Monday, August 27, 2012

AirSea Battle - What Is It?

All right people, this is a big one so grab your favorite beverage and settle in.  Read carefully, think about it critically, and hopefully, you'll find it worth the time!

What is AirSea Battle (ASB)?  Well that depends on who you listen to.  Outside the military, everyone has their own idea.  From inside the military we hear little that’s useful or informative – mainly just buzzword babble and fantasy wish lists.  In fact, a not uncommon belief is that ASB is just a ploy to justify funding from Congress in the same way the Navy used “littoral” to obtain the LCS.  Well, since the official Navy position is virtually unintelligible, we’re left to come up with our own definition and analysis.  In other words, is ASB even a legitimate concept?

Sifting through the Navy babble, ASB seems to be linked to countering Anti-Access/Area Denial (AA/AD or A2/AD).  Further, while the Navy denies that ASB is targeted towards any specific country, it is clearly a response to China’s Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM), the so-called “carrier killers”.  A cursory study of the geography of the region shows that there are a number of features, such as chokepoints, that lend themselves to aiding China’s defense of the region, hence the A2/AD concerns.  The A2/AD zone is generally said to extend about 1000 nm out from the mainland. 

It is also important to realize that ASB is not a strategy.  A strategy, by definition is a pathway towards a goal – the goal, in this case being victory in war.  ASB, as fumblingly articulated by the Navy is more of a tactical or doctrinal concept and, for purposes of this discussion, we will stick with that level of detail.

So, ASB should be a conceptual description of tactical and operational requirements for operating within the A2/AD zone.  Let’s proceed.

What are the threats the Navy will have to face if it wishes to penetrate and operate within the zone?

Number One A2/AD Threat

Mines.  This is probably the biggest threat due to the cheapness of the weapon, the ease of deployment, and the presence of numerous chokepoints which are ideal for mine warfare.  I’ve seen estimates that the Chinese mine inventory numbers in the 100,000 range but who knows?

Subs.  While the Chinese submarine threat is not yet at a world class level, it is evolving rapidly both in numbers and expertise.  Again, due to the presence of relatively shallow water chokepoints and the presumed familiarity with local underwater features and conditions, submarines are a major threat.

IRBMs.  Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM) have gotten a lot of attention as the so-called carrier killers.  While the potential for destruction from a supersonic, large payload missile is certainly huge, realistically, the difficulties in targeting make this a much lesser threat for the time being.  The US has not figured out how to accurately detect and target small, moving ships at ranges of several hundred miles and I seriously doubt that China has either.  More serious is the threat posed by IRBMs to fixed land based targets such as harbors and airbases.

Aircraft.  China will be able to fill the skies with aircraft in the A2/AD zone.  Of course, many of these aircraft will be a generation or two behind current and near-future US aircraft.  Still, this is where quantity has a quality of its own.  The sheer numbers of available aircraft will help to make up for technological deficiencies. 

Ships.  The Chinese Navy is not a serious threat, yet, although it is evolving rapidly.  Again, the number of ships that will be deployed in the zone make surface ships a more serious threat than would be suggested by a simple examination of their specifications.  Large numbers of small missile boats, in particular, pose a severe threat if allowed to get within targeting and launch range.

So, with an awareness of the threats in the A2/AD zone we can begin to see what capabilities our ASB will need to be able to allow us to operate within the zone with a reasonable chance to succeed and survive.

Far and away, the number one need is for a robust and effective mine counter-measures (MCM) capability.  Currently, the Navy has only the 12 Avenger class MCM vessels and until very recently they were being allowed to waste away with inadequate maintenance in anticipation of the LCS taking over the function.  Of course, the LCS won’t be conducting useful MCM for quite some time and so the Navy has had to scramble to try to restore the Avengers to operational status.

The Navy desperately needs a tactically useful MCM capability.  What does tactically useful mean?  In the context of the Chinese A2/AD scenario, it means the ability to clear mines quickly and in a war zone.  Consider that minesweeping has historically been a painfully slow operation with clearance rates measured in days and months.  If a Carrier Strike Group is waiting for clearance in order to advance, waiting days or months is not going to be tactically useful.  Clearance is going to have to be on the order of hours and, unfortunately, that technology does not yet exist.  The situation is further complicated by the need to conduct the minesweeping in contested waters – a war zone.  Since the MCM vessels have no inherent self-defense capability, significant resources will have to be devoted to protecting them as they work.

