Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Mine Sweeping - SAAB SAM3

ComNavOps has pointed out the West’s tendency toward individual, one-at-a-time mine hunting and neutralization and how utterly impractical this would be in combat.  There’s no getting around the fact that large scale, large area, short time frame mine clearance can only be accomplished by some type of sweeping operation – the exact opposite of what the West is doing.  There is, however, one example of a minesweeping technology that is moving along the right path and that is the ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems SAM3 unmanned minesweeping vessel.  The vessel is described in a sales brochure (1) as a small catamaran design ‘sled’ (I would describe it as a pontoon style craft) that is remotely operated.  The sweep units are capable of being operated in tandem to simulate larger target signals (like carriers or large commercial cargo/tankers?).
SAM 3 Minesweeper

Length                          14.4 m
Beam                            6.7 m
Draught                                    1.2 m
Displacement                14 tons
Speed, transit               10 knots
Sweep Speed               8 knots
Power                           Diesel 2x140 KW
Sweep Depth                3-60 m
Note that the sweep speed is a very low 8 kts.  This is not going to clear large areas in a short time unless many, many units are used simultaneously and it is unknown whether this is even possible from a signal interference and command/control perspective.  A sales brochure claims that four sweeper units can be operated together.  Whether multiple groups of four can be operated in the same general area is unknown.
The main feature of the unit is that the sweep signal is programmable with “magnitude and shape tuning of both magnetic and acoustic signatures”[1], making this a ‘smart’ sweeper which allows effects such as[1]: 
  • Correct signal levels, variation and duration for a specific target vessel type, size and speed
  • Synchronization of magnetic and acoustic signature output
  • “Ripple” effect for degaussing simulation
  • Simulation of multiple passes for mines with ship-counting device
It is this output signal manipulation capability that is the key.  Modern smart mines use a combination of input signals to determine triggering and we have to have sweeps that can simulate realistic, multi-aspect output signals in order to trigger a mine.  To the best of my knowledge, the LCS unmanned influence sweep system (UISS) does not use dynamically programmable signals and, if true, this will prove to be a major failure in real world operations.
ComNavOps has also expressed doubt that current minesweeping technology is capable of clearing (meaning triggering) modern mines which can use a variety of magnetic, seismic, pressure, and electrical signatures to distinguish real targets from sweep signals.  To the best of my knowledge, there has been very little research done on modern sweeping and even less interest shown by the US Navy.  This ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems minesweeping unit would appear to be one of the few examples of ‘smart’ sweeping technology.  Of course, how well it works is unknown.
I’m unaware of any minesweeping test, in modern times, that has actually tested sweeping technology against real mines (remove the explosive and just see if the mines were triggered or not), deployed in real conditions. 
The lack of real world testing should be extremely worrisome.  Combine this with the Navy’s near absence of any functioning mine clearance assets (the MH-53E helos are decades past scheduled retirement and only a handful are even flight worthy let alone mission capable and the Avenger class minesweepers are long overdue for retirement and most are not capable of sailing) and we have a major vulnerability that can cripple and paralyze fleet operations.

