Wednesday, October 29, 2014


A word of explanation:  This post is inspired by discussions of the BAMS aircraft in a previous post.  It is in no way an attempt to slam the commenters or embarrass them.  Quite the contrary.  Their input, whether I agree or disagree with any particular point, is valued and, in this case, is directly contributing to a better blog and more interesting and educational reading.  I thank all who commented on BAMS.

The Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program is described in the FY15 Budget Highlights book from the Navy,

“MQ-4 Triton system development and demonstration continues in FY 2015 to provide a High Altitude-Long Endurance Unmanned Aircraft System designed to provide persistent maritime ISR of nearly all the world's high-density sea-lanes, littorals, and areas of national interest. Envisioned as an unmanned adjunct to the P-8A MMA, and crucial to the recapitalization of Navy's airborne maritime ISR capability, the system will seek to leverage maritime patrol and reconnaissance force manpower, training and maintenance efficiencies. The Triton UAS air vehicle features sensors designed to provide near worldwide coverage through a network of five CONUS and OCONUS orbits, with sufficient air vehicles to remain airborne for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, out to ranges of 2,000 nautical miles. Onboard sensors will provide detection, classification, tracking and identification of maritime targets and include maritime radar, electro-optical/infrared, and Electronic Support Measures systems. Additionally, Triton will have a communications relay capability designed to link dispersed forces in the theater of operations and serve as a node in the Navy's FORCEnet strategy.”

The annual GAO assessment of weapon systems (GAO-14-340SP) offers this description of the BAMS program.

“The Navy's MQ-4C Triton is intended to provide a persistent maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability even when no other naval forces are present. Triton will operate from five land-based sites worldwide as a part of a family of maritime patrol and reconnaissance systems that recapitalizes the Navy's airborne ISR assets. Planned improvements include a signals intelligence capability and an upgrade to the systems communication relay. The Triton is based on the Air Force's RQ-4B Global Hawk air vehicle.”

The same GAO report cites a program unit cost (including R&D) of $193M per aircraft with a total acquisition of 70 aircraft planned.

The specific sensor package and range is unknown.  Given the small size of the aircraft and its radar compared to, say, an E-2C Hawkeye, it can be surmised that the sensor range is on the order of a hundred miles or less.  The Air Force Global Hawk from which the Triton is derived, is credited by Wiki with a radar sensor range of 62 miles.  If someone has a definite source for the sensor range, let me know.

BAMS - What Role In War?

The key to the rest of this discussion is my assessment of the sensor range.  If I’m significantly wrong and the sensor range is significantly greater (meaning on the order of 250 nm or more) than the premise of this post is wrong. 

So, with that general description, the question now becomes, what will the aircraft provide during war?  What is it’s Concept of Operations?  It’s clear that such a surveillance capability would be useful during peacetime activities (I’m ignoring the cost-benefit aspect, for the moment) but what can the aircraft provide during war?

For starters, consider that the aircraft is not particularly stealthy, fast, or maneuverable and it has no air-to-air defense capability.  Thus, it’s what we might call a target drone if an enemy detects it.  So, how does this aircraft operate during war?  If it has to approach within one or two hundred miles of an enemy asset in order to detect it, it will have a very short lifespan for the reasons listed above.

We could provide an escort of F-22s or F-35s but what would be the point?  Supposedly the F-22/35 can provide the required sensing if they’re in the area anyway.

We could keep the BAMS safely behind our “lines” but, again, what’s the point?  We know what’s behind us.  What we want to know is what’s in front of us.

We could restrict the usage to within areas protected by airbases or carrier coverage but we already have AWACs and Hawkeyes in those areas so what’s the point.

We could attempt to provide saturation coverage of enemy airspace through sheer numbers under the philosophy that the enemy can’t find and shoot down every BAMS if we have enough of them.  However, at $193M per copy, we won’t be able to afford that approach for very long.

You see the problem?  I can’t come up with a wartime scenario in which the BAMS will prove useful and survivable.  So, what is the concept of operations (CONOPS) for this aircraft during war? 

I’m opening this up to readers.  Anyone have any ideas how to utilize this aircraft during war?

Monday, October 27, 2014

CO Relieved

Another CO has been relieved.  As reported by Navy Times website (1),

"A week after the Philippine media reported that the destroyer Stethem had run over a small canoe near Subic Bay, the ship’s skipper has been fired."

"According to Philippine media reports, the unlit canoe crossed Stethem’s course around 8:36 p.m. The boat’s occupants dove into the ocean to avoid the collision and were rescued uninjured by Stethem’s crew."

An unlit canoe?  At night?  That’s grounds for relief?  Wow, that’s got to have a chilling effect on ship captains.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Swedish Submarine Search

You’re probably all aware that Sweden has been conducting a search for a foreign (presumably Russian) submarine in their waters for the last week or so.  That search has now been terminated, apparently. News website published an Associated Press article with some interesting comments about the Swedish operation (1).

"'It's been a while since we conducted this type of operation.... We are a bit rusty,' Rear Adm. Anders Grenstad, chief of operations, told The Associated Press.

