Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hughes Constant of Peacetime Command

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

Darwinian Naval Evolution

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

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

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

Is the Navy Evolving in the Right Direction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Weapons Don't Matter!

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

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

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

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

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

BAMS - More Important Than Weapons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2012

Who's In Charge?

Navy Times website just announced two more commanding officer firings.  Here's the totals for last year and this year (so far!).

            CO     XO     Senior Enlisted
2012     24       5         13
2011     22       5         12

Some readers have criticized ComNavOps for being too harsh in judging Navy leadership.  I unabashedly admit to being highly critical of the leadership and I've documented the reasons.  In fact, my belief that the Navy and the country are being ill served by Navy (and civilian - but that's largely outside the scope of this blog) leadership was one of the main motivations for starting this blog.

The Navy has fired 46 commanding officers in less than two years.  Something's wrong.  Something's very wrong.  It's painfully evident that our selection process for CO and above is broken.  Well, at least the rest of the commanding officers, the majority to be sure, are good, honest, decent leaders of the highest moral character, right?  I doubt it.  They just haven't been caught yet or their failings are insufficient to actually get them fired.

I assume you're all familiar with the "tip of the iceberg" principle?  For those who may not be, the concept is that what you can see represents only a small fraction (usually cited as 10%) of the total, hence the analogy to the tip of the iceberg where the vast majority of the iceberg is hidden beneath the water relative to what's visible.  For instance, in industrial safety matters, visible and documented safety violations are assumed to represent only 10% of the total safety violations that are actually occurring. 

Likewise, I assume that for every CO whose behavior is egregious and visible enough to warrant firing, many others are guilty of the same behavior but have not been caught.  Does this unfairly paint all leaders with the same broad brush?  Certainly, and that's unfortunate but the evidence suggests a systematic and endemic failure of the selection process which strongly suggests many other flawed leaders are currently serving.

Consider the recent posting about Adm. Harvey's mea culpa.  That's a perfect example of a leader who lacked the fortitude to stand up for what was right while serving and only spoke up as he was retiring.  That's a flawed leader.  While he didn't do anything that qualified as a firing offense, he also didn't serve the Navy or the country well.

Remember that flawed leadership isn't just about firing offenses.  It's also about the lack of courage to take a stand in the face of bad decisions and flawed policy.  It's the weakness of character that allows a leader to go along with a program he knows is wrong because he wants to protect his career.  That's why minimal manning programs occurred which anybody could see would be disasters.  It's why LPDs were accepted by the Navy with thousands of hours of uncompleted work.  It's why the LCS continues to move forward despite being an abject failure.  And so on ...

So, what's going on?  Are all these leaders suddenly becoming drunks or sex offenders or thieves or whatever after they become leaders?  Of course not!  Their behaviors were there before promotion and remained after promotion.  Why isn't our selection/screening process finding this?  -because we're not looking at the right criteria, obviously.  Now, I can't begin to suggest what the right criteria are.  Navy leadership will have to do that.  Unfortunately, that's like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop.  Flawed leadership is unlikely to come up with better selection criteria.  We can only hope that the good leaders (and there must be some) will stand up and loudly and publicly insist on meaningful changes.  Come on Navy leadership, stand up and demand change!  Save my Navy!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

LCS - What Would You Do With It?

As ComNavOps was reading and replying to comments, he couldn't help but notice that some topics generate a lot of interest and some less so.  Not surprisingly, the LCS is one that generates a lot of interest.  Everyone has an opinion - most of them tending to the negative. 

Well, for better or worse the LCS is here and will almost certainly be built through the current contract options, resulting in a buy of 22 ships, half of each version.  The obvious question, then, is what to do with them given that they will have fairly limited capabilities for the foreseeable future.  This is your chance to tell me and the Navy what should be done with the LCS.  Just to save time, let's eliminate the "terminate it" answer.  As I said, the LCS is here and the Navy has to do something with it and it would be nice if we could actually get some level of use out of it.  Let's also eliminate the total, and generally unrealistic, rebuilds.  In other words, no 16" gun turrets with a squadron of JSF jump jets.  So, realistically, what can be done with the LCS? 

To help you out, here a few factors that any realistic alterations must take into account.

