Sunday, March 30, 2014

Return of the Viking

The Navy seems to have a clear need for an organic tanker, a long range fixed wing ASW aircraft, and a long range ECM/ESM aircraft.  Unfortunately, the R&D costs to develop a new multi-role support aircraft would be prohibitive in today’s budget climate.  If only there were an already fully developed and flight proven aircraft just sitting waiting to be put into production.  But, alas, we don’t have …  Hey, wait a minute!  Didn’t the S-3 Viking do all that stuff?  Couldn’t we just put it back into production?  Well, yeah, we could but it’s out of date.  We need a modern aircraft.  Yeah, I guess that won’t work because an old design like that just won’t …  well, it wouldn’t be able to, um …  Actually, what’s wrong with the old design?  None of those roles call for stealth.  None of those roles call for supercruise, Mach+ speed.  None of those roles call for 360 degree sensor fused, integrated, networked, anti-gravity, vertical takeoff, invisibility, and whatever other features the Navy would try to wedge into a new design.  Those roles just call for a flying truck.  This is exactly what CNO Greenert has been preaching. 

For those of you who have forgotten, the S-3 Viking functioned as a tanker, ASW, and ESM (remember the ES-3A Shadow?).  Additional roles are also possible.  A commenter once suggested the need for a long range UAV controller aircraft and the Naval Postgraduate School published a thesis in 1994 that examined the use of an S-3 Viking as a carrier based gunship. 

Not only could we quickly put the Viking back into production but my understanding is that the S-3 fleet has been preserved and could be restored to service with relatively little effort.  In fact, S. Korea is supposedly looking into buying several Vikings for ASW work.  Restored Vikings, if they won’t entirely meet the needed numbers, could be used almost immediately while a Viking production line is being reconstituted.

Check the Viking’s range and speed.  They’re more than adequate for the roles.

Range:  2765 nm
Speed:  max 430 kts, cruise 350 kts

Heck, the tanking role, alone, pretty much justifies this.  Right now, we’re using combat aircraft, Hornets, to act as tankers.  Every Hornet that gets used as a tanker is one less combat aircraft from an already shrunken pool of combat aircraft.  It’s not like there’s no room on the carrier.  The airwings have shrunk to the point that they barely occupy half the capacity of the carrier.

This is exactly the type of procurement that the Navy refuses to consider.  Here’s an aircraft that meets a variety of needs, is a proven design with all the bugs worked out, needs little engineering work, and would cost a fraction of a new design but the Navy won’t consider it because it isn’t a shiny, new toy with all the latest and greatest bells and whistles.  The fact that it can perform all the required missions means nothing to the Navy.  They only want leap-ahead technology. 

C’mon, Greenert.  Stop preaching and start practicing.

Friday, March 28, 2014

JHSV - A Bit Short But Not Bad

ComNavOps has previously expressed doubt about the intended role of the JHSV (see, “JHSV”) and nothing has happened to change that.  That aside, the JHSV appears to be largely meeting its designed capabilities with a few notable exceptions.  Frankly, it’s a welcome relief to see a Navy shipbuilding program largely succeed even if the intended role is questionable.

The FY2013 DOT&E report (1) highlights a few shortcomings with a couple related to range being noteworthy.

“USNS Spearhead cannot make the required 23 knot, 4,700 nautical mile light ship self-deployment transit; current analysis shows a 682 nautical mile deficit assuming a 90 percent starting fuel load with an ending fuel load of 10,000 gallons.”

“It appears that USNS Spearhead cannot make the required 35 knot, 1,200 nautical mile, fully loaded (600 short tons) transit.”

“USNS Spearhead is roughly 12.5 short tons over the predicted outfitted weight.”

“The JHSV’s organic container load trailer is not effective for loading 20-foot long metal storage containers. During the IOT&E, the test team took five hours to connect the container load trailer with a storage container and failed to load it aboard the ship.”

On the plus side, the main functions of transporting cargo and personnel and supporting the personnel appear to have been fully achieved.  In short, the vessel appears to have generally met its design goals.  Kind of refreshing, actually, even though I remain doubtful about its usefulness!

(1) Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, FY 2013 Annual Report

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Prowlers and Growlers

The EA-6B Prowler, based on the A-6 Intruder, is/was the Navy’s electronic warfare plane, providing ECM and jamming in support of attack aircraft.  The Prowler is being retired in favor of the electronic warfare version of the Hornet, the EA-18G Growler.

