Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Business of the Navy

An anonymous reader made a great comment and posed a question in the Naval Guns post that warrants a post of its own to answer.  The relevant portion of the comment was,

“Given that there will be very limited quantities of 155mm LRLAP ammunition actually procured, you have to wonder what advantage the full size AGS has over AGS Lite, other than a higher ROF [ed.: rate of fire].”
The comment correctly points out that the AGS has only a single, very limited use ammunition (for shore fire) and that the AGS Lite (AGS-L) is just a marketing proposal, at this point.  Nevertheless, the question as to what the advantage is of the AGS over the AGS-L has an illuminating answer.  It has nothing to do with ROF or tactical employment.  The answer is that the AGS has the overwhelming advantage, from the Navy’s perspective, of being fully automated from the strike down of ammo to operation of the mount.  The AGS-L would require a good deal more manning.

Reduced manning is the new Holy Grail of the Navy.  Why?  Because the Navy is no longer in the business of warfighting.  The Navy is now in the business of being a business that builds ships as its product and reason for existence.  The obsessive desire to build ships even to the detriment of warfighting capability, as we've previously discussed, means that construction budgets must be constantly increased and Navy leadership has identified manning, specifically reductions in manning, as one of the more obvious and easy sources of freeing up additional funds for construction.

AGS - Good Weapon or Good Business?

Over the last few decades we’ve seen a host of business-based initiatives and programs spew forth from the minds of Navy leadership.  These programs have been about efficiency, synergy, re-organization, cost effectiveness, six-sigma, diversity, etc.  You all know the litany.  The Navy bought into the flawed idea that a warfighting organization can be run like a commercial business.

I’m not going to further delve into the pitfalls of running a combat organization like a business because, frankly, I think the problems are obvious to everyone except Navy leadership.

The key point to take away from this post is that the Navy’s procurement, weapons programs, and planning is being driven by business concepts instead of warfighting considerations.  Which is better: the AGS or the AGS-L?  I don’t know but I do know that the decision should not be based on accounting.  Select one or the other because of combat effectiveness.

Before we turn this into strictly an AGS discussion, remember that this type of flawed business-based decision making is being applied to all aspects of the Navy.  The Navy exists to fight not to make a profit.  Warfighting decisions will often be incompatible with business practices.  So be it.  We’ve got close to 400 Admirals.  You’d think a few of them would realize this.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

More Admirals??

As ComNavOps was musing over the myriad problems besetting the Navy, he couldn't help but think that all of these problems could be solved if only we had more Admirals.  Then, as if by a miracle, ComNavOps read that the President has just nominated 32 Captains for their first star.  Be praised!!!  The Navy's problems are surely at an end now.

Seriously, while I have nothing against a career path and upward mobility, don't we have more than enough Admirals already - something like 350 or so for a fleet of 280 ships?  Do we really need thirty more?  During a time of severe budget constraints?  Or did I miss the announcement about 32 Admirals retiring?


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Naval Guns

The Burke class DDGs have a single 5” gun.

The Ticonderoga class CGs have two 5” guns.

The Spruance class DDs had two 5” guns.

A WWII Fletcher class DD had five 5” guns.

For better or worse, the 5” gun is the mainstay of naval gun armament for the modern U.S. Navy.  As such, our ships are woefully underarmed.  The Navy believes that gunnery engagements are a relic of the past much like the supposed demise of the dogfight after the Korean War.  The only problem was that the Viet Nam war proved that dogfights are eternal, planes need guns, and the Navy’s all-missile F-4 Phantom was ill-equipped for aerial combat.  The Phantom’s follow on, the F-14 Tomcat, reverted to guns and every Navy fighter since has retained that valuable lesson.

Now, though, the Navy believes that ship’s guns have no place in the modern age of anti-ship missile combat.  The single 5” gun on the Burke is a token placement intended more to placate Congressmen who want to see obvious weapons on ships than it is a serious weapon.  When conflict comes, the Navy will find that its ships, much like the Phantom, will have to fight up close and personal and will be ill-prepared.  We can make all the solemn pronouncements we want about the end of naval gun battles but that won’t change the inevitability of their need and use.  And, of course, there’s always the need for guns to provide fire support for troops on the ground.

Fletcher - Lesson for the Future?

Now, I recognize that short of actually going to war and finding out the hard way about the need for naval guns, there’s no way to prove my contention.  You either believe along with me or you don’t.  I won’t belabor the need any further.

Moving on and accepting the need for guns for the sake of further discussion, let’s look at the Navy’s application of guns. 