  • LCS-1 class has severe weight issues.  There are no margins for growth.  If you want to add a 5" gun, you have to remove something of equal weight.  That goes for anything you want to add - it's a zero sum game.
  • LCS-2 class has limited volume forward.  Authoritative reports state that a 5" gun almost certainly can't be placed forward.  The same probably goes for a VLS, plus that's a lot of weight forward.
  • Neither class has the berthing, mess, food storage, heads, etc. to support much of an increase in crew.  So, before you start listing ninety eight new weapons you want to add, consider the impact on crew size and the limited support for crew.
  • Neither class has a particularly strong flight deck.  In other words, two helos is the limit due to structural weight limitations.

This is your chance.  Pretend you're the Navy and you've got to do something with the LCS.  What do you realistically suggest?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

LCS - Mass or Disperse?

In his book, Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat (1), Capt. Hughes discusses the concept of dispersion/massing as applied to surface ships and, particularly, to smaller ships.  He notes,

“When dispersion is an important means of defense, small ships and distributed firepower are an important advantage.  Much of the modern debate over the size of warships concerns the comparative merits of dispersal in small ships (to complicate enemy targeting) and of concentration of force in large ships (to fight off the enemy).    Today if a commander’s fleet comprises large ships with strong defenses he masses and fights the enemy off.  If he has small ships or weak defenses he must disperse.  In either case he is buying time to carry out his mission, which is not to steam around waiting to be sunk.  If the defense cannot buy time for the offense to perform, then the fleet ought to be somewhere else.”
Hughes brings up two good points in this short paragraph which are highly relevant to the Navy’s LCS.  Remember, the LCS was built before a coherent concept of operations was developed (we’ll set aside the lunacy of that sequence, for the moment) and they are now trying to develop one.  Let’s see what Capt. Hughes has to offer in the way of guidance for the LCS.

Hughes’ first point is that the purpose of a ship/fleet/Navy is to conduct offensive operations.  While a Navy may occasionally be forced into defensive operations (protecting a base or defending sea lanes, for example) they would still, ultimately, be linked to offensive operations - for instance, defending a base from which future offensive operations may be launched.  So, offense is the purpose of a Navy.  Herein lies the initial problem for the LCS.  Currently, it has no offensive capability.  The Navy is working to develop modules which will give it some offensive capability but that appears to be a long ways down the road.  Nonetheless, let’s assume that the LCS acquires offensive anti-submarine, anti-surface, or land strike (either direct via munitions or indirect via Marine/SOF land forces) capability.

LCS Operations - Mass or Disperse?

The small size of the LCS precludes applying a significant strike capability from a single ship.  Thus, multiple LCSs will need to mass to apply a significant strike of whatever form.  This leads directly to Hughes’ second point concerning the balance between massing and dispersion.  Massing creates an efficient target for the enemy.  As Hughes points out, if massing creates a defense strong enough to compensate for the easy target the mass makes, then massing is desirable.  If not, dispersion is the better tactic. 

The LCS was not designed to be able to provide area anti-air defense nor to have a significant anti-surface defense.  Thus, massing provides no enhancement in defense.  One LCS cannot “cover” another so LCSs derive no defensive benefit from being grouped.  This leads to the conclusion that the LCS should operate dispersed to maximize the chance of surviving long enough to carry out offensive operations.

But wait …  If the LCS should operate dispersed and no single LCS can generate a significant strike, how then can the LCS be effective?  Well, we may well have uncovered a flaw in the LCS concept.  However, bear in mind that massing for a strike does not necessarily mean that the massing must occur at the point of origin of the strike.  Massing can be at the destination of the strike.  In other words, ten ships, each with a single missile, don’t have to be near each other at launch time in order to conduct a massed strike of ten missiles – they can be dispersed and simply time their individual missiles to arrive at the target together to achieve the massed strike.  So, it is possible for LCSs to operate dispersed and still provide massed strike, under the right conditions.

The preceding discussion has enormous implications for the development of the LCS.  As the Navy attempts to develop a concept of operations for the LCS and continues to develop modules, the concept of physical dispersion for defense and massing for offense should be the guiding light.  The LCS needs weapons and offensive capabilities that are capable of destination point massing.  This implies a level of range and targeting capability that the LCS not only doesn’t have currently but is not even being discussed, as far as I know.  The dispersion aspect also suggests that a certain amount of attrition of individual units will occur which should dictate that the ships be small, cheap, and expendable.  Unfortunately, that ship has already sailed.  The LCS is neither small nor cheap nor expendable (given its cost).  Since the desired characteristics of a dispersed unit are not achievable, additional emphasis should be placed on self-defense, meaning a better anti-air (more CIWS/RAM) and anti-surface (bigger/more guns) fit.