According to Wiki, 170 Prowlers were built.  Wiki also cites 114 Growlers as built or on order although reports suggest that the Navy is looking at additional orders.

Here are some comparative specs on the two aircraft.

EA-6B Prowler


Max speed:  566 kts
Cruise speed:  418 kts
Range:  2100 mi
Electronic Warfare Hardpoints:  5
Crew:  4

EA-18G Growler

Max speed:  ?
Cruise speed:  ?
Range:  1275 nm (clean); 390 nm combat radius
Electronic Warfare Hardpoints:  5
Crew:  2

Specs are hard to come by for the Growler.  The only available data appears to be simply copied over from Hornet data sheets.  For example, the max speed that is commonly cited is not valid since the Growler will always operate with its hardpoints loaded with large, heavy pods.  Similarly, the range is undoubtedly invalid for the same reason.  To be fair, I have similar doubts about the Prowler’s cited specifications although a loaded Prowler and a loaded Intruder would probably have reasonably similar performance.

Unfortunately, electronic warfare performance assessments of the two aircraft do not exist in the public domain.  I remain highly doubtful that the four operators of the Prowler can be effectively replaced by two.

Two things stand out in a cursory look at the aircraft.  First, is that the Growler’s mission range appears to be much less than the Prowler.  Even granting the Growler the higher range figure due to a clean configuration only puts it at just more than half the Prowler.  Second, is that the Growler has been obtained in much smaller quantities than the Prowler.  We’ve repeatedly stressed that “quantity has a quality all its own”.  Further, modern combat is placing an ever-increasing emphasis on electronic warfare while, at the same time, the Navy has decreased its electronic warfare aviation fleet by 33%. 

Lacking any performance comparison, I have no particular problem with the Growler other than the range and quantity issues.  However, the Growler seems to be an example of the all too common trend of new platforms and systems that provide only limited benefits over their legacy predecessors despite large expenditures of time and money.  For example, the Growler uses the same legacy ALQ-99 jamming pods as the Prowler which would suggest no performance improvement in that respect.

One of the original justifications for the Growler over the Prowler was the increased speed – the concept being that the Growler could keep up with the strike aircraft.  That always seemed a bit suspect to me.  The Prowler had sufficient speed to keep up with strike aircraft at cruising speed.  Only at max speed would the Prowler drop off.  Given that the strike aircraft would cruise at a moderate speed to and from the target and the Prowler stands off during the actual attack run, the Prowler’s speed never seemed to me to be an issue.  Nevertheless, the Growler’s higher max speed was a justification. 

Setting aside the validity of that initial justification, we’ve now, in a relatively few short years, moved from a conventional strike package concept to very long range, manned/unmanned, stealth strikes.  The Growler, as a completely non-stealthy aircraft with limited range now seems like a poor fit as a supplement to the future strike package.  I’m not suggesting that we get rid of the Growler – they have many years of productive service ahead of them – but, rather, that we think very carefully before committing to any additional Growlers, as the Navy seems to be leaning towards.  It may be time to look at a stealthy, long range electronic warfare aircraft, possibly even unmanned if the technology and software are sufficiently advanced (I’m doubtful but it’s worth consideration).

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Islands Don't Sink

From time to time ComNavOps examines truisms to see whether they actually do contain truth.  Today’s is the common argument that islands don’t sink.  This argument is put forth to justify the F-35 program (and by extension, the Marine’s acquisition of the F-35B) or to demonstrate how we will dominate a Chinese conflict using remote, austere bases.  Let’s look a bit closer at these ideas.

The F-35 program is often justified by the idea that F-35s (presumably “B” models) will be dispersed to numerous small airstrips carved out of jungle islands.  The idea traces its roots back to the Pacific campaign of WWII in which island airstrips were constructed to provide forward operating bases in support of the march across the Pacific.  The modern version of this espouses small airstrips hosting a “few” (half a dozen, perhaps?) F-35s that would presumably wreak havoc across thousands of miles of ocean, secure in the knowledge that their base would either be undiscoverable or, if discovered, be “unsinkable”.

