Sunday, June 29, 2014

P-8A and MAC

The P-8A Poseidon has been routinely held up as an example of a well run and technically successful program.  Let’s take a closer look at the technical aspects of the program.  To an extent, this is a familiarization article intended to assist in future ASW and surveillance discussions.  A better understanding of the P-8’s role and effectiveness will enhance the quality of our discussions.

The P-8 is the replacement for the venerable P-3C Orion.  It is tasked with ASW, surveillance, and surface warfare mainly from a support perspective. 

One of the major technical tools that will be employed is the Multi-Static Active Coherent (MAC) sonobuoy system.  Very briefly and simply, the MAC is an acoustic search system, like the traditional sonobuoys, that uses a single noise source buoy and multiple receiver buoys.  In contrast, the traditional active sonobuoys use a single buoy that is both the noise source and the receiver.  By using multiple receivers, the MAC system can, theoretically cover more volume and provide greater sensitivity since the sound echoes can be correlated over multiple receivers.  Of course, this requires a great deal of sophisticated analysis software and a high degree of operator skill to interpret the results.  If successful, the MAC will confer the ability for the P-3/8 to conduct wide area ASW searches.

So, how are the MAC system and P-8 doing?  Here’s what the 2013 DOT&E annual report has to say.  Regarding the MAC system, itself,

“Preliminary operational test results indicate that the MAC system provides P-3C aircraft with some limited wide-area ASW search capability in select scenarios but it falls short of what the fleet identified as the capability they need to protect high value units. Initial testing revealed unexpected performance shortfalls that are still being investigated.”

“The data also suggest operators are only able to recognize a small
fraction of the valid system detections as targets.”

For the P-8,

“Based on IOT&E results, the P-8A Increment 1 system provides maritime patrol mission capabilities similar to the legacy P-3C system in selected mission areas, but it is not effective for executing the full range of mission tasks required by the P-8A Increment 1 concept of operations.”

“The P-8A Increment 1 system provides effective small- area, cued Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) search, localization, and attack mission capabilities similar to the legacy P-3C system. Fundamental limitations in current sensor technology restrict search capabilities against more stressing adversary targets, making the P-8A not effective in some mission scenarios. The P-8A does not have an equivalent broad-area ASW acoustic search capability similar to that provided by the P-3C Improved Extended Echo Ranging system.”  Ed. Note:  Improved Extended Echo Ranging is the previous version of MAC

“In fact, current P-8A ASW search capabilities provide only a small fraction of what is needed for most Navy operational plans.”

“P-8A non-acoustic search capabilities are also very limited for evasive targets attempting to limit exposure to detection by radar and other sensors.”

“The P-8A is effective in conducting unarmed Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) missions against maritime surface targets. The radar and supporting sensor systems provide an effective, all-weather surface target search, detection, and classification capability at short to medium ranges for all maritime surface targets and at longer ranges for larger target vessels.”

“The P-8A is not effective for the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) mission. Radar performance deficiencies, sensor integration problems, and data transfer system interoperability shortfalls degrade imagery intelligence collection and dissemination capabilities.”

“P-8A aircraft flight performance meets or exceeds operational requirements and fully supports execution of the ASW, ASuW, and ISR concept of operations. The system provides increased range, payload, and speed compared to the legacy P-3C aircraft.”

A mixed bag.  What is the takeaway from this? 

On a general note, this yet again demonstrates that the claimed capabilities of new platforms are never fully met.  This should inform F-35 discussions, among other programs, where supporters jump totally on board with every claimed capability.

P-8A Poseidon

The P-8 is, currently, capable of short range ASW searches but lacks a broad area search capability.  The MAC system may, eventually, provide a broad area search capability but not for the near to moderate future.  Its general intelligence and surveillance capabilities are limited.  Software is often the limiting factor and is often the critical failure point in modern systems.  Again, this is seen in the F-35 program and needs to be kept firmly in mind when discussing any system.

The general conclusion is that the P-8 will offer a degree of ASW support but will not have a decisive impact on operations for the near to moderate future.  Of course, the incorporation of future improvements, including, hopefully, the MAC system, may well increase the usefulness of the P-8 over its lifetime.

Not surprisingly, the preceding suggests that ASW will continue to be a collaborative effort among multiple platforms.  Given the area and volume of the ocean(s), and the limited search effectiveness of any single platform, the most glaring ASW need is for greater numbers of platforms of all types.  In turn, this suggests that the demise of the LCS in its current form (one of which supposedly being an ASW version) leaves a gap in the Navy’s surface force ASW capability.  Some will answer that the Burkes will fill the ASW role but no sane person is going to risk a multi-billion dollar, undertrained Burke playing tag with a submarine.  The Navy needs a cheap, low end, dedicated ASW vessel as well as an S-3 Viking replacement to complement the P-8 and SSN force.  Let that be the takeaway for future discussions!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Chancellorsville Update

The U-T San Diego news website reported on the findings of Navy report on the Chancellorsville drone crash incident (1) (see, "Chancellorsville Hit By Drone").  The report was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.  The website made the following points in the quotes below. 

