Saturday, May 31, 2014

FY 2015 Costs

The House Appropriations Committee released their draft defense spending bill for 2015 and it contains some informative numbers.

Navy shipbuilding is budgeted $14.3B for 6 ships (type unspecified).  That’s an average of $2.4B each.  Further, assuming a lifespan of 35 years, procuring 6 ships per year equates to a 210 ship fleet.  That’s a far cry from the 300+ ship fleet that the Navy and the current administration would like us to believe is coming.  The numbers are what they are.  The fleet is steadily shrinking.

Everyone’s favorite, the F-35, is budgeted for $5.8B for 38 aircraft (versions unspecified).  For you JSF fanboys who seem unable to do the math, that’s $153M per aircraft.  Don’t you hate actual numbers when you’re trying to argue for something?  I know, I know, once we hit serial production the cost will drop to ten dollars each – heck, we may even make money on each one built!

The EA-18G Growler is budgeted at $975M for 12 aircraft which is $81M each.

These aren't final numbers, of course, but they are interesting.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Soft Kill CEC

The Navy has developed, and continues to refine, its Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) for use in anti-air warfare.  Briefly, CEC allows data sharing among individual ships which allows a group-centric engagement capability.  The shooting platform does not necessarily have to be the platform holding sensor contact on the target.  Thus, the entire group becomes a single AAW entity.  I’m not sure how far along that path the Navy has progressed.  Remote missile launch has been demonstrated but whether the software control has progressed to the point of allowing a group to function as a truly integrated single unit is an open question.  Just as Aegis, in full auto mode, makes its own assessment of threats and allocates the best weapons to counter them, so too could a group be controlled to make best use of the individual unit’s inventories and capabilities, at least in theory.

We’ve discussed that soft kill anti-air defense methods have a significantly better proven track record of success than hard kill methods (see, "AAW - Hard or Soft Kill?").  We’ve also noted that soft kill system upgrades and improvements are significantly cheaper than the pursuit of ever newer and more capable missiles and launch systems.  As we’ve pointed out, the Navy needs a balance between the two approaches.  Unfortunately, the Navy’s historical focus has been on the hard kill approach to the detriment of soft kill technology.

Thankfully, the Navy has begun to focus a bit of attention on upgrades to the venerable SLQ-32 ECM/ESM system.  That’s fine but it’s still just a bit-wise approach.  What’s needed is the soft kill equivalent of the CEC system – a soft kill cooperative engagement capability (SK-CEC) that treats the entire group as a single entity and assigns defensive actions based on the group’s capabilities which are, in turn, determined by the individual ship’s inventories, capabilities, detection thresholds,  positions, priorities, etc. 

Current soft kill efforts are conducted by individual ships acting in their own defense or, possibly, on behalf of a nearby ship.  The problem with this is that an action that might benefit one ship might endanger another.  The Royal Navy witnessed this in the Falklands when an escort’s decoys saved the escort but had the unintended effect of redirecting the attacking missiles to the very ship the escort was trying to protect.  SK-CEC would, theoretically allow the group to act as a single entity with defensive actions taken in consideration of the overall welfare of the group and with consideration for the group’s defensive priorities (which individual ship(s) have the highest protection priority).

Soft Kill CED - The Next Step?

Of course, the ultimate development in cooperative engagement would be to unite CEC and SK-CEC to create a single hard and soft kill defensive system.

The core of CEC or SK-CEC systems is the software.  As we’ve seen with the JSF and other advanced programs, this type of advanced and complex software development is challenging, to say the least.  On the plus side, the software can be developed without need of significant hardware until it’s reasonably advanced and ready for real world testing.  We don’t have to actually build ships in order to develop the system.  Development would not be cheap but it would not require insane amounts of money like the JSF or Ford programs.

We seem to have a foreseeable block of time without undue commitments (unless we plunge into another nation building exercise!).  Now is the time to work on an SK-CEC system in conjunction with SLQ-32 and other soft kill technology improvements.

Let’s speculate a bit further …  Given the rabbit hole of escalating costs for hard kill systems in the face of ever more deadly, fast, powerful, and capable anti-ship missiles, one could imagine that a preferred approach might be to drop area anti-air hard kill efforts and focus, instead, on a combination of soft kill and point defense hard kill.  Consider the benefits to the offensive capability of the fleet if such an approach were taken.  Burkes would become instantly more powerful offensively since the bulk of their VLS cells could be devoted to Tomahawks!  Now, for those of you who are already foaming at the mouth and twitching at your keyboards, I’m not yet advocating that this is the correct approach.  Honestly, I don’t know enough about the detailed performance of the various hard and soft kill components to make an accurate and objective assessment of the proposition – and neither do you.  I’m simply taking the hard versus soft kill issue to a logical conclusion.  Whether it’s a good conclusion, I can’t judge but it’s certainly worth thinking about given that our present approach is becoming unsustainably expensive and technologically too challenging.  Let’s face it, hitting a super/hyper-sonic, maneuvering, ECM-capable anti-ship missile with another missile is incredibly difficult currently and may soon become impossible on a practical basis.

