Tuesday, October 29, 2013

State of the Marine Corps

What the heck is going on with the Marine Corps?  This is a Navy blog and I don’t follow the Marine Corp to the same degree but recent Marine Corps news is disturbing, to say the least.  I listened to a presentation by MGen. Frank McKenzie speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and it was eye-opening.  This is a bit long but has some stunning revelations.  It's worth the time to read this.

The General opened by stating that the Corps was directed to develop a “new” Corps in response to budget pressures and the need to implement a 20% overall cut with a target of FY17.  The new Corps will have an end force of around 174,000 with a deploy:dwell of 1:2  (example, 7 months deployed and 14 months home) in order to meet demands with the available resources and will be focused on forward presence and crisis response as opposed to heavy combat.  The Corps will become lighter and more mobile.  McKenzie noted that the other services target 1:3 dwell.

He identified two programs that he views as vital to the Corps moving forward.  The Marines want to protect the JSF, at all costs, and the amphibious combat vehicle (ACV) but noted that Corps needs significant time, still, to define what that vehicle will be.  Really?  How many years have the Marines been working on AAV upgrades, the EFV, and similar options?  -and they still don’t know what they want?

He further noted that the new force will have reduced numbers of artillery and tanks and be more focused on crisis response and humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HA/DR).  Huh?!!  The Corps is deemphasizing combat?  Who’s in charge of this movement?  I know Commandant Amos is unpopular in many circles but this is almost criminal.

Semper Fi?

McKenzie noted, “If we were developing a strategy driven force, we’d take a 186.8K force at 1:3 dwell.”  He went on to note that the 1:2 dwell would not be an issue for the “4 and out” portion of the Corps but represented a severe challenge for the career personnel and would have to be carefully managed going forward.

The new structure will be structured around:

3 MEBs - east coast, west coast, Okinawa
7 MEUs
2 MEFs
21 Infantry Battalions

When asked about the apparent imbalance between air, ground, and logistics as evidenced by the MV-22 and JSF garnering the vast majority of budgets for the last several years, McKenzie opined that the balance is just fine and that the air component is the number one priority in order to maintain a proper balance.  This stunned me until he offered a further comment later in the session.  Read on and you’ll see what I mean.

McKenzie stated that the Marines are not in the business of conducting opposed beach landings.  How he reconciles this statement with his characterization of the ACV as the number two acquisition priority is unclear.

Questioned about the Navy’s amphibious lift capacity, he responded that the Marines are very happy with the Navy’s amphibious force structure.  Really?  An already understrength force that’s going to continue to shrink is cause for happiness?

Questioned about the Marines role in ASB, he responded by saying that the best way the Marines could fit into the ASB would be as an “expeditionary air force operating [the JSF] from a dispersed basing structure”.  This is an eye-opening statement that assumes the enemy will allow the establishment of air bases and ignores the short range nature of the F-35B as far as potential contributions to an overall military effort.  This “plan” seems optimistic in the extreme.  He went on to suggest that the Marines would establish far more bases than an enemy could detect and deal with.  He neglected to describe how the Marines would supply the logistical support necessary to operate numerous dispersed bases requiring highly technical maintenance, parts, and support.  This statement would seem to provide the rationale behind the Marines single-minded focus on air power.  Apparently, the Marines are transitioning from an amphibious land combat force to an expeditionary air force that is merely transported by ship to their expeditionary bases.  This is an absolutely stunning change in direction for the Corps.  Either that, or I really haven’t been paying close enough attention.

Questioned in more detail about the new force structure, he stated that in order to fit within the budget limitations the decision was made to predominantly take capabilities away from the high end combat forces in favor of emphasizing presence and crisis response.  This is really disturbing.

Regarding the ACV, McKenzie stated that the Marines did not want to build the “son of EFV”.  Fair enough but if the EFV was that bad, why was it pursued in the first place?  Has something changed so drastically as to render the EFV concept so unsuited, now?  Again, this speaks to very poor leadership decisions then, now, or both.  Speaking further, he noted that the ACV would spend 90% of its life on land, driving Marines around as a sort of armored personnel carrier while still being required to fill the amphibious landing transport role.  That statement leads one to wonder if this is, perhaps, too much to ask of a single vehicle?  The moderator noted that the ACV has been three years in conceptual development with no end in sight.  Again, this bespeaks a degree of indecision uncharacteristic of Marines.