As noted, most ships in today’s Navy have only a single gun.  Similar to the rule of thumb for the helo (if you have one, you have none) which recognizes their susceptibility to failure, a single gun represents a single point of failure.  If anything goes mechanically wrong, you have no guns.  The Navy doesn’t accept single points of failure in other areas.  For instance, there’s a reason why Navy planes all have two engines (although, the Navy is about to break that common sense rule with the JSF);  it’s to accommodate Murphy’s Law and the single point of failure.  The Navy got rid the versatile Mk13 single arm missile launcher, in part, because it represented a single point of failure.  Why, then, does the Navy accept a single point of failure regarding guns on major warships?

If you only have a single gun, wouldn’t you want to protect it to the maximum extent possible?  WWII 5” gun mounts were protected by 1-2 inches of steel armor.  While this was not proof against a direct hit by a major caliber gun, it did ensure that it would take a direct hit to incapacitate the gun.  In other words, simple shrapnel couldn’t put the gun out of action.  Contrast this to today’s 5” gun mounts which are totally unprotected.  The mount covers are simply for protection from the weather and elements.  Shrapnel or even small arms fire can put a modern 5” gun out of action.  How long will today’s guns survive in battle?  Not long.

The Navy needs to recognize the continued combat utility of the naval gun by,

  • upsizing guns on major combatants to the 8” Mk71
  • armoring all 5” or larger gun mounts
  • providing multiple mounts on destroyer or larger sized ships

The Navy needs to get serious about combat and start designing ships that can fight up close as well as over the horizon.

Friday, March 22, 2013

USS Freedom Drifts Towards Guam

The Navy's pride and joy, the USS Freedom (LCS-1), has experienced its third power outage during its transit from Pearl Harbor to Guam.  Aviation Week (1) suggests that all are related to the diesel generators though that is not confirmed.  Sleep easy, readers, as the mighty LCS sails full speed ahead drifts doggedly towards Guam and Glory!


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Surface Force Commander's Vision

Defense News website (1) reports on a classified memo, “Vision for the 2025 Surface Fleet”, from VAdm. Tom Copeman, Naval Surface Forces, that contains a number of fascinating recommendations.  Among them are,

  • Discontinue the dual buy LCS at the 24 already built or on order and, instead, select one or the other or, alternatively, an up-gunned version of one or a completely new ship.

  • Recommends against building the DDG-51 Flt III in favor of a larger purpose-designed cruiser.

  • Recommends increased reliance on mobile landing platforms (MLP) and afloat forward staging bases (AFSB).

  • Recommends new amphibious construction scaled down to the size forces more commonly used.  Presumably, this is directed towards Company size landing forces.

  • Calls for new electronic warfare systems to replace the SLQ-32.

  • Calls for more effective ship launched ASW weapons.

  • Calls for more effective anti-ship missiles.

A few things are interesting about this.  The top surface warfare commander is advocating for an end to the LCS, at least in its current form.  He appears to recognize the developmental difficulties facing the modules.  If the value of a carrier lies in its air wing, the value of the LCS lies in its modules and those modules are many years away from achieving even a modest level of usefulness.  While not offering a specific alternative, the suggestion is that the current incarnation of the LCS is a failure. 

While that’s hardly a surprise to the rest of us, it does represent a radical departure from the Navy public relations line and that’s the other interesting aspect to Adm. Copeman’s LCS position.  The Navy has been ruthless in ensuring that anyone connected to the Navy has nothing but glowing remarks about the LCS.  Either Adm. Copeman is displaying career ending candor in going against the Navy line or he is merely reflecting a growing sense of disappointment within the Navy about the LCS and the sentiment is strong enough that he feels safe to state it publicly.  I suspect the latter.

ComNavOps has talked repeatedly about the overabundance of Navy amphibious capability relative to reasonably foreseeable need and has advocated the use of Company size ships and landing forces.  Adm. Copeman seems to be echoing this though, again, we’re lacking specifics.

The call for a new electronic warfare system is a recognition that Aegis/Standard is not the only way to deal with incoming missiles.  In fact, Aegis/Standard may not even be the most effective way.  Regardless, a new, more effective electronic warfare system will provide a means to upgrade the effectiveness of every ship in the fleet.  Whether such a system can be developed remains to be seen but it’s at least casting an eye in the right direction.

The call for more effective ship launched ASW weapons is outstanding.  The current ship launched torpedos are not really adequate.  If we’re going to use the LCS (or Copeman’s successor platform) in an up close and personal ASW role then we definitely need more and better ASW weapons.  A modernized version of the Hedgehog system would be a good starting point.

