Friday, February 28, 2014

In Harm's Way

Our recent discussions about amphibious assault have highlighted a characteristic of the Navy that is a bit disappointing and that is the unwillingness to accept any degree of risk in combat.  In fact, it’s gotten to the point where it’s becoming codified in the form of doctrine.  Put simply, the Navy has become risk averse to the point where safety and preservation of assets has taken precedence over mission accomplishment.  Let’s look at some specific examples.

The Navy has decided that they can’t operate even remotely near an enemy shore.  This shows as a doctrinal move from horizon distance amphibious assaults to 25 nm - 50 nm or even greater.  Of course, as we’ve discussed, these kinds of distances have hamstrung the ability of the Marine/Navy team to conduct a successful amphibious assault. 

In fact, the Navy has gone so far as to design an entire LCS class around the concept that the blue water Navy couldn’t operate in littoral waters.  The littoral zone (whatever distance that is) is now accepted by the Navy as a forbidden area due to the threat of land launched anti-ship cruise missiles.

The Navy appears to have ceded the A2/AD challenge to the Chinese without a shot being fired.  The Navy now implicitly recognizes that they can’t operate within the A2/AD zone.  This is evidenced by the overwhelming focus on BMD.  Of course, the issue is not that they can’t operate but that they won’t.  They won’t risk ship losses and so they strive for a mythical and unachievable perfect defense that will allow them to operate in the zone.

At its most basic level, war is attrition.  To win, you have to inflict attrition on the enemy to the point where it becomes unacceptable to him and he quits.  The corollary to that is that you have to be willing to accept attrition of your own forces in order to accomplish your goals.  That doesn’t mean behaving recklessly but neither does it mean being so risk averse that you can’t or won’t accept losses.

If you want to conduct a successful amphibious assault you have to move to horizon range and accept some losses.  If you want to ensure no losses then you can stand 200 nm offshore but your assault will fail.

If you want to operate in the restricted waters of the Middle East during a war then you have to accept some losses.

If you want to press a war with China then you have to enter the A2/AD zone (long range blockade strategies not withstanding) and accept some losses.

Why has the Navy developed this risk aversion and what can be done about it?

The why is easy to answer.  The Navy has opted for a force structure that is continually shrinking while the individual ships are getting bigger, more expensive, and more capable.  In other words, we’re concentrating more and more firepower in fewer and fewer hulls.  We have so much money and capability tied up in each hull that the loss of one borders on catastrophic.  No wonder we’re risk averse! 

Consider the amphibious assault issue.  Aegis, and now AMDR, was designed specifically to deal with swarms of supersonic cruise missiles.  Yet now we’re refusing to approach an enemy’s shore closer than 50 – 100 nm because of the presence of anti-ship missiles.  Why are we spending a bazillion dollars on Aegis/AMDR ships if we don’t think they can stand in close and fight they way they’re designed?  Why are we spending billions on new amphibious ships that are going to stand so far off shore that we can’t conduct a successful amphibious assault which is their reason for being?

We have got to turn this trend around and the only way to do so is to stop concentrating so much capital and firepower in each hull.  We need to revert to a much more distributed firepower force structure.  We need greater numbers of less capable hulls.

I’m not arguing against having any highly capable ships.  There’s nothing wrong with having some highly capable ships that can act as the core of a group.  We just can’t have every ship be a very expensive, highly capable platform.  We can’t afford that approach, it’s gutting our fleet numbers, and it’s imposing a culture of risk aversion that conflicts with mission accomplishment.


  1. which came first the fleet or the ship type? i say that the risk aversion you're talking about come not because the navies want it but because thats what the budgets are forcing on them.

    consider. we have a 300 ship navy. why? because thats what the budget will support. you say ok, then lets have less high tech ships and just build more of them. i say that society will not allow that. in Afghanistan we lost less people in a year than the 1st Cav lost in a single battle in Vietnam.

    so what do naval leaders decide on? can't lose ships so we move them further out. can't have weak ships because if we lose one the public will throw a fit. which means the few ships we do have become high tech marvels that we're scared to risk.

    don't blame the navy, blame the mothers of America.

  2. CNO,

    You are channeling Capt. Hughes and the Naval Postgraduate School.

    What's the answer?