• The target drone's control system failed, causing it to ignore the “turn away” command given by the Point Mugu control room.

• The operator of the ship's Close-In Weapons System – a warship's last line of defense against incoming missiles – received a “recommend fire” alert at his console, and reported it verbally. The ship's air warfare coordinator – one of three people on the ship with the authority to engage weapons – heard but did not act on the alert.

• The Point Mugu control room did not immediately call "rogue drone" when the drone failed to turn away a little more than 2 nautical miles from the ship. Sailors relied upon this "rogue drone" call. Not hearing the call, they did nothing to protect the ship, the report said.

• The team at Point Mugu knew the drone control system had failed or showed glitches several times that day, but they didn't stop the exercise or even tell the ship. “I question this control team's ability to continue to adequately service Pacific Fleet ships,” Harris said in his comments.

• The ship's combat systems coordinator changed the protocol for automatically activating the Chancellorsville's surface missile tracking system – without telling the skipper. The crew expected the missile system to track the drone and “were distracted attempting to conduct manual (tracking) while the drone continued inbound.”

Some initial reports had suggested that the ship’s CIWS had engaged the drone and missed but this report suggests the CIWS never engaged.

Plenty of blame to go around.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Socks For Christmas

No one wants to get socks for Christmas and yet they're far more useful than most of the shiny new toys we hope for.  Similarly, when it comes to military procurement we all gravitate toward the exciting, big ticket items.  However, it’s the unexciting items that will ultimately make or break the Navy’s success.  Just as logistics and numbers, rather than technology, determine ultimate battlefield success, so too do the mundane procurements determine the ultimate success of the Navy (or military in general).  While we focus on, and debate the merits of, the high price, high technology weapon systems, it’s the unexciting but vital pieces of equipment that enable the weapon systems to succeed.  The carrier and its airwing get all the attention but it’s the forklifts, galley equipment, UNREP gear, spare parts, and thousands of other equally unexciting equipment that makes the carrier succeed.

OK, granted, but so what?  Where is this going? 

Well, just as most of us focus on the exciting weapons and systems, so too does the Navy.  While understandable on our part, the Navy is the professional war fighting organization and should know better.  Here’s a partial list of some items that illustrate the unexciting but vital equipment that is currently un- or under- funded.

Port Repair Equipment – The military believes (at least, I think they do although public statements and actions cast some doubt on this) that a sustained, heavy assault can only be logistically supported through a port.  ComNavOps has some doubt about this philosophy but that’s beside the point.  If port seizure is critical to a successful assault then we need heavy duty port repair and building capabilities.  We need to be able to transport and install, or repair, or build on-site, heavy lift cranes, piers, and all the other equipment associated with rapid loading and unloading of cargo ships.  Further, we need to be able to do this while under fire.  An intelligent, determined enemy will recognize this Achilles Heel of assault and will make every effort to deny us the use of captured ports.  Port facilities will be destroyed, sabotaged, and continually attacked.

Ship Based Counterbattery – During the initial stages of an assault the Marines are going to lack counterbattery capability until their artillery can be brought ashore and setup along with counterbattery radars and such.  While aviation assets can offer a degree of support, only a true counterbattery capability can neutralize devastating artillery barrages.  This capability can only come from ships equipped with a dedicated counterbattery function.  Unfortunately, this capability does not exist and is not an active procurement or development item.

C-RAM – As with the need for counterbattery support for Marines during the initial phase of a landing, there is a need for anti-mortar, anti-artillery, anti-rocket  defense.  This need is being met on land with the C-RAM adaptation of the Phalanx CIWS.  However, until these units can be transported ashore and set up, the Navy will need to provide the protection at the point of landing.  While the Navy has CIWS, my understanding is that is not C-RAM capable, as is, it is short ranged, and very few units are mounted on any given ship.  A more robust capability is needed.

Heavy Lift UNREP – We’ve mentioned this one numerous times.  JSF engines are too heavy for existing UNREP transfer gear and the Navy has deferred upgrades to the handling equipment for at least a decade.  The only ship that can handle the weight of JSF engines, currently, is the Ford and there is no ship that can transfer the engines to the Ford.  For now, carriers cannot get replacement JSF engines while at sea.

Carrier Based Tanker – This one is obvious.  We’re using combat aircraft, the Hornet, as tankers.  Every Hornet used as a tanker is one less available for actual combat from an already shrunken airwing.  We’re racking up wear and tear and consuming the limited number of rated airframe flight hours performing a non-combat task that could be better performed by a generic airframe like the S-3 Viking, as we just recently discussed.

Target Drones and Threat Surrogates – DOT&E, the military’s testing group, has been after the Navy to obtain or develop realistic target drones for many years.  Whether it’s drones that can simulate known enemy cruise and ballistic missile flight profiles and performance, enemy diesel sub movements and emissions, high performance enemy aircraft, or enemy small surface craft, the Navy has steadfastly refused to obtain realistic target drones and threat surrogates.  Weapon systems are being fielded without being properly tested under realistic conditions.

