Monday, December 17, 2018

LCS MCM - What's The Point?

As we all know, the LCS is, by design and intent, utterly useless without a module.  Of course, the first LCS was commissioned in 2008 and here we are, a decade later, still waiting for any useful modules.  Now, USNI News website reports that the Navy is developing an unmanned surface vessel (Common Unmanned Surface Vessel – CUSV) as the prime ‘carrier’ for the various planned mine countermeasure equipment packages (mine hunting, mine sweeping, mine neutralization).  This is actually somewhat old news – not sure why it’s being reported as new other than the Navy’s constant attempt to spin news.

As a bit of memory refresh, the ASW (anti-submarine warfare) and MCM modules are running neck and neck in terms of the most module program starts, stops, start-overs, revamps, and slipped schedule dates.  The MCM module was originally planned to be a combination of helo-towed equipment and the unmanned underwater (UUV) remote multi-mission vehicle (RMMV).  Unfortunately/unbelievably, no one bothered to see if the helo could actually safely tow the required equipment and, as it turned out, it couldn’t.  Plus, the RMMV was a failure.  So, it was back to the drawing board.  After a few years of floundering around, the latest plan is to use the CUSV to tow sonars and influence sweep gear.

The really interesting point to this is the time frame.  As the article reports,

NAVSEA is set to compete for the MCM USV with an acquisition program that could start as early as 2020. (1)

So, the CUSV acquisition program won’t start until 2020 (or later – everything LCS related seems to slip its schedule!).  Integration and testing will take several more years.  Let’s be generous and say that the MCM module will be ready in 2025.  By then, the first LCS will be 17 years old and staring at retirement (the Navy hasn’t kept any ship class for its full service life in recent times).  More likely, the testing will slip further.

Okay, all of this highlights the abject stupidity and incompetence of the Navy but that’s hardly news at this point, is it?  Is this just another beat up on the LCS and the Navy post?  No, it’s not.  There’s a larger point here.

For sake of continued discussion, let’s assume that the LCS MCM module works perfectly and is fully deployed by 2025.  The question then becomes, so what?

As a reminder, the LCS fleet has been reorganized into two squadrons, one on each coast of the US, and each squadron will consist of four 4-ship divisions with one division each for training so there will be one division of ASW, one of ASuW, and one MCM in each squadron. (2)  Thus, there will be a grand total of 8 MCM-configured LCS ships in the entire US Navy.

The Navy’s entire MCM fleet will be 8 ships.

That bears repeating.

The Navy’s entire MCM fleet will be 8 ships.

Those 8 ships will be replacing the previous 12 Osprey class and 14 Avenger class mine countermeasure ships.  In addition, the Navy’s entire helo-based mine countermeasures inventory, 30 MH-53E Sea Dragons, are old and barely flightworthy and will retire very soon and without replacement.  Thus, the 8 LCS MCM ships will be replacing the Ospreys, Avengers, and MH-53E’s.  So, 8 LCS will replace 26 ships and 30 helos.  Does that sound rational to you?  Do you really believe that 8 LCS are equivalent to 26 ships and 30 helos?

Let’s recall a few salient points related to mine warfare and mine countermeasures. 
  • In WWII, the Normandy (D-Day) invasion used over 250 minesweepers to clear the sea lanes and approaches in a combat-useful time frame.
  • China’s inventory of mines is in the tens or hundreds of thousands.
  • Iran’s inventory of mines is in the tens of thousands.
  • N Korea’s inventory of mines is in the tens or hundreds of thousands.
  • A single LCS can clear a couple of mines per hour.

Ponder the interrelated ramifications of those five related points.

Considering the concept of combat-useful time frames, the size of the mine inventories our enemies have, and the clearance rate of the LCS-MCM, it becomes immediately apparent that we have a mammoth mismatch between needs and capabilities which is only going to get worse as the LCS becomes the only MCM asset in the fleet.

The mine clearing capacity of the entire LCS “fleet” is absolutely dwarfed by the enemy inventories and combat time frame requirements.  There is almost no difference between having the LCS-MCM fleet and not having it at all.  We have atrophied to the point that we may as well have no MCM capability since even with the LCS-MCM fleet we essentially won’t have any for any relevant use.

