Monday, October 19, 2020

FFG(X) Versus Perry

Everyone is excited about the Navy’s forthcoming FFG(X) (now Constellation class FFG-62).  The only problem is that it’s a bit of a step backwards in terms of firepower and combat effectiveness compared to the Perry class frigates.


What??!  No way.      Yes way. 


Let’s take a closer look.  Let’s compare the Perry class, before the Navy neutered them, to the Constellation class.  The significant differences and advantages are highlighted in green.







Length, ft



Displacement, tons



Speed, kts



Range, nm @ kts

4500 / 20

6000 / 16






32(b) + 8(c)


1x 76 mm

1x 57 mm

Close In AAW Weapons


1x RAM


2x triple Mk 32 = 6/24(d)



2x SH-60 Seahawk

1x MH-60 Seahawk + 1x MQ-8C Firescout


SQS-56 hull mount + SQR-19 towed array

SQS-62 variable depth sonar + multi-function towed array



(a)Mix of Standard, Harpoon

(b)Mix of Standard, ESSM with quad-packing

(c)Likely NSM in deck mounted quad racks

(d)Perrys had up to 24 torpedoes including reloads




Perry Class Frigate

Speed - The Perry class may have a few knot advantage but it is likely not significant.


Range – Given that the two ranges are cited for different speeds, I suspect that the ranges are likely equivalent if compared at a common speed.


Crew – The Constellation’s smaller crew on a larger ship will be a detriment in combat when it comes to damage control, as graphically evidenced by the experience of the USS Stark.  Replacement of combat casualties will also be problematic for the Constellation class.


Missiles – The Perry has a larger missile magazine [40 vs. 32] although the Constellation compensates with bolt on anti-ship missiles (probably the Naval Strike Missile).  It is worth bearing in mind that the Perrys could have easily accommodated bolt on quad Harpoon launchers just as the Constellation will do, thus providing a greater missile capacity.  We’ve already examined VLS versus single arm launchers and determined that VLS offers no great advantage and, depending on circumstances, may be inferior in combat use (see, “VLS Versus Arm Launchers”).


The other noteworthy aspect is that in the AAW role, ESSM missiles can be quad-packed in the VLS which greatly increases the number of missiles.  Of course, quad-packing didn’t exist when the Perry was built.  Presumably, quad-packing would also be applied to a modern single arm launcher.  So, in a comparison of the Constellation to the original Perry, the missile number advantage would favor the Constellation.  Comparing the Constellation to a modern Perry, the missile numbers would likely be the same.


Gun – The Perry had larger and more effective gun.  Navy experience with the Mk110 57 mm gun has been disappointing, to say the least, with vibration/accuracy problems in the LCS, insufficient fire control sensors (optical only in the LCS), and elimination of the 57 mm from the Zumwalt design in favor of a smaller 30 mm gun.  The latter is particularly damning.


Close In – Close in weapons are equivalent and minimal.  Both classes should have a 2nd close in system, at the minimum.


Torpedoes - For a supposed ASW vessel, the Constellation’s lack of on-board ASW torpedoes is surprising and disappointing.


Helos - For a supposed ASW vessel, the Constellation’s single helo is disappointing.  Whether the ship could operate a second helo is unknown.


Sonar - The absence of a hull mounted sonar on the Constellation is puzzling although that is offset, to some degree, by the VDS and towed array.  It should be noted, though, that the towed array imposes some limits on sonar functionality while the ship is maneuvering.  The ship can physically tow the array while maneuvering (to an unknown extent and an unknown maximum speed constraint) but the array is negatively impacted and needs time to straighten out and ‘settle’ after maneuvering before it can again provide useful sensor data.  The maneuvering and speed constraints imposed by the VDS, if any, are unknown.  The Perry hull mounted sonar, in contrast, is functional at all speeds and needs no time to ‘settle’ after maneuvering although flow noise is an issue, as with all sonars.




Note:  This should not have to be said but I know it will come up.  Yes, the Constellation, being decades newer, has newer, more capable electronics.  Duh.  This comparison looks at each ship relative to its time.  If the Perrys were built today, they’d have all the same electronics that the Constellation has. 

