Friday, July 27, 2012

CBO Shipbuilding Analysis Report

The Congressional Budget Office has published its analysis of the Navy’s current shipbuilding plan.  It’s worth noting several points from the report. 

First, the Navy’s cost estimates are, charitably, incompetent or, more realistically, intentionally misleading, bordering on fraudulent.  The Navy’s estimate is that it will build 268 ships over the next 30 years at an average yearly cost of $16.8B.  CBO estimates the yearly required cost will be $20.0B and even suggests that their estimates may be too low.  By comparison, the current actual yearly cost is $14.9B.  Does anyone believe that figure is going up in the foreseeable future, given the budget problems, looming cuts, and possible sequestration?

Setting aside the incredible unlikelihood of budget increases, does the Navy’s history of cost estimating inspire any confidence?  The LCS, LPD-17, CVN-78, Virginia, etc. all wound up costing 30% - 100% more than the Navy’s estimates.  So, it would seem that CBO’s estimates are likely to closer to reality than the Navy’s. 

300 Ship Fleet?  Not Likely!

Now, the interesting part of this cost estimating is that the Navy knows its own history of estimating failures and yet continues to insist on using the same methods it always has.  That’s either incompetent or fraudulent.  You decide for yourself.

Moving on, the Navy plans to build 268 ships to achieve a 300+ fleet.  However, using the CBO’s estimate of the average cost per ship of $2.2B, the build rate for new ships under the current budget is only 6.7 ships per year which gives a total of 203 over the 30 year period as opposed to the Navy’s goal of 268 ships.  The more realistic CBO numbers show that the Navy is not going come anywhere near a 300 ship fleet.  To be fair, no one knows what the yearly shipbuilding budget will be ten or twenty years from now.  It may be higher than now but, then again, it may well be smaller.  I’m guessing that it will remain unchanged for the next several years.

Speaking of achieving a 300+ ship fleet, CBO notes that the Navy is assuming that the Burke class destroyers will have a service life of 40 years even though no previous destroyer class has even come close to that.  If they have a more realistic life of 25-30 years, the 300+ ship fleet becomes even more of a fantasy.  And, of course, the Navy is now counting the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) and ocean surveillance ships as part of the fleet.  Throw in the absolutely toothless LCS which will make up a quarter of the fleet and the fleet numbers may look better on paper but it illustrates how much less capable the future fleet will be.

Finally, CBO notes that the Navy’s cost estimates fail to include the costs for post-delivery fitting out, nuclear refuels, and various other things that come from the new construction account.  These push the actual construction costs up by about $2B per year which means the yearly construction budgets should actually be $18.8B (Navy) and $21.9B (CBO) which are even less likely to be achieved.

The CBO report makes it pretty clear that the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan is just a fantasy of wishful thinking rather than a realistic plan.  To me, it looks like a political ploy to enable the current administration to be able to claim that they are maintaining the fleet even though it is actually shrinking.  The really sad part is that the uniformed Navy leadership is going along with this.

(1) Congressional Budget Office (CBO) – An Analysis of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2013 Shipbuilding Plan, July 2012, Pub. No. 4456

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Unmanned Carrier Aircraft (UCLASS)

The Navy is working to develop a carrier based, unmanned strike aircraft.  This Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft would provide long range, stealthy strike capability for use in the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) scenario.

Before I go any further, let me say this up front - I'm not against UCLASS, at all.  Potentially, they could be very useful.  However, the basic concept as applied to the Chinese A2/AD scenario has some serious challenges to overcome that deserve to be discussed in the face of the Navy’s typical rush to acquisition.  Just as with “littoral” and “AirSea Battle”, I fear that the Navy is latching onto “UCLASS” as another acquisition justification buzzword without adequately exploring the underlying concept. 

UCLASS - The Right Concept?

Let’s take a closer look at the underlying concept.  The Chinese A2/AD zone is visualized as being about 1000 nm out from the mainland.  So, assuming a launch from outside the zone against targets on or deep inside the mainland, an aircraft would need to be able to fly 1000-1500 nm.  Of course, the range of the weapon carried by the aircraft could extend the effective striking range of the UCLASS.  During the course of penetration, the UCLASS would have to pass through many radar zones, hundreds of patrolling aircraft, and hundreds of ground AAA and SAM installations. 

So, we can see that a UCLASS needs extraordinary range, something on the order of a combat radius of 1000-1500 nm.  It will also need highly effective stealth and/or great speed to avoid or outrun threats.  Finally, it would be nice if the payload were greater than one or two weapons.  Having flown many hundreds of miles and evaded hundreds of threats it would be silly to only be able to strike one or two targets.  The risk/reward balance just isn’t there without a much greater payload.  And, lest we’ve forgotten, the UCLASS has to be small enough to fit on a carrier.

The Navy’s current prototype UCLASS is the X-47B Pegasus.  Here’s some of the relevant specifications.