The Navy already recognizes the difficulties, bordering on impossibilities, of successfully engaging anti-ship missiles with the current Aegis/CEC system - it’s  why the Navy has moved the amphibious assault point from the horizon to 50+ nm offshore.  The situation is only going to get worse as regards hard kill defense so now is the time to concentrate on soft kill methods.  The money that we’re going to begin pouring into Burke Flt IIIs might be better spent on soft kill methods.  We need to refocus on soft kill approaches and begin working towards an SK-CEC system. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

CNO's Focus on Peace

CNO Greenert is a prolific writer and speaker.  Unfortunately, he is also a prolific purveyor of pacifistic policies (a little alliteration, there).

Greenert has authored another of his frequent Proceedings articles (1).  This one espouses the global networked navy, a variation of the 1000-ship Navy idea.  He describes a loose network of navies that form a global force for good (couldn’t resist that one) and whose individual members come and go as their individual national interests presumably come and go relative to specific issues.

Aside from the obvious problem of trying to count on network members who may or may not participate depending on what the issue of the moment is, the main problem is that this concept is dependent on a group of navies that are, frankly, not very capable.  While this may be fine for dealing with pirates or providing humanitarian assistance on a small scale, it fails utterly when it comes to actual combat against  even a moderately capable enemy. 

This focus by CNO Greenert illustrates his main failing.  He is a peacetime, peaceful activity oriented leader.  We've previously discussed his failure to follow his own tenets (see, "CNO's Tenets - Walking or Just Talking?").  His focus is on the very low end of the naval mission spectrum.  He wants the LCS because it’s a smaller ship that won’t intimidate the navies of other countries and can better engage with them and their small vessels (he has actually stated that).  The Pacific Pivot seems to consist of sending LCS’s to Singapore.  He wants generic platforms that can accept any payload (we’ve already debunked that idea - see, "Payloads Over Platforms?") which is an accounting approach to combat rather than a warfighting approach.  He’s sacrificing ship maintenance, flight hours, and readiness in favor of humanitarian assistance.  He’s focused on building JHSVs, MLPs, AFSBs, etc. – and counting them as warships! – rather than MCMs, combat capable frigates, strike cruisers, and whatnot.  If push comes to shove, he’s already indicated that he’ll retire a carrier rather than halt LCS production (or the LCS follow on).  I can go on but you get the idea and you know the litany as well as I do.

The Navy Uncaged?

While peacetime activities make up 98% of the Navy’s tasking, it’s the CNO’s job to feed and care for the gorilla that only gets let out of its cage 2% of the time.  Do that and the 98% will take care of itself.  Fail to do that and the 2% will not take care of itself.  Instead, the Navy will find itself lacking and in desperate trouble when we need the gorilla and find we have only a tiny, but cute and cuddly monkey.

The Navy desperately needs a warrior as CNO.

(1) US Naval Institute Proceedings, “Forging a Global Network of Navies”, Adm. Johathan Greenert, USN and RAdm. James Foggo III, USN, May 2014, p.22

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Future of the Surviving LCS's

The LCS buy has been truncated at 32 vessels.  It’s even possible that Congress will not fund that many.  The current budget markup has reduced the requested LCS buy for 2015 by one.  Regardless, the Navy has not yet addressed the impact of the truncated buy on the future roles of the surviving LCS’s and, in particular, the impact on the existing module procurement plan.  Presumably, the planned 60 odd modules will be reduced to around 32-35.  The next logical question is what mission sets will the reduced modules be?  How many ASW?  How many ASuW?  How many MCM?

At least one of the questions is easily answered.  There will be few, if any, ASuW modules purchased.  The ASuW module borders on useless.  The main weapon of the module will be either the tiny and very short ranged Griffon or the now out of production Hellfire.  I can’t see the Navy spending money on a failed module for a truncated class.

The ASW mission is needed but the module is struggling and has reverted to existing, off-the-shelf technology.  There’s no need to procure modules that simply duplicate existing capabilities with no improvement.  On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with a competent ASW capability that simply duplicates existing technology.  The problem is that the hull, itself, is not optimized for ASW and that’s likely to make the LCS a better target than hunter.  Still, the Navy may see a need for an ASW LCS.

The MCM mission, on the other hand, is desperately needed.  The Navy, entirely through their own fault, has allowed the Avenger class MCM and other MCM assets to literally rot away in anticipation of the LCS taking over the role.  Ignoring the self-inflicted origins of the MCM crisis, the Navy must have MCM vessels and, at least in the Navy’s mind, there is no other option than the LCS.  ComNavOps knows there are other, better options but that’s a topic for another time.  I’m sure the Navy sees a need for at least 24 MCM vessels, if not more – that was baked into the original LCS class and module procurement plan.  Thus, at least 24 of the 32 surviving LCS’s will be MCM variants. 

At that point, with only 8 additional vessels, does it make sense to even bother with ASW and ASuW modules?  The ASuW module certainly makes no sense.  A weak case could be made for 8 ASW LCS’s, I suppose.  The logical course would be to convert all 32 vessels to MCM.  This would greatly simplify logisics, training, and maintenance.  Trying to maintain a logistics support system and training pipeline for only 8 ASW modules makes no sense.

