So, I repeat, why are we wasting time, effort, and resources maintaining a forward presence when we clearly have no intention of using them?  Now, perhaps I’ll be surprised and wake up tomorrow to read about a retaliatory attack on Iran but I suspect not.  If we’re not going to use the Navy then bring the ships and crews home and let’s save unimaginable amounts of money.

The video of the Iranians removing the mine from the ship was taken by a US drone.  What better opportunity and justification could there be for action?  Instead, we did nothing.  The fleet is useless.  It’s accomplishing nothing.  Bring it home.


(1)Business Insider website, “An Iranian boat reportedly fired a missile at a US drone right before the tanker attack”, Ryan Pickrell, 15-Jun-2019,

(2)BBC News website, “Gulf of Oman tanker attacks: US says video shows Iran removing mine”, 14-Jun-2019,

Friday, June 14, 2019

We Got Nothin'

Consider that snarky but classic response to a request for ideas:  “Ahh  … I got nothin’ ”

Well, as I ponder the state of the US Navy’s combat fleet, I get the same feeling. 

LCS – We have a fleet of commissioned warships that have no mission and no means to execute a mission since they have no useful and effective mission modules.  Seriously, an entire fleet of warships that can’t execute a combat mission???

Zumwalt – We have two commissioned Zumwalt’s – soon to be three – that have no mission, no main functional weapon, are searching for a role, and lack installed combat systems.  Seriously, we commissioned warships without a main weapon and without any combat system???

Ford – We have a commissioned aircraft carrier that can’t load munitions onto its aircraft because it has no functioning elevators and can’t operate F-35s because it lacks the proper communications and support equipment and facilities.  Seriously, we commissioned a non-functional carrier???

If you asked the Navy to honestly and objectively describe their combat fleet and its capabilities, their response would have to be, “Ahh    I got nothin’ ”

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Ending War - True Victory

Today’s post addresses the issue of victory in a war.  As such, it relates to the formulation of a geopolitical strategy – victory being the presumed end result of any strategy – and builds on the previous discussion of the foundational principles of geopolitical strategy (see, “Foundational Principles of Geopolitical Strategy”).

War with China is inevitable.  The only question is when.  We’ve previously discussed victory conditions in a Chinese war and the need for a military strategy to achieve the desired victory conditions (see, "China War - Setting the Stage").  Most observer’s and commentator’s idea of strategy and victory conditions involve containing China within the first island chain.  If we can push them back to pre-war boundaries then we’ve ‘won’ in the sense that we will have achieved the specified victory conditions: in essence, a return to status-quo (see, "China War Strategy - Blockade").

The problem with this approach and this set of victory conditions is that it raises the nagging question of whether this is actually a long term victory. 

Before we go any further, let’s ask ourselves what ‘victory’ is?  The truest and most desirable ‘victory’ is when you never have to fight that enemy again.  Any other result is not really a victory, just a temporary cessation of hostilities during which the enemy can rebuild and rearm.

Will ‘victory’ that returns China to pre-war boundaries and status quo (assuming we can achieve it!) assure that we won’t have to fight China again?  I ask because a ‘victory’ that results in having to refight the war again is not really a victory, is it? 

Does history support this set of victory conditions (return to pre-war boundaries and status quo) as being an actual victory? 

Let’s look at the historical record of wars in modern times (since the 1900’s) that ended with the losing side intact and essentially returned to pre-war boundaries and status quo and see whether the ‘winners’ really won in the long term.

Russo-Japanese War 1904-5 – Japan won a significant victory but left an intact Russia.  .  What was the long term result?  Within 40 years Japan had to fight Russia again in WWII.  So, the war wasn’t really a victory for Japan, was it?

WWI – Germany was ‘defeated’ and returned to pre-war boundaries.  What was the long term result?  Within 20 years we had to fight Germany again.  So, WWI wasn’t really a victory, was it?

