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!


  1. Didn't the mk110 get put on the CG cutters, the Visby, etc before the LCS?

    1. It's on the 8(?) ship class of National Security Cutter, I believe. Visby has a 57mm gun that is visually different from the Mk110 but that may be just the housing. I don't know whether it's the same gun or not.

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    3. Yes, the NSC has it

    4. Spudman, your point about the Mk110 on CG vessels is a good one. I wonder what testing, if any, the CG put the Mk110 through before selecting it? I don't follow CG matters that closely so I have no idea. I'm guessing they simply piggy-backed with the Navy and gave it nor more than a cursory look. Just speculation.

    5. The Mk110 is also mounted on the Canadian Halifax-class and the Finnish Hamina-class missile boats. I wonder how it is working for those nations. I'm surprised by the reliability issues, the Bofors guns are a very mature platform, is it an inherent problem with the gun, or is it a problem with the package that we bought (like trying to save money but not adding powered stoppage clearing). Not having radar fire control (at the bare minimum an on-mount package) in the 21st century is appalling, you might as well have a manned turret with Mk1 Eyeballs running the show. If I were to make a guess (I haven't researched it at all, idle speculation) they were trying to use air-burst function as a replacement for accurate direct fire.

  2. CNO ... Great point, I oft times wonder, "why is the manufacturer not held accountable?"

    If I buy something at the store and it does not perform as advertised, I bring it back and get my money back; should be that simple?

    We all know it is not, there generally is a lot of finger pointing that goes on and the OEM will say the Navy either did not properly define the requirement/performance or that it was changed 100x's.

    To try to put some accountability in this, contract vehicles like cost plus incentive fee and such are put in place, but holding back fee generally requires tremendous amount of documentation and normally leads to some sort of litigation as well.

    What about Contractor Performance Assessment Reports System (CPARS)? A great tool is used correctly, but poor ratings are generally a contentious issue that again lead to a lot of finger pointing and litigation.

    So tools do exist to help, but my experience is that these tools are either not put in place, are not used correctly, or the Govt decision makers that have the ability to call it like they see it, do not have the fortitude to do so.

    Last tool on the table, Performance Based Logistics. Rather than contracting for the acquisition of goods and services, the product support manager identifies product support integrator(s) (PSI) to deliver performance outcomes as defined by performance metric(s) for a system or product. I like this tool for very specific cases, but not for an entire weapons systems, i.e./ JSF. When it gets too big, the metrics get diluted and hard to follow.

    Suggestion. Keep it simple, write very clear deliverables within the contracting stage, fill out CPARS honestly and if you are a Govt Decision maker, have the fortitude to call your baby ugly. Too many times poor performance is spun in a way that disguises the lack of KTR performance. If the system is not delivering, do not take that as failure. Take that as an indicator that the program needs attention/revision/evaluation. No shame in canceling something that is not delivering, shame is delivering the system to the Fleet and not giving the Fleet what the asked for and deserve.


    1. AJF, good comment. You're right, there are many possible tools including various acceptance trials, in addition to the ones you cited.

      It all comes down to the contract and the willingness to adhere to it even if it delays the product. The contract must contain very specific and very clear requirements: this gun must operate at this rate of fire for this period of time with this level of misfires and achieve this degree of accuracy as measured by this test, etc. If it doesn't do it, you don't accept the ship (or gun, specifically). The flip side of that is that the Navy has to hold to its end of the contract and not continually change requirements during the course of construction as they now routinely do.

      Acceptance trials are the downfall for the Navy. The trials are, as best I can determine, generally finding the flaws. The problem is that the Navy is ignoring the results and accepting the ships anyway. Well, there's no tool in the world that compensate for the willingness to accept sub-par products that don't meet the specs.

      Your comment is addressing mainly the back end of the process: the acceptance of the contracted product. The post was addressing the front end: the selection of the product. We need to better evaluate the manf's claims before selecting a product. Had anyone examined even the publicly available video of testing of the Mk110 prior to selection they would have stopped in their tracks and said, "Hey, that didn't prove a thing to me about the lethality of the Mk110 towards small boats!" That was my exact reaction upon viewing the test video. We need to critically evaluate manf's test data (you know their tests will be simplistic and heavily skewed towards "success") and insist on more realistic testing. That doesn't have to be all on the manf. The Navy can opt to pay for more extensive testing if it wishes. The point is that the time to test is before selection, not after.

      Great last paragraph!

  3. CNO ... Thanks, always happy to be a positive contributor.

    To your point, front end; tough one. In a perfect world, we would get to "test drive" at least a prototype before going on contract, that rarely happens because we always seem to want something exotic and new (and we want it now); never before seen! Asking or requiring the KTR to actually produce a prototype is virtually non existence these days, and with margins so low, they generally do not want to take the risk.

    So, if we are buying an existing, or close to existing, product, we should be doing our homework and either running it through some sort of preliminary trial. Or if it is revolutionary/evolutionary, can we at least build in small quantities and then adequately test before going to a production? Anyone following the GAO reports on LCS, loosely paraphrased, "Slow down guys and test what you have before you outfit the rest of the Fleet".