Monday, May 29, 2023

LCS MCM Status Update

As you know, the poor LCS has been sailing for many years without any functional, useful modules.  The modules were supposed to have been:
ASuW (anti-surface warfare) – The module has been watered down to near nothingness.  I think, now, it consists of a guy on the bow with a 9 mm handgun.
ASW (anti-submarine warfare) – The module was cancelled and ASW has been terminated as an LCS mission.
MCM (mine countermeasures) – The module has been in development since just after the Revolutionary War.
Well now, after a dozen or so LCS have been retired or scheduled for retirement, the Navy has finally declared initial operating capability (IOC) for the LCS MCM module.  Let’s update ourselves on the MCM module.
The mission module components keep changing as they fail, one after the other, so it’s difficult to keep up with the current status but, as best I can glean, the main components of the MCM module are:
MH-60 Helicopter
Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS)
Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS)
Mine Countermeasures Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV)
Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS)
AN/AQS-20C mine-hunting sonar
The helo tows or operates the ALMDS and AMNS while the USV tows the UISS and sonar.
Knifefish and other (too many to list) individual components have been tested over the years and have fallen by the wayside.
It’s been quite a wait for the MCM module, hasn’t it?  And the wait isn’t quite over.  The first LCS was launched in 2006 and the modules began development prior to that so the MCM module has been in development for an unbelievable 17+ years … and still isn’t quite complete! 
Moton [Rear Adm. Casey Moton, program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants] said the Navy planned to deploy the first LCS with the mine countermeasure package in fiscal 2025.[1]
Deployment in 2025, assuming that isn’t further delayed, would put the development at 19+ years.
The Navy’s next task is to congratulate themselves and hand out medals all around.  When asked about the development effort, Moton had this to say, 
“Overall we’ve proceeded well throughout it.”[2] 
Well done, indeed, Adm. Moton!  A mere 17+ years to develop the MCM module is a praise-worthy accomplishment, without a doubt!
Well, at least the MCM module is here, now, and we know it works because it’s been tested against simulated mines rather than real ones. 
For the IOT&E testing, Moton said Cincinnati’s crew operated the mission package “against a simulated minefield to achieve required mission objectives, including maintenance, pre and post-mission system prep, post-mission data analysis, in-mission command and control and launch and recovery.”[2] 
Does ‘simulated’ mean an inert mine body or does it mean a virtual, non-existent mine as so many of our exercises use today? 
“We completed approximately 230 hours of MCM USV mine hunt operations, over 33 missions from the host LCS as well as from a shore-based command center to fully asses [sic] the sonar’s performance. We executed a total of 12 airborne sorties, with fielded ALMDS and AMNS systems demonstrating the full integration with the MCM mission package,” Moton said.[2] 
We demonstrated 16 full launch and recovery iterations in the MCM mission package IOT&E.”[2] 
Twelve airborne sorties?!  Wow!  That’s testing the crap out of the system, all right!  That many sorties must have thoroughly tested the system in day, night, shallow water, deep water, good weather, bad weather, warm water, cold water, fast currents, high sea states, and against all types of [simulated] mines, and each test must have been conducted many times over to establish statistical validity.  The Navy managed to test all those conditions and establish statistical relevancy in only 12 sorties!  And against ‘simulated’ mines at that!  I’m impressed!  There is no chance this system won’t work flawlessly in the real world.
Sixteen launch and recovery iterations?!  Under all the conditions just mentioned?  Again … wow!
Well, obviously, I’m mocking the Navy’s LCS-MCM effort.  Specifically, I’m mocking 
  • the protracted 17+ year developmental effort
  • the pathetically inadequate testing
  • the utterly lacking statistically valid test protocols and repetitions
  • the ignoring of the many real world, operational conditions that ought to have been tested (you had 17+ years, for crying out loud!)
  • the use of ‘simulated’ mines as proof of performance
  • the Navy’s delusional, self-congratulatory attitude to what can only be classified as a fiasco of historic proportions 
If I was the Navy, I wouldn’t have even declared IOC – and, seriously, does anyone believe it’s a real IOC as opposed to a pencil-whipped, public relations stunt?  Instead, I would have left it alone and hoped no one noticed the humiliating, embarrassment the MCM module is.  Heck, in a few years the LCS will all be gone via early retirement and the MCM module status will just be a forgotten footnote in history.  Declaring IOC just brings the entire, painful, humiliating episode to the front for everyone to mock.
[1]Defense News website, “US Navy declares its mine countermeasures suite ready for operations”, Megan Eckstein, 11-May-2023,
[2]USNI News website, “Navy Talks Details on LCS Mine Countermeasures Mission Package”, Mallory Shelbourne, 12-May-2023,