Korean War – NKorea was ‘defeated’ and returned to pre-war boundaries.  What was the long term result?  We’ve been fighting NKorea ever since.  They’ve developed atomic weapons, conducted vast cyber attacks against the US, torpedoed SKorean warships, brutally oppressed their people, developed intercontinental ballistic missiles, launched ballistic missiles into Japanese territorial waters, and forced the US to tie up significant military forces in SKorea.  So, the Korean War wasn’t really a victory, was it?

Cold War – While not an overtly kinetic war, the Soviet Union was ‘defeated’ and returned to pre-war boundaries, more or less.  What was the long term result?  The Soviet Union, now called Russia, is once again threatening Europe, annexing and invading countries, and threatening the US with new nuclear weapons.  Now, 20 years later, we’re engaged in a repeat of the Cold War.  So, the Cold War wasn’t really a victory, was it?

Arab-Israeli War (Six Day War 1967) – Israel defeated a coalition of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.  While Egypt lost the Sinai territory, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria remained intact military and political entities with their pre-war boundaries more or less intact.  What was the long term result?  Israel was nearly destroyed in the 1973 Yom Kippur War just six years later.  So, the Six Day War wasn’t really a victory for Israel, was it?

Israeli-Palestinian/Hamas War – Israel has repeatedly engaged and defeated Hamas while allowing the Hamas ‘country’ to return to its pre-war boundaries each time.  What has been the long term result?  Israel has had to repeat the war over and over again.  So, the Israeli victories haven’t really been victories, have they?

Gulf War / Desert Storm – Iraq and Sadaam Hussein were ‘defeated’ and returned to pre-war boundaries.  What was the long term result?  Within 12 years we had to refight Iraq and Hussein.  So, Desert Storm wasn’t really a victory, was it?

India – Pakistan War of 1965 – Though technically a stalemate, India had the clear upper hand but both countries returned to their pre-war boundaries.  What has been the long term result?  The countries have engaged in numerous clashes over the subsequent years.  So, there was no victory, was there?

I considered including the 1982 Falklands War but it wasn’t a war in the sense that we’re discussing here.  It was a sovereignty dispute that resulted in combat but was conducted as a very limited battle with neither side attempting to attack the other’s homeland or non-disputed territories and, outside the narrow point of disagreement, neither side harbored any particular animosity towards the other.

What’s the common theme in these historical examples?  The losing side retained its boundaries and political existence, more or less unchanged and, in every case, the winner had to refight the war within a shockingly short time.  To put it bluntly, the winning side, in each case, lacked the will to decisively and permanently destroy its enemy which ensured that the war would be refought.

The Korean War represents a slight deviation from this conclusion in the sense that we haven’t had to engage in actual combat with NKorea again but we have, in every other way, been continually engaged with NKorea since the end of active hostilities.  Given the required commitment of massive military resources on an on-going basis, it might as well be war.

Now, let’s look at examples where the losing side ceased to exist as a military and political entity.

WWII – The Allies defeated Germany and Japan and occupied the countries, completely disarmed the military, and replaced the leadership and government.  The pre-war military, government, and leadership ceased to exist.  What was the long term result?  There has been no repeat of war with either country and both have become strong, peaceful, productive world contributors.  So, victory produced a permanent improvement for all parties.

Vietnam War – NVietnam defeated SVietnam and the US, occupied the country, disarmed the military, and replaced the leadership and government.  What was the long term result?  There has been no repeat of war and Vietnam has become a productive member of the world community with, astoundingly, improving relations with the US of late!  So, victory produced a permanent improvement for all parties.

Iraq War / Operation Iraqi Freedom – The US defeated Iraq, occupied the country, disarmed the military, and removed the leadership and government.  What was the long term result?  There has been no repeat war with Iraq.  So, victory produced a permanent improvement for all parties.

While ending a war as soon as possible often seems like a good thing, at the time, the sad reality is that it is always unwise.  Prematurely ending a war is appealing from economic, humanitarian, and other aspects but ultimately costs more than following through and establishing complete and total victory.

