Saturday, January 16, 2021

Networks or Firepower?

Today’s military is myopically focused on data and networks as the key to future warfare.  However, no matter how much data you have, you eventually have to kill the enemy’s troops and destroy their equipment.  That requires firepower … explosives.  ComNavOps has stated that the military is substituting networks and data for firepower, not supplementing and supporting firepower.  Is this true or just a misconception?  Let’s look.


Since … oh, I don’t know … say, Desert Storm in 1991, how many new networks, sensors, and data collection and analysis systems has the Navy developed?  Here’s a partial list:


  • CANES (Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services) – provides shipboard network
  • NIFC-CA (Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air) – integrated area wide data/targeting sharing
  • CEC (Cooperative Engagement Capability) – provides data/targeting sharing and remote fire control
  • TTNT (Tactical Targeting Network Technology) - waveform technology providing high throughput, anti-jam, low latency and quick net join waveforms for IP connectivity
  • SQQ-89 – anti-submarine software that integrates ASW sensors and weapons
  • NMCI (Navy Marine Corps Intranet) - provides a shore-based enterprise network in the continental United States and Hawaii via a single integrated, secure information technology environment for reliable, stable information transfer
  • ONE-Net (OCONUS Navy Enterprise Network) - evolved from the Base Level Infrastructure Information (BLII) Modernization Program in 2005, ONE-Net provides secure, seamless and global computer connectivity for the DON outside the continental US
  • NGEN (Next Generation Enterprise Network) - provides secure, net-centric data and services to Navy and Marine Corps personnel
  • NTCDL (Network Tactical Common Data Link System) - allows the Navy to share large quantities of critical ISR data across platforms and networks
  • NIWC (Naval Information Warfare Center) Pacific Command and Control - fleet support center for command, control and communication systems and ocean surveillance
  • Link 16 – data transmission
  • AESA Radar – provides detection, tracking, communications, and electronic warfare
  • JADC2 (Joint All Domain Command And Control) – overarching network that connects sensor from every service into a single network


The preceding list is only a partial list that barely scratches the surface of all the Navy’s data and networking applications.  A new networking command and control scheme comes out seemingly every day!


Now, for comparison, let’s list the new Navy ‘explosives’ that have been developed over the same time period.


  • LRASM (Long Range Anti-Ship Missile) – Tomahawk replacement
  • NSM (Naval Strike Missile) – Norwegian small anti-ship missile
  • JSOW (Joint Stand Off Weapon) – guided glide bomb with altitude dependent range


That’s it.  That’s all there are unless I’ve missed one - which I'm sure I have and I have no doubt that someone will triumphantly point it out!


Regardless, it’s clear where the Navy’s focus has gone, isn’t it?  We truly have stopped pursuing firepower and have replaced it with networks and we’ve done so without testing those networks in realistic combat conditions against full spectrum anti-network effects (cyber, jamming, disruption, spoofing, etc.).


There’s a few other weapons that you might be tempted to think of as new but they’re actually just upgrades from existing weapons or they’re pre-1991:


  • Mk54 torpedo – upgrade from Mk50
  • JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) – not a weapon but a guidance package for dumb bombs
  • ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile) – upgrade to Sea Sparrow
  • SLAM-ER (Stand Off Land Attack Missile – Expanded Response) – modified Harpoon
  • Mk77 Incendiary Bomb – napalm replacement
  • AARGM (Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile) – upgrade to HARM


Note that most of the weapons are just minor evolutionary improvements of existing weapons that have been given a new designation, like Standard -1, -2, … -6.


There’s absolutely nothing wrong with weapon system upgrades but they offer no new capabilities, just generally minor enhancements to existing weapons.  Good but not new capability and not any increase in firepower.



Now, here’s a list of weapons that haven’t been developed but desperately need to be. 

  • Cluster munitions
  • Supersonic anti-ship missile
  • Short range conventional ship launched ballistic missile
  • Intermediate range conventional ship launched ballistic missile
  • Self-propelled, armored, medium range SAM vehicle for Marine Corps
  • Self-propelled, armored, short range SAM vehicle for Marine Corps
  • Littoral torpedo
  • Anti-torpedo torpedo
  • Large caliber naval gun (8” and larger)
  • Navalized MLRS
  • Navalized 5” rocket launcher
  • Wake homing torpedo
  • High explosive, 1000 lb warhead torpedo


These would offer substantially new capabilities (or revival of old, dropped capabilities!) and increased firepower but the Navy clearly has no interest in developing firepower.  They’d much rather focus on the sexy, shiny, high-tech networks – which won’t work in a contested environment, anyway.


