Friday, June 29, 2012

LCS - ASuW Module

Here’s a statement from the Navy, as reported by Defense Aerospace (1), announcing that the LCS surface warfare (ASuW) module has completed a portion of testing.

“The U.S. Navy completed the first stage of developmental testing for the Littoral Combat Ship surface warfare mission package, June 24.

USS Freedom (LCS 1), the first ship of the class, conducted tests and demonstrations of key mission package components, including the MK 46 gun weapon system, 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boats and an MH-60R helicopter outfitted with a Hellfire missile simulator and .50-caliber and 7.62mm machine guns.

"The capabilities included in the surface warfare mission package will project power and presence in key overseas environments," said Rear Adm. James Murdoch, program executive officer Littoral Combat Ships. "An LCS outfitted with these capabilities, teamed with the ship's inherent speed and maneuverability, will provide a capability in a single platform never before available to the U.S. Navy."
ASuW Module?
There are two interesting points in this note.  The first is the greatly scaled back nature of this version of the ASuW module and what it consists of.  A 30 mm gun, a few machine guns and a helo barely constitutes a self-defense package let alone an offensive swarm-busting mission module.  The helo is the most potent element of the package and we’ve already pointed out the limitations of helos in the littoral combat arena.  Did you note the part about the helo being outfitted with a Hellfire simulator?  It wasn’t even a real armed helo.  Also, a RHIB is part of an ASuW package?  Really?  In case someone attacks in a rowboat?  There’s nothing wrong with a RHIB – it’ll come in handy for boarding and whatnot but to call it an ASuW component is overstating it by a wide margin.  Note that this version doesn’t even include the Griffon missile for the anti-small boat role.  This is a very stripped down module.  Anyone arguing that the LCS is wonderful because magic modules are just around the corner isn’t seeing what’s actually being developed.  And remember, this stripped down module isn’t even ready, yet.  It’s just passed the first stage.  I don’t know how many other stages there are.  And, of course, when the stripped down package is finally approved it will still have to be produced.  The point is that even a stripped down ASuW module is years away, yet.

Let’s be fair, though, other weapons can be added in down the road and that is one of the advantages of the LCS.  This stripped down version can be enhanced over time.  Of course, that doesn’t do anything for the LCSs that are currently in service or will be for the next several years. 

The second interesting point is Adm. Murdoch’s statement that this stripped down package “…will provide a capability in a single platform never before available …”.  Really?  No ship in the Navy has ever had a helo, a RHIB and a few machine guns?  Even the Perry class FFGs had more than this.  There’s nothing wrong with positive spin but there comes a point where you cross the line from spin into outright lies and you lose all credibility. 

(1), “LCS Completes First Stage of Surface Warfare Developmental Testing”, Source: US Navy; issued June 28, 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Shipbuilding Costs - Impact of Low Volume

The Navy is clearly on a fiscally unsustainable path as regards shipbuilding.  They simply can’t afford to keep building ever more expensive ships on what amounts to a fixed budget, at least for the foreseeable future.  But why do ships cost as much as they do?  Why should a destroyer cost $2B-$4B?  Why does a carrier cost $14B, now?

The easy answer that most people give is bureaucratic inefficiency and waste, both government and industrial.  Other reasons include changing requirements during construction (the concurrency that was discussed in a previous post), overuse of MILSPEC, overly complex win-the-war-singlehanded designs, lack of in-house oversight, and so on.  All these reasons undoubtedly contribute to high costs, however, there's one other contributing factor that I believe is far more significant and that is construction volume.  Ships have gotten so expensive that we only build a few each year.  That's not much volume for the shipyards.  So, instead of spreading their overhead costs and profit over many ships, each shipyard has to roll all their costs as well as profit into the one or two ships they build.

Typical profit margins for "stuff" that you buy commercially in everyday life is 10%-20%.  So, 10-20 cents of each dollar you pay goes to profit for the company that makes the item.  That's fair.  What if the company(s) that make soap knew they were only going to sell two bars for the year?  In order to stay in business, they would have to roll all of their production costs, overhead, and profit into those two bars.  Each bar of soap would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Now, that was a bit of a ridiculous example but it illustrates the point.  Shipyards used to build many ships per year during WWII, several per year during the 600-ship fleet days, and only a couple per year now.  And yet, all the same costs and profits (adjusted for inflation, of course) now get rolled into the couple of ships instead of many.