A war that leaves the losing side intact is all but guaranteed to recur in a shockingly short time.

We need to consider this as we formulate our geopolitical and military strategy towards China.

Note:  I’ve used the phrase, ‘returned to pre-war boundaries’.  I’m using it as an approximate statement.  I will not entertain any irrelevant comments debating the exact boundaries.  That’s not the point of the post.

Note:  There may be an isolated example somewhere in history that runs counter to the proffered premise but that doesn’t alter the general validity of the premise.  I’ll take a dim view of comments along these lines.  You’ll also note that I limited the analysis to modern times.  Earlier times had different conditions regarding war due to lack of modern transportation/mobility, communications, global economies, etc.

Monday, June 10, 2019

LCS IR Signature

Signature reduction was a major part of the Freedom variant LCS design and the slanted shape of the hull and superstructure is testament to the attempt by the designers to reduce the radar signature of the vessel.  How well they succeeded is unknown.  Beyond vague descriptions like, “a radar return the size of a fishing vessel”, there is no actual radar signature data that I’m aware of.

Another important aspect of signature reduction is infrared (heat).  Let’s take a closer look at this.

The first aspect that jumps out is the pair of diesel exhausts located on the ship’s sides, just above the waterline as seen in the photo below.  Note the discoloration around the exhausts.  On a side note, the various ‘camouflage’ schemes (it’s not really – it’s just a crew ‘feel good’ paint project) that have been applied to the ships all make a point of painting dark black around the exhausts as a means of hiding the exhaust stains.

Diesel Exhausts Low on the Hull, Marked by Stains

Diesel Exhausts Covered by Black Camouflage Patches

From a combat design point of view, the location of heat sources, in the form of the diesel exhausts, near the waterline invites hits by heat-seeking missiles at the waterline which is the worst place to have a hit as hits in that location have a high probability of causing flooding damage.  Given the LCS’ minimal manning concept and survivability design intent to abandon the ship upon receipt of a significant hit, placing heat sources at the waterline all but guarantees the hits will be significant and the ship will be lost.

The one unknown aspect is whether the diesels would be operated in combat.  The diesels are used for ship systems power and can be cross connected to the main propulsion system, as well, so I assume they would be operated in combat but I don’t know the combat power management scheme so I can’t say for sure.  If the diesels are not used in combat then this is not a vulnerability.

The other source of heat is the exhausts from the ship’s turbines.  For the Freedom variant, four 750-kW Fincantieri Isotta-Fraschini diesel generators provide 3 MW of electrical power to power the ship systems, according to Wiki.  For newer Freedom variants, Fairbanks Morse has been selected to provide two 16-cylinder Colt-Pielstick PA6B STC diesel engines that will deliver 12 MW of propulsion power. (2)

Note the location of the main exhausts, circled in the photo below.  From a combat design perspective, this is problematic since the exhausts are located within 20-30 ft of the ship’s main radar, the TRS-3D/4D.  Thus, a hit by a heat-seeking missile on or near the main exhausts will almost certainly destroy the ship’s radar which provides the targeting for the ship’s only air defense, the short range AAW missile defense RAM launcher.

Main Exhaust Location Near Radar

The exhaust location, essentially, invites the destruction of the ship’s only AAW defense.

This post is somewhat speculative in that I don’t have any data on the ship’s actual IR signature but it’s not much of a reach to believe that the main exhausts and the diesel exhausts, if they’re used in combat, are the primary point heat sources.  As we noted, the location of the main exhausts relative to the ship’s radar is problematic.  For a ship that was supposedly designed with significant signature reduction in mind, the main exhaust location is puzzling and suggests a design philosophy that is not focused on combat.  As noted in many other posts, this tendency to design warships without a focus on combat is as well entrenched as it is misguided.  All of this is just one more bit of proof that the LCS is not, and cannot be, an effective combat vessel.


(1)Naval Technology website, “US Navy’s LCS 4 completes main engine light-off”, 29-Oct-2012,