    1. B.Smitty, to an extent, and in a completely different direction, I'm channeling Hughes. Where he advocates fleets of small missile craft, I'm advocating simpler, more limited function ships at all levels. For example, instead of a Burke that nominally does AAW, BMD, ASW, ASuW, and Tomahawk strike we should build a dedicated AAW escort vessel - no other function. It would still be expensive but nowhere near a full Burke. BMD can be done by a dedicated, stripped down LPD-17 type vessel (downsized a bit maybe?). ASW escorts should be single function with self defense rather than area AAW. And so on.

      Conceptually, for the price of one Burke we could/should get one AAW and one ASW. And so on.

      Did that answer your question?

    2. CNO,

      Capt. Hughes & Co. advocated for single mission ships too. Check out the New Navy Fighting Machine.

      Not sure I agree with it. The problem is, if you build a ship large enough to perform AAW well, with a bunch of VLS cells, the cost of adding ASuW missiles or Tomahawks to it is low. The cost of adding ASW capabilities is somewhat higher, but still lower than building another full ship.

      You can't buy 1 AAW ship and 1 ASW ship for the price of 1 multi-mission ship, assuming equivalent capabilities. You will still want at least point AAW defenses on the ASW ship. So you have to buy two sets of point defenses, two sets of radars (one small and one large), two propulsion plants, and so on. Each ship will require a captain, cooks, engineers, doctors, navigators, ops, and so on. A larger, multi-mission ship will need more sailors in certain areas, but not twice as many as two single mission ships.

      So crewing costs will be higher. Fuel costs will be higher. Maintenance costs will be higher. Up front costs will be higher.

      Now, granted, you have two ships, with all the attendant value that implies.

      Of course you don't have to buy 1 AAW and 1 ASW in place of 1 multi-mission ship. You could buy 10 ASW and 5 AAW in place of 10 multi-mission ships, for example. You can play with the ratios.

      Unfortunately once you buy the ships, you fix the ratios. If you go to war with your 2:1 ratio of ASW to AAW ships, but find that you actually NEED a 1:2 ratio instead, you are out of luck.

      This is why I still believe in modularity. Even if it takes time to re-role a modular ship, I can still do it faster and cheaper than refitting a specialist.

    3. B.Smitty, lots of good points here to cover.

      You're correct about fixed ratios of ship types, however, that's what strategy, doctrine, and wargaming are for. You make assessments of what you need. Could you still be wrong? Sure. But, if you're a competent, professional naval service with a realistic grasp of your enemy's capabilities and broad goals you shouldn't be far off.

      As you alluded, there's a value to having two ships versus one that transcends simple cost. You can have an ASW ship patrolling the MidEast where it's needed while a pure AAW ship works the China A2/AD. To be fair, I think you get that.

      I suspect you're still not quite fully grasping my concept for single function ships. Take an AAW escort, for example. It won't perform land attack so every VLS cell is AAW. That means we only need 60-80 cells (someone would have to game out engagements to find the optimum number) versus 100-150 that current or proposed Aegis/AMDR ships have. The ship wouldn't need a hangar, just a landing pad. No ASW. No BMD. No 5" gun. Consider the size, manning, and resulting cost of such a ship. It wouldn't need to be much bigger than a Perry and would have minimal manning.

      Want land attack? How about a simple VLS/Tomahawk "barge" built to commercial standards (yeah, this almost the arsenal ship but stripped of every other function and downsized to maybe 50 cells so that loss of a ship doesn't cost us 20% of our Tomahawk inventory. This is the point of the post. We need ships with distributed firepower so that we aren't afraid to use them.

      You (the generic you, meaning anyone) can disagree with this approach but the althernative, the status quo, is taking us on a death spiral of ever-shrinking fleet size and ever more risk aversion because so much cost and firepower is concentrated in so few vessels.

      The problem with modularity is that it produces a sub-optimum platform for whatever function the module performs. You can't just add a towed array to a ship and call it an ASW vessel. If the hull hasn't been built from the keel up with quieting, machinery isolation mounts, Prairie/Masker, specialized sonar, etc. then it will be a poor version of an ASW vessel, at best, and will find itself on the losing end of submarine tag.