Taken together, Adm. Copeman’s comments paint a vastly different picture of the future of the surface Navy than the official version.  We’ll have to wait and see what, if anything, comes of this.  Regardless, I applaud Adm. Copeman for his vision and courage in going on the record with it. 

By the way, you’ll recall that this is the same Adm. Copeman who I singled out for praise in an earlier post for recognizing that the Navy has been hollowed out and for suggesting a different means of dealing with the sequestration than CNO Greenert is using.

Perhaps Adm. Copeman should be the CNO?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

General Board and BuShips

Once upon a time (hey, that’s how any good fairy tale starts), the Navy designed ships in-house.  They debated needs and requirements, collected opinions from the fleet, settled on specifications, and drew up designs.  The designs were then offered to industry to bid on the actual construction.  Along the way, the Navy’s in-house experts monitored the progress of construction, compared the product to the specifications, and eventually passed judgment on whether the product quality was acceptable.  Because of the in-house knowledge and expertise, the Navy knew exactly how the ship should be built, what materials were appropriate, and how the ship would perform.  There were two groups largely responsible for this approach to ship procurement:  the General Board and BuShips.

The General Board of the Navy was established as an advisory group in 1900 and disbanded in 1951 by order of then CNO Forrest Sherman.  The board consisted of senior admirals and others, often near the end of their careers or retired who had a wealth of experience, relatively little politicking left to do, and sufficient time to consider issues facing the Navy.  While they were tasked with contemplation of any issue brought before them, their greatest value lay in the guidance and direction they provided for the Navy’s shipbuilding programs.  Anyone who has read any of Norman Friedman’s series on the design history of the various classes of ships will be well familiar with the role the General Board played in evaluating the various ship design proposals and then establishing the final requirements.  It is worthwhile to note that the General Board was abolished by the office of the CNO which viewed the Board as a threat to the CNO’s power.

The General Board - The Navy's Best Hope?

The Navy’s Bureau of Ships (BuShips) was established by Congress in 1940 and consolidated the Bureau of Construction and Repair and the Bureau of Engineering.  The Bureau was responsible for the design, construction, procurement, maintenance, and repair of ships as well as establishing relevant specifications for materials, fuel, etc.  BuShips was eliminated by order of the Dept. of Defense in 1966 as part of a general reorganization of the Navy and was replaced by what is now known as the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA). 

Beginning somewhere around the time of the Spruance class procurement, the Navy decided to farm out its design responsibilities to industry.  The Spruance was the result of a general set of wishes provided to industry with industry allowed to design the ship.  On the plus side, the Navy hoped that this would lead to more unconventional designs and cost savings.  On the minus side, there was no guarantee that any of the industry designs would turn out to be acceptable.  As it happened with the Spruance, a fairly good design did result.  Also on the minus side was the loss of ship design expertise and familiarity with the specifics of the design.  Thus, the Navy no longer had in-house experts who could evaluate a design and recognize good from bad.  Further, the Navy had no person or group intimately familiar with the details of a given ship class’ design.  The Navy would have to depend on industry to understand the details – the Navy knowingly and willingly abandoned the concept of attention-to-detail.  This trend of farming out design responsibilities to industry has continued to this day and has given us the LCS, LPD, DDG-1000, and other notable failures.

Here’s a simple and minor example of what happens when no one inside the Navy is responsible for, and knowledgeable about, ship design.  The Navy just recently announced that it would retrofit bridge wings to the LCS-2’s that have already been built or are under construction.  Apparently, bridge wings are necessary for vision when maneuvering the ships in tight spaces.  Of course, every sailor since Columbus has known this and yet the Navy failed to include bridge wings in the LCS-2 design.

Not to pick on the LCS, but consider the corrosion problems due to galvanic corrosion, a phenomenon that has been well understood for centuries.  The lack of in-house naval engineers with responsibility for the design led to a fundamental oversight that shouldn’t have happened.

I could go on with example after example but you get the point.

The lack of in-house technical and engineering expertise is bad enough but there is another, equally serious, problem resulting from the absence of a dedicated design group.  The people who are nominally in charge of developing requirements and overseeing the ship designs don’t stick around long enough to see their work through and take responsibility for it.  Instead, they serve their short term assignment and move on.  The people supposedly responsible for the LCS are long gone.  There is no continuity or accountability and attention to detail suffers.  Wouldn’t we all like to ask the originators of the LCS design what they were thinking?  Compare that model of ship design to the BuShips approach.  With BuShips, the designers worked in the Bureau for years and were readily accountable for their designs.  Further, for naval engineers BuShips represented the pinnacle of their careers rather than a short term stop on the way to other career paths.

