Saturday, June 16, 2018

Battle Damage Design Lessons

I’d like to look critically at the recent Burke collisions and damage as they relate to warship design.  Because sailors died, I hesitated and thought long and hard about whether to do this or not as it might seem to some as being critical or disrespectful of the dead.  In the end, however, the lessons that can be learned outweigh any sensitivities and I would hope the dead would want us to learn from what happened.

ComNavOps has consistently preached that the Navy has forgotten what war is and how to design a ship for war.  In addition to weapons, sensors, armor, and the like, the Navy has forgotten how to build a ship that can sustain damage and has a maximal chance of recovery for the ship and the crew.  The recent McCain and Fitzgerald collision reports (Nov 2017 Memorandum and Enclosures – ref (1)) offer graphic evidence of this design deficiency and lessons that ought to be learned.  Specifically, let’s look at the problem of debris after the collisions.  Consider these statements from the report.

“Racks and lockers detached from the walls and were thrown about, leaving jagged metal throughout the space. Cables and debris hung from the ceiling.” (p. 53)

“Debris, including mattresses, furniture, an exercise bicycle, and wall lockers, floated into the aisles between racks in Berthing 2, impeding Sailors’ ability to get down from their racks and their ability to exit the space.” (p. 14)

“One Sailor reported that FC1 Rehm pushed him out from under a falling locker.” (p. 15)

“Exiting from the head during this flood of water was difficult and required climbing over debris.” (p. 15)

“Lockers were floating past him and he scrambled across them towards the main berthing area. At one point he was pinned between the lockers and the ceiling of Berthing 2, …” (p. 15)

“Even after the door was open, there was a large amount of debris and furniture against the door, preventing anyone from entering or exiting easily.” (p. 18)

“The passageway leading to the ladder-well was blocked by debris, wires and other wreckage hanging from the overhead.” (p. 52)

“Sailors had to climb over lockers and other debris to escape, … “ (p. 53)

“…a number of lockers that became dislodged during the collision.” (p. 54)

These statements paint a graphic picture of a nightmare maze of debris in the affected compartments.  The debris impeded escape efforts and subsequent search and rescue efforts. 

Let’s be clear …  when a ship is hit by an explosion or collides with another ship there will be debris and lots of it.  It’s unavoidable.  Structural elements such as walls, doors, overheads, cable runs, etc. will be ripped apart and torn free from their mountings.  Nothing can prevent that. 

What can be prevented is the presence of loose debris that was never secured.

What can be minimized is the presence of debris that was never strongly secured to begin with.

What can be minimized is the presence of debris that served no warfighting purpose to begin with.

Let’s take a closer look at debris that served no warfighting purpose to begin with.  This would be just what it says and would include TVs, video games, exercise bikes, couches, personal gear beyond that necessary for shipboard duty, etc.  I can already hear the sound of keyboards being furiously bashed upon as people pound out replies telling me that without some comforts, no one will volunteer to join the Navy and serve aboard ship.  We already addressed that, in depth, (see, “Crew Comfort”) but we’ll briefly review it.

First, I’m not saying that all creature comforts should be banned from ships.  I’m saying that they should be severely minimized and modified.

Second, we have to recognize that the reason we have ships and crews is to fight and we have to be ready to fight with no notice.  Stripping ship is a tradition when a ship knows that it is going to be in a fight so, if that’s a wise thing to do when combat is imminent, why should it be different just because the ship doesn’t know when it will have to fight for its life?  We’ve seen that life and death situations can arise at any moment:  the Cole attack while in port, the Port Royal grounding, the Enterprise and Forrestal conflagrations, mine strikes, the missile attacks on the Burke destroyers off Yemen, and the recent collisions and groundings.  Today, there is no such thing as peace and safety at sea.

Third, we should ask why we feel we need creature comforts?  The answer is obvious – we need them because we send ships and crews on deployments that are far too long.  I’ve already addressed this and recommended that we abandon deployments in favor of missions (see, “Deployments or Missions?”).  Failing this, we need to reduce deployments to 2-4 months.  The problem is that we’ve done the exact opposite and gradually increased deployments to 8-12 months.  We need to regain some deployment rationality.  If we do that, we can live without as many comforts for reasonably short periods.

Let’s consider debris that was never secured or not strongly secured to begin with.  Chairs, exercise bikes, couches, mirrors, and a hundred other items all need to be securely fastened.  By “securely”, I mean fastened with ten times overkill.  Fastened beyond any reasonable degree because an explosion or collision is not a reasonable scenario.  Therefore, we have to prepare for the unreasonable.  If that means a little less ease of use or flexibility in placement then so be it.  That’s the price of survival.