So, let’s look at the logistics of such a base.  Aside from the obvious need for fuel (modern jets, and the F-35B in particular, are voracious gas guzzlers – a couple of 55 gal drums of fuel aren’t going to suffice as they did for WWII Wildcats) and munitions, even a meager airstrip would need food, water, housing, large supplies of highly sophisticated spare parts and diagnostic equipment (the days of a mechanic with a wrench, duct tape, and wire are long gone).  Getting all those supplies to the dispersed bases will be a challenge, to say the least.  It was a challenge in WWII when we had thousands of warships and cargo ships and many thousands of delivery aircraft.  Today, we have very little in the way of logistical supply ships or aircraft and what little we have will be totally consumed supplying our major bases let alone small airstrips housing a few planes.

WWII Pacific Airstrip

What would such a base look like?  We’ve all seen the WWII jungle strips made up of steel matting and huts for the personnel.  Well, today’s aircraft are very delicate, FOD intolerant machines that require scrupulously clean runways.  We need hangars to shelter the aircraft from the elements and to house the sophisticated diagnostic and repair equipment required to maintain modern stealth aircraft.  We need powerful, long range radars for base defense and situational awareness.  We need sophisticated anti-missile batteries and ballistic missile defense systems.  And so on…  Not exactly the definition of an austere base.

In addition, F-35Bs operating in vertical mode (we’re talking short runways, right?) have already been proven to damage existing carrier decks.  What will these austere runways be made out of?  Common steel?  Doesn’t sound like it will hold up.  Asphalt?  A melted puddle.  Concrete?  No idea.  Again, these are not WWII Corsairs.  These are aircraft that are difficult to operate and maintain.

Let’s look closer at the “unsinkable” aspect.  Proponents of these bases call the islands unsinkable.  I take that to mean that they can’t be permanently destroyed.  Strictly speaking, that’s true.  The bases do, however, offer fixed targets that can’t move and are perfect for long range ballistic or cruise missile attack.  Because these will be austere bases, according to the proponents, they won’t have the sophisticated equipment or technical expertise to repair runways or facilities damaged in attacks.  Who’s going to repair destroyed computers, radar arrays, or even paved runways?  Of course, we could maintain large stockpiles of extra computers, radars, diagnostic equipment, and specialized aircraft maintenance tools but then the austere base is well on its way to becoming a major base. 

Well, the F-35s will provide their own base defense, won’t they?  Ignoring the fact that F-35s don’t have an anti-ballistic missile capability and would probably be hard pressed to demonstrate an effective anti-cruise missile defense, if we only have a half dozen (or dozen) aircraft and they’re tied up on base defense, who’s conducting the offensive missions which are, presumably, their reason for existence?  Of course, we could mount Patriot batteries and other, similar, high tech, powerful anti-missile defenses and radar systems but, again, there goes the concept of an austere base and the powerful radar broadcasts the base’s location.  One quickly reaches a point where the base exists merely to defend itself.

Now, let’s look at the reason the base would exist – it’s offensive capability.  We’ve got half a dozen or so high tech, stealthy F-35Bs.  These are relatively short range aircraft with limited payload when operating in stealth mode.  Presumably, these small, austere bases are going to utilize the F-35B’s vertical or short takeoff capability – if not, we’ve again got a major size base.  In vertical or short takeoff mode, the plane sacrifices range and payload.  Given the very high tech nature of these aircraft and the intensive maintenance demands – yes, read the initial reports;  the maintenance demands are staggering, at the moment, and are unlikely to improve all that much – we’ll be lucky to field three or so aircraft at any given moment.  So what will these few aircraft, assuming they aren’t consumed in base defense, do offensively?  Well, they can patrol and strike out to a couple hundred miles.  Yes, I know they can fly around the world if we want to set up a staggeringly complex tanker and support system.  Are we going to have flights of tankers dedicated to small, austere bases housing a half dozen or so aircraft?  Not likely!  Are we going to dedicate electronic support aircraft (Growlers) to assist these aircraft?  Again, no.  So, we’ll have a few F-35Bs with limited range and payload attacking targets of opportunity in their immediate area.  Does this justify the base construction, defense, and logistics necessary to support them?  It doesn’t look like it.  The island may be unsinkable but the austere basing concept is not.   

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Frigate Interview

ComNavOps just scored an exclusive interview with the head of the frigate design committee.  Here’s the transcript of the interview.