Ford Class,   Low Volume = High Cost

If the shipyard is only going to build one carrier every five years then it has got to roll five years worth of costs and profits into the price.  And guess what?  We're probably going to a seven year cycle for carriers with the next Fords already looking at intentional two year delays.  Those extra two years worth of costs and profits still have to be included or else the shipyard goes out of business.  Instead of a carrier costing five years of shipyard costs and profits, now they have to cost seven years of shipyard costs and profits.  For the Navy and government, a seven year cycle lowers the yearly costs a bit but drastically raises the total costs.

Here’s some official testimony on the subject.  Ms. Eaglen testifying in front of the House Armed Services Committee said,

“I think another thing we need to do is be honest about what stretching out programs does to the costs.  So, for example, take [the] Joint Strike Fighter program as part of the 2013 budget requests.  The overall buy wasn’t cut but a lot of the planes were shifted into the out years.  The Pentagon said this morning that costs [Ms. Eaglen’s verbal emphasis] $6B.  That’s not a savings, that’s a cost.  But it was done in order to meet a budget target of savings.  … unless we’re honest about what stretching out of these programs, including carriers, is really doing to the cost of them by making them actually rise over time …”
We were going to build 15 carriers and now we're only going to build 10.  We were going to build 32 DDG-1000 and now only 3.  We were going to build 55 LCS and now only (?).  We were going to build (?) CG(X) and now none.  And so on.

In effect, the government is subsidizing the shipyards by paying higher than justified prices in order to keep the shipyards in business.  There is an aspect of national strategic/security concerns at work here and that's understandable.  We don't want to find ourselves with no capable shipyards.  However, the act of subsidizing ensures that shipbuilding costs are higher than they should be.

I'm beating this point to death and I'll stop now.  I think this may be one of the more significant reasons for cost increases over and above inflation but I don't have actual numbers to prove it.  Consider, though, the carriers which have had the largest price increases over inflation.  We're stretching fewer buys over longer periods.  Contrast that with the Burkes which have had the most buys over the shortest periods.  I don't think it's coincidence that the Burkes have had the smallest price increases over inflation (possibly no increase).

For what it's worth, here's my ranking of the sources of cost growth in shipbuilding and the relative impact I think they have (in percent).  Just guesses and opinions on my part!

1.  As just discussed, limited volume - 45%
2.  Changing requirements during construction (concurrency) - 30%
3.  Overuse of MILSPEC - 20%
4.  Simple inefficiency - 5%

What can we do?  Build more ships by building smaller, less capable, and therefore less expensive ships.  Also, upgrade existing ships.  Shipyards don't have to just build new ships, they can rebuild existing ones.  Instead of early retiring good ships, let's drastically upgrade them.  It will still be way cheaper than new construction and will provide more work for the yards and more projects for the yard's costs and profits to be spread over.

Monday, June 25, 2012

JSF Air Wing Cost

I just posted some program costs but it's worth pointing out the JSF costs in a bit more detail.  The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF or F-35) procurement is currently set for 2,457 aircraft.  Using the cost of $161M per aircraft, that's a total program cost of $395 billion !  Yikes!

The new LHA-6 that was discussed in a previous post is designed for an air wing of 20 JSF as one possible configuration.  Let's do the math. 

20 JSF x $161M = $3.22 billion

Breaking the Bank?

That's $3.22B for one air wing on one LHA!

Remember that the JSF was the low cost alternative to the "expensive" F-22.  How'd that work out?  This program needs to be cancelled now, before we go and build two thousand of these and break the bank.

The worst part is that the JSF provides only modest overall improvements over the Super Hornet in terms of range and has a smaller weapons capacity (3000 lb vs 17,750 lb for the Hornet) without resorting to external hardpoints which reduce its range and negate its stealth.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Shipbuilding Costs

I'm always interested in program costs and "true" costs are often hard to find.  The LCS program, for example, has widely varying reported costs.  Anyway, here are a few program costs of interest as reported by the Department of Defense in the Selected Acquisition Report (SAR) to Congress.  These costs should, therefore, be as accurate as possible.  They include R&D costs.

