Friday, August 30, 2013

Complementary Weapons

A friend of ComNavOps originated the main points in the following post.  Sadly, this person prefers to remain anonymous so, with his tacit approval, ComNavOps is going to shamefully present the ideas, thereby garnering much personal fame and glory, though largely undeserved!

At its most basic level, the various branches of the military are supposed to procure weapons and systems that allow them to carry out their specific missions and, indeed, this is generally what happens.  Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this approach.  One is that it leads to duplication of weapons among the branches.  Secondarily, in some cases, procurement of weapons by a given service is used as a political maneuver to acquire new mission areas.  Worse, though, this approach results in each service acquiring weapons and systems that do not necessarily complement and support the needs and requirements of the other branches.  As a general statement, the Navy doesn’t care about Army requirements when it designs weapons and systems, and vice versa.

As an example of the problem with the current approach, the Navy is developing deep strike, land attack weapons as is the Air Force and even the Army.  That represents a large degree of duplication of effort and waste of resources as well as lost opportunities for economy of scale.  On the other hand, that degree of duplication is not necessarily a bad thing and may, in fact, be required.  For instance, in a given scenario, the Navy may be better positioned to launch the strike than the Air Force and would, therefore need the same capability as the Air Force.  Of course, that duplication certainly leads to more expensive weapons since, almost invariably, the Navy does not buy the same weapons as the Air Force, Army, or Marines.  Each branch seems to want its own unique version of a given weapon type.  Sometimes this is for good reason – consider the difference between Air Force and Navy planes even when the planes fill essentially the same roles – and sometimes not – as in the differences between communications systems.

Setting aside the issue of duplication of systems, there is the concept of complementary weapons.  The DoD, as a whole, should be procuring weapons for the various branches that complement the weapons and functions of the other branches.  In other words, the weapons and systems that we design and develop should be focused on, and procured because, they support the accomplishment of a military requirement rather than a branch requirement.  The Navy’s weapons and systems should complement the Army’s functions as well as supporting their own.  The Air Force’s weapons and systems should complement the Navy’s functions.  And so on …

To some extent, this occurs but not nearly enough.  The Navy, for example, develops and procures weapons that enhance its ability to carry out its functions and, to an extent, strengthen its position in the budgetary allocation process.  What should happen is that the Navy should develop and procure weapons and systems that support and complement the capabilities and requirements of the entire military rather than the Navy.  Of course, given the existing organizational structure of the military, that can’t happen other than by happenstance.

This may be a bit fuzzy, yet.  What are some examples of either existing or needed complementary weapons and systems?

Close Air Support (CAS) – Both the Navy and Air Force should be providing CAS to the Army and Marines.  The Air Force operates the A-10 which is a very effective CAS platform but they have been trying for decades to eliminate the A-10 in favor of sexier fighters and long range bombers.  They also operate a relative few gunships.  The Navy has no real CAS aircraft although they use various aircraft in that role.  One or both services should develop dedicated CAS platforms as well as small, cheap, slow speed spotting aircraft.

Counterbattery – The Navy should have the capability to conduct anti-artillery and rocket counterbattery support for troops during initial landing and assault efforts.  Similarly, the Army and Marines should have the ability to stop land-based anti-ship cruise or ballistic missiles before they become a threat to the ships at sea.

155 mm Guns – The Navy went and developed a 155 mm gun system, the Zumwalt’s AGS, with zero commonality with the Army 155 mm system.  Who thought that made sense?

Deep Penetration – The Air Force is tasked with deep penetration strikes while the Navy provides airborne electronic support for all the services in the form of the Growler.  Note the range mismatch between the two missions?  The Growler, or some functionally similar notional platform, should complement the deep penetration mission in terms of range, speed, stealth, etc.

Aerial Refueling – C’mon, this one’s just too easy.  Pick a single refueling method and standardize so that any aircraft can refuel from any tanker.