It’s also quite depressing to recall some of the weapon systems that have been dropped, with no replacement, since 1991: 

  • 16” Battleship Gun
  • Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile (TASM)
  • CAPTOR Mine
  • Cluster munitions
  • Marine Corps Tanks
  • SHORAD (AAW Short Range Air Defense)


We have got to regain our focus on firepower.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Light Amphibious Warship Update

The Navy has released some new information on the Marine’s desired Light Amphibious Warship (LAW), as reported in a USNI article.(1)  As you might expect, the information was contradictory and silly.  For example,


… the services are eyeing a 30mm Gun Weapons System as the ideal system needed as a proportional response to the most likely threat to these ships.(1)


Even a cursory moment of thought concludes that the most likely threat will be aircraft and missiles.  How is a 30 mm machine gun a proportional response?  That’s just ignorant.  And, since when is ‘proportional’ the desired response to a threat?  The best response is overkill.


Moving on,


Their primary defense would be their ability to move quickly and evade detection … (1)


Their primary defense would be the ability to move quickly?  The Navy revealed that the proposed speed of the LAW will be around 15 kts.


… the Navy and Marine Corps want about 15 knots … (1)


‘Evade detection’?  Unless the LAW is an ultra-stealthy configuration - which none of the artist’s renditions have yet indicated – a 200-400 ft, slow ship is not going to ‘evade detection’.


Does This Look Like It Will Evade Detection?

However, it may be that the Navy/Marines don’t think the LAW will have to defend itself.  Apparently, it will be protected by … wait for it … an LCS or LPD.  Of course, neither of those vessels has any AAW capability beyond point defense for themselves and only the LCS has an anti-ship capability (assuming the Naval Strike Missile actually gets installed). 


Regarding cost, the Navy is looking for a price tag of $100M - $130M.  Remember when the price target for the LCS was $200M?  How’d that work out?  If the LAW comes in at $100M it will be a bare bones, stripped down, shell of a vessel which ComNavOps might actually agree with as it fits my vision of single function, dedicated ships – although this particular ship and concept is idiocy floating on the water.


Regarding survivability, remember when the Navy tried to claim that the LCS met level 1+ survivability standards?  We blew that claim out of the water and proved that the LCS was actually level nothing (see, “LCS Survivability”).  Well, the Navy is trying the same non-existent, made up route again.  They’re claiming the LAW will be Tier 2+:  able to take a hit and survive until another LAW can come and rescue the crew and troops and ‘return them to the fight’ (yes, they used that phrase).  A bare bones, stripped down vessel with no AAW protection is not going to be Tier anything.


The ship is projected to have a 20 year service life.  I guess the Navy has been reading this blog and my calls for 20 year ship lives!


You can just see the LAW disaster taking shape in front of your eyes.  Someday, people will be asking how this abortion came to be.  Well, we’re seeing it develop right in front of us.  There’s no hindsight involved.  The future disaster is readily apparent today.


This isn’t really relevant to the merits of the vessel but you recall how we all got a great deal of enjoyment out of the Navy calling the LCS a Littoral COMBAT ship despite its utter lack of combat capability?  Well, to call this tiny transport vessel with only a 30 mm gun a Light Amphibious WARship proves, yet again, the Navy’s sense of humor.








(1)USNI News website, “Navy Officials Reveal Details of New $100M Light Amphibious Warship Concept”, Megan Eckstein, 19-Nov-2020,

Monday, January 11, 2021

Status Update: Marine Corps Ship Sinkers and Sub Killers,

We’ve discussed and dissected the Marine Commandant’s ill-conceived concept of small units of hidden,  missile-shooting, sub-sinking wonder-warriors winning a war with China single-handed and we’ve, rightly, scoffed at it.  Setting aside the mockery, let’s take a look at the status of the effort to establish that capability and see what kind of progress the Commandant is making.