Another plausible scenario is that the 32 LCS’s could be split along version lines with the 16 LCS-1 class dedicated to ASW and the 16 LCS-2 class dedicated to MCM.  This makes less conceptual sense and leaves the Navy’s MCM capability at a paltry 16 vessels but it may appeal to the Navy if the particular characteristics of the two classes dictate it.

We see, then, that the most reasonable use of the surviving LCS’s is as MCM vessels.  Of course, given the Navy’s demonstrated indifference towards mine warfare (truly baffling given the proliferation of mines in the inventories of potential enemies and the historical impact of mines) it is quite likely that the Navy will come up with some other course of action.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What Use, the Navy?

The Navy exists for one reason and one reason only:  to fight and win wars.  The Navy (and the military, in general) is the gorilla that is let out of its cage to destroy the enemy when diplomatic efforts have failed and conflict is the only means of resolution left.  As such, the Navy must be bigger, meaner, and more powerful than any possible enemy.  The Navy must be capable of delivering vast amounts of destruction on demand.  CNO Greenert recognized this imperative with his “Warfighting First” slogan, although he has spectacularly failed to implement it.

The far, far, far, far secondary task is to patrol the world’s seas during peacetime and, insofar as possible, keep and promote that peace by providing presence, deterrence, security for global shipping, and the hundreds of other necessary peacetime tasks. 

The irony is that the secondary task makes up 99% of the Navy’s activities.  Nonetheless, the Navy’s leaders must firmly grasp the reality of the Navy’s priority and that is warfighting.  Every ship design, every piece of equipment purchased, every manning decision, every research project, and every weapon system must be focused with laser precision on the Navy’s core purpose of warfighting.

Unfortunately, the outlook of the military, in general, and Navy leadership, in particular, suggests that we have been too long without a reminder of the Navy’s true purpose and that not only has a peacetime mentality taken hold but, even more disturbing, the lessons of history are being misinterpreted.  Consider this passage from a recent Proceedings article (1).

“Senior U.S. military officers now say, ‘We are not posturing to plant the flag in the capital.’  At the high end, warfighting today is IAMD-centric [Integrated Air and Missile Defense] and not about regime change.  Deterrence and conflict prevention are all about competitive strategies, as we know from winning the endgame in the Cold War.  U.S. combatant commanders today are tasked with shaping the regional security environments in the areas of responsibility.”

That seemingly simple and innocuous statement encapsulates a great deal of folly, ignorance, and naiveté.

Let’s break it down.  “We are not posturing to plant the flag in the capital.”  Nothing should be further from the truth.  Consider the multitude of historical examples involving the planting of the flag versus not.  WWII was a prime example of planting the flag, firmly and unequivocally, in the capitals of Germany and Japan.  The result?  Both are now pillars of the global community.  On the other hand, consider the examples of N. Korea and Iraq (Desert Storm).  In each case, we fought a partial war to an indefinite conclusion, chose not to plant the flag, and have had to live with years of costly and difficult consequences.  For decades we’ve had to pay an enormous price to contain a now nuclear armed, belligerent, and insane N. Korea.  Our failure to plant the flag at the conclusion of Desert Storm led directly to having to fight Iraq a second time.  The cost to plant the flag in Germany and Japan was a bargain of untold magnitude compared to the ongoing problems resulting from our failure to do so in N. Korea and Iraq.  We see then, that the statement, “We are not posturing to plant the flag in the capital.”, derives from a failure to learn the lessons of history and demonstrates a folly and ignorance of the action-consequence link that is staggering in its magnitude. 

Consider the next sentence, “At the high end, warfighting today is IAMD-centric [Integrated Air and Missile Defense] and not about regime change.”  At the high end, war is all about regime change or at least it should be, as we just pointed out.  If we don’t end a war decisively and overwhelmingly we’ll continue to pay for it for years to come and may well wind up refighting it.  This statement is a complete failure to recognize what war is and what the Navy’s purpose is.  This is ignorance on a grand scale.

“Deterrence and conflict prevention are all about competitive strategies, as we know from winning the endgame in the Cold War.”

The Cold War was not won because of our deterrence or conflict prevention strategies.  The Cold War was won because we committed to preparing for the ultimate war and demonstrated that we were committed to winning it totally and decisively.  Our preparation for total war led the Soviet Union to engage in an arm’s race that their economy could not sustain.  Yes, there were many other factors at play and I’m simplifying but the point is that timid, half-measures of conflict prevention were not what won the Cold War.  Americans seem to have a chronically hard time recognizing that the rest of the world respects strength.  But, I digress … 

Our current crop of military professionals appear to be misinterpreting the lessons of history.  We seem to want to re-interpret history through a lens of wishful thinking and a haze of peaceful intentions.  Well, it didn’t happen that way and it won’t happen that way in the future.  China, for example, has no more respect for our peaceful gestures than the Soviet Union did.  We can remember our lessons or we can pay in blood to have them re-taught to us by countries that have learned the proper lessons.