One of the major threats to Sweden is submarine activity and it’s been awhile since they’ve conducted this type of operation??  A bit rusty??  You do get that war is a come as you are affair?  The US Navy needs to take a lesson from this and start treating ASW seriously both in procurement and, more importantly, training.

"'The odds of us locating and taking action against a foreign underwater vessel is, due to the reduction of our capabilities and the complex environment in the littorals of the Baltic Sea, relatively small,' said retired navy Commander Christian Allerman, a task group chief in Sweden's anti-submarine warfare force in the 1990s.

This statement reinforces the conclusion that we’ve stated here on multiple occasions – that ASW is a very difficult mission and one that must be practiced tirelessly in order to be proficient.  The USN practice of running a ship through a scripted exercise once a year as a check box on a pre-deployment workup is not the way to acquire proficiency.

"Sweden phased out its anti-submarine helicopters in 2008 and isn't expecting replacements until 2018.”

Outstanding!  Way to prepare.  Thank goodness the US Navy would never do something that foolish.  Oh wait …  We sank an entire class of Spruance ASW destroyers!

“Apart from cutting defense spending, Sweden has shifted its focus from territorial defense to international peacekeeping operations ..."

Does that sound somewhat familiar?  The US has shifted its focus from high end combat to “presence”, crisis response, and humanitarian assistance.  Well, guess what?  Countries like Russia and China are shifting their focus to exactly the high end combat that we’re abandoning.  What’s the likely outcome when those two trends ultimately collide?

By the way, the much vaunted Visby was involved in the ASW search and produced nothing.  To be fair, there may have been nothing to find.  On the other hand, it should be clear that there is nothing magic about that ship, either. 

(1) News, "Submarine Hunt Exposes Swedish Readiness Gap", 22-Oct-2014

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Kill Chains or Mistake Chains?

One of the recent buzzword bingo entries that has caught on is “kill chain”.  In simple terms it’s the sequence of events that lead to ordnance on target.  The simplest kill chain is,

see the target
pull the trigger

Simple.  Easy to understand.  Reliable.

A more common kill chain as envisioned by today’s Navy is,

sense the target via multiple sensors
transfer the data to a common data processing location
fuse the sensor data into a common tactical picture
assess the tactical picture against overall objectives
obtain Command and Control (C2) guidance and approval
assign a specific weapon
transfer targeting data to the shooting platform
hand off mid-course guidance to another platform

Think I’m making up a complex chain like that just to make a point?

Consider the recently discussed kill chain involving the LRASM guided by a chain of F-35s transmitting and retransmitting data back to a central fused tactical data center, then to the shooting platform and back out to the F-35 for guidance and possible re-programming.  The chain might also include data relay stations in the form of satellites or other aircraft.

Still not sure this is realistic?

Consider the Navy’s Co-operative Engagement Capability (CEC).  Multiple platforms share data to assemble a common tactical picture which is evaluated by the air defense command function which then assigns weapons and launch platforms.  Mid-course guidance may come from any platform.  That’s an actual, existing chain.  How well it works is unknown.

Want one more example for the future? 

USNI website has an article discussing the Virginia class SSN replacement and a 200 nm range replacement torpedo.  See if you can discern the kill chain in the following description of torpedo usage from the article.

“… to employ a 200-mile torpedo …  Connor [ed. VAdm. Mike Connor, COMSUBLANT] said that while an attack boat like the Virginia or SSN(X) might launch a torpedo, the targeting data might come from another platform.

Those other platforms could include an aircraft like an unmanned aerial vehicle launched from the submarine or something like a Boeing P-8 Poseidon. In fact,  the submarine might not even guide the weapon to its target in the terminal phase of the engagement, Connor said.”

OK, so kill chains are getting longer and more complex.  What’s the point?

We stated in a previous post that

Complexity = Unreliability

Consider a kill chain as a series of events, each with its own probability of failure.  It stands to reason that the more links in the chain, the greater the chance of one of them failing.  If a single link in the chain fails, the entire chain fails.  It turns out that there is a mathematical description of such a chain.  Briefly, the probability of success for the entire chain is the multiplicative product of the probabilities of the individual events (links).  If you didn’t follow that, don’t worry.  What it means is you multiply the individual probabilities.  For example, if there are two steps in a chain and each has a 95% probability of success, the total probability of success is,

.95 x .95 = .90   or  90%

In the example I offered at the start of the post, there are nine steps (links).  If each step has a 98% chance of success, the total chance of success is only 83%. 

Of course, each step is not uniform in its probability of success.  Some will be very high and some will be less so.  Regardless, the point is that the greater the number of steps (links) in the chain, the less likely the entire chain is to function correctly.  Hence, again,

Complexity = Unreliability

The other aspect to a kill chain composed of high value units, as in this example, is that the units are tied up performing routine, mundane tasks.  In the F-35 example, only the first one or two F-35s need stealth.  After that, each F-35 is a colossal waste of resources.  Of course, if the target is of sufficiently high value then the use of multiple F-35s performing nothing more than communications relay functions may well be worth it.  However, for general surveillance the F-35s would mostly be wasted.