LST Replacement – The LST offered a tremendous ability to land large quantities of men and materiel and, in particular, heavy equipment.  We’ve lost that capability except in very small increments.  An LCAC, for instance, can land a single tank at a time – not very efficient.  We need an LST replacement.

M1-Based Combat Engineer Vehicle – Properly utilized, a Combat Engineer Vehicle (CEV) is worth its weight in gold and, arguably, may be the most valuable vehicle on the battlefield.  The existing M728 CEV is based on the old M60 Patton tank chassis and entered service back in the 1960’s.  We need an updated CEV based on the Abrams and incorporating the lessons of recent conflicts, in particular, the type of urban warfare needs we see today.

There are, undoubtedly, many other equally worthy items that I’ve overlooked.  The Navy’s (and, to be fair, the military in general) focus on the shiny toys is eroding our overall combat capability – the JSF is the poster child for this.  We need to relearn the lesson that combat is not just about the shiny new toys.  It’s about the million mundane items that make a viable combat organization.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

My Job Is Done

This is a companion piece to the previous post (see, “The Amphibious Inflection Point”).

When it comes to amphibious assault, the Navy seems to think that their job is done once the helos, LCAC’s, or whatever have left the amphibious ship.  Unfortunately for the Marines, that’s only the beginning of the job against a determined and capable enemy.

We’ve already discussed the difficulties in sustaining an assault due the lack of ship to shore transport.  A competent enemy knows this and will make every effort to interdict and disrupt the flow of supplies to the landing site (see, "Amphibious Assault Attrition").  Cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, mortars, and artillery will create a continuous rain of explosives.  How will the Marines defend against this onslaught while they attempt to get heavier weapons ashore?  Well, this is where the Navy comes in.  Historically, meaning during the assaults of WWII, the Navy moved up close to the shore and provided the initial umbrella of protection until tanks, artillery, and heavy weapons could be brought ashore.  Similarly, today, it will be up to the Navy to provide the counterbattery protection the Marines need until they can get their own artillery ashore and set up their own counterbattery capability.  It will be up to the Navy to provide a cruise/ballistic missile shield.  It will be up to the Navy to provide C-RAM anti-rocket, anti-mortar protection during the initial assault.  The Navy has to provide the umbrella that will protect the Marines until they can get established.

Naval aviation can’t do the job.  Aircraft are far too slow responding to provide counterbattery fire.  Aircraft have only a very limited ability to engage cruise missiles and no ability to engage ballistic missiles.  Aircraft have no ability to provide anti-rocket and anti-mortar protection.  Even setting all those problems aside, an assault against a determined and competent enemy will see the skies over an assault being a contested aerial no-man’s land.  Our limited naval aviation assets will be fully tied up trying to establish even a limited area of aerial superiority.  There won’t be any assets available for ground support even if the aircraft were capable of providing it.

Here’s the catch, though – the Navy can’t provide this kind of protection from 50 or 100 or 200 nm out at sea.  There’s no way to shoot down a mortar shell from those distances.  Counterbattery fire can’t even reach the shore from those distances.

The Navy has doctrinally moved out to those distances out of fear of land launched anti-ship missiles (see, "In Harm's Way").  However, the Navy has forgotten that they are in the business of combat and with combat comes risk.  Whatever happened to the tradition of standing in harm’s way?  It’s not just a saying.  In order to exert a dominant influence on events, it’s necessary to go where the most good can be done and that generally means standing in harm’s way. 

An assault force just can’t protect itself during the initial stages.  The Navy has to step in and act as the Marine’s shield until they can get their own artillery and AAW assets ashore and operating.  If the Navy refuses to do that, an assault will have no hope of success against a determined, competent enemy.

The baffling and disappointing aspect to this is that the issue of protective fires hasn’t even been raised, as far as I know.  The required equipment and capabilities largely do not exist and no one is looking at developing them.  In fact, doctrinally, we’re moving in the exact opposite direction.  We’re moving farther out to sea and further away from being able to provide the protective shield the Marines will need.  It’s odd that the Marines haven’t raised this issue, either, although the emphasis on aviation based assaults may explain the lack of concern from the Corps.

We need to beef up the Navy’s self-defense capabilities, as previously described, and regain the warrior’s mentality.  That will give us the ability to stand close to shore.  Then, we need to develop the specific counterbattery, cruise/ballistic missile defense, and C-RAM capabilities that will protect the Marines while they get established.

Currently, the Navy has no counterbattery capability although the technology base is certainly there.  A dedicated counterbattery radar and an effective gun are required.  Whether an existing Navy radar can be adapted for this role is an open question.  Aegis could probably provide the counterbattery radar capability but shouldn’t be diverted from its main function.  Gunfire could be supplemented by a navalized version of the Army’s M270 MLRS/ATACMS which would provide ranges of 40-150+ miles. 