The conclusion is inescapable.  We need to abandon both the LCS and the LCS MCM concept (modular, remote, unmanned vehicles locating and removing single mines at a time) as an effective mine countermeasures asset and move on to an entirely new concept.  What that concept is, I don’t have a solid idea about.  Certainly, though, it needs to include high speed, high volume mine removal – sweeping – combined with individual mine removal, as needed.  Whether this can be done with small, unmanned craft towing influence sweeps or whether we need dedicated small vessels, as in WWII, is something for the experts in the field to determine.

Oddly, the Navy’s LCS MCM module development has been almost exclusively focused on one-at-a-time mine removal which is useless in a combat scenario.  I’m completely baffled by the thinking behind the effort.  What is needed, as I stated, is high volume, high speed clearance.  From day one of LCS MCM module development, we should have been focused on combat clearance (sweeping), not leisurely one-at-a-time clearance.

We also need to hugely increase our MCM asset numbers.  Mine clearance in a combat-useful time frame requires numbers of assets … large numbers of assets (250 minesweepers at Normandy!). 

We need to produce an immediate replacement for the MH-53 which currently forms the backbone of our MCM effort.

The Navy bet ‘all in’ on the LCS for MCM and crapped out.  We have, essentially, nothing left.  We need to invest heavily and quickly in a multi-faceted and robust MCM force.  As it stands, our vaunted amphibious assault capability can be stopped in its tracks by any country with a handful of mines.  Further, a system of mines laid in the gaps between the various islands of the first island chain can effectively close the E/S China Seas to the US Navy and don’t think that thought hasn’t occurred to China.


Related thought:  Given China’s willingness (eagerness?) to flaunt international treaties, laws, and norms in constructing artificial islands and expanding their territorial claims, it’s only a matter of time until China decides that the negative political repercussions of laying mines between the first island chain waters and truly closing the E/S China Seas to the US is worth it.  We would have no means of conducting large scale clearance operations and would have no choice but to fully concede the E/S China Seas.

Another related thought:  In a war, if China places just a few mines in just a few US harbors, stand back and watch the US Navy convulse in an effort to protect and clear all our harbors with just 8 LCS – leaving none for forward combat operations!


(1)USNI News website, “Navy Developing New Mine Countermeasures USV for Littoral Combat Ships”, Sam LaGrone, 17-Oct-2018,

(2)USNI News website, “Littoral Combat Ship Program Vastly Different a Year Into Major Organizational, Operational Overhaul”, Megan Eckstein, 6-Sep-2017,

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Conceputal Armor For Modern Ships

Modern navies have all but abandoned armor for ships.  ComNavOps has demonstrated the fallacy in this approach.  The overall situation can be summed up thusly:  we are building multi-billion dollar ships that are susceptible to one-hit kills (literal and mission) due to lack of armor.

The arguments against armor, such as the one-hit killing power of torpedoes, have been debunked.

What is left now is to design a conceptual armor arrangement for modern ships that takes into account modern threats.

Let’s start by looking at the threats.

Large Anti-ship Cruise Missiles (ASCM or just ASM) – These are the heavy weight, generally supersonic missiles such as the BrahMos (Mach 3, 6000 lb, 28 ft long, 440 lb warhead) or SS-N-22 Sunburn/P-270 Moskit (Mach 3, 10000 lb, 32 ft long, 660 lb warhead).  These present a threat to the ship’s side and upperworks as well as having significant penetrating capability to internal compartments.

Small Anti-ship Cruise Missiles – These are the smaller, generally high subsonic missiles such as Exocet, Harpoon, or C-80x.  They typically carry 350-400 lb warheads.  These present a threat to the ship’s side and upperworks as well as having significant penetrating capability to internal compartments.

Mines – There are all manner of mines but for our purposes we can categorize them as contact or influence fuzed – the difference being the distance and depth at which they explode from the ship’s hull.  A contact mine is typically the venerable floating or near surface mine that would contact the ship’s underwater hull side.  An influence mine is more likely to explode under the ship’s hull but offset well to the side.  These present a threat to the ship’s structural integrity below the waterline but generally above the bottom of the ship.

Torpedoes – Generally, torpedoes are designed to explode under the ship’s hull.  These present a threat to a ship’s structural integrity at the bottom of the hull.