This doesn’t even begin to address the issue of maintenance as a function of complexity.

Back to the main point of unreliability as a function of complexity.  We’ve looked at a simplistic example of a chain.  Now, throw in the added complexity of the networks, nodes, displays, and software, all of which have to work correctly to receive the data, reduce it to an understandable tactical picture, and retransmit both the data/images and resulting actionable commands and we’ve added many more steps to the chain, each with their own failure rates.

Everything we’ve discussed so far has been idealized and the individual step (link) failure probabilities are those inherent to the step.  Now layer on the effects of deliberate enemy disruption in the form of electronic countermeasures, jamming, false signals, etc. and many of the step failure probabilities increase significantly.

Lastly, top it off with natural disruptions such as weather effects, atmospheric ionization, solar flares, curvature of the earth, and whatnot and the failure probabilities further increase.

So, what is ComNavOps suggesting?  Simply that we need to carefully balance complexity against reliability.  Further, I’m suggesting that we’ve gone too far down the path of complexity.

Consider the F-35 targeting chain.  Someone, on day one of conceptual design of the F-35, should have said, “Hey, we don’t want to set up a chain of multiple F-35s just to handle communications.  Instead, let’s make a longer ranged communications capability an inherent part of the design so that a single F-35 can communicate with the controlling station.  In fact, while we’re at it, why don’t we make sure that the F-35 can communicate directly with other platforms, like the Hornet or Hawkeye, without needing a conversion step.”

In combat, confusion will reign.  The simpler our weapons and systems are, the more likely they are to work.  It’s as simple as that.

See the target.  Pull the trigger

USNI, “Navy Starting Work on New SSN(X) Nuclear Attack Submarine”, Dave Majumdar, October 23, 2014,

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Manufacturer's Claims

ComNavOps has pointed out in previous posts and numerous comments that manufacturer’s performance claims are almost always significantly over exaggerated.  History guarantees this with near 100% certainty.  Despite this, many people continue to latch onto manufacturer’s claims while discussing weapons and systems. 

The LCS was the poster child for this phenomenon for the longest time.  Supporters would continually fall back on PowerPoint-ish claims of capabilities to defend the program.  Of course, the LCS has now gotten to the point where even the most ardent defender has pretty much admitted that the LCS isn’t ever going to do all those wonderful things that were promised.

Historically, we’ve noted the abject failure of the USN’s WWII torpedo, the Sparrow missile, Soviet SAM systems, and so on.

More recently, the JSF has taken over as the poster child for manufacturer’s claims.  The list of things the F-35 will do is simply amazing, bordering on magical.  Of course, at the moment, after two decades of development, the plane can barely (and only sporadically) get off the ground and then only utilizing a multitude of workarounds to get past the maintenance software fail safes.  Despite an unbroken history of weapon systems failing to live up to their billings the JSF true believers still cite the wonders of the future JSF.

Here’s the most recent example – the Mk110 57mm naval gun that’s mounted on the LCS.  You remember the glowing claims about this gun, don’t you?  It would singlehandedly decimate scores of small boats and transform littoral warfare.  Of course, ComNavOps noted long ago that the only publicized tests involved shooting a land mounted gun at a fixed, unmoving small boat on what appeared to be an isolated lake or inlet.  The result was a bunch of pinholes appearing in the boat which seemed totally insufficient to sink the boat.  Still, the Navy bought in on the hype and outfitted the LCS with the Mk110 without even providing radar fire control for it – just EO guidance. 

Mk110 - Debunked

Anyway, it turns out that the Mk110 has significant reliability and performance problems on the LCS as documented by various reports.  As if that’s not bad enough, it turns out that the Mk110 is rendered ineffective due to vibration when the LCS is at any speed.  To be fair, that’s probably more of an LCS structural design issue than a gun failing.

Now, though, it turns out that the Zumwalt program looked at the Mk110 and decided that it lacks the lethality needed to stop small boats and they’ve opted, instead, to select a smaller 30 mm gun.  So, the main claim of small boat lethality turns out to have been vastly overstated – just as the history of manufacturer’s claims have shown.  Who could have seen that coming?  Well, anyone who reads this blog, I guess.

Is my point to beat up on the Mk110?  No.  My point is that here is yet another example in an almost unbroken chain of examples where the manufacturer’s claims were significantly overstated.

We must begin to recognize this phenomenon as we discuss weapons and systems.  We have to stop blindly citing claims with no allowance for reality.  For example, the F-35 isn’t going to do all those wonderful things.  It may, eventually, do some of them to a partial degree – and that’s the best case.  ComNavOps offers this blog, in part, to educate readers about the realities of war and weapon systems.  This phenomenon is one of those realities.

As bad as it is when outside observers, like us, opt to wholeheartedly and blindly believe manufacturer’s claims, that’s just an irrelevant side issue.  The real impact is when our professional, uniformed military leaders wholeheartedly and blindly buy in to manufacturer’s claims.  Someone in the Navy bought into the manufacturer’s claims about the Mk110 without looking critically at the claims and the testing.  Along comes the Zumwalt program and their folly is exposed.  [A salute to someone in the Zumwalt program, by the way.  Now, I hope they’re carefully scrutinizing the 30 mm claims!]  The Navy bought into the LCS claims.  The Navy bought into the JSF claims.  And so on.