Range (one way) – 2100 nm
Combat Radius (estimated) – 500 nm
Weapons Load – 4500 lb
Speed – subsonic
Cruise – 0.45 mach
Wingspan – 62 ft (31 ft folded)

Comparing the X-47B specs to our desired performance, we can see that the prototype’s combat radius is half to one third of that needed.  Remember, that the A2/AD zone is, essentially, all water.  The targets of interest, aside from the occasional ship, are all on the mainland.  Penetrating half way accomplishes nothing.  Of course, this is a prototype so the range can be increased, right?  Well, yes, but longer range means bigger fuel storage which means a bigger, heavier aircraft and the bigger it is, the harder it’s going to be to operate and fit on a carrier.  The prototype is already larger than an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (wingspan = 44 ft).  The largest aircraft currently on carriers is the E-2 Hawkeye with a wingspan of 80 ft. 

You may be observing that the range is 2100 nm and thinking that’s a 1050 nm round trip.  That should be plenty of range, right?  You’d be correct except that range is non-combat loaded and assumes a straight line course at the most economical speed and altitude profile.  Adding roundabout waypoints to avoid high threat areas, adding a combat weapons load, and performing evasive or high speed avoidance maneuvers seriously cuts into the range, hence, the estimate of a 500 nm combat radius.  If you don’t believe this, go check out the Hornet’s (or any plane’s) range versus combat radius figures.

Speed is the next obvious deficiency.  A subsonic aircraft (only about 350 kts cruising speed) is going to have a hard time penetrating a thousand mile A2/AD zone and escaping threats along the way.  Let’s be blunt – it can’t.  Unfortunately, there’s a Catch-22 at work, here.  The only way to make the aircraft faster is to increase fuel consumption which decreases the combat radius which leads us right back to having to make a significantly bigger aircraft to carry much more fuel.

Finally, weapons load is extremely light.  The current F/A-18E/F has a weapons capacity of 17,500 lbs which is way bigger than the X-47B’s 4500 lbs.  Again, the only way to increase the payload is to make the aircraft bigger. 

Do you see the trend, here?  The only way to meet the notional requirements for a useful UCLASS is to make it much bigger.  I guess there’s a reason why the B-1 and B-2 deep penetration bombers are so big.

Of course, bigger creates its own set of problems.  The bigger the aircraft, the easier it is to detect.  The bigger the aircraft, the fewer can fit on a carrier.  The bigger the aircraft, the more expensive it is.

Have we left any issues out?  Yes, we have!  How about remote control communications?  Our ability to control UAVs at any distance is currently suspect and at the 1000 + nm ranges that a UCLASS would have to operate, maintaining reliable control communications becomes highly problematic.  In a war, communications satellites and relay nodes will likely be destroyed and heavy jamming will be the norm.  A successful UCLASS will have to overcome those communication challenges.

Closely related to communications is the issue of location awareness.  How will the UCLASS know where it is if GPS satellites go down at the start of conflict as everyone assumes they will?  To be fair, this problem is not unique to the UCLASS but affects every weapon and platform in the US military.  Still, there’s no point penetrating an A2/AD zone if you don’t know precisely where you are. 

I could go on but this serves to illustrate that the basic concept of a long range UCLASS is suspect under the current operating concept and technological capabilities.  A viable UCLASS would need closer to 2000 nm combat radius, much greater stealth or much greater speed to avoid detection/destruction, larger weapons carrying capacity, and reliable control communications over thousands of miles.

Can the Navy get from the initial data point of the X-47B to the desired aircraft?  Possibly, though the challenges are great.  The purpose of this discussion is to point out the magnitude of the challenges and suggest that the Navy not leap into this without addressing the problems and thinking them through.  Failure to do so is what led to the LCS and no one wants to see the flying version of the LCS!

Monday, July 23, 2012

JSF Fun Facts

Just for fun, I’ve summarized a few data points from GAO’s report (1); numbers that taken together give a sort of snapshot of the behemoth program.  I’ll refrain from any analysis and let the numbers speak for themselves.

2,457: The total number of F-35s the U.S. government wants to develop and acquire through 2037. That is down from the initial program goal, in 2001, of 2,866 aircraft.

$395.7 billion: The latest estimate for the total cost to develop and buy the F-35. That’s up from an estimate of $278.5 billion in the 2007 baseline and up from the original program estimate of $233 billion in 2001.

$1 billion: The cost overruns on the first four annual procurement contracts; taxpayers’ share of that is about $672 million. That adds about $11 million to the price of each of the 63 total aircraft under contract.

$373 million: Additional costs of “concurrency” – modifications to aircraft DoD has already bought that were made necessary by discoveries in testing that came after they were built.

365: The number of F-35 the Pentagon plans to buy (for about $69 billion) before the program’s developmental flight tests are finished.

179: The number of aircraft the Pentagon will delay through fiscal 2017 to reduce “concurrency” risks. Here’s what GAO said about that:

“This marked the third time in as many years that near-term procurement quantities had been reduced. Combined with other changes since the 2007 revised baseline, total JSF procurement quantity has been reduced by 410 aircraft through fiscal year 2017. Since the department still plans to eventually acquire the full complement of U.S. aircraft—2,443 production jets—the procurement costs, fielding schedules, and support requirements for the deferred aircraft will be incurred in future years beyond 2017. The new plan also stretches the period of planned procurement another two years to 2037.”