Here’s a few more specific recommendations related to crew comforts and survivability:

  • Lockers, furniture, etc. should not float; they should be designed to sink.  It’s easier to scramble over something on the deck than try to fight past something floating right in your way.
  • Locker size should be minimized.  This ties in to minimizing unnecessary personal items.
  • Nothing should be unsecured (exercise bikes, TVs, consoles, tables, etc.)
  • Everything should be secured far more than is deemed necessary or reasonable.
  • Lightly secured items should be as far inboard and as far from exits as possible
  • Thought should be given to making lockers and berths out of rigid plastics instead of sheet metal which, when ripped and distorted, presents edges as sharp and lethal as knife blades.  This has to be tempered by the fact that most plastics give off toxic fumes when burned.  This is a recommendation that needs study and may or may not be desirable.
  • Thought should be given to making large items such as lockers pre-designed to fail and separate into small sections.  Thus, rather than tear an entire locker loose and present a major obstacle, smaller, breakaway sections can be produced while the larger potions remain secured as they originally were.  Alternatively, but along the same line of thought, lockers can be designed as small, modular components which can separate independently from their mounts, hopefully leaving more of the overall item secured.  Worse case, the smaller sections would be easier to move out of the way for escape and rescue.

Here’s an interesting though unrelated item.

“FITZGERALD also used three onboard pumps to remove water from the ship. Two of the pumps functioned as designed and a third seized and was inoperable for the duration of the recovery efforts.” (p. 11)

Clearly, the inspection and verification of operation procedures for these items was deficient.  Instead of spending time sitting through another gender sensitivity meeting or filling out another sexual harassment survey, maybe we should be spending our time inspecting and operating vital equipment?

We have forgotten what war is and hand-in-hand with that we’ve forgotten how to design ships for combat and damage.  Let’s not waste the lessons from McCain and Fitzgerald.  They cost us too much to ignore them.


(1)Department of the Navy,  Memorandum for Distribution, Enclosure (1) Report on the Collision between USS FITZGERALD (DDG 62) and Motor Vessel ACX CRYSTAL, Enclosure (2) Report on the Collision between USS JOHN S MCCAIN (DDG 56) and Motor Vessel ALNIC MC, Nov 2017

Thursday, June 14, 2018

F-35 Distributed Aperture System Replaced

One of the key capabilities of the F-35, arguably, the most important capability was supposed to have been the AAQ-37 Distributed Aperture System (DAS) which, in theory, allows the aircraft to integrate six electro-optical sensors to provide a synthetic, 360 degree view around the aircraft by supplying imagery for the pilot through the magic helmet.  Specific functions include,

  • Missile detection and tracking
  • Launch point detection
  • Situational awareness IRST & cueing
  • Weapons support
  • Day/night navigation
Development, however, has been beset by problems with reliability, helmet performance, image integration and latency, etc.  Director, Operational Testing and Evaluation (DOT&E) has consistently panned the technology and the helmet has undergone complete redesign.  The point of this post is not to look at the specifics and flaws of the DAS but to note the sudden and unexpected announcement by Lockheed that they are switching DAS system supply from Northrop Grumman to Raytheon, as reported by Breaking Defense website. (1)

The Raytheon DAS will be substituted into production in the 2023 Lot 15 run, five years from now.

In its announcement, Lockheed claimed that the Raytheon DAS “will provide five times the reliability of Northrop’s product.”

“…Lockheed’s director of F-35 international business development, Steve Over, told Aviation Week: “We’ve found a supplier that can produce a better DAS system at a significantly lower price that has significantly better performance.” (1)

Lockheed is claiming astounding cost reductions.

“Lockheed projects that the new Raytheon DAS will cost $3 billion less than Northrop’s over the lifetime of the program, with an estimated 45 percent reduction in the price per unit  and a 50 percent cut to sustainment costs.” (3)

This is a highly unusual move, to switch suppliers of the major aircraft sensor at this stage and it raises a lot of questions.

  1. What about the hundreds of aircraft already manufactured?  If the Northrop DAS is so costly, so poor performing, and so unreliable, will the existing aircraft have to have their DAS replaced?

  1. If the existing DAS is so bad, doesn’t that mean we’ve been lied to because we’ve been told all along that the DAS is technology so advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic.

  1. Didn’t the Marines and Air Force declare Initial Operational Capability (IOC) which means the aircraft are combat ready? (2)  How is the F-35 DAS combat ready if the reliability and performance are so bad as to need replacing? 

  1. “Five times the reliability”?  Just how bad is the reliability of the existing DAS?  It must be absolutely terrible!