CVN-78 Class, Qty=3, Unit Cost = $14B

Virginia Class, Qty=30, Unit Cost = $3.1B

LCS, Qty=55, Unit Cost = $672M (includes govt supplied equipment but not modules;  add another $100-$200M or whatever you think a module might cost to get the total cost)

DDG-1000, Qty=3, Unit Cost = $7.0B

JSF (all versions), Qty=2457, Unit Cost = $161M

The most interesting program, for me, is the LCS.  You'll note that the true cost of the LCS is not the $450M or so that the Navy claims.  That contracted cost is strictly for the hull and very few people realize that.  All the weapons, sensors, electronics, software, etc. are supplied by the government from another cost accounting source.  The Navy was badly stung by the cost overruns on the LCS program;  so bad, in fact, that Congress imposed a maximum cost cap of around $450M.  To meet the Congressional cap and to avoid more bad publicity, the Navy came up with the creative (fraudulent) accounting method of contracting for just the hull so that they could meet the cap and publicly claim that cost was under control.  We see here that the true cost is exactly what the cost for the original two units was.  There has been no savings from serial production as the Navy has tried to claim.

Remember, though, that the cost reported here is still without a module.  The only actual module cost data point is the single module that was delivered for $200M and then was subsequently rejected.  So, the true cost of an LCS is the hull + govt supplied equipment + module, or $672M + module.  Adding in $100M - $200M for a module gives an LCS cost of around $800M - $900M.  Of course, some of the early, stripped down, limited capability modules may cost less. 

Compare this true cost to the original target of $200M for the entire ship and you realize what a stunning cost escalation has occurred.  It's even more amazing when you consider that the current LCS is the stripped down version that has undergone rigorous cost cutting (like removing the corrosion control measures!).  So much for a small, expendable ship. 

The DDG-1000 is also seen to be hideously expensive but around half of that is R&D.  Still counts, though!

Given that the total Navy annual shipbuilding budget is $15B, you can see why we're building fewer and fewer ships.  The costs are simply out of control.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Peacetime Commanders - Prepared for War?

Once in a while I come across a book that warrants some additional attention.  Such a book is Destroyer Captain, Lessons of a First Command by Adm. James Stavridis.  Stavridis is currently Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and Commander, United States European Command.  The book is a summary of a journal he kept when he commanded the Burke class destroyer USS Barry during 1993-1995 and is intended to convey the author’s thoughts on the human aspects of command and leadership.

Ready for War?

This is not going to be a book review but, rather, an examination of one aspect of the Navy as it is revealed through the book and that aspect is the stark difference between peacetime leaders and wartime leaders.  The author reveals far more than he intended and I strongly suspect he has no idea that he has done so.  What the book reveals is a crystal clear description of the development and selection of a peacetime naval leader. 

A recurring theme is the author's complaints about long periods of time spent awake and on the bridge during what he considers high risk operations.  However, the operations aren't particularly risky (my opinion from a perspective of never having done them!) and consist of things like plane guard, UNREP, escort, formation sailing, etc.  What this is telling me is that he's a Captain who has either not trained his crew sufficiently well, does not trust them, or is overwhelmed by the Navy’s zero-defects mentality.

Repeated mention is made of weapon systems and sensors that fail at the start of exercise periods and how the crew has to scramble to get them working in time to complete the exercise.  Shouldn't a warship be verifying the operability of those things on a daily, if not hourly basis?  Sadly, the peacetime Captain has other, higher priority activities.

The lack of tactical training is also noteworthy.  Basically, the author is exposed to tactics during his pre-command workup and then participates in rare exercises thereafter.  This is confirmation that peacetime Captains just don't have the time to become tactical experts.

He describes some of the weapons training exercises and I'm struck by the extremely simplistic, set-piece nature of them.  For instance, he describes the CIWS training which consists of a Lear Jet with a tow target banner flying in straight lines back and forth alongside the ship while the CIWS shoots at the banner.  How's that for realism?  All that does is verify that the CIWS is mechanically functional.

