Saturday, January 31, 2015

JSF Tidbit From The Past

Remember the good old days when the JSF was the low cost alternative to the expensive F-22?  Well, ComNavOps was reminiscing over a pile of old Proceedings magazines and had his attention drawn to this statement from a 1997 article (1).

"The Joint Strike Fighter, conceived from the ground up as a multirole stealth jet, is just down the road.  Most estimates peg it at half or less the per-copy cost of the F-22."

The reference citation associated with that statement puts the JSF cost at $67M which is $98M in FY14 dollars. 

I wonder if the article’s author would have written his piece differently if he had known that the JSF would cost twice what he cited? 

Just an amusing bit of historical perspective.

(1) US Naval Institute Proceedings, “Catch F-22”, Cmdr. Jeff Huber, USN, Sep 1997, p.38