  1. If Raytheon could develop a better, cheaper DAS without any government development contract (that I’m aware of) and in its spare time, this must not be very sophisticated software and hardware.  Doesn’t that suggest that every aircraft in the world, including Russian and Chinese, could have a DAS if they want it?  Doesn’t this also suggest that we’re giving out too many development contracts and that we should let manufacturers develop products on their own dime and time?

  1. This suggests that the real driving force behind this is the program sustainment costs.  There have been rumblings that Congress has balked at the sustainment costs and have hinted that significant production cuts could occur.  This appears to be a desperate attempt to stave off cuts. 

  1. The magnitude of the unit cost reduction and the sustainment cost reduction lead one to wonder if the cost cuts are being achieved by cutting quality, performance, and capabilities despite Lockheed’s claims of significant improvements in all areas.  If not, then the only other conclusion is that Northrop was engaged in price gouging.

  1. Lockheed assured us originally that the DAS was a piece of near-magical equipment.  That turned out to be a lie inaccurate.  Why would we believe these new, even more miraculous claims?

  1. If it’s going to take five years to get this kind of improvement into production, does this suggest that Raytheon doesn’t actually have a production-ready DAS product?  That they’re going to need five years to develop a production-ready product?  That five years down the road we’ll find out that the claims of miraculous improvements in cost, reliability, and performance were all just PowerPoint claims and can’t actually be achieved?

No answers, just lots of questions!


(1)Breaking Defense website, “‘Major Upset’ As Lockheed Ditches Northrop For F-35 DAS SensorColin Clark, 13-June-2018,

(2)US Dept of Defense, “Air Force Declares F-35A Lightning II ‘Combat Ready’”, 3-Aug-2016,

(3)Defense News, “Raytheon snags F-35 system business previously held by Northrop”, Valerie Insinna, 13-Jun-2018,

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Battle Damage - Savo Island

One of the worst naval defeats the Allies suffered in WWII was the Battle of Savo Island during the fight for Guadalcanal.  The night battle took place 8-9-Aug-1942.  A Japanese naval force caught an Allied force that was unprepared mentally, physically, technologically, doctrinally, and tactically for combat and sank or badly damaged several cruisers.

Wikipedia has a good writeup describing the overall action if you’d like to learn more about the battle.

Savo Island - Quincy Spotlighted and Under Fire

What we’re going to do today is examine the battle damage received by the Allied cruisers and attempt to compare that to today’s ships and see what lessons we can learn.  Five cruisers were attacked by the Japanese force.  Four of the cruisers were severely damaged or sunk.  Here’s a brief summary of the damage each absorbed.

USS Astoria (CA-34)

Astoria received at least 65 hits with the majority being 8” shells. (6)

Astoria was initially hit by seven 8” shells and responded with her main guns.  Shortly after,

“During a six-minute stretch beginning at 2 am, the Astoria was hit time after time by shells both large and small.” (4)

Though badly damaged, the ship was in no danger of sinking and her main guns were mostly still operational.

“The bridge personnel still had control of both steering and engines. Communications lines were still open with central station, which was believed to be intact. There were no major fires reported below the main deck. However, the ship was on fire amidships, turret one was out, and most of the secondary gun batteries had been silenced.” (4)

Even as the pounding continued, Astoria was still able to fight back.

“Between 02:00 and 02:15, Aoba, Kinugasa, and Kako joined Chokai in pounding Astoria, destroying the cruiser’s engine room and bringing the flaming ship to a halt.  At 02:16, one of Astoria’s remaining operational main gun turrets fired at Kinugasa’s searchlight, but missed and hit Chokai’s forward turret, putting the turret out of action and causing moderate damage to the ship.”

Throughout the following morning, damage control efforts were undertaken and Astoria was taken under tow.  Unfortunately, additional internal explosions caused by fires eventually led to the ship being abandoned and she sank just after noon.

USS Astoria

MHAS Canberra (D33)

Canberra was hit by 24-30 8” shells in the span of a few minutes and one or two torpedoes which may have been friendly fire from the destroyer Bagley. (1)(2)  Despite the damage from shells and torpedoes, the Canberra was still afloat the morning after the battle and in no danger of sinking but could not be towed to safety in time and was sunk by an American destroyer.

“Admiral Turner ordered that Canberra be abandoned and sunk if she could not raise steam. Once all survivors had been evacuated, Selfridge fired 263 5-inch shells and four torpedoes into Canberra in an attempt to sink her. Eventually a torpedo fired by the destroyer Ellet administered the final blow.” (3)

Canberra absorbed 24-30 8” shells and one or two torpedoes during the battle and later required 263 5” shells and 5 torpedoes to sink the ship after it was abandoned.

