Sunday, December 30, 2012

What Reserve Fleet??

In recent decades, America has grown used to short wars:  Desert Storm, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan (if you don’t count the protracted nation building and policing after the initial combat), Libya, and so forth.  However, this short-war mindset has had a detrimental effect on many aspects of our military.  For example, many munitions have insufficient inventory for a protracted affair, spare parts inventory and supply chains are sized for peacetime, ship design/construction/cost has become so exaggerated and complex that ships can no longer be replaced in a “quick” time frame, and R&D programs require years or decades to come to fruition, if ever, and so on.

What happens if we ever get into a protracted war given that “protracted” almost certainly means heavy attrition of ships, planes, and supplies?  Seriously, though, is a protracted war likely?  Well, I don’t think China is going to be defeated in 90 days.  In fact, there has been a great deal of discussion in professional journals of this very concept as regards a war with China.  Strategies have been put forth whereby we fight a stand-off war around the periphery of contested areas, never really attempting to penetrate or deliver a decisive blow.  Instead, the strategy would be to slowly strangle the enemy’s warfighting capability over time.  Whether this is a viable strategy or not (ComNavOps thinks not) there is no question that attrition would be a major factor.  From the Navy’s point of view this is going to lead to a steady decrease in available ships and planes with little capability to build replacements in any useful time frame.  Of course, one assumes that attrition would be two-sided;  China would also suffer attrition.  However, unlike the U.S. Navy, China is trending towards much greater numbers of platforms than the U.S. and has recently demonstrated markedly faster development and construction cycles.  In other words, China is much better positioned to win a war of attrition and that advantage is only going to grow over time. 

One of the traditional solutions to this type of scenario is to maintain a reserve fleet (Mobilization Category B) from which units could be reactivated in relatively short time periods.  Additionally, reserve units could be used to take over lower intensity tasks thereby freeing up more modern and capable units for front line duty.  Sounds good and obvious, right?  Well, there’s a problem.  We don’t have much of a reserve fleet. 

It’s difficult to get accurate listings of reserve ships partly because there are many different classifications of inactive ships and administrative responsibility is shared by several different organizations with sometimes overlapping responsibilities.  Ultimately, it appears that only those ships classified as Mobilization Category B (Cat B) are actually maintained in a state that would allow a reasonable opportunity for reactivation.  These would be the ships that one would typically think of as reserves or “mothballed”.  Unbelievably, examination of several sources indicates that the Cat B fleet consists of only 10-20 ships of which only half a dozen or so are combat ships – the remainder being amphibious or logistics.  For practical purposes, the U.S. has no reserve fleet!  Unwisely, for the last several decades we’ve been scrapping, selling, or SinkEx’ing our more capable potential reserve units.

Reserve Fleet - No More?

For example, the entire Spruance destroyer class was SinkEx’ed.  They were the best ASW units ever built and with software systems upgrades would be more effective, even today, in the ASW role than the current Burkes.  With a New Threat Upgrade (NTU) type of upgrade they would still make formidable platforms in a Chinese war especially later on when both sides had suffered attrition (in other words, our old ships would be better than their old ships). 

The Perry FFG’s are being sold off to other countries as fast as we can find buyers.  Perry’s would be a perfect example of filling low intensity roles that would free up more capable units.

Retired Los Angeles class nuclear attack subs are being scrapped rather than placed into a reserve status.  These SSNs are still superior to most or all current Chinese subs.

The retired Ticonderoga Aegis cruisers appear to all be slated for scrapping as opposed to reserve status.  Truly baffling!  Even the older, non-VLS cruisers are highly capable Aegis AAW platforms and ought to be upgradeable to VLS if it came to that.

The USS Kitty Hawk is the only non-nuclear inactive aircraft carrier being maintained in Cat B status.  The Ranger, Independence, Forrestal, Constellation, Kennedy, and Saratoga are all in various stages of scrapping or donation as memorial/museum ships.  The Enterprise is already slated for scrapping.

So, if we become engaged in a protracted war of attrition, where are the replacement ships going to come from?  Clearly, it won’t be from a reserve fleet.  I’m assuming that the lack of a reserve fleet stems from the costs of maintenance that such a fleet entails.  As we’ve discussed previously, Navy leadership is so focused on new construction that they are unwilling to allocate any funds towards reserve fleet maintenance.  This is a very short-sighted policy that could prove costly down the road.  In the relatively near future, the Burke class destroyers will begin to retire along with the remaining Ticonderogas and Los Angeles subs.  These ships, along with Enterprise, would form the basis of a viable reserve fleet.  The Navy needs to look beyond new construction and start building a reserve fleet especially given the downward trend in active ship numbers.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

AGS - DDG-1000 Gun System

The Advanced Gun System (AGS) developed for the DDG-1000 Zumwalt class destroyer is a 155 mm gun in a stealth mount.  The gun (and the ship, in a sense, since it was built around the gun) was developed in response to the retirement of the battleships and the resulting gap in naval gunfire support for troops ashore.