To ever so briefly review, the concept calls for Marines to launch anti-ship missiles, with a range of several hundred miles, from island bases using modified ‘jeeps’ and light trucks.  Two missile systems have been commonly proposed:


Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile (TASM) – The use of a land based Tomahawk cruise missile has been made possible by the termination of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.  Unfortunately, the Tomahawk is slow, non-stealthy, non-maneuvering, and likely has a very poor survival rate against a peer defender.  It’s essentially a subsonic target drone and can only succeed if fired in overwhelming numbers which the small unit concept cannot generate, so …  On the plus side, the missile has a range of several hundred miles and is designed to use mid-course guidance.  Where that initial targeting and subsequent mid-course guidance will come from in the Marine’s concept is unknown and, thus far, unexplained.  Given the two hour travel time at maximum range, some type of mid-course guidance will definitely be required.


The U.S. Navy’s subsonic Block Va (i.e. Block 5a) Maritime Strike Tomahawk (MST) is capable of being reprogrammed and rerouted in flight to attack moving ships out to around 900 nautical miles (or 1,035 miles/1,666 km…the exact range has not been fully disclosed) with a 1,000-pound warhead. Maritime Strike Tomahawk is by far the longest-range ASCM option although it would take about two hours to fly 900nm miles at a speed of around 550mph. The MST is slated to become operational in 2023 with the probable preferred U.S.M.C. ground launcher being a quartet of MK41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells mounted on a towed semitrailer. (4)


A towed semitrailer is not exactly a small, nimble, easily transportable, easily hidden piece of equipment which renders the basic concept of small, hidden units somewhat suspect.  Such a vehicle requires roads or flat, open terrain which, again, renders the ‘hidden’ aspect questionable.


Also, a quartet of cells provides a ‘magazine’ capacity of 4 missiles.  That’s not enough to bother any peer defender warship.  Reloads are both problematic and useless for a single engagement since the reload delay time would preclude effective massing of missiles.


Of course, the small unit could always be provided with several, or a dozen or more, semi-trailers to increase the ‘magazine’ size but that would negate the small, hidden, rapidly relocatable attributes of the Marine’s platoon size units.

Test Firing of Tomahawk from Trailer

Naval Strike Missile - The Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS) combines a Remotely Operated Ground Unit for Expeditionary Fires (ROGUE-Fires) drone vehicle, which is a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), and the Naval Strike Missile (NSM).(2)  Seriously, there must be an entire department that works exclusively on catchy acronyms, right?  The NSM, as you recall, is the Norwegian Kongsberg anti-ship missile intended for the LCS.  It is subsonic, moderately stealthy, and has a range of 200-300+ miles.


NMESIS uses the Marines’ High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) on the chassis of a remotely operated version of the Army’s Oshkosh-built Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, loaded with a Kongsberg/Raytheon Naval Strike Missile.(2)


USMC will likely integrate the NSM on unmanned Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) “ROGUE Fires” vehicles. (4)


Regarding the launcher,


The Remotely Operated Ground Unit Expeditionary-Fires (ROGUE-F) is the launcher vehicle for the NMESIS/GBASM [ed. GBASM stands for Ground Based Anti-Ship Missile] system.  … The GBASM project will procure a USMC system while leveraging other Service-developed missiles to provide a ground based anti-access/area denial, anti-ship capability.(3)


If we were shooting acronyms and abbreviations, we’d win the war in a few hours!


ROGUE Fires 


So, those are the two missile systems.  What’s missing from that?  Targeting, of course!




The glaring weakness in the Marine’s concept is, of course, targeting.  The Marines have not discussed this aspect, at all.  They’ve simply hand-waved away the issue and, just as every discussion of the overall concept begins with the Marines already firmly established on an island, hidden from view, fully equipped, and with the enemy absolutely clueless, so too, does every discussion of the missiles begin with the assumption that they already have targets sighted and locked. 






So, now that we understand what missile systems are being developed and what the glaring weakness of the concept is, what is the status of the equipment and funding for the various components?  Listed below is a summary of the equipment and funding status of the various components of the concept.  Items in red indicate gaps or shortcomings related to the anti-ship concept.  Funding information largely comes from the FY2021 Marine and Navy procurement documents (3) on the SecNav budget website.  Note that missile funding was stated in the documents as being classified at a higher level than could be shown in the public documents so information is fragmentary, at best.



Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile (Maritime Strike Tomahawk)


Status – The missiles are currently non-existent and under development, however, TASMs previously existed so this shouldn’t be a drawn out development and the upgrades appear to be ready to implement.  The Marines originally requested 48 missiles in FY2021.  The Marines consider this a longer term option.


Funding – The Marines requested $125M for FY2021.  Reports suggest that amount was cut but it is unclear by how much.


Naval Strike Missile


Status – The NSM exists and is currently being procured by the Navy for the LCS although production rates and, therefore, acquisition rates are very low, at the moment.  There is no indication in the FY2021 budget document that any NSM will be procured for the Marines.  So, the missiles are available but either not being procured or not in any significant quantity.


Funding – There is no line item listed in the budget document for the NSM


JLTV ROGUE Fires Launcher


Status – While JLTVs are currently operational and plentiful, modified versions to carry a HIMARS launcher are developmental.


Funding – The FY2021 budget shows a quantity of 7 HIMARS for $30M.  The JLTV vehicle is being procured at a quantity of 752 for $382M but that is for all of the Marine Corps, not just the anti-ship concept.  It is unclear whether any of the HIMARS or JLTV are modified for the anti-ship role and the budget language suggests that they are not which, in turn, suggests that there is no funding for any actual launch-modified vehicles.



Tomahawk-MST Launcher


Status – Likely a modified semi-trailer.  Currently non-existent. 


Funding - Unfunded




Status – No sensor currently exists that has been linked to this concept.


Funding - Unfunded





Regarding FY2021 funding, here’s a general statement that is lacking in specifics but conveys a certain reluctance by Congress to fully fund the Marine’s request.


The Marines had requested $125 million for Tomahawks and $64 million for GBASM as well as $75 million for long-range fires. The final bill essentially cuts the GBASM budget in half and trims almost $20 million for LRPF research and development — roughly a 25 percent cut. (1)


Note that the Marines have, at various times and by various people, mentioned Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missiles, Long Range Precision Fires (LRPF), Ground Based Anti-Ship Missiles (GBASM), Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS), Maritime Strike Tomahawk, and Remotely Operated Ground Unit for Expeditionary Fires (ROGUE-Fires), all, apparently, describing the same or different aspects of the overall concept.  It’s difficult to know exactly what refers to what.


Acronyms aside, the takeaway is that Congress is funding less than the Marines requested and by a significant amount.


Noting the status of equipment existence, or lack thereof, and funding, the anti-ship concept appears to be currently severely underequipped and underfunded.  Admittedly, much of the anti-ship concept remains conceptual and under development so this is not, alone, worrisome, at this time.  Of greater concern is the fact that Congress has cut funding for the concept to some significant degree and the Commandant’s time in office is becoming limited.  A Commandant serves for 4 years with an option for a single additional term, however, there has not been a two-term Commandant since Gen. Lejeune in the 1920’s.  Commandant Berger has a bit over two years left in office.  Therefore, it is reasonable to question whether significant progress can be made on the concept before the Commandant’s term expires and someone else, with possibly a different or more Congress-friendly agenda, takes over.  The inescapable conclusion is that this entire anti-ship concept may die before it can be implemented.  When other items such as the Light Amphibious Warfare ship which is critical to the implementation of the concept and is barely even in the early developmental stage, are factored in, the future of the anti-ship concept becomes even more suspect.


Regarding implementation timing,


The Marine Corps had planned to move quickly on GBASM and wanted to field an operational battery by FY23.(1)


This would appear to be optimistic based on reduced funding and possible changes in concept and priorities.  It would also be somewhat disappointing that simply mounting an existing HIMARS on an existing JLTV and launching an existing NSM would require two years of development.






(1)Defense News website, “Lawmakers slash funding for Marine Corps’ long-range fires development”, Jen Judson, 23-Dec-2020,


(2)Defense News website, “To combat the China threat, US Marine Corps declares ship-killing missile systems its top priority”, David B. Larter, 5-Mar-2020,


(3)FY2021 Budget Justification Book, “Procurement, Marine Corp”, Feb 2020,


(4)Naval News website, “Land-Based Anti-Ship Missiles and the U.S. Marine Corps: Options Available”, Peter Ong, 27-Sep-2020,

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Loyal Wingman

‘Littoral’ – the term was appropriated by the Navy to describe a form of warfare that was, supposedly, unique and beyond the capability of then current Navy platforms.  The only solution, said the Navy, was to buy lots of Littoral Combat Ships and so the LCS debacle was birthed. 