(1) US Naval Institute, “Modernize Aegis for Naval Dominance”, John Morton, May 2014, p.60.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

We're Not Going ... Uh, I Mean Of Course We're Going

You'll recall the recent post noting that no LCS would be attending the 2014 RIMPAC exercise despite it being everything that the LCS is supposedly ideally suited for -  you know, like partnership exercises, show the flag, Pacific Pivot, multi-national training, non-intimidating interactions with small-navy allies, etc.  Well, it's now being reported that the Navy has reversed their decision and will send the USS Independence, LCS-2.


Did some tactical or operational requirement suddenly pop up that now makes it imperative for an LCS to be there?  Or, are Navy operational assignments now being dictated by media reaction?  Seriously, this is just the Navy responding to a mini-blizzard of media mocking of the LCS' original non-participation. 

I don't know which is more disappointing:  that the Navy couldn't see the value in sending an LCS to the very type of exercise that the LCS is supposedly ideally suited for or that the Navy is allowing public reaction to determine operational assignments.  Hmm ...  I'll call that one a tie.  They're both pretty disappointing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ford - Combat Ready or Business Ready?

An article in the current issue of Proceedings (1) points out, as a notable benefit, that the Ford’s dual-band radar allows considerable reduction in topside equipment,

“Further reductions in topside equipment were envisioned by leveraging the dual-band radar from the … DD-1000 destroyer program, a move that could replace six radars – SPS-48, SPS-49, SPS-67, SPN-43, SPQ-9B, TAS Mk23 – and four NATO Sea Sparrow Target Illuminators.”

What the authors fail to point out is that the consolidation puts 10 separate functions into a single point of failure.  If the dual-band radar is rendered inoperative due to battle damage (or simple electrical/mechanical failure) the ship loses ten functions.  The older system of separate radars may have caused topside clutter (I’m not sure why that’s inherently bad) but they also offered a degree of redundancy in that they represented multiple points of failure – a much more battle worthy system. 

The Ford’s radar may represent a more desirable system from a peacetime acquisition and ease of construction (hence, cost) point of view but does it represent a better combat arrangement?  Only a very detailed analysis from someone with intimate knowledge of the various systems could answer that.  The point is that the Navy almost surely made the decision based on accounting concerns rather than combat needs.  We’ve discussed this before – the Navy has to recognize that combat is generally not compatible with accounting and business practices.  Many combat issues will not make good accounting and business sense (until, of course, they save a ship in combat!) especially when considered from a peacetime perspective.  The Navy must drive its designs from a combat imperative.  If that means higher costs, and it will, that’s simply the price of being combat ready.  There are plenty of areas for productive cost cutting (have I ever mentioned reducing the glut of Admirals and their staffs?) but combat readiness is not one.

On a related note, the authors point out that the Ford will have fewer aircraft elevators.  Again, a construction cost saver, undoubtedly, but is it a combat and battle damage advantage?  Undoubtedly not.  When the ship takes damage and begins losing capability more elevators will be desirable, not less – that’s called redundancy.

So, is the Ford’s radar system more combat ready than the older arrangement?  I don’t know but this type of decision must be driven by combat concerns not business.

(1) US Naval Institute Proceedings, “Christened by Champagne, Challenged by Cost”, Capt. J. Talbot Manvel Jr. (USN, ret.) and David Perin, May 2014, p. 42

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Naval Trends and Future Combat

ComNavOps has been known to be occasionally (?!) critical of Navy leadership and with more than ample reason.  However, ComNavOps also prides himself on being fair and objective.  If Navy leadership can produce instances of wisdom, ComNavOps will gladly point it out and offer praise.  In fact, an example of just such a piece of wisdom has made an appearance in the latest issue of Proceedings (1).

The author discusses the impact of Long Range Precision Strike Systems (LRPS) on future conflict and force structure in addition to some general trends in future warfare.  He recognizes that the key to LRPS effectiveness is targeting but fails to fully develop the implications of that factor.  For example, it’s not necessary to employ AAW kinetic kill weapons if the enemy’s targeting capability can be disrupted – a potentially easier task.  Nonetheless, most of the article offers some excellent observations, predictions, and conclusions.  I’ll touch on some of the more interesting points.

As cyber and electronic offensive capabilities increase, it will become important to be able to operate under strict EMCON conditions.  Unfortunately, the Navy has largely abandoned this practice and only sporadically requires electromagnetic shielding on new equipment.

Unmanned systems offer the potential for significant destructive capability.  However, more and more of the control over that capability is being given over to autonomous systems.  The author notes that the US is sensitive to the moral and ethical issues surrounding autonomous control of killing machines but makes the insightful observation that other nations may be less constrained which could create a disadvantage for the US.

The author states that given the technological challenges and costs involved, lasers and rail guns are unlikely to have a significant impact on naval warfare in the next 15 years.

The increasing capability of LRPS weapons dictates a shift in focus from active defense to active deception and countermeasures – an issue we’ve previously discussed (see, "AAW - Hard or Soft Kill").