Marines have always been noted among the services for their candor, outspokenness, disregard for politics, and single-minded focus on warfighting.  This presentation exhibited none of those characteristics.  This was the kind of generic, politicized mumble that routinely comes from the other services.  What happened to the Marines?

Here’s the link if you wish to listen to the presentation.  It lasts just under an hour.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Good That JSF Is Doing

It’s human nature to begin to take things for granted after a period of time.  For example, without the occasional Hitler or Stalin we forget how precious our freedom is and why it’s worth fighting for.  I think we may be seeing this phenomenon play out with the JSF (F-35) program.  Once upon a time, we understood that a successful acquisition program requires clearly defined and reasonably limited design criteria, the demonstration of any new technology prior to committing to construction, and the strictest management attention possible.  As time passed, however, we forgot those lessons.  The LCS, LPD-17, F-35B/C, Ford, etc. acquisition programs have become testaments to how not to run a program and that’s just from the Navy side.  The JSF, itself, is the biggest example of a failed program.  There is nothing about this program that has been executed properly. 

The greatest value of the JSF program may be that it is going to leave an indelible stamp on the military mindset regarding the management of acquisition programs.  The almost unimaginable amounts of money being poured into this program, the almost inconceivable delays, the dozens of other acquisition programs that are being sacrificed to pay for JSF, and the inexcusable mismanagement are hammering home lessons once learned and now forgotten in an exceedingly painful fashion.  Hopefully, this is producing an ingrained cultural reaction that will shape future programs for the better. 

Consider how the Viet Nam war produced a generation of culturally ingrained commanders who took those lessons, hammered into their military souls, and produced Desert Storm as a result.  It took a debacle to produce a stunning success.

If future acquisition designers and managers approach the next major program with a “never again” attitude, the JSF may yet wind up serving a useful purpose.  If the JSF accomplishes no more than that, perhaps it will have been worth the buckets of wasted money.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Hybrid Propulsion

The amphibious ship Makin Island, LHD-8, differs from her sisters in having a hybrid engine system consisting of both a pair of GE LM2500 gas turbines and a pair of electromotors which draw their power from six diesel generators.  Propulsion is split between the gas turbines and the diesel generators.  At slow speeds, less than 12 kts or so, the diesel electric propulsion is used and allows significant fuel savings.  At higher speeds, the gas turbines can operate near their peak efficiency.  The Navy estimates fuel savings of $250M over the life of the ship.

By comparison, the Makin Island’s sister ships and many other conventional Navy ships use standard steam turbines.  Smaller ships such as the Burkes use only gas turbines.

Eliminating steam boilers allows for faster startup and reduced manning requirements, among other benefits.  Additionally, the gas turbines use the same fuel, JP-5, that aircraft use, thus simplifying the fuel storage situation.

Note that there is nothing inherently new about hybrid engine technology, gas turbines, or electric drives.  I assume that the motivation for the Navy’s switch to hybrid propulsion is due to a desire for fuel cost savings.  I hope that we aren’t giving up combat performance to obtain cost savings.  I don’t know enough about the propulsion technology, new or old, to be able to assess any impact on combat capabilities.

The America class, LHA-6, will also be fitted with a hybrid propulsion system and it would seem that all future amphibious ships will have some variation of this technology.

Assuming that there are no combat drawbacks to the propulsion arrangement, this would seem to be a reasonable development.  It’s good to see the Navy do something right!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

AirSea Battle Testimony

Thursday 10-Oct-2013, The House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee held a hearing on AirSea Battle (ASB) with a panel of senior uniformed leaders from each of the services.  The hearing can be viewed hereHere are a few noteworthy moments from the testimony.