Artillery – Guns, whether ship or land based, are generally guns of up to 5” (127 mm) or 6” (155 mm) size.  Depending on the range, artillery shells present a plunging threat to the upper works and decks of a ship.

Close Range Missiles – These are small, close range missiles such as Hellfire.  These present a threat to upperworks and the sides of a ship, depending on the launcher height relative to the target.  They do not, however, have a great deal of penetrating power.

Fragmentation Missiles/Shells – These are generally small warhead missiles or shells intended to destroy exposed upper works and equipment.  A typical example is an anti-radiation missile intended to destroy radars and sensors.  These present a general shrapnel threat to upperworks and a specific threat to sensors and nearby equipment.

Miscellaneous – These include machine guns (0.50 cal, 20-30 mm, etc.), rocket propelled grenades (RPG), rockets up to 5” in size, etc.  These present a threat to upperworks and the sides of a ship, depending on the launcher height relative to the target.

I’ve intentionally left out anti-ship ballistic missiles because there are no sensor systems of sufficient range to make them viable threats.  A 5000 mile anti-ship ballistic missile is useless when the sensor/targeting range is on the order of hundreds of miles.

Having defined the scope of threats, it is now necessary to consider the likelihood of each threat.  In the inevitable tradeoffs of armor design, the likelihood of a threat will help determine where best to place our armoring efforts.  In order, the likelihood is
  1. Small ASMs.  Modern naval combat will be mostly missile based and small ASMs are the most numerous and likely to be encountered.
  2. Fragmentation missiles and shells will be commonly used to attempt to blind ships by destroying their sensors.
  3. Large ASMs.  While potent, these are far less numerous and, therefore, less likely to be encountered.
  4. Torpedoes are potent but less likely due to the simple fact that submarine attacks are challenging to set up.
  5. Mines will be ubiquitous but are easily detected en masse and will be avoided with generally good success.
Everything else is relatively unlikely due to the short ranges required to launch the weapons.

In the normal course of armor design consideration, we would also include an assessment of the lethality of the various threats, however, we’ve already noted that every weapon is ‘lethal’ (mission or ship kill) to today’s lightly built ships!  Therefore, this is almost pointless and we’ll ignore it.

As we enter the meat of the discussion, note that I am not an armor expert.  Therefore, our discussion will be limited to conceptual arrangements rather than specific armor types, thickness, or specifications.  That’s a job for a naval engineer.

As we begin to contemplate the actual armor arrangement, we note from the preceding discussion that a ship has several distinct zones or bands that are each susceptible to different threats.  The main “bands” are:

  • Upperworks – the upperworks are susceptible to horizontally impacting missiles
  • Deck – the deck is susceptible to plunging artillery fire and plunging missiles that have executed a pop-up maneuver
  • Side above the waterline – the above water side of the ship is susceptible to sea-skimming missiles
  • Side below the waterline – the side below the waterline is susceptible to influence fuzed mines and torpedoes
  • Bottom – the bottom is susceptible to torpedoes
  • Internals – this includes the critical combat related command and control spaces, fire control, engineering, computer facilities, etc.
  • Special mention: electronics and weapons – electronics and weapons are particularly susceptible to shrapnel in addition to direct impacts from all manner of shells and missiles

Having identified threats and their likelihood and recognized key zones of a ship, we are now ready to discuss the armor arrangement.  The arrangement is predicated on understanding the reason for armor.  While it is simple enough, it bears stating.

The purpose of armor is to maintain the ship’s combat capability (enable it to keep fighting) for as long as possible and to enhance the ship’s survivability.  The purpose of armor is NOT to grant total immunity.

Recognizing the purpose, this gives us some guidance as to how to design our conceptual armor. 

We need to protect the ship’s structural integrity and mitigate the main threat which is flooding (fire is actually the main threat to a ship but that’s more of a damage control issue rather than an armor issue).
We need to protect the ship’s weapons, sensors, and command so that the ship can continue fighting.

With those two goals in mind, here is the armor concept for the various zones.