HMAS Canberra

USS Quincy (CA-39)

Quncy was hit by at least 54 shells, the majority being 8” shells, and three torpedoes. (5)

Quincy was caught in a crossfire between Aoba, Furutaka, and Tenryū, and was hit heavily and set afire. Quincy's captain ordered his cruiser to charge towards the eastern Japanese column, but as she turned to do so Quincy was hit by two torpedoes from Tenryū, causing severe damage. Quincy managed to fire a few main gun salvos, one of which hit Chōkai's chart room 6 meters (20 ft) from Admiral Mikawa and killed or wounded 36 men, although Mikawa was not injured. At 02:10, incoming shells killed or wounded almost all of Quincy's bridge crew, including the captain. At 02:16, the cruiser was hit by a torpedo from Aoba, and the ship's remaining guns were silenced. (1)

The ship sank shortly thereafter.

USS Quincy

USS Vincennes (CA-44)

Vincennes received at least 57 and possibly up to 74 hits, the majority being 8” shells, and one or two torpedoes. (6)(1)

As Vincennes began to receive damaging shell hits, her commander, U.S. Captain Frederick L. Riefkohl, ordered an increase of speed to 25 knots (46 km/h), but shortly thereafter, at 01:55, two torpedoes from Chōkai hit, causing heavy damage. Kinugasa now joined Kako in pounding Vincennes. Vincennes scored one hit on Kinugasa causing moderate damage to her steering engines. The rest of the Japanese ships also fired and hit Vincennes up to 74 times, and, at 02:03, another torpedo hit her, this time from Yūbari. With all boiler rooms destroyed, Vincennes came to a halt, burning "everywhere" and listing to port. At 02:16, Riefkohl ordered the crew to abandon ship, and Vincennes sank at 02:50. (1)

USS Vincennes


Although the exact numbers of shell and torpedo hits will never be known, each ship was hit by dozens of 8” shells and multiple torpedoes.  The amount of damage that these ships absorbed was staggering.  Does anyone believe that a modern Burke, for example, could absorb several dozen 8” shells and multiple torpedoes and continue to fight, to any extent, and have any chance of remaining afloat?

This was not a case of a single ship, in some sort of fluke circumstance, being able to absorb more damage than normal – each ship absorbed dozens of hits and torpedoes and kept fighting right until the end.

That’s another aspect that is striking.  Each ship was able to keep fighting as damage was being absorbed.  To be sure, as damage accumulated, the effectiveness of each ship was diminished but the point is that they kept fighting and, as documented in some of the quotes, were able to dish out some significant damage while being pounded to the point of sinking.  In contrast, the vaunted LCS is DESIGNED TO BE ABANDONED upon receipt of the first significant battle damage.  We’ve seen that gently drifting aground at 1-2 knots and rocking slightly was enough to render the Port Royal’s Aegis arrays and VLS systems inoperable by “knocking” them out of alignment.  Initially, the Navy wanted to scrap the Port Royal, the youngest Aegis cruiser, as a result of the gentle grounding.

Does anyone believe that after absorbing a couple of dozen anti-ship missiles (an 8” shell is very roughly comparable to a Harpoon missile, for comparison’s sake), a Burke could still fire its main battery which is its VLS?

This leads to another striking aspect and that is armor and, in particular, armored main turrets.  Despite, the avalanche of 8” shell hits the cruisers absorbed, the bulk of their main turrets continued to function.  Yes, as the pounding continued the turrets were, one by one, rendered inoperable but, even at the end, the ships generally still had a least one turret functioning.

The turrets were heavily armored.  The Astoria, for example, had turrets with up to 8” of armor.  Ship designers of the period realized that it was pointless to design a ship whose main weapon could be put out of action by anything less than a major caliber shell and tried to prevent even that.  It was intended that the last piece of equipment to fail should be the main battery.

Closely related to turret armor and survivability was sensor redundancy.  Again, ship designers recognized that the largely unarmored sensors (optical, at that time – radar was in its infancy) were critical to the functioning of the main guns and that they were vulnerable.  To compensate for this vulnerability, the designers built in a high degree of redundancy.  Each ship had multiple fire control directors scattered across the topsides and the turrets could be controlled by any of the directors.  Further, each mount had various modes of local control as the ultimate backup. 

Now, consider our Burkes – they have three fire control guidance radars and two of them are located within about 10 feet of each other.  If the Burke loses those radars, they lose their main combat capability.  Does that seem like a good combat design?


  • 5” shells are not ship sinkers.  The Canberra example clearly proves this.

  • 8” is the minimum caliber for ship sinking.

  • Internal explosions, well after the initial damage, are often fatal.  Warships need better flooding mechanisms, better ventilation of explosive gases, and better containment methods of breeched fuel tanks.