“With the latest reduction, the program now plans to procure a total of 365 aircraft through 2017, about one-fourth of the 1,591 aircraft expected in the 2002 plan.”

$35,200: The Air Force’s target cost per flight hour for its F-35A. That’s compared to about $22,500 per flight hour for an F-16 today – though program and Pentagon officials say it’s apples-and-oranges trying to compare F-35 costs to “legacy” aircraft.

6: Number of primary test objectives the F-35 completed in 2011, out of 11.

972: Number of test flights F-35s completed in 2011 – more than double that of the year before. The program completed has more than 21 percent of its total 60,000 planned test points.

24 million: Lines of code “necessary for the JSF’s capability,” GAO said; that includes 9.5 million aboard the aircraft itself. The F-35 needs three times as many lines of software code as the F-22 and six times as many as the F/A-18E and F Super Hornet.

$80 million: The cost to bring the F-35’s initial pilot helmet into spec while at the same time developing “a second, less capable helmet” that crews can use as a stopgap. Whichever helmet ends up in use, it won’t be “integrated into the baseline aircraft” until 2014 or later, “increasing the risks of a major system redesign.”

(1) GAO: Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, Statement of Michael J. Sullivan, Director Acquisition and Sourcing Management, GAO-12-525T, March 20, 2012

Friday, July 20, 2012

CNO's Tenets - Walking or Just Talking?

CNO Greenert has proudly established his three tenets, as he calls them, for the Navy.  In order, they are:

Warfighting First
Operate Forward
Be Ready

Hmm … Not very catchy as slogans go but that’s okay.  If those principles actually guide the Navy, the Navy would be fairly well served.  So, the question becomes does CNO walk it or just talk it?

CNO - Walking or Talking?

Warfighting First.  This certainly seems like an incredibly obvious tenet for a military organization, doesn’t it?  I’ll give CNO full marks and credit for making it first on his list.  He got that part right.  Warfighting, in the absence of an active war, as now, means being fully prepared for war at all times.  Is the Navy fully prepared, right now?  Not even close!  INSURV failures are so frequent that the Navy has classified the reports in order to avoid embarrassment.  Conversations with serving techs reveal chronic spare parts shortages and not just for non-essential equipment.  Many Aegis parts are in short supply and Aegis is the backbone of the Navy.  If there was any system that ought to be well supplied, that’s it, and yet it’s not.  Ship maintenance has gotten so bad that the Navy commissioned special investigations.  The Aegis cruiser USS Port Royal pulled out of a drydock period and promptly ran aground due, in large part, to unfinished maintenance and parts shortages.  Manning is insufficient to properly maintain and operate equipment let alone engage in combat.  Aircraft are running through their arrested landing limits and flight hours at rates that are causing shortages in the squadrons.  Training quality has been steadily reduced.  New ships are being accepted in woefully incomplete states.  An entire class, the LPD-17, is deemed unsuitable for its designed purpose.  Another entire class, the LCS, has no purpose and less capability. 

Warfighting First also refers to priorities.  What should the Navy be spending its time and budget on?  According to this tenet, it should be all about warfighting.  The budget should be directed towards warfighting.  Personnel time should be devoted to preparing for war by high quality, realistic training.  Fleet activities should be focused on one thing only – warfighting.  In reality, the Navy is far more focused on monitoring drinking, conducting sensitivity training, investigating sexual harassment, promoting diversity, pursuing co-ed ships, and providing humanitarian assistance.  None of these activities promote warfighting.  One, in particular, should be totally dropped from the Navy’s mission list and that is humanitarian assistance.  While it sounds harsh, in a time of severely limited budgets and overworked ships, aircraft, and personnel, this is a mission that does not further the Navy’s warfighting readiness.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Budget funds that could go towards maintenance are being used to conduct humanitarian missions.  Entire carrier or amphibious groups are being devoted to it at enormous daily operating cost.  Precious airframe flight hours are being expended on food distribution.  Thousands of man-hours are being used to distribute supplies instead of training for war.  The Navy simply can’t afford to conduct humanitarian assistance at this time.  In a time of limited budgets and resources, warfighting has to be the priority, just as CNO says but fails to abide by. 

The litany of problems can go on but this illustrates the current state of readiness of the Navy.  The Navy is as unprepared for war as I’ve seen it in my lifetime.

Operate Forward.  This tenet is less obvious in intent.  I don’t know what CNO means by this but I’ll take it at face value.  He’s referring to forward presence, presumably.  Show the flag, gunboat diplomacy, policeman on the corner – that type of thing.  For a nation with a sense of global responsibility as well as global interests, this too seems obvious.  This tenet comes down to two things:  numbers and, to a somewhat lesser extent, quality.  Forward presence can only be achieved by having a sufficient number of ships forward deployed and that requires a critical number of ships.  To a lesser extent, the quality of the ships forward deployed matters.  For instance, a few forward deployed LCSs (Singapore) aren’t going to provide nearly the results that a carrier group would.  No foreign country, friend or enemy, respects or fears an LCS.  Honestly, not knowing what ships are deployed where, I can’t really evaluate CNO’s success in implementing this one.  All I can do is note the trend towards a smaller fleet and a less powerful and impressive one and be concerned that we’re not on a good path moving forward.