The next most serious threat is submarines.  China is rapidly increasing the numbers and capabilities of its undersea fleet.  The A2/AD zone will be crowded with both nuclear and non-nuclear subs.  Unfortunately, the Navy has allowed its ASW capability to atrophy to the point of embarrassment over the last few decades.  Chinese subs are literally popping up in the middle of carrier groups.  Inexplicably, the Navy has no equivalent to the Spruance class ASW destroyer and the S-3 Viking was retired without a replacement.  The Navy’s subs (SSNs) and destroyers desperately need to revitalize their ASW capability.  Additionally, the Navy’s SSNs, while superb platforms, are trending down in numbers.  This is the quantity versus quality issue.  The Navy is in danger of simply not having enough subs to do the job.

The IRBM threat, while vastly overblown by the media, is at least being addressed by the Aegis BMD modifications among other measures.  More urgently, the US desperately needs an effective BMD for fixed bases. 

The threat from aircraft is well understood and quite manageable at a technical level.  The combination of Aegis AAW and naval carrier aircraft can hold their own.  Air Force F-15s and F-22s can provide plenty of protection if they can find a base to operate from.  The problem in dealing with the air threat is numbers.  Simply put, the Chinese have, or will have, far greater numbers of aircraft than we have.  While the Navy is banking on superior technology overcoming superior numbers, the Navy trend is, unfortunately, in the wrong direction.  We have ever fewer carriers, fewer aircraft, smaller air wings, and smaller squadrons.  At some point, numbers trump technology.   Again, quantity has a quality all its own.

The Chinese naval threat is manageable though growing rapidly.  The Navy lacks a long range, supersonic, stealthy anti-ship missile to replace the aging and borderline obsolete Harpoon.  In fact, developmental programs for just such a missile are underway though the history of recent weapons development programs does not fill one with overwhelming optimism. 

That sums up the threats and our ability to deal with them on a largely defensive and more or less one-for-one basis meaning, for example, our surface ships against theirs, our MCMs against their mines, and so on.  What’s left is the potential to further manage the threats on a more offensive, asymmetric basis.

For example, the way to deal with the aircraft threat is to attack the airbases rather than the aircraft in the sky.  No base, no aircraft.  Similarly, IRBMs, ships, and mines are all easier dealt with at their points of origin rather than after they’ve been deployed.  Given that the points of origin are largely on the mainland, we are going to need massive first-day strike capability that can bypass the A2/AD obstacles.

B-2 - Limited Usefulness?

There are only two platforms that can provide that kind of strike and really only one of those is probably survivable.  The Air Force B-2 bomber offers long range, stealthy, deep penetration strike capability.  However, given the incredibly small size of the B-2 bomber force (approximately 20 planes) and the sheer distances involved compared to the numbers of defenders, it seems unlikely that the bomber force could last more than a couple of sorties before attrition would render this option inoperable.  I see B-2s being used more as pinpoint strikers against extremely high value targets rather than general purpose strike against a multitude of less high value targets like airbases, docks, mine laying ships, fuel storage, etc.

The second, and far more survivable, long range penetrating strike platform is the guided missile submarine (SSGN).  The Navy has converted four of these subs from Ohio ballistic missile platforms to Tomahawk guided missile platforms carrying 154 missiles each.  These subs are virtually undetectable and would provide a large day-one pulse strike capability.  The only drawback is that there are only four of them and once their missiles are expended (rather quickly, one assumes) they have to return to port to reload.

So, where does this leave us as regards ASB and A2/AD?  We’ve stated that ASB is about being able to operate in within the A2/AD zone.  We need to be able to deliver day-one and sustained follow-on strikes all the way to the Chinese mainland.  We need to be able to pass through the various chokepoints created by the outer islands.  We need to be able to neutralize the mine and sub threats.  We need to be able to deal with the IRBM threat.  We need to be able to establish air supremacy.  Thus, ASB is, or should be, about establishing the tactics and doctrine required to accomplish these things.  Comparing ASB requirements to our current capabilities we can readily identify gaps in our current capability that need to be filled.  Specifically, the Navy needs,

  • Long range, survivable, penetrating strike aircraft, whether manned or unmanned.
  • More SSGNs.
  • Tactically useful MCM.
  • A class of dedicated open ocean ASW destroyer (or frigate or whatever name you want to use).
  • More carriers and carrier aircraft.
  • More SSNs.
  • Long range, stealthy anti-ship missiles.