The Phalanx CIWS has been adapted to the land based C-RAM but it is limited in range and does not exist as a sea-based weapon.  A longer range C-RAM type weapon probably needs to be developed.

Perhaps what’s needed is a small, specialized “umbrella” vessel that can move very close in-shore and provide the C-RAM and counterbattery support that is needed.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Amphibious Inflection Point

In mathematics, the point at which everything changes is called the inflection point (that’s a very loose definition that I’m taking great liberties with).  Amphibious assault doctrine is struggling to find its inflection point – the point or distance from shore at which an assault has a reasonable chance of success but beyond which, or nearer than, the assault will fail.  Where is that optimum inflection point?

The Navy would place it 50+ miles from shore – perhaps hundreds of miles.

The Marines would place it 25 miles or closer – the closer, the better;  much, much closer being preferred.

Why would an assault fail if it is beyond the optimum inflection point?  It would fail because the amphibious fleet lacks a ship-to-shore connector that can transport sufficient quantities of personnel and equipment in fighting condition to sustain an assault.  The distance reduces the number of trips per day that the connector can make and, worse, renders the delivered Marines unfit for combat.  The distance also invalidates Navy gun support.  The standard 5” gun can’t even reach the shore from the distances the Navy wants to operate at. 

Why would an assault fail if it is closer than the optimum inflection point?  It would fail because the Navy’s ships can’t survive against land launched anti-ship cruise missiles at that range (that’s the Navy’s stated position not ComNavOps’ opinion).

The difference between the Navy and Marine inflection points is pretty substantial and appears to be irreconcilable.  The Marines are struggling to design an AAV replacement that can transport troops and equipment from beyond 25 miles in fighting shape.  The Navy, for their part, doesn’t really care.  The Navy is all about carriers (and, grudgingly, submarines).  Amphibious warfare is a largely unwanted sidelight that they’re forced to accept but they do so only to the bare minimum extent possible. 

As I’ve made clear in previous posts, we don’t currently have a credible heavy amphibious assault capability against a competent foe and it’s because of the inability to establish a workable inflection point.

So, what do we do?  How do we find a single point when the two versions differ so substantially and seem mutually exclusive?  Well, the rationale for one (or both) of the versions must change.

Let’s look at the Marine’s side.  The only possible change is to come up with a ship-to-shore connector that can transport large loads of equipment and personnel at speeds sufficiently high that the Marines are delivered in fighting shape (see, "Amphibious Connectors").  Unfortunately, many years of study have demonstrated that such a connector is technically and economically impossible.  It would require a radical rethink of connector and Marine combat capability to meet the long distance assault point and the neither the Marines nor the Navy has shown any sign of being willing or open to radically new concepts.

From the Navy’s perspective, moving the assault point shoreward is simply too dangerous.  In fact, the Navy conceived and sold an entire class of littoral combat ship based on that belief.

Too Close, Too Far, Or Just Right?

There you have it – two irreconcilable perspectives leading to an unsustainable amphibious assault model.  Is there truly no solution?  There is, actually, a solution and it’s simple and straightforward.  The Navy must move shoreward and by a significant amount. 

The Navy has moved seaward out of fear of land based anti-ship missiles.  If only we had a ship-based AAW system that could defend against anti-ship missiles.  Well, you know what?  As luck would have it, ComNavOps was doing some reading the other day and came across a fascinating article describing a ship-based AAW system with near magical properties.  It can shoot down planes and missiles with near infallible reliability, it utilizes long range radars of various types, can assemble perfect situational awareness displays from networked air, space, and ship sensors, and can employ co-operative engagement tactics which treat a group of ships and planes as a single fighting entity.  The system even has a cool name:  Aegis.

OK, I’m obviously being sarcastic and mocking the Navy but the point is that not only do we have a fielded and mature AAW system but it’s a system that was specifically designed to counter the swarms of anti-ship missiles that the Navy is now frightened of.  The combination of Aegis, networked sensors, Co-operative Engagement Capability (CEC), electronic countermeasures, layers of close-in weapons (RAM, CIWS, ESSM, etc.), and passive decoys makes for a formidable defensive system.  If all that capability, designed specifically for defending against swarms of missiles, is insufficient to allow the Navy to stand close offshore than why are we buying more Aegis warships?  The Navy can’t have it both ways.  They can’t claim that we desperately need more Aegis warships while simultaneously claiming that they can’t defend against anti-ship missiles near land. 

But, but, but the reaction time!  It’s too short when we’re that close to shore!  Well, do the math.  Even at 10 miles distance, a high subsonic missile traveling at, say, 600 mph would require a minute to cover the distance and that’s neglecting the initial acceleration period which adds more time.  A minute is an eternity to an Aegis system operating in full auto.  The response would be nearly instantaneous.