The author brings up a major issue by recognizing that our command and control which is dependent on extensive networking, unfettered communications, and copious data flow will be seriously compromised by both enemy cyber activity and electronic warfare coupled with the need for strict EMCON.  He states that systems must be limited to the lowest possible power levels to avoid electromagnetic emissions.  We’ve discussed this in a previous post (see, "EMCON - What's That?").  You’re probably asking yourself why, then, has the Navy embarked on the EMALS method of launching aircraft?  EMALS is, of course, a large number of immensely powerful motors which are totally unshielded and create an unintentional electromagnetic beacon broadcasting the carrier’s location to all.  He goes on to conclude that the hindered command and control of the future battlefield will necessitate a return to more autonomous control by the on-scene commander – a return to the past, as it were.

He also notes that the long range of enemy strike systems will threaten logistic bases far to the rear of the conflict.  Our assumption of unhindered flow of supplies to the front will be challenged and our assumption of secure and unthreatened Air Force basing will become invalid.  Coupled with this, the author suggests that our current inventories of weapons will be inadequate for sustained combat which he suggests will be more likely although he does not develop his rationale for that statement.  I happen to agree with his belief and wish he would have offered his rationale for comparison.  Though he does not cite examples, every conflict in history has seen profligate munitions use well beyond any pre-conflict estimate.  The Royal Navy’s expenditure of huge amounts of ASW munitions during the Falklands conflict for absolutely no return is a good example.  The author notes that the side with greater “arsenal depth” (inventory size) may have a decisive advantage.  We have become so enamored with our precision strikes that we have lost all sense of the inefficient and wasteful use of munitions that a real war will engender. 

After much discussion, the author goes on to list some general characteristics of desirable future forces.  These are worth repeating verbatim.

  • Platforms employing standoff ordnance that penetrate high-end defenses
  • Platforms with an emphasis on offensive firepower to prevail at sea
  • Mobile and low-observable platforms and logistics, readily dispersed, and heavily protected or hidden by decoys, obscurants, RF jammers, and signature control
  • Forces minimally reliant on RF networks to be employed against high-end opponents using pre-planned responses and low-data-rate, secure, and sporadic communications

He also list general characteristics of less desirable forces.

  • Those dependent on fixed bases
  • Platforms within enemy missile ranges tha have large signatures and are thus readily targetable
  • Systems dependent upon long-distance, high-data-rate RF networks
  • Platforms that must penetrate high-end defenses to deliver ordnance
  • Platforms whose primary means of survival rests on active defense (i.e. shooting missiles with missiles)

Consider some of these characteristics, both desirable and undesirable.

The recognition that survivability will be tied to a full spectrum of “stealth” rather than just platform shaping/coating is a key point and suggests that our recent focus on JSF and Zumwalt platform stealth, as examples, may be less than optimal.

The recognition that our current dependence on unhindered GPS, communications, data sharing, UAV control, etc. may be seriously compromised suggests that a massive rethink of these issues is in order.

The recognition of the vulnerability of fixed bases both combat (airfields and harbors) and logistical, far from the front, should warn us about the difficulties inherent in prosecuting a Chinese conflict given the extreme scarcity of basing anywhere near the area.

The recognition that active AAW defenses may be a path of diminishing returns is astute.

To be sure, the author misses on a few points.  For example, he dismisses the value of armor and fails to recognize that the true value of armor is the damage mitigation it offers in preventing cheap kills rather than the ability to totally shrug off an impact by a major munition.  Nonetheless, the bulk of the article is quite impressive.

What’s fascinating to me is that these thoughts seem to represent a fairly radical departure from the Navy’s trends of recent years and that they presumably have a degree of official acceptance given that the author’s article had to have been approved at the highest levels.  The Navy is not exactly known for its encouragement of dissenting thought so this must be reasonably “official”.  ComNavOps will be on the lookout for more evidence of this line of thinking from official Navy sources and evidence that this thinking is guiding naval procurement.

(1) U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, “Sea Power in the Precision-Missile Age”,
RAdm. Walter Carter Jr., USN, May 2014, P 30.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lasers As Weapons

Do you recall, a while back, the Navy’s video of the “highly successful” laser anti-small craft demonstration?  You know, the one where a laser was focused on a boat’s outboard engine and eventually melted the engine cover?  The video didn’t say, but the impression was that the process took somewhere between several minutes and many minutes.

Have you ever seen a small boat approach at high speed?  Can you see the engine?  No, all you can see is the shiny, reflective bow bouncing up and down.  Depending on the sea state, the boat may actually vanish from sight, momentarily, as it plunges up and down.

Let’s briefly review what a laser is.  In incredibly simplified terms, a laser is a narrow, focused beam of light unlike a flashlight where the light spreads out from the source.  The focus allows the beam to transmit high levels of energy to a pinpoint spot thereby causing damage.  The amount of damage is a function of the intensity of the beam and the duration of contact between the beam and the target.  The laser, being light, travels at the speed of light, 186,000 miles per second, and, for all practical purposes, is an instantaneous event.  Like all light, a laser can be reflected by mirrors or shiny surfaces or attenuated (diminished) by dust and water in the atmosphere.