LRLAP 155 mm Round

While 155 mm is a NATO and US Army standard size, inexplicably, the Navy’s AGS will not be able to fire any of the existing rounds thus denying the Navy access to a huge inventory of ammunition.  Bear in mind that the AGS ammunition is the Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) which is a rocket assisted projectile with extended glide capability for greater range.  Thus, the AGS is, essentially, a missile launching weapon rather than a standard naval gun.  The LRLAP has a reported range of around 70 miles and uses GPS guidance with canards for flight control.  Efforts are being made to achieve commonality with NATO/Army 155 rounds to the extent possible.  Hmm…  Seems like that should have been the first criteria?  Seeker heads are being investigated for future inclusion.

Other reports state that the AGS cannot be used in an anti-ship role though it is unclear why this is so (the GPS guided nature of the LRLAP, presumably?).  A naval vessel with guns that can’t be used against other ships seems short-sighted.

The AGS is a fully automated system from ammunition strike down and handling to loading and operation of the gun, itself.  While this reduces the crew requirements it also requires an inordinate amount of internal volume especially that devoted to ammunition storage and movement.  The AGS Intra-Ship Rearmament System (AIRS), which is the automated system for moving pallets from the flight deck to the magazine, consumes huge internal volumes.  Both the gun and ammunition handling are all-electric as opposed to previous hydraulic systems.  Power requirements are reported to be 800 kW per mount which precludes fitting the system to other classes of ship.


The rate of fire is 10 rds/min.  Magazine size has been reported as being 304 rounds per gun.  Rounds are stored on pallets of eight to facilitate the automated handling.

Defense Industry Daily reports that approximately $1.4B has been spent so far on the development of the AGS, AIRS, and LRLAP and work is nowhere near complete yet.  That is a lot of money to develop a gun system. 

In summary, what the Navy has is a dedicated land attack weapon with fair range compared to conventional naval guns.  This may well prove to be a very effective naval gunfire support weapon but the value relative to the cost seems suspect and, when the non-surface firing capability is factored in, the system seems overly restricted.  One can’t help but wonder if the already developed Mk71 8” gun wouldn’t have been a better starting point!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Battle Order Number One

Modern militaries have never enjoyed such a high level of communications and data awareness.  The ability for information to flow up and down the chain of command is unprecedented;  some would say unlimited.

Modern militaries have never seen such a high level of micro-management of tactical actions.  The ability of upper levels of command to see down to small unit tactical levels and take control is unprecedented;  many would say with generally disastrous consequences.

These two elements of command and control are always in tension.  Too often, in the U.S. military, the temptation to pre-empt the local commander and micro-manage smaller units wins out.

Pearl Harbor - Failure of Command

ComNavOps is ever one to peruse history, being well aware that those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  I’m reminded of an historical incident involving remote and local levels of command that is worth re-examining.  Pearl Harbor was an example where command and control failed to disseminate information to the local commanders in a sufficiently informative and declarative fashion as to enable the local commanders to take the necessary action.  Historians have delved into the question of who knew what and when at great lengths and I have no intention of re-visiting that issue.  Suffice it to say that whatever information the local commanders at Pearl Harbor had, it was insufficient to trigger preparations for wholesale combat.

So, is this the end of this post?  A statement of the obvious?  No!  Curiously, another local commander who possessed no more, and in all probability a great deal less, specific information came to the exact opposite conclusion than the Pearl Harbor commanders and put his conclusion into action.  I’m talking about Adm. William (Bull) Halsey.  As documented by Steve Ewing (1), on the evening of 28-Nov-41 Battle Order Number One was issued by Halsey and stated, in part,

“1.  The Enterprise is now operating under war conditions.
 2.  At any time, day or night, we must be ready for instant action.
 8.  Steady nerves and stout hearts are needed now.”
November 28, 1941, ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Adm. Halsey and Enterprise were already at war.  How could this be?  What information prompted Halsey to assume a state of war before any official directive?  What made him go to war while the commanders at Pearl Harbor were blissfully engaged in peacetime activities?  I’ve never read any accounting of Halsey’s thought process or state of mind at that time so I have no idea what he was thinking.  Given that nothing has been brought to light on the subject thus far, to the best of my knowledge, we’ll probably never know for sure.  Suffice it to say that Halsey, the local commander, had a far better sense of the situation than the commanders at Pearl Harbor and, quite possibly, the national command in Washington. 