Constellation Class Frigate



The Constellation is significantly larger than the Perry and yet is less combat capable especially in the ASW role which is a frigate’s main role.  The Constellation’s single helo, no ASW torpedoes, and lack of a hull mounted sonar will hamper ASW effectiveness.  Crew size and a markedly inferior gun further emphasize the decrease in combat capability although the quad-packing of ESSM missiles adds to the AAW capability.  Admittedly, the differences are not huge but the fact that a frigate which is decades newer represents a bit of a step backward is disappointing.  When cost is factored in, the Perry, at around $122M in the 1980 time frame ($385M inflation adjusted to FY20), is far cheaper than the Constellation which will likely be around $1B+ even in serial production.


A more expensive ship with less combat capability?  That seems in keeping with the Navy, today.



Friday, October 16, 2020

Military's Focus

What is the military focused on?  Here’s the headlines from the articles on Breaking Defense website for 15-Oct-2020.(1)



Army Aims To Field TITAN Terminals For All-Domain Ops In 2024


Army Seeks Open Architecture For All Air & Ground Systems: Jette


Success of JADC2 Depends Upon Relevant and Actionable Data”


Army’s ‘Team Ignite’ Sets Futuristic R&D Targets: AI, Robotics, Autonomy”


AI Is the Advantage In The Field


EXCLUSIVE Navy Chief Demands Network Linking All Ships ‘This Decade’



What’s noteworthy about them?  Not a single article about firepower.







Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Future Air Wing

The Navy has begun the process of designing the next generation (I absolutely despise that term as it implies that we’ll leap a generation ahead, which never works) carrier fighter.  The Navy is supposedly, also, preparing for future war with China although you’d never know it from the lackadaisical approach they’re taking.  Regardless, this all brings to mind the composition of the future carrier air wing. 


The Navy seems utterly confused.  They claim to want long range aircraft but continue to acquire short to medium range Hornets and F-35s.  They seem to want to emphasize unmanned but have refused to develop unmanned combat aircraft and are content with a tanker.  They say that anti-submarine warfare is important but show no interest in a new S-3 Viking equivalent.  They say that sortie rate is a paramount design factor even though that claim has been thoroughly debunked.  They’re building bigger Ford class carriers even though the air wings are steadily shrinking.  They claim resupply (COD) is important but replaced the C-2 Greyhound with a less capable MV-22 variant.  And so on …


So, if the Navy has it wrong, what is the right air wing for the future? 


Obviously, the air wing composition depends on the missions it will be given so we have to start by defining the mission.  Unlike many observers and the Navy, itself, ComNavOps does not see strike as being a main air wing mission in a future war.  I’ve posted that the task of future aircraft carriers is to escort Burke Tomahawk shooters and to establish mobile, local air superiority for other operations such as landings, Air Force bomber strikes, or cruise missile attack streams (basically escorting cruise missiles so that they can’t be significantly attrited during flight).  The common requirement from those missions is for a very long range, very high weapons capacity, long endurance/loiter air superiority fighter.  In order to meet those requirements, the aircraft will have to be quite large compared to what we’re used to today.


Let’s look, first, at the aircraft types our future air wing will need.


Fighter – There will be no more design-compromised strike/fighters.  We need single purpose, exquisitely optimized air superiority fighters to deal with the stealth fighters that the Chinese are developing and now fielding.  A semi-fighter / semi-strike aircraft isn’t going to be good at anything – witness the Hornet. 


The fighter we need will be a very long range, very high weapons capacity (12-18 missiles), long endurance/loiter air superiority fighter.  The aircraft will need good speed to enable it to reach the far off operational areas in time to be effective (we don’t want to spend half a day slowly cruising to reach the operation area only to arrive with exhausted pilots).  This suggests the need for sustained, economical supercruise.  All of this strongly suggests a much larger size fighter although I’ll leave the actual dimensions to the design engineers.


ASW – We desperately need to reconstitute fixed wing ASW to provide distant, outer layer ASW.  We need a modernized S-3 Viking with basic stealth shaping, decent speed, and good loiter time.