I mentioned NAVSEA which replaced BuShips.  Shouldn’t they be performing the same responsibilities?  Sadly, no.  NAVSEA does not design ships.  In fact, as I understand their function, they don’t even get involved with a ship design until it’s already built.  NAVSEA verifies that the newly constructed ships meet the contract specifications but by then it’s too late to improve the design.  Worse, NAVSEA doesn’t even do this properly.  The first few LPDs were accepted by NAVSEA despite the fact that the ships weren’t even remotely close to being completed – they required thousands of post-acceptance man-hours just to physically complete the construction.  Similarly, the LCSs have been accepted with entire compartments incomplete.  NAVSEA’s acceptance evaluations have become a joke and a political and public relations tool of a politicized Navy leadership.

The Navy urgently needs to reconstitute both the General Board and BuShips if it is to have any hope of living happily ever after.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Home Port Defense

A friend of ComNavOps made some very good points in a series of recent discussions.  The U.S. has become complacent in many aspects of its warfighting due to the second rate nature of the opponents it has faced since the demise of the Soviet Union.  We have come to expect air supremacy as the natural state of affairs, we take for granted our unchallenged use of the sea, we assume the ability to freely move troops and materials around the periphery of a conflict, and so on.  These complacencies will come back to bite us and find us wanting in our capabilities if we fight a peer (China) or determined near-peer.

One of the most glaring complacencies is our assumption of remote warfare, meaning that whatever conflict we engage in will not occur on U.S. soil or in U.S. waters.  In particular, our assumption of unfettered and uncontested use of our own ports is a glaring weakness.  Consider this scenario:  an enemy sends a submarine(s) to covertly deploy mines in key U.S. commercial and military port approaches.  What would the result be?  The affected port(s) would be paralyzed.  Remember, it only takes a few mines to completely shut down operations.  The U.S. would be forced to redeploy the very few mine countermeasure (MCM) platforms it has back to home waters.  In turn, this would severely impact our ability to conduct naval operations (or even simple passages) in mined areas in the remote combat zone.  U.S. naval efforts would be severely restricted, if not paralyzed.  We simply don’t have enough MCM assets to clear a dozen major home ports and simultaneously support warfighting efforts.

ComNavOps’ friend went on to suggest the use of diesel-electric SSKs for use in home port defense.  SSKs are ideal for this purpose.  They’re extremely quiet, relatively small, well suited for shallower water operations, and deadly.  A small fleet of a dozen or so SSKs would not only provide valuable defense but could serve as realistic opponents in ASW training.

The point of this post is not to promote the use of SSKs, though there is ample support for doing so, but to suggest that the Navy needs to broaden its warfighting focus.  A pivot to the Pacific is fine but we must not forget the vulnerabilities in our home waters that can be exploited by a determined enemy and subsequently impact our forward deployed capabilities.  As with mines in our home ports, a few enemy submarines operating off our coasts or just outside our ports can wreak havoc all out of proportion to their actual impact. 

The Navy needs a broad range of capabilities and platforms, not just carriers and nuclear subs.  We need a robust mine warfare capability, focused shallow water ASW platforms, enhanced home port defenses, coastal escort capability, and so forth.  The Navy exists not just to build carriers, as Navy leadership seems to believe, but to conduct the entire spectrum of maritime warfare.  Today’s Navy needs to reexamine and rebalance its focus and capabilities.

Friday, March 15, 2013

JSF - GAO Report

The GAO has published its latest report on the F-35 JSF.  It’s grim reading.  The only thing keeping this program going is that it’s the definition of too-big-to-fail.  Well, let’s plunge in and see what’s happening.

Let’s start with cost.  There are lots of cost figures floating around out there but these should be as official as it’s possible to get.  As reported, the U.S. production goal is for 2443 aircraft of a mix of the three versions.  The cost report does not break out the individual version costs.  The total procurement cost for the 2443 aircraft is $335.7B in 2012 dollars for a unit cost of $137M per aircraft.  Developmental costs are reported separately and total $55.2B.  That is one expensive plane!

Hmm…  I wonder, though, how it would compare to, say, a brand new Super Hornet built today.  Co-incidentally, the report provides that information.  Because of the delayed fielding of an operational JSF and the resulting shortage of Navy aircraft, the Navy is planning to build 41 new F/A-18E/F aircraft for a total of $3.1B.  That’s a unit cost of $76M.  Quite a drop from the JSF!