Adm. Halsey - Local Command

I have no wish to turn this into a discussion of Halsey’s career successes or failures.  Other historians have investigated this in great detail.  For the purpose of this discussion, this incident serves as a vivid reminder that the local commander often (usually? always?) has a far better sense of the local situation than higher authority.  Decentralized command is a vanishing characteristic of naval operations and should be actively resisted by higher leadership.

On a related note, this also illustrates the attribute of command courage.  Halsey had to know that he risked an inflammatory incident without authorization and, had it occurred, would have suffered the wrath of naval bureaucracy.  Regardless of personal and career risk, he took the action he believed necessary to safeguard his men and ships.  The commanders at Pearl Harbor could have made the same kind of call that Halsey made and been fully prepared for combat but they chose not to.  The courage of conviction demonstrated by Halsey is woefully lacking in today’s Navy and his example should serve as inspiration to today’s leadership.

(1) USS Enterprise (CV-6), The Most Decorated Ship of World War II (Exhibit Edition), Steve Ewing, Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, ISBN: 0-933126-24-7, 1982, p. 13

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Zumwalt & Wampanoag - Got A Mission?

Many of the supporters of some of the most troubled programs seem to focus on the technology offered by the programs rather than their performance or usefulness.  Whether it’s the JSF, LCS, DDG-1000, or whatever, the supporting arguments often seem to be that the technology is so self-evidently superior that the program can’t help but be the next great revolution in naval warfare and, therefore, absolutely vital to the Navy.  What’s overlooked in these types of arguments is whether the technology, even if it works – and it never does work as advertised - is useful for the roles and missions that the Navy is tasked with conducting.

Wampanoag - Technology Without a Mission
Here’s an interesting historical example.  The USS Wampanoag, built during the Civil War, was the lead ship of what was intended to be a class of screw frigates able to run down Confederate commerce raiders and, secondarily, conduct commerce raiding of its own.  The ship incorporated incredibly advanced technology and design features, for that time, and was the fastest ship in existence by a wide margin, establishing speed records that would not be equaled for twenty years.  Unfortunately, with the end of the war the ship’s mission disappeared and her non-traditional design and engineering met with heavy resistance from Navy traditionalists.  In 1869 a Navy commission examined the ship and declared the ship unsuited for active duty and it was removed from service.  Despite being a highly successful technological wonder, the ship was deemed a failure by a Navy that was unprepared and unwilling to adapt to the change in operations that the ship foreshadowed.

Now let’s consider the DDG-1000 Zumwalt class.  It’s simply packed with new, cutting edge technology such as larger, advanced peripheral VLS cells, integrated electric drive, advanced automation resulting in the smallest relative crew size in the Navy, advanced stealth design, composite wood materials, wave piercing tumblehome hull form, total ship computing network, dual band radar (since reduced), and 155 mm automated gun system.  Wow!  Who wouldn’t want dozens of these technological marvels in their fleet?

Zumwalt - What Mission?

Well, the real question is what role/mission/function can these wonderships perform that is useful to the Navy?  The original stated role and design rationale was to provide close in, littoral gunfire – the ability to use the ships stealth and firepower to stand in the littorals and support forces on land.  There have been scattered reports that littoral area air defense was also originally envisioned as a capability.  Hmm …  That could be useful since the Navy’s only other gun support is the 5” gun which the Marines have deemed insufficient. 

But what’s the situation now?  On July 31, 2008, Vice Admiral McCullough and Deputy Assistant Secretary Stiller testified before the Subcommittee on Sea Power and Expeditionary Forces and argued that the DDG-1000 program should be cancelled or truncated after the first two ships were built.