Anti-Tank – This is a good example where the Air Force A-10 complements the Army anti-tank requirement, notwithstanding the Air Force’s repeated attempts to retire the A-10 with no replacement.  Perhaps the Navy should have an anti-tank capability?

Anti-Ship – The Air Force should have a robust anti-ship capability to support the Navy’s surface warfare requirement.

Surveillance (ISR) – The Navy is developing a Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) capability.  This is clearly a DoD level requirement that should be supported across the various services and, to be fair, it is to some extent but not in an integrated fashion.

Communications – Really?  This was identified as essential in every conflict in history.  Grenada hammered home the lesson and yet we still find ourselves struggling with this.

That’s enough examples, for the moment.  Let’s consider a closely related aspect of complementary weapons and that is commonality.  Complementary systems don’t necessarily dictate commonality but they do strongly suggest it when appropriate.  Forced commonality has been shown to fail most of the time (JSF-A/B/C, anyone?), however, there are many areas where commonality does make sense:  communications, refueling, missiles, munitions, etc.  Again, the services tend to want their own versions of everything and that tendency should be very carefully monitored.

I know some of you are going to pound out a reply citing some weapon or other that complements a function of another service and, thereby, “proving” that my entire premise is wrong.  Well, I’m not saying that there are no examples of complementary systems.  What I’m saying is that’s not the normal way of weapons development and complementary weapons tend to be the result of happenstance more than planning.

In summary, we fight as a country and as a Military.  Our weapons and systems procurement should be based on Military needs rather than service needs and our weapons and systems should complement the needs and requirements of the various services rather than supporting only the narrow focus of a given branch.

Friday, August 23, 2013


A Navy Times website (1) article provided some information about the Navy’s outlook on fleet maintenance and readiness.

In testimony before Congress, the Navy provided this information about maintenance.

“The surface fleet’s readiness is reaching a tipping point with as many as 30 ships facing overhaul cancellations on top of nearly $2 billion in deferred ship maintenance that has been put off for the last decade, two admirals told lawmakers Aug. 1.”

What’s the interesting point in that quote?  Is it the fact that because of sequestration and other budget cuts, the Navy will have to defer overhauls on 30 ships?  Or, is it the fact that the Navy has allowed a backlog of $2B in deferred maintenance over the last decade, the majority of which included neither sequestration or budget cuts?  Let’s be very clear about this:  the Navy is attempting to blame maintenance issues on sequestration when the reality is that the Navy, by their own admission, has shamefully deferred maintenance to a horrifying level.

The article goes on to report the Navy’s stance on maintenance.

“We really have to get after that maintenance on our ships so that we can preserve those ships to their expected service life to maintain the fleet,” testified Rear Adm. Tom Rowden, the Navy’s director of surface warfare, before a House Armed Services subcommittee. “If we don’t get after that then we may have to look at, because of the increasing cost, having to decommission ships early.”

Oh, so now we have to “get after that maintenance”?  What about the last 10 years? 

We “may have to look” at decomissioning ships early?  Is Adm. Rowden stupid or just totally unaware of what the Navy is doing?  The Navy has retired several Ticonderoga Aegis cruisers well before their lifetime and is attempting to early retire several more.  Has the Admiral not been reading the memos?

The joke continues,

“Rowden and Rear Adm. Timothy Matthews, who oversees fleet readiness for the chief of naval operations, warned that the sequester cuts coming as soon as the next fiscal year could “derail” the surface fleet’s painstaking return to full readiness after a decade of underfunding and straining operational tempo.”

Right …  Sequestration is the problem rather than the Navy’s obsession with new construction at the expense of maintenance for the last decade including up through the Navy’s recent announcement that the Miami would be scrapped rather than repaired and overhauled for a fraction of the cost of new construction.  Yep, the Navy is deadly serious about maintenance if only sequestration hadn’t come along to ruin their plans to fully maintain the fleet.  Hey, remember that $2B deferred maintenance the Navy mentioned at the start of the post?  Well, if the Navy was serious about maintenance, they could cancel one Zumwalt, a questionably useful ship to begin with, and use the $3B-$4B savings to pay for all the deferred maintenance and still have around $1B left over for, oh I don’t know, say, several new Avenger sized mine countermeasures ships. 