USS Port Royal - Ready for War?

Be Ready.  Again, this seems obvious and is strictly the readiness aspect of the fleet and to that extent it overlaps some of the factors and concerns listed above in the Warfighting First section.  Readiness is at a low point with systemic problems in manning, maintenance, parts, and training.  Training, in particular is suffering badly.  We’ve previously discussed various aspects of training and, in particular, realistic training.  Where are the exercises against actual swarms of small craft (Meggitt Hammerheads)?  Readiness also deals with doctrine and the Navy is badly lacking in this area.  Doctrine is a set of pre-determined behaviors and responses to tactical scenarios.  When a missile boat swarm attack is coming what will each ship do?  Every Captain should know what the other Captains will do without having to waste time communicating.  It’s analogous to a well trained athletic team where each player knows what the other players will do at a any given moment.  This point has been discussed on the USNI blog, among others, and the overwhelming consensus is that the Navy is badly lacking a coherent doctrine.  Of course, doctrine must be paired with realistic training to be effective and the Navy is deficient in both.  So, it would appear that the CNO’s Be Ready tenet is not being put into practice.

In summary, then, CNO Greenert is saying the right things but the Navy, under his leadership, is failing to act on those things.  CNO is talking it but not walking it.  This is a failure of leadership at a moment when the Navy desperately needs strong leaders.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Navy's Death Spiral

Do you know what a death spiral is?  It’s when an organization is locked into a path leading to collapse and each action it takes in an attempt to deal with the situation only makes the situation worse.

Here’s an example.  My business is losing money so I cut costs across the board.  Unfortunately, the reduced salesman travel expenses and smaller advertising budget results in fewer sales so I lose more money which means I have to make more cost cuts which means still fewer sales which means even more cost cuts which means …  Eventually, I’m bankrupt.  I was caught in a death spiral.

The Navy is firmly caught in a death spiral and seems blissfully unaware of it.

The fleet is shrinking faster than new construction can be funded and built.  So, the Navy has to send ships on longer deployments to compensate for having too few ships.  But that wears out the ships even faster and results in more premature retirements and the fleet shrinks further which means the remaining ships have to deploy longer and with shorter maintenance availabilities and so their wear is accelerated even more which means the fleet gets smaller …

Navy - Caught in a Death Spiral?

Cost enters into this, too.  The Navy wants to build more new ships to increase fleet size but they’re on essentially a fixed budget.  So, they early retire ships to free up funds for new construction.  Unfortunately, the new ships are so expensive that fewer ships are being built than are being retired and so the fleet shrinks.  The Navy’s solution?  More early decommissionings and slashed maintenance to fund new ships but that just results in ships wearing out faster and the fleet shrinking even more …

The death spiral also applies to Navy aircraft.  Aircraft only have a certain number of allowable arrested landings and flight hours before they have to be retired.  Because of the last decade of higher than expected op tempos, aircraft are being used up faster than anticipated resulting in aircraft shortages.  As a result, returning air wings are cross decking aircraft to deploying air wings to cover shortages.  However, this simply leads to accelerated landing rates and flight hours which causes more shortages.   

Here’s some of the evidence for what I’m describing.  From a Navy Times article (1)

"The Navy’s top officer says he’s not concerned by the fleet’s operational pace, even though ship deployments are becoming more frequent and longer, stretching out to what officials have described as the new norm of seven months and beyond."

"Over the next two years, 11 ships are scheduled for eight-month deployments — a length once limited to crises and surges — a top personnel official said in February."

"Meanwhile, short-notice deployments are cropping up. The Carl Vinson carrier strike group, for example, deployed in late November, only 5½ months after returning from a 6½-month cruise."
The Navy's policy is for ships to have two months undeployed for every month deployed so as to allow time for crew rest, ship maintenance, and training.  The example of Vinson shows a ratio of less than one as opposed to the desired two.  Maintenance and training are being shorted.  Down the road, when Vinson is early retired due to being in poor physical shape, everyone will wonder how that came to be.  Well, this is how.  This is the definition of a death spiral.  We don't have enough ships so we skip maintenance but skipping maintenance and more frequent deployments means the ships wear out sooner which means we have even fewer ships which means we have to skip more maintenance and deploy even more often which means ...

Not enough evidence for you?  It was just announced that USS Stennis would deploy four months early to cover the carrier gap in the Mid East.  That’s a lot of maintenance and training time lost.  The death spiral is wearing out even (or especially!) our carriers.

But, on the plus side, CNO Greenert isn't concerned!  We're walking off the cliff with smiles on our faces!

Can the death spiral be stopped and, if so, how?