  • Armor buys longevity in battle.  We need to not only armor our ships, in general, but the main weapons need additional armor.

  • Sensor redundancy is vital to enable continued combat effectiveness in the face of damage.

  • Main weapon redundancy is vital to ensure that a damaged ship can continue fighting.

  • Excess crew size is mandatory for damage control and attrition replacements for casualties during battle.

We need to recognize the lessons from history and apply them to modern warship design.  Unfortunately, it for the last several decades we have not done this.  Our ship designs are ever more fragile and are not combat worthy.

The vertical launch system (VLS), which is our main battery today, is an interesting case and is worth a closer look.

Applying the lessons of combat, the VLS should be distributed rather than clustered.  We have done that to an extent with the Burke’s VLS being split into two groups, one forward and one aft.  Thought should be given to splitting that even further.  Consider that a WWII cruiser had three main turrets and several secondary guns.  Thought should be given to distributing the VLS into several groups rather than just two.

Noting that our main battery should be armored such that it is the last thing to fail on a ship, it appears that the VLS is armored on the sides and bottom but not the top.  Note that hard information about VLS armor is not readily available so I’m speculating to a large degree about this.  Photos indicate that the sides and, presumably, the bottom of the VLS pit are quick thick – around 5-7 inches.  Presumably, some portion of that is armor.  The top, however, is clearly not armored.  The open VLS hatches are thin.  It appears that the armor is designed not to prevent damage but to direct the damage upwards rather than into the ship.  If true, this means that the VLS is relatively unprotected from topside hits which violates the lesson from combat.  The VLS should be the last thing to fail but this is clearly not the case.  The Port Royal lost her VLS capability by gently drifting ashore.  What would have happened if she had been hit by dozens of anti-ship missiles and whipsawed in the resulting explosions?

We noted the need for redundant sensors.  The jury is out about the damage resilience of Aegis radar arrays but the three fire control guidance radars on the Burke with two of them within ten feet or so of each other certainly constitute a significant vulnerability.  We need more guidance radars (that function is supposedly included in the main array of more recent radars) and they need to be distributed as widely as possible.  Thought also needs to be given to backup modes of guidance such as electro-optical.

In summary, we need to stop designing peacetime ships and start designing combat WARships that are built to absorb damage and keep fighting.  History shows us how to do this if we’ll pay attention to the lessons.

(1)Wikipedia, “Battle of Savo Island”,

(2)”Neptune’s Inferno”, James Hornfischer, Bantam, 26-Dec-2010, ISBN 13: 9780553806700

(3)Navy (Australia) website, “Battle of Savo Island - Loss of HMAS Canberra”, J.H. Straczek,

(4)Warfare History Network, “Disaster Off Savo Island:  The Sinking of USS Astoria”, John Domagalski, 22-Jul-2016,

(5)History of War website, “USS Quincy (CA-39)”,

(6)Naval History and Heritage Command website, “USS Quincy CA39, USS Astoria CA34 & USS Vincennes CA44 Loss in Action, Battle of Savo Island 9 August, 1942”, War Damage Report No. 29, 21-Jun-1943,

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Bare Minimum - Follow Up

One of the never ending surprises about this blog is the response levels to the various posts.  From the start, I’ve been consistently surprised about which topics/posts generate active responses and which don’t.  Some that I think will generate big responses do nothing and others that I view almost as throwaways generate a large response.  Yes, there are a few topics that are almost guaranteed to generate a large response, such as the LCS which everyone hates and seems to want to say it in print or the F-35 which again, is controversial.  Beyond that, though, I’ve given up trying to predict responses.

That said, I’m really surprised by the lack of response to the recent post, “The Bare Minimum” (see, “The Bare Minimum”).  Rereading it, it may be that I failed to adequately convey the concept and its ramifications.  The concept impacts the very foundation of our entire naval combat operational plan!

To refresh, the Navy has a vision of an immense regional, if not world wide, network of interconnected sensors, platforms, and weapons.  In this concept, every asset will have an exquisitely complete picture of both friendly and enemy positions, unit types, and strengths.  This exquisite knowledge will allow us to apply overwhelming firepower against each enemy asset in turn with the enemy not only helpless to prevent it but totally unaware of how it was happening and where it was coming from.  To further compound the enemy’s confusion, weapons will be directed and guided by platforms other than the firing platform, with the weapons sometimes being handed off from one guiding platform to another in a complex chain of control that leaves the enemy completely baffled about where the weapons are coming from.

Distributed lethality is a subset of this concept with individually weak, largely helpless, and sensor-limited units suddenly becoming deadly purveyors of firepower roaming enemy waters and airspace with impunity and lethality.