Further, they stated,

“The DDG-1000 cannot perform area air defense; specifically, it cannot successfully employ the Standard Missile-2 (SM-2), SM-3, or SM-6 and is incapable of conducting Ballis­tic Missile Defense. Although superior in littoral ASW, the DDG-1000 lower power sonar design is less effective in the blue water than DDG-51 capability. DDG-1000's Advanced Gun System (AGS) design provides enhanced Naval Fires Support capability in the littorals with increased survivability. However, with the accelerated advancement of precision munitions and targeting, excess fires capacity already exists from tactical aviation and organic USMC fires."  [emphasis added]

Thus, we see that the Navy itself believes, rightly or wrongly, that the gunfire role of the ship is not needed.  Well, where does that leave the DDG-1000 as far as usefulness?  It can conduct inland strikes via Tomahawk missiles but that is hardly a unique mission capability – any Burke class destroyer can do that and Burkes cost far less than the $4B+ or so that a Zumwalt costs.  The Navy has stated that the Zumwalt cannot perform area air defense – which a Burke can – so that’s not a mission.  What about stealthy, in-shore Tomahawk strikes?  Well, given the thousand mile range of the Tomahawk, is it really necessary to stand just offshore to launch missiles?  Any VLS-capable ship can stand 500 miles off and launch missiles while still retaining a 500 mile inland strike range – more than sufficient in 99% of cases, one imagines.  Is extreme stealth needed if a ship is 500 miles from shore?  One suspects not.  Thus, one cannot help but be left to wonder what capability a Zumwalt brings to the fleet that justifies its cost.

Is the Zumwalt the modern equivalent of the Wampanoag, a technological marvel that fills no real need, or at least not enough of one to justify its cost?  The Navy’s decision to truncate the build at three units (and reports suggest that the Navy didn’t even want three but that the contract language made it cheaper to build three than pay the penalties associated with even fewer units or none) strongly suggest that the Navy has already come to the conclusion that the Zumwalt is the modern Wampanoag.

Again, as with the LCS, this demonstrates the folly of building ships without first developing well thought out concepts of operation. 

Ultimately, the greatest value of the Zumwalt may lie in its use as a test bed for the various technologies incorporated into its design and, in that respect, may prove a useful vessel. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

CNO's Remarks

CNO Greenert’s public remarks continue to reveal a man who is either delusional, lying, or is the consummate political animal in a military uniform.  The latest comments came at a National Press Club luncheon on 16-Nov-12.  Consider these tidbits.

“We’re not downsizing, we’re growing … The ship count is going up and the number of people is going up.”
Huh?!  From the total manning for the Navy over the last several years is

2005    362,941
2006    350,197
2007    337,547
2008    332,228
2009    329,304
2010    324,400
2011    ?
2012    318,406 (as of Nov 2012)

We’ve already thoroughly discussed the fleet size in previous posts.  It’s not only shrinking, it’s getting weaker as the LCS, MLP, and JHSV replace Aegis cruisers, amphibious ships, and Perry class frigates.  The only way one can count the fleet as increasing in numbers is by counting non-combat ships.  CNO’s statements are misleading, at best.

CNO discussed OpTemp and longer deployments. 
“OpTempo has been a little higher than I expected at this time a year ago.  We need to reconcile how we’re going to continue to support that.”
Adm. John Kirby, Chief of Information for the Navy, has stated that deployments for carrier groups and SSBNs are going to increase to an average of up to eight months, well above historical norms and Navy goals.  If the fleet is increasing in size, as CNO claims, how is it that deployments are getting longer?

CNO is unsure how to support higher OpTempos?  How about building more ships and more useful ships instead of the useless LCS.  OpTempos are going to continue to increase as the LCS replaces retiring ships because it can’t be used for anything worthwhile and it has no endurance so some other higher end ship is going to have to pick up the slack.

On the subject of mine warfare, CNO stated,
“You don't need a mine countermeasures ship and a large helicopter drawing a sled to clear these things out.  Smaller ships [from foreign navies] can become very effective."
What the ... ?!  I thought we had to have a 380 ft, 3000 ton, 45 kt LCS in order to perform mine countermeasures.  That’s what we’ve been told all along.  Now we find out that we don’t need a mine countermeasures ship and helos?!!  Well that would have saved some money if we had known that.  Presumably, now that we know this, we won’t be building anymore LCSs!  Anyone remember the small mine clearing ships called the Avenger class?

Regarding the rash of CO firings, CNO had this to say. 
“I don’t understand why they’re misbehaving but I’m concerned about that.”
The number of CO firings has gone up on his watch.  Where’s the accountability from him?  Perhaps he should fire himself for failing to correct the epidemic of firings.

Seriously, most of what this CNO says is totally at odds with facts and reality.  Is it any wonder why we have an epidemic of leadership firings?  It’s clear the Navy is no longer selecting for integrity, honesty, and character.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Excellence In The Things We Own

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, Mike Stevens, recently sent a series of letters to the Chief Petty Officers of the Navy in which he laid out the foundations of his “Zeroing In On Excellence” theme.  Two things strike me about this and they’re related.