Griffon - The Right Weapons Development Path?

If the Navy would think this through, direct the module development along these lines, and consider modifying the core capabilities to increase self-defense, we might be able to someday have a moderately useful LCS.  Of course, it’s equally possible that a rational analysis of the above might lead to the conclusion that the LCS was incorrectly designed, can’t be sufficiently modified, and should be terminated.  Either approach would be better than the floundering that’s occurring now with the Navy desperately searching for a mission for the LCS.  This is why a concept of operations should come before construction, not after!

(1) Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, 2nd Ed., Capt. Wayne Hughes, Naval Institute Press, 2000, ISBN-13: 978-1-55750-392-3, p.191

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Burke Fails INSURV

A Burke class destroyer, the USS McCain (DDG-56), failed an INSURV inspection conducted  in June, according to a Navy Times report just released.  I have no other information about this.  I had been hoping that Navy maintenance and training issues were being addressed and showing improvement but this makes me wonder anew.  Admittedly, a single INSURV failure proves nothing.  Still, it's disturbing that the Navy's backbone ship type would fail. 

This is the first failure I've heard about in some time which had led me to hope things were improving.  Of course, given that the Navy went to the length of classifying these inspections due to the poor PR and resultant public criticism and pressure who knows how many inspections have been conducted over the last year and whether there were other failures?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Marine Detachments

ComNavOps occasionally has distinguished visitors drop by and today is such a day.  We have a guest post provided by WireguidedMarine.  Regular readers will recognize the name from his frequent and insightful comments throughout the blog and especially concerning Marine and amphibious matters.  Indeed, it is exactly these topics that WireguidedMarine offers his unique perspective on in today’s post.  He is a retired Marine SNCO who started off using missiles and eventually moved to Intel.  He later went to college on the GI Bill where he majored in history.  An authoritative and unique perspective, indeed!  Enjoy!


Recently the Navy and Marine Corps have begun to focus on the Pacific and China.  In addition, within the Corps, there is a feeling that the last decade has seen the Marines become “a second land army” to the detriment of the Service’s core capability. How should the Marine Corps go forward post-Iraq/Afghanistan and refocus on the sea?   

One way to bring some capability back to the Fleet is to reinstate the Marine Detachments (MarDets). Until the 1990’s, Marines were regular components of battleship and aircraft carrier crews. During the Cold War, detachments usually consisted of two officers with 35 to 44 Marines on cruisers and two officers with 46 to 64 enlisted on carriers. By the late 1990’s, budget and manpower constraints had reduced these numbers by half on carriers before being eliminated altogether. As the regulations at the time specified, Marines were: “To provide for operations ashore, as a part of the ships landing force; or as a part of the landing force of Marines from ships of the fleet or subdivision thereof; or as an independent force for limited operations.” Does this not sound familiar to us in the present day?

MarDets - More of Good Thing

These Marines would have no major impact on carrier operations. Transport would be by MH-60S Knighthawk, a good surrogate for the Marines’ UH-1Y and integrated with the carrier air wing. Current plans are for about half a dozen Knighthawks to be in a Carrier Strike Group, enough to transport most of the Leathernecks in one flight. Another option is that one or two MV-22s can be cross-decked as necessary, or used to help justify the overdue replacement of the old C-2A as both a cargo and tactical transport on the carrier.

Marines I knew who had been part of these MarDets talked of how they worked with the crews of the SH-3s (and later SH-60s) on all types of insertions including on land, on ships, at night, and in bad weather. They were the Captain’s personal assault force when necessary. Not to take away from the SEALs, but these roles of hostile ship-boarding and raiding are tailor-made for Marines. This would ease up demand on the already stretched thin SEALs.

I believe the MarDets need to be placed on cruisers again as well. A smaller contingent of one officer and 25 enlisted Marines would add to the flexibility of any task force.