    4. CNO,

      Take a look at the new British Type 45 Daring class. It's a pure AAW ship with only 48 cells, yet it is nearly as big as a Burke! (8,500 tonnes) The Spanish F100 carries SPY-1D (like the Burke) and 48 VLS cells but displaces ~6,000 tonnes.

      There's no way you'll get a comparable AAW suite on a Perry-sized ship, especially not with 60-80 strike-length cells (strike-length is necessary for SM-2ER/SM-3/SM-6).

      Any ship with a 12'+ AMDR and 48+ VLS cells will be at least 6-8,000 tonnes.

      Subtracting the 5", hangar and ASW kit from these ships really won't save you that much. That's why virtually every navy keeps them on their frigates and destroyers.

      I would like to see your mini-arsenal ship. (Another idea advocated by Capt. Hughes, btw)

      On modularity, sure the platform itself needs certain characteristics. Signature reduction is useful for any warship, regardless of role. Quieting benefits MIW as well as ASW. So I'm not arguing the platform is irrelevant.

      Bow sonars are a sticking point. They clearly add cost and size. You can't make them modular. They have to be built in. Some cost/benefit analysis is needed here.

      The ship may still be sub-optimal compared to a purpose-built vessel but, in theory, modularity means you can "make more" of a particular type on the fly by just changing out modules. I realize most modular vessels to date don't actually change out their modules very often, and this is a time consuming affair, but it is still doable.

      Quantity has a quality of its own.

  3. CNO stated: "Why are we spending billions on new amphibious ships that are going to stand so far off shore that we can’t conduct a successful amphibious assault which is their reason for being?"

    This question only emerges if you ignore the opportunities on the CONNECTOR-front.

    As CMC Gem Amos stated 2-3 weeks ago, the thinking within USMC is at least "70-80nm stand-off" plus, as he put it , "another 120nm run down-range before turning in to shore", which adds up to a 200nm run to the target-zone.

    And since he mentioned folding Connectors twice - remember his hand-movements - we can assume that he's heard of LCU-F.

    As proposed a long time back, LCU-F can serve as all sorts of things, while DDG (should one be around when things hit the fan) protects the ARG. LCU-F can do HIMARS and MLRS-based shore-bombardment, incl. via familiar ATACMS with up to 180nm range. Or barrel-artillery from just outside of tank-gun range and constantly moving to avoid 'returns'. 155mm DONAR would offer 30nm range, and a revised 39-cal. 203mm Mk110 Army mechanism might be a fine idea with either a 52 or 62-cal barrel. 45-50nm from say 5nm inshore. Stabilizing barrels on an LCU-type is not the challenge.

    You will not see any DDG-51 or DDG-1000 use their barrels for shore-bombardment - unless it is a very permissive environment.

    Gun and Missile Systems can readily be separated from high-value large-envelope ships down to LCU-size platforms, well dispersed, and which can be sacrificed, if need be.

    Which this makes certain Amphibious Ships such major assets, especially the long well-deck LSD-41 with her unique 440 feet of well-deck length, into which all sorts of Float-In/Float-Out weapons-systems can be inserted at will, be it just for one mission or to give way to a better systems two decades later.

    And which makes the LPD-17-Flight-2 such an astonishingly bad deal with its 42% well-deck claimed by the builder to be a "direct replacement for LSD-41" except that this now costs over double of what a plain LSD-41 (SLEP-upgraded) would cost today.

    You want self-destruction of the ARG/MEU future, get LPD-17/2 with its 189-foot well-deck at a 200+% mark-up...

    Which ARG-CO or MEU-CO wants to show up with piece-meal trickles of GCE and ACE assets because, courtesy of the LPD-17/2 crowd, they've lost for the next 30-40 years 58% of their Connector-capacity...??!!

  4. Mays well say this up from, this is just going to be a rant! Feel free to ignore. Not my best piece.

    This is kind of a compilation of a number of topics... however, what would you guys things of seeing the Russian occupation (and invasion depending on how you look at it) as the same as Iraq in Kuwait, or as we have discussed, China and Tawain? Our response to Iraq was a 400,000 man sledge hammer. To Russia… “You are very very bad, and we are going to sanction you.” Would we do the same with China?