  • Upperworks – the majority of upperworks are devoted to a ship’s daily operational tasks such as small boat handling, replenishment, anchoring, and the like.  As such, they require only fragmentation armor protection.
  • Deck – the deck is susceptible to plunging artillery fire and plunging missiles but these are less common occurrences.  Therefore, unlike WWII ship armoring, deck armor can be significantly reduced – perhaps needing only a couple of inches.
  • Side above the waterline – the above water sides have been identified as likely targets and will need heavy armor bands sufficient to resist small anti-ship missiles and low level, horizontally launched rockets and small missiles.  Depending on the size of the ship, this is where several inches of armor should be placed.
  • Side below the waterline – while the potential for damage is large from mines the likelihood is very low.  This area needs only enough armor to mitigate the effects of torpedoes which explode below the ship’s hull.
  • Bottom – The bottom of the hull needs v-shaped, shock absorber mounted armor plates, multiple void spaces that alternate empty and liquid (foam, maybe) filled, and modified structural elements that are designed to absorb more than resist torpedo explosions.  Scaled down battleship torpedo defense designs and construction techniques are a good starting point and should be built into every ship.  This is less a question of pure armor and more an issue of proper structural design.
  • Internals – the critical combat related command and control spaces, fire control, engineering, computer facilities, etc. require substantial armor in ‘cubic’ form – meaning, all around the compartments as opposed to just on the sides.
  • Special mention: electronics and weapons – Weapons need to be armored to the point that only a direct hit can incapacitate them.  I believe that VLS systems are armored around the sides to direct blasts upwards but are not significantly armored against hits from above.  This is semi-informed speculation on my part and could be wrong.  If correct, we need to add topside armor to the VLS systems sufficient to protect against plunging shellfire and small anti-ship missiles.  The 5” guns need protection against shrapnel and near misses.  The WWII Fletchers had up to 2.5” of armor on their 5” guns and today’s guns should have a functionally equivalent amount.  Sensors are a challenge to armor because armor generally interferes with their function.  What can be done is to provide armored screens around the backs and sides of sensors and, for those that rotate, make the screens rotating with the sensor.  Thought should be given to housing the sensors inside armored pockets until needed and then extending when in use.  Precedent exists for such arrangements as observed in some of the more extreme stealth ships.

Compared to WWII armor designs, plunging fire is much less of an issue and armor should be concentrated more on the sides and less on the decks, on a relative basis.  Thus, we see a modern armor design that features a single, very heavy side band of armor combined with significant protection of critical internal compartments.  The hull bottom is every bit as critical but requires less in the way of pure armor and more in the way of structural design modifications, as we’ve addressed in previous posts.

Hand-in-hand with armor is intelligent ship design.  For example, outer compartments should be non-critical functions such as berthing, storage, machine shops, and the like with all such compartments designed to contain shrapnel and localize damage.  To an extent, the upperworks and outer compartments are sacrificial.  Being non-combat-critical, their purpose in combat is to act as ‘crumple zones’, to borrow an analogy from the automotive industry, and shrapnel sponges.

As with WWII armor, a ship’s side armor should be designed to detonate missiles as early as possible rather than allow deep penetration prior to detonation.  WWII armor research developed some very specific techniques (de-capping, for example) for the purpose.  Whether those would apply to detonating missiles or not, the concept remains valid – detonate the missile as far ‘out’ from the ship’s core as possible.  That, combined with locating non-critical compartments and functions in the outer areas should provide substantial sustainment of combat capability during battle.

Again, the goal is not to provide total, 100% immunity to all known weapons but to prolong the effective combat duration of the ship in the face of damage.

Below is a drawing of a Burke class destroyer illustrating the concept just described.  The heavier green is heavier armor with lighter green areas being lighter armor.  Note that the entire ship should be constructed of heavier material than is current practice.  Also, the ship's critical internals should be armored, as discussed.  The yellow band of the underwater hull represents a combination of armor and structural redesign for torpedo resilience.

Conceptual Armor Scheme

Monday, December 10, 2018

Amphibious Assault Fuel Logistics

We have often discussed the various aspects of Marine Corps amphibious assaults.  All too often, though, we tend to focus on the shiny pieces like MV-22s, F-35Bs, AAVs, amphibious ships, LCACs, etc. without really paying much attention to the far more important logistics requirements.  It doesn’t matter if you can seize a beach or airfield if you can’t get fuel, water, ammo, food, etc. to the troops and their vehicles.  Think Defence website has done a few extensive posts on amphibious assault logistics and engineering over the years including the recent UK amphibious assault overview (1,3).  These are highly recommended reading.