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Austal and T-AGOS

One definition of insanity is to repeat a set of actions and expect a different result.
The Navy is procuring a new class of ocean surveillance ships (T-AGOS).  That’s fine.  However, they’re contracting with Austal to design them.  Austal, you’ll recall, designed the Independence variant LCS.  I won’t bore you with a litany of the shortcomings and design flaws of that ship.  I would simply ask, after the massive failure of the LCS, why would we immediately turn around and contract with Austal again?  We contracted with them before and they failed miserably so we think that if we contract with them again the result will be success?  I refer you to the definition of insanity at the start of the post.
On a related note, the T-AGOS mission is to tow sonar arrays around and collect acoustic data.  The Navy’s cost estimate is around $430M per ship.  What is the one thing we know, with 100% certainty, about Navy cost estimates?  That’s right … they’re always ridiculously low.  So, we’re looking at a $500M-$600M ship, minimum.
This ship just tows a sonar array.  It has no radars, no weapons, no fire control, no electronic countermeasures, no high speed, no stealth, no survivability enhancements, no complicated propulsion system, a crew of around 40, and is likely built to commercial standards (unverified, as yet).  It’s an upsized, ocean going tugboat!  Can it really cost over half a billion dollars?  Can’t some commercial cargo ship do the job for a tiny fraction of the price?  Couldn’t we buy a used commercial vessel for pennies on the dollar, mount some sonar array mechanisms and computers and call it a day?


T-AGOS-25 Concept Image


[1]Breaking Defense, “Austal wins contract for first vessel in ocean surveillance ship program valued up to $3B”, Justin Katz, 19-May-2023,

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Boston Class Missile Cruiser

We’ve been discussing guns versus missiles and concluded, unsurprisingly, that both are needed.  With that in mind, let’s recall a ship that pioneered the combined use of missiles and guns!
The Boston class missile cruiser (CAG-1) was originally a Baltimore class heavy cruiser (CA-68) built during WWII.  After the war, in the early 1950’s, Boston was converted to launch RIM-2 Terrier missiles by removing the aft 8” gun mount and adding two twin-arm Terrier missile launchers (144 missiles in 2x 72 missile magazines).

USS Boston, CAG-1

One of Boston's Two Terrier Launchers

Boston’s Stern Showing Both Missile Launchers

In its original configuration, Boston was well armed and armored.  From Wikipedia[1],
3x triple 8”/55-caliber guns
6x twin 5”/38-caliber guns
12x quad Bofors 40 mm guns
24x single Oerlikon 20 mm guns
Belt armor: 4–6 in (102–152 mm)
Deck: 2.5 in (64 mm)
Turrets: 1.5–8 in (38–203 mm)
Barbettes: 6.3 in (160 mm)
Conning tower: 6.5 in (165 mm)
Bulkheads: 6 in (152 mm)
Let’s now consider a modern cruiser built along those lines with the Terrier launchers being replaced by two VLS units, each perhaps 16-32 cells for a total of 32-64 missile cells (speculatively, 40 quad packed ESSM plus the remaining 22-54 cells filled with Tomahawk cruise missiles?).  With armor and two triple 8” mounts it would be a formidable ship, able to conduct anti-air, cruise missile strikes, and close range, heavy caliber gun strikes while its armor made it resistant (not immune) and resilient to combat damage.  It would be the best protected, toughest ship in the world!  It’s interesting that the original missile version of Boston had more nominal missiles than our hypothetical, modern version (144 vs. 64)
Boston was 673 ft long and around 15,000 tons displacement, nearly the same size as a Zumwalt.  Imagine if the Zumwalt had, instead, been built as a modern Boston heavy missile cruiser.  It would have been a much more combat-effective and useful vessel !
Oh, what could have been …
[1]Wikipedia, “USS Boston (CA-69)”, retrieved 12-May-2023,

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Shaft Misalignment

The Royal Navy’s carrier, Prince of Wales (QE class), was sidelined with a propulsion casualty one day into a 2022 attempted voyage to the US and has been undergoing repairs ever since.  The problem, estimated to cost $31M to fix, was caused by a miniscule misalignment of the propeller shaft. 
The investigation into the cause of the starboard [propeller] shaft fault found that there was an installation error. More specifically, Wallace added that based on “initial reports” the shaft was misaligned by as much as 0.8mm to 1mm.[1]
The reason this caught my eye was the apparent sensitivity of the shaft to very, very small misalignment.  One can’t help but wonder what would happen if the ship were subjected to vibrations, shock, and whipsawing from an explosion in combat.  Would the shaft hold up or would it inevitably wind up misaligned by 0.8 mm or more and be rendered unfit?
The US Navy encountered something similar when the Aegis cruise, Port Royal, gently drifted aground off Hawaii and suffered unrecoverable misalignment of its radar arrays.
Militaries should not be producing machinery that is so sensitive that it cannot withstand typical combat shocks.
We discussed pod propulsion (see “PodPropulsion”) in a previous post and noted that it potentially offered many benefits.  I’m certainly no expert on pods but it would seem that a pod would bypass all shaft alignment issues.
I like the idea of pod propulsion from a combat damage resilience perspective, separate from whatever its propulsion performance is.  A pod, even if it’s rendered unrepairable, can be simply unbolted from the outside of the stern and a replacement put in place.  There is no need to open the ship up, as there is a for a damaged or misaligned shaft.
Pods - No more shafts?