RAdm. Foggo claimed that AirSea Battle is a brand new approach to warfare and that previous methods will no longer work.  He went on to cite the Libyan conflict as an example of the application of AirSea Battle principles, never before applied.  As a specific example of ASB procedures, he cites the launch of over 200 cruise missiles (Tomahawks) from ships and subs on day one to destroy Libya’s “lethal air defense forces” so as to enable follow on strikes.  Really?  This is new warfare, never before attempted before the advent of ASB?  Cause it sure sounds like an exact repeat of Desert Storm.

AirSea Battle in its classified form was completed in Nov 2011

The panel members each delivered a prepared statement. There were absolutely no differences between the statements of the various leaders.  Someone ensured that these men were in tight lockstep.  On a sidenote, I understand that synchronized testimony is going to be the newest Olympic event.  The US appears to have a top notch team.  But, I digress …

One of the Congressmen asked BGen Killea (USMC) what were the top five things that need to be done to build the A2/AD capability we want so that Congress would know how to prioritize its support.  He couldn’t even offer one item, saying “we still don’t know what we don’t know” and wound up saying that he would take the question under advisement for future consideration.  This, despite the fact that ASB has been around for quite some time and, as noted above, was completed in its classified form in Nov 2011.

Maj Gen Jones (AF) was asked what progress the Air Force can make in the next five years so that the ASB can move forward.  Jones’ answer was to protect the procurement of the JSF and the next generation long range strike bomber.  Given the A2/AD ranges, the JSF is clearly not optimized for the A2/AD role.  That’s not surprising, really, given that the JSF development was started decades ago.  What’s surprising or, more accurately, disappointing, is the steadfast refusal to recognize the failure of the JSF on multiple levels and cancel the program and move on.  Instead, the Air Force is focused on its budget slice regardless of whether that slice buys any useful capability as regards ASB.

BGen Killea (USMC) was asked about the role of the Marines in ASB and amidst the usual generic mumblings about co-operation and jointness, did describe a process of going ashore and establishing points of expansion (specifically, not bases) for furthering and developing the battle.  The analogy that came to my mind was multiple points of infection from which a disease would spread.  I’m not certain that was what he really meant but, if so, it’s an interesting concept and I’d love to hear more about it.

USS Florida (SSGN) shot over 100 missiles in Libyan conflict.

VPM is part of the ASB plan to make up for the SSGN retirements.

BGen Killea (USMC) was asked about the decline in amphibious capacity and claimed that our current situation was adequate and spent some minutes talking about studies and assessments and processes and, basically, saying nothing.  It was the kind of answer someone else would give but very disappointing from a Marine.  He also noted that ASB has not yet tasked the Marines with a specific role.  That was a surprisingly impolitic comment from a panel that was otherwise all one big happy team.

Killea offered one great aspect of ASB for consideration.  He stated that, contrary to many people’s assumption that ASB was intended to provide access so as to enable subsequent entry, entry might be required, in some circumstances, to enable access.  I’m going to think deeply about that one and explore the ramifications.  Fascinating!

Far and away, though, the highlight, or lowlight, as it turned out, of the testimony came when the committee Chairman addressed the entire panel and noted that SecDef had released the Defense Strategic Guidance in Jan 2012 but has not yet released an actual defense strategy and then proceeded to ask an absolutely brilliant question, wanting to know how the military was designing and executing operational concepts such as ASB in the absence of an actual defense strategy (the last formal defense strategy having been completed in 2011 and now being rendered obsolete by the DSG).  In other words, what strategy is the military using as a baseline in designing operational concepts such as ASB?  The Chairman went on to note that the DSG was 11 pages.  When none of the panel members could offer an answer, the Chairman asked, “What’s our strategy?”, and observed that Congress would prefer to develop procurement based on strategy rather than see strategy developed based on procurement.  He noted that Congress was uncomfortable depending on an 11 page Guidance document as the basis for procurement.

This brief incident was absolutely humiliating and embarrassing to witness.  Our top military leaders couldn’t answer the most basic of questions:  “What’s our strategy?”  Here we are, spending billions of dollars and initiating countless acquisition programs with no strategy to provide a rationale for the suitability of any given weapon or system.  The uncomfortable silence that greeted the Chairman’s question screamed out the breakdown of our uniformed leadership.  This was a gut-wrenching moment.  I can only hope the panel members left determined to do something about it.  Sadly, I fear not.