    Second, in terms of A2/D2… I think this proves Gates was right. Middle East, Middle East Middle East… Ooopps… when did China get there. Pacific Pivot, Pacific Pivot, Pacific Pivot. Crimea? Crap… wait… all we really have in the Med is the USS Taylor (FFG-7) that recently ran aground (our and one of two Europe based Army BCTs are deployed to A-stan)… so now based on geography and Soivet era systems (not those new fangled DF-21s). Has the Navy just been kicked out of the Eastern Med? Would an LCS even make much of a difference? And you are right, what’s the Navy going to do? Park a carrier or anything, off of Crimea? Hell no. Its safer at Norfolk. Don’t forget, this isn’t the Navy that put ships like Enterprise, Hornet, Yorktown, Lexington, Saratoga, Franklin, Bunker Hill into harms way. This isn’t a Navy that has any idea what it takes to fix a CG-47 with a little hole punched in its side. This isn’t the Navy of “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

    This, by its own reckoning, is a “Global Force for Good.” And when you are a global force for good, you become defensive. From Phalanx to BMD, from ESSM to SM-2,3,4, rail guns and laser blasters… everything the Navy does is defense. (and based on the drone it can’t do that very well). A short ranged Harpoon that is useless and a land-attack Tomahawk with not anti-ship or anti-radar capabilities.

    This might sound harsh, but Halsey would transfer to the Army. Remember when the Cowpens got in the way of the Chinese Liaoning? What was the Chinese’s problem? The Cowpens couldn’t have done anything other than maybe some flyweight 5” shells, some .50 cal rounds, 25mm?? Maybe a torpedo from very close range? Please, a Fletcher class destroyer had more close in firepower than a CG-47.

    Honestly, do you blame the navy for not wanting to get in close? Unarmed drones disable our cruisers and the defense systems don’t work. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere other than port calls if I was on a current naval ship in real combat.

    At least the shells of the Yamoto went through the thin skins of the Sammy B, Hoel and Johnston of Taffey 3… sub- and super-sonic cruise missiles will hit their marks.

    1. Actually, Cowpen is a very capable warship up close. A dozen or so Mach 3.5, SM-2MRs fired in surface mode would've wrecked Liaoning's superstructure and flight deck.

    2. B. Smitty, it depends on how close the ships were. OSINT reports tell of a tale of two ships being VERY close. Think of it as being in range of 25mm... that's within the arming range of any weapon we have, unless you send a missile out and then fly it back in…

      Plus, the distance in scenarios like that wouldn’t be far enough for anything to get up to 3.5 mach (so the kinetic energy won’t be maximize on the strike). And if SM-2MRs have an anti-ship capability that definitely isn’t common knowledge. The Navy forwent adding that capability to the Tomahawks and retrofitting SMs series and instead of moving towards the LRASM, which just completed its punch test. Also, lets not forget the navy pulled all Harpoons off the DDG-51s (to show you how worried they were about anti-ship warfare). And lastly, a blast fragmentation, anti-missile warhead (like found on an SM-2), is designed to fill the maximize area with shrapnel to hit an incoming missile with a closure rate of 5mach+, it would pepper a ship, but that’s about it I’m afraid. And if you turned off the warhead to make it a contact weapon (which its not), because ships lack armor today, it would make a nice little hole in the ship, and that’s about it.

      None of our ships are in-close fighters anymore. We want distance and the least amount of exposure to threats. You aren’t going to see destroyers making torpedo runs at flank speed, zig-zagging through colored spouts of water anymore, you’ll see missiles going over the horizon.

    3. SM2's having an anti-ship capability should be pretty common knowledge, it is in fact that any anti-ship missile the US has successfully hit with in the last 20 years. SM2's were used to hit Iranian ships in the 90's iirc.

    4. The Standard SM-1/2 series does have an anti-surface capability although it's unclear to what degree that's considered a formal "mode" in USN service.

      SM-1/2's were used against the Iranian Combattante II gunboat with 5 or 6 missiles (depending on the source) being launched by the Simpson (Perry FFG) and Wainwright (Belknap CG). Reportedly, all the missiles hit. The Iranian ship was disabled but not sunk by the missiles. The US ships eventually sank the Iranian ship with gunfire.

      The question I've never heard answered is why the US ships used Standards rather than Harpoons. Simpson presumably carried Harpoons. Wainwright, to the best of my knowledge did not, at that time, but I'm not completely sure about that.

