Monday, May 20, 2024

One At A Time

We’ve seen reports and videos of small drones dropping a hand grenade on a hapless soldier.  We’ve heard reports of small suicide drones.  Breaking Defense website has a story about a small drone, Rogue 1, being evaluated by Special Ops forces.[1]
 
According to a company statement, Rogue 1 is a “next-generation, rapidly deployed and optionally-lethal VTOL small unmanned aerial system that enables warfighters to conduct precision strikes against moving and stationary armored targets, soft-skinned vehicles and dismounted threats.”
 
The Rogue 1 allows users to abort and recover the system if needed, and is able to operate in day or night conditions. The company also hyped up its modular nature with multiple payloads. The system has a maximum endurance of 30 minutes and range of 10km and has capacity to fly at a top speed of 113kph, including through GPS-denied areas of operation. Navigation can be enabled by GNSS, visual or thermal recognition. Communications are AES 256 encrypted.
 
The air frame is controlled by a single operator using a 2.3kg fire control unit. The LMS can also carry a laser range finder and LADAR sensor to calculate height of burst for proximity fire missions. A company official said Rogue 1 could be hand-launched, tube-launched as well as fired from a multi-canister launcher which could be integrated on board a tactical ground vehicle or surface vessel for example.
 
SOCOM’s pursuit of the 0A requirement comes at a time when one-way attack drones and small, weaponized UAS are proliferating the modern battlefield, particularly in Ukraine where both sides are using a wide range of technologies to target dismounted and mounted personnel.[1] [emphasis added]

 
This is, essentially, a one-at-a-time robotic assassin.  Is this a good idea or bad?  I’m not talking about the ethical aspects (it’s war, you kill the enemy any way you can) but, rather, the combat efficiency aspect.
 
How do you win wars?  This is not a trick question.  You win wars by killing the enemy in large quantities as fast as possible (along with destroying their industry and logistics, of course).  This drone is the epitome of the painfully slow, woefully inefficient, one-at-a-time approach to combat.  This is a peacetime system that would be useful for going after a lone terrorist, for example, but is woefully inefficient on a conventional battlefield.  In a real war, you want to eliminate grid squares in an instant, wipe out convoys with a single artillery barrage, eliminate armored battalions with a single air strike, kill an entire front of infantry with cluster bombs or fuel-air explosives, and so forth.  Killing the enemy occasionally, one at a time is not how you win.
 
Unfortunately, this is the mindset our military is afflicted with.  We’ve forgotten what real war is and what it takes to win a real war.
 
Admittedly, the referenced article is about special ops so maybe they have a legitimate use for a one-at-a-time drone but the sad reality is that much of our current drone thinking is predicated on exactly this type of one-at-a-time approach, likely spurred on by videos from Ukraine which even our military leaders seem to think is how war is fought.
 
I guarantee you that when the war with China comes, we’re going to see human wave attacks and massive attrition not one-at-a-time drones.
 
How do you win a war - Blitzkrieg or a guy with a toy drone?
 
 
 
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[1]Breaking Defense, “Teledyne FLIR’s ‘new’ Rogue 1 loitering munition has been under SOCOM contract for two years”, Andrew White, 17-May-2024,
https://breakingdefense.com/2024/05/teledyne-flirs-new-rogue-1-loitering-munition-has-been-under-socom-contract-for-two-years/

Friday, May 17, 2024

New Chinese Corvette

Naval News website reports that a new Chinese corvette has begun sea trials.[1]  The vessel has an extreme (think Visby) stealth design, what appears to be some sort of water jet propulsion, and a Zumwalt-type stealth mounting for the forward gun.  The ship is likely a one-off prototype.
 

 
This is what a modern ship should look like.  I’d reduce the superstructure significantly but what’s there is clearly designed for maximum stealth.  There are almost no protruding objects to cause an increase in the ship’s radar (and visible) stealth signature.  This is easily up there with the Visby as regards stealth.  Compare this design to our newest ships, the Constellation and Burke Flt III.  Both are radar beacons compared to this.  We’re so locked into obsolete designs that, for all practical purposes, we’re giving future naval victories to the Chinese.
 

 
The other noteworthy aspect of this is China’s willingness to construct one-off prototypes to explore new designs.  Compare this to our recent new ship designs such as the LCS where we committed to 55 ships before the first was even designed or the Constellation where we committed to 20 ships before the first was even designed or the Burke where we’re committed to a never ending number of ships because we so terrified of a new design failure (with good reason but infinite stupidity!).
 
China is doing its naval buildup correctly and quickly.  In comparison, we are decommissioning ships at a faster rate than we build new ones and are shrinking the fleet. 
 