Tanker – Since we’re contemplating long range air superiority engagements, we’ll need a dedicated, long range tanker.  The idiocy of using front line combat aircraft as tankers is over.  The tanker needs to be a fairly large aircraft in order to carry enough fuel to be efficient and effective.  The problem with the Hornet as a tanker (aside from the idiocy of using a front line combat aircraft as a fuel truck) is that it couldn’t carry enough fuel to be effective for anything other than overhead recovery tanking.  Unfortunately, even the Navy’s new unmanned tanker carries too little fuel to be effective.  We need something on the order of a Viking or A-3 Skywarrior.  Of course, if it’s going to be in the vicinity of engagements, it will need basic stealth shaping.  Obviously, it will need enough speed to reach its refueling points in a timely manner.


Airborne Early Warning (AEW) – We’ve previously discussed the vulnerability of the current E-2 Hawkeye and the need to replace it with a stealthy B-21 variant (see, “B-21 Hawkeye”) or equivalent.  This will allow the Hawkeye to accompany and support far flung engagements without being a large, slow, blinking target.


Electronic Warfare (EW) – The EA-6B Prowler and EA-18G Growler have proven their value many times over and that value has only increased with modern electronic warfare.  We need a new EW aircraft that has the stealth, speed, range, and endurance to operate with the fighters, providing direct support at great distance from the carrier.  Presumably, this would be an electronic variant of the air superiority fighter which, since it would be a larger aircraft, would dovetail nicely with the EW requirements by being large enough to carry more equipment, pods, and operators.


Strike – While strike is not a primary mission, there is a need for a secondary strike aircraft.  This would be a modernized A-6 Intruder with good payload, basic stealth shaping, decent range, and good ground sensors.  These would not be used for 1000+ mile, deep penetration strikes but, rather, for medium range, moderately contested strikes that, for whatever reason(s) don’t warrant cruise missile attacks.


Now, let’s look at the numbers.





Squadron Size

Number of Aircraft



































Total = 100


(a)Depending on the mission, an additional VF squadron could replace the VA.




Operating in a wartime 4-carrier group, this gives us 400 aircraft including 224 fighters.


This air wing composition and size provides an effective means of accomplishing the carrier’s main mission of air superiority.  It is worth recalling that ‘stealth’ can be achieved not just via the aircraft’s inherent stealth characteristics but also through the use of supporting electronic warfare measures (see, “Alternative Stealth”).  For example, if the enemy’s radar can be disrupted then our aircraft are ‘hidden’.  EW will be extremely important in future aerial battles and this air wing provides a strong measure of EW support that is integrated directly into the fighter’s efforts.  Added to that is the ability to provide battle direction/management via stealthy AEW aircraft.  This ability to bring an E-2 Hawkeye forward in the form of a B-21 Hawkeye and provide battle management is a force multiplier, itself.  Overall, this is a balanced air wing with enough aircraft to accomplish its mission.


There you have it.  Having defined the proper role of the carrier, we were able to define the type and size of air wing needed to fill that role.  It is one of heavy air superiority with most of the remaining aircraft devoted to supporting the fighters in the air superiority role.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Illusion of Breakthroughs in Warfare

The US military is obsessively pursuing a Breakthrough in warfare that will provide a massive advantage.  The modern term for such a paradigm shifting Breakthrough is ‘Offset’ although that term, while all the rage for a while, has somewhat faded from use of late.  We’ll use the two terms interchangeably for the rest of this discussion.


The US military believes there have been two previous Offsets: 


First Offset = nuclear weapons (1950s)

Second Offset = precision guidance (1970s)


Some discussions include stealth in the Second Offset.


The US military is now pursuing the Third Offset (see, "Third Offset Strategy" and "Offset Strategy Follow Up").


The fact, though, is that neither the First nor Second Offset produced any lasting advantage and, in fact, neither produced a decisive advantage in any combat. 


Nuclear weapons never produced any decisive advantage, partly because the US wound up opting never to employ them in first use and partly because the Soviet Union detonated an atomic bomb in 1949 thus ending any advantage the US might have had after only four years. 


Precision guidance has been useful but has never been decisive;  not in Vietnam (which we lost), Desert Storm (useful but not the decisive factor, by any means), Afghanistan (if we haven’t lost, we certainly haven’t won), or against ISIS (ISIS functioned quite well in the face of precision guided weapons and lost only to ground troops).


Stealth, if you wish to include that as an Offset factor, was useful in Desert Storm but was not the decisive factor and has played no significant role in any conflict since. 