The real reason the Navy won’t approach the shore is their fear of losses.  We’ve repeatedly discussed how the Navy has been so many years removed from actual combat that they’ve lost their warfighting mentality and have adopted a zero-loss, accounting mentality.  If an objective is worth fighting for then it’s worth some losses.  In fact, losses in combat are inevitable.  The problem is that the cost of the losses has become unacceptable.  Our ships have become so expensive that we are no longer willing to risk them and can no longer accept their loss.  We’ve painted ourselves into a corner and created a Catch-22 situation.  We can’t achieve our objectives without accepting losses but we can’t afford to accept losses.

The Navy has to go back to their roots and remember that their job is to stand in harm’s way (see, "In Harm's Way").  By definition, the greatest danger and the greatest reward go hand-in-hand.  If we want to achieve worthwhile objectives then we have to be willing to accept losses.  Of course, this raises the issue of what constitutes worthwhile objectives.  Perhaps the days of jumping into every minor conflict that comes along are gone.  Perhaps we should be applying much more serious criteria, like compelling national strategic interests, to our often questionable involvements.  But, I digress …

Of course, I’m not saying that we should blindly and willingly accept losses.  There are measures that the Navy should be looking at to minimize the risk.  We should be placing a far greater emphasis on electronic countermeasures since combat data has demonstrated that ECM has a far greater success rate than hard kill systems.  We should be placing far more emphasis on short range and close-in weapons as opposed the Navy’s fixation on ever greater ranged AAW.  We should be incorporating more armor to mitigate the damage from the missiles that do get through our defenses.  We should be designing ships with greater redundancy and separation to further mitigate damage effects.  We should develop tactics to integrate aircraft and helos into short range AAW defense.

The point is that the Navy needs to remember what their job is and move the amphibious inflection point back to a useful distance (near horizon). 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ponce and MCM

Does anyone else think the Navy caved a bit too easily on the LCS termination issue?  Now, there could be several reasons for this such as a desire by the Navy to move on to a bigger LCS or a dawning recognition within the Navy that the LCS is an ineffective dead end in its current form.  Remember, though, that the Navy bet “all-in” on the LCS as its only surface mine countermeasures (MCM) platform.  The Avenger class MCM vessels were allowed to rot, literally, in anticipation of the LCS.  The Navy has scrambled to restore the Avengers but they clearly see them only as a stopgap measure.  So far, though, the LCS and its MCM module have failed miserably with the MCM module components largely failing to meet their specifications despite years of development.  Regardless, if the LCS is the only viable MCM platform why would the Navy tamely agree to ending the current LCS production run at 32 (or less, if Congress opts not to fund even those)? 

Well, here’s a bit of pure speculation, unsupported by any definitive facts (yeah, just the kind of post I like!)…

Recall that the USS Ponce was saved from retirement and converted to an Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB).  Among Ponce’s capabilities and uses is the ability to act as an MCM mothership.  As an AFSB, the ship operates MH-53 helos and Kingfish remote unmanned mine search vehicles among other platforms and capabilities.  Ponce has participated in two major international MCM exercises, IMCMEX 2012 and IMCMEX 2013, with great success, according to the Navy press releases.  To be fair, everything succeeds wonderfully according to Navy press releases so that may not be a fair assessment.  Nevertheless, it’s noteworthy that the Navy’s dedicated MCM platform, the LCS, did not participate in either exercise.

Ponce - The Future of MCM?

Could it be that the AFSB MCM mothership concept has proven so successful that the LCS has been relegated to secondary status as far as the future of Navy MCM efforts?  Most serious discussions of MCM efforts acknowledge that effective MCM operations will require large numbers of various types of MCM platforms including helos, remote underwater vehicles, remote surface vehicles, dedicated Avenger type vessels, etc.  What better platform to support those operations and various platforms than a converted amphibious ship?

As I said, this is just speculation but it makes a lot of sense to me.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Congress Versus Navy

It’s been fascinating to watch the Navy battle with Congress over the years.  Naively, one would think that the Navy and Congress are on the same side – the side of the United States – but that is clearly not the case.  The Navy has come up with one maneuver after another designed to thwart or bypass the intent of Congress. 

The recent back and forth over the issue of early retirement of Aegis cruisers is the latest example.  The Navy is determined to early retire the cruisers, presumably to remove competition with the Flt III AMDR, while Congress is determined to preserve the cruisers in active service.

You’ll recall that the Navy announced several early retirements a few years ago and Congress countered by passing additional funding and directing the Navy to retain the cruisers.  Undeterred by Congressional intent, the Navy hit upon the ploy of “idling” 11 cruisers pending “modernization”.  Of course, no one believes that the cruisers will ever be modernized and returned to duty and even the Navy’s own stated plan is for the cruisers to be modernized and returned to duty on a one-for-one replacement basis for older cruisers.  Thus, there will only ever be 11 active cruisers – a point the Navy glosses over.  Just as ComNavOps sees this for the transparent ploy it is, so to Congress appears to understand what the Navy is doing.  The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) report (1) states,

“The Committee is concerned that this long term lay up will lead to decommissioning of some or all of these cruisers in the near future.”

The HAC passed its version of the FY2015 defense bill and directly addresses the Navy’s cruiser plans with the following provisions.