Let’s build on our previous posts and take a look at the Navy (USN) and Marine’s (USMC) amphibious assault fuel logistics.  It is worth noting that the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) notional fuel requirement during an assault is over 1.2M gallons per day! (2, p.4-3)  For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll be concerned only with the movement of fuel from offshore to land.  The storage, transport, and distribution of fuel after it has gotten ashore is a ground operation and not part of our assault logistics operation, per se.

For starters, there is a division of labor and responsibilities.

“The Navy is responsible for getting bulk fuel to the beach high water mark where the fuel is received by Army or Marine Corps bulk fuel units.” (2, p.2-3)

Beyond that, there are a few different systems for fuel handling: 

  • USN - Offshore Petroleum Discharge System (OPDS)
  • USN - Amphibious Assault Bulk Fuel System (AABFS)
  • USMC – Tactical Fuel System (TFS)

Offshore Petroleum Discharge System (OPDS)

The OPDS system consists of the bulk fuel carrier (tanker) and the associated pumps, hoses (bottom lying), and equipment necessary to transfer the bulk fuel from the ship to a shore receiving station.  The tanker is equipped with booster pumps and spread mooring winches, a recoverable single-anchor leg mooring (SALM) to accommodate four tankers up to 70,000 DWT, ship to SALM hose lines, up to four miles of six-inch diameter conduit for pumping to the beach, and two beach termination units (BTU) to interface with the shoreside systems. (2, p.3-8)

For example, SS Petersburg (T-AOT-9101) is a tanker built in 1963 and is one of five such tankers fitted with the OPDS.  The ship has a capacity of 225,000 barrels of JP8 fuel.  

The system can support fuel transfer rates of up to 1.2M gallons per day (1000 GPM for a 20 hour operating day).  Note that capacity limit is exactly the same as the MEF notional fuel requirement for an assault.  If the usage is even slightly higher than anticipated (and usage is always significantly higher than anticipated!) or if losses occur (it’s a peer opposed assault so of course there will be losses!) then the fuel transfer capacity will be insufficient to sustain the assault.  

If the tanker is located within two miles of shore, dual transfer lines can be set up to further increase the transfer rate. (2, p.3-8)  However, this increases the risk to the entire system by being closer to the enemy.  Recall that Navy doctrine is keep ships 25-50+ miles offshore so setting up critical tankers within 2 miles of shore seems completely counter to doctrine.  The Navy doesn’t think an Aegis/Burke can survive 2 miles from shore so how will a tanker survive?

Apparently there are very few OPDS equipped ships.  I’ve seen reports of up to five such ships but I’ve only been able to document two existing ships:  Wheeler and Fast Tempo.  I suspect that the others, if they existed, have been retired.

OPDS Wheeler

OPDS Fast Tempo

Amphibious Assault Bulk Fuel System (AABFS)

“The AABFS provides a fuel line from the supplying ship to the high water mark ashore where the fuel lines are connected to shore-based bulk fuel systems of the landing force. The AABFS consists of buoyant, 6-inch (diameter) reinforced rubber hose lines up to 10,000 feet in length. Two or more buoyant lines can be connected to achieve greater distances between the ship and the shoreline. However, they require floating booster stations to perform fuel transfer when the distance is more than 5,000 feet. Buoyant hose systems are employed to support the initial phases of amphibious landings. An AABFS can be installed in 4 to 6 hours under favorable surf conditions.”

Tactical Fuel System (TFS)

“The Marine Corps family of TFSs [tactical fuel systems] was originally designed and deployed in the 1950s to replace the 55-gallon drum and 5-gallon fuel can as the primary method for MARFOR’s bulk fuel support. The basic design of collapsible fuel tanks, trailer mounted pumps, fuel hoses and valves, filtration vessels, and miscellaneous components has provided a solid foundation for the evolution of the family of TFSs to meet the ever changing operational and tactical fuel support requirements of the MAGTF. Today the family of TFSs provides a wide range of storage tank sizes ranging from 500-gallon to 50,000-gallon capacities with receipt and pumping rates ranging from 125 gallons per minute (GPM) to 600 GPM.” (2, p.3-1)

Amphibious Assault Fuel System (AAFS)

The AAFS is the largest TFS and is used to receive, store, transfer, and dispense bulk fuel to all elements of a MAGTF including distribution by hose line to airfields. Fuel can be supplied to the system by almost any source, ships included.  System storage capacity is 1.12M gals and is stored in the systems six tank farms. 