In short, the book describes a perfect peacetime Captain functioning in a peacetime Navy and demonstrates that the Navy is not serious about being prepared for war.  The author didn't intend to convey this point but he very clearly does.  In fact, he confirms this himself without realizing it, with the following statement,

"To some degree we have become a navy that specializes in safety, communicating, inspecting, engineering, administering, retaining, and counseling.  There is too little emphasis on shiphandling, warfighting, battle repairing, and leading. ... we all need to know that the essence of why navies exist is to fight and win at sea.

As an example of how we are a bit out of whack is that if I charted my personal time, I suspect I spend virtually my entire day working the first list and precious little devoted to the latter."

He recognizes the problem but, firmly committed to the path of advancement, does nothing to change it.  I’m not criticizing this individual.  He’s merely a symptom and an example of the overall problem.

Presumably, all of the Navy’s leadership has followed this same model which suggests that the current crop of leaders are totally unprepared for war.  This is hardly a surprise.  Remember that many Captains and Admirals had to be replaced early in WWII until the peacetime leaders were weeded out and fighting men were found.  The disappointing aspect of this is that, given the graphic lesson of WWII, the Navy has forgotten the lesson already.  Navy leadership should be selected on the basis of combat skills not energy efficiency, diversity, retention goals met, public relations skill, paperwork filed, and boxes checked.  The zero-defect philosophy, both personally and professionally, is neutering the Navy’s fighting spirit.  A better set of promotion criteria would be to have a major ship handling accident on one’s record and at least one altercation with a superior thereby at least demonstrating an aggressive attitude!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A2/AD Works Both Ways

There has been much hand-wringing and doom-saying lately about potential Chinese (and Iranian and North Korean, to a lesser extent) anti-access / area denial (AA/AD or A2/AD) capabilities.  Supposedly, our carriers have been rendered mere floating targets (odd, though, isn’t it, that China is desperately trying to build a carrier fleet? – hmmm… someone should think about the deeper meaning of that – but, I digress) and the Navy, in general has no hope of approaching Chinese shores.  It certainly seems as if A2/AD will be the decisive military concept of the future and one that the U.S. has little hope of beating. 

Wouldn’t it be something, though, if somehow the tables could be turned and China had to face A2/AD instead of us?  Then they’d have no hope and it would be their carriers that were floating targets.

[I assume you all recognize the sarcasm in the preceeding paragraphs!]

A2/AD Possibilities

Other than invading neighboring countries overland, and that’s certainly possible, China would have to move out from the mainland in order to gain territory (kind of the point of war, generally) such as Taiwan, Philippines, Spratleys, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, etc.  However, examination of a map shows that all of those areas lend themselves to an effective A2/AD defense.  There are many possible chokepoints and restricted operating areas far from the Chinese mainland that Chinese forces would have to pass through in order to occupy any of those lands.  Taiwan, of course, would be the most difficult to apply an A2/AD defense to but the rest would lend themselves quite nicely to it.  Relatively safe bases further away in Korea, Japan, Philippines, New Guinea, and Indonesia would provide anchor points for an A2/AD defense.  Of course, some diplomatic maneuvering would have to be applied to obtain effective basing in some of those areas but it would be worth the effort.

Certainly, the U.S. must give serious thought to dealing with a Chinese A2/AD system.  And while a war can’t be fought on a purely defensive basis, creating a credible A2/AD system throughout the South and East China Seas could be a good way to prevent a war by making the cost too high relative to the potential gains.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

DDG-1000 Zumwalt - The Wooden Ship

The Navy learned its lesson concerning the use of aluminum in the construction of ships after some disastrous fires.  Of course, they then promptly forgot the lesson and built the LCS out of aluminum.  Now, along comes the DDG-1000 Zumwalt and the lesson may or may not have been relearned.  Instead of aluminum or steel, the DDG-1000 superstructure is being built of a balsa wood core composite.  Yep, wood!  And glue!

The following information was taken from an article posted at (1)

The wood composite material was selected to meet fire-retardance/fire containment requirements, reduce radar and IR signature and weight, and control construction costs.  Apparently, balsa burns more slowly than foam and better insulates the opposite sandwich skin from heat.  The 2-3 inch wood core is sandwiched between layers of carbon fiber and vinyl ester with a stainless steel mesh integrated into the external skin, providing electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding and a lightning ground in the otherwise nonconductive panels.  The wood composite panels are being applied to the upper four levels of the superstructure (the lower three are steel) and the hangar.  Similar materials were used to build the prominent pyramidal mast enclosures on the LPD-17 class.