      The key point is that 5 or 6 Standards failed to sink a 500 ton gunboat. While Standard has an anti-surface capability it is not an effective anti-surface weapon at least with respect to sinking a ship. The fragmentation warhead is not a ship killer but is effective at damaging topside equipment. To say that a dozen Standards would wreck the superstructure and flight deck of the immensely larger Chinese carrier is possibly a bit of a stretch.

    5. CNO, IIRC they also fire 1 or 2 harpoons but they didn't hit. SM's are basically only effective against small craft but have a very high hit probability due to the direct target designation system.

      We really really need a viable AShM within the US Navy. Hopefully the Navy pushes through quickly on LRASM et al. Right now the contenders are a modified JSOW with booster, JASSM based LRASM, and a new version of Tomahawk. Honestly I'm pulling for LRASM as it seems at least cost competitive with the other option, is based as they all are off an existing proven design, and appears to have the best survivability and terminal targeting.

    6. ats, quite right. I also see a need for a shorter ranged, lower cost, smaller anti-ship missile along the lines of Penguin or any of the various small missiles out there. We need a small anti-ship missile for the closer range, smaller targets - a missile that will penetrate the small ship and do substantial damage. Using half a dozen Standards on a gunboat is not cost effective plus each Standard used depletes the AAW function.

      There's much that the Navy needs to fix, isn't there? I understand that they're confused but if they would read this blog they'd know what to do!

    7. You don't think a dozen 1500lb telephone poles, flying at high speed, each with a 150lb HE warhead and lots of unspent fuel won't cause significant damage to any warship? Especially a carrier with aircraft parked on deck?

      Just think of what a couple exploding Zunis did to the larger USS Forrestal.

    8. B.Smitty, c'mon, now. Let's be objective about this. Can a very small munition, under exactly the right set of circumstances, cause a great deal of damage? Sure. Just to give it a name, let's call that the One In A Million scenario.

      Here's the objective part. It's not enough just to have aircraft on deck. The aircraft need to be fully fueled, combat loaded, and crowded together. The Chinese carrier would be highly unlikely to have a deck full of fueled and combat loaded aircraft during a peacetime cruise. Further, the ship just doesn't have that many aircraft, at the moment, to even have a crowded deck.

      So, could a sniper with a rifle sink a carrier? Yes, under the exactly right set of circumstances. Still, I'd prefer to count on heavier munitions than a rifle bullet for combat at sea.

      Standards are fuzed for airburst, as I understand it. They won't be penetrating the ship and exploding their unspent fuel or rendering kinetic damage. They're a simple shrapnel weapon. If you know of documentation to the contrary, I'm completely willing to be convinced.

      A Standard missile isn't going to cause the Chinese carrier much more than cosmetic damage.

    9. From what I've read, the proximity fuze is disabled in surface mode. So they will impact before detonating.

      15 feet long, undoubtedly supersonic, lots of fuel left, striking almost vertically. Almost doesn't matter if the warhead goes off. I bet Liaoning doesn't have much in the way of an armored deck. I would fully expect a penetration just base on kinetic energy alone.

    10. Well there is a ready made small AShM available in the NSM which is basically a dead on replacement for the Penguin AShM. Slightly more weight (410KG vs 370KG). Would also be nice to have a quad pack anti-ship missile as well, something along the lines of an ESSM that could be used for small anti-ship use. I don't think the NSM is small enough for quad packing, but it might be possible to dual pack them.

    11. B.Smitty, where have you read that the Standard prox fuse is disabled in anti-surface mode? I've been unable to find a reference to that. It would seem plausible but I can't find a supporting doc. Does the warhead revert to contact fusing? Delayed penetration fusing? Unless you can point me at a doc, I'm leaning toward doubtful that the fuzing can be changed. Help me out and I'll be glad to change my mind!


      Page 96

      "The proximity fuze with its associated four antennas, detects the target through its own radar transmitting and receiving system. The fuze trigger circuit is enabled for an airborne target and disabled for a surface target by a target select signal prior to launch."

  5. I think you're forgetting another major factor in Navy leadership's current zero defects mentality, and that's the lives of our Sailors. Put simply, in this day and age I just can't see the American people or Congress accepting a flag officer who speaks in terms of attrition and risk vice safety and swift mission accomplishment. Not only are we unwilling/unable to put our assets at risk, we're also becoming increasingly intolerant of putting our people at risk for any reason.

