Saturday, September 13, 2014

Shiny New Aircraft or Dirty Old Mines?

USNI’s website has an article about the next generation Navy aircraft that prompted a few thoughts.  The article discussed several of the options that the Navy is considering (1).  Here’s a couple of tidbits,

“Under the Navy’s vision for its Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) battle network, an individual platform would not necessarily need to have a full suite of sensors—rather it could rely on off-board data. Data-linked information from another platform in the air such as the Northrop Grumman E-2D or at sea like an Aegis cruiser or destroyer could provide targeting information or even guide a weapon launched from a platform like a future F/A-XX.”

“... Rear Adm. Mike Manazir, the Navy’s director of air warfare, told USNI News that the F/A-XX would carry missiles, have the required power and cooling for directed energy weapons and sensors target the smallest radar cross-section targets. Manazir also said the F/A-XX family of systems might incorporate the use of cyber warfare capabilities at a tactical level—which the Navy is currently exploring.”

What do these have in common?  They’re incredibly advanced concepts that propose non-existent technology.  We’ve thoroughly discussed the pitfalls in initiating programs based on non-existent technology:  schedule slippages, cost overruns, quantity reductions, and technology failures. 

Oh good grief, ComNavOps is going off on another rant about program management failure.  We get it, already.  Haven’t we read enough about this?  Well, relax.  We have read enough about that (for the moment!) and we’re going in a different direction for the rest of this.

What occurs to me is that the Navy is pouring an enormous amount of effort into its combat aircraft (whether wisely directed or not is an issue we’ll set aside for another time).  The article discusses the Navy’s interactions with industry to try and capture the best technologies.  Numerous studies are being conducted to define the aircraft’s requirements.  Further, the level of technology being contemplated for this program is mind-boggling (again, we’ll set aside the problems inherent in that).  Let’s assume, for sake of discussion, that it all works perfectly and the Navy produces a reasonably priced plane that can network, interface, shoot thousand mile weapons using some other platform’s sensor data, mounts lasers and railguns, is totally invisible to any enemy sensor, requires no maintenance, and can be optionally manned or unmanned.  Wow!  What an achievement!  No enemy could stand up to that combat force.

Of course, a single diesel sub with a couple of torpedoes could sink the entire airwing.

Of course, a single mine could sink an entire airwing.

You see the problem?  The Navy is so focused on the ultra-high end technology toys that they’re failing to see the weak links in the overall naval warfighting machine.  When you’re putting the bulk of your effort and resources into the very high end and ignoring the lowly mine or submarine that can destroy it all, you’ve lost sight of the overall picture.

Where’s the equivalent emphasis on MCM?  Our current MCM capability has atrophied almost to the point of non-existence.  What new mine detection technology have we developed (don’t say unmanned – that’s the same old technology, just remotely controlled;  great from a safety perspective but still the same old technology)?  Where’s the push for new MCM technology development?  What new focused MCM platforms are we developing?

Where’s the equivalent emphasis on ASW?  Our Burkes are woefully undertrained for ASW.  We have no focused ASW platform.  To be fair, the SSN fleet should be a potent ASW force although I have no idea whether their level of training is compared to what it once was during the height of the Cold War.  I suspect it’s dropped off but I don’t know that.  What new ASW technology advances have we made?  Where’s the push for ASW research?  What new ASW platforms are we developing?

Let’s be fair, here.  There have been some minor improvements or, at least, attempts at improvement.  The LCS was a well-intentioned attempt at MCM and ASW, although it failed miserably.  The P-8’s multi-static sonobuoy system is an attempt at improving detection although it is currently non-functional and its actual benefits (as opposed to manufacturer’s claims), if any, have yet to be demonstrated.

You get the idea.  The amount of effort and resources being poured into advanced aircraft design and procurement dwarfs the amount going into MCM and ASW by a staggering margin and yet it is the lowly MCM and ASW capabilities that will determine whether the airwing can even survive long enough to get to the fight and stay in it.  The Navy is focused on the glittering toys and ignoring the down-in-the-bilges capabilities that will safeguard the new toys.

(1) US Naval Institute, "Navy Taps Industry in Quest For Next Generation Fighter", Dave Majumdar, September 10, 2014,


  1. One of the advantages of nuclear powered subs is that they rarely slow down.
    There is little to no practical cost difference in sending one to sea and sitting one in port.

    So, they don't get ported unless they need repair

    I think

    1. TrT, I'm not sure what your point is as related to the post? Try again?

  2. CNO,

    Fair point, but NAVSEAs annual budget is about $30 billion - 1/4 of the Navy's budget - that's $8 billion more than NAVAIR. NAVSEA is responsible for researching, designing, and procuring an MCM replacement. NAVAIR is responsible for researching, designing and procuring a Super Hornet replacement (FA-XX) for 2030s IOC. So NAVAIR is doing its job, NAVSEA...

    Airplanes may be "shiny" but Navy budget priorities are with ships and submarines.

    Slightly off topic, but the best MCM in the world is still slow and unable to defend itself against a high end enemy. They would be as vulnerable as the peacetime vessels you've referred to in other posts without AEGIS, air, and SSN support. How will we employ these vessels?

    Bottom line, you are correct that the Navy needs to develop a credible anti-mine capability - I just don't think a 15 year away FA-XX concept is really the barrier to that goal.

    1. TA, please don't misunderstand the post. I'm not at all suggesting that the F/A-XX is a barrier to MCM or ASW developments. Not at all! The lack of attention paid to MCM and ASW is purely a voluntary decision on the part of the Navy. That's my suggestion and my criticism. The Navy is knowingly no putting a sufficient emphasis on MCM and ASW.

      Just as an aside, NavSea does not design ships and does relatively little research. Those functions have been turned over to industry, for better or worse, generally worse.

      You've inspired me to do a post on combat MCM!

  3. I don't that that it's as much an airdale/surface fight as it is a preoccupation with overspending on gold plated state of the art hardware in both places. We need a lot of "good enough" stuff. One big lesson from the Falklands is that you can do just fine without cutting edge state of the art hardware if your training and morale are good enough. We have missions where we need every bit of that state of the art technology. We also have missions where we don't. An Arleigh Burke on pirate patrol in the IO is a waste of an expensive asset not well suited for the purpose. We need some platforms that can provide multi-mission capability in a multi-threat environment. But there are plenty of spots for a unit that can perform a single mission in a reduced threat environment. Stop building everything gold plated and there would be money around for numbers--and for cost-effective platforms like mine warfare units. After 2 years active and 4 years reserve in the mine force, it is clear that is one area we have neglected, and when we have neglected it in the past it has been at our peril.

  4. You make a good point about where are the new concepts for MCM and ASW. I don;t think there are any and so the money flow people hype what is at least on the drawing board.

    You can get 10s of Billions for promising a new fighter that has lasers and remote targeting, even if they haven't been proven or realistically tested yet. The problem with the MCM and ASW folks is that they haven;t created any gee wiz powerpoint presentations that promise the impossible.

    BTW whatever happened to the laser wavelengths that could look deep into the water and find subs?

  5. Don't forget about they total lack of progress replacing the battleships for Surface fire support!

    1. What you don't like the DDG-1000 Gun?

      A round that has a Time of Flight of 7 minutes is perfect for support of troops moving inland off the bearc, or pushing out from a captured port.

      Nothing moves much distance in 7 minutes does it?

      And what's not to love about the expense of each shell? At 600 rounds in the magazine times 2 that is a nice profit for a Defense Company. How many shells did we launch at Omaha Beach? Divide by 10 and you still need ALOT of DDG-1000 Magazines worth.

      Buy Defense Stocks!


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.