DDG-1000 Superstructure - Wood and Glue!

One of the noticeable features of the Zumwalt superstructure is the large expanses of flat sides.  This was apparently dictated by a desire to keep tooling and mold costs down. The wood composite panels can be as large as 120 ft long by 60 ft wide.  The performance of the composite construction was verified by the construction of a 1/3-scale model of the deckhouse, which was tested at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station in California’s Mojave desert.

Structural support beams are made from similar composites.

This is fascinating technology.  Of course, it remains to be seen how the wood composite materials will perform in use and in combat.  Can they absorb the continual flexing of a ship at sea that causes the cracks in the aluminum superstructures of the LCS and Ticonderoga classes?  Will they provide any measure of protection from shrapnel?  Most resins produce toxic fumes when burned – will this be a manageable problem?  Will the composites provide sufficient electromagnetic transparency for the radars – there are reports that suggest that the LPD-17 class enclosed masts have such problems.  Can repairs and maintenance be performed at sea?

Whether it turns out to be a success or bust, the DDG-1000 is going to be a very interesting ship to watch over the next several years.

(1), DDG-1000 Zumwalt: Stealth warship - U.S. Navy navigates radar transparency, cost and weight challenges with composite superstructure design, Michael R. LeGault, 1/18/2010, Source: Composites Technology

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Concurrency - Building Without a Design!

The Navy has its share of problems.  Some, such as budget limitations, are imposed from the outside and are largely outside the Navy’s control.  Others are self-inflicted such as maintenance, manning, and training.

One of worst self-inflicted problems is that of concurrency.  This is a relatively new problem and is the practice of trying to build a ship or aircraft while also designing it at the same time.  For most of us, this is an instant head-scratcher which simply defies understanding.  Almost instinctively, we know that you must have a finished design prior to building.  Otherwise, how do you know what to build?  The short answer is that you don’t.  What happens is that you wind up having to rebuild sections of the ship/plane as the design changes.

For anyone who’s unsure what I’m describing, consider the example of building a car without a design.  You’re pretty sure there’s some basic things you need so you figure to get a leg up by starting the construction.  Unfortunately, part way through you decide that you want to place the engine in the rear instead of the front so you have to tear out the rear seats, re-design the back end to support the engine, reroute the various gas and electrical lines and then re-install the removed seats somewhere else.  In essence, you’ll wind up building the car two or three times over.  An expensive proposition, right?

Well,  that’s exactly what the Navy has been doing with the LCS, JSF (F-35), LPD-17, DDG-1000, and so forth.  The results of this approach have been nothing short of disastrous.

Anybody Know Where This Piece Goes?

The LCS has tripled in price with most of that increase due to the changing design.  Indeed, the changes still continue.  Here are some comments from the CRS April 2012 report on the LCS,

“The Navy started construction of LCS 1 and 2 without a stable design and has had to incorporate design and production changes into follow-on seaframes. When the LCS 1 and 2 construction contracts were awarded, the basic and functional design of each seaframe were respectively only 20 percent and 15 percent complete.” (2)

Designs that were only 20% and 15% complete at the start of construction?  So, that’s what, the keel that was designed and that’s about it?

Concurrency is not just a ship phenomenon.  The JSF suffers from concurrency, as well.  From the recent GAO report, comes this summary statement,

“Most of the instability in the program has been and continues to be the result of highly concurrent development, testing, and production activities.    In addition to contract overruns, concurrency costs of at least $373 million have been incurred on production aircraft to correct deficiencies found in testing. The manufacturing process is still absorbing higher than expected number of engineering changes resulting from flight testing, changes which are expected to persist at elevated levels into 2019, making it difficult to achieve efficient production rates. More design and manufacturing changes are expected as testing continues, bringing risks for more contract overruns and concurrency costs. Even with the substantial reductions in near-term production quantities, DOD still plans to procure 365 aircraft for $69 billion before developmental flight tests are completed.” (1)
This says that 365 aircraft will be purchased before testing has been completed to identify what changes are needed in the final design.  All 365 aircraft will need to be reworked to incorporate the changes and that will cost additional money to remove existing equipment and then add the new or modified equipment. 