Obviously, the first step is for the Navy to recognize that it’s in a death spiral.  Unfortunately, to all outward appearances the Navy seems unaware of the phenomenon and you can’t fix what you can’t see.  Perhaps the Navy is aware of the problem privately but, if so, none of their public actions or policies show any sign of it.  Longer deployments are becoming the norm.  Several Ticonderoga cruisers are being retired early.  INSURV failures are at an all time high.  Spare parts shortages are common.  If the Navy recognizes the death spiral, none of their actions show it!

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume they were aware of the problem and wanted to break out of the death spiral – what could be done?  It starts by deciding what your true priority is.  Is it fleet size?  Is it fleet quality?  Is it fleet readiness?  Is it, as CNO Greenert claims, “warfighting first”? 

At the risk of grossly oversimplifying, the answer is readiness.  It doesn’t matter how big the fleet is if the ships aren’t ready to fight.  That means that maintenance and training of existing ships and crew is more important than putting new hulls in the water.  Witness the LCS which has no credible combat capability or the LPD-17 class which is currently deemed unsuitable for its intended purpose by the DOT&E/DTE – lots of new hulls with no readiness.

Having identified the proper priority, resources and funds need to be reallocated to support readiness.  Specifically, new construction funding needs to be cut in half, at least, and the resulting freed up funds devoted to bringing the existing fleet up to full maintenance levels and vastly improved training levels.  That will actually increase the fleet numbers by a few since we won’t have to retire usable ships.  Moving forward, new construction needs to be focused on larger numbers of solid, basic ship designs as opposed to win-the-war-single-handed designs that wind up being money pits. 

I won’t go further with details of the solution.  The thrust of the solution is obvious and I’ll leave a more detailed discussion for another time.

(1) Navy Times“CNO Not Concerned by Higher Operational Tempo”, Sam Fellman,  Mar 26, 2012,

Sunday, July 15, 2012

LCS - Looking for a Few Good Missions, Part II

All right, I can see I was wrong.  I thought the Defense News article linked in the preceeding post about the Navy's pessimistic self-assessment of the LCS was self-expanatory and self-evident.  Hence, I didn't comment much on it.  I thought people would read it and come to the, by now, incredibly obvious conclusion that this program is fatally flawed.  I was wrong.  Unbelievably, a few people not only continue to blindly support the program but, against all logic, saw that article as good news in some twisted realm of reasoning.  So, I'll have to provide some additional analysis. 

Consider the following quote from the article (underlining and bold emphasis is my addition),

"... the new assessments conclude the ships are not equal to today’s frigates or mine countermeasures ships, and they are too large to operate as patrol boats.

The LCS, according to the assessments, is not able to fulfill most of the fleet missions required by the Navy’s primary strategy document, the “Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” and included in a 2011 revision of the LCS CONOPS document.

Equipped with a surface warfare or maritime security mission package, the ships were judged capable of carrying out theater security cooperation and deterrence missions, and maritime security operations, such as anti-piracy.

But the LCS vessels cannot successfully perform three other core missions envisioned for them — forward presence, sea control or power projection missions — and they can provide only limited humanitarian assistance or disaster relief operations, sources said.

The shortcomings are well known in the fleet, prompting a perception that service leaders are looking for missions to fit LCS, rather than the other way around."
Let me repeat and summarize the highlighted sentences:  the Navy has concluded that the LCS cannot perform its missions.  How much more analysis is needed?  The program is a total failure.

Having said that, here's what's actually going to happen.  The Navy is too heavily invested in this program from both a monetary and, more importantly, credibility standpoint to back out now.  They have quite literally sworn to Congress that the LCS was absolutely vital to our ability to operate in the littorals and, further, that the LCS would dominate the littorals.  To turn around now and admit that all of that was wrong would cost the Navy what little credibility they still have.  Instead, they will look desperately for alternative missions and suggest that that was the plan all along.  Sadly, the types of missions that the LCS can perform are the very low end, peacetime presence and patrol missions that a Coast Guard cutter does. 

LCS - Straight to the Bottom?

Unfortunately, this leaves the Navy with two glaring gaps in capability.  One is the mine counter-measures mission (MCM) and the other is shallow water anti-submarine warfare (ASW).  The Navy bet "all in" on the MCM module and lost, leaving us with only a dozen Avenger class MCM vessels that have been so badly neglected that many of them can't even get underway.  The shallow water ASW module is virtually non-existent and what technology it has is just a re-hash of existing technology.  Worse, the ASW has moved from being an off-board system of remote, unmanned sensors and weapons to a traditional on-board approach but it's on a ship that isn't optimized for ASW.  The LCS has no internal engine and hull quieting, Prairie/Masker type of silencing, or any other ASW optimization.  In short, it's going to be the hunted not the hunter.  No wonder the LCS was deemed unable to fulfill the mission!

While there has been speculation that the program will be terminated after 24 seaframes, I'm not at all certain that that will happen.  This may be the program that the Navy rides right to the bottom.  Potentially, this could mean that a quarter of our future battle fleet will consist of a ship that the Navy, itself, has deemed unable to fulfill its missions.