Whatever the next great program is, ComNavOps can already predict with near 100% certainty that it won’t work as claimed.  I don’t even need to know what the program is.  There’s a simple lesson to be learned here that’s supported by overwhelming historical evidence, right up to current events, and yet the Navy refuses to learn.  If you hit me on the head 37 times in a row with that board you’re holding after promising each time that you wouldn’t, isn’t it kind of stupid of me to believe you the 38th time?  And yet the Navy keeps believing!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

LRASM and Targeting

Let’s follow up on the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) a bit, shall we?  For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that we now have a 500 nm, ship launched (VLS), high subsonic missile that doesn’t, yet, have complete and fully functional autonomy.  In other words, it’s a missile like all the rest of our missiles.  It requires a destination (target) and then it can use it’s own on-board sensors (short range radar and/or EO) for final guidance.  That’s exactly what ComNavOps suggested ought to be produced in the previous post as an interim product while the fantasy autonomy was being perfected.

So, we have a missile.  Somewhere out there we think there might be a surface target.  How do we find the target (the right target!) and generate a shooting solution? 

Well, the first possibility is the ship’s own radar, Aegis/AMDR.  Unfortunately, the detection range will be on the order of 50 nm (the Navy has declined to tell me the exact detection range in this scenario).

Another possibility is a carrier AEW Hawkeye.  Two problems here, though.  One is the range is still limited to probably around 150 -200 nm.  Yes, the claimed detection range of the APS-139/145 radar is 300+ nm but that’s for large airborne, non-stealthy targets.  A semi-stealthy ship (and every ship built today is semi-stealthy) in the “ground clutter” of the ocean’s surface is not going to be detected at anywhere near those ranges.  The second problem is that if we’re going to be dependent on a Hawkeye then that means that our LRASM is only effective as part of a carrier group.

Of course, we could always postulate that we extend the Hawkeye’s location out a couple hundred miles in the direction of the anticipated threat.  However, since we’re going to launch a missile, presumably we’re at war.  That means that the enemy will be busy doing pesky little things like shooting down Hawkeyes that stray away from the protection of the carrier group.  In fact, the reality is that the Hawkeye may actually operate somewhat behind the group for greater protection.  So, I guess that option is out. 

Satellites?  They don’t generate shooting solutions despite what popular belief might hold.

Submarines?  Possible, though that’s a very unreliable, hit and miss proposition complicated by the difficulty the sub would have transmitting targeting data without giving up its location.

The ship’s own helos?  Helos have relatively short ranged radars and extending their location carriers the same risk as the Hawkeye.  It’s just not realistic to send a helo a few hundred miles out to attempt targeting.

UAVs?  That’s a possibility.  I don’t think we have a surface ship launched UAV with the requisite range, sensors, and stealth but such a UAV could possibly be developed.

Passive sensing?  That’s a very real possibility but would involve triangulation of multiple sensor sources.  This is, at least partly, what I believe the Navy’s OUTBOARD/COBLU system is designed to do.  The actual capabilities of the system are not public knowledge so I have no basis to comment further.

F-35?  Well, here’s an option that has some possibility.  A stealthy, survivable aircraft that can operate on its own and penetrate enemy air coverage and defenses would be just the ticket for this type of targeting challenge.  This may be a mission the F-35 could excel at.  Of course, as with the Hawkeye, this ties the LRASM to F-35A land bases or F-35C carriers and limits our ability to operate our surface ships offensively on their own.  This also assumes that the F-35 works as advertised which it does not, as yet.  Aside from stealth and flight issues, the F-35 apparently lacks a “stealth” means of communication to transmit targeting data, as we’ve discussed in previous posts (see, "Can Anyone Talk To The F-35?").

Hopefully, by now you’re getting the idea.  A weapon is only half the problem.  The other, and more important and more challenging, half is targeting (see, "Weapons Don't Matter!").  There’s no point having a 5,000 nm missile if you can’t reliably target beyond 50 miles.  [that’s why the Chinese “carrier killer” is a joke]  So, am I suggesting that we only design short range missiles and abandon the LRASM?  No!  I’m suggesting that we give equal thought to development of targeting capabilities and development of appropriate tactics that will enable long range targeting.

The astute among you will have noticed that I haven’t addressed target discrimination.  It’s not enough to simply detect a “blip” a few hundred miles out.  You also have to know whether that blip is friendly, neutral, or hostile.  Generally, that means getting the detecting platform and sensor even closer to the enemy – a difficult problem becomes even more difficult.

I’ve also not addressed the use of air launched LRASM.  That’s a separate topic with its own considerations.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Network Contradiction?

As ComNavOps has perused the reports about various weapon systems, one common aspect has stood out and that is the Navy’s heavy betting (all in?) on networks, data links, sophisticated communications over long ranges, common tactical pictures, mid-course guidance, and, in general, all forms of electronic networking.  In short, the Navy’s vision of warfare is a completely networked battle force where every asset is a node and all nodes know everything that any node knows.  The corollary to this is that any weapon or system can control any other weapon or system.  This leads to seemingly idiotic statements of conceptual capability such as submarines guiding AAW missiles launched from some other platform.