    Where we are trying to get to is a point where we understand the mission and the required capabilities, then match the CONOPS to what the technical baseline has or has to provide. If we can do that, we can get a better handle on what can be bought today, and what needs to be developed. Better decisions on technology maturation and how much risk we, and the provider can or will take.

    Totally agree with you re the front end problem; we do not put enough or the right amount of thought into our acquisition decisions. For example, rough order of magnitude cost to conduct an analysis of alternatives should be, 1% of the development program. So a $100M program should have $1M devoted to the analysis; good luck, not even close. We also rush these things through and most recommendations get left on the shelf to collect dust.

    Summary, let's put the time in up front to make smarter decisions. It takes time, but if done correctly, leads to a more informed decision and ultimately, a better product for our war fighter.


  4. Ok, mechanical gun problems I can understand, but how is a 30mm superior to a 57mm Bofors round? Why not program your fancy 3P ammo for point detonate instead of airburst? Or just run plain old fashioned dumb HE ammo.

    1. Mat, an excellent question. Accepting the drop from 57mm to 30mm probably says a lot about the inadequacies of the Mk110. I've not read any details about the decision. I'll continue to keep my ears open to try to answer your question.

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    3. The main (only?) function of the LCS gun was as an anti-small boat weapon so, yes, the Zumwalt findings are directly transferable to the LCS. As far as the NSC, I have no idea what purpose the CG had in mind.

      I agree with you that I'd like to know the actual Zumwalt evaluation methodology and how/why it differed from the LCS evaluation.

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    5. The LCS gun was planned to provide Air Defense, in the forward sector, at least in systems diagrams I saw for LCS-1 after she was launched. The LCS-2 was not integrated into the combat system when she was given to the Navy, I am not sure if that has been fixed yet.

      I think the gun has been quietly downgraded to a Anti-Ship role which means the only AD is the RAM system with only 21 and 11 (based on ship Class variant) shots without reload.

    6. If you're simply describing the general uses of guns on warships, that's fine. If you're suggesting that the LCS gun was intended to perform all those functions I would have to disagree. The LCS gun was never intended for any role other than destroying small boats.

      The lack of radar fire control for the Mk110 on the LCS has been one of those head scratcher decisions from day one.

      You raise a great question about the 76mm which again leads back to wondering what evaluation methodology the LCS program used to select the gun.

    7. Anon, there may have been Powerpoint presentations purporting to show the Mk110 in an AAW role but the lack of radar fire control and combat system integration meant that was never a realistic option!

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    9. Oh good grief. We're not going to debate this are we? LCS was intended for three roles: ASuW, ASW, and MCM. You've acknowledged that the gun was never a realistic option for AAW. It's certainly not useful in ASW or MCM. It's totally ineffective in naval gun support. That only leaves ASuW and the explicit design purpose of the ASuW role was anti-small boat.

      Whether the gun is labelled part of the core seaframe or not is totally irrelevant. It was intended as an ASuW anti-small boat weapon and nothing more.

      This is not even a debatable point!

    10. Believe me I am not defending ANYTHING about this Little Crappy Ship.

      I am just telling you about the CONOPS presentation that was given at SWOS on the LCS systems.

      Don't shoot the messenger, shoot the Navy big wigs that allow this to go on time and again.

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    12. Anon, oh I absolutely believe that Mk110 AAW was probably listed on some Powerpoint presentation. I've seen the early presentations and they claimed every capability imaginable and some that weren't. I'm simply emphasizing to all that the Mk110 has never offered a remotely realistic AAW capability. I suspect we're in agreement.

    13. B.Smitty, you're on some high speed train headed down a rabbit hole and I'm going to hop off. I'm not even sure what you're arguing for or against, at this point. You and I both know the LCS was designed to perform three missions. Anything else is after-the-fact rationalization of trivial tasks intended to justify a badly flawed platform. If you want to continue to argue the merits of the LCS (if that's even what you're arguing?), you're on your own.

      Moving on!

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    15. There has been much speculation on other forums that replacing the 57mm gun with a 30mm gun on the DDG-1000 is driven by top weight issues that adversely affect the Zumwalt's seakeeping abilities, which are a dicey proposition to begin with because of the Zumwalt's tumblehome hullform.

      But on another forum, a naval systems analyst with industry connections says that the decision to replace the 57mm guns with 30mm guns was taken two years ago in 2012, and was based strictly upon an evaluation that the manufacturer's claims for the effectiveness of the 57mm round were greatly overstated and that the Mark 3 version of the gun has other performance and reliability issues.

      As for continuing with the use of the 57mm gun aboard the LCS-2, it has been rumored that there is almost no communication going on between the DDG-1000 and the LCS-2 design teams.

      In any case, if you want a naval gun for new-build construction for handling the kinds of future missions the LCS is now being tasked with, the absolute minimum you need is a 5-inch system capable of handling advanced ammunition types such as the Vulcano.

      And, as we are all too painfully aware, neither LCS can handle a 5-inch gun system.