So, we see that the practice of concurrency results in triple payments;  one, to build it the first time, two, to remove installed equipment to accommodate the changes, and three, installation of the new or modified equipment.  Can you think of a less efficient way to build something?  And it shows!  The cost of the LCS, LPD, JSF, etc. have ballooned beyond belief.  At what point and with what twisted logic did this seem like a good idea to someone in the Navy???

(1)   Government Accountability Office (GAO), “Joint Strike Fighter, Restructuring Added Resources and Reduced Risk, but Concurrency Is Still a Major Concern”, Statement of Michael J. Sullivan, Director Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, GAO-12-525T

(2)   Congressional Research Services (CRS), “Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress”, Ronald O'Rourke, April 6, 2012

Friday, June 15, 2012

Meggitt Hammerhead - Live Target Training

Continuing our mini-theme of training, one of the things I mentioned in a previous post was the use of unmanned small craft for use as drones in live fire exercises.  Well,  this is the small craft I had in mind – the Meggitt Hammerhead.

Meggitt Hammerhead - Unmanned Expendable Drone
The Hammerhead is a small, remote controlled, unmanned boat capable of speeds up to 40 kts.  These craft are designed to be expended in exercises thus providing as realistic training as possible.  Data collection and telemetry, including Miss Distance Indication (MDI) scoring, video telemetry, and radar augmentation allows the exercise to be recorded for later review.  Boats can be transported by ship and deployed as needed or launched from land and proceed to the training area in a unique “follow me” mode.

Here's a YouTube video of the Hammerhead in action.

One notable feature is that the boats can be operated in a swarm.  In a public demonstration, Meggitt operated 16 Hammerheads (Hammerhead USV-T) in a swarm over a seven hour period at the Esquimault Canadian Navy Base on 18-May-2010.  A company spokesman indicated that up to 40 boats can be operated at a time.

For the U.S. Navy, Hammerheads, individually or in a swarm, would be an ideal training exercise especially for the LCS which was designed for exactly this scenario.  The unmanned boats would allow the Navy to validate the LCS design and develop anti-swarm tactics under as realistic conditions as possible.

Hammerhead Swarm Trainer

Meggitt offers a range of surface and aerial training targets and is the world’s largest producer of unmanned target vehicles.  While declining to provide specifics of which Navies they’ve sold to and how many, a spokesman noted that over 200 Hammerheads have been sold.  The cost is comparable to a low-cost BMW automobile.

Disclaimer:  I have no connection whatsoever with Meggitt Training Systems. 

Meggitt Training Systems – Canada
Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Realistic Training

Co-incidentally, the current June 2012 issue of Proceedings has an article (1) on submarine training which contains some excellent observations regarding training in general.

Discussing the perception that pre-WWII and early WWII submarine skippers lacked courage, the author contends that,

"... there was never a systemic lack of courage among World War II submarine COs.  Any perception to the contrary stems from the submarine force having taught them to be cautious, punishing them for aggressive or innovative behavior, and limiting their training."
The author is pointing out that the timidity exhibited by early commanders was a function of their peacetime training which emphasized safety and conformity.  The author addresses today's situation,

"The need to train under realistic wartime conditions while a nation is not in conflict is perhaps the greatest peacetime challenge of any armed service.  This is even more evident in a liberal democracy that views its sailors as citizen-soldiers and therefore will not tolerate casualties in training accidents."

The Price of Success in War

The U.S. tends to view its armed forces as a mere extension of its society, seeking to impose standards of safety on an institution whose very function and organization is at odds with that society.  The armed forces are based on non-democratic (authoritarian chain of command) and violent functions.  The rest of this discussion is a topic for another time.  The point here is that, unlike our misguided quest for ultimate safety within our society, the military is, by its very definition, a high risk occupation and a significant degree of risk must be accepted during peacetime in order to minimize the risk in wartime.