The Navy’s goal is to create a laser weapon.  We’ve all watched Star Wars and have a mental image of what a laser will do:  an instantaneous vaporizing beam of destruction.  I don’t know what the Navy’s ultimate goal is but presumably it’s along those lines.  Specifically, I suspect the Navy is interested in lasers as an anti-missile defense, in particular as an anti-ballistic missile defense.  Of course, in the shorter term, they may have a lesser goal such as blinding a person in a small boat or some such.

Despite the Navy’s PR claims of wild success with the laser demo film clip, it’s obvious that we’re many years, probably decades, away from anything approaching a Star Wars type laser weapon.  OK, that just means it will take a while longer, yet, right? 

Here, though, is the problem:  I think the potential for effective countermeasures far exceeds the potential for the laser as a weapon.  For example, something as simple as making the attacking missile shiny and reflective would negate the laser’s effect.  I could imagine other, equally simple countermeasures.  For instance, attaching a spinning cap over the missile’s nose would prevent the laser from focusing long enough in one spot to have an effect.  And so on …

That’s the technical problem and here is the consequence:  the cost of developing an effective laser weapon is going to be grossly, insanely greater than the cost of developing countermeasures.  With any foreseeable future laser technology, laser development is headed down a rabbit hole of runaway costs.  Consider that the Air Force recently terminated their airborne laser test bed after decades of work dating back to the 1970’s, as I recall.  I wonder what the cumulative cost of that effort was?  I remember reading Aviation Weekly articles about the Air Force’s laser and the prediction that a practical laser weapon was just a relatively few years away.  Now, several decades later, the Navy is suggesting that we’re just a relative few years away from an effective laser weapon.  Nothing’s changed despite decades of work.  This is just one of those technologies that isn’t going to come quickly to fruition. 

Now I’m absolutely not suggesting that we halt laser research;  quite the opposite.  It’s well worth pursuing but it should be as a pure research effort and only at a low level of funding.  Every dollar spent by the Navy on lasers is a dollar not spent on a practical, near-term weapon.  Building future laser (and rail gun) support capability into the ships we’re building today is pointless.  Lasers won’t be an effective weapon during the lifetime of the ship’s we’re building now.  On a related note, the Ford clearly incorporates laser or rail gun sponsons.

So, let’s enjoy our scifi movies and let’s fantasize about Star Wars lasers but let’s keep a realistic view of the state of the technology.  Building ships based on non-existent technology is what got us the LCS.  Let’s not repeat the mistake with lasers. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Battle Force Redefinition Redefined

We’ve pointed out that under the current administration, Navy leadership has redefined what constitutes a “battle force ship” to include patrol craft (PC’s), hospital ships, and various other non-combatant support vessels.  This is a blatant attempt to make the Navy’s force levels look better without actually adding any ships.  Apparently Congress has taken note of this and is moving to limit or reverse the practice.  From the H.R. 4435—FY15 National Defense
Authorization Bill, Subcommittee On Seapower And Projection Forces Markup comes this gem:

“Section 231(f) of title 10, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new paragraph:”

‘‘The term ‘combatant and support vessel’ means any commissioned ship built or armed for naval combat or any naval ship designed to provide support to combatant ships and other naval operations. Such term does not include patrol coastal ships, non-commissioned combatant craft specifically designed for combat roles, or ships that are designated for potential mobilization.’’.

That’s a slap on the wrist for the Navy.  Well done Congress!

Frigates – Build To The Immediate Threat

Many people greeted the announced truncation of the LCS build as the advent of a true frigate.  ComNavOps has already gone on record as stating that the Navy won’t build a frigate but will simply build an upgunned version of the LCS – watch, though, they may designate it a “frigate” as a PR move to placate Congress and the LCS critics.  That said, what if the Navy did actually build a frigate?  Well, here’s a thought on the subject.

Frigates are smaller and lighter built vessels which are, theoretically, cheaper than their full featured, larger cousins such as destroyers and cruisers.  As such, they aren’t expected to last as long.  A 20-25 year life would be typical as opposed to a 40 year life for a larger ship.  This imparts a potentially valuable characteristic to a frigate:  it doesn’t need to be built with the long term in mind.  Properly recognized and utilized, this characteristic offers the basis for significant cost savings, speed of construction, and flexibility.

If we’re not building for far future threats that we can only barely imagine right now, we can, instead, focus on the immediate threats that are clearly defined.  Those threats can be dealt with using currently available technology and existing, proven weapons and systems.  In other words, the threats won’t change significantly enough over the life of the frigate to warrant investment in non-existent, what-if technology that will escalate costs, delay construction, and provide only portions of the promised or hoped-for performance.

Frigates - Inherently Adaptable?

For example, consider AAW.  A frigate, by definition, is not an area AAW platform.  It only needs to defend itself and a few nearby ships it might be escorting.  While future ballistic missile defense concerns might suggest a need to invest in sophisticated BMD radars and missiles, that threat does not yet exist and won’t for many years.  We don’t need to invest in imaginary technology to defeat a non-existent threat for a ship whose lifetime won’t see the threat.  We can limit ourselves to existing threats and existing solutions – a much cheaper approach.