What are examples of the Navy’s obsession with network warfare?  Well, you’ll recall the recent post discussing electromagnetic maneuver warfare in which the Navy would develop a fleet wide electromagnetic battle management network?  Or, how about the LCS which was supposed to have utilized a rapidly deployable sensor net?  Or, how about the oft-repeated descriptions of the LCS as nodes in a battle management network?  Or, the entire Co-operative Engagement Capability (CEC)?  Or, the brilliant NLOS munitions that were supposed to have dynamically networked themselves to allocate targeting in real time?  I won’t bother citing any more examples as the media is full of stories of various Navy weapons and systems being described as networks or components of networks.

The implied requirement in this approach is that the Navy must have totally uncontested command of the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

This brings the discussion to the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM).  LRASM is currently in development under a DARPA research contract.  The contract concludes in 2016 at which time the Navy is expected to provide funding for production.  The LRASM is expected to be ready for use by B-1 bombers in 2018 and F/A-18E/F's in 2019.  A VLS-compatible ship launched version is also under development.  Developmental and initial production contracts have been, and are expected to continue to be, sole-sourced to Lockheed Martin (LM).

As a reminder, the basis for the LRASM is the JASSM-ER which is currently in production and approved for use by the Air Force's B-1 bomber.  The missile will use multiple RF and EO sensors for target location, missile navigation, and terminal guidance.  The business end of the missile is a "1000 lb penetrating blast/fragmentation warhead".  Missile range is stated as 500 nm.

As a point of reference, Military and Aerospace Electronics website has an excellent article summarizing the history and status of the LRASM (1).  Beware, though, and note that the article is full of glowing statements of success, all from a LM VP.  Here’s a quick example,

"... JASSM offers what some people have called 'eye-watering' stealth capabilities ..."

Anyway, back to the point of this post …  One aspect of the LRASM program stands out as related to subject of this post and that is the completely different approach that this weapon takes toward networks and communications.  Consider the following snippets describing the features of the LRASM.

"... mission effective in satellite-enabled, satellite-constrained, and satellite-denied environments ..."

"... network enabled, but not network dependant ..."

"... navigation and control with GPS denial ..."

The common theme is that they all recognize that communications, whether for networking, data links, or guidance may well be disrupted and that the missile needs to be able to operate in an electromagnetically contested environment.  This is exactly the opposite of most current and envisioned Navy programs.  It’s also the realistic view of war against a peer.  The Navy has Growlers and shipboard ECM capability designed to disrupt enemy communications, guidance, and networking.  Do we really think the enemy won’t apply similar measures against us?  An enemy will shoot down GPS satellites, disrupt GPS signals, disrupt communications, jam frequencies, initiate cyber attacks, and so on, just as we will.  To design weapons and systems that are dependent on electromagnetic dominance is folly.  Fortunately, in this case, someone has recognized reality and is designing a weapon that can deal with electromagnetic disruption. 

LRASM - Network Independent

Of course, the result of loss of communications is that the weapon or system must function autonomously.  For an unmanned system, be it missile or UAV, that’s quite a software challenge.  The risk in LRASM development is that the entire program may be delayed for inordinate amounts of time trying to prefect the required degree of autonomy.  It might be advisable to field fully functional increments of the missile that contain more sophisticated autonomy over time rather than try to achieve the final product all at once.  For example, a fully functional anti-ship missile with 500 nm range would be a welcome addition to the fleet right now, even without autonomous capability.  I don’t know the status of the programming effort or the developmental plans for autonomy so I can’t comment about whether it’s being developed wisely or not.  We’ll have to keep an eye on this aspect of the LRASM.

Networking is one of those ideas that is appealing on paper but generally results in an overly complicated and, as a result, unworkable system in real life. 

Complexity = Unreliability

It’s as simple as that.  Whether it’s an Aegis system that is degraded fleetwide because it’s too complex to maintain, a Ship Self Defense System that is unworkable after years of development, or an LCS whose every module has failed due to overly complex and unachievable technology, complexity leads to failure.

Now, am I saying that the Navy should abandon the LRASM because it’s complex?  No.  There’s nothing wrong with pursuing complexity as a research effort – just don’t do it as the cornerstone of a badly needed production program.  As I stated earlier, field the LRASM as an incremental program that delivers usable products along the way (unlike the F-35).

So, why is the Navy taking a realistic approach to the LRASM in the sense of not basing it on unrealistic, fantasy networks while pursuing exactly those types of networks for so many other programs?  I don’t know.  That’s the contradiction demonstrated by this program.

(1) Military and Aerospace Electronics, "Back into the blue: LRASM honed for extended reach, precision punch", 2-Oct-2014,

Friday, October 17, 2014

F-35B/C Cost

Continuing our cost data series, here are the costs for USN F-35 procurement.  The numbers include both the “B” and “C” versions without breaking them out.