The Navy’s various networked anti-air systems such as Cooperative Engagement Capability and its more recent descendant, Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air (NIFC-CA), are also subsystems of this overarching, omniscient network.

To return to the premise of the “bare minimum” post, the concept is that rather than design for ultimate, best, most perfect user experience which is predicated on perfect communications, flawless networks, unlimited bandwidth, and seamless integration of disparate systems and software, we should, instead, be designing for the absolute minimum required capability.

In war, nothing works the way you think it will.  Confusion reigns.  Networks fail spontaneously.  Signals are garbled.  Communications are erratic and sporadic.  And this is before factoring in enemy activities like broad spectrum jamming, false signal injection, satellite destruction, cyber attacks, and the like. 

In other words, if our systems are set up to work only with the most perfect network and data flow the world has ever seen or envisioned and our personnel are trained only to work with this level of system performance, what will happen when the system fails hideously and our personnel are completely lost and have never experienced a significantly degraded system?  The answer is obvious and short – they’ll be lost and they won’t know what to do. 

We’ve seen this play out repeatedly in recent history.  The Ticonderoga class Port Royal’s GPS system failed and no one knew what to do – so, the ship ran aground.

The McCain and Fitzgerald had various system failures and no one knew what to do – so, the ships collided with large commercial vessels.

The MidEast based Riverine boats had various system failures and no one knew what to do – so, the Iranians seized the boats and crews.

And so on.

And these are all during peacetime.

We need to design to a level that provides the bare minimum acceptable performance regardless of the situation or efforts by Murphy, nature, or the enemy to disrupt our systems. 

We need to train our personnel to be effective with the bare minimum sensor data and networking (often none).

In other words, we need to stop designing for the ultimate, mythical, fantasy level of combat and start designing for the realistic, bare minimum and then make sure that the system is capable of delivering that bare minimum level no matter what the enemy does.  Instead of designing a system that depends on the instantaneous, unhindered flow of a gazillion goopabytes of data per nanosecond but that will fail if a single bit is disrupted, we need to design a system that only needs one byte of data to get through, has a quadzillion error checks, has built in system redundancies, and is robust enough to laugh at any natural or enemy disruptions – a system that can be 100% counted on no matter what.

Sure, we can design in extra capabilities and, if nature, Murphy, and the enemy is cooperating and the system is performing better than anticipated then, hey, all the better.  But, and this is the big but, we need a bare minimum standard that we are trained to fight well with and can always count on.  Instead of designing ever more complex, convoluted systems let’s start working on systems that are so rugged and robust that no natural or enemy action can disrupt them.

Let’s ditch the entire Third Offset Strategy and start working on a communication system that allows the F-35 to actually talk to someone other than another F-35 (you didn’t know about that problem, did you?).

Let’s ditch NIFC-CA and start working on basic AAW doctrine that every ship/Captain knows and can and will execute without needing to communicate (that’s kind of what doctrine is!) and let’s drill and train to that standard until it becomes automatic.

Let’s forget about complex chains of hand-offs of weapon guidance and just get weapons that reliably launch and guide without any dependence on GPS.

Let’s drop GPS navigation systems on ships and regain our proficiency with inertial navigation, dead reckoning, celestial fixes, charts, bearings, and compasses.

Let’s drop the LCS multi-power source, cross-connecting, complex gear system that has failed on almost every ship and go back to one power source and direct coupling of power and propulsor.

We need to stop designing exquisite ships and start designing rock solid ships.

And so on.

The very core of our envisioned warfighting capability is based on an unachievable degree of performance.  It’s based on wishful thinking and that’s a recipe for disaster as has been repeatedly demonstrated.

How many more groundings, collisions, and disasters do we need to admit that our dreams of perfect, integrated, omniscient systems are just that – dreams?

We need to return to systems that cannot break because in war, everything breaks.

You can have a Soviet AK-47 assault rifle that works under any conditions or level of mistreatment but, possibly, suffers a bit in accuracy or you can have an exquisitely accurate, technologically advanced, high performance US M16 assault rifle that failed on every other shot in Vietnam.

The concept of “Bare Minimum” is, or should be, central to our approach to warfighting. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Every Confidence

The Navy has commissioned yet another of their endless and pointless studies.  This one involved simulator tests of Junior Officer basic seamanship.  The results were what one would expect.

“A three-month internal review conducted by senior U.S. surface fleet leaders found some or significant concerns with the ship handling skills of nearly 85 percent of its junior officers …” (1)

This shocked the Navy.