The defining characteristic of the ‘littoral’ fiasco was that the conversation jumped immediately from theoretical concept to implementation.  What was ignored was reality and validity.  There were no studies, no exercises, no concepts of operation … nothing to establish the validity, or lack thereof, of the concept.  We went straight from concept to implementation and, from the Navy’s perspective and goals (budget) this was quite understandable.  The Navy knew there was nothing unique about ‘littoral’ as a form of warfare.  Ships have fought in shallow water for hundreds of years.  Images of WWII destroyers standing barely offshore to provide fire support on D-Day are iconic.  What the Navy wanted was to get Congress to fund more ships before someone had the forethought to question the concept.  Thus, we committed to a production run of 55 LCS without ever establishing the validity of the concept, analyzing alternatives, or establishing concepts of operation.


This phenomenon of jumping straight from concept to implementation is not unique to the military world.  It is common throughout industry and society.  For example, diversity (whether gender or racial) burst upon the scene and we leapt immediately over validity and straight into implementation.  Diversity would have us believe that a man and a woman or a black and a white are somehow inherently superior to two women or two blacks.  A moment’s reasoned thought would reveal this as ridiculous.  Despite that, we’ve jumped immediately to implementation.  There is hardly a corporate board or governmental organization today that does not mandate (formally or informally) quotas to ensure diversity.  Whenever there’s a Supreme Court vacancy the cries immediately arise from all corners for the position to be filled by a woman or a black or a Leprechaun or whatever gender/racial characteristic the particular group is advocating for.  That’s ridiculous.  The only ‘cry’ should be to find the best possible person regardless of gender, race, or type of car they drive. 


Corporations have moved from finding the best people for their boardrooms to finding the most diverse people.  Presidential cabinets have gone from finding the best people to finding the most diverse.  Army Rangers and Navy SEALs have gone from finding the best people to mandating diversity.


The latest example of this phenomenon is the ‘loyal wingman’.  It is the latest craze and we have already jumped right over validity and straight into implementation.  No one is asking whether the concept makes sense, whether it can work, whether an already combat task-overloaded pilot can control multiple other aircraft while fighting for his own life, and whether pale imitations of manned aircraft can perform well enough to make a difference.  No one has asked how a loyal wingman will work, what it will do, under what circumstances it can be useful, and what situations are not appropriate for it?  No one is asking why, if a manned combat fighter aircraft costs $100M each, we think we’ll be able to build unmanned versions cheap enough to be expendable?

Loyal Wingman Concept Art


What will the loyal wingman aircraft do?  Try this description:


The cornerstone of the concept is a low-cost unmanned platform to work alongside traditional manned combat aircraft and operate as a force-multiplier, adding “mass” while also undertaking more hazardous tasks and missions when required. (3)


How’s that for some truly impressive buzzword bingo that says nothing?  It leaves us with no worked out concept, no proof of validity, no exercises demonstrating effectiveness, no nothing.



No one asked about the LCS and we see how that turned out.


No one asked about the Zumwalt and we see how that turned out.


No one asked about the Ford and we see how that turned out.


No one asked about the F-35 and we see how that turned out.


Nope, it’s all about implementation.


Ignore the reality. 


Ignore the analysis.


Ignore validating exercises. 


Ignore the CONOPS. 


Ignore alternatives.




Just implement it.





Okay, that was the general warning about the loyal wingman concept.  Now, let’s look at some specific potential problems.


Communications – We don’t have artificial intelligence, yet, that even remotely approaches combat capability despite the public relations stunt put on by DARPA.  That means the wingman aircraft cannot perform on its own in any meaningful way.  It will need to be closely controlled by a human pilot/controller and that, in turn, requires constant communications.  Presumably, the comms will need to be omnidirectional because it will be impossible to maintain a direct, point to point comm link when both the transmitting control aircraft and the receiving wingman are engaged in high-g, violent maneuvers.


Situational Awareness – I’ve not heard of anyone talking about using two-seater aircraft to control the wingman aircraft so can a single pilot in the controlling aircraft establish and maintain situational awareness to direct the wingman aircraft while simultaneously engaging in aerial combat, himself, and fighting for his own life?  Can he do it for more than one aircraft?  There’s a reason why the F-14, EA-6B, and other aircraft have multiple crew.  The workload is too much for one pilot.