    P.S. Sorry I have to be anonymous on here. If you want to put a name to this post, just call me DCA.

    1. DCA, you bring up good point. If we won't accept a flag officer who speaks of attrition then we, as a professional military, have done a very poor job of educating people/Congress about what war is and the price that war carries.

      I think the American people and Congress will accept attrition but only if it's connected to what the people judge to be worthy goals. Americans were willing to accept substantial casualties in Desert Storm (fortunately, it didn't happen). Pre-war public estimates ranged as high as tens of thousands of US casualties and yet the country was fully supportive. What Americans won't accept is attrition in the pursuit of suspect goals such as Somalia (Blackhawk Down), drawn out nation building exercises that never succeed (Iraq, Afg), and conflicts that don't involve vital US interests (Libya, Syria, etc.).

      Your point also leads to the issue of risk aversion and casualties in training. We are failing to train realistically, as we've discussed numerous times on this blog. There's no way around it - realistic training will result in a certain level of men and material losses. Again, it's the price for being truly combat ready, it must be paid, and the military has failed to make the country aware of that.

      A great point and a great comment, DCA!

  6. I stand corrected on the SM-1/2... though CNO pointed out, an anti-missile blast fragmentation warhead isn't going to do much of anything to the hull integrity. Because I love WWII so much, another analogy is when our DEs and DDs went up against BBs throughout the war. The 5" guns couldn't puncture the hull, but they did tear up the top-sides. Perhaps the SM-1/2 never gets much publicity since it is a far, far weaker anti-ship missile than the Harpoon, and compared to what the rest of the world packs now, the Harpoon doesn't just much publicity since its terrible as well. Again, I point out that the Navy and Coast Guard removed Harpoon launchers from most of the fleet. But as for my mistake on the SM-1/2, when I am attacked by a large door I defense myself with a water pistol filled with vinegar. Don't going to mess up its eyes and wreck his top-side! I'm safe!

    The Navy pulled the anti-ship Tomahawk and recently moved to update the Block IVs... not with anti-ship, but better bunker busting capabilities (JMEWS). Though in OCT 13, Raytheon claimed that their ESM upgrade would make it anti-ship capable, since it would make it a "radar and communications killer"

    Speaking of which, here is a good article from DID about the LASRAM.

    That's the best thing the Navy has going for it.

    1. Robert,

      SM-1/2 really aren't anti-ship missiles. They have no over-the-horizon capability. But up close, they can be rippled-fired and use shipboard guidance and illumination. The seeker doesn't need to be as smart. Just look for the glowing return from the Mk99 illuminator.

      Also, a cruiser like Cowpens carries a LOT of SM-2s and only a handful of Harpoons. Not enough to sink Liaoning anyway.

      Cowpens wouldn't need to sink Liaoning. Rendering it combat ineffective and/or a smoking hulk is good enough.

  7. That should be large dog, not door... I tend not to get attacked by objects in my house. I guess I need some coffee, as I sit in DC watching the snow come down! There seems to be a direct correlation between the quality of my posts and how much coffee I have ingested!

    1. Outstanding! I did wonder what kind of house you lived in. :)

    2. CNO, don't forget I'm just a knuckle-dragging grunt... I've never even been on a naval ship! Infantry guys like us don't have blogs like this since we can't figure out how to spell out the sounds of the grunts and shrugs we make. I like to hang out with you smart navy-folks!

      And speaking of which, this article JUST popped up on Defense Tech. I think they are watching this blog!

  8. Perhaps the Senior Navy folks know something about the effectiveness of the anti-missile weapons? Given what happened recently with an unarmed drone, maybe they know that Aegis cannot fight off a swarm of missiles. If that is the case, then putting a multi-billion dollar (yes that is with a B) ship in that environment is NOT a smart tactical (like sending a battleship against an aircraft carrier) or cost effective (how long does it take to replace a ship?) move.

    Ask WHY the Navy feels they cannot operate close to shore with the systems we have spent 100's of Billions procuring.

    1. Perhaps Navy leadership does know that Aegis can't stop an anti-ship missile. If that's the case, why have we continued to build multi-billion dollar ships whose purpose is AAW via Aegis (and now AMDR)?


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