China is screaming warnings at us and we’re flat out ignoring them.
 
Nothing good will come of this.
 
 
 
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[1]Naval News website, “Chinese Experimental Corvette Starts Sea Trials”, Alex Luck, 17-May-2024,
https://www.navalnews.com/naval-news/2024/05/chinese-experimental-corvette-starts-sea-trials/

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Carrier Ascendant

WWII saw the twilight of the battleship and the ascendency of the carrier as the primary source of naval strike firepower.  Why?  What characteristics made carrier power superior?  No, this isn’t a trick question.  The answer is the simple and obvious one.  Carriers were able to deliver significant firepower but so could any surface ship so that’s not the answer.  What made the carrier so effective was that it could deliver that firepower
 
  • from a great distance and,
  • cheaply
 
Carriers could strike from well beyond the horizon and, possibly more importantly, it could do so cheaply in the sense that the firepower delivery unit, the individual aircraft, cold be easily and affordably replaced to mitigate the inevitable attrition.  Trained pilots, of course, were a separate issue.
 
Consider the import of the cost aspect.  Previously, in a clash of surface ships, the firepower delivery unit was the ship itself and multi-billion dollar ships (expressed in terms of today’s relative costs) were routinely lost in combat.  It took years and enormous costs to replace a lost ship.  Carriers, however, did not risk themselves in the delivery of their firepower – they just risked their aircraft and each aircraft represented only around 1/90th (an air wing of 90 aircraft) of the carrier’s combat effectiveness.  Further, losing an aircraft was a nearly insignificant event (the pilots would, of course, vehemently disagree!) and the aircraft could be readily replaced.  In fact, carriers routinely carried spare aircraft, ‘boxed’ and ready to assemble.  Replacement aircraft were free, on a relative basis.
 
SBD Dauntless - Rise of the Carrier
 
Yes, carriers were at risk during the overall strike operations.  If a carrier was in range to strike, it was also in range to be struck.  We’re talking about the act of striking, not the overall operation.
 
So much for belaboring the obvious.  How is this relevant to us, now?
 
Consider the cruise missile.  What are its outstanding characteristics compared to the current primary strike unit of the Navy which is, of course, the carrier and its aircraft?  Cruise missiles have two major characteristics that distinguish them from aircraft:
 
  • Greater range
  • Much lower cost (nearly free on a relative basis compared to aircraft)
 
Does this sound familiar?  Are these not the exact characteristics which led to the ascent of the carrier over the battleship?
 
The cruise missile is now ascendant over the carrier for strike operations.  Indeed, ComNavOps has repeatedly stated that the carrier is in its twilight as a strike platform.  It is, of course, still dominant in the air superiority role.
 
We need to remember what led to the demise of the battleship and rise of the carrier and be wise enough to recognize those same characteristics in the cruise missile relative to the carrier.
 
LRASM - Demise of the Carrier
 
We also need to recognize that one of the characteristics that led to the rise of the carrier and now the cruise missile is affordability.  We need to keep that characteristic firmly in mind.  If the missile becomes too expensive, which is the path we’re on now, then it loses its ascendency.  Cruise missiles have tripled in price over the last decade or two as we add ever more sophisticated and complex functionality which serves no real combat purpose.  We need to keep the missiles as simple as possible which will keep them affordable and rapidly producible.
 
During WWII, we built an average of 80 F6F Hellcats per week.  Today, we’re doing well if we can build 80 missiles per year.  We’ve got to bring the missile cost and complexity down so that we can produce them at useful war rates.
 
Strike has moved on from the carrier and we need to adjust our fleet composition and air wings accordingly.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Software

We’ve noted many times that software has become the major obstacle in weapon system development, driving costs up and causing schedule delays.  For example, the F-35’s ALIS (logistics and maintenance) and Block 4 (full combat capability) software packages are years overdue and much of the Block 4 capabilities have been either abandoned or put off until some nebulous future date which means it will never happen.
 
Weapon and sensor systems are being delivered only partially functional due to software development issues.  In fact, it’s gotten so bad that systems are now actually being planned to deliver with only partial functionality and missing capabilities are planned (hoped) to be delivered in increments which sounds good on paper but rarely materializes.
 
What can we do?  Without software, we’re just building obscenely expensive paperweights.
 
As with almost everything combat related, the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle applies.  In our arrogance and laziness, we’ve allowed software to take the place of effective recon, good planning, and good tactics by asking/expecting the software to be and do everything for us.  If the software is good enough, our utterly incompetent military leadership can keep their jobs without having to do any actual work or take any actual responsibility. 
 
We’ve crammed every function we can think of into every weapon/sensor system, blowing the K.I.S.S. principle into tiny bits.
 