The panel members consistently refused to even admit the possibility that ASB could apply to China.  As best I can tell from the testimony, China is a mythological country that does not even exist.  Certainly, the military has never heard of a person or place called China.

All in all, the testimony was a sad “State of the Military” exposition sprinkled with a few fascinating tidbits.  My original impression of the military’s version of ASB was that they had latched onto it as a means of persuading Congress to fund the latest round of acquisitions.  Nothing in this testimony changed my mind.  ASB is a front for acquisitions.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Submersible LST

In the recent post, Future Navy - Part 2, the reader "ats" offered a comment about a submersible LST for amphibious assaults.  The idea just caught my fancy and I sketched out a quick concept drawing.  It's nothing special because I'm not an artist but I thought I'd share it with you just for fun.  Thanks "ats"!

Submersible LST Inspired by "ats"

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Deployment Length

Here’s a quick check on deployment lengths over the last few years.  Shown below is the percentage of deployments that exceeded 6 months and, in parentheses, the longest deployment for that year.

2008    12%    (7 months)
2010    35%    (8 months)
2012    56%    (10.5 months)

The data is taken from the annual USNI Proceedings Naval Review issue for the corresponding year.  There is a bit of ambiguity in some of the reported deployments and the data isn’t complete but it shouldn’t change the percentages more than a few points one way or the other.

The data clearly shows that deployments are still trending sharply upward despite the attention that CNO says is being paid to the issue.  While the Navy claims that re-enlistments have not been markedly affected it is reasonable to assume that there is an upper limit beyond which it will have an effect.

Further, the rate of cross-decking of personnel which effectively doubles deployment lengths is also increasing significantly.  CNO and MCPON have stated that they are watching this trend closely.  I would offer CNO this free bit of advice:  stop watching and start doing something about it!

CNO has stated that average deployments will increase to around 8 months with some scheduled for 8-10 months.  The impact on family life and subsequent re-enlistment rates seems obvious.

Deployment lengths are increasing because the fleet is shrinking while demand from the Combatant Commanders is increasing.  Despite this obvious mismatch between demand and resources, the Navy remains firmly on a construction/retirement path leading to a continually shrinking fleet.  Does this make sense to anyone? 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Future Navy - Part 2

We previously looked at what the future Navy will look like based on the current trends, funding, and direction.  As we said, not a pretty picture.  Worse, though, is that the future Navy would appear to be ill equipped to deal with the foreseeable threats.  We can reasonably anticipate massive mine warfare challenges, Anti-Access/Area Denial threats, very long distance engagements, expanded submarine warfare, and deep penetration strikes, among other threats and requirements.  That leads to the question, what should the Navy of the future look like?  Forget about budget issues for the moment.  Just from a pure requirements point of view, what platforms, equipment, and capabilities should the future Navy have?  This is a chance to engage in out and out speculation.

In no particular order, here are some platforms, equipment, and capabilities I’d like to see our future Navy have.  Note that these are just “fun” concepts in some cases.  For this exercise, I don’t particularly care about the practical realities, budget constraints, or, within limits, the technical difficulties.  I say within limits so as to rule out invisibility, anti-gravity, photon torpedoes, and other simply ridiculous ideas.  The ideas that follow are reasonably achievable while still being unconstrained by an overemphasis on reality.  I don’t have rail guns or lasers on the list because they’re already being developed but, honestly, I almost rank them as ridiculous, at least for the next few decades.

Expanded SSGN Force.  The submarine is the ultimate in stealth and will continue so for the foreseeable future.  We should take advantage of that and expand our deep penetration strike capability by not only replacing the soon to be retired SSGNs but adding to their numbers.  There is no more survivable and potent attack platform than the SSGN.