Or, is this a case where we fantasize that the single pilot will cruise around the aerial battlefield, undetected and unhindered by any enemy actions and leisurely direct swarms of wingman aircraft?


Combat Effectiveness – I have yet to hear what, exactly, the wingman aircraft is going to do.  It can’t successfully engage in aerial combat on its own or even with a controller.  There is no unmanned aircraft that can do that.  It could be an aerial missile ‘barge’ for the controlling aircraft but, again, can a single pilot, fighting for his life make effective use of such an aircraft?  It could be a decoy or missile sponge but we already have a variety of much cheaper chaff, flares, and decoys (towed and flying) so I don’t see what would be gained there.  So, if the wingman can’t defeat an enemy aircraft, what will it do?  I’m failing to see the combat effectiveness.


Some articles suggest its role is ISR and early warning.(1)  If so, that’s a lot of hype and cost (see the next section on cost) for an extended sensor and nothing I’ve seen indicates they’ll be able to supply another aircraft with a real time combat picture (see the section on communications).


Another article suggests that the loyal wingman will be tasked with ‘absorbing enemy fire’.(2)  If so, that’s an incredibly expensive way to defend another aircraft.  Plus, how would that work?  In order to be physically close enough to ‘absorb fire’, the wingman aircraft would have to be almost flying a welded wing formation.  Do we really think we can formation fly in combat without collisions?  And with an unmanned aircraft?


Cost – If the wingman aircraft is going to attempt to engage in aerial combat, it will need the same performance, speed, range, weapons, and sensors as our best manned aircraft which means it will cost the same as a manned aircraft and that’s not cheap.  Are we going to use $100M wingman aircraft as throwaway expendables?  We’ll go broke real fast doing that.  So many people have the mistaken notion that unmanned somehow automatically means cheap and that’s just not the case.  If you want high performance fighter aircraft capability it’s going to cost what high performance fighter aircraft cost.


Attrition – As noted, we don’t have the AI to produce aerial ‘Terminators’.  That means that the wingman aircraft are going to suffer extreme attrition which brings us back to the cost issue.





So, in our pursuit of technology as the magical solution to all our problems, we’ve latched on to this wingman concept and jumped right over validation and straight into implementation.  We’ve got to learn some lessons from our past failures and start asking questions before it’s too late.  We need a CONOPS for this concept and we need extensive validation exercises.  Failing that, the loyal wingman concept will be just another example to add to the list of poorly conceived disasters.












Monday, January 4, 2021

Constellation Class Frigate - Success or Just Not Failure?

ComNavOps has often noted that the Navy, as an institution, seems utterly incapable of learning lessons regardless of how painful and obvious those lessons are.  For example, concurrency has been proven to be an unmitigated failure time after time and yet it continues to be a cornerstone of Navy acquisition programs ... which continue to fail.


Well, the Navy has managed to semi-learn one semi-lesson and that is to avoid bad press.  It would be much, much better if they learned one of the lessons related to warship design, firepower, project management, cost control, requirements creep, or any of a hundred other valuable lessons but they didn’t.  The only lesson they’ve learned is to avoid bad press. 


How do you avoid bad press, you ask?  Well, if you’re the Navy, you make sure that the next ship you build has already been built by someone else, in the past.  This both minimizes risk and allows you to blame some other builder/country if things go badly.


Let’s be honest and acknowledge that this approach does reduce the degree of programmatic risk and, therefore, increases the chances for apparent success.  Why do I use the qualifier ‘apparent’?  Well, it’s because the program won’t be an actual success, even if everything works perfectly - and it won’t!  It will be a success only in the sense that it may not generate bad press and be an out and out embarrassment.  Well, wait a minute, now.  The Fincantieri FREMM frigate that the Navy frigate will be based on is a proven success, isn’t it?  So, why wouldn’t the US Navy version also be a success?


Well, consider this … the FREMM design dates back to the early 2000’s, making the design nearly two decades old by now and it will be three decades old, or older, by the time the first few US Navy frigates will enter actual service (scheduled delivery 2026, IOC around 2030 – and schedules always slip).  Can a 30+ year old ship design really be called a success?