  • The Navy is limited to idling no more than two cruisers per year beginning in 2016.
  • The Navy is limited to a maximum of six idled cruisers at any given time.
  • No cruiser can be kept idled for more than four years.

Of course, the bill must still pass the complete House so changes are possible, though unlikely.

There you have it.  Congress is once again making its wishes known.  Will the Navy acquiesce and accept the legal authority of Congress or will the Navy come up with yet another creative scheme for bypassing Congressional intent?  My money’s on the Navy.  If they would apply half the creativity to warfighting that they apply to thwarting Congressional oversight, we’d have twice the Navy we do now!

Now, before any of you tell me how inept Congress is, recognize that that’s not the point.  The point is that Congress has legal budgetary and oversight authority over the Navy.  Given our system of civilian control of the military, the Navy is bound to obey Congress whether right or wrong.  If the Navy feels Congress is wrong then it’s on the Navy to make the case for what they want.  It is not the right of the Navy to continually thwart Congressional intent.  Doing so is dishonorable and unethical if not illegal.  It is unworthy of uniformed leadership and violates the spirit and tradition of civilian control.

The Navy should not be asking how they can bypass Congress in the next iteration of the battle but, rather, why they can’t make a compelling case for what they want.  Maybe, just maybe, the answer is that there isn’t a compelling case to be made! 

Navy leadership has sunk awfully low over the last few decades and it may be that Congress, as inept as they are, are actually seeing things in a clearer light than the Navy.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Career Day

ComNavOps is always trying to mentor young people and offer career advice.  To that end, here are some career aptitude guides that may be of use to you.

Does this snippet of conversation make sense to you?

Stealth …  Gotta have it!


Don’t know;  just do.

If so, congratulations, you may have a career in aircraft design!


Do fewer ballistic missile tubes, smaller crews, increased automation, and smaller reactors suggest to you the need for a larger submarine? 

Does an airwing half the size of the original Nimitz airwing suggest to you the need for a bigger carrier than the Nimitz? 

If you answered "yes!" or "hell, yes!" to the above, you may be a naval ship designer!


Do you believe

  1. The Marine Corps is a drain on naval construction funding.
  2. The Marine Corps needs to stop their whining and learn how to conduct assaults from 500 nm offshore.
  3. The Marine Corps gun support needs are being met perfectly well by 5” guns.
  4. All of the above.

If you answered d., congratulations, you’ll make Admiral!


Do you suffer from a debilitating, almost paralyzing, fear of making a mistake?  If so, you'll make an exemplary ship's Captain!


If you prioritize the following naval issues – new uniforms, new ship construction, sexual assault, humanitarian assistance, gender integration, combat readiness,  – somewhat along these lines,

1. Sexual Assault
2. New Ship Construction
3. Gender Integration
4. Humanitarian Assistance
5. New Uniforms
6. Combat Readiness (shouldn’t be that high but you had no other options!)

Congratulations, you’re next in line for CNO Greenert’s job!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The New ASW

The current issue of Proceedings has one of those articles that both disgusts me and encourages me at the same time (1).  The author describes a revolutionary, “new” approach to ASW.  As he puts it,

“[Navy leadership and personnel]… just didn’t understand that the world of submarine warfare had changed significantly since the 1980s.”

We’ll come back to the “new” part of that in a bit.

Moving on, the author presents a 10-step approach to ASW which recognizes the series of vulnerabilities or engagement opportunities that a submarine passes through from the start of its deployment to the end of its mission.  Recognizing these steps allows the establishment of a kill-chain of sorts to be operated against the submarine.  The sub can be engaged and killed not just at sea in a pitched ASW confrontation but anywhere along the way.  The ten steps, or locations, for engagement are,

  1. Prevent the strategic decision to use submarines.
  2. In port.
  3. Sever command and control.
  4. Near port.
  5. Transiting choke points.
  6. Open ocean.
  7. Lure subs into kill boxes.
  8. Mask targets.
  9. Close contact.
  10. Defeat the torpedo.

I won’t go into detail on these points.  You can read the article if you’re interested.  Besides, most are fairly obvious.

The disgusting part of this article is that the author seems to think he’s come up with something new.  Apparently not a student of history, he seems unaware of the Allies efforts to attack U-Boats in their pens and destroy the factories that made the subs and their component parts.  He seems unaware of the WWII code breaking efforts that denied enemy command and control effectiveness.  He seems unaware of the Cold War GIUK and SOSUS choke point awareness.  I could go on but the point is that none of the steps are new and most have been recognized and understood for almost as long as there have been submarines.

That these steps would seem to the author to be a “new” response to the “changing” world of submarine warfare is nothing less than the admission of total ignorance of the history of SW and ASW.  That Navy leadership would embrace it as “new” is equally troubling.

U-Boat Pens - Always A Target

I’m not going to attack the author any further – that’s not the point.  The only reason I criticize the author at all is to point out the sad state of affairs regarding tactical and strategic competence among our professional warriors.  I’ll leave it at that.