A CSG under my plan with a carrier and two cruisers would have over 100 Marines fully integrated into the force. MH-60s (and possibly MV-22s) organic to the group would provide airlift. Any tasking more than the CSG’s Marines could handle might be brought in by the ESG with the LHD or LPD to handle the C3 and logistics. The Marines would be a small enough unit to get in and out quickly and would have naval gunfire (5”/54, 5”/62, 155mm AGS), MH-60Rs, and fast movers to provide the support needed during their brief time ashore.

I like the idea of bringing back the MarDets. They are the Marine Corps’ past, and I believe they can be the Marine Corps’ future.


The Naval Institute Guide To The Ships And Aircraft Of The U.S. Fleet Norman Polmar 18th edition 2005

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Amphibious Assault - Reinventing the Wheel

The Navy and Marines have recently begun to make public the results of the Bold Alligator 2012 amphibious exercise held earlier this year.  An article in the latest Proceedings (1) describes some of the findings.  For those who aren’t familiar with it, the exercise was an attempt to re-establish an amphibious capability in a Marine Corp that had largely forgotten its primary purpose due to extended land battles over the last decade or so.  Indeed, the author states,

“Many participants , from novices to veterans, had never participated in combined naval amphibious operations prior to the exercise.”

The exercise involved 27 ships and 15,000 personnel. 

While discussing the Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) and Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) forces, the author assesses them with the following statement.

“… the most recent iteration [the exercise] reveals our ESG/MEB-sized naval forces to be in the early part of the ‘walk’ phase of the ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach.”
The author noted a lack of expertise and familiarity among participants with the details of amphibious operations and goes on to list additional shortcomings such as the importance of integrating Navy and Marine staffs, incompatibilities between Navy and Marine communications equipment, and the realization that the various commands are still trying to determine the optimal means of command and control.

This exercise and its findings represent a sad state of affairs regarding our amphibious capability.  We have institutionally forgotten how to conduct amphibious operations.  It’s kind of embarrassing to hear Naval and Marine personnel proudly talk about our progress in the amphibious realm.  Didn’t we master the art in WWII?  Sure, the equipment has changed over the years but how did we allow our amphibious expertise to atrophy so badly?  Communications incompatibilities?  Really?  Didn’t we learn this lesson after Grenada? 

I won't belabor this any further other than to state the obvious - our leadership has failed us badly over the years.

I know, many of you are going to excuse the leadership by saying that they had no choice.  The Marines were ordered to commit to an extended land battle and it was bound to happen.  No one's fault, right?  Wrong!  What good leadership should have done was to loudly and persistently point out what was happening to the Marine Corp.  They should have taken the issue to Congress and the public.  Where were the leaders willing to sacrifice their careers to ensure that the Marines remained America's ready reaction force instead of just a smaller version of the Army?  Poor leadership.

On the plus side, at least we recognize we have a problem and are doing something about it.  Given enough time we’ll probably figure out how to do something we mastered over 65 years ago.

(1) Naval Institute Proceedings, “Still in Demand”, Lt. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, USMC (Ret), Nov 2012

Monday, November 5, 2012


We’ve discussed in previous posts (here and here and here) about the lack of realistic training in the Navy.  Oddly, though, the Navy established one of the best and certainly the most famous training program of all time, namely Top Gun.  Top Gun assembled a group whose dedicated mission was to assemble and study everything known about enemy aircraft, weapons, and tactics, develop our own tactics for defeating the enemy, and then train a continual rotation of pilots to take advantage of their findings.  By all accounts, the program was a major success until the mid ‘90s when it was merged with the Navy’s strike training program.

Consider this, though …  Almost all of the information collected and taught at Top Gun was available to the pilots on their own.  In other words, the pilots in the fleet had access to everything needed to draw their own conclusions and develop their own tactics and yet it didn’t happen.  Why not?  Well, the pilots were too busy with routine training, patrols, paperwork and the thousand other things that consume a pilot’s typical day.  It was necessary to form a group whose entire day was devoted to studying the enemy because the fleet pilots simply didn’t have the time to do their own studies.  There’s also an economy of scale – no sense having every pilot in the fleet reinvent the wheel.  Of course, it was also beneficial to have a set of standardized tactics that all pilots knew instead of having each pilot develop their own with the result that no pilot would know what pilot next to them would do in combat.