Consider the issue of stealth.  When the FREMM was first designed, it may have been considered stealthy but by today’s standards, its appearance would suggest that it is only marginally stealthy, like the Burke.  Is a brand new ship that will become our front line surface combat ship as the Burkes are replaced by unmanned vessels, really a success if it’s only marginally stealthy?


Consider the Navy’s actual needs.  This one may be somewhat debatable but ComNavOps has laid out the very clear case that the Navy needs a small, dedicated ASW corvette (or minesweeper or any of a dozen other ship types) far more than a mini-Burke.  Is a brand new ship that is, at best, far down the needs list really a success?


Consider cost and performance.  We all (except the Navy) know that the frigate is going to cost $1B+ which pushes it into the conceptual ‘half the performance for two thirds the cost’ region.  Is that really a success?


Okay, all the above are legitimate reasons why the frigate program can’t be a success no matter how well it manages to avoid bad press but those are not the real reasons why it can’t be a success.  The real reason is because the design is already obsolete and fails to deliver the new capabilities that are needed to fight future wars. 


We’ve seen that technology – and, hence, future war – has changed radically just in the last few years and has changed even more so over the last three decades that will have elapsed by the time the first frigates enter service.  Consider the developments and advances in combat technology since 2000 with the advent of drones, swarms, artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced stealth, advanced stealth detection, advanced multi-sensor guidance systems for missiles, anti-ship ballistic missiles, hypersonic projectiles and missiles, lasers, rail guns, advanced SSK submarines, and many dozens of other technologies.  In order to fight a future war with those technologies, either for us or against us or both, we need new ships designed from the start to use, or defend against, those technologies.  The FREMM design has none of those capabilities.  Why would it?  It was designed almost 20 some years ago when those technologies didn’t exist.


Here’s a list of the capabilities that a new ship - any type of new warship - ought to have to fight a future war, based on the threats we can reasonably anticipate:


  • UAV - Extensive UAV capability is needed to provide organic surveillance.  I’m talking about many dozens of UAVs and the ability to operate at least a couple dozen simultaneously – far beyond the capabilities of any ship today.
  • Stealth - Extreme Visby-level stealth to include radar, acoustic, IR, and visible signature reductions.  With the proliferation of EO guided imaging missiles, visible signature reduction will be just as important as radar and IR signature reduction.
  • Emissions Control – Future ships will need total EMCON capability.  Any signal, no matter where in the electromagnetic spectrum, will be a vulnerability and allow the enemy a chance to detect and target the ship.  This is not only a communications and radar issue but also a stray radiation issue such as the giant, unshielded motors of EMALs.  The ships the Navy is building today are entirely incapable of achieving EMCON and this must change.
  • Armor – Long neglected, it has to be recognized that ships will be detected, take hits, and have to keep fighting, unlike the Navy’s recent ship designs that are intended to be abandoned at the first hit (LCS, Light Amphibious Warfare ship, and likely the Zumwalt due to inadequate manning).  Advanced armors including, possibly, spaced armor, composite armor, ‘bubble’ armor, reactive armor, flexible armor, and the good old fashioned plate armor must be incorporated.  Ships cost far too much and take far too long to build to allow them to be one-hit kills.
  • Acoustics – As submarines proliferate, ships need modified hull shaping to lower acoustic signatures.
  • Explosive Resilience – Ships need modified hull shaping to enhance underwater explosion survivability (V-shaping to deflect pressure waves;  yes, this one needs to be proven and might not work as I anticipate).
  • Cyber – Future ships must be as protected from cyber attack as from missile attack.  Ships need the ability to totally isolate and defend the cyber realm.
  • Propulsion – Industry has made significant advances in propulsion technology.  Future ships need podded electric propulsion for enhanced reliability, repairability, efficiency, flexibility, and silence.



Unfortunately, due to the obsolete FREMM design and the imposed requirement to use an existing ship design, few, if any, of these attributes can be included in the US Navy design.  Rather than building a ship purposely designed and optimized for the anticipated type of future combat, we’re building a nearly obsolete ship out of fear of bad press.


The Navy is using the exact same reasoning to continue building Burkes despite them being nearly obsolete and lacking the room, power, and utilities to even mount the required radar arrays, as well as lacking stealth, armor, etc.  We’re intentionally building sub-par Burkes as our future surface combatants not because they represent a good ship design any longer but because they’re a safe public relations build.