Tactical Anti-Ship and Land Attack IRBMs.  China is continuing development of Intermediate Range Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles (IRBM’s).  These large, powerful, supersonic ballistic missiles will present a difficult to defeat threat.  We should develop our own and add a land attack version as well.  Some might argue that IRBMs are too risky to use because they might be interpreted as a nuclear attack.  Of course, the Chinese have already clearly indicated that they have no compunction about using IRBMs so why should we hesitate?  This will give us a much needed, very long range anti-surface and land attack capability.

Midway Sized Carriers.  Air Wings are getting ever smaller and the aircraft are not very large.  We don’t need Ford sized carriers that cost $15B apiece.  Midway size carriers (small carriers by today’s standard!) can accommodate a modern air wing at a fraction of the cost.

Battleship Armored LSTs.  Currently, we have no good means of landing an assault force safely.  Heavily armored LST craft can transport large numbers of troops and, more importantly, heavy equipment directly to the beach with safety.  LSTs armored to battleship standards would be able to resist any artillery or missiles short of giant supersonic cruise/ballistic missiles.  Add in purpose built anti-mine armor and you’ve got as safe a means of delivering an assault force as possible.

Very Long Range Fighters and Strike Aircraft.  We’re anticipating 1000 nm or greater A2/AD zones.  Land attack and anti-surface warfare is going to have to be conducted over vast distances.  We need 1000+ nm range strike, fighter, and EW aircraft in order to operate effectively in the Pacific theatre.

Exo-Atmospheric Strike UAVs.  Where’s the safest place for an aircraft in future combat?  Well, that would be the same place ballistic missiles go – to the edge of the atmosphere or beyond.  Why not develop strike UAVs that can follow a ballistic path on their way to their targets?

Expanded SSN Force.  Submarines are the ultimate in stealth and it’s one of the growth areas for our enemies.  We should be expanding the size of the SSN force.

Submarine-Based MCM and Mine Warfare.  One of the problems plaguing mine countermeasures platforms is that they’re vulnerable to attack while performing their task.  Why not develop dedicated submarine based MCM vessels.  The Navy is moving towards remote unmanned underwater MCM vehicles anyway.  Simply size the vehicles to launch from a submarine torpedo tube (or develop a dedicated, larger launch “tube”) and let subs do the work.  This would also offer the advantage that the enemy would not know if their minefield was being cleared.  We also need to add much greater offensive mining capability than we currently have.  Dedicated submarine mine warfare vessels would fill both offensive and defensive needs.

Submarine “Aircraft” and “Carriers” for ASW.  OK, here’s my fanciful one!  I could see a use for the undersea equivalent of aircraft to conduct ASW.  Specifically, one-man craft that would be launched and used much like airplanes.  Each would carry 2-4 torpedoes and a small sonar suite.  Employed like aircraft, they would perform CAP and search-and-destroy against enemy subs.  A specialized “carrier” would operate the craft.  Cool, huh?!

"Fighter" Sub

Long Loiter UAV Comm Relays.  In a major conflict, we’re going to lose our satellite communications.  We need a long loitering UAV communications relay that can be deployed as needed to make up the loss.  We’re developing all kinds of UAVs that are going to be lost without secure communications.  This is an inherent weakness in UAVs that I hope the Navy is recognizing and addressing.

As I said, some of these ideas are practical and just amount to rebalancing current capabilities, some are logical developments of existing technology and would be quite practical, and some are just fanciful ideas for fun.  Have some fun and feel free to describe your own pet ideas or practical developments that will address the foreseeable needs.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Future Navy

We’ve been examining trends, programs, and policies for the last year or so.  I think it’s time for some predictions!

The Navy has been in a state of flux for some time with a lack of clear strategic direction, uncertainty about funding, disagreement about weapons and platforms, and so forth.  Predicting the shape of the future Navy has been difficult if not impossible.  Now, however, the effects of sequestration and separate but on-going budget cuts are settling in, direction is being provided by the Pacific Pivot and AirSea Battle concepts, and the definition of the next round of weapons and platforms has become fairly clear and the shape of the future Navy is becoming visible.

It’s also clear that the 30 year shipbuilding plan is pure fantasy.  Let’s see if we can visualize a realistic future.  Note that this will be a realistic vision but not necessarily a desirable one!  That means that this may not be the future I want but, rather, the future I see.