And yet, some people still support this thing?!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

LCS - Looking for a Few Good Missions

Several people have brought this article (link below) about the Navy's assessment of the LCS to my attention.  It's from the people at Defense News and it's well worth reading.  It discusses the various problems that the Navy is encountering with the LCS.  None of that is new.  However, what is new and, in fact, startling is that the Navy appears to be finally coming to the same realizations that most of us have had since day one.  Better late than never, I guess.  Now, if they'll only terminate this badly flawed program before all 55 ships are built maybe we can save a bit of money and move on to something more useful.

Defense News LCS Article

Friday, July 13, 2012

GPS - The Navy's Addiction

GPS - Achilles' Heel?

One of the simultaneous strengths and weaknesses of modern missiles, UAVs, and weapon systems and platforms in general is the use of GPS (Global Positioning System).  The common GPS that is part of our cell phones and automobile navigation systems among other commercial devices is also at the heart of the targeting systems of military weapons.  GPS, both commercial and military, is provided by satellite systems.  Unfortunately, those satellites are vulnerable to destruction and jamming.  For example, it is generally assumed that GPS satellites will be taken out early in a war with China.  If that were to happen, it would render the Navy’s missiles useless or, at least, severely degraded with only Inertial Navigation Systems (INS), which are far less accurate, to fall back on.

On a related note, the Navy now relies so heavily on GPS for ship movement and location that most ships would be lost without it.  In fact, the USS Port Royal grounding was due, in part, to loss of GPS and the resulting lack of awareness of their location.

Here’s a portion of a recent article from Katie Drummond that highlights the issue. (1)

“In an effort to stave off the looming threat of GPS attacks, the Pentagon's asking for ideas to replace the system ... or at least give it some slicker, more reliable back-up.

The navigational system used by the military for just about everything from guiding drones to dropping bombs is increasingly under threat of attack. Now, the Pentagon’s desperate to replace it. Or, at least, reinforce it enough to stave off a looming storm of strikes.

That’s the thrust of a new venture from Darpa, the military’s premier research arm and the brains behind GPS’ initial development in the 1950s. On Tuesday, the agency announced the second phase of their program, “All Source Positioning and Navigation (ASPN),” that’s trying to “enable low-cost, robust and seamless navigation solutions … with or without GPS.”

The program, which Darpa quietly kicked off last year with two awards for theoretical research, is one part of a larger military effort that’s trying to steer the Pentagon away from its GPS dependency.

Why? First off, there’s the growing risk of GPS signals being jammed by adversarial forces. Enemies on the ground can also “spoof” a GPS system — essentially tricking it into showing an incorrect location. And these are far from hypothetical risks: Mere weeks ago, a fatal drone crash in South Korea was attributed to GPS signal jamming from north of the border. Last year, Iranians (perhaps dubiously) claimed they jammed the GPS signals navigating an American spy drone, then spoofed the system to land in Iran’s clutches.

And those GPS-thwarting capabilities continue to grow — at a pace that’s exceeded the military’s ability to keep pace — largely because of a booming commercial market for GPS-jamming technology. Such electronic warfare “was once the province of a few peer-adversaries,” Darpa deputy director Ken Gabriel told the House Armed Services Committee’s panel on emerging threats earlier this year. “It is now possible to purchase commercial off-the-shelf components for more than 90 percent of the electronics needed in an [electronic warfare] system.”

The risks now inherent in GPS are well-known, but it doesn’t look like Darpa’s ready to give up on the system altogether. Instead, they’re after a navigational system that can swiftly move between different combos of devices, using a “plug-and-play” approach. Right now, the agency notes, the military’s navigation systems primarily rely on a pairing of two devices: GPS, which uses satellite data, and what’s known as an Inertial Navigation System (INS), which relies on “dead reckoning” (using estimates of speed and direction, without external references) to provide locational intel.

It’s a tactic that’s accompanied by several problems. For one, INS — because it uses internal, ongoing estimates — is notoriously error-prone without a GPS system to back it up, so it can’t be relied upon exclusively. And INS systems often obtain their starting position and velocity from a GPS device. Which means if the GPS is under attack, the INS risks leading military personnel (or the drone or weapon they’re navigating) astray.

These navigational systems are also extremely inflexible. Typically, Darpa notes, they’re programmed to accommodate, maybe, one additional sensor (say, a magnetometer) and unable to plug into any others. As a result, personnel can’t respond to “new threats or mission challenges” in real time. Not to mention that, even as consumer navigation tech becomes more sophisticated (Apple Maps, anyone?) the military can’t take advantage of the most cutting-edge products.

Of course, there are already plenty of GPS alternatives available. Radio beacons, which transmit signals from static locations to receiving devices, allow the calculation of location based on proximity to various beacons. Ground feature navigation extracts the positions of tracked objects and then uses them as points of reference to gauge a vessel’s locale. And stellar navigation systems use the coordinates of celestial bodies to assist in a vehicle’s navigation.