The major problem with Offsets/Breakthroughs is that they never last long enough to prove decisive in war.  The other side invariably is able to produce the same Breakthrough in amazingly short order.  Consider the following examples of paradigm shifting breakthroughs in warfare.




Stealth – The stealth advantage has been negated both by other countries producing their own versions of stealth aircraft and ships and by the development of stealth detecting technologies such as specialized radar, IRST, etc.


Precision Guidance – Guided weapons were copied around the world almost as soon as they came out.


Nuclear Weapons – The Soviet Union detonated an atomic bomb in Sep 1949 thus ending the US advantage after barely four years.  Nuclear weapons never provided a decisive advantage in war for the US and, ultimately, proved useless even as a deterrent since no one believes the US would execute first use of nuclear weapons.


Monitor and Merrimack – The ironclad was a huge leap forward in naval warfare and produced a vessel that was, for all practical purposes, invincible compared to the previous wooden, sailing ships.  Incredibly, both the North and South developed ironclads almost simultaneously which completely negated any systematic advantage either side might have gained.


Dreadnought – The UK’s HMS Dreadnought revolutionized naval ship design but succeeded only in triggering a naval arms race and the ship was copied and surpassed within five years without providing any advantage for the British.


Blitzkreig – While it produced an initial advantage for the Germans, it was negated and defeated in fairly short order and produced no lasting benefit for the Germans. 


The Tank in WWI – The first tank to see combat took place in Sep 1916 and by Mar 1918, Germany had introduced its own tank and the first tank-to-tank battle occurred in Apr 1918.  The tank produced no lasting advantage for the Allies.


And so on …


An interesting Breakthrough that did produce a fairly long lasting advantage was the submarine as implemented by Germany in WWI and WWII.  This is, perhaps, the closest to anyone having achieved a long lasting Breakthrough in warfare and it wasn’t the submarine that was the breakthrough but how it was used.  Other countries developed submarines right along with Germany.  What they didn’t do was develop the operational and tactical implementation to effectively use them.  Germany developed the operational application – convoy interdiction – and the tactics (wolf packs, night attacks, etc.) to maximize the benefits of submarines to unprecedented levels.  They achieved a Breakthrough.


The noteworthy aspect of this is that it was not the technology – the submarine – that produced the Breakthrough but the method of employing it – the concept of operations (CONOPS, in modern terminology).  This offers a lesson for us that technology is not the solution but that CONOPS or doctrine can be.


Clearly, chasing Offsets is like chasing after Fool’s Gold.  It’s illusory and not real.


So where should we look for advantages in warfare?  Unsurprisingly, the advantages come from the old, tried and true factors:


  • Maintenance
  • Tactics
  • Training
  • Production capacity
  • Firepower
  • Logistics


The US military is focused on the illusory Breakthrough instead of doing the mundane, dirty, lowly, hard work that is necessary to win wars.  The Breakthrough is ‘hard work’, not technology.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

SSK Sinks Carrier

This keeps coming up in comments so I guess I have to address it. 


I’m sure that everyone has heard, by now, the near-legendary story about the Swedish diesel-electric submarine HSwMS Gotland that ‘sank’ the US carrier Ronald Reagan in an exercise, thereby conclusively and unequivocally proving that submarines are invincible and that carriers are just marking time until they will by 100% sunk within ten minutes of the start of a war – at least, that’s the conclusion that many have drawn based on one widely disseminated story.  Is that really the correct conclusion?  Let’s look just a bit beyond the sensationalistic story and see what the reality is.


As we know, the US Navy has no SSKs of its own and leased the services of the Swedish SSK Gotland from 2005-2007 for the purpose of study and exercises.  As far as the actual exercise in question, we have almost no information so almost everything that follows is speculation and reasoned logic.

HSwMS Gotland, SSK

 Wikipedia states that the exercise in question involved Carrier Strike Group 7 (CSG 7) during the 2005 December pre-deployment Joint Task Force Exercise 06-2 (JTFEX 06-2) in the Pacific Ocean (probably in the California Operating Areas).(2)  As such, the exercise would have included all areas of the group’s mission capabilities with ASW being one check box on the list.  Note that the supporting citation in the Wiki article is irretrievable and unverifiable.