Shown below is the quantity purchased and the unit price as reported by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (1)

FY 2011  qty=10  $269M each
FY 2012  qty=13  $282M each
FY 2013  qty=10  $258M each

As before, no point – just data.

(1) “FY 2013 Program Acquisition Costs By Weapon System”, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller)/Chief Financial Officer, Feb 2012

Thursday, October 16, 2014

F-35A Cost

Here are some interesting acquisition costs for the Air Force’s F-35A, as taken from the Department of Defense, Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 President’s Budget Submission, Feb 2012, Air Force, Justification Book Volume 1, Aircraft Procurement, Air Force.  The costs are reported in the document as “Total Flyaway Cost”.

Prior Years (25 aircraft)        $215M each

2011  (25 aircraft)                 $159M each

2012  (18 aircraft)                 $171M each

2013  (19 aircraft)                 $160M each

I don’t know what time period the Prior Years covers.

Engines are included in the cost.

No point to the post – just data.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

F-35 Engine Cost

It’s always difficult to determine costs for various weapons and systems.  Here’s an example that appears to be relatively straightforward.  From a Defense News website article we see the costs for the next batch of F-35 engines (1).

“The cost of the modifications are included in the contract for LRIP 7, which was also awarded Tuesday. That award was for $592 million. When added to a previously awarded sustainment contract from last December, the total cost for LRIP 7 comes in at $943 million in funding for Pratt.

The lot covers 36 engines, as well as associated management and support.”

As I read this, the engine production cost is $592 for 36 engines which is $16.5M per copy.  The engine acquisition cost, including “management and support”, whatever that is, is $943M which is $26.2M per copy. 

Since you can’t, apparently, buy engines without “management and support”, the actual cost of an F-35 engine is $26.2M per copy.

No point to this post – just data.

(1) Defense News, “Pentagon, Pratt Cut Deal for F-35 Engines, Modifications”, Aaron Mehta, Oct. 15, 2014, 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Air Wings - 2014 Update

Here’s the latest carrier air wing update.  Data is from the Sep 2014 issue of Proceedings and is current as of May 2014.

Here are the current air wings with data showing the number of combat aircraft (Hornets) followed by the number of supporting aircraft and helos (Hawkeyes –typically 4, Growlers – typically 5, and MH-60x – highly variable numbers) and, finally, the total air wing count.

CVW-1  (Roosevelt)             44, 15, 59
CVW-2  (Reagan)                 34, 24, 60
CVW-3  (Truman)                  44, 28, 72
CVW-5  (Washington)          46, 25, 71
CVW-7  (Eisenhower)          44, 18, 62
CVW-8  (Bush)                      44, 28, 72
CVW-9  (Stennis)                  44, 29, 73
CVW-11  (Nimitz)                  44, ?, ?      (data incomplete)
CVW-17  (Vinson)                44, 27, 71

After a one year reprieve, CVW-14 has been slated for deactivation leaving the Navy with just 9 air wings.  When the Ford joins the fleet, the Navy will have 11 carriers and 9 air wings.  Allowing for one carrier always in long term maintenance/refueling, that still leaves one carrier without an air wing. 

CVW-2 is listed as having only 34 Hornets.  I don’t know if this is a case of a squadron being inadvertently left out of the listing or if its real.

Air wings also include a COD detachment during deployment but the aircraft are not considered part of the air wing.

Note the large variation in helos.  The reason for this is unknown but several of the wings have an extra squadron of helos.  If not for the extra squadron, the wings would total right around 60 as with CVW-1 and -7.

Note that the combat aircraft count includes the 4-6 Hornets that are always in use as tankers and, therefore, unavailable for combat, thereby reducing the combat aircraft count to around 38-40.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare????

Breaking Defense has an article describing a new Navy plan to dominate the electromagnetic spectrum, an area the Navy admits has been neglected and is badly lagging (1).  That sounds fine.  The problem is that the plan sounds suspiciously like the initial description of the LCS or JSF:  enormous in scope, breathtaking in capability, and dependent on magical, non-existent technology.  Of course, we know what happened to those programs when reality stepped in. 

The Navy has castigated critics of those programs for Monday morning quarterbacking (for those of you who may not be familiar with the expression, it means criticizing in hindsight) despite the fact that those program’s problems were all thoroughly discussed before the programs even started.  Well, here’s yet another program that has obvious problems before the program has even started.  No need to wait for hindsight.

Consider the following gems taken from the article and see if they don’t sound very much like the hype surrounding the LCS and JSF when those programs were beginning.

"The Navy is crafting a battle plan to retake control of the electromagnetic spectrum, which the Pentagon’s chief of research says we’ve lost."

"What’s really needed is a whole new concept of electronic warfare ..."

Sure, sure.  No sense building on existing concepts in a rational, measured approach that could actually achieve something useful for a reasonable amount of money.

"... the Growler becomes the cornerstone of a network encompassing the entire force ..."

“Network encompassing the entire force”?  Remember the LCS rapidly deployable sensor nets – that never happened?  Remember the LCS being a node in a battle force network – although it turned out that the LCS couldn’t actually survive in a hostile area?