First, every New Leader, be they MCPON, CNO, a CEO of a company, or whoever/whatever, invariably starts by laying out a New Program.  This tendency includes not just high level leaders but any level that carries enough authority to ensure that the New Program can be implemented by mandate.  Generically, the New Program will, presumably, improve the organizations performance by emphasizing those aspects that the New Leader sees as deficient.  The implication is that the New Leader sees problems and solutions that no one else in previous leadership could see.  That’s all well and good, in theory.  In practice, the New Program is, almost invariably, ineffective, redundant or overlapping with existing programs, focused on peripheral issues, or just plain useless.  In reality, the main function of the New Program is to provide a public relations piece showcasing the New Leader’s wisdom so that others may see how inspiring and effective he is.

The Navy is no different in this regard than civilian industry.  Both are bombarded by a never-ending stream of new programs, each more useless and time-consuming than the last.  Consider how many new programs the Navy has implemented over the last few decades.  Every new CNO has a new program for some pet project.  The Navy generates a constant stream of studies, reports, and white papers, each leading to new programs and few survive long enough to accomplish anything before the next new program comes along and pre-empts it.

The second point that jumped out came from MCPON’s letter of 5-Nov-12, Zeroing In On Excellence:  Good Order and Discipline, in which he discussed feedback from the CPO community and highlighted four areas that dominated the feedback.  One, in particular, caught my eye and forms the basis for this discussion.  It was the desire of the CPO’s to achieve,

“Excellence in the things we have rather than continuously inventing new solutions.”

This is an incredibly simple concept that is packed with wisdom.  Rather than continuously generating new programs, why not master the ones that already exist?  After a lifetime of seeing new program after new program, I have encountered very few that offered any improvement over what already existed so why waste time and resources on new ones?  If we didn’t master the old programs why do we think we’ll master a new program? 

If the steady stream of new and useless programs simply wasted time, that would be bad enough.  However, the real problem with endless new programs is that they chip away at fundamental core values and responsibilities.  Formal programs destroy initiative and responsibility by codifying behaviors that should be left discretionary based on the principles of responsibility and accountability.  For example, Chiefs aren’t what they once were – the backbone of the Navy, the guarantors of discipline (applied in as heavy-handed a measure as needed), the source of all wisdom on matters both naval and personal, the developers of new officers, in short, the ultimate authority on all things Navy.  Instead, we now have programs and training and courses and counseling.  The Chiefs have become administrators of programs and their authority is limited, defined, and regulated by a multitude of programs instead of being the open-ended, all-powerful, all-knowing beings they once were.

So, the MCPON has recognized a Great Truth – that we should master what we have rather than make new programs – and yet has turned around and implemented his own new program.  Bit of a contradiction, there, huh?  Now, to be fair, I don’t know what the details of MCPON’s program entail.  Perhaps it’s intended only as philosophical guidance rather than as a formal program.  If that’s the case, no harm done and perhaps some good will come of it.  ComNavOps will keep a close eye on this to see whether MCPON has actually learned his own lesson or not.

Beyond MCPON’s actions, the idea of mastering existing “things” rather than inventing new solutions is one that the entire Navy should embrace.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

FY2013 Budget Items

Here's a few FY2013 budget highlights as reported at the website of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller),

JSF (Navy Carrier Version)
Qty = 10
Total Budgeted Procurement Amount = $2.58B
Unit Procurement Cost = $258M each

Qty = 26
Total Budgeted Procurement Amount = $2.065B
Unit Procurement Cost = $79M each

Qty = 2
Total Budgeted Procurement Amount = $3.515B
Unit Procurement Cost = $1.75B each

Qty = 2
Total Budgeted Procurement Amount = $4.092B
Unit Procurement Cost = $2.05B each

Note the JSF unit cost.  The Air Force (conventional JSF) unit cost was considerably less at around $190M.  Look at the increase from the Hornet to the JSF.  I hope it's worth it!

Monday, December 3, 2012


KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid 

That’s a well known and widely ignored principle of design in industry.  I don’t know whether it’s as well known in the military but it should be, if it isn’t.  Complex systems look good on paper and, in theory, should perform brilliantly but in reality tend to fail.  Consider a system as a series of events, each with its own probability of failure.  It stands to reason that the fewer steps, the lower the overall probability of failure.  For example, a weapon system that consists of two steps,

  1. detect a target
  2. shoot the target

is less likely to fail than one that performs the exact same task but has many more steps,

  1. detect a target
  2. transfer data to other platforms
  3. consolidate data into common picture
  4. present data to command and control
  5. receive command and control guidance
  6. transfer common picture back to other platforms
  7. select optimum weapons platform
  8. shoot the target

(Sounds a lot like CEC, doesn’t it?  But I digress …)

Under ideal conditions, the more complex system ought to function correctly and may even offer some benefits.  However, factor in the fog of war, jamming, networking problems (they always exist!), incomplete or contradictory data, and so forth, and you have a system that has a much higher probability of failure.  In short, the simplest system that can perform the task is the preferred one.  KISS.  Unfortunately, in peacetime system designers tend to ignore the KISS principle and we wind up with tempermental, failure prone systems that require lots of high-level maintenance. 