    16. That Scott fellow... sharp as a whip!


  5. This got me thinking about how our procurement has broken down. From the books I've read on Rickover, had he been in charge of the LCS or the F-35 we may not bein in the situation we are in now. (Well, maybe the LCS, He might have gotten it to be built better but I think the concept is flawed with that ship).

    He was able to 'leap ahead' with the nuclear reactor in a submarine hull. A titanic achievement that stretched technology.

    Prior to that, during WWII, We had new designs hit the fleet and become very effective in just a couple years: Wildcat to Hellcat to Bearcat and Corsair. (Yes, I know they had problems, especially with the Corsair, but the fact of the matter was we started cranking out great, competitive designs quickly).

    Now... we all know where we are.

    Is it just that the designs are way to far out? Or could a Rickover type achieve some of these things (and be hell on the contractors when they screwed up).

    Or is it now not so much the designs but more the politics?

    1. Jim, this is a comment and the answer to your question warrants a book so I'll have to keep this short. There are many factors contributing to the breakdown in our procurement.

      Technologies today don't generally have Rickover-like proponents because the people involved come and go too quickly.

      It's not enough to have a Rickover-like proponent with a vision. It has to be the right vision. The LCS, even with a proponent was fundamentally flawed in principle, as you suggested.

      We're missing the evolutionary selection process of combat which clearly feeds back into the design process to tell us which paths are correct.

      We've reached a cost point where we can only afford to develop a single aircraft at a time for a given role (JSF being the current one). Consider WWII and the sheer number of aircraft all filling the same or overlapping roles. And that doesn't begin to count the many designs that were prototyped but not pursued. Now we have typically two choices and that's it for the next thirty years. How many JSF candidates were there? How many LCS candidates were there? Now, how many new aircraft were introduced in the four year period of WWII?

      We lack the mature, guiding force provided by the General Board.

      We lack the in-house expertise provided by BuShips.

      Our procurement process has become much more focused on legal adherance to procurement regulations than acquisition of good products.

      There's other factors, too, but these serve as a good starting point to answer your question.

  6. The same lack of lethality can be said of a 76mm or 5" weapon. None of the current crop of self-loading light weight guns are going to punch big holes and stuff a big, fat, explosive shell through it that will effectively sink a tanker or container ship. The 57mm is probably firing air bursting fragmentation rounds at the small boat and the tiny peppering of holes is the way it is supposed to deliver havoc on open boats with a bunch of bad guys on it. Between the Mk45, the Oto Melara 76 and 57mm Bofors, the 57mm has the best rate of fire and is probably the best small craft defense weapon.

    If the idea is to have an effective means of sinking hulks and big ships that are not necessarily resisting combatants, may I suggest a big dumb torpedo fired from the 324mm Mk32 tubes? I don't mean the aging Mk46, the very expensive Mk50 or the somewhat expensive Mk54.... I mean a new unguided ~600 lbs 324mm weapon which has a 500 lb warhead, a 2km range, 12 knots speed which can only run on the surface. The idea is that you'll pull up alongside the "navigational hazard" stay about 500m away and put a big fat hole or two along the waterline.

    1. We gave up having warships with the capability to sink other ships when we retired the last of the heavy cruisers with their 8" guns (Not to mention the Iowas). Yet another reason the 8"/55 Mk 71 should have been taken more seriously. Personally I'd like to see a modernized heavy cruiser brought back based on lessons learned from the Baltimores and Des Moines, but we all know that starting a program like that would probably make the graft and incompetence shown with the F35 and LCS programs seem minimal. Not to mention the jet & missile mafia would shut it down overnight because we don't have any practical use for armored warships with guns. It'll take a bunch of people dying in a major conflict before the winds of change blow.

    2. I meant "sink with gunfire"

    3. Well, my point is that modern navy guns are of a very small caliber and throw weight compared to the ships that carry them and, more importantly, the military and merchant ships that sail the oceans today. Trying to sink a cruise ship with the current crop of guns is like trying to sink a "small" 30 ft fishing trawler with a 5.56 mm rifle. Sure, you'll punch some holes and do lots of annoying damage to stuff on the boat, but to actually sink it is going to take practically forever. In the larger scheme of things, arguing over the relative effectiveness of a 5" mount vs a 3" or 57mm mount is purely academic. They ALL suck big time.

    4. Dwight is correct; the best way to destroy a ship is to sink it, and the best way to sink a ship is to punch holes *under the waterline*.

      Blindingly obvious, but forgotten in the modern age.

      The last great sea battles were in WWII and the coup de main was very often a torpedo, even if the hull had been pounded to scrap by guns and bombs.

      Prince of Wales
      Szent Istvan
      HMS Audacious
      HMS Formidable
      HMS Triumph
      HMS Majestic
      Barbaros Hayreddin - previously SMS Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm
      HMS King Edward VII
      HMS Russell
      Peresvet - later Sagami – later cruiser Peresvet
      HMS Cornwallis
      SMS Viribus Unitis
      SMS Szent István
      HMS Britannia
      Alfonso XIII
      HMS Royal Oak
      HMS Barham




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