The other services also offer similar dedicated adversary (Opposing Forces - OpFor) forces for realistic training such as the Air Force’s Red Flag or the Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin, CA.

The key feature to these Opfor commands is that they provide training by using platforms and tactics that closely simulate the expected enemy.

Previous posts have discussed and documented that even current leadership of the Navy, by their own admission, recognize that ships and crew are not being trained against realistic threat platforms using enemy tactics.  Simply gathering ships, splitting into two groups, and then “fighting” is not providing realistic training in recognizing and countering enemy tactics.  For the same reason that individual pilots were unable to develop their own tactics, ship’s Captains just don’t have the time to study enemy platforms, weapons, and tactics and then develop counter-tactics.  The Navy needs a standing OpFor – a Top Gun of the sea.

To the extent possible, OpFor’s use platforms that mimic the characteristics of the enemy platforms.  Instead of retiring and selling off the Perry FFGs, why not use them as simulators of enemy corvettes/frigates/destroyers?  The Meggitt Hammerheads would provide extremely realistic simulations of small boat swarms and missile boats.  The Cyclone class, which the Navy has never embraced, could simulate fast attack craft, missile boats, and corvettes.  There are plenty of used (or new) non-nuclear subs on the market that could be used to simulate enemy platforms. 

It's Got To Be Real

A standing OpFor would certainly not be a cost-free program but compared to the cost of the first multi-billion dollar ship saved as a result of superior training, the cost would be negligible.  All the platforms already exist and have been paid for.  Most are headed for retirement and scrapping so their use as OpFor platforms wouldn’t deprive the fleet of active ships.  All that would be needed is some minor upgrading and instrumenting for the role.  Even the manning requirements of the simulator platforms could be greatly scaled back through automation and the need to only man for exercises of a few days duration. 

The combination of a standing OpFor and appropriate live fire exercises would provide the most realistic and useful training possible.  It’s one thing to read a book about tactics or run through a computer simulation but it’s another to stand on the bridge of your ship watching a Hammerhead approach at 35 kts, about to crash into the side of your ship and leave a giant dye mark splashed all over the side of your ship because you didn’t honor the threat appropriately, while a drone flashes overhead that you didn’t detect in time, and knowing you’re going to be mocked by your fellow Captains (even though they wouldn’t do any better) upon your return with your ship bearing the red blotch of shame.

Before I close this discussion out, I know I’m going to have to address those of you who are already starting to type in your reply that all we need is to use simulators;  that combat takes place in the CIC, anyway, so we can train dockside in front of computers.  Well, the Air Force found that as simulator usage increased, so too did real world mishaps.  Simulators just can’t replicate the stress, adrenalin, and confusion found in the cockpit of a plane pulling G’s and with the threat of collision with other planes or the ground only seconds away.  Yeah, but that’s the Air Force;  it’s different for naval combat, right?  Wrong!  Remember the Vincennes incident where a highly trained CIC crew made every mistake possible and a few considered impossible.  Simulators largely remove stress.  Once stress is added back in, performance suffers greatly – and that’s the environment to train in! 

Don’t get me wrong.  Simulators are a great complement to, but not a replacement for, live training.

It’s time to start putting our ships and crews up against trainers who thoroughly know and can apply enemy tactics.

Friday, November 2, 2012

LCS - Cost Cap

I’ve long been fascinated by the Congressional cost cap that has been applied to the LCS program.  It’s been interesting to watch Congress’ attempt to apply oversight and fiscal restraint and then observe the Navy’s response.  The cost cap was Congress’ reaction to the combination of controversy about the LCS combined with the early indications of runaway cost growth.  Congress was, in essence, telling the Navy that they weren’t comfortable with the LCS program but that the Navy could continue the program if they could keep the costs below a threshold.  So, how did it all play out?  Let’s review …

The original Navy cost estimate was for a $200M ship.  It’s unclear whether that estimate included the module cost.  As it became clear that that target would not be met, Congress in 2006 passed Section 124 of the FY2006 National Defense Authorization act (H.R. 1815/P.L. 109-163 of January 6, 2006) which set a cap of $220M per ship.

Then, in 2008 the cost cap was changed by Section 125 of the FY2008 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4986/P.L. 110-181 of January 28, 2008) to $460M  per ship.  The cap was applied to all LCS procured from 2008 on.