JSF - No End In Sight

At almost twice the cost of a Super Hornet, will the JSF provide twice the capability?  We’ll have to wait and see but it’s not looking good.  We’ve already seen that the JSF was only designed to match the performance of an old F-16 and even those performance parameters have been recently downgraded.  Will the 360 degree sensing, if it’s ever realized, be able to compensate for that kind of lackluster performance and enable the JSF to be “twice” as good as the aircraft it’s replacing? 

Moving on, let’s look at the scheduling overruns.  As a reminder, in 2001 the JSF was predicted to achieve Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 2010 after nine years of development.  Subsequently, the IOC slipped to 2012 then 2013 then 2015 and now the military has rescinded that estimate and declined to provide a new projected IOC date citing the still too immature level of development.  I think it’s safe to say that 2017 would be an optimistic guess and 2018 or beyond would be more likely.  That’s pushing two decades to achieve IOC!!!!

Here’s an interesting tidbit demonstrating the problem with concurrency (the practice of building production aircraft before design and testing are finalized).

“Over time, testing has discovered bulkhead and rib cracks. The program is testing some redesigned structures and planning other modifications. Officials plan to retrofit test and production aircraft already built and make changes to the production line for subsequent aircraft.”

It’s not encouraging to find structural failures in brand new aircraft but, to be fair, that’s the point of testing.  I have no doubt that fixes can be instituted but this means that the production aircraft that have already been built have to be torn apart and rebuilt to incorporate the fixes.  In essence, we’re paying twice for the same aircraft.  I don’t understand the rush to make production aircraft that are not operational, will just sit around, and will have to be rebuilt at additional cost.  This is stupidity at an unprecedented level.

GAO comments on the effect of concurrency.

“In addition to contract cost overruns, the program is incurring substantial costs to retrofit (rework) produced aircraft needed to fix deficiencies discovered in testing. These costs are largely attributable to the substantial concurrency, or overlap, between testing and manufacturing activities.”

The key to success of the JSF lies in its computer software.  Clearly, the airframe performance offers nothing noteworthy.  The stealth is only mediocre.  It’s the software that will tie the sensors together and provide the 360 degree sensing, the advanced self-diagnostics, the integrated helmet, and other capabilities that will make or break the JSF.  Unfortunately, the software is even further behind and in more trouble than the hardware, if you can believe that.  GAO recommends,

“… evaluating the possible deferral of some capabilities, either to later blocks or moving them outside the current F-35 program to follow on development efforts. “

As with the LCS, faced with failure to meet specifications the solution is to waive the requirements?  It appears so.  GAO is saying that continuing to pursue the promised capabilities will negatively impact cost and timelines to the point that the lesser of evils option is to defer the capabilities until some nebulous point in the future.

Here’s GAO’s summary of the status of software development.

“Software capabilities are developed, tested and delivered in three major blocks and two increments—initial and final—within each block. The status of the three blocks is described below:

  • Block 1.0, providing initial training capability, was largely completed in 2012, although some final development and testing will continue. Also, the capability delivered did not fully meet expected requirements relating to the helmet, ALIS, and instrument landing capabilities.

  • Block 2.0, providing initial warfighting capabilities and limited weapons, fell behind due to integration challenges and the reallocation of resources to fix block 1.0 defects. The initial increment, block 2A, delivered late and was incomplete. Full release of the final increment, block 2B, has been delayed until November 2013 and won’t be complete until late 2015. The Marine Corps is requiring an operational flight clearance from the Naval Air Systems Command before it can declare an initial operational capability (IOC) for its F-35B force. IOC is the target date each service establishes for fielding an initial combat capable force.

  • Block 3.0 providing full warfighting capability, to include sensor fusion and additional weapons, is the capability required by the Navy and Air Force for declaring their respective IOC dates. Thus far, the program has made little progress on block 3.0 software. The program intends initial block 3.0 to enter flight test in 2013, which will be conducted concurrently with the final 15 months of block 2B flight tests. Delivery of final block 3.0 capability is intended to begin nearly 3 years of developmental flight tests in 2014. This is rated as one of the program’s highest risks because of its complexity.

In particular, the development and testing of software-intensive mission systems are lagging, with the most challenging work ahead.  About 12 percent of mission systems capabilities are validated at this time, up from 4 percent about 1 year ago. “

That paints a pretty vivid picture of the state of the software development.  The JSF is nowhere near operational status despite over a decade of development. 