Darpa’s dream navigational system would go beyond those kinds of discreet systems — by incorporating pretty much all of them. The ASPN system, according to Darpa’s announcement, should be able to accomodate any available sensor, and be versatile enough to incorporate new sensors “as they become available in the marketplace.” The key benefit to such adaptability would be the mitigation of GPS-dependency. Personnel would instead have myriad sensors at their disposal, and be able to toggle between them as necessary. In other words, a suite of backup tools to work, in conjunction, as a safety net in case of GPS failure. Among the ton of gadgets that Darpa wants the system to utilize: 3-D imagers, LiDAR, temperature sensors … and good old compasses.”

The Wave of the Future?

As an example of the military’s recognition of the inherent weakness in depending on GPS, DARPA awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin to develop a next generation anti-ship missile, the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) which will be able to target without using GPS.

The Navy needs to wean itself off its dependence on GPS or risk finding itself with lost ships and non-functional weapons at the start of the next war.  Anyone got a sextant?

(1) “When GPS Goes Down, Pentagon Still Wants a Way to Fight”, Katie Drummond, June 13, 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Quantity Has a Quality All Its Own

Quantity Has a Quality All Its Own

I don’t know who first said this but it’s been true in combat since the beginning of time.  Expressed even more succinctly,

Numbers Matter

Unfortunately, and unwisely, the US Navy has implemented the exact opposite philosophy in establishing and procuring its force structure.  The Navy believes wholeheartedly that quality trumps quantity; that technology makes up for numbers.  Every new weapons program results in smaller numbers than those it’s replacing.  When (if?) the JSF reaches squadron service, the Navy has stated that squadrons will be reduced by 2-4 planes each because the JSF will be so superior to the Hornets it will replace.  The Navy’s 14 ballistic missile submarines (originally 18) will be replaced by 12 new ones.  A single LCS replaces three ships (1 FFG, 1 PC, and 1 MCM).  And so on …

I think we can all readily understand the fallacy in the quality over quantity philosophy.  Any single platform, no matter how powerful, can only be in one place at a time.  Further, under this philosophy the loss of a single platform is much more damaging due to the limited numbers.  An advanced platform may enjoy a 10:1 kill ratio but if the enemy has an 11:1 advantage in numbers, they ultimately win.

Consider the LCS that is designed to replace a frigate, a patrol craft, and a minesweeper.  The LCS can only be in one place at a time doing one task.  The ships it replaced can be in three places at once, doing three different tasks.

Soviet Krivak - Quantity Over Quality?

Further, quality goes hand-in-hand with cost.  The more technologically advanced a weapon system is, the more expensive it is.  Aside from the general stress on the budget the real impact of the cost-quality phenomenon is that the platforms become so expensive and advanced that we are loathe to risk them in the very combat situations for which they were designed.  The Air Force’s B-1 and B-2 bombers are a good example of this.  They have been used only sparingly, if at all, due to the risk while the B-52 continues to fly combat missions.

Taken to its logical conclusion, the Navy will eventually only need one supremely technically proficient ship.  Of course, if that ship happens to be in drydock when a crisis occurs …

In modern times the quantity concept has been applied by the former Soviet Union and now China.  While both countries have made every effort to introduce modern technology, both also recognize(d) the value of numbers. 

The Navy understood this concept in WWII but has forgotten it.  Today, lip service is paid to a numerically larger fleet (the 313 ship fleet) but every action demonstrates the opposite behavior.  Our ships are getting ever more expensive and, as a result, fewer in number.  Our fleet is shrinking, not growing.

The Navy needs to relearn the lesson:  Numbers Matter!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Payloads Over Platforms?

CNO Greenert had an article published in the most recent issue of Proceedings espousing “payloads over platforms” (1).  His premise is that the Navy’s future lies in modular payloads rather than in tightly integrated ships and weapon systems due to the ability to modify payloads faster and cheaper than entire ships.  This is not an entirely new concept and he acknowledges that point with examples of weapon systems being modernized over the years on existing ships.  However, Greenert suggests that the Navy of the future will take the modular concept to the LCS level in which the payload (module) is totally divorced from the platform (the ship) other than drawing electrical and other necessary utilities from it.

While this sounds good, initially, there is an aspect to modular payloads that was overlooked in the article.  Not all payloads can be made totally independent of the platform.  In fact, most will be significantly dependent on the platform’s characteristics to achieve full effectiveness. 

Take, for example, an ASW module.  For the foreseeable future, any realistic module will be heavily dependent on the platform for movement, if nothing else, and will probably need to interface with the platform’s other sensors and weapons.  This means the platform will, by definition, be part of the overall weapon system.  That being so, if the platform is not optimized for the payload’s function then the overall function will be negatively impacted.  Specifically, if a ship is going to carry an ASW payload and be part of the search and prosecution the ship had better have built in quieting technology such as engine mount isolation, Prairie/Masker noise suppression, etc. or else the platform and the payload will become the hunted instead of the hunter.  Those design aspects don’t come with a modular payload;  they have to be built in from the keel up.