What happens when a system ignores the K.I.S.S. principle?  You get runaway costs, hugely delayed schedules, unreliability, unrepairability, complexity beyond the scope of the average user, chronically degraded systems, and a failure of the user to understand the capabilities of the system.
 
So, to repeat, what can we do?
 
We need to embrace K.I.S.S. and reinsert its guiding principles back into software development.  Below are some examples:  Note that I’m not going to discuss actual coding practices and coding documentation.  Those requirements go without saying and are irrelevant to the overall thrust of the post.
 
 
Simplification – We need to abandon the do-everything mentality.  That missile doesn’t need to be able to accept mid-course guidance and certainly not from a Boy Scout in Oklahoma who was handed the control from a submarine under the polar ice pack who received it from a plane operating out of a secret base in the jungle.  That missile doesn’t need an image library.  Any hit on any enemy asset will do useful damage.  Who cares which ship and what rivet it focused on?  None of this stuff will actually be used in combat.  That ship’s navigation system just needs to be able to implement a course and speed.  All the other functions are garbage.
 
Program Management – We need to treat software as the major component that it is instead of an afterthought as if we’ll just pull some extra software off the warehouse shelf.  Software needs its own program focus.  It needs to become a milestone event equal to physical construction/development.  Failure to achieve specified goals must be a ‘stop’ sign for program development just as it [theoretically] is for physical development.  We need to insist on prototype software deliveries in order to advance a project.  Just as we build demonstrators/prototypes of new aircraft, we need the same for software.
 
 
Conclusion
 
We need to acknowledge that software is the major obstacle and start making plans that realistically factor that in.  We need to recognize that software is generally more important than hardware and make the state of the software the go/no-go determining factor for the overall project instead of hardware.  The F-35 Block and Refresh efforts are a good example.  All the hardware updates in the world mean nothing without code to run on the hardware.  The F-35 is struggling with the hardware Refresh effort but vastly more important and detrimental is that the accompanying Block 4 software is years behind schedule and many of the features have been abandoned.  So, while the hardware is an issue, it’s the software that is the major problem.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Logistics Surge Exercise Results

Do you recall the no-notice, 2019 TransCom logistic surge exercise in which 80%-86% of the ships were able to sail within the required 5-day window?  We discussed whether this was a good result or bad and kind of concluded that it was not horrible but not great (see, “Logistics Surge Exercise”).  Well, I finally remembered managed to track down the after exercise report so let’s take a closer look.
 
The Maritime Executive website published a summary of the exercise findings.[1]
 
Not surprisingly, as with any Navy related activity, the results weren’t quite as good as initially claimed. 
 
The exercise resulted in 27 of the 33 (82%) ships activated being ready to sail within the 5-day window, however, 6 of the 27 that sailed subsequently experienced problems that would have prevented them from executing any mission.  That drops the ‘sail and mission capable rate’ to 21/33 or 64%.  Not quite the 80%-86% success initially claimed.
 
Worse, 12 ships of the 61 ship fleet were excluded from the exercise due to known, pre-existing problems, 10 others were excluded due to planned maintenance, and one could not leave port due to a bridge height clearance issue.  Thus, 23 of the 61 (38%) ship fleet were unavailable for the exercise. 
 
Apparently, the sailing included ship’s speed tests and it was noted that,  
 … none of the four Large, Medium-Speed Roll-on/Roll-off ships (LMSRs) in the test completed their operational speed runs at the target speed of 24 knots. One heavy lift vessel, the Cape Mohican, also failed her operational speed run due to a control automation casualty.[1]
I think we can revise our previous assessment of ‘not horrible’ to ‘extremely disappointing’ especially since these ships were all supposed to be manned with caretaker crews whose job was to maintain them in ready-to-go condition.
 
 
____________________________
 
My apologies for having let this slip until now.
 
 
 
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[1]The Maritime Executive website, “Activation Exercise Reveals Challenges Facing U.S. Sealift Fleet”, 31-Dec-2019,
https://maritime-executive.com/article/activation-exercise-reveals-challenges-facing-u-s-sealift-fleet

Monday, May 6, 2024

US Weapon Failures in Ukraine

How often have you heard someone say, sure, previous weapons of this *fill in the blank” type weren’t successful but this new generation will be because it has new and improved *fill in the blank* technology?  Plus, the manufacturer claims *fill in the blank*.  And, how often has ComNavOps flatly stated that all systems will significantly underperform in actual combat regardless of the new and improved, miracle technology they’re built on?  Most of you have your own favorite, pet weapon/sensor system that you’re convinced will be a world beater … but you’re wrong.
 