“Brown [Navy’s top surface warfare officer Vice Adm. Richard Brown], who leads Naval Surface Force Pacific, termed the results “sobering.” (1)

Really?  This was what you found “sobering”?  Two collisions and multiple groundings didn’t bother you but this was “sobering”?  Blithering idiot.

What kind of result did you expect after two collisions and multiple groundings?

All right, mocking aside, the Navy now has some actual data to look at which confirms reality (see how that works, Navy) and let’s the Navy put a number on the magnitude of their ineptitude.  Fine.  So, what are you going to do about it?  Reports have been issued, a few wrists have been slapped, and a seemingly endless list of recommendations have been issued – as they have been many times in the past whenever a shiphandling incident occurred (remember the Port Royal grounding?).  None of those accomplished anything so why will any of the current reports and recommendations accomplish anything?  They won’t.

As far as I can tell, the 7th Fleet is still sending unqualified ships and crews to sea.  Nothing substantive has changed.

Come on Adm. Brown, I’m asking you, man to man, why is this going to be any different?

Want to know why nothing will change?  Here’s why – after all the collisions, groundings, and horrific test findings, here’s what Adm. Brown had to say.

“I have every confidence in our current generation of Junior Officers.” (1)

Really?  Every confidence?  I wouldn’t trust these incompetents to sail a rubber ducky in the bathtub and reality attests to that assessment.

Now, I don’t believe the Junior Officers are mentally challenged.  They simply haven’t been given the training to succeed.  Until they receive that level of training, only an idiot would trust them as a group.  If Adm. Brown has every confidence, I guess that tells me what I need to know about the good Admiral.

By the way, Admiral, I have one more question for you.  If the Navy is so determined to improve and to identify problem areas, why didn’t you run the same simulator test on the senior officers and Captains?  I guess those results would be just a bit too embarrassing, huh? 


(1)Defense News website, “Troubling US Navy review finds widespread shortfalls in basic seamanship”, David B. Larter, 6-Jun-2018

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Bare Minimum

In a recent post, we noted that the Army seems to be beginning to understand what a future war will entail (see, “Army Gets It”).  In particular, the Army seemed to recognize that, in combat, communications and networks would be significantly degraded and that equipment design should focus on the bare minimum rather than the ultimate possible.  This is an incredibly important point and I give the Army full credit for recognizing it (we’ll see whether they act on it, or not!).

As described by Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, head of the Army’s network Cross-Functional Team in a Breaking Defense article,

“Instead of optimizing the network to provide the best user experience in normal circumstances — the current standard — you optimize it to provide acceptable performance in extreme circumstances.” [article’s emphasis] (1)

This is worth restating …  We need to design for the bare minimum acceptable performance and design it in such a way as to ensure that minimum level is met regardless of circumstances.  We need a bare minimum baseline level of performance that the enemy cannot hinder.

Yes, we can also design in greater performance and, if circumstances permit (the enemy’s countermeasures aren’t present or aren’t as effective as anticipated), then we can enjoy the enhanced performance.  The point is that we can’t train to, and become dependent on, a higher level of performance.  We need to train to the bare minimum.

Hand in hand with designing to the bare minimum acceptable performance, we need to test our designs to the maximum extent possible.  ComNavOps has harped on this and will continue to do so.  The typical scripted, simplistic tests that currently pass for operational testing have to be dropped in favor of the most difficult tests we can devise because that’s the level of difficulty we’ll face in combat.

We need to make every effort to break our own designs so that we can learn how to build them so that the bare minimum acceptable performance is available no matter the circumstances.

That networked cooperative engagement type of capability sounds great on paper but will it function in combat?  Let’s get our best electronic warfare aircraft to plan and execute an attack on a Navy surface group.  Let’s give them access to every spec and secret of our networking so that they can take advantage of weaknesses.  You can bet China has all our specs and secrets and will do exactly that.  Let’s see if the group can establish and maintain a coherent tactical picture and a functional network in the face of that kind of attack.  If not – and I doubt they can – then we need to define the bare minimum acceptable performance and ensure that it is so secure that nothing can disrupt it.


(1)Breaking Defense website, “Can’t Stop The Signal: Army Strips Down Network To Survive Major War”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 26-Mar-2018,

Monday, June 4, 2018

Crew Comfort

A couple of recent discussions hit on a common theme – that being that WWII ships packed a lot more weapons and sensors/fire control in a given ship size than modern ships do.  One of the reasons suggested for that was the greater degree of crew comforts that modern ships offer.  I don’t think that’s the entire explanation but it’s certainly part of it.  Today’s berthing is larger and more comfortable.  Lounge areas are provided.  Sanitary and wash facilities are more extensive and expansive.  And so on.  These amenities require additional deck space and internal volume.  I also suspect, but don’t know for sure, that food storage spaces are larger today.