And, finally, there is this gem.

“In addition, civilian furloughs are extending some overhauls, and could, over time, lead to longer deployments for sailors.”

Hey, here’s an idle thought:  how many Admirals have been furloughed?  Let’s keep the civilian workers, get the overhauls done in a timely manner, and let the Admirals bear the brunt of furloughs.

Are you as proud of the honor and integrity of our Navy’s leadership as I am?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

LCS Lifespan

Depending on the source, the target lifespan of the LCS is 25 years.  That seems a bit optimistic given the recent history of early retirements of various ship classes.  For instance, several Aegis Ticonderogas are being retired before the completion of their lifespan, if you can believe that!  As of last year the average age of retired Ticos is just under 21 years.  The most powerful ships we have, and they’re being retired early.  Do you really think the LCS will make its full lifespan?

As a point of comparison, here are the average lifespans of several recently retired or retiring ship classes.

Perry FFG  29 yrs
Tico CG  21 yrs
Los Angeles SSN  33 yrs
Carriers CV  44 yrs
Tarawa LHA  32 yrs
LPD  41 yrs
MHC  11 yrs

Add to that the weak structural design of the vessels and the extensive or exclusive (depending on which version) use of aluminum and the likelihood of achieving the full lifespan becomes even more remote.  Few people realize just how lightly the LCS is constructed.  Even the steel hulled Burkes were built too lightly and are now being forced to undergo a program of structural reinforcement.  The LCS will need major structural modifications and reinforcements to have any chance of reaching their target lifespans.  ComNavOps hears feedback from active duty sailors that the USS Freedom’s passage to Guam and Singapore took a physical toll on the ship and will require repairs and that was for a simple passage in normal seas at moderate to low speed.  This does not bode well for a 25 year lifespan.

Further, the maintenance model for the LCS relegates all routine maintenance to pierside or dockyard availability periods.  The normal, day to day maintenance that is a part of everyday shipboard life will not be performed.  Thus, corrosion will not be dealt with on a regular basis.  This can’t help but take a toll on the ships and their equipment.  We’ve already seen rampant corrosion of internal ship’s equipment on Freedom from saltwater infiltration.  This corrosion is normal saltwater corrosion, not the galvanic corrosion issue, and is not being treated on a daily basis as it would be on other ships.  Add in the fact that maintenance fleetwide has been relegated to an afterthought and it’s not hard to imagine that the LCS’s are going to be worn and tired before their time.

Finally, consider the crewing and deployment arrangement for the LCS.  The LCS model is 3-2, meaning three crews for every two ships so as to allow greater deployment time.  While this sounds fine on paper, it has resulted in worn and tired ships in every instance where it has been tried.  Ships wear out faster when deployed more often.  Kind of obvious, huh?

Considering the above factors, one can’t help but be highly skeptical about the likelihood of the LCS achieving a 25 year lifespan.  A 15 to 20 year life is much more likely.  What does this mean for the Navy?  Well, that mythical 300 ship fleet (assuming one counts the toothless LCS as part of the fleet !) isn’t going to happen and the Navy is going to have to come up with new construction funding much sooner than anticipated.  Worse, given the rampant problems with module development and the greatly reduced number of modules being procured as well as the likelihood of future acquisition reductions, we may actually see some LCSs retired without ever having deployed with a module!

Thursday, August 15, 2013


ComNavOps has got to put a stop to this, right now, before it gets any further out of hand.  I’m talking, of course, about the current fascination with capital ship level “frigates”.  Everyone wants the Navy to build frigates and load them up with Aegis, 16” guns, flight decks the size of a Nimitz, amphibious capability, and BMD.  OK, I’m exaggerating but not by all that much.  Read back through some of the recent post comments and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s not just commenters on this site, either.  All over the blogosphere people have lost all touch with tactical and budgetary realities (yes, they are related).