Among other recommendations from the author comes this,

"... attack-center training time ... should occasionally challenge  students with wartime scenarios in which they are forced to prioritize mission accomplishment over safety of ship ..."
Peacetime training must be made as realistic as possible.  It's the only way to succeed in war.  Safety should support training, not preempt it.

Whether it's a plane flying mere feet above the ground or a missile exercise that isn't scripted, the Navy must accept a greater degree of risk and establish more meaningful training exercises.  Additionally, we, as a society, must accept the resulting equipment damage and injuries that accompany more realistic training.  Tragic as training accidents are, they are the price of success in war.

For anyone who thinks the Navy training is adequate, recall the Vincennes incident where a highly trained CIC crew made just about every mistake imaginable when confronted with a real situation.

(1) U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Rekindling the Killer Instinct, LCdr. Brian McGuirk, June 2010

Monday, June 11, 2012

Training - Force Multiplier

A force-multiplier is something that by its existence, use, or actions enhances the effectiveness of other things.  Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) is a force-multiplier in that it enhances the AAW abilities of all the individual units enabling them to achieve levels of performance that they could not, on their own.  It’s commendable that the Navy looks for and attempts to implement force-multipliers.  However, there’s one extremely potent force-multiplier that is readily available to the Navy, can be instantly implemented, costs nothing on a relative basis, would produce staggering benefits and yet is not being used to advantage.  Training!

Did Anyone Learn Anything?
Oh come on, now, the Navy trains constantly, you’re thinking.  You’re right.  However, there’s useful, effective, and realistic training that challenges the participants, stresses the equipment, simulates realistic scenarios, reveals systemic, procedural, and personnel weaknesses, and forces the participants to confront new situations, develop new tactics, and hone warfighting skills …  and then there’s Navy training – scripted, simplistic, unrealistic, unimaginative, and only marginally useful.

That can’t be the state of training in the Navy!  Well, before I go any further let me state that I do not, by any means, have comprehensive knowledge of every Navy training program and exercise and I have no doubt that some training programs are useful.  However, having spoken to many current and former sailors and read many books and articles, it is clear that many, probably most, training programs fall well short of being force-multipliers.

I won’t belabor the need for training - it should be self-evident.  I will offer a brief  glimpse of the importance accorded training by the Navy’s centerpiece AirSea Battle concept.  From the multi-service ASB office, here are a few quotes (1),

“At its core, ASB seeks … realistic, shared training, …”

“Such forces … will also be operationally useful at the outset of hostilities, without delays for buildups and extensive mission rehearsal.”

“This change has begun in the departments of the Navy and Air Force; the CNO and CSAF have written: ‘The Air-Sea Battle operational concept will guide our efforts to train and prepare air and naval forces for combat. We already train together and share joint doctrine. Under Air-Sea Battle, we will take ‘jointness’ to a new level, working together to establish more integrated exercises against more realistic threats.’”

At least in writing, the Navy recognizes the importance of realistic training and by implication that there are some shortcomings in current training programs.

The evidence for shortcomings is overwhelming.  Personal anecdotes abound.  Articles have been written in Proceedings.  Books describe the failings of current training.  The examples are plentiful enough that I won’t bother citing a long list of references.  Instead, here’s a single example from no less than Admiral James Stavridis, taken from his book, "Destroyer Captain - Lessons of a First Command".  In it he says,

"I hate missile exercises.  Because of the inordinate safety concerns, they have become the very worst of Kabuki theater, scripted to the finest point, overcommunicated, and essentially meaningless."

"To some degree we have become a navy that specializes in safety, communicating, inspecting, engineering, administering, retaining, and counseling.  There is too little emphasis on shiphandling, warfighting, battle repairing, and leading. ... we all need to know that the essence of why navies exist is to fight and win at sea.

As an example of how we are a bit out of whack is that if I charted my personal time, I suspect I spend virtually my entire day working the first list and precious little devoted to the latter."
Not only is he unhappy with the quality of training, he notes how little time is spent doing it.

He goes on to describe some of the weapons training exercises and I'm struck by the extremely simplistic, set-piece nature of them.  For instance, he describes the CIWS training which consists of a Lear Jet with a tow target banner flying in straight lines back and forth alongside the ship while the CIWS shoots at the banner.  How's that for realism?  All that does is verify that the CIWS is mechanically functional.