MEKO - The Right Way to Do Modules?
Alternatively, consider an ASuW (anti-surface) payload.  While any type of gun/missile can be built into the module, the platform becomes, by definition, part of the weapon system and without stealth, armor, and other features that can’t be part of the module the platform will be at a significant disadvantage fighting ships that have that type of integrated design.  Maximum effectiveness comes from the very integration of payload and platform that Greenert proposes to shun.

Of course, if we ever get to the point that all kinds of futuristic technologies are invented that allow the carrying platform to stand well off and simply launch other vehicles (manned or unmanned) to perform the search and prosecution than the carrying platform truly doesn’t matter and, in fact, could be a commercial cargo ship since it wouldn’t be involved in the combat aspect of the payload’s function and would be simply a payload cargo ship.  However, as the LCS module development debacle has demonstrated, this kind of technology leap is still decades away, at best.

For the foreseeable future, CNO Greenert is failing to heed the lesson of the LCS and wants to continue designing inherently weak platforms under the assumption that future wishful thinking payload modules will totally compensate for the platform’s weaknesses.  Payload and platform can’t be uncoupled unless we are willing to accept sub-optimal performance.

On the other hand, a scaled down version of modularity wherein standard size “pits” are built into the platform to accept varying sensor or weapon packages is, potentially, a useful idea and, indeed, has already been implemented in various ship classes such as the MEKOs.  This allows flexibility and upgradability in weapon/sensor selection without sentencing the platform to mediocrity.

The Navy needs good, solid ship designs with the ability to easily incorporate reasonable upgrades.  The Navy does not need more LCS-type designs that attempt to leapfrog the technology ladder and are doomed to failure.

(1) USNI Proceedings, “Payloads over Platforms:  Charting a New Course”, Greenert, July 2012

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Altar of New Construction

Navy leadership worships at the Altar of New Construction.  Everything the Navy does is driven by the desire to fund new ships.  New construction is pursued with an almost religious zeal.  The entire LCS class was a frenzied effort to get new hulls into the water as quickly as possible without even a design, concept of operations, or proof of any of the technology that was supposed to go into them – just a push to get new hulls into the water and figure out what to do with them later.  Consider the litany of programs and policies, mostly failures, that have been instituted in the name of funding new construction.

- Optimal manning
- Early retirements (Spruances, Ticonderogas, MHCs, LHAs, etc.)
- Reduced maintenance
- Forced separation of sailors
- Reduced training
- Cross decking of equipment
- Longer deployments

Spruance - Sacrificed at the Altar?

The Navy has even gone as far as retiring and sinking ships to eliminate the possibility that anyone might suggest upgrades instead of new construction.  The entire Spruance class, the best ASW ship ever built, was retired and sunk so that they would not threaten the Aegis program.

Clearly, the Navy’s number one, overriding priority is funding new construction.  However, the Navy’s actual priority, their reason for being, is warfighting using all available tools including new construction, maintenance of existing ships, superior training, upgrades of existing ships, packaging existing technology in new and more useful ways, and so on. 

A highly competent and lethal Navy isn’t simply the result of new construction.  New construction is just one of the tools and is hardly even the best one.  I’d rather have a Perry FFG, impeccably maintained, upgraded as appropriate, and superbly trained than a new LCS.  I’d rather have an old Spruance DD with an NTU (New Threat Upgrade) that works flawlessly and is operated by highly competent techs than a new Burke DDG with an Aegis system that is poorly “tuned”, prone to malfunctions, and can’t be maintained or repaired onboard ship.  I’d rather have an old LPD, well maintained and highly trained than a new LPD-17 which is deemed unsuitable for its purpose by the Navy and has trouble even leaving the dock.

Everything the Navy does revolves around the drive to fund new construction but where is that drive taking us?  We’ve become a hollow, undermanned, poorly maintained, INSURV-failing Navy whose surface fleet is dwindling in numbers.  In fact, it’s gotten so bad that the Navy is going to begin counting hospital ships, PCs, and other non-combatants as battle force ships in order to avoid having to explain why the fleet is shrinking despite the Navy’s own calls for an increasing fleet.  INSURV reports have been classified to avoid having to answer questions about repeated inspection failures.

Now don’t get me wrong, new construction is necessary and proper but it has to be one part of the Navy’s toolbelt not the Navy’s whole reason for existence.  A ten year moratorium on new construction wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen to the Navy.  It would provide a chance to get back to maintenance, training, and upgrades while offering a chance to absorb the lessons learned from the recent construction program debacles and take some time to develop carefully thought out designs for the next round of construction.

The only part of this that puzzles me is where the fanatical drive for new construction is coming from.  It’s clear that Navy leadership is consumed by the quest for new construction but I can’t see any logical reason for it.  It’s not as if they’re building up the fleet’s numbers – in fact, the fleet is shrinking under this new construction crusade.  It’s not as if the new ships are markedly superior in capabilities – in most cases (LCS and LPD, notably) they’re not.  So why is leadership consumed with the push for new ships?  I honestly can’t see the reason.  The behavior is clear but the rationale is not.