ComNavOps:  Welcome, Mr. Burrow.  I know everyone is eager for news about the new frigate.  Thanks for giving my readers and myself the exclusive inside information.  As a Marine ground equipment person for the last 10 years, have there been any surprises in the design process, so far?

Burrow:  Well, I couldn’t help but notice right off that the ship is missing wheels.

ComNavOps:  Ahh …  It’s a ship, sir.  It’s meant to float.

Burrow:  Exactly!  And, like any amphibious vehicle it needs wheels once it gets to shore.  I would have thought you’d know that!

ComNavOps:  I do.  I mean, I don’t.  But it’s …  OK …  Moving on …  Any other new design changes we can look for?

Burrow:  We’ll be welding a large number of rings and hooks onto the hull of the ship for the crew to hang their packs and helmets from.

ComNavOps:  Based on your previous comment I guess I should have seen that coming.  You’re aware that the crew has storage space in the berthing compartments?

Burrow:  Hey, hey, hey!  I know we have mixed gender crews but no one is giving birth aboard ship.

ComNavOps:  ?! …

ComNavOps:  Again, moving on …  Many people feel that a frigate needs VLS to be effective.

Burrow:  I agree completely.  The ship will definitely have a Vertical Lunch System to dispense MRE’s.  That’s one Navy system I like – it’s a much more efficient way to feed the crew.

ComNavOps:  Ahh, you may have misunderstood the acronym, there.

Burrow:  I’m not an idiot.  I know what MRE stands for.

ComNavOps:  That’s not the acronym I was …  Never mind.

ComNavOps:  I’m probably going to regret this but one of the potential weaknesses of a frigate is the single propeller and shaft versus dual shaft arrangements in larger ships.  Any thoughts?

Burrow:  Yes.  We’ll be installing oar ports – about 35 per side.  Backup systems are important, you know.

ComNavOps:  Yes they are and that’s probably a good point to stop.  Thanks for taking the time to update us.

Burrow:  Happy to help!  As you Navy guys say, Anchors Away!

ComNavOps:  That’s not …  Oh, what the heck – close enough.

I could do this all day.  Seriously, this stuff just writes itself!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Frigate Committee Meeting Transcript

ComNavOps has obtained a recording of the Navy’s new frigate evaluation committee’s first meeting.  Here’s the transcript.

Civilian Chairman Burrow :  OK, settle down.  You all know why we’re here …

Chorus of Voices :  New LCS!

Burrow :  Exactly!

Lone Voice From The Back of the Room :  I thought we were going to look at combat capable frigate designs?

Chorus :  - near hysterical laughter -

Burrow :  “Combat capable”?!?  Oh, geez, you Navy guys crack me up.  That’s a good one!

Burrow :  You do have a point, though.  We’re supposed to look at alternatives so …

Chorus :  New LCS!

Burrow :  That’s what I’m talking about!  We’re making great progress.  You know, though, we can’t just recommend the same LCS so we …

Chorus :  Big New LCS!

Burrow :  I love you guys!

Burrow :  All right, we’ve got this thing pretty well locked down so let’s call it a day and head down to the Lockheed hospitality suite for happy hour massages.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

As you know, the Navy has been directed to evaluate an alternative to the current LCS.  We speculated (it’s a near certainty) that the replacement for the LCS would be a new version of the LCS, probably similar to the export versions that the manufacturers have offered (see, "The Reality of the Next Frigate").  As reported by Navy Times website (1), the Navy has announced the composition of the group tasked with the analysis of the LCS replacement.  The group, the Small Surface Combatant Task Force (SSCTF), is headed by a civilian, John Burrow, who is the executive director of the Marine Corps Systems Command.  He currently works for the Senior Executive Service and is responsible for ground equipment and systems acquisition for the Marine Corps.  Other group members consist of six captains, one commander, and another civilian.  Their backgrounds and current duties were not specified.  As Navy Times points out, it is noteworthy that the group does not contain a representative from the active-duty Naval Surface Force command.  The group members come from offices reporting directly to CNO, or the NAVSEA.  Hmm …  I wonder whose ideas they’ll line up behind?

The report states,

“In order to create a baseline, the task force is directed to prepare a “side-by-side comparison” of the requirements and capabilities of Oliver Hazard Perry FFG 7-class frigates and the LCS.”

I’m sure that will be a completely objective and unbiased comparison.