“The AAFS has approximately 5 miles of 6-inch assault hose and uses 600-GPM pumping capabilities. Using quick-connect, cam-lock fittings, the AAFS can be assembled without tools and is compatible with the other Marine Corps TFSs.” (2)

The AAFS consists of six subunit assemblies (2): 

  • Beach unloading assembly – receives bulk fuel from offshore sources
  • Receiving assembly – accepts fuel from any source
  • Two booster stations – used when the distance between storage stations exceeds the systems pumping capacity
  • Two adapting assemblies – adapts the system to provide connection to other systems via common and compatible hardware
  • Two dispensing assemblies – dispense fuel
  • Six tank farms – provides the systems storage capacity

Other Tactical Fuel Systems include, 

  • Tactical Airfield Fuel Dispensing System
  • Expedient Refueling System
  • Helicopter Expedient Refueling System
  • Six Containers Together (SIXCON)

We won’t examine these because they all begin their conceptual operation with the assumption that the fuel has already reached land and been distributed to the various systems for further distribution to individual units.

Having grasped the basic concept of fuel transfer from ship to shore, we can see some important considerations.  Systems require the fuel supply tankers to operate within a few miles of the beach.  This is at odds with Navy doctrine calling for all ships to stay 25-50+ miles out to sea.  There are several implications, here.

  •  A fuel delivery system cannot be set up until the landing area, meaning a 25-50+ mile radius inland as well as out to sea, has been secured and rendered reasonably safe from enemy fire.
  • Bulk fuel delivery cannot occur during initial assault efforts and may be significantly delayed if the assault landing site cannot be quickly secured.  Thus, it is more than conceivable that an assault could falter due to lack of fuel while the landing site is being contested.
  • The fuel transfer starting points and ships/equipment are at fixed locations and will present attractive, vulnerable targets.  As such, they represent a single point of failure for the entire assault – kill the fuel pumping point and you kill the assault.  
  • With only two OPDS ships, we have a significant vulnerability in our amphibious assault capability.  If one or both of these ships were sunk, our over-the-beach assault capability is effectively neutralized.

The overall conclusion from all this is the same as we’ve seen time after time.  Navy leadership is so focused on the shiny, sexy, new, Burkes and Fords that it is ignoring the logistics and support ships that actually make a fleet a viable instrument of war.  We need to refocus and start designing a fleet that can actually fight and that means a lot more support vessels.  Who cares whether we have a 355 ship fleet if we can’t support them?


(1)Think Defence website, “UK Amphibious Capability – Today and Tomorrow”, 15-Apr-2017,

(2)USMC, “Petroleum and Water Logistics Operations”, MCWP 4-11.6, Jun 2005, p2-3

(3)Think Defence website, “US Amphibious Logistics”,

Friday, December 7, 2018


In recent years, there have been many proposals suggesting that the US Navy employ and forward deploy small missile boats, non-nuclear submarines (SSK’s), small patrol boats, the LCS, and many variations on the theme.  All have in common one major shortcoming and that is relatively limited range and/or speed which either rules out their use or requires forward bases local to the vessel’s operating location.  Without forward base support the vessels would have too little time on station to be worth the effort.  In some cases, such as the Middle East, forward bases are somewhat available.  In other cases, such as the South China Sea and Pacific region, forward bases are few, scattered, and a long way from the actual operational areas.

Worse, in many cases the US doesn’t own the bases it uses and must seek permission to use the bases for staging or supporting actual combat operations.  We have seen many instances of “allies” refusing permission for the US to conduct combat operations from foreign bases.  What is the point of having a forward base if it’s not available when needed for combat?

Singapore, for example, is unlikely to allow US combat operations in a conflict with China, choosing, instead, to try to walk the narrow path of neutrality.