Or, consider the current darlings of naval development:  lasers and railguns.  Oooh my …  I got a tingle just typing that!  Despite the Navy’s public relations announcements, these weapons are many years, probably decades, away from full functioning versions.  For a frigate with a 20-25 year lifespan, there’s no need to build in enormous electrical capacity, cooling capacity, and whatever other structural or utility support they might need.  We can save all that money and effort and in 20 years, if the weapons have panned out, we can build new frigates that are designed to support the systems.  Plus, we’ll know by then what’s actually needed instead of building in guessed-at capacities that may or may not meet the needs.

We see, then, that the shorter lifespan of a frigate actually offers the potential for greater flexibility and adaptability than a larger warship.  If the lifespan is around half that of a larger warship (say 20 years versus 40 years, to illustrate) we can build an entirely new frigate halfway through the lifespan of a larger ship and the new version can be completely adapted to the threats that exist at that time. 

If executed correctly, the more limited lifespan of the frigate offers some advantages.  The build can be cheaper since we don’t have to worry about far future, non-existent threats and can use off-the-shelf weapons and systems.  The ships, as a class, offer a larger degree of flexibility thanks to their shorter lifespans.  The use of existing technology should allow a much quicker design to construction timeframe instead of the usual R&D concurrency delays so prevalent today.

Of course, this is all predicated on being able to build a “cheap” frigate with a focused mission and specific, limited capabilities.  If we try to build a frigate with all the capabilities of a Burke then it won’t be cheap and it won’t be on-time and we won’t be able to afford to retire them at 20-25 years. 

The Navy has an opportunity, now, to adjust the fleet’s size and composition in a more useful and effective direction.  Will they?  History suggests not.  We’ll see.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Competition Brings Out The ... Best??

Competition brings out the best, so the saying goes.  Competition breeds improvement.  When two athletes compete for a position, not only does the best one win but both improve from the competition.  When companies compete the buyer reaps the benefits as both companies sharpen their products, cut costs, and produce better products. 

When naval ship designs compete …  ah, actually …  well, to tell the truth, the design that’s favored by Navy leadership gets funded and immediately stagnates and the other design gets SINKEX’ed or sold off to foreign countries.  There’s no benefit for either of the competing designs.  The winner doesn’t get better (it may not even be the best of the competing designs) and the loser gets disposed of.  In fact, the winner, with no viable competition or alternative to worry about generally sees a massive increase in costs, delays, and failed technology (for an aviation example, anyone want to defend the JSF program?).  Here’s some examples.

When the Tico/Aegis radar system was being developed it had a competitor.  The Spruance DDGs could have undergone an upgrade to their radar system, the New Threat Upgrade (NTU).  At that time, the NTU was probably superior to Aegis and would have been immensely cheaper to implement.  However, the Navy was determined to proceed with Aegis so, to eliminate any possible alternative to Aegis, the entire Spruance class was SINKEX’ed.

As the LCS program was being proposed, many observers noted that simple upgrades to the Perry FFGs would have provided as much or more capability.  Again, the Navy was determined to go with the LCS so the Perry class was early retired, sold off to foreign countries, or defanged by having their main weapon system, the Mk 13 missile launcher, removed.  The Navy claimed that the Perrys couldn’t be upgraded to use the newer Standard missiles – a claim the Australian upgrades demonstrated was false.

Now, we’re looking at a competition between the Burke Flt III and the Ticonderogas.  The Flt IIIs are being justified on the basis of their BMD/AMDR ability.  Unfortunately for the Navy, the Tico/Aegis system has already demonstrated a ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability which would seem to eliminate the need for a Flt III.  Further, the latest Aegis software iteration allows simultaneous BMD and AAW, a previous weakness which supposedly justified the Flt III.  So, the Navy is dealing with this the same way they always have.  The Ticos are being early retired and scrapped.  Unfortunately for the Navy, Congress stepped in, restored funding, and directed the Navy to retain the Ticos that were slated for retirement.  Not to be denied, the Navy has now come up with the ploy of “idling” the Tico force.  

There you have it – competition Navy style!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Deputy Defense Secretary - A Sad Day

Robert Work has been sworn in as the Deputy Defense Secretary under Chuck Hagel.  I am hard pressed to imagine a worse pair leaders for our nation’s defense.  Work, you’ll recall, was famous for his impassioned defense of the LCS.  That alone would be bad enough but his zealous demonization of critics of the LCS is what really stood out.  He stifled every legitimate criticism and ignored all negative data.  He continued, and presumably still does, his defense of the LCS despite all evidence to the contrary that clearly indicates the program and concept was an utter failure.  As if that isn’t bad enough, he authored an extensive history of the LCS program which is one of the most egregious rewrites of actual history that I’ve ever read.  For example, in his history he claims that the Navy got the warship it wanted with the capabilities it wanted and at the price it wanted.  Even the most ardent supporters of the LCS would shy away from that statement!

With that kind of history of ignoring reality and facts is that really the person we want in that position?  He is not a man who encourages discussion or alternative viewpoints.  This is the latest sad, sad decision in a seemingly endless series of bad decisions involving the military.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Where's the LCS?

ComNavOps generally refrains from simply repeating articles posted elsewhere unless some analysis and value can be added.  However, Defense News website has an article (1) that should be noted and I have no additional analysis to add.  The article says it all.