So we’ve got a group tasked with ship design evaluations that is led by a civilian expert in Marine ground equipment and systems and no team member is from the active surface Navy.  Further, the members currently report directly to the CNO and NAVSEA.  Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.  What do you think are the chances that this group will produce anything other than a parroting of whatever line Navy leadership wants?  All you frigate fans, say hello to LCS Flt II.

Monday, March 17, 2014

SW/ASW Lessons

Submarines have historically had a huge impact on naval and merchant shipping and operations that goes beyond just tonnage sunk.  Naval operations, in particular, have been greatly affected by the mere threat of submarines despite a relatively lesser impact, in terms of tonnage of naval vessels sunk.  Historically, the submarine threat to naval vessels has been serious but manageable.

Today, though, modern submarines with long range, devastatingly powerful, high speed torpedoes have been accorded an almost invincible reputation by many.  On the other hand, some, a minority, to be sure, argue that modern anti-submarine platforms and weapons will make short work of submarines who can’t cope with fleets of helos and fixed wing sub hunters in addition to ships packed with sonar, towed arrays, signal processing computing power, and smart anti-submarine torpedoes  all backed by myriad types of airborne and satellite surveillance plus SOSUS type sensor deployments.

What is the reality of modern submarine warfare (SW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW)?  Where does the truth lie?  Well, the SW and ASW fields are probably the least open in terms of authoritative public statements of capability.  Thus, anyone who hasn’t served in SW/ASW probably has little basis for any credible claims regarding SW/ASW performance.  Those who have served and have some knowledge rarely discuss it publicly and then only in general terms.

Having just stated that very few people have the background and credibility to authoritatively discuss SW/ASW, ComNavOps is now going to do just that?!  Actually …   No. 

Instead, we’re going to examine the history of modern SW/ASW for actual lessons and see what we can learn.  Unfortunately, few documented instances of modern SW/ASW exist.  Still, we’ll work with what’s available.

Probably the best example is the Falklands War.  As described in Harper’s report (1), the following submarines took part in operations for their respective sides.

British SW forces consisted of,

(2) Swiftsure class nuclear submarines (Spartan, Splendid)
(3) Valiant class nuclear submarine (Conqueror, Valiant, Courageous)
(1) Oberron class diesel submarine (Onyx)

British ASW forces included 12 ships, 6 submarines, and over two dozen helos.

Argentine SW consisted of,

(1) Type 209 class diesel submarine (San Luis)

Argentine ASW did not really exist in any meaningful way.

Let’s look at specifics of SW operations.  The San Luis claimed to have conducted three torpedo attacks. 

1 May – Attacked medium sized warships using sonar identification and targeting only. The ships were the H.M.S. Brilliant and the H.M.S. Yarmouth. The attack failed and the sub was, in turn, attacked for 20 hours with depth charges and at least one torpedo.

8 May – Attacked a submarine. The attack failed although an explosion was heard.  Presumably, the torpedo exploded against the seabed.

10 May – Attack on two destroyers, the H.M.S. Arrow and H.M.S. Alacrty. One torpedo was launched.  The attack was unsuccessful, however, an explosion was heard on the correct bearing 6 minutes after firing the torpedo.  Arrow later found her towed countermeasure was damaged which was taken as evidence that the San Luis’ torpedo had been successfully decoyed.  The second ship was not attacked because it had moved out of range in the intervening time.

British submarines, in turn, sank a WWII era cruiser.

The conclusions are fairly obvious. 

(1) Submarine SW operations were remarkably ineffective. 

The San Luis attempted three attacks, largely unhindered by ASW efforts, and achieved zero success.  The British sank the Argentine cruiser but achieved nothing further despite having six subs in theatre.  To be objective, the cruiser appeared to have no meaningful ASW assets protecting it and was more of a live fire exercise than an example of modern SW.  Also, to be fair, the British rules of engagement probably limited their submarines from accomplishing more.  The ROE’s were intended to prevent friendly fire incidents but that simply points up the difficulty in target identification during SW.

(2) ASW operations were remarkably ineffective and achieved what limited success they had only in passive ways. 

It is doubtful that the British ever held contact on the San Luis despite a multitude of ASW assets actively searching and the submarine approaching to within torpedo range on three occasions.  The only ASW success the British achieved was with passive torpedo decoys and even then the success was only realized in a delayed fashion when the decoys were recovered and found to be damaged.  In short, an entire fleet of ASW assets was unable to locate a single submarine despite the sub conducting three attacks and thus being in near proximity.