Of course, there are many other aspects to ASB such as interservice communications (we were supposed to have addressed that after Grenada but I guess not), the ability to operate with lost or degraded GPS, the ability to operate in high jamming environments, and the ability to establish and maintain extremely long distance communications with, and control over, UAVs.  For the sake of brevity and simplicity, I’ve also left out discussions of unmanned subsurface intelligence gathering platforms, interactions with the Air Force (the famous idiotic example of a B-2 shooting air-to-air missiles), and a host of other, related topics.  This is a blog post not a book.

To sum up, ASB is a description of the tactics, doctrine, and equipment required to operate within the A2/AD zone.  Properly formulated and analyzed, ASB provides clear recognition of our current shortfalls and offers a roadmap for future weapons and platform acquisitions.

Now compare this description of ASB to the Navy's incoherent ramblings and tell me what you think. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

LCS - More Oversight

Probably every military blog on the Internet has noted this but it's worth a brief comment ... 

The Navy has just established an oversight council of Flag Officers to ensure the LCS's successful introduction into the fleet.  The council was established via a memo from CNO Greenert dated 22-Aug-12.  Here is the memo. 

You'll recall that just a bit over a year ago the Navy went to the somewhat unusual length of creating a separate PEO LCS office under Adm. Murdoch specifically to focus attention on LCS and ensure its successful introduction into the fleet (wait a minute, didn't I just type that same sentence in the preceeding paragraph?!).

Given the blatant duplication of responsibility, is the new council a slap at an ineffective PEO, a recognition that the LCS is in that much trouble that it needs even more Admirals overseeing it, or something else?  I have no idea but it's clearly not a vote of confidence for Adm. Murdoch. 

I suspect that this is a reaction to signs of dwindling support for the LCS program both within the Navy and in Congress.  Remember, (as I understand it) the purchase contracts for the 10+10 buy is actually 1+1 with options for the remaining 18.  Is the Navy begining to feel pressure to terminate the program?  We can only wait and see.

What's next, double secret probation?  [Animal House reference for you fans of the movie]

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Gators - The New LCS

We’ve already looked at the littoral battle zone and found that very concept of littoral is suspect.  That being the case, it logically follows that there is nothing necessary or unique about the LCS.  With that said, let’s do a change in direction.  Let’s say, for sake of further discussion, that there is a need for a littoral combat vessel.  Further, let’s say that the requirements are much as the Navy has laid out:  shallow water anti-submarine warfare (ASW), mine countermeasures (MCM), small craft surface warfare (ASuW), near shore strike support for ground forces, and special operations support.  These were the core functions that the LCS was supposed to fill.

How was the LCS supposed to have accomplished these functions?  Two key characteristics were to have been the foundation of the LCS’s capabilities:

  1. Modular mission packages tailored to a single function.
  2. Acting as a mothership to a host of remote controlled, off-board sensors, vehicles, and weapons.
There are a couple of key points that go hand in hand with the above two characteristics and that need to be recognized. 

First, the mission packages provided a single function because the LCS had neither the size nor the crew to accommodate multiple functions.  It’s not that the Navy thought a single function was superior to a multi-function platform;  it was simply a ship and crew size limitation.  The LCS was too small to handle multiple functions.  The Navy probably would have liked to build a bigger ship but one of the main constraints was cost.  Remember?  This was supposed to be a cheap $200M vessel.

Second, the mothership concept meant that the LCS would normally stand off from the battle zone after deploying the off-board devices.  Thus, the LCS did not need to be heavily armed or survivable because it wouldn’t be involved in actual combat.  We all criticize the LCS for being non-survivable in a combat zone but, to be fair to the Navy, it was never intended to be in one!

Austin Class LPD - A Better LCS?

As I said, let’s accept the LCS concept for the moment.  What do the above thoughts suggest as regards the ideal conceptual littoral vessel?  Well, ideally, it should be able (meaning big enough) to handle multiple functions simultaneously.  In fact, ideally, it should be able to handle all the functions simultaneously.  The vessel ought to act as a mothership to off-board devices that perform the bulk of the actual work.  That means it should have as big a flight deck as possible since the helos and UAVs are some of the main off-board devices.  Some type of well deck would be very useful for launching surface and subsurface off-board vehicles;  again, the bigger the better.  Further, it would nice if the vessel had survivability more typical of a warship.  Again, this implies greater size.  Bigger ships are inherently more survivable.  And lastly, it would be nice if the vessel didn’t cost much to build.

Clearly, the LCS doesn’t meet the requirements of the ideal vessel.  Is there any vessel that is large enough to perform multiple functions, has a large flight deck, has a large well deck, is survivable, and is cheap?  Hmmm …  Let me think …  Wait a minute!  It just hit me.  What about an amphibious ship (gator)?  Specifically, one of the many older gators that are being retired.  They are plenty big enough to perform all the functions simultaneously, they have enormous flight decks and hangars, they have entire well decks, they’re built to warfighting survivability standards, and they already exist.  We could convert retired/retiring gators to accept mission packages, handle and control remote devices, and launch unmanned vehicles.

Yeah, but one of the main features of the LCS is shallow draft and a gator doesn’t have that.  True, but remember that the operational concept of the LCS was that it was a standoff mothership.  Standoff means that it doesn’t have to go into extremely shallow water.  That was always one of the contradictions inherent in the LCS concept that puzzled me.  Besides, what is there in 15 ft of water that is of sufficient interest that would require the LCS to be there?  Subs?  No, even diesel subs don’t operate in water that shallow.  Mines?  Yes, but that’s what the off-board unmanned vehicles are for.  So, I see no tactical requirement for extreme shallow draft.

OK, but the LCS is designed and shaped to be stealthy.  No way a gator is stealthy!  Again, true, but remember that the LCS was intended to be a standoff mothership.  If the ship is standing off it doesn’t need to be stealthy.  Besides, the main point of the stealth requirement was to try and protect a non-survivable vessel.  Well, the gator is quite survivable and has sufficient size to accommodate as much protective weaponry as needed.

All right, I’m running out of objections but what about speed?  The LCS is blazingly fast and no gator can match that.  Correct and irrelevant.  The LCS is fast but no one has yet come up with a scenario in which the speed is tactically useful.

Let’s look at the functions that the LCS was supposed to have performed.

ASW was envisioned as being performed by helos and off-board, unmanned sensing vehicles.  Well, is there any better platform for hosting helos and launching unmanned vehicles than a gator with its huge flight deck, hangar, and well deck?

MCM, like ASW, was envisioned as being performed by helos and off-board, unmanned sensing and mine neutralization vehicles.  Again, is there any better platform for hosting helos and launching unmanned vehicles than a gator?

ASuW was envisioned as a combination of armed helos, onboard guns, and moderate ranged missiles (the now-cancelled NLOS).  A gator can host many helos and has the size to accept multiple gun and missile systems.

Strike support for ground forces was going to be limited to the NLOS system.  A gator has the size to accept 5” (or, potentially even larger) guns, missiles, and attack helos such as the Sea Cobra.  That represents far better support than the original LCS concept.

SOF support was going to be limited by necessity.  The LCS could operate RHIBs and one or two helos but had limited size for hosting SOF forces and no room for the extensive command, control, and communications that would, ideally, be needed.  A gator has all those things in abundance.

Well Deck, Flight Deck - What Could Be Better?

The Navy is furiously retiring gators.  Now, we could simply scrap them and replace them with multi-billion dollar LPD-17s and LHA-6s as we are currently doing or we could upgrade and convert them into a stopgap (or better!) littoral combat vessel.  But conversions are expensive, you say.  Well, they’re not cheap but compared to the cost of new LCSs which can’t do the job they’re meant for, anyway, or the cost of a brand new design multi-mission frigate which might be another alternative to the LCS, conversions are cheap.  The Navy could do a lot of conversions for what the remaining LCS program is going to cost.  Given the current budget limitations, conversions are a great way to get more life and acquire new capabilities at rock bottom prices compared to new construction.  Also, consider that the gators already have most of what’s needed:  large flight decks and well decks, space for guns and missiles, command and control functions, etc.  I suspect that the conversions wouldn’t even be all that extensive.  Heck, the concept has almost been proven already with the conversion of the USS Ponce to an afloat staging base.

C’mon, Navy.  This one’s a no-brainer.  Drop the LCS and convert the retired gators!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

SSGN - The Navy's Best Strike Platform

I’d like to talk about what I feel is the Navy’s best platform, the guided missile submarine (SSGN).  Their existence is not a secret by any means and yet relatively few people are aware of them or have a good feel for their capabilities.

SSGN - 154 Strike Missiles

There are four SSGNs and they were converted from Ohio class ballistic missile subs.  These are pure Tomahawk land attack missile platforms.  Of the original 24 Trident missile tubes on the Ohio, 22 were converted to hold 7 Tomahawk cruise missiles each, giving a strike capacity of 154 missiles.  The remaining two tubes were converted to swimmer lockout chambers for special ops.

Think about what these SSGNs provide.  A massive land attack capability is contained in a single ship which is the hardest platform to find in the world.  When we discuss ways to overcome the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) threat this has got to be the main answer.  An SSGN can penetrate the A2/AD zone with relative ease and deliver an entire surface group’s worth of cruise missiles with near impunity. 

The only drawback is that the Navy has only four of these subs.  While that is plenty during peacetime, the Navy will certainly wish for more if war with China occurs.

VPM with Seven Missiles

The other problem is that the SSGNs are scheduled to be retired starting in about ten years and the Navy has indicated that they will not produce a direct replacement.  The currently discussed solution is the addition of a Virginia Payload Module (VPM) to stretched versions of the Virginia class.  Four modules would be added to each Virginia.  Each module holds 7 missiles which would add 28 missiles to the 12 already present in Virginias for a total of 40 missiles per sub.  Thus, four of the stretched Virginias would provide the same strike capacity as a single SSGN.  The Navy estimates that the conversion would add about 20% ($400M) to the cost of a Virginia.  Bear in mind that Navy cost estimates are notoriously underestimated. 

On the plus side, distributing the strike capacity among four subs instead of one spreads the risk and decreases the impact of losing a single platform.  On the minus side, having to send four subs to do the job of one makes for a crowded launch area and increases the risk of detection.  Whether it’s better to have four strike platforms versus a single one depends on a detailed understanding of submarine operations that I just don’t have.  The Navy built the current SSGNs as a single platform because that’s what they had to work with.  They’re looking at building multiple, smaller platforms now because, again, that’s what they have to work with, at least until the next generation Ohio replacement, the SSBN(X), becomes available. 

The SSGNs are our single most potent and effective strike platform.  While the cost of providing replacements in the form of stretched Virginias is high, this is one area where the cost is fully justified.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

JSF - As Good As A Hornet?

I was going through some older references and came upon this quote from a Defense Industry Daily report (1) that stunned me.

“The F-35’s explicit design goal has been stated as being the F-16’s equal in in air to air combat …”
What?!  We’re spending a gazillion dollars on a plane that’s only supposed to be as good as an F-16?

OK, I’m not an expert on the JSF program by any means so I’m not going to attempt any further analysis of that statement.  I’m simply going to leave it there for you to consider.

I will, however, give you a couple of related thoughts cited in another Defense Industry Daily report (2).

JSF - Equal to a Hornet or F-16?

- The F-35C, the carrier version, has no internal gun and will have to make use of a gun pod mounted externally in a stealth-ish container.  Didn’t the Navy learn its lesson about the lack of an internal gun with the F-4 Phantom in Viet Nam?  Apparently not!  External mounting, even in a stealth-ish pod, means easier detection (for an airframe that’s already considered to be only somewhat stealthy), more drag, less range, and greater fuel consumption.

- The F-35C will have a slightly lower maximum G-force maneuvering limit than the current Hornet.  Again, the suggestion is that our next generation fighter is going to be as good as our current Hornets.

I’ll be fair and say that the F-35 has some advanced technology built in that other aircraft don’t but whether those balance out the apparently mediocre air-to-air performance remains to be seen.  As I said, I can't fairly analyze this further but these kinds of snippets aren't exactly encouraging.  I've thought from the begining that the F-35 was just a stealthier version of the Hornet with no significant performance enhancements and these tidbits tend to confirm that impression.  Anyone have a different take on it?


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fleetwide Maintenance - Improving?

Most people who follow the Navy know that the Navy has a severe readiness and maintenance problem stemming from multiple poor decisions over the last couple of decades.  Things got so bad that the Navy finally commissioned an internal investigation headed by Admiral Harvey.  The findings were published in a report in Feb 2010 and confirmed the sad state of neglect that the Navy had fallen into. 

Improved Maintenance?

On the plus side, the Navy appears to have responded to the report by implementing a number of changes and (hopefully) improvements.  Adm. Harvey has just issued a memo (1) documenting the actions taken and, in some cases, benefits that are already becoming evident.

It is worth noting the scope of the issue by reviewing some of the problems as highlighted in the summary of the Feb 2010 report included in the memo.

-         The various maintenance centers saw a reduction in billets from 8,000 to 2,500 during the several years prior to 2010.
-         The 9 week availability schedule proved insufficient to accomplish needed maintenance.
-         Optimal manning of ships and reduction of grade levels for billets led to loss of knowledge, experience, and oversight aboard ships.
-         Training was found to be insufficient with C-School being 35% underutilized. 
-         At-sea training was found to be lacking in time and quality.
-         Backup systems were being systematically allowed to degrade so as to save money on repairs.
-         Housekeeping, preservation, and corrosion control standards declined over time.  As the report noted, “Over time, the ignored standard becomes the new norm.”
-         Surface ship maintenance was significantly underfunded over the previous decade or more.
-         Aegis systems have experienced fleetwide degradation in performance, maintenance, and spare parts availability.

The memo goes on to describe the administrative, organizational, and policy changes implemented to address the issues.

-         Increased emphasis is being placed on the process of certification of completion of maintenance work to ensure that the work is done properly.
-         Increased emphasis is being placed on ship assessments of various types to ensure that the scope of needed maintenance is being accurately understood and planned for.
-         Increased emphasis is being placed on maintenance to ensure that a ship’s estimated and designed life span is met.  This is an attempt to ensure that forced early ship retirements due to lack of maintenance do not occur.
-         Corrosion control is being emphasized with the assistance of outside experts.
-         Increased emphasis on daily maintenance standards.
-         Manning, both military and civilian, is being increased at the various maintenance centers.
-         Increased emphasis on the use of C-Schools.
-         Implementing Maintenance Assist Teams to directly assist the ships with higher level maintenance.
-         Increased emphasis on shipboard training.
-         Provision of expert level support for Aegis systems.
-         Increased stocking of spare parts.
-         Increased support and training for propulsion systems.
-         Increased frequency and effectiveness of INSURV inspections.

All of the steps taken and documented in the memo are long overdue and the Navy is to be commended for beginning to reverse the maintenance decline.  I hope these are sincere efforts and not short term “look good” steps that will be soon abandoned and forgotten. 

What the memo does not address is the root cause behind why the fleetwide maintenance debacle occurred in the first place.  If the root cause is not addressed and corrected, the problems will simply resurface.  As we’ve previously discussed, the root cause is the Navy’s fixation on funding new construction above all else.  Reduced manning, training, and maintenance were all implemented to free up more funding for new construction.  Until the Navy recognizes this and changes their philosophy the problems are going to continue.  The improvements described in the memo are at risk of being just temporary band-aids that will soon be abandoned.

Another troubling aspect of the attempts at improvement involves the extensive focus on policy changes and documentation.  I’ve found throughout my career in industry that when policy becomes the focus it’s because common sense, initiative, and accountability have disappeared.  Rather than empowering people to do what’s obviously needed and then supporting with them with the required resources, policy takes the place of responsibility, action, and accountability.  Leadership fails to step forward and do what’s right, instead they fall back on policy, doing only what’s dictated.  Policy inevitably becomes self-defeating by being inherently limiting rather than encompassing.  Consider the following quote from the memo.

“There are 350 separate instructions under review in 20 categories gathered from the RMCs spanning the maintenance end-to-end (E2E) process.  The review will result in 12 standard “role-based” desk guides for use at each RMC that act as Maintenance Team Engineering Operational Sequencing System (EOSS) for the maintenance E2E process.”
This is just churning of documentation into different forms.  It doesn’t provide for initiative or a sense of responsibility.  It’s the typical result of a paper study:  more paper!

Still, the Navy has taken at least some steps towards improving the maintenance situation.  Let’s hope they take the lessons to heart and continue to focus on maintaining the fleet at a combat-ready level.  We’ll watch and see!

(1) Dept of the Navy, Memo: Surface Ship Material Readiness Improvements, Adm. Harvey, 3-Aug-12

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What's Old is New Again

The current issue of the USNI Proceedings (1) reports that China has reached a deal to license-produce Tu-22M Backfire bombers.  The arrangement will initially result in 36 bombers which is regimental strength from the old Soviet days and was believed to be the amount needed to defeat a US Navy carrier group.

As you recall, the Navy’s response to the Soviet bombers was the long range, high speed Tomcat with its load of AIM-54 Phoenix missiles guided by the plane’s AWG-9 radar.  Tomcats made up the outer layer of the carrier group’s layered defenses.  I bet the Navy wishes they had Tomcats now!

Tu-22 Backfire - Bigger Threat than Ballistic Missiles

The Navy’s current front line fighter is the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet carrying AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles.  The Hornet has a combat radius of 390 nm compared to the Tomcat’s 500 nm.  The latest version of the AMRAAM has a 100 nm range which is comparable to the Phoenix but has a lighter warhead, 40-50 lbs versus the 135 lb warhead of the Phoenix.  Given the massive size of the Backfire, the much larger warhead of the Phoenix will be missed.

There are a couple of interesting points in all this.  First, the acquisition of bombers strongly suggests that the Chinese have realized (or known all along) that the magic, carrier-killing ballistic missile that has the Western media so frightened is only half the equation.  The other half is targeting.  Trying to produce launch quality targeting data on moving ships 500-1000 nm away is a challenge, to say the least.  We can’t do it and I highly doubt the Chinese can, either.  That renders the carrier-killing missiles ineffective.  Bombers, on the other hand, carry their own radar and generate their own firing solution.  The only question is can they survive long enough to get within radar range and launch? 

This is the Cold War scenario all over again and that brings us to the second point.  The Navy was misguided, to put it kindly, to abandon the long ranged, hard hitting Tomcat for the short ranged, light hitting Hornet.  This decision is further compounded by the decision to reduce the size of the carrier air wings based on the rationale that newer planes are superior to older ones.  If you’re going to fight an outer air battle to protect the carrier, you probably want as many airframes as possible to carry your missiles.  Instead of developing the marginally effective Hornet, we should have developed a new airframe with the characteristics of the Tom/Bombcat.  Oh well, at least we have the long range, weapons-dripping JSF coming soon and that will …  ah … well, it's not really long ranged, actually, and it can't carry much of a weapons load but still it can, ah   Oh crap, we’re screwed!

(1) United States Naval Institute Proceedings, “Back(Fire) to the Future?”, Norman Friedman, Aug 2012, p. 90

Sunday, August 5, 2012

New Anti-Ship Missiles

Some good news on the anti-ship missile (ASM) front! 

As you undoubtedly know, the Navy’s only ship launched anti-ship missile is the venerable Harpoon.  Aside from being slow, not stealthy, and limited in capability, the missiles are reaching the end of their shelf lives.  Because of this, the Navy is being very judicious in its deployment of the missile.  Many ships don’t carry any, some carry the minimum of two or four, and only the ships deployed to high threat areas are being loaded with the maximum of eight.  Of course, even a loadout of eight represents a very small anti-ship capability.

Harpoon also suffers from an incompatibility with the Mk41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) resulting in the Harpoon having to be placed out in the open on deck thus rendering it susceptible to battle damage.  The manufacturer has offered a vertical launch Harpoon but the Navy has, puzzlingly, opted not to pursue it.

The Navy has desperately needed a new ASM for many years - one that is faster, stealthier, more intelligent, capable of autonomous or semi-autonomous targeting, has advanced electronic counter-measures, and so forth.  Well, the current issue of Proceedings (1) reports that NAVAIR is looking to award a contract to Raytheon for development of an anti-ship missile based on the Block IV Tactical Tomahawk.  Operational capability is scheduled for 2015 and appears to be a bridge solution until more advanced ASMs become available.  The Block IV is capable of in-flight retargeting using a two-way datalink, has a jam-resistant GPS receiver, and carries a camera for damage assessment.

Interestingly, there was a previous ASM version of the Tomahawk, the TASM, which used inertial guidance and an active radar for terminal guidance.  TASMs were withdrawn from service in the early 1990’s.

Long Range Anti-Ship Missile

In addition, Defense Update reports that the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has awarded Lockheed Martin a $157 million contract to develop an advanced long range anti ship missile (LRASM) (2).  They have this to say about it,

“Unlike current anti-ship missiles LRASM be capable of conducting autonomous targeting, relying on on-board targeting systems to independently acquire the target without the presence of prior, precision intelligence, or supporting services like Global Positioning Satellite navigation and data-links. As an autonomous weapon LRASM will rely exclusively on on-board sensors and processing systems. According to DARPA, these capabilities will enable positive target identification, precision engagement of moving ships and establishing of initial target cueing in extremely hostile environment. The missile will be designed with advanced counter-countermeasures,to effectively evade hostile active defense systems.

LRASM will comply with existing weapon launchers and storage systems, fitted to match existing the VL-41 Vertical Launch System carried on board all modern U.S. Navy combat ships.

Two LRASM concepts were assessed - LRASM B, a high altitude, supersonic, ramjet-powered cruise missile. This design leverages prior ramjet development activities and a suite of supporting sensors and avionics to achieve a with balanced speed and stealth for robust performance. The second LRASM design is stealthier, low-level cruise-missile designated LRASM A. This design utilizing the Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range (JASSM-ER) airframe, added with additional sensors and systems to achieve a stealthy and survivable subsonic cruise missile. LRASM A is considered more suitable for air launched applications.”
The article goes on to report yet another possible ASM in development.

“While LRASM is positioned as a direct successor for the Harpoon, the development of a more ambitious weapon known as ArcLight is also under evaluation at DARPA as a quick reaction weapon hitting time critical targets at a distance of 2,000 nautical miles within 30 minutes. ArcLight will employ a rocket booster, sustainer accelerating the weapon to hypersonic speed, from where the strike vehicle will glide at high speed, carrying a warhead weighing 100-200 pounds to strike the target with pinpoint accuracy. ArcLight, like LRASM, will also be stored in, and launched from existing Mk 41 VLS.”
Though late in coming, it appears that the Navy is finally begining to get serious about surface warfare.  Now, if only they'll get serious about mine warfare, naval gunfire support for land forces, and anti-submarine warfare!

(1) United States Naval Institute Proceedings, “New Tomahawks Ordered, Offensive Antisurface Weapon Planned”, Edward Walsh, Aug 2012

(2) Defense Update,, “Next Generation Missiles – LRASM”

Thursday, August 2, 2012

LSD Class Life Extensions

Well, here’s a bit of good news.  As reported by the Defense Industry Daily website (1), the Navy is performing mid-life extensions on the LSD-41/49 class amphibious ships and, in fact, has been doing so for several years.  These ships were commissioned between 1985-1998 and, with the extension, will serve until 2038.  Two ships per year are being upgraded with all modernizations scheduled to be completed by 2014.

LSD Class Upgrade - A Good Idea !

Costs for the upgrade appear to be quite reasonable by shipbuilding standards.  For example, USS Oak Hill (LSD-51) will be upgraded under a $115M contract.

The Navy should be doing far more upgrades instead of constantly wanting scrap perfectly usable ships to build ever more expensive new ones.  The Perry FFG class is a prime example.  The Navy made the conscious decision to forego maintenance and life extensions under the assumption that the LCS would be available to take over.  Of course, as it turned out, the LCS is not available in the anticipated numbers and has no capabilities.  Had the Navy extended the FFGs they would have capable ships for anti-piracy and Mid East merchant escort and patrol while buying time for the LCS program to get past its teething problems.

Let’s be fair and congratulate the Navy on a wise decision to extend the LSDs.