We see other countries operating small, short ranged vessels and wonder why we can’t do the same.  China, for example, operates the excellent Houbei class missile boat which carries an immensely powerful anti-ship missile weapons fit on a very small hull.  Iran, NKorea, Russia, and China all operate small, silent, deadly non-nuclear submarines (SSKs).  Russia operates several small, powerful corvette/frigate classes.

Why can’t the US operate such vessels?  Well, the factor that we overlook is that those countries are operating the vessels in their own home waters, near their own ports.  Thus, range, endurance, and ready maintenance support is not an issue.  In contrast, the US operates on a forward deployed basis, generally far from friendly bases.  Small vessels have limited range and endurance.  For example, if a small missile boat has an endurance of one week and it takes 4 days to get from the nearest base to the operating area and the same to return, there’s no operating time left for the actual patrol.

So, if forward bases are not the solution or, at best, only an occasional or peacetime solution, what alternative is there?  The answer comes from our dim and distant past and is, of course, motherships.  Motherships, or tenders as they were referred to in WWII, were commonly used in times gone by but have been abandoned by the Navy over the last few decades.

During WWII, tenders were used to support PT boats, submarines, and destroyers, among other applications.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the WWII tenders and refresh our memories about their functions and capabilities.

Dixie Class (AD) – This was a five ship class of destroyer tender built during the pre and early war years.  USS Dixie (AD-14), for example, spent 1942-1944 supporting operations in the Solomons before moving to Ulithi during late 1944 and early 1945 and then finishing the war at Leyte.

Dixie Class Destroyer Tender

Otus Class (AS-20 / ARG-20) – This was a single ship class built as a submarine tender in 1940 and later reclassified as an internal combustion engine repair ship near the end of the war.  Otus operated across the Pacific, as needed, and provided submarine, mine, and small craft tender services as well as engine repair.  She received one battle star.

USS Otus

USS Argonne (AS-10) – The Navy operated several submarine tenders during WWII though not a purpose built class.  Argonne was typical of the type of commercial or general ship obtained by the Navy and converted for use as a tender.  The ship operated in the Solomons, Palaus, Leyte, and the Marshalls.

USS Argonne

We see, then, that the Navy has operated both purpose built tenders and tenders converted from commercial vessels.  There is no reason why the same couldn’t be done today.  Tenders are not combat vessels and could be built to non-military standards based on cheap commercial vessels.  Alternatively, existing commercial vessels could be easily and economically converted.

The Navy operates squadrons of Cyclones and MCM vessels which could greatly benefit from tenders in terms of time on station.  The LCS has always been intended to operate in squadrons although what the Navy intends to do with them now is anyone’s guess since they have no useful mission modules.  Tenders would also open up the possibility of acquiring and using SSKs.

Aside from the obvious benefits of tenders in terms of support, replenishment, repair, and maintenance, tenders can be repositioned as needed which allows flexible locating of operational areas.

Motherships are also highly useful for supporting mine countermeasure operations.  This application is obvious enough that I won’t bother describing it.

Currently, the Navy has the Afloat Forward Staging Base ship which could be a mothership, though it seems a bit oversized, but seems to have no actual, specific use for it.

The Navy is so fixated on building the high end, ‘sexy’ ships that it is ignoring the various auxiliary ships that are the actual backbone of any fleet.  Motherships/tenders are a force-multiplier, allowing other types of vessels to operate effectively in forward areas.  We need to abandon of obsession with multi-billion dollar ships and begin building the support ships that will actually keep the fleet operating in war.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Europe - Why?

Europe …
  • Europe is around 3.9 million sq. miles which is a bit larger than the US size of 3.5 million sq. miles.
  • Europe has a population of around 740 million which is over twice the US population of 326 million.
  • European GDP = $22 trillion
  • US GDP = $19 trillion
  • European GDP per capita = $29,000
  • US GDP per capita = $59,000
So, raw statistics tell us that Europe is somewhat larger than the US, has more than twice the population, and has a larger GDP (though smaller per capita).  Does this sound like an area that the US needs to be defending?  