To summarize what they wrote, RIMPAC, the world’s largest international naval exercise, is held every other year and the next iteration will be this summer at Pearl Harbor.  No LCS is scheduled to participate.  This is another in an endless series of truly baffling decisions associated with this program.  Wouldn’t you think that a program that is fighting as much bad press as this one would seize every opportunity for some good public relations, favorable press, and real world exposure and operating experience?  And yet, despite having four vessels in commission, none can be made available to attend.  The LCS is being justified, in large measure, as a key to the Pacific Pivot strategy.  What better opportunity is there to interact with the various Pacific actors than RIMPAC?

Whether you support the LCS or not, this is clearly a golden opportunity for the program and it’s being squandered.

Of course, the cynical might wonder if the Navy hasn’t already recognized that the LCS isn’t really capable of contributing to these types of operations and would, in reality, turn out to be a negative PR exercise. 

Please read the article linked below.  Again, my apologies for having little to contribute on this one but it was noteworthy enough to point out.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Replacement LCS – How Do We Get There From Here?

We’ve discussed how the Navy’s supposed new “frigate” that will replace the LCS is just going to be a slightly upgunned LCS.  We also noted that the Navy will do this backwards by forcing requirements to conform to the ship rather than designing the ship to fit the requirements.  No sense beating that horse any more.  Instead, let’s look at what the Navy can do and needs to do to make the replacement LCS (RLCS) even marginally useful.

The first and most important change is not additional weapons or sensors …  Ah …  Hang on.  Several people who were looking over my shoulder while I typed that sentence passed out in panic and disbelief and one ran off wailing and gnashing his teeth.  I’ll be back in a minute…            OK, I’m back.  I gave them smelling salts and a picture of a foreign frigate to hold tight.  They’ve calmed down and they’re happy now.

As I said, the most important change is not weapons or sensors;  it’s endurance.  The Navy envisions the RLCS as a key actor in the Pacific Pivot.  In order to make that work, the RLCS needs much greater endurance.  Currently, the LCS has around 14 days endurance due to food storage limitations.  With anticipated increases in crew size coming, that endurance is going to be further reduced.  To be effective, the replacement RLCS needs a much greater endurance.  We need to greatly increase food and water storage so that the RLCS can spend more than a couple of days on station and doesn’t need to have a replenishment ship tethered to it.

Unfortunately, additional storage space will eat into the internal volume available for new weapons, sensors, and additional crew.

The second and next most important change, closely related to endurance, is range.  For Pacific operations with limited basing options we need as much endurance as we can reasonably get.  The WWII Fletcher class destroyer had a range of 5500 nm at 15 kts.  By comparison, the LCS has a range of 3500 nm at 18 kts.  We need to add range in the form of bunkerage and whatever engine modifications are needed to at least get to the 5500 nm ballpark. 

Unfortunately, additional bunkerage will eat into the internal volume available for new weapons, sensors, and additional crew.

The third change is survivability.  There’s no point to fielding a vessel around the size of a WWII destroyer only to have it susceptible to one-hit kills or even near miss kills.  We need to add armor to the level of a WWII Fletcher, as I’ve opined in previous posts.  However, the Navy isn’t going to do that.  So, at the very least we need to add additional compartmentation and shock hardening of installed equipment.  Further, since the gun (of whatever caliber) is going to be considered an important part of anti-small craft defense, we need to mount the gun in an armored enclosure similar to the Navy’s 5” guns of WWII.  Those armored mounts consisted of 1”-2” steel and were proof against shrapnel and cheap kills.  If we’re going to have only one gun on the ship we need to at least protect it to the extent possible. 

Unfortunately, additional compartmentation and armor will eat into the weight margins and internal volume available for new weapons, sensors, and additional crew.

The fourth change is crew size.  We’ve already seen that the LCS is badly undermanned.  If we increase the range and endurance and add weapons and sensors the ship will be at sea for much longer periods of time.  The current model of doing no maintenance on board ship will not work.  The ship will need to perform onboard maintenance just like any other ship and that means a much larger crew.  We also need more crew for combat and damage control.  Of course, a larger crew means additional berthing, heads, laundry, galley space, food storage, water storage, etc.

Unfortunately, additional crew comforts and support will eat into the internal volume and weight available for new weapons, sensors, and additional crew.  Are you seeing a trend, here?

Lastly, and everyone’s favorite, we need to add better weapons and sensors.  I won’t discuss this further because it’s been beaten to death.  I will remind everyone that by the time the first four needs are met there won’t be all that much weight and space left to go sprinkling weapons and sensors all over the ship as so many want to do.  It’s just the reality of ship design.  It may be fun to talk about the whiz-bang technology of weapons but it’s the other aspects that will determine whether the design is ultimately successful.

So, there you have it.  That’s what the Navy could reasonably do to get from the current LCS to the RLCS.  Of course, that’s not what I’d do but given the Navy’s near certain selection of the existing LCS as the basis for the new small surface combatant and the ass backwards “design” process they appear to be embarked on, this is the logical way to get from here to there and wind up with even a minimally useful vessel.  Quite sad but this is what it’s come to.