"Coordinated by a yet-to-be-developed “electromagnetic battle management” system, all of these individual platforms will collect data on enemy signals to inform the network while dialing up and down their own emissions to deceive or jam the adversary. The Navy calls this “electromagnetic maneuver warfare.”"

“Battle management system”?  We can’t currently handle electromagnetic management of individual platforms but we’re going to develop an all-encompassing, master battle management system?

“Electromagnetic maneuver warfare”???  I think I just wet myself from excitement!

"... need to do it in deliberately unpredictable ways. “I may not transmit in the same frequency, the same power level; I may not use the same modulation,” Gamberg said.  “I may jump out of the RF [radio frequency] spectrum and go into EO [electro-optical, e.g. visible light].”

Jumping in and out of spectrums and transmitting data using visible light (I assume they aren’t talking about blinker lights!)?  Sounds like the same kind of non-existent technology we saw in the LCS module PowerPoint presentations.

"... we are interweaving electronic warfare into every platform."


"... the EA-18G will be essential to break the electronic links of the “kill chain” connecting enemy sensors to commanders and weapons."

Buzzword bingo!

"We need machines talking to each other [with] picosecond level timing ..."

Picosecond timing?  Outstanding!  I can’t see that kind of timing being susceptible to enemy disruption (that’s sarcasm, by the way).

The article did contain one piece of genuinely interesting information.  I’ve been wondering why the Navy is looking at acquiring more Growlers and here’s the answer.

"The new concept of operations relies heavily on passive detection."

"... Growlers will probably fly in trios, with one plane mostly in passive mode."

People have speculated that the Navy was looking at acquiring Growlers to keep Hornet production lines open as a hedge against more F-35 delays and that always struck me as unlikely.  At least now we know what the additional Growlers would be for.  Whether the concept makes tactical sense, I have no idea.  I’m also unaware that the Growler has any special passive sensing capability that would enable and justify this approach.  We’ll have to wait and see.

Growler - Maneuver Warfare

Back to the point, ComNavOps is all for improving our operations in the electromagnetic spectrum but not as another magical, all-encompassing, do everything, fantasy program that will cost billions of dollars and take decades of development.  Haven’t we learned our lesson?  We need to take the program and break the effort into manageable chunks that actually produce usable products in a sequenced fashion.

I know it’s not your habit but, c’mon Navy, learn a lesson!  No one will think less of you for exhibiting a small amount of intelligence.

(1) Breaking Defense, “Navy Forges New EW Strategy: Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. and Colin Clark, 10-Oct-2014

Friday, October 10, 2014

Surface Combat and Air Support

Here’s a statement I came across that will have most of us shaking our heads in disbelief.

“The Navy will not be able to fight its way into denied environments and maintain open sea lines of communication without the Surface Force being able to take the fight to the enemy in environments where air assets are not available or are unable to effectively or persistently operate.” (1)

Think about that statement.  It’s saying that the Navy cannot do its job unless it can fight without the protection of air assets.  This runs counter to the entire basis of Navy operational and doctrinal thinking.  The assumption of air support and, indeed, air supremacy, is central to naval doctrine, tactics, planning, and procurement.  The Navy takes, as a given, uncontested control of the air and unlimited aviation support for its surface forces.  Yet, now, someone dares to come along and suggest otherwise?  What treasonous and militarily ignorant person said this and why?  Let’s form a lynch mob and put this idiot to death.  I’ve got pitchforks and torches for everyone.  C’mon!

We’ll blow this idiot out of the water with logic.  Let’s start by examining the relevant historical background.

Our carrier force is unsurpassed.  Yes, we’ve seen the number of carriers steadily decline from the 20’s to the current 10 (9 active) and there is no reason to believe that number will ever increase.  Sure, we’ve seen the size of carrier air wings drop from around 90 aircraft to the current 60’s.  Of course, even that is misleading in that several Hornets in each wing cannot be used as combat aircraft since they are needed to fill the tanker role.  True, the Navy has stated that when the F-35 enters service, squadrons will be reduced by a further 2-4 aircraft each.  Granted, the Air Force is undergoing similar reductions.  Admittedly, our basing options in the Pacific are limited and far from any relevant operational area and even our basing options in the MidEast are suspect.  Depending on the parameters of the conflict we may or may not be granted permission to use those bases in a combat role.  Combine that with potential overflight restrictions and MidEast basing is problematic, at best.

Ah, …  Maybe we better set those pitchforks and torches down for a moment.  We may have to dig a bit deeper than I thought to discredit this idiot.

OK, so we may not have as many air assets and aviation basing support as we once did but at least what we have will be uncontested and unbeatable, right?  I mean, it’s not like our enemies are developing their own stealth aircraft.  Well, I guess China and Russia are and they’ll undoubtedly be exporting their aircraft aggressively.  Still, their existing aircraft are, well …  actually they’re pretty good – at least on par with ours or maybe better in some cases.