On the plus side, if the Navy will wake up and embrace this “new” form of ASW then I’m all for it.  Any awareness and grasp of strategy and tactics by the Navy is something to be celebrated, praised, and encouraged.  In that light, this is a most welcome article.

I hope the Navy leaders responsible for ASW go back and thoroughly read up on the history of ASW.  Who knows how many other “new” tactics they may find?

(1) US Naval Institute Proceedings, “The Hunt for Full-Spectrum ASW”, Capt. William Toti, USN(Ret.), Jun 2014, p.38

Monday, June 9, 2014

F/A-18 Hornet - An Evolutionary JSF?

A recent comment to a post suggested that we continue procuring current aircraft and delay the F-35 until the technologies have been perfected.  While that’s a better approach than continuing the F-35, it’s not the best.  To take the discussion further, we need to ask, why is the F-35 failing?  The answer is because we’ve tried to incorporate too many advanced, non-existent technologies into a brand new airframe all at the same time (for the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to set aside the problems associated with trying to make a single airframe serve three diverse and almost mutually exclusive roles).  As a result, we’ve spent two decades trying to develop the final product and there’s still no end in sight.  Realistically, we’re probably looking at another decade of development and even then we may not (almost assuredly won’t) get all the promised capabilities.  In the meantime, what do we have to show for it?  Nothing.  We’ve got an outrageously expensive F-35 airframe that can fly but without its myriad advanced technologies is a below average combat plane with hideously expensive maintenance and operating costs.

Interestingly, the statement of the problem also suggests a solution.  What we should have done was engage in an evolutionary approach to the JSF development.  We should have designed an initial version that incorporated a capable but basic set of characteristics – an airframe that would have had a reasonable degree of stealth, good but not stunning flight performance, a good set of off-the-shelf sensors, and room for the future additions and modifications that could be reasonably anticipated.  This would have provided for an effective combat aircraft that could have begun serving two decades ago. 

As research and development allowed, new technologies could have been incorporated into the production line and retrofitted to existing aircraft, if warranted.  By not demanding all the technologies at once, we could have had success from the start.  Now, there’s nothing new about this approach.  It’s been used sporadically on various programs and, in fact, the LCS supporters have recently begun to claim that the LCS, virtually useless at the moment, was intended to be a spiral development program, exactly as we’ve just described.  Of course, that’s after-the-fact utter nonsense that’s being spun to explain total failure.  Still, the LCS modules have gone back to square one and are now attempting to produce a very basic version that can be enhanced over time – a case of a degree of wisdom being forced on an unwilling program by circumstances rather than foresight and planning.  But, I digress …

So, consider the implications of the preceding discussion.  We could have, and ought to, apply evolutionary development to the JSF program with the easier technologies incorporated at the outset and the more difficult ones incorporated over time while garnering the benefit of actual service from the aircraft and the benefit of real world experience to feed back into the design.  Think about it.  Does that approach sound vaguely familiar? 

How about the F/A-18 Hornet program?  The Hornet has progressed evolutionarily from the A/B models to C/D, then to the E/F Super Hornet, and now the manufacturer has built an Advanced Super Hornet with conformal fuel tanks, additional stealth, stealth weapon pods, etc.  This is exactly the kind of evolutionary development that we said the F-35 should have done.  In fact, if we devoted some effort to it, we could begin applying some of the JSF technologies, those that are mature, to the Hornet airframe, creating a Super Duper Advanced Hornet while still gaining the use of an effective combat aircraft while further R&D continues on the more difficult JSF technologies.  In short, the Hornet family is currently doing exactly what the JSF should have!!! 

If that’s the case, why did the Navy abandon the Hornet as a dead end and make the jump to an unproven new aircraft design based on largely non-existent technology?  Well, aside from utter stupidity and incompetence by Navy leadership, as evidenced by a non-stop litany of poor decisions over the last few decades, I really don’t know.  The Navy has bought in – hook, line, and sinker – to the concept of jumping generations of technology to produce wonder-machines in favor of solid engineering-based evolutionary development.  Despite the overwhelming evidence of the failure of the generation-jumping approach, the Navy remains firmly wedded to the concept.  Their fixation on shiny toys instead of solid tools is perplexing, to say the least.

In any event, how does all this help us in our current situation?  As I said, the Hornet represents a viable and steadily evolving aircraft path.  We can drop the JSF while applying its technologies to further enhance the Hornet as we continue to get immediate service out of a capable combat aircraft.  There’s no reason the JSF’s magic, 360 degree sensors and futuristic helmet can’t be applied to the Hornet if they ever achieve full functionality.  If the Advanced Super Hornet has insufficient stealth for its missions (and there is absolutely no Concept of Operations that says this is so that I’m aware of), more can be incorporated evolutionarily.  If the JSF’s ultra-sophisticated self-aware maintenance program ever works, there’s no reason it can’t be incorporated into the Hornet.  And so on.  If we want to continue JSF development as a purely R&D effort, that’s fine, too.   In the meantime, we’ll have a fully functional combat aircraft with known costs that are far below the F-35.  Evolve the Hornet!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Will To Win

China has all but seized various islands and bits of land from the Philippines and Viet Nam and expanded and strengthened its claims on the entire East and South China Seas.  They have done this by establishing small outposts and oil rigs as well as by establishing the habit of regularly patrolling the disputed areas so as to establish the normalcy and, therefore, the acceptability and inevitability of their claims.  Add to this their use of air defense zones and their control over, and successful exclusion of, US ships and planes from areas of interest and the acquisition of the East and South China Seas is all but assured. 