Again, I’m not a propulsion pod expert, by any means, and I’m sure that pods have their own unique problems but they seem well worth investigating.
[1]Breaking Defense, “Millimeters cost millions: UK still to decide who ‘should cough up’ for $31M aircraft carrier repair bill”, Tim Martin, 17-May-2023,

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Guns Or Missiles?

One of the lamentable tendencies exhibited by naval observers and commenters is to evaluate weapons in isolation.  I’ve preached about the dangers of this yet it still happens all too frequently.  For example, if one considers the use of offensive missiles versus large caliber naval guns, the discussion invariably becomes a one-versus-one comparison - a single missile’s properties versus those of a single shell.  People will cite range or speed or explosiveness or whatever supports their favored weapon.  However, that kind of comparison and evaluation is always incomplete and always wrong.  Consider the following example.
An enemy’s island base needs to be destroyed.  How do we do it?  The obvious answer is we stand off a thousand miles and launch cruise missiles at it.  The less obvious but likely more realistic answer is that we used up most of our cruise missile inventory in the first month of the war and we, essentially, have none left and our industry, which is geared towards a peacetime production of a hundred missiles per year, can’t even begin to supply replacements in any useful quantities and what few we get are reserved for only the very highest priority targets.  Now what do we do? 
We could place a carrier in harm’s way and try an air strike, however, the island base is heavily defended by SAM batteries so we’ll suffer aircraft losses that our industry can’t replace in any useful time frame.
We could have the Air Force try a bomber strike but the enemy destroyed our only base in the region on the first day of the war and our handful of flyable bombers are tasked with much higher priority missions.
Hmm …   Now what?
Well, if we had ships with large caliber naval guns we could just sail up to the island and erase it from existence.  Of course, the tactical situation would have to be appropriate but that’s always the case for any mission.
Thus, a missile might have more desirable properties but the correct answer is more likely large caliber naval guns when one considers the larger picture of the overall war, munitions inventory, and replacement cost and time frames.
This also illustrates another guiding principle and that is flexibility.  Again, so many people debate weapon systems as mutually exclusive, one or the other, instead of acknowledging that there is a need for multiple options instead of one, exclusive choice.  It’s better to have options and not need them then to need them and not have them.  Options give us flexibility.  When we lose our only useful base, when our industry can’t supply replacement munitions, when industry can’t replace aircraft losses, when the enemy upsets our plans, flexibility gives us the ability to stay in the fight.

USS Boston CAG-1
Guns or Missiles?  Both!
Note two forward triple 8" mounts and aft missile launcher.

Keep this in mind as your discuss (let’s be honest … as you argue) weapon systems.  The ‘correct’ answer is almost always ‘both’ and it’s quite likely that the less advanced system will turn out to be the preferred choice for reasons other than pure performance specifications.
Guns or missiles?  The Navy has unwisely selected only missiles when the correct answer is both! 

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Here’s another Air Force issue that is highly relevant to the Navy and the military, in general.
Boeing’s T-7A Red Hawk is years behind schedule.  This is not a highly complex, F-22/35 type stealth combat aircraft;  it’s a simple trainer intended to replace the Air Force’s T-38 Talon.  As a Drive website article notes, the T-7A was going to revolutionize aircraft design and construction by using computers and digital models. 
Advertised by the Air Force and Boeing as the service’s first "digitally designed and engineered" aircraft, T-7A was lauded as a poster child for developmental speed.[1]
The Red Hawk was expected to begin a new era in rapid design and engineering with iterative development carried out in the virtual world via modeling and simulation without having to bend metal or conduct extensive real-world testing. Systems integration would be accelerated and the time from the first flight to production significantly compressed.
It hasn’t worked out that way.[1]