Alright, so we may have a problem with the whole aviation presence and supremacy thing but, heck, our enemies will have the same basing issues we do.  I mean it’s not like China will have hundreds of airbases in range of the likely areas of conflict and …  we, ah …  we …  Oh, crap.  China, Iran, and N. Korea do have hundreds of bases within range of the likely areas of conflict!  They’ll be able to generate much higher sortie rates than us with much greater numbers of aircraft to call on.  Of course, the RAND report demonstrated that numbers alone don’t matter so, ah …  wait a minute, my bad.  I got that backwards.  The RAND report actually demonstrated that numbers do matter, even more than quality. 

I guess now that I think about it, trying to operate in, say, the Chinese A2/AD zone will severely limit our air support given our decreasing numbers of carriers, shrinking air wings, dwindling Air Force, limited bases, huge distances that must be traveled to reach the areas of interest, increasing enemy numbers, prevalent enemy surface to air missiles, and extensive enemy airborne and land based radar surveillance.

Clearly, the Navy will be fighting with less and less air support as time goes on.  Could this idiot’s statement be right?  I hate to say it but it would seem so. 

Who is this guy?  Let me check the source reference …  Ah, it’s VAdm. Thomas Copeman.  Well, that explains it.  You’ll recall that ComNavOps has praised Copeman several times in the past as one of the few (only?) clear thinkers in the ranks of Navy leadership.  It seems VAdm. Copeman has done it again.  He has identified the trends and pointed out the logical conclusion:  if the Navy wants to operate in enemy zones, it must be prepared to operate without the assurance of aerial supremacy or even support.  I guess instead of lynching him we should be gathering to praise him. 

So, if he’s right, what does this mean for naval ship design and construction?  It means that we need to be designing and building ships for independent operations (independent from carrier or Air Force aviation support).  Such a ship will need certain characteristics that differ from today’s designs.  For instance,

Stealth – This becomes mandatory.  If we don’t control the skies then we’d better be as hard to find and hard to lock on to as possible.  We covered this in a previous post.

Armor – If we don’t control the skies we will take hits.  Armor is mandatory to mitigate damage and allow us to continue to fight.  Cheap kills cannot be accepted.  We covered this in a previous post.

Soft Kill – As we’ve previously documented and discussed, the Navy needs to place much greater emphasis on soft kill AAW measures.  We need a soft kill CEC as we just recently posted.

Close-In – We need many more close-in weapon systems per ship than we currently have.  Without control of the skies, the enemy can just continue to hammer our defenses and missiles and aircraft will get through at much greater rates than we imagine.

UAV – With limited aviation support, our ships will have to generate their own surveillance and targeting.  Extensive use of UAVs will be required to “replace” the Hawkeye/AWACS function.  A couple of UAVs per ship won’t cut it.  We need the ability to hangar and operate dozens at a time and continue doing so in the face of significant attrition.  Remember, we need local situational awareness, not oceanic awareness.  We need small UAVs as opposed to BAMS size.  The UAVs must be reasonably stealthy, as well.

AAW – If you want to operate inside someone’s A2/AD zone and don’t have air superiority, you’ll have to fight to stay there.  A robust AAW capability is mandatory.  In addition to Aegis/AMDR type systems, we’ll need more VLS cells for sustained engagements, more illuminators for redundancy, better separation of illuminators for survivability, a robust backup radar system that is physically separated and isolated from the primary to the maximum extent possible, effective EO backup systems, much greater close-in defenses, and greatly enhanced soft kill systems.

It’s clear from the preceding characteristics that such a ship will be quite large and quite expensive. 

Contemplation of the above leads to two supporting conclusions. 

If we’re going to operate without aerial support we ought to be giving serious thought to increasing our submarine forces.  A submarine bypasses many of the problems associated with the lack of aerial support. 

We need to re-evaluate our current trend of declining carriers and shrinking airwings.  In addition, we need to re-evaluate the type of aircraft we’re procuring.  In an A2/AD scenario, the carrier is going to be acting as the escort for the strike units (Tomahawk) rather than being the strike unit as has historically been the case.  Thus, there is a need for a much longer range air superiority fighter. 

The carrier has been both the Navy’s crutch and addiction for too long.  While incredibly powerful and useful, the carrier has limited Navy operational and doctrinal thinking.  We need to give serious thought to future operations in the absence of significant air support.  Simply saying we won’t operate without air support may be constraining ourselves to the point of defeat.

For those of you who think that ten carrier task forces are more than sufficient to deal with any enemy, even China, you might want to remember that Cold War carrier doctrine called for carriers to operate in pairs and that was when the airwings were much larger than now.  Single carriers were not considered survivable and effective.  Thus, we actually can only muster a maximum of five carrier task forces.  Indeed, the reality of combat may dictate that carriers with reduced airwings need to operate in groups of three or more against modern militaries.  Throw in the inevitable combat losses and we may find ourselves hard-pressed to assemble two or three carrier groups after only a brief period of combat.

The point is that unless we’re simply going to refuse to act without carriers we may find ourselves forced to fight without air support at some point.  Adm. Copeman clearly believes that to be the case.  If he’s correct, we need to develop doctrine and ship designs to support that doctrine.

(1), “Vision for the 2026 Surface Fleet, VAdm. Thomas Copeman III, Commander, Naval Surface Forces, Jan 2014, p.5