Capt. Hughes summed it up nicely while discussing tactics,

“The development of complex tactics is a peacetime predisposition.  After the first battle, tactics are simplified.”
Thus, KISS applies not just to weapon systems but to tactics, doctrine, procedures, and, well, just about everything.

A real life example is Aegis versus conventional radar combat systems, in particular the NTU (New Threat Upgrade) system that was once a viable alternative to Aegis.  NTU with its conventional rotating SPQ-48 and -49 radars would have been (and, indeed, on many ships still is) mechanically simpler, easier to maintain, and potentially repairable at sea in the event of combat damage.  Aegis is currently degraded fleetwide and the Navy has instituted a formal program to bring the system back to spec.  The degradation occurred because the system was too complex for shipboard maintenance or even diagnostics.  It perfectly illustrates the question of whether it’s better to have a simpler system that is operating perfectly or a more complex one that is routinely degraded and unmaintainable.  Now, before anyone writes me and starts telling me about the wonders of Aegis, note that I am illustrating the KISS concept.  I am not suggesting that one or the other system is the better way to go in this particular example.  One would have to be an expert on both systems to make that assessment.

The Navy has had a tendency to try to build highly complex, win-the-war-single-handed systems of late which results in systems that don’t work as advertised.  Consider any of the LCS modules.  They were all far too complex to have a hope of working and now the Navy is scaling them back to much simpler systems that may actually function.  The JSF was intended to be a near-magical platform that would perform astounding feats of aerial dominance – except that the complexity was too great and the program is years overdue and zillions of dollars over budget.  I could go on with examples but you get the idea.

MiG-17 - KISS

You know who had the KISS system mastered?  The Soviets!  Their systems were simple, often mechanical, rugged, easily produced in large quantities, and easy to repair.  Of course, that was partly due to lack of technological expertise as well as a conscious choice.  Still, the lesson of an airplane designed to ingest Foreign Object Debris (FOD) as opposed to the ultra-sensitive US planes is one worth considering.  When combat starts, FOD is going to be a fact of life and it would be nice to have a plane that isn’t affected.

As the Navy moves forward with new designs, especially in this era of budget constraints, they would do well to make KISS the number one design criteria.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hughes Constant of Peacetime Command

We've previously discussed that the Navy has taken on a peacetime mentality, is not prepared for war, and, worst of all, is no longer producing warrior leaders.  In broader terms, we've discussed the personal and administrative failings of Navy leadership. 

I just came across a passage from Capt. Hughes (1) wherein he describes his single constant of peacetime command, to use his phrase.  It is the one characteristic he considers most important - the single responsibility that peacetime commanders should hold most dear.  Here is his thought,

"... I would argue that nothing takes precedence over the peacetime commander's job of finding combat leaders.  Let him do his best to find them, send them to sea, and keep them at sea, longer than the U.S. Navy does now.  Let the first aim of every seagoing commander be to find two officers better than himself and help in every way to prepare them for war.  That done, everything else will follow."
  In this simple passage, Hughes has recognized the purpose of a navy - to fight - and the means to ensure its ability to do so - by finding combat leaders.  So simple in concept and yet so difficult in practice.  As I've stated repeatedly, we are promoting based on the wrong criteria.  We are training based on cost savings and safety rather than combat.  We are manning based on spreadsheets rather than the reality of damage control and combat casualties.  We are designing ships based on ease of construction rather than strength in combat.  And so on ...

There are, undoubtedly, warriors in the Navy but they are not among the leaders.  We must find them.

The Navy still has time to wake up and be about its real duties but the snooze alarm has already gone off and the Navy is in danger of oversleeping. 

(1) "Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat", Capt. Wayne Hughes, USN (Ret.), Naval Institute Press, 2000, ISBN-13: 978-1-55750-392-3, p.224 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Darwinian Naval Evolution

For those whose biology education may be a bit rusty, Charles Darwin was the man credited with developing the theory of evolution.  Summarizing, evolution is the development of an organism in response to survival pressures.  The mechanism of evolution is genetic mutation.  Spontaneous changes in genetic code cause new characteristics in the organism.  Those characteristics which prove beneficial to the organism’s survival are retained and passed on to future generations.  Those that do not aid in survival or actively hinder survival are not passed on because the organism does not live long enough to breed. 

