At the start of WWII, the Navy’s main submarine torpedo completely failed in combat. During the Viet Nam war, the F-4 Phantom was found to be deficient and ill-suited for aerial combat due to the lack of an internal gun, tell-tale high smoke engines, and unreliable missiles; all this, despite extensive pre-war development and testing. The Sparrow air-to-air missile was found to be nearly useless in its combat debut. The Navy’s pre-WWII anti-aircraft weapons, the 0.50 cal water cooled machine gun and the 1.1” gun mount, were found to be totally ineffective against the threat when used in combat. The Army’s main tank in WWII, the vaunted Sherman, was completely outclassed and “succeeded” only due to
’s ability to build it in vast numbers. America
The litany of weapons that failed their test of combat is a long one. None of these weapons were designed to fail - quite the opposite. Supporters loudly and proudly proclaimed that each and every one was a war-winning miracle of then modern technology. All were extensively tested and judged a success.
Despite all the development and testing, each failed in combat. Why? Well, a variety of reasons, I guess, but the two main ones seem to be a failure to anticipate the actual threat and a failure to test under realistic, near-combat conditions.
Failure to correctly anticipate the threat leads to design of a weapon that is ill-suited to its purpose. For example, the F-4 Phantom was designed without a gun because the prevailing opinion was that dogfights were a relic of the past and would never be seen in modern aerial combat again. As it turned out, dogfights are a constant of aerial combat. The Phantom’s design assumptions doomed it to failure from the start. Now, before any of you jump on me, yes, the Phantom was eventually able to serve successfully once better missiles and tactics were developed but it was still a failure, initially.
Failure to test under realistic conditions leads to a false sense of confidence in weapons that have inherent flaws. The torpedo of WWII was never extensively tested under realistic conditions and its flaws only became apparent in combat.
Well, that’s a fascinating history lesson but what’s the point?
As I read blog posts and comments, professional articles, and books from naval authors and observers, I’m struck by the near total confidence we have in our current weapons. It’s an almost religious belief that our weapons will work exactly as advertised. And yet, history suggests that most of our weapons will either fail totally or require extensive rework and re-development to eventually become even partially successful. Has our technology risen above history? Are we immune from technological failures now? I don’t think so! The LCS, for example, demonstrates clearly that our technological failures still abound. So, why do we think that all of our weapons will work in combat? Let’s consider some examples.
|Sparrow - It Should Have Worked|
The LCS’ Mk110 57mm gun is widely attributed with the ability to decimate scores of small boats in an anti-swarm scenario. This, despite the lack of a fire control radar and test results from the DOT&E that show the gun is unreliable. Plus, the gun has never been tested in a realistic scenario.
Talk about an article of faith, the Standard/Aegis AAW system is accorded an almost mystical level of ability despite the fact that there has never been a single combat launching of a Standard missile, as far as I know. Further, there have been relatively few test launches and none under realistic combat conditions. Heck, the Navy doesn’t even have drone targets that provide a realistic threat substitute so how can realistic testing be performed? And now we believe the system is going to perform ballistic missile defense against even higher speed and harder to hit targets?
Will the Phalanx CIWS work in combat? Again, it has never been successfully fired in combat nor realistically tested.
The standard 5” gun of the Navy has been tested, once, in combat and failed miserably. The
fired somewhere between dozens and hundreds of rounds at small boats during its infamous encounter and failed to record a single hit. Despite this, the 5” gun is still the mainstay of naval gunnery and has not been improved significantly, as far as I know. Vincennes
The Zumwalt’s AGS 155mm gun is going to provide pinpoint accuracy at ranges of 50-70 miles. I have yet to hear anyone voice even the slightest doubt about that.
The military has a variety of GPS precision guided missiles and yet no one acknowledges that GPS is unreliable even in peacetime and will be significantly degraded in war.
We’re developing various UAVs like Fire Scout and BAMS which are assumed will function perfectly despite the obvious difficulties in maintaining control communications in a combat jamming and ECM environment. In fact, we’re apparently losing UAVs over
even now. Iran
And the list goes on.
History suggests, with near 100% certainty, that most of our weapons will fail in combat. The only unknown is to what degree they’ll fail and how much effort will be required to eventually make them somewhat successful.
Am I suggesting that we pack up our foul weather gear and go home because none of our weapons will work? No! For one thing, the enemy’s weapons aren’t going to work any better than ours. What I’m suggesting is that we acknowledge the reality that our weapons will perform far below expectations and make reasonable allowances for that in our designs and tactics. Let’s beef up our point defenses in recognition that Standard/Aegis is going to allow more missiles through than we think. Let’s recognize that mounting single guns on ships is woefully insufficient. Let’s wean ourselves off of GPS. Let’s assume the AGS will not be as accurate as we hope and look at methods for correcting the spot of gunfire at the kind of distances involved. Let’s assume the LCS isn’t going to be a miracle minesweeper and develop some alternatives. Let’s assume that one JSF can’t take on ten of any other plane. I could go on but you get the idea.
Let’s believe in reality, as demonstrated repeatedly by history, rather than PowerPoint capabilities and manufacturer’s sales brochures.