(3) Submarines exerted an influence far beyond their actual impact. 

The Argentines completely ceded the surface naval contest due to the mere threat of submarines after the sinking of the cruiser.  The British expended an enormous amount of effort attempting to counter the submarine threat and their movements and operations were greatly influenced by the ongoing submarine threat.

Let’s move on to the example of the Chinese submarine that surfaced in an American carrier group.  As the story is reported, a Song class diesel-electric submarine surfaced inside the USS Kitty Hawk group within 5 miles of the carrier on Oct 26, 2006.  US escorting forces and aviation assets failed to detect it until it surfaced.  To be fair, the carrier was undoubtedly not conducting wartime levels of ASW.  Still, operating near China, the carrier group should have been maintaining a vigilant level of awareness and yet failed to detect the sub – a sub that is of an inherently quiet type but not generally thought to be world class.

These are the only relevant real world SW/ASW examples that I’m aware of.  Not much of a database to draw lessons from, admittedly.  That said, modern SW may be less effective than is generally assumed.  Friendly fire concerns will be a major concern and impediment to SW.  Conversely, modern ASW appears to be only marginally effective, at best.

Please note that this post is not an opinion piece.  It’s simply an observation of the very limited real world operational experience that has been made public.  Whether the conclusions would hold across other navies, platforms, and scenarios is highly debatable.  At the very least, though, the data needs to be considered and factored in to SW/ASW discussions.  To blindly claim that modern submarines are invincible or, conversely, that modern ASW is lethally effective is to ignore the available evidence.  The wise student of SW/ASW would do well to exercise a healthy degree of self-doubt about their position, whatever that might be.

(1) Naval War College, Submarine Operations During the Falklands War, LCdr. Steven R. Harper, USN, 17-Jun-1994

Friday, March 14, 2014

Independent Cruiser

We discussed the need for ships capable of independent operations but what, exactly, does that entail?  For starters, it does not mean a ship capable of taking on an entire war on its own, fighting off hundreds of aircraft, swatting down endless volleys of missiles, countering swarms of submarines, and spreading democracy all the while.  No, not that.  Instead, it means a ship that can conduct vital missions, during war and peace, just short of carrier group levels of capability. 

For this, we need a ship capable of a reasonable degree of self-defense, a potent enough offensive capability to give an enemy pause, enhanced survivability, and the ability to maintain a widespread tactical picture using only its own organic assets.  Clearly, such a ship would be large, capable, and expensive.  There’s a time for cost cutting and cost/capability tradeoffs in ship design but this is not that.  This is a ship that will be expensive and must not be compromised.  The ship will be a cruiser in size and capability (the Navy will probably designate it a corvette in keeping with modern designation trends!).

War time missions would include strike, anti-shipping, ASuW, harbor/base attack, and the like.

Peace time missions would include freedom of navigation, high risk intelligence collection, enemy ship monitoring, and “territorial dispute resolution”.  Examples would be shadowing the various new Chinese ships, discouraging N. Korean missile shoots in international waters, “disputing” fraudulent Chinese territorial grab attempts, and providing high visibility presence off Iran.

Now, what, specifically, does such a ship look like?  It would start with these characteristics.

  • Enhanced stealth – as hard to find and target as possible
  • Extensive heavy armoring – take a hit and keep fighting
  • Burke level AAW
  • Tomahawk (or its replacement) strike
  • Multiple 8” guns – peacetime missions, especially, may wind up being up close and personal
  • Extensive anti-ship weaponry (Harpoon/LRASM plus short range Penguin-ish missiles)
  • Significant UAV capability

There are two key points regarding the list.  The first, is the absence of ASW.  This is not a ship intended to go play tag with submarines.  That is best left to cheaper, purpose designed vessels.  The ASW capability would be limited to self-defense, hence, a couple of helos, a hull mounted sonar, ASROC, and towed decoys.

The second key point is the UAV capability.  For a ship operating independently, situational awareness is critical and the independent ship will largely have to rely on its own abilities.  Thus, a robust UAV surveillance capability is mandatory – a poor man’s Hawkeye, in a sense.  The ship would have to carry dozens of UAVs and be able to operate them independent of helo operations;  in other words, a dedicated UAV flight deck.