Foolishly, we assign an aura of infallibility, bordering on a religious faith, to everything digital.  The reality, however, is that everything in the digital world    everything  … let me repeat that    everything   is governed by the ancient computer programming adage, GIGO which stands for,
Garbage In, Garbage Out
It doesn’t matter how brilliant your program is, if you feed it garbage input, you get garbage output. 
“A funny thing happens when you move out of digits to reality,” Teal Group analyst J.J. Gertler said.  “Digital engineering has the capability to rapidly iterate but it’s only as good as the information you put into it. It may also help you get to a wrong answer faster which you then have to back out of.”[1][emphasis added]
There you have it.  GIGO. 
“Digital engineering isn’t going to make issues go away,” he [Dr. Will Roper, former assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics] noted. “It’s going to create a new issue which is – do you trust the underlying models and simulation upon which your performance predictions are based?”[1][emphasis added]
When hand held calculators were introduced, teachers noted that they all too often helped students get the wrong answer faster.  The calculator was electronically correct but the students were too ignorant to input the correct data.  GIGO.  The same phenomenon is prevalent in industry. 
Closely related, students lost the ability to recognize obvious incorrect results caused by mistaken inputs (accidentally pushed the wrong button) because they lost the ability to quickly estimate expected results and be able to recognize that an answer was patently incorrect.  I can instantly estimate 18x20 by rounding it to 20x20=400.  Therefore, I can recognize that an answer of 3600 is an order of magnitude off.  Students no longer have the ability to do that and cannot recognize obvious errors - the calculator said it so it must be right.
We’ve become so caught up in our blind worship of technology that we’ve completely ignored the constant presence of the GIGO phenomenon.  Digital results are accorded unquestioned faith.  Whether it’s artificial intelligence, computer aided design, pilot or ship driver training via simulation, or command and control networks, they’re all plagued by the constant presence of garbage input. 
Every Navy and Air Force design and acquisition program for the last two decades has claimed to be computer designed and computer aided and yet none have been what anyone would judge a success.
We had far more successful ship and aircraft design results from people using paper, pencil, and a slide rule then we do now using computers.  Common sense is screaming lessons at us but we’re too busy worshipping at the altar of technology to hear them.
How’s that simple, straightforward Air Force KC-46 tanker coming along?  It’s been well over a decade and still counting! 
Remember the Ford?  Computer modeled and computer designed?  How’d that turn out?
The F-35’s ALIS logistics, maintenance, and mission planning program was going to solve all our problems and yet it’s been abandoned and nothing has yet taken its place.
And so on.
The problem is that the people inputting the information are all too often incompetent idiots who can’t even rattle off their multiplication tables without consulting a calculator.  Have you ever tried to get change from a cashier who hasn’t got access to the register’s computer output?  They can’t calculate simple change in their head.  Why would we expect such people to be able to recognize garbage input and avoid it?  They can’t.  We’ve crippled ourselves, as a society, by allowing calculators in schools.  But, I digress …
We now have military leaders who are inputting idiotic data into wargames, computer models, and simulations and are unable to even recognize the idiotic results.
This isn’t just about arithmetic errors.  In the military, the idiotic inputs are things such as
  • Assuming the enemy won’t respond in any harmful way to us.
  • Assuming everything we do will work and nothing the enemy does will work.
  • Assuming that we have capabilities the enemy doesn’t.
  • Assuming our systems will work flawlessly.  Does any wargame factor in, oh, say, Ford EMALS breakdowns?  We have hard data but we’re hand waving away the reality.
  • Assuming our surveillance assets will be allowed to conduct their missions without hindrance.
  • Assuming we’ll have no problem working around the enemy’s electronic warfare even though any attempt at introducing even a modicum of EW into a real exercise has ended in the complete collapse of the exercise.
  • Assuming our networks will work flawlessly even though we’re being successfully attacked and penetrated by enemy cyber forces on a daily basis.
This is the kind of idiotic, garbage inputs that are producing garbage outputs.  Unfortunately, we’re too stupid to recognize the garbage nature of either our inputs or outputs and so we blindly follow our technology down ever more incorrect paths.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
[1]The Drive website, “T-7A Delays Compound Pilot Shortage, Expose Digital Engineering Pitfalls”, Jan Tegler, 12-May-2023,