It’s clear, now, that severely restricted budgets are here to stay.  There will be no net growth in shipbuilding or total budget for the next decade or more.  At best, budgets will hold with adjustments for inflation (though even that isn’t a given!).  At the same time, shipbuilding costs will continue to rise on a real basis.  Personnel costs will probably continue to rise but very slowly as Congress looks at cutting once sacred salaries and benefits for service people.  Research budgets will take steady cuts.  The result of the budget challenges is that shipbuilding will be reduced in numbers and acquisition times will be lengthened.

The Navy of the Future?

Major ship acquisitions will suffer and construction times will be stretched out.  The carrier fleet has already seen construction times stretched from around 4.5 years to 6-7 years.  The carrier fleet will drop from the current 11 to around 8.

New construction major units such as destroyers and amphibious vessels will be steadily reduced in numbers.  The Ticonderoga Aegis vessels will not be directly replaced in terms of function but will be replaced by a less capable, generic Burke Flt X vessel that will replace both current Burkes and Ticos – a drop in overall capability.  Amphibious vessels are experiencing ever increasing real costs, as are all ships, and will be acquired in significantly fewer numbers than currently anticipated especially as the Marine Corp undergoes significant personnel reductions.

Amphibious forces will be hamstrung by a lack of cohesive assault doctrine and ship-to-shore connector craft/vehicles.  The Marine’s EFV was cancelled and there is no viable replacement (or even rational need) scheduled.  The MV-22 is severely limited in weapons/vehicle lift capability.  The Marines are on the verge of losing the ability to conduct a major assault, if they haven’t already, and will not regain it in the foreseeable future.

The Navy shows no sign of abandoning the LCS and every sign of following through on the full 50+ unit acquisition plus the planned follow-on LCS.  Combined with decreasing numbers of major combatants, the LCS will come to make up a third to, more likely, half of the future combat fleet.

The SSBN(X) will prove to be vastly more expensive than currently estimated by the Navy (what ship hasn’t?!!) and acquisition numbers will be rationalized and reduced to around 8.

The SSN fleet will, on a relative basis, continue to receive strong support but will still be reduced by around 25% from current levels, probably steadying out at around 40 units.

Our MCM forces are almost non-existent, currently, and will not make much of a come-back.  There will be no replacements for the Avenger class, the last dedicated MCM platform.  Unless the LCS develops into a world class MCM platform, the Navy will be paralyzed in the face of future mine threats.

I won’t bother commenting on the JSF because you all know how that program is progressing.

Weapons wise, we’ll probably continue to develop the LRASM as Harpoon’s replacement.  We have no land attack Tomahawk replacement or serious upgrade in the works that I’m aware of.  We have no intermediate range ballistic land attack or surface attack missiles in development that I’m aware of (tell me again why we developed the larger Mk57 peripheral launch cells that were installed on the Zumwalts?).  In short, the Navy’s ability to reach out and touch someone is going to be shorter ranged and less explosive than our enemy’s.

As if the preceding weren’t bad enough, we’re witnessing an increasing rate of early ship retirements in an effort to fund new construction.  That’s the definition of a death spiral.  When the above trends are combined with the accelerated rate of early retirements, the fleet is realistically looking at a force level of around 230 ships within the next 10-20 years.  Quite a drop from the 600 ship fleet or even the current 285 ship fleet.  Factor in the drop in combat capability due to the LCS making up a third to half the combat fleet and we’re looking at a stunning drop in naval force projection capability.

There you have it …  Your future Navy.  Not a pretty picture.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

LCS Support

We recently examined LCS Operating Costs and one of the issues identified was the shore-based component of the crew.  The difficulty in trying to assess that component was that nothing was known about its size.  Co-incidentally, Defense News website just recently published an article offering a glimpse at the Navy’s first attempt at sizing the shore based component (1).

“One sensitivity has been the number of US people supporting the LCS effort — a footprint the Singaporeans would like to keep small.

The current team of about 10 Navy people supporting Freedom has been about right, Taylor said, although one or two positions might be added as the LCS force builds up.