This ship offers serious combat capability and greatly enhances naval options in a time of diminishing overall availability.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Independent Operations

Carrier numbers have declined from dozens to 15 to 9 (currently active).  All indications are that the numbers will continue to decline as budget pressures continue to mount.  The Navy has already announced that only two carriers at a time will be deployed starting in 2015 – that’s two carriers to cover the entire world.  At the same time, the number of aircraft in airwings has decreased significantly.  The Navy has stated that squadron size will be reduced by a further 2-4 aircraft when the F-35 reaches service.  It doesn’t take a fortune teller to see that even that may be an optimistic prediction given the runaway cost of the JSF program.  The net result is that the likelihood of naval aviation being present at any point in the world and at any given time is steadily decreasing and this situation will only get worse for the foreseeable future.

The Air Force is not immune to this trend, either.  Overall aircraft numbers are shrinking and no one believes that the projected buy of F-35s will occur as planned.  The Air Force will be fortunate if they can procure three quarters of that amount.

Further, the number of combat ships in the fleet is steadily declining. 

Compounding all of this is a lack of bases in the various areas of interest, particularly the East/South China Seas, meaning America’s “Pacific Pivot”.

How does all of this tie together?  Simple…  More and more naval operations will be conducted with less and less support.  Small task force operations will be replaced by single ship operations.  Ships will be tasked without sufficient support.  Aircraft will operate without backup.  In other words, independent operations will increase.  By independent, I mean individual ships or small task groups that have no readily available external support.

Even when we had sufficient support we too often operated ships and aircraft without proper support.  Remember the Pueblo incident?  Remember the EP-3 forcedown by the Chinese?  Just recently, we sent an Aegis cruiser to monitor a Chinese fleet and it was unceremoniously spanked and sent packing by the Chinese.  To be fair, I don’t know what support, if any, the cruiser had on call.  The point is that independent operations will occur far more frequently as time goes on.

How is this relevant?  Well, hand-in-hand with independent operations is increased risk.  Did the Aegis cruiser have support on call or is part of the reason why it vacated the area due to a lack of support if things had turned ugly?  As we deploy P-8s for maritime surveillance will they have proper support or will they be on their own?  As we continue to send T-AGOS ships on patrol do they have sufficient support to bail them out of a jam?

Where once an enemy might have hesitated to instigate an incident due to the presence of nearby support, the current circumstances may be just the encouragement an enemy needs to pick off an LCS (they’re welcome to it!) or force down a brand new P-8.  China is clearly spoiling for a confrontation and the lack of support reinforces their aggressiveness.

So, what can we do about this?  Well, we could build more planes and ships but that isn’t going to happen.  We could forward deploy more assets to increase the level of available support but we’re actually doing the opposite.  Carriers and airwings are being idled to save money and some deployments are being skipped.  Honestly, there’s not really anything we can do about this in the near term.

Of course, we can always reduce our posture and pull back.  Sadly, this is being seriously discussed (two-hub Navy, surge Navy, and similar proposals).

Where does all this leave us?  Well, if we want to continue to maintain an effective forward presence we have to recognize and admit that we’re going to be operating with insufficient support on a frequent basis.  Ships and groups are going to find themselves in critical situations with only their own resources to call on.  That being the case, we need to rethink our ship designs. 

We need to begin designing ships that are more capable, more defensible, more survivable, and more combat ready.  In other words, we need ships that are capable of independent operations.

Ponder this need and we’ll follow up with a post that has a more detailed discussion of the specific type of ship needed for independent operations.

Monday, March 10, 2014

FY15 Battle Force Changes

From the FY 2015 DON Budget Highlights book, we note that in FY 2015, 8 battle force ships will be delivered:

(1) Nuclear Attack Submarine (SSN)
(4) Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)
(2) Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV)
(1) Mobile Landing Platform (MLP)

We also note that 13 battle force ships will be retired:

(10) Frigate (FFG)
(1) Nuclear Attack Submarine (SSN)
(1) Amphibious Warfare Assault Ship (LHA)
(1) Combat Logistics Ship (T-AOE).

In addition, the Navy will stand down half the Aegis cruiser force and I don’t think anyone realistically believes these will ever go to sea again:

(11) Aegis Cruiser (CG)

The totals:

Added = 8
Deleted = 24

This is the Navy’s assured growth towards a 300 ship fleet??!  But wait, it gets worse.