Those are quotes and observations from the horse's mouth.

Now, here’s the really ironic and unfortunate part. Yes, our training is lacking, at the moment. But, it could be drastically improved with no capital expenditure, whatsoever, by simply providing realistic training.  Instead of scripted exercises, use free form activities.  Train to operate sensors in a heavy jamming environment.  Exercise ship movements without the aid of GPS signals (USS Port Royal grounded because the GPS was non-functional and navigation lost positional awareness).  And so on …

A good training exercise would be to place a ship in an open patch of water, turn off GPS, subject the ship to continuous jamming and for several straight days “attack” the ship from planes, ships, small craft, and subs at irregular intervals at any time of day.  Want to see how well a Captain has trained his ship?  That’ll do it.  When the entire ship’s company has to be involved rather than just the “A” team, it will quickly become apparent where the training shortfalls are.  It will also become obvious which equipment works in a wartime scenario and which doesn’t.  Let the crew and command see scenarios they’ve never seen before.
Iranian Small Craft - Are We Training for This?

Or what about sending a swarm of sixteen small craft drones (yes, they exist and I’ll post a piece on them shortly) at a ship (the LCS, that littoral dominating war machine, comes to mind) and see what happens.  Let the ship try to sink them for real. 

Training is a force multiplier, in the truest sense. Being able to make maximum use of existing equipment is a cheap, easy way to greatly increase preparedness and seemingly multiply the effectiveness of our weapon systems. We don’t need to always buy new equipment;  we can get much more out of what we have with proper training.  It's just a matter of wanting to do it.

The Navy’s job is to fight and, when not fighting, train to fight.  If we’re not doing the later, we won’t be prepared for the former.  Unfortunately, Navy leadership has other priorities and training, along with maintenance, manning, and a host of other things, is suffering at the altar of new construction. 

(1) Armed Forces Journal, AirSea Battle: Clearing the Fog, DuPree & Thomas,

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ship Construction and Naval Armor

One of the disappointing trends in modern ship construction has been the steady decrease in armor and high strength steel in the construction of ship hulls thus rendering the ships more susceptible to damage.  This trend has culminated in the thin aluminum construction of the LCS, among other examples.  Just to put things in historical perspective, WWII ships were built to absorb a lot of damage and examples of that capability abound.  Those ships were built much tougher than today’s ships with both stronger and thicker steel used.

Let’s look at a specific example from the modern U.S. Navy – the bombing of the USS Cole.  The expert commentary related to the photos below come from GM1(EXW) David Walsh.

"Most people don't realize it, but the damage done to the USS Cole shows the stunning difference between HY-80 and High Strength Steel (HSS) which is slightly stonger than mild shipbuilding steel.  Take a look below at the horizontal weld line that runs the length of the hull about halfway between the rail and the water.  You can see where the line going all the way across practically draws the top of the hole.  The area above the weld is called a "strake" and that is one of the strengthening members for the hull made out of HY-80.  The rest of the hull below the weld line is simply made out of HSS."

HY-80 Strake Defines the Upper Bound of the Damage

"In this next photo, at the top along the weld line, you can see that the HY-80 stopped the upward expansion of the blast and damage.  The HSS literally tore away from the weld at the HY-80:"

The HSS Tore Away at the Weld

"You can see here how much of her underside was destroyed as well.  If that HY-80 strake had not been there it is likely that a chunk would have been carved out of her entire side."

Extensive Damage to the HSS Plating

Aside from the obvious weight and cost savings, I don’t really know why the Navy has gotten away from building better armored ships capable of taking damage and continuing to fight.  For multi-billion dollar ships, It certainly seems like a penny-wise and pound-foolish decision. 

On a related note, at one point, the Navy learned the lesson about the dangers and drawbacks of aluminum structures but has recently forgotten the lesson with the return to the all or mostly aluminum LCS versions.

Clearly, the Navy could build much tougher and better protected warships but has chosen to put ships and crew at greater risk.  As the Cole bombing illustrates, the price has already been paid and will continue so.  On a positive note, some documents indicate that the Navy is looking into constructing the Burke Flt III out HY-80 and HY-100 which would offer significant survivability improvements.

Thanks to GM1(EXW) David Walsh!