The key point from the above is that successful change is a response to pressure.  For example, a new predator moves into an area and it is highly attracted to red colored birds as a food source.  Over time, some red birds are, instead, born blue due to genetic mutations.  Being blue and less noticeable to the predator, the mutated birds are more likely to survive and eventually all the birds are blue.  That’s a simplistic example but it illustrates the role that pressure plays on evolution.

How does this apply to naval development?  Well, much like an organism, the Navy is constantly changing or mutating and exhibiting new characteristics.  Some of those changes may be beneficial and are propagated to the future fleet and some are not beneficial and are eliminated from the future fleet.  To complete the analogy, we have to recognize what constitutes the pressure on the naval organism that determines which characteristics are good or bad.  Do you see what the pressure is?  It’s combat, of course!

Is the Navy Evolving in the Right Direction?

During WWII, many different ship types, weapons, tactics, etc. were tried and the pressure of combat determined which were beneficial and would be passed on to future ships.  By the end of the evolutionary period (the end of the war), the naval organism had evolved to as near a perfect fit for its environment (WWII) as possible.

Once the war ended the selective pressure of combat ceased.  Naval characteristics continued to change, however, there was no longer anything to measure them against and really determine their usefulness.  Oh sure, for a while the veterans of WWII remembered the lessons and tried their best to evaluate the new characteristics against the pressures of combat that they had experienced.  With time, though, the veterans retired and the Navy was left without even the memory of combat.

So what happened as a result?  One has only to look at the current fleet for a litany of questionable characteristics that have taken hold without the pressure of combat to weed them out.  Consider,

  • the Navy has abandoned armor except for shrapnel protection
  • the stunning decrease in size and number of naval guns
  • the almost debilitating dependency on GPS
  • the unstated assumption that our satellite (and other) communications will not be challenged
  • the extensive use of aluminum (and now wood!) in ship construction despite several examples of the tragic consequences using this material
  • the Navy has forgotten that excess manning is the most important aspect of damage control
  • the Navy has forgotten that men will be killed in combat and excess manning is the only way to replace them during combat
  • the Navy has forgotten that ships will be lost in combat and that speed of construction and affordability are the means to replace ships during war
  • the Navy has forgotten the lessons of redundancy and separation of vital equipment
  • the Navy has forgotten that simplicity ensures operability, reliability, and repairability

The Navy has not been engaged in combat since WWII.  Yes, there have been moments of low level conflict but not combat with a peer.  There has been no pressure on the Navy to force development of combat-desirable characteristics.  As a result, the Navy has lost its way with respect to developing combat-capable warships, effective weapon systems, and effective doctrine and tactics.  Today’s ships, weapons, and tactics are evaluated by criteria other than combat effectiveness.  Instead, affordability, comfort, public relations, social imperatives, politics, political correctness, ease of construction, desire to maintain work for shipyards, etc. have become the primary criteria.  While some of these criteria may be desirable at a secondary level, most have nothing to do with combat effectiveness and yet, absent the pressure of combat, have become the means by which we design, build, and evaluate ships, weapons, and tactics.  Is it any wonder we have problems?  Do you have any doubt that our next war will reveal how poorly the Navy has directed its own evolution?

Consider the example of the Viet Nam war.  That conflict was strictly an aviation combat affair but it revealed the fallacy of the assumption that dogfighting was dead.  It revealed the weakness (bordering on utter failure) of the Sparrow weapon system.  It revealed the weakness of a jet engine in the Phantom that left a giant smoke trail.  It revealed the total lack of effective air combat tactics that was rectified only with the advent of Top Gun.  And so on …

This does not mean that none of the Navy’s developments are successes.  Aegis, for example, may well be an effective weapon system but it has not been proven under the pressure of combat.  It may succeed brilliantly or it may fail miserably.  More likely, it will need further changes to be truly effective – changes which will be revealed only under pressure.

The Navy needs to recognize that they have not been under pressure for quite some time and that many flawed ships, systems, and tactics have taken hold.  Short of intentionally starting a war just to evaluate equipment, what other options are there to subject new characteristics to pressure?  Far and away the best option would be to conduct as realistic training as possible.  We’ve discussed this in previous posts.  This would be the closest thing to combat and would go a long way towards providing the pressure that would allow the Navy to evolve in the proper direction.  Can the USS Darwin pass on its characteristics or will it be an evolutionary dead end?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Weapons Don't Matter!