Here's a small note attached to a battle force count table.

“*Note: Starting in FY 2015 ship count includes eight OCONUS Mine Warfare (MCMs) ships, and twelve Non-Battle Force ships--two Hospital Ships (T-AHs) and ten Forward Deployed Patrol Crafts (PCs)—based on new ship counting rules.”

Do you see that?  We're now going to start counting hospital ships, Avenger class MCMs, and Cyclone class patrol vessels as battle force assets.  If you can't maintain actual combat ship numbers, just count non-combat ships.  Could this be a more blatant and transparent scam to make us think the Administration and Navy are maintaining the fleet size?

It’s important to recognize what’s happening here.  ComNavOps has been pointing out repeatedly that the Navy’s 30 year shipbuilding plan was a work of pure fiction based on wishful thinking and budgetary miracles that don’t have a snowball’s chance of happening.  The trend, as documented above is painfully clear.  The fleet is heading towards a 220 ship force with much of that force being non-combat or marginally (LCS) so.  The reason is spiraling construction costs resulting in ever fewer ships which means ever larger costs which means even more expensive ships which means …  a death spiral.  This is why ComNavOps has repeatedly called for simpler, single function ships.  The alternative, meaning the status quo, is destroying the Navy.

Well, at least that’s the worst of it, right?  Ahh …

For FY 2015, 20% of required depot level ship maintenance is unfunded and will be indefinitely deferred.  So, not only is the fleet shrinking and becoming less combat effective but the fleet is also degrading due to deferred maintenance and this is on top of previously backlogged and deferred maintenance.  As we all know, it is much harder and more costly to attempt to make up deferred maintenance somewhere down the road.  The problems just get that much worse.  This is what a hollow fleet is.

C’mon, now, there’s no way it can get any worse.  Well …

The abysmally small Reserve fleet which consisted of only 8 ships in 2013 is being reduced to 0 (zero, none, no reserve fleet) in 2015.  There is now no reserve to call on if we get into a scrap, suffer attrition, and need immediate replacements. 

I’m not going to lay this on the President and Congress.  Instead, the blame lies with Navy leadership.  They’re the ones who are hollowing the fleet to maintain new construction funding.  They’re the ones who have chosen new toys over training, spare parts, and maintenance.  They’re the ones who continually present only more and more expensive ship proposals to Congress instead of solid, basic designs.  They’re the ones who are early retiring Aegis cruisers and amphibious ships.  They’re the ones who allowed our mine countermeasures ships and capability to nearly vanish.  They’re the ones who allowed our ASW to atrophy and our Aegis systems to degrade fleetwide.  They’re the ones …  Well, you know the litany as well as I do.  This is purely the Navy’s fault. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Tomcat and F-35 Development

I noted the other day that the F-35C is slated to achieve Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 2019 (history says that won’t happen!).  That lead me to take a quick look at the JSF developmental history.  The JSF developmental contract was issued in Nov 1996 with first flight occurring in Dec 2006.

In comparison, the F-14 Tomcat development effort began in 1968 with the issuance of a Request For Proposals.  A contract was awarded in Jan 1969 with first flight occurring in Dec 1970 and IOC in 1973.  The plane entered squadron service in 1974 with VF-1 and VF-2 aboard USS Enterprise.  The last Tomcat was finally retired in 2006.

Are you grasping the differences in developmental times?!

From program initiation, here are the elapsed times for the two programs.

First Flight:     F-14 = 2 yr,  F-35 = 10 yr
IOC:                F-14 = 4 yr,  F-35 = 23 yr

Are you kidding me??!  23 years to achieve F-35C IOC even assuming that the 2019 IOC date is met, which it won’t, versus 4 years for the Tomcat. 

In terms of technology, this plane will be pushing three decades old by the time it enters squadron service!  After three decades we were retiring the Tomcat.  After three decades, the F-35 will be just entering service.  Yikes!

F-14 Tomcat

I know someone is going to pound out a reply that the F-35 is far more complex and technically advanced.  Bilgewater!  The Tomcat was every bit as revolutionary and advanced for its day with variable geometry wings and the Phoenix missile system which allowed it to engage multiple targets simultaneously at long range.  Plus, the Tomcat development did not have the advantage of today’s powerful computer modeling and simulations or computer aided drafting and design.

I am continually blown away by the magnitude of the F-35 debacle.