So, we see that a truly successful new warship needs to be built to the requirements of future combat, not combat from 20+ years ago but, instead, we’re building to avoid a failure.


We’re not building for success, we’re building for ‘not failure’.


The new frigate will not and, indeed, cannot, be a success.  At best, it can be a ‘not failure’.


Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Real Aircraft Readiness Rates

I’m sure you all recall the memo issued by then Secretary of Defense Mattis in Sep 2018 that mandated that F-35 and F-18 aircraft would achieve readiness rates of 80% or greater by the end of 2019 (see, “You Will Comply”)?  How did that work out?  Well, in a miracle for the ages, less than 6 months after that memo was issued the Navy reported that Super Hornet readiness had jumped from the 50% mark, where it had been mired for several years due to parts shortages, personnel shortages, and other systemic problems, to as high as 76% despite all the same problems still existing.  Did that seem plausible?  Of course not.  Systemic problems don’t disappear in less than 6 months and huge backlogs of idled aircraft don’t suddenly become ready.  It was obvious that someone was playing reporting games and manipulating the data.


Still, the Navy continued to report high readiness rates, claiming to have exceeded the 80% mark.(2)


Here’s what I posted when the Navy announced their miraculous improvement:


Years of maintenance manpower shortages, higher than expected corrosion and problems, chronic spare parts shortages, depot backlogs, funding shortages, etc., all cured in less than 6 months by a single memo. 


Do you think readiness is unchanged and we’re just pencil-whipping and gun-decking the readiness reports?  Before you answer, consider all the Navy fraudulent statements and practices (lapsed certifications, acceptance trial waivers, fraudulent shock trial success claims, and hundreds of other examples) that we’ve exposed on this blog alone.  Now, let me repeat the question … Do you really think readiness surged that much in 5 months or less or is it unchanged and the Navy is just pencil-whipping the readiness reports? (1)



The GAO has now come out with a report on military aircraft readiness and it confirms what ComNavOps knew to be true – that the Navy was falsifying readiness reports.


The table below shows the GAO’s data for readiness of Navy aircraft during the 9 year period FY2011 - FY2019, inclusive.  GAO assessed readiness by comparing the aircraft’s mission capable rate (MCR) to the MCR goal established by the Navy.  Unfortunately, the MCR goals for each aircraft have been withheld from the GAO report as the information is considered sensitive.  Typically, MCR goals are on the order of 70%.


Note:  Mission Capable is the ability to perform any one of the aircraft’s notional missions.  This is the lowest possible form of readiness.  Fully Mission Capable is the highest level of readiness and the only one that we should be using – an aircraft is either ready to fly any mission or it is not ready.  MCR is often little more than the ability to take off and is of no use in assessing true combat readiness.




Number of Years Readiness Goal Was Met

F/A-18A-D (Navy)

1 of 9

F/A-18E-F (Navy)

0 of 9

F-35C (Navy)

2 of 7

F-35B (Marine)

1 of 7

F/A-18A-D (Marine)

0 of 9





Note that the Navy claimed that the Super Hornet readiness had exceeded 80% for the Super Hornet which would have likely easily surpassed whatever its readiness goal is.  Despite this, GAO, with access to real data, found that the Super Hornet never exceeded its goal. 


From the GAO report which addressed the SecDef Mattis memo and the Super Hornet and F-35 readiness,


We found that none of these aircraft had achieved the 80 percent mission capable  goal … (3, p.11)


The Navy publicly reported in late September 2019 that it had met the Secretary’s 80 percent mission capable goal for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler. Our analysis showed that mission capable rates generally did improve for these Navy systems over the course of fiscal year 2019, including meeting the 80 percent mission capable rate at particular points of time in fiscal year 2019. However, we found that none

of these aircraft achieved the mission capable goal when mission capable rate data were averaged for each day in fiscal year 2019. (3, p.12)



There you have it, the real readiness rates and they’re the same as they’ve always been – not ready!






(1)Navy Matters blog, “You Will Comply”, 10-Apr-2020


(2)USNI News website, “Navy Surpasses 80% Aircraft Readiness Goal, Reaches Stretch Goal of 341 Up Fighters”, Megan Eckstein, 25-Sep-2019,

(3)Government Accountability Office, “Weapon System Sustainment”, GAO-21-101SP, Nov 2020