According to a Wikipedia article about CSG 7, the group consisted of the Reagan, a Ticonderoga, and 3 Burkes.(3)  This isn’t even remotely representative of a wartime carrier group so it follows that any exercise would not be representative of a wartime scenario.  That aside …


All right, that’s the end of what we actually know.  Now, let’s move into reasoned speculation.


The Navy’s purpose was to find out how stealthy the sub was and to study ways to detect and counter the sub.  Sinking it in an exercise was not the primary purpose.  Think about it … if you want to see how effective the sub is, you’d likely start it at different points, nearer and farther, to observe its characteristics.  In fact, you might intentionally refrain from ‘sinking’ it and allow it to approach as closely as possible to study the acoustic patterns as they vary with distance.


So, just as Top Gun aircraft instructors allow the students to shoot them down in order to learn, the Navy may have allowed the sub to sink the carrier to learn how it would be done. 


Now, let’s consider what an ASW exercise is. 


The number one attribute of an exercise is that it’s not realistic right from the start.  Out in the wild, it would be exceedingly unlikely for a sub to ever get within detection range of a carrier group.  The ocean is an incredibly vast place and the odds that a sub and a carrier would randomly cross paths is very low.  In an exercise, do we want to wait for months while a slow, limited sensor range sub searches for an ocean-roaming carrier?  Of course not!  So, we artificially constrain the exercise by confining the sub and carrier in close proximity to begin the exercise.  Thus, the sub has already, artificially, achieved detection and ‘maneuvered’ into weapons range.  The only remaining uncertainty is whether the defenders will detect the sub in the short time period before the sub achieves final firing position and that is probably unlikely.


Consider the history of WWII submarine-carrier encounters.  For all the millions of miles of carrier group travel, both Japanese and American, and all the millions of miles of submarine travel, how many encounters between carrier and submarine actually occurred?  I’m aware of a single Japanese sub encounter with an American carrier, the Wasp.  Another Japanese sub fired on the Yorktown but the Yorktown was already badly damaged and adrift, at that point, at the end of a battle.  On the other side, there were one or two encounters between American subs and Japanese carriers:  the Shinano was sunk by a US sub.  So, out of many dozens of carriers and many hundreds of subs criss-crossing many millions of miles of the Pacific ocean, only half a dozen or so sub-carrier encounters occurred.  That pretty conclusively demonstrates how unlikely SSK-carrier encounters would be in war.  Further reducing the likelihood of encounter is the fact that SSKs are littoral assets and stay relatively close to land while carriers seek out the deepest and most remote waters they can find.  The two are extremely unlikely to meet just due to their different preferred operating areas in addition to the simple statistical unlikelihood of a random meeting in the open ocean.


It is instructive to note that Gotland arrived at the start of the lease and returned to Sweden at the end of the lease via mobile dry dock (Norwegian semi-submersible heavy-lift ship, MV Eide Transporter,) rather than sailing under its own power.(1)  Modern SSKs are not generally open ocean assets.


The next noteworthy aspect of an ASW exercise is repetition.  If you’ve gone to the trouble and [staggering!] expense of assembling a sub and a carrier group for an ASW exercise, do you want to run one quick iteration and call it a day?  No!  You want to get your money’s worth.  You want to run and rerun the exercise to allow as many people and assets as possible to participate and learn.  In the course of numerous iterations, you would expect that the sub would ‘win’ some and the carrier would ‘win’ some.  Without a detailed listing of every iteration, the conditions, and the results, we can’t draw any conclusions.  Instead, what we get is a sensationalistic story about an invincible sub.  What we don’t hear about are the other twenty times that the sub lost because that’s not a sensationalistic story.


The Navy’s Top Gun school has used A-4 Skyhawks, T-38 Talons, F-16N (briefly), and F-5’s, among other types, as its adversary aircraft.  They have routinely ‘shot down’ student pilots.  Does this mean that those aircraft are superior to the front line US Navy aircraft?  Of course not.  It means that the adversary aircraft are used in such a way as to teach lessons to the students.  Similarly, the Gotland SSK was used to practice against and that may well have meant ‘losing’ for the US Navy participants so that they could learn.