Firepower without a targeting solution is useless.  That’s obvious but what does it really mean for today’s Navy?

The caveman sighted his target over the end of his spear or club.  This eventually progressed to sighting over the barrel of a gun and, essentially, held until WWII.  WWII, with the advent of aircraft carriers and radar target acquisition allowed attacks on unseen enemies.  This inflection point also allowed for a new phenomenon:  the ability to strike an enemy and remain undetected.  Sure, the possibility existed previously that a sniper, for example, could fire on an enemy while remaining undetected but even in that case the enemy had an equal chance of detecting the sniper (if he could see you, you could see him) and could return blind fire in the general direction of the sniper with some degree of success (suppression, if nothing else).  Somewhat similarly, the submarine was the sniper of the ocean. 

With the advent of radar, especially aircraft mounted radar, it was possible to target and strike an enemy without him knowing where the firing (launch) platforms were.  The development of long range missiles further enhanced this possibility.  A strike could arrive seemingly out of nowhere leaving the enemy with no target upon which to return fire.

While reconnaissance (or intelligence or surveillance or scouting or whatever word you want to use) has historically always been vital, it has taken on an even greater level of importance in the modern radar/missile age.  In fact, given the lethality of modern cruise and ballistic missiles, the old adage about firing effectively first becomes even more critical and the only way to fire first is to have superior reconnaissance ability.  Thus, modern naval warfare is all about recon – the ability to find the enemy and the ability to prevent him from finding you.

Once upon a time, “finding” (or detection) implied the ability to strike.  If the pilot of a WWII dive bomber could find the enemy, he could strike because his weapons were short ranged (the bomb carried on his plane) and the enemy’s position (the targeting solution) could not change significantly before the strike could occur.  However, with long range missiles the time lag between finding the enemy and striking becomes great enough that finding no longer guarantees a targeting solution.

BAMS - More Important Than Weapons

Consider the situation of a carrier group in an A2/AD scenario.  The group is detected at a range of 1000 miles from the launching location, a land based intermediate range ballistic missile, in this case..  Allowing for a bit of command and control delays and an effective speed of, say, Mach 3 (a Mach 5 missile slowly arcs upward  so that the actual distance traveled is greater than the linear distance and the apparent speed is less than the missile’s max), we might imagine the missile arriving anywhere from an hour, optimistically, to several hours or more, realistically.  During that time the carrier, moving at 30 kts, let’s say, would have covered 30 – 200+ miles giving a possible target area (to allow for course changes in the interim) of 2800 sq miles – 125,000+ sq miles – hardly a firing solution!  Remember that the detection window of radars or other sensors carried onboard attacking missiles is extremely small compared to the possible area. 

In these kinds of scenarios it’s not enough to simply detect the enemy.  Detection will have to be maintained until the strike arrives, assuming the strike is capable of mid-course guidance and assuming that the enemy isn’t obliging enough to maintain a constant course and speed.

The modern, long distance battle will be less a question of weapons and more a question of detection and targeting.  The side that “wins” the targeting battle will probably win the actual battle.

What does this mean for the Navy today?  It means that significant resources should be applied to longer range, more effective scouting platforms and methods, in addition to better weapons.  Along this line, the Navy is developing the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV among other efforts. 

While there is little definitive public information about the Navy’s long range detection and targeting capabilities, I don’t believe we currently have the ability to effectively perform this function.  At the moment, that’s not a severe issue because we don’t have long range anti-surface weapons, anyway.  Even with BAMS, I don’t see this being an effective capability in a wartime environment.  BAMS is not particularly stealthy, as far as I know, in either its physical presence or its radiating signature.  In other words, in peacetime it will be effective but in war it will be easily targeted and destroyed or forced so far outside its desired operating area for survival that it will be ineffective.  While it may provide some measure of detection, I don’t think it will be able to generate firing solutions.

Of course, there are other means of targeting such as satellite, submarine, and extreme long range passive detection.  I have no idea whether those are capable of going beyond dectection and achieving firing solutions under wartime conditions.

Suffice it to say that targeting is going to be the challenge for future naval combat.

As an extension of this discussion, one can easily imagine the role that counter-targeting should play in modern combat.  This is more than just stealth – it can include speed, location changes, decoys, deception, etc. and incorporates tactics as well as equipment.  Being detected by the enemy is not necessarily a fatal failing if the enemy can be prevented from achieving a valid firing solution.  I leave it to the reader to ponder this aspect in greater depth.