Dept. of Defense really should pull the plug on this program.  Unfortunately, the reality is that this program has become too big to fail in the mind of DoD.  If JSF were cancelled we’d be looking at another decade or two to get a replacement fielded.  The worst part of this is that even when the JSF becomes operational, it will only be slightly better than the Hornets it replaces, if even that.  Despite the incredible amount of pain it would cause and the disruption to naval aviation procurement plans, the best option is to cancel the program and continue buying Super Hornets until a replacement can be procured.

(1) Government Accountability Office, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Mar 2013, GAO-13-309

Thursday, March 14, 2013

EMCON, What's That?

AOL just published an article reporting on a talk by CNO Greenert at a Newseum conference.  Among the comments was this gem:

“Greenert also hit one of his favorite topics, electronic warfare, saying ‘we’ve gotten really sloppy’ since the Soviet threat went away.  By adding new sensors and communications gear without concern for EMCON, emissions control, he said, ‘we are out there spewing electromagnetic energy into the air,’ which makes Navy ships much easier for enemies to find.”
Really??!  We’ve been installing new equipment without concern for EMCON requirements?  This has only been an issue and a requirement since WWII.  Who has allowed this to happen?  Where has Navy leadership been all this time?  Do you people see why I’m so critical of the Navy’s leadership? 

This is yet another example of Navy leadership’s focus on all the wrong things.  This is why the LCS was built without galvanic corrosion protection, something we’ve thoroughly understood since the 1800’s.  This is why we’re building ships with no armor protection and placing single, unarmored gun mounts on Burkes.  This is why our ASW capability has atrophied.  This is why we have no credible mine countermeasure capability.  This is why we’ve gone back to building ships out of aluminum despite having seen the catastrophic consequences of doing so.

Even more than being yet another sign of the total failure of Navy leadership to execute their responsibilities, this is a perfect example of the consequence of the Navy decision to abolish their in-house design and engineering groups, the General Board and BuShips.  The Navy no longer has in-house engineering and naval architecture expertise.  I’ll do a dedicated post on that topic in the very near future.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sequester the Admirals - Part 2

Well, the post Sequester the Admirals generated a bit more interest and comments than I thought it would.  So, here's some more information on the subject.  As reported by Navy Times website (1), the Navy had one admiral for every 130 ships at the close of WWII.  Today, the Navy has one admiral for every 0.8 ships.  Wow, that’s some kind of growth in the flag ranks!

While there have been repeated drawdowns in the lower levels after the Korean war, Viet Nam war, and various other times, it is noteworthy that there has never been a drawdown amongst the flag ranks, as far as I know.

As the article points out, the Navy manning has been steadily decreasing for the last couple decades and yet the flag ranks have been steadily increasing over that same period.  Does that make sense?

Before any of you attempt to make the argument that the Navy, today, is engaged in world wide activities and, therefore, has more responsibilities than before, you'll have to explain how fighting a World War is so much less demanding of flag rank positions.  Common sense suggests just the opposite.  If the Navy of WWII could fight a world war with thousands of ships and many hundreds of thousands of sailors with only a tiny fraction of the number of admirals that today's Navy of 285 ships has then we have a severe problem today and that problem is about 300 useless admirals.  There couldn't be a clearer example of rank inflation.

Revisiting the concept of cutting Admirals as the first step in meeting the demands of sequestration, the Navy estimates that each admiral costs $230,000 per year in salary and benefits.  Even if cutting two or three hundred admirals wouldn’t solve the budget issue by itself it would certainly send the proper message that sacrifice starts at the top and that the Navy’s priorities are rational.  Contrast that to the Navy’s first action which was to stand down four air wings and idling the associated carriers.  How’s that for priorities?

Do any of you still think there isn’t room for LOTS of thinning of the flag ranks?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sonar and Sea Life

The Navy Times website (1) reports that the California Coastal Commission has denied a proposed Navy sonar training program due to fears that it will harm marine mammals and fish.  The Navy maintains that the threat to sea life is negligible while estimating that the effects of the program would kill 130 marine mammals and cause hearing loss in 1600 others – that’s not exactly negligible.  The Navy program would begin at the start of 2014 and affects 120,000 square miles of ocean.

This is a very difficult issue with no easy solution.  There are scientific studies which suggest a link between dolphin and whale groundings and deaths and the use of naval sonars.  Further, there is a fair amount of circumstantial evidence to support a cause and effect.  Common sense would seem to support the contention, as well.  Sonar is sound waves and it would be reasonable to expect that intense sound waves would harm sea life that depends on hearing for survival.  My understanding is that the low frequency sonars which are being used more often, now, for shallow water ASW are more harmful than high or medium frequency units.  No one wants indiscriminate destruction of marine life but, on the other hand, no one wants to see the Navy’s training suffer with the result that ships and crew are ill-prepared for combat.

I know budgets are tight but this is an issue that warrants additional Navy-funded research.  In the meantime, the best solution is probably to try to limit training to areas that are less frequented by susceptible sea life, to the extent reasonably possible. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sequester the Admirals

The Navy has 280 ships and over 300 Admirals.  How about we get rid of about 250 Admirals as a start towards meeting the budget cut requirements?  It's not like these people have been doing a stellar job of leading the Navy, anyway.  Just saying.

Air Wing Inactivations

As we've recently reported, the Navy is inactivating four air wings and reducing two others to "sustainment" levels.  That leads one to wonder how much money will this save?  

An air wing consists of planes, pilots, mechanics, and all their gear.  Think about that for a minute.  The planes and gear are already paid for - no savings there.  The pilots require several years of training and are far too big an investment to lose.  In other words, the pilots aren't going to be laid off because you can't simply go out and hire new ones, ready to go, when the budget issues resume their normal levels.  So, the pilots are going to be retained which means they're still going to be paid - no savings there.  The mechanics, like the pilots, represent a talent pool not easily replaced.  Possibly a few could be separated from service but, most likely, they won't be separated and will still have to be paid - again, no savings.  

What, then, is saved by inactivating an air wing?  Well, the cost of fuel, I guess, along with miscellaneous consumables like grease or parts that are routinely replaced.  That hardly seems sufficient savings to justify idling an entire air wing.  I'm left to conclude that air wing inactivations are a political ploy by the Navy to try to pressure Congress into rescinding the sequestration cuts.  

Does anyone see anything I'm missing, here?

JSF Concurrency

The FY2013 budget highlights summary posted on contains the following quote:

“JSF reduced by 69 airframes over the FYDP (ed.note:  that’s the five year period 2013-2017 inclusive) to pay for concurrency and reduce need for future modifications.”

Regular readers know that the practice of concurrency, whereby a ship or plane is built while its design is still being developed, is one of the major causes of cost and schedule overruns.  With this budget document, the cost of concurrency hits home with the loss of 69 airframes to pay for the associated concurrency costs.  Do the math.  Multiply 69 airframes times the cost of single plane (say $100M – could be more depending on what source you want to believe) and you come up with the concurrency cost.  Yikes!  And this doesn’t even count the concurrency costs previously incurred.  Despite the overwhelming evidence of the stupidity and wastefulness of concurrency, the Navy remains firmly committed to the practice.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Sequestration Update

For those of you keeping score at home, Carrier Air Wing 2 (CVW-2) will be the first to stand down, begining now, with three others following shortly thereafter.  Also announced, two additional air wings will be reduced to "sustainment" levels, whatever that means.  That makes six air wings, and hence six carriers, taken off active status over the immediate future. 

I don't claim to understand the nuances of the sequestration law.  My understanding is that there is relatively little room for flexibility in the apportionment of cuts.  Still, this smacks of political brinkmanship with the Navy essentially daring Congress to continue.  As I've said, this is unworthy of the Navy and simply reinforces my opinion of Navy leadership.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Anti-Submarine Warfare

During the Cold War the greatest naval threat was from Soviet submarines.  As a result, the Navy was extremely focused on Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and developed a variety of platforms, sensors, and tactics to deal with it.  Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War the Navy has allowed ASW to atrophy to an alarming extent.  Only recently has the Navy begun to attempt to reverse the trend and, even now, only with half-hearted measures.  Considering that the proliferation of foreign submarines, especially the modern non-nuclear SSKs, is the second leading threat (mines being the first), the current deplorable level of ASW capability represents a serious shortcoming.

The Navy’s Cold War ASW focus was enhanced due to the actual proximity of the threat and the ability to actively train against the real threat rather than simulations.  Soviet submarines were seemingly everywhere and constituted an ever-present and serious threat.  The threat level provided overwhelming motivation to become proficient at ASW and allowed for the most realistic hands-on training possible. 

Consider, though, what has become of our ASW capability since the Cold War.  The Spruance class, designed as a specialized ASW platform, has been pre-maturely retired and SinkEx’ed with no direct replacement.  The S-3 Viking which provided long range, high speed ASW was retired with no replacement.  Burke class DDGs are being built without towed arrays.  The 160 or so P-3 Orions are being replaced by 100-120, depending on the source, P-8 Poseidons, reducing coverage capacity.  SSN submarines, the most effective ASW platform, are being steadily reduced in number.  Worse, the Navy’s ASW focus has been lost and ASW has been relegated to a tactical afterthought.  We see, then, that the Navy has lost much of its specialized ASW platforms, equipment, and focus.

What does the Navy need to do to regain their ASW capability?

ASW - Atrophied

The Burke DDGs have ASW capability but were not designed with ASW as their primary focus.  In fact, many were built without towed arrays although the Navy seems to be retro-fitting arrays as availability and budget allows.  The Burkes are anti-air warfare (AAW) platforms that can also perform ASW to an extent.  As a result, their focus is AAW rather than ASW.  AAW is what they practice.  Because of this, the Navy needs a dedicated, specialized ASW surface ship to replace the Spruance.  Recall that the Spruance, possibly the best ASW surface ship ever built, was designed specifically for that purpose with noise-isolating machinery mounts, Prairie/Masker sound deadening systems, state of the art sonars, anti-submarine weapons, helos, etc.  We need to build the smallest and cheapest possible ship that can contain the necessary ASW equipment, a modest self-defense capability, and nothing more.  In other words, we don’t need another win-the-war-single-handed vessel.  Specifically, a dedicated ASW ship should not have Aegis.  It should have a minimal sensor suite sufficient for short range self-defense.  The ship should be the equivalent to the WWII corvette or destroyer escort.

The Burkes should continue to have their full ASW suite fitted and brought up to date to maximize the ASW capabilities that they do have.

The Navy needs a fixed wing, carrier aircraft replacement for the S-3 Viking.  By giving up the long range ASW capability of the Viking the Navy ensured that first detection of a sub would occur at close range where it’s already an immediate threat. 

Finally, and most importantly, the Navy needs to refocus its training and priorities.  ASW is one of the most perishable of naval skills.  It must be practiced constantly to maintain proficiency.  Simply having a sonar does not make an ASW platform.  In today’s Navy, ASW is not sexy.  AAW and ballistic missile defense (BMD) are the sexy activities and are what get the attention and training time.  The Navy needs to refocus on ASW.

A good start to this would be to purchase a few foreign non-nuclear subs to act as a dedicated OpFor similar to TopGun or any of the standing training commands.  We need a group that studies Iranian, North Korean, and Chinese submarine tactics and then operates non-nuclear subs using enemy tactics so as to provide the most realistic training possible.

Going further, one of the activities during the Cold War that really sharpened our ASW capability was the practice of having our subs trail Soviet subs.  It’s generally acknowledged that our subs fairly routinely violated Soviet territorial waters to conduct their ASW and intel missions.  We need to be doing this with Iran, North Korea, and China today.  We need to be tagging and trailing their subs constantly.  To be fair, we may well be doing this and it simply isn’t publicly acknowledged. 

As we discuss ASW platforms, remember that there are two ways to approach ASW.  One is to have super sophisticated, ultra-high end platforms which, by definition, cost an enormous amount of money and can be procured only in limited quantities.  The other is to overwhelm enemy submarines through sheer numbers of less capable platforms.  This was the approach taken during WWII.  Large numbers of corvettes, destroyer escorts, trawlers, and whatnot were pressed into service as ASW platforms.  Individually, none were all that capable but collectively they provided the required capability.  This approach also has the advantage of being able to afford individual losses in what is an inherently risky operation.  This is why we need to build the lower end dedicated ASW vessels as described above.  Plus, let’s face it, the modern submarine enjoys an enormous advantage over surface ships.  Numbers will be needed to compensate.

The Navy needs to recognize that mines and submarines are the major threats today and field platforms and equipment that can counter them, TODAY.  We need practical, ready to operate ships and aircraft that utilize currently available technology rather than the LCS, the Navy’s fantasy answer, that won’t have any useful capabilities for years to come, if ever.

Friday, March 1, 2013

FY2013-FY2017 Shipbuilding Plan

Here’s a quick update reminder about the Navy’s near-term shipbuilding plans.

For the five year period 2013-2017 inclusive, the Navy’s shipbuilding plan calls for 41 new vessels of all types.  Of the 41, only 19 are combat ships (carriers, subs, destroyers).  That’s an average of 3.8 new combat vessels per year.  For a 35 year lifespan, that translates to a combat fleet of 133 versus the 185 or so currently.  Our combat power is vanishing!

During the same period, the Navy plans to build 16 LCS which, even under the most optimistic wishing, will never be combat vessels.  That’s a lot of construction and budget devoted to an extremely marginally useful vessel!

The fleet’s numbers and combat power are shrinking and the current budget issues will only exacerbate the trend.