‘We’re not trying to build up a great big organization,’ Taylor said. ‘We’re trying to maintain a small footprint here in Singapore, and still reach out to a very large area.’

The shore support also includes nine contractors from Lockheed Martin, seven for the ship and two for the mission package, said Capt. Dan Brintzinghoffer, the LCS fleet introduction program manager at Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington. At least one contractor, and at times as many as three more, is embarked on Freedom to handle maintenance issues.”

Adding up the numbers from above we see 10 Navy personnel and 9 contractors plus 1-3 more contractors aboard ship.  So, for the original LCS embarked crew size of 40, the shore-based component increases the effective crew size by 25% and with the contractors figured in, the effective crew size increases from 40 to 60-63, a 50% or greater increase.

Of course, the shore-based component seems unlikely to increase linearly as additional ships are added.  Presumably, the shore-based component will be able to service multiple ships with only small incremental increases in support crew size.  On the other hand, Freedom’s experience so far indicates that the level of maintenance support required may exceed the anticipated support crew’s capacity.  We’ll keep an eye on this to see how it plays out.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sunday, October 6, 2013

How To Win A War

We’ve had recent discussions about quantity versus quality, here and here, the supposed need for the F-35 because of the technological edge it provides, and so forth.  The underlying, if unstated, question in all these discussions is, of course, how best to win a war.  I won’t repeat the various points that were made.  Instead, I’d like to offer my prioritized list of factors that are most important for winning a war.

  1. Numbers
  2. Training
  3. Maintenance
  4. Technology

We’ve already discussed the importance of numbers and looked at the historical precedent from WWII so I won’t belabor it further.  Bear in mind that numbers refers not just to weapons and platforms but to men.  Japan lost the war as much because it couldn’t replace the trained naval aviators as because it couldn’t replace the aircraft.  The Soviets beat the Germans because of numbers, among other reasons.  Numbers also refers to the ability to deal with combat attrition.  Can you build enough weapons and platforms to compensate for losses.  If you’re building B-2 bombers, the answer is no.  If you’re building Sherman tanks, the answer is yes.

A superbly trained man with a knife is more deadly and valuable than a man with a gun who has no idea how to use it.  Training can make up for a LOT of technology.  Sadly, training is one of the Navy’s weakest areas.  As a general statement, our naval commanders have no idea how to get the best out of their ships because they don’t practice it.  The Navy believes that the key to improvement is new technology and has relegated training to an afterthought.  The reality is that training is a force multiplier.  Again, we’ve covered this extensively so I won’t belabor it. 

It’s of no use if it’s not available.  That statement can apply to anything.  We have ships that are barely able to deploy and many do so in a degraded state.  Aegis, fleetwide, is degraded to the point that the Navy had to implement a remediation program.  Ships are being retired early due to years of neglected maintenance.  This includes carriers which, given their enormous cost and strategic/tactical usefulness, is an absolutely stunning occurrence.  Likewise, individual weapon systems suffer all too frequent breakdowns.

Last on the list is technology.  Sure, who doesn’t want superior technology?  However, technology is only useful when it’s combined with numbers, training, and maintenance.  Failing that, technology is a false comfort that will prove to be a failure in combat.  Worse, technology costs LOTS of money and will take away from numbers, training, and maintenance.  Think of all the programs across the entire military that are being sacrificed to pay for the JSF.

Consider the impact of all of the above.  In Desert Storm, if Iraq and the US had completely switched weapons, meaning technology, the outcome would have been the same.  The US had far superior maintenance and training as well as numbers and those factors were far more decisive than technology.  Of course, when superior maintenance, training, and numbers are combined with superior technology, you get the overwhelming result that was Desert Storm.

I’d rather go to war with a WWII Fletcher class destroyer that was superbly trained in conventional and unconventional tactics, benefited from impeccable maintenance with every system performing at peak capability, and was available in overwhelming numbers than to go to war with Burke class destroyers crewed by barely adequate commanders and sailors who have only a nodding command of their equipment, suffers from equipment breakdowns on a regular basis, and is available in insufficient numbers.