Back to basics …  A frigate is a LOW end ship that can do a bit of everything and nothing well.  They are not high end warships.  They’re intended to operate around the periphery of combat and complement the higher end ships or fill some of the lower end missions so as to free up higher end ships for more demanding duties.  As such, they don’t need area air defense, ground support gunfire capability, or long range strike.

Hang on a minute.  What’s that sound?  Oh, it’s the sound of a bunch of people furiously pounding out replies on their keyboards describing how some country or other has a highly capable frigate with all kinds of capabilities and, therefore, suggesting that we should have the same.  Well …  We already do!!!  They’re called Burkes and Ticonderogas and Nimitzes and B-2 bombers and SSGNs.  We’ve already got very high end offensive and defensive platforms and weapons.  No other country has that and that is why they’re cramming as much capability into their “frigates” as possible.

Affordable and Limited Capability

What we don’t have is an AFFORDABLE, competent ASW vessel that can be built in large numbers and that can also offer a little bit of localized escort protection or expand the reach and effectiveness of the Burkes and carriers that it would operate with.  We also don’t have nearly enough AFFORDABLE peacetime patrol ships for maintaining a credible deterrent presence and the ability to show the flag in many, many places around the world simultaneously.  We don’t have any semi-expendable (meaning AFFORDABLE), semi-capable ships to sail into restricted waters and deal with small boats and swarms, scout for minefields, and provide limited escort protection with proper support.  We don’t have an AFFORDABLE low end ship that can provide limited protection for vessels conducting mine countermeasures operations.  I can go on but you get the idea.  We need a low end AFFORDABLE ship – you know, like a true frigate.  Maybe some other countries need a high end “frigate” (not really a frigate, then, is it?) but the US Navy doesn’t.

Did anyone pick up on the key word in the preceeding paragraph?  Hint – it’s also the key characteristic of a true frigate.

For all of you who insist on designing a high end vessel, that’s fine but it’s not a frigate, it’s a Burke and we already have those.  Plus, how are you going to pay for it?

Seriously, look at the tactical needs of the US Navy before you start designing your “frigate”.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

SPY-3 For Frigates?

Various commentators have discussed the feasibility of putting the SPY-3 radar on notional frigate designs.  SPY-3 is an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) that, in its current US Navy guise, is an X-band radar with volume search omitted. 

Here is a cost data point that may affect people’s outlooks on this.  From the Navy’s FY14 budget justification document we see the cost of a single SPY-3 for the DDG-1002 is $185M ($258M with support and “other” included).  That’s a big chunk of money to devote to a frigate whose main design criteria should be affordability and, hence, numbers!

I don’t know, does that change anyone’s mind?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Based on a comment and link offered by ShockwaveLover in the UCLASS Update  post, the 8000+ nm range spec may be very much less than that.  A commenter from another site, claiming to have intimate knowledge of the procedures and terminology, says that the requirement to fly 600 nm and then conduct two orbits (or 1200 nm and one orbit) doesn’t mean what the graphic that accompanied the stated requirement implied it meant.  Instead of an orbit being a circle around the carrier’s location, it means an orbit (actually oval racetrack) around the end point of the UAVs travel.  In other words, the UAV would fly 600 nm out and then conduct two comparatively miniscule orbits around that end point. 

Taking the longest case of 1200 nm out and back plus a single, very small orbit, the range requirement looks to be more on the order of 3000 nm.

This is a completely plausible explanation despite the graphic that strongly implied an orbit around the carrier and I’m inclined to believe it.  In addition, it accords much better with my estimation of the range that a UAV would have in that role.  We’ll have to wait for confirmation one way or the other.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


The Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft development program has issued an initial RFP for continued prototype work to four companies.  Unfortunately, actual specifications have been hard to come by.  The United States Naval Institute (USNI News) has released a few details (1).

Persistence/Range – UCLASS should be able to perform two orbits around its launch point at a range of 600 nm or one orbit at a range of 1200 nm.  It should be able to conduct a strike mission at 2000 nm.  A quick calculation shows that to be a total range of 8,000 nm or so - awfully impressive (skeptically so?) for a craft that size.  I'm not sure I believe that's possible.

Carrier Compatibility – UCLASS should be able to take off and land in Sea States up to 7 (29 ft waves).

Weapons/Payload – Payload is 3000 lbs and should include EO/IR capability.  A third (1000 lbs) of the payload must be existing carrier weapons.  A self defense payload is required although the details were not specified.

Communications – UCLASS should be compatible with existing communications systems including beyond line of sight and should be capable of being handed off between operators and systems.

Stealth – Major stealth is not a requirement although it should have enough to allow it to operate in “lightly contested areas”.

The competing companies and their expected entries are:

Northrop (X-47B)
Boeing (Phantom Ray)
Lockheed Martin (Sea Ghost)
General Atomics (Sea Avenger)

The issuance of the current RFP to the four companies is intended to initiate a Preliminary Design Review phase of development after which a down-select will occur (bearing in mind that the down-select of the LCS never happened!) in late 2014.

The current RFP seems to suggest a very low level of capability compared to original concept capabilities.  The UCLASS seems to be geared towards surveillance and intelligence gathering with only a minimal, light strike capability.  This is quite a departure from the original concepts but seems eminently reasonable – gather actual operating data from simple missions and functions rather than trying to leap into capabilities that are beyond reach, as happened with the LCS.  I find this approach sensible and refreshing.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Gen. Mattis Joins Board of General Dynamics

James Mattis, retired USMC General, has joined the board of General Dynamics (GD).

I’ve talked about this before.  This is a direct, though delayed, conflict of interest.  Do you really think Gen. Mattis was capable of applying the necessary pressure and criticism to GD while he was serving, knowing that it might affect his chances of serving on the GD board?

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Miami Scrapped

Navy Times website (1) reports that the submarine USS Miami, SSN-755, which was extensively damaged in a drydock fire set by a disgruntled civilian worker will be scrapped rather than repaired.  Repairs were estimated to cost $400M-$500M.  Though expensive, the repairs were considerably cheaper than the cost of a new construction Virginia class submarine replacement which would be around $2.5B.  The Navy now claims that the repairs would have a negative impact on maintenance of other ships.

The fire and the resulting incredibly extensive damage raises the question of the effectiveness of automated damage control given that the Navy is committed to a path of minimal manning and automated damage control for its major combatants.  I have no idea what level of automated firefighting systems Miami contained and the situation is further confused by the fact that the ship was in drydock so I don’t know to what degree, if any, the firefighting systems may have been inactivated.  However, if the systems were comprehensive and on-line, the rapid spread of the fire and the extreme difficulty in extinguishing it does not bode well for the Navy’s assumptions about automated firefighting.  I’ve stated before that my experience with industrial automated firefighting shows that the systems rarely work as intended.  At the very least, this incident has to make one wonder about the wisdom of the Navy’s path.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Zumwalt Switches To Steel

Defense Industry Daily website (1) reports that GD Bath Iron Works has received a contract to build a steel superstructure for DDG-1002 rather than composite.  Wouldn’t you love to know what the Navy’s reason for that was?  We’ve discussed some of the issues, here and here, involved in the Zumwalt program and the suitability of the composite superstructure was one of those.  Specific concerns included steel-composite joint problems, structural strength, ballistic resistance, damage control issues, difficulty of production, maintenance and repairability, etc.  Apparently, the Navy has run into problems sufficiently difficult to cause them to revert to steel. 

We’ll keep an eye out for more on this.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Navy to Cut 2-3 Carriers?

As reported by Navy Times website (1), Defense Secretary Hagel has acknowledged that one of the options for dealing with continued sequestration budget effects is to reduce the number of carriers from 11 to 8 or 9.  Admittedly, this is just Hagel floating budget trial balloons so let’s not all run around shouting that the sky is falling.  On the other hand, ComNavOps has, on numerous occasions, stated publicly that the Navy is on a path towards operating only 8 or 9 carriers so I see nothing about this that leads me to believe it won’t happen.

Some of you may recall that 11 carriers are mandated by law so it would require a new law or, simply, waivers to operate less than 11.  That shouldn’t be hard to do especially since it’s Congress that agreed to the sequester to begin with and Congress that willing gave the Navy a waiver to operate only 10 carriers with retirement of Enterprise.

Read the linked article and you’ll get more details about which carriers would likely be retired, why they can’t simply be mothballed, and lots of other good tidbits.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

State of the Navy

CNO Greenert delivered a State of the Navy briefing to reporters at the Pentagon on 19-Jul-2013 (1).  Here are some highlights.

  • A year ago we had 3 CSGs and 3 ARGs surge ready to support the deployed fleet in the event of emergencies.  Today, and moving forward, we have only 1 CSG and 1 ARG.

  • The Navy’s portion of the sequestration and budget cuts is $14B.  You’ll note that that’s equal to an entire year’s shipbuilding budget.  Each account (shipbuilding, operations, maintenance, manpower, etc.) will take a 10% cut in FY14.  If manpower accounts are  excluded, as was done in FY13, each remaining account would be cut 14%.

  • CNO made clear that he wants to maintain shipbuilding at current planned levels and is willing to allow other accounts to take a greater hit to do so.

  • Half of the 60 ship maintenance availabilities that are planned for FY14 will be indefinitely deferred.  Again, that demonstrates that CNO will maintain shipbuilding to the detriment of all else.  In fact, the cynical among us might suspect that CNO is not altogether displeased with this.  It allows him to ignore ship maintenance, thus shortening lifespans and increasing the need for new construction, while claiming to have no choice due to budget cuts.

  • We will maintain 1 deployed CSG and ARG in the Western Pacific and 1 CSG and ARG in the Arabian Gulf.

  • Air wings are undergoing reduced certification activities, which is affecting their readiness.

  • CNO wants the ability to reprogram cuts to emphasize some accounts and de-emphasize others to achieve the prioritization he feels necessary.  This is laudable except that his idea of priorities is questionable, at best.

  • CNO stated that sexual assault is the “challenge of our time”.  Indicatively, he spent 2X-3X as much time discussing this topic as any other.  Given our previous discussion of the issue and the fact that military sexual assaults are significantly less than civilian assault rates this seems to be a Tailhook-like politically motivated witch hunt that is soaking up time and resources that could be better spent elsewhere.  CNO listed numerous new programs, resources, and personnel that will be devoted to this issue.  This was the only area that was cited as gaining budget!

  • Pre-deployment air wings are down to 11 hours per month flying time.

  • Q&A made it clear that CNO is focused on peacetime activities and is shorting warfighting capabilities.

  • CNO likes the trend that US-China relations are on.  Hmmm …….  He must not be reading the same reports and stories that I am!

  • Addressing capabilities, “Our benchmark, in all of those, remains the Western Pacific.   It was clear from the context (I think) that the warfighting needs are being measured against the Chinese A2/AD scenario.  That said, it’s hard to reconcile the statement with our actual procurement plans which do little to address the needs of total war in an A2/AD environment.

  • CNO stated we need a fleet of 306 ships.  That’s a joke to anyone who has read the 30 year shipbuilding plan and studied the budget.

What comes across, crystal clear, from this CNO is an obsession with new construction and a focus on the low end, peacetime functions of the Navy.  Maintenance, manning, and all other functions will be sacrificed to achieve new construction.  Warfighting is being allowed to atrophy.  Under this CNO, the Navy is being transformed from a combat fleet to the seagoing equivalent of a nation-building police force – a glorified Coast Guard – that exists to promote civilian political agendas.  While the Navy has had some stunningly bad CNOs in its history, Greenert is rapidly working his way towards becoming the worst ever.