Let’s turn it around - a great way to test the logic of any situation!   What if the US decided to drastically reduce its defense forces and called on Europe to station significant and permanent protective forces in the US?  What would Europe’s response be?  It would be outrage, of course!  Europe would rightly point out that the US, while being tiny in comparison (area, population, and GDP), is certainly large enough and prosperous enough to defend itself without having to rely on its bigger brother, Europe.

The reality, however, is that the larger, more populous, and wealthier (total GDP) Europe is demanding US military protection.  Does that seem logical?  If anything, the US should be asking for a small European defense presence protecting US interests.

So, why is the US still in Europe?

The main military threat to Europe is Russia.  Is Russia so big a threat that it requires the combined might of both the US and Europe to counter it?  Let’s take a cursory look at the Russian and European military might.

                      Russia(1)      Europe(2)

Personnel            800,000      1,500,000
Navy, ships              175(a)         268(c)
Airforce, aircraft      1380(b)        2043
Army, tanks             2500           7700
Army, IFVs              3200         19,000
Army, artillery         5800         10,000

(a)   Note:  Figure includes 111 surface combatants and 64 submarines;  the actual number of operational ships is likely significantly less
(b)   Note:  Combat aircraft only;  includes 180 naval aircraft;  Russia has hundreds of additional patrol, surveillance, and transport aircraft
(c)   Note:  Figure includes 208 surface combatants and 60 submarines

This comparison is cursory, simplistic, and makes no attempt to compare quality, training, maintenance, etc.   Further, the numbers are highly variable depending on exactly what type of equipment one wishes to include or exclude.  Regardless, the figures clearly indicate that Europe overmatches Russia in every category of military might.

Europe is clearly capable of defending itself from Russia.  In fact, the situation is further skewed in favor of Europe given the fact that many European countries are spending less than the “standard” of 2% of GDP on defense.  If every European country would spend at least that amount, the situation would be even more lopsided in Europe’s favor.

So, why is the US still in Europe?  I have no good answer but here are a few thoughts that may be relevant.

Tradition/Inertia – The US has been in Europe since WWII and any attempt to reduce the US presence is upsetting to Europe.  This is idiotic on the face of it.  Europe needs to grow up and accept responsibility for its own defense.

Irresponsible Priorities – Too many European countries are taking advantage of US military presence to redirect spending into social programs.  Europe needs to make its own decisions and live with the consequences.  If social programs are more important than defense then Europe has no one to blame but itself if it suffers military defeats.  Europe needs to establish its priorities without the US presence.

Middle East Terrorism – The US sees Middle East-fed terrorism as an existential threat and does not trust Europe to deal with it as witnessed by the many European open borders, massive redistribution of European demographics, unwillingness to stand up to radical Islam, and the creeping, passive acceptance of radical Islamic influence and control of many countries which is undermining the national identities of European countries.

Unity – European countries are, unsurprisingly, multi-directional when it comes to their geopolitical objectives.  Thus, there is no unity of military purpose.  From the US perspective, it can’t count on unified action and support from Europe therefore it maintains a presence for its own benefit.  Even so, many countries refuse to cooperate with the US and deny overflights, staging, etc. depending on whether they agree or disagree with the US in the moment.

Just as Europe needs to grow up and accept responsibility, so too the US needs to allow Europe to go its own way – the baby bird needs to be shoved out of the nest to fend for itself.  Ballistic missile defense in Spain, ASW in Scandinavia, control of the Black Sea, protection of the Mediterranean, reining in of Russian expansionism, and defeat of terrorism are all issues that the US needs to walk away from and Europe needs to take control of.

The US is eventually going to have to defend the entire world by facing China in a massive war and we can’t afford to be distracted by Europe when Europe is more than capable of defending itself.


Here are some related topics for comment consideration: 
  • Should NATO reform itself by dropping the US and making membership a strictly European requirement?
  • Is the European Union a military failure?  Can it succeed?
  • Who/how should European military might be controlled to ensure a common purpose and goal?
  • Is there any role for the US in Europe?
  • Is there any benefit for the US in maintaining a presence in Europe?
  • If Europe wants a continued US military presence should the US demand that Europe pay the entire cost of such presence?
  • If the US pulls out of Europe, what military capabilities does Europe then lack?
  • Which country is the next Russian target after Ukraine falls?

(1)Data assembled from various sources;  individual sources vary widely