Well now, courtesy of Ukraine and our giveaway weapons transfers, we have some actual combat performance to look at for various weapons.  The Daily Caller website has a fascinating article about several US weapons that have been provided to Ukraine and have been found to significantly underperform compared to claims.  Here they are with quotes from the article: [1]
 
 
Abrams Tanks 
Ukraine has withdrawn some of the U.S. M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks from the front lines after Russian drones destroyed five of the heavy Western tanks it fought for months to obtain …
 
Droves of Russian surveillance and hunter-killer drones have been able to detect and pursue the tanks more quickly than expected.
 
Excalibur Artillery Shells 
Excalibur precision artillery rounds initially had a 70% efficiency rate hitting targets when first used in Ukraine. However, after 6 weeks, efficiency declined to only 6% as the Russians adapted their electronic warfare systems to counter it.
 
Guided Multiple-Launch Rocket System (GMLRS)
 
Russian electronic warfare has successfully redirected the Guided Multiple-Launch Rocket System (GMLRS), another long-range precision munition off its planned course, according to reports.
 
 
Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb 
It didn’t work for multiple reasons, including [electromagnetic interference] environment, including just really the dirt and doing it on ground …

Switchblade 300 Drone 
The first weapon that showed itself vulnerable to Russian electronic warfare was the Switchblade 300 …
 
According to the article, the common thread in most of these is that Russian electronic warfare (EW), which includes GPS spoofers, has proven effective at disrupting the weapons guidance by redirecting them away from their intended targets.
 
To be fair, the military has belatedly recognized, to some degree, that earlier GPS guided weapons are, indeed, vulnerable to EW and have been incorporating multiple guidance methods in more recent weapons.  Ominously though, this suggests that the majority of our current weapon stocks, being older, are of questionable effectiveness in the face of peer enemy EW and other countermeasures.
 
This demands that we begin instantly testing all our weapons under realistic EW conditions to see which work and which don’t (probably all of them!).  The military, however, steadfastly refuses to conduct rigorous, realistic testing which is why the Ukraine findings are coming as a surprise to the military.
 
Equally disturbing should be the realization that each of these weapons was pronounced a miracle for the ages and passed all tests with flying colors … … … and yet they’ve failed in combat.  This demonstrates the uselessness and simplicity of our so-called testing.
 
Now, this doesn’t mean that these weapons can’t be fixed and improved.  Most probably can … now that we know what’s wrong with them.  However, what about the rest of our weapons that haven’t been tested in combat or under realistic conditions?  What’s wrong with them?  It’s guaranteed that they have problems but we just don’t know what, yet.  I guess China will let us know when we use them and they fail.  Of course, that will too late but, at least, we’ll finally know.
 
 
 
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[1]Daily Caller website, “The US Sent Billions In Military Aid To Ukraine. Many Weapons Are Massively Underperforming”, Micaela Burrow, 3-May-2024,
https://dailycaller.com/2024/05/03/ukraine-aid-weapons-russia-tactics/

Thursday, May 2, 2024

LCS and Speed

Recent posts have seen some speculation on what the LCS speed was intended for.  As many pointed out, speed is not a useful feature in and around mines.  So, what was the LCS speed intended to do?  Why was it such a major design requirement?  One could make a good argument that speed was the number one design requirement … but why?
 
I have no idea.
 
Well, that was a short post.
 
Actually, the purpose of the post is to, yet again, emphasize the purpose and importance of a concept of operations (CONOPS) prior to committing to a finalized design and, ultimately, production.
 
The Navy has publicly acknowledged that it never developed a CONOPS for the LCS.  Thus, we have no idea what purpose the LCS speed was to have served.
 
The best speculation I’ve seen is that the speed was intended to move the ship as quickly as possible between the operational/combat area and the nearest module swapping port which, logically, would be quite a long distance from the combat area.  Of course, the Navy abandoned the module swapping concept fairly early on thus rendering the speed feature moot.
 
In addition, the intra-theater speed concept was highly questionable to begin with.  The LCS had short range to begin with and the DOT&E reports and trials quickly reported that the range capability was nowhere near the design spec and they significantly downgraded the range.  Further, high speed consumes fuel at a prodigious rate, further reducing the effective range.  An LCS that made a sustained, high speed, long distance dash from a module swapping port to an operational area would have a useful loiter time in the operational area of just a few hours or days, having consumed its fuel in the dash to get there.  That’s not a combat-useful feature.  A well thought out CONOPS would have revealed that prior to final design and production … assuming that was even the reason for the speed requirement.  This is why you do CONOPS.
 
The LCS provides an object lesson in the need for a CONOPS.
 
CONOPS, CONOPS, CONOPS!