JSF is the prime example of the reversal of the war winning list.  We are pursuing technology for its own sake at the expense of numbers, training, and maintenance.  As we pump more and more money into the JSF black hole, existing air wings are sitting idled or flying only minimal hours to maintain flight certification.  Our training is nearly non-existent and our aviation tactical expertise is evaporating before our eyes.  The Marines are sacrificing amphibious assault vehicles, armored personnel carriers, and heavy lift among other needs so that the F-35B can be procured.  JSF is directly reducing the numbers of all kinds of equipment and, ultimately, personnel as well.  As we pour money into the JSF, our ship’s maintenance is being skipped or indefinitely deferred.  When we go to war somewhere down the road, we’ll do so with insufficient numbers of everything, poorly trained soldiers and sailors, and inoperable or degraded equipment – but we’ll have the JSF.  We’ll lose the war – but we’ll have the JSF.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

LCS Operating Costs

Before we go any further, let’s acknowledge that you can say anything you want about operating costs by manipulating the list of what’s included or not.  Therefore, citing actual numbers borders on pointless.  With a common set of criteria, you might be able to compare operating costs of various platforms on a relative basis but that’s about it and even then the criteria will determine the outcome.  That said, let’s take a conceptual look at the operating costs of the LCS compared to other ships.

The LCS has an added hurdle in trying to quantify operating costs and that is the fact that the operating and maintenance systems have yet to be worked out, even on paper.  Add to that the fact that the Navy still hasn’t figured out the crew size and the attempt to come up with numbers is nearly pointless.  Nonetheless, we’ll plunge ahead!

The Navy has identified personnel costs as the single biggest factor in operating costs.  With that in mind, the Navy designed the LCS to be minimally manned (some would say that was the main design criteria rather than combat capability!).  Of course, with minimal manning the crew is unable to perform shipboard maintenance or repair.  That function will be handled by permanent shore based support groups.  So, we see that the LCS, by design, has a dedicated “crew” that stays on shore rather than going to sea with the ship.  Thus, the effective crew size is not just the number of sailors on board the ship but is, instead, the total of the shipboard crew plus the maintenance personnel on shore.  A rational discussion of LCS operating costs must include the shore based personnel and recognize that the shore component supports multiple ships so it’s not a simple “add’em up” situation. 

Further, the Navy is using a 3:2 system of crewing.  Three crews rotate among two ships.

Thus, the effective crew size for discussion of operating costs is not the single ship, apparent crew size of around 40 (or 60 or whatever number the Navy eventually settles on) but, rather, three crews plus some portion of shore based personnel all divided by two ships.  See how difficult it is to discuss this?

The Navy is proudly proclaiming that the LCS is minimally manned and will save huge amounts of money in lifetime operating costs (mainly personnel).  While I don’t know the basis for their claims, I’m fairly confident that they aren’t accounting for the factors we just described.  A reasonable estimate of effective per ship crew size is probably on the order of 120 for the ship itself and an additional 40 or so helo crew/support and module specialists.  That would be a total of around 160 per ship.  Hey, wait a minute, isn’t that about what a Perry FFG crew size is?  But I digress …

The other unknown aspect to the LCS operating costs is the shore based maintenance system.  We’ve already seen that the Navy has had to scramble to fly in parts to support the USS Freedom in Singapore.  That kind of dynamic supply system for even simple parts will impose a huge cost burden.  Also, due to US law, the maintenance personnel must be from US companies.  Specialized maintenance personnel will be hopscotching around the world trying to take care of the ships.  When you factor in the personnel costs, the custom travel, the aircraft required for personnel and parts transportation, the maintenance of the transport aircraft, and the many other factors, it’s easy to see that the postulated maintenance system will be very expensive.  To be fair, conventional ships make use of shore based support, also, but not anywhere near the extent to which the LCS will. 

I’m not even going to attempt to guesstimate an actual lifetime operating cost number (and if the Navy does so, they’re making it up).  Suffice it to say that the costs are most likely going to be far higher than what the Navy has suggested and the LCS is probably going to turn out to be more expensive then a conventional ship, not less.