In an actual combat situation, the carrier is going to be escorted by dozens of ships extending out for 20-50 miles in rings around the carrier (see, Escorts).  In addition, the group’s ASW helos will be scouring the sea 24/7.  The sub will have to penetrate fifty miles or so through dozens of escorts and constant helos to achieve a firing position.  In an exercise, as we noted, that entire phase is skipped and the sub is artificially placed inside the defensive layers.  We don’t even know whether any escorts or helos were used in the exercise in question.  It would seem reasonable that they were but perhaps they had other pre-deployment tasks to accomplish? 


In combat, the escorts will also be firing on any semi-possible contact just to be safe.  This will influence the sub’s behavior, knowing that either random chance or a momentary contact might result in a torpedo close enough to be a threat to the sub.  The sub will be more cautious and move less aggressively knowing that the alternative is death rather than a reset of the exercise.  In an exercise, the sub can take chances it wouldn’t take in real combat.


Carrier groups, historically, have had submarine escorts that, presumably, range far ahead of the group and ‘sanitize’ its path.  In an exercise, there is no far distant submarine escort that the attacking sub had to defeat/evade just to reach the surface escorts/helos and then then, ultimately, the carrier.  Again, another unrealistic aspect of the exercise.


In combat, the number one defensive tactic is to flee.  At the first hint of a sub threat the carrier would likely turn and run at 35 kts thus denying the sub firing position.  In an exercise, this is not an option.  As we noted, the sub and carrier are constrained to a fixed location.  The carrier is forced to allow the sub to approach.


So, what are we left with in the way of reasonable conclusions?


  • ASW exercises are utterly unrealistic
  • Every ASW exercise has both sides winning some and losing some
  • An ASW exercise is an artificially constrained tracking exercise rather than an ASW exercise
  • SSKs present a very unlikely threat to a carrier


Finally, let’s consider what an actual combat engagement between an SSK and a carrier would look like.


For starters, there would be no engagement.  The odds on an SSK intercepting a carrier group is infinitesimal.  SSKs are not deep ocean going subs, as a general statement, whereas carriers are only deep ocean platforms in a war.  The two would never meet.


Setting that aside, let’s assume that an SSK was cruising the open ocean.  Barring the million to one random chance encounter where a carrier group literally sails straight over top the submarine, an SSK could never detect and maneuver into a viable torpedo firing position.  The carrier group travels at 20+ kts with maximum speeds of 30+ kts.  By comparison, the SSK’s maximum, short duration speed is just 5-20kts, depending on power source.  The submarine does not have the speed to maneuver into an intercept position without giving away its own position.  SSKs depend on the prey coming to them, not the other way around.



None of the preceding should be taken to assert that submarines are not a threat.  They most certainly are!  The purpose of the post is to demonstrate just how unrealistic a pre-deployment ASW exercise conducted for a small carrier group is.  This should also demonstrate that the single sensationalistic story is just that – a single example from, likely, dozens/hundreds of exercises.  By itself, it proves nothing.  The SSK may well be, and likely is, a very difficult opponent to defeat but we’ve just demonstrated that the very notion of an SSK-carrier encounter is almost absurdly unlikely.





Side note:  Oct 2014, Sweden spent several days looking for a supposed Russian sub and found nothing.  Of course, there may not have been anything there to find but it suggests that the Swedish subs are not the all-seeing, all-knowing, invincible killers of the sea that popular media has portrayed them to be.







(2)Wikipedia, “HSwMS Gotland (Gtd)”, retrieved 26-Sep-2020,


(3)Wikipedia, “Carrier Strike Group Seven 2004–06 operations”, retrieved 27-Sep-2020,–06_operations

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Riddle Me This

Just  a quick thing to think about for all you naval observers who are eager for the Navy to increase its fleet size beyond the current 296 ships (196 actual combat vessels).  We’re hearing rumors from the various Navy force design studies and from SecDef Esper’s office that the Navy is going to shortly be proposing an increase to 350 – 500+ ships depending on which rumor you hear and whether you count unmanned canoes or not.  The fact that there is no funding for that level of shipbuilding is glossed over.  Setting that minor point aside, consider the following simple questions:


1.     Where will the shipyard building capacity come from?

2.     How will the Navy maintain all those extra ships?


Maintenance is the more important question.  Currently ships are sitting pierside, idle, for months or years (yes, years! – the USS Boise, SSN-764, has been sitting pierside for 5 years waiting its turn at overhaul and has long since lost its basic dive certification) at a time waiting for their turn at maintenance.  If we can’t maintain a 296 ship fleet, how will we maintain a 350-500+ ship fleet?  Until you can answer that, wishing for a larger fleet is pointless.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Command and Control Are Opposites

The military has lots of acronyms, to put it mildly and politely.  Arguably, there is no more prevalent or important acronym than C2 (Command and Control), at least in the opinion of the higher levels of military leadership.  C2 has become not only a staple but almost a religion among leadership.  Even the acronym has grown!  It started out as just C2 but it grew into C2I (C2 + Intelligence) then C2ISR (C2 + Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance).  Even that wasn’t enough.  C2ISR led to C3ISR (C2 + Communications + ISR).  Unbelievably, there’s now C4ISR (C2ISR + Computers).  … … …   Do I dare say it?  Is there a C5ISR?  Yes, there is!  It’s the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center which is an Army applied research and advanced technology development center under the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, or CCDC, which is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.  And before you ask, yes, there is a C6ISR C6ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber-Defense and Combat Systems, and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) being developed.  There’s also JADC2 (Joint All Domain Command and Control).  And the list goes on …


We can see, then, that C2 has expanded and grown to encompass … well … everything! 


So, what’s wrong with C2?  Isn’t that how we control battles and wars and fight efficiently?  Isn’t that a good thing?  We’ve previously discussed Command and Control (see, “Command and Control”) and the trend by today’s leadership towards ever greater levels of micro-managing under the guise of artificial intelligence battle management software.  Now, though, let’s step back and look at the fundamental concept of Command and Control.


To state the obvious, C2 consists of two words: ‘Command’ plus ‘Control’.  What do they mean?


Command is the formulation and conveyance of intent, in the form of orders, by the commander to his subordinates.  As we discussed in the previous post, the ideal form of this command is ‘Commander’s Intent’ whereby the commander issues the broad scope and thrust of his desires for his local commanders to execute as they see fit.


Control is the step-by-step, item-by-item direction of a subordinate’s actions.   



Let’s consider control ...  We all recognize that some degree of control is necessary.  Without it, units and individuals would act in an uncoordinated, almost random fashion which would negatively impact the desired outcome.  Units would fail to support each other and would likely interfere with each other.  However, the benefits of control are a function of distance from the controlled.  When the controller is in close physical proximity to the controlled, this is a beneficial operation.  An example would be a squad leader issuing commands to his squad.  In this example, both the controller and controlled are in the same location and experiencing the same situation.  As the controller becomes more and more removed from the controlled, the controller’s understanding of the local situation breaks down and the controller becomes both a burden to the controlled – due to incessant demands for information – and an impediment to swift and proper action  - due to the controller’s lack of understanding of the local situation and the time delays involved in obtaining information, debating alternative courses of action, and the issuance of orders.  An example is almost any operation today where the White House authority and Joint Chiefs sit around a war room monitoring and directing the moment by moment actions of an operation on the other side of the world.  President Lyndon Johnson personally setting target lists in Vietnam or President Carter directing the failed hostage rescue are examples.  There is an endless list of lesser examples of remote commanders directing moment-by-moment operations.


So, what do we immediately notice from the definitions of ‘Command’ and ‘Control’?  The obvious point that jumps out is that the two are opposites!  Command, properly executed, is the dispersal of authority to lower levels whereas ‘Control’ is the consolidation of authority to higher levels.  Polar opposites and yet our military has, illogically, combined them into one phrase and one concept!


We have grown so used to the combined phrase that we don’t even consider the incongruity inherent in the phrase.  Command and Control is an oxymoron and yet it is the foundation of our military leadership.  That’s a problem!


Facing a future war where our communications, in all forms, will be under constant attack, we need to recognize that our ability to issue orders will be severely degraded and that Control will, therefore, devolve to the local unit level whether we want it to or not.  That requires that we embrace the concept of Commander’s Intent and institutionalize the concept of local control.  We need to relentlessly practice it so that when we lose communications in combat, we’ll be comfortable with the situation and able to function effectively.


Command and Control are opposites and we need to start splitting them apart and practicing them separately.