Why do today’s ships have larger crew comfort facilities?

The common answer, which is generally given as an article of faith, obvious to anyone but an idiot, is that today’s sailor has to have greater comforts or else the Navy couldn’t meet its manning needs in a volunteer navy.  Sailors just wouldn’t put up with any less comforts than are currently provided.

Is this true?  Were yesterday’s sailors tougher?  Are today’s sailors softer and unable to withstand the harsher aspects of life at sea?  Are comforts the only way we can entice young men to a life at sea?

Are we missing something in this little story?

I think we are.  What we’re missing is deployments. 

Today’s deployments run 6-12 months with 8-10 being quite common.  In the not very distant past, deployments ran 2-6 months with 6 months being the extreme maximum.

Interestingly, “deployments” during WWII were generally very short because, as we discussed, they weren’t deployments – they were missions (see, "Deployments or Missions?").  Ships would go out on a mission, execute the mission, and return home.  Missions would typically be a few weeks.  Even submarine patrols were only 4-8 weeks or so.

Do you see where this is going? 

People can put up with a lot for a relatively short period.  The problem arises when we ask people to put up with a lack of comforts for months on end, pushing a year.

The solution, of course, is to execute missions not deployments.  A mission is 1-4 weeks.  A 1-4 week mission doesn’t need all the comforts of an 8-12 month deployment.  Sailors will put up with some crowding and discomfort for a short period especially when they’re doing something worthwhile, like a specific mission.  It’s when the ship simply sails endlessly in circles on a deployment that the crew recognizes as worthless, that comforts become increasingly important.

There’s another aspect of modern deployments that impact crew comforts and that is adventure.  The old slogan was, “Join the Navy and see the world”.  This included some epic and memorable liberty calls around the world.  Sailors could put up with cramped conditions while they relived and recovered from the last liberty and eagerly anticipated the next.

Today, however, liberty opportunities have been curtailed.  Many ports are off limits.  Those that are available are strictly supervised.  Sailors are encouraged to keep a low profile, exercise moderation and, preferably, participate in volunteer school building rather than engage in the type of liberty that becomes the stuff of legend.  In fact, it goes well beyond “encouragement” to the point of threats and punishment.  Heaven help the unfortunate sailor who overindulges or has a run-in with local police.  Ship’s Captains are judged on how meek and mild their crews are during liberty.  That’s a sad commentary.  Let’s loosen the reins and let sailors enjoy the world and liberty calls.

There’s also a practical aspect to crew comforts.  More expansive crew comforts require more internal ship’s volume, more infrastructure for networks and entertainment cabling, electronics, and power.  In short, the greater the crew comforts, the larger and more expensive the ship must be.  Now, let’s be realistic, the increase, while real, is not terribly significant compared to the overall size and cost of the ship but it does add up.

Consider the ship and crew size of the LCS versus the WWII Fletcher. 

The Fletcher class was 380 ft long, 2500 ton displacement, and had a crew of 329.

The Freedom class LCS with a crew of only 65-80 (with module and helo detachment) would, you’d think, be a fraction of the size of the Fletcher and yet it’s the same 380 ft long and, incredibly, has a displacement over 50% greater at 3900 tons.

I’m not saying that the LCS’ greater size relative to the crew size is just due to crew comforts but it is a part of it.  More to the point, it illustrates that the Fletcher was able to operate with a crew size around five times greater than the LCS because it didn’t go on endless, nearly year long deployments.  The crews would put to sea, execute a mission that they clearly saw as important, and return to port.

Fletcher - Five Times the Crew

Okay, you say, all this may be true but, really, where’s the harm?  Well, aside from the impact on ship size and cost, admittedly not all that great compared to the overall size and cost, the lethal consequences of crew comforts were made abundantly clear during the recent McCain and Fitzgerald collisions.  The reports painted a vivid picture of survivors trying to battle their way through loose debris to escape flooding berthing compartments and having to fight through an obstacle course of lockers, couches, exercise bikes, TV screens, game consoles, etc.  Every physical comfort added to a ship is a potential life-threatening obstacle in a damage/rescue scenario.

One of the things that ships used to do was to strip down for battle when war was declared.  All the loose items were removed from the ship and nothing was left that wasn’t essential for combat.  The problem today is that we’re always a split second from combat even though we aren’t, technically, at war.  We’ve had ships blown up in port, attacked with missiles while on patrol, run aground, and severely damaged in collisions.  Given that environment, our ships should be stripped for battle all the time.

The conclusion from this discussion is that we can design less comforts into a ship and, thus, a smaller ship if we would simply limit the deployments to more reasonable lengths or, as suggested in the recent post, no deployments – just missions.