We must recognize this very clearly.  China is pursuing a policy of annexation through normalization.  Disputed territories are being patrolled on a regular basis so that over time other countries slowly come to accept the situation as normal.  The Air Defense Zone, while illegal in its implementation, is being enforced to establish the normalcy of the control.  The legal Economic Exclusion Zone is being illegally interpreted as a military exclusion zone with a goal of habitual enforcement to establish its legitimacy and normalcy.  Tiny outposts and oil wells are being established on disputed points of land (they barely qualify as islands) to establish normalcy of Chinese control over those points.  Eventually, most of these actions will come to be accepted (a fait accompli) and those that aren’t can be claimed to be legitimate through years of “ownership” (squatter’s rights or possession is nine tenths of the law) and presented to the court of world opinion as custom and tradition (common law). 

The US appears to recognize that Chinese control over the region is undesirable and ought to be prevented.  Of course, we cannot hope to counter China’s expansionist movement alone.  The US must develop close ties with the Pacific countries in and around the East and South China Seas.  Ideally, we would also partner up with countries further away from the area but still invested in the events and results.  Together, this coalition may eventually be able to counter China’s moves. 

Hmmm ….

Do you see the disconnect in the previous paragraphs?  China is able to pursue (successfully, so far!) its plans for regional domination with only its own internal forces and capabilities.  It is not part of a broad coalition of like minded countries pursuing a mutually agreed upon conquest of the area.  It’s simply acting on its own.  The US, on the other hand, is seemingly paralyzed, unable to act without the backing of a coalition, despite having far greater military might, more resources, and a stronger economy (for the moment, anyway!).  Where is our will to act forcefully and, if necessary, unilaterally to achieve our goals?  Have we become so timid that we cannot and will not act alone?  Where is our will to win?  Lead, and others will follow - that's how you build a coalition.

I’m not going to address the political aspect of this (although recognizing that the political and military are intimately bound together!) since this isn’t a political blog.  Instead, let’s look at the military, specifically naval, actions that we can take, alone, to counter current Chinese moves.

The basis of China’s expansion is normalcy and the methodology is routine patrols and outposts in disputed areas to establish that normalcy.  We must counter that with our own routine patrols in disputed areas.  Ideally, every Chinese patrol ship should have a US ship sailing in close formation.  Ideally, the countries involved in the territorial disputes should establish their own tiny outposts with resupply and patrol support from us.  We should be routinely and heavily transiting the air defense zone and economic exclusion zone (EEZ) so as to invalidate Chinese normalcy and re-establish the normalcy of international rule and law of the sea.  We should emphatically re-establish our right of passage in international waters.

Chinese Outpost at Johnson South Reef

What we should not do is leave the 20-30 nm vicinity of a Chinese naval group in international waters when told to do so.  What we should not do is curtail flights and passages through illegal air defense zones and EEZ’s just to avoid confrontations.  What we should not do is allow the establishment of illegal outposts on disputed islands.

So, what do we need to accomplish these goals?  The overwhelming answer is numbers.  We need lots of ships and planes to establish routine patrols.  I can hear the whine, now:  “We can’t afford so many ships and planes.”  Well, that’s true in a sense.  On the other hand, can we afford to cede the entire East and South China Seas to China?  What will be the ultimate cost of that?  Can we afford to someday engage in a war with China in which they will have fortified the entire first island chain because we didn’t have enough ships and planes to prevent it?  Yeah, but even so, we just don’t have the budget to build additional ships and planes even if we wanted to.  Right and wrong.  We have the budget but we’re not spending it correctly.  Three Zumwalts aren’t going to appreciably help us with the Pacific Pivot but the $24B or so that they’ve cost would have bought a lot of aircraft and smaller ships (there’s a use for your frigate).  Even at a cost of $1B each, we could have built 24 frigates for the cost of three Zumwalts.  Which would be more useful in the Pacific Pivot, three Zumwalts or 24 frigates?  We could buy a lot of Super Hornets, UAVs, and patrol aircraft for what the JSF program is costing us.  The LCS could have been the patrol ship for this scenario except that it has no credible weaponry and insufficient range and endurance to operate for extended patrol periods.  Perhaps the coming upgunned LCS will have improved range and endurance and find a purpose, at long last.

The needs of a Pacific Pivot are fairly clear.  Now, we just need to align our procurement with our needs and muster the will to act.