Later in 2008, the cost cap was amended again by Section 122 of the FY2009 Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act (S. 3001/P.L. 110-417 of October 14,
2008) which deferred the implementation of the cost cap by two years, from 2010 on. 

In 2010 the cost cap was amended again by Section 121(c) and (d) of the FY2010
National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2647/P.L. 111-84 of October 28,
2009) to set a cap of $480M.  However, the cap excluded certain costs from being counted against the cap and included provisions for adjusting the $480 million figure over time to take inflation and other events into account, and permitted the Secretary of the Navy to waive the cost cap under certain conditions.  The Navy has stated that the cap equates to $538M as of December 2010, due to inflation.

In summarized form, here’s the progression of the cost cap:

2006     $220M
2008   $460M
2008   $460M  deferred
2010   $480M  inflation and “events” adjustment clause; waivers
2010   $538M  Navy inflation adjustment

What was the Navy’s response to all this?

The Navy sought and obtained the cost cap language that allows the cap to be adjusted and even waived because they know they can’t build the ships for the cap amount.  But wait!  Doesn’t the Navy have a fixed price contract for less than the cap amount?  Doesn’t that prove they can build the LCS for the cap amount?  If you’re asking that, then you haven’t been a regular follower of this blog.

Yes, the Navy has a fixed price contract for less than the cap and, no, they can’t build the LCS for the contracted amount.  I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it.  The fixed price contract is only for the seaframe (the hull).  The weapons, electronics, computers, fire control software and systems, sensors, radars, and most other equipment is being supplied from another, separate account line that is not included in the cap limit.  Pretty clever of the Navy, huh?  If you can’t meet the cost cap, just split off half the cost into an unregulated account and then you can claim to be building cheap LCSs.  Technically true but bordering on fraudulent in that it is a deliberate ploy to bypass Congress’ intent.  Add to that the fact that the modules, without which the ships are useless, are also being funded from a separate account and you’ve got a pretty fraudulent accounting practice by the Navy.

The real cost of the LCS is the seaframe (~$500M inflation adjusted) plus government supplied equipment ($200M ?) plus module ($30M - $200M) and you’ve got an actual total cost for the LCS of $750M - $900M.

Also, the fixed price contract contains language allowing the manufacturer and the Navy to split cost overruns, 50:50, or even allowing the manufacturer to recover all overrun costs under certain circumstances.  That’s not a fixed price contract!  

I also don't know whether the fixed price contract automatically increases each year due to inflation adjustment or whether it stays at the original contract price.  A few things I've read, including the contract's inflation adjustment clause, hint that the fixed price increases each year.  If so, the current fixed price for the seaframe is actually somewhere around $550M each per the Navy's stated inflation adjustment and allowing for continued adjustment through 2012.  As I said, I'm unsure about this aspect.  If anyone knows for sure, cite a reference and let me know!

Regardless, you’ve got to give the Navy credit.  Faced with a seemingly impossible cost cap, they manipulated the system, bypassed the intent of Congress, and got their LCS program.  That’s some outstanding integrity being demonstrated there, Navy!  What’s wrong with being upfront about the real costs and then letting Congress do their job and decide if it’s worth it to the country?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

SSBN(X) Update

The United States Naval Institute has a short article with a few details about the future SSBN(X). 

Here's a bullet list of features:

  • Single mission
  • X-stern
  • Electric drive
  • Virginia anechoic hull treatment
  • Virginia Large Aperture Bow Sonar array
  • Water jet propulsor
  • Dimensions 561 ft x 43 ft - 2 ft longer than Ohio
  • Crew of 155 - same as Ohio

The most interesting feature is the focus on single mission.  There has been a lot of discussion about using the SSBN(X) as a combination SSGN & SSBN or acting as a Special Forces platform.  It appears that none of that will happen.  This will be a straight up repeat of the Ohios with modernized equipment.

The next most interesting feature is the crew size which is identical to the Ohio.  Given a significantly greater degree of automation in this sub versus the Ohios, this seems odd.  I would have thought a reduction in crew size would have been part of the design.

I still don't get the why the sub is the same size (2 feet longer, actually!) as the Ohio when it has 33% fewer missile tubes. 

Cost estimates are unchanged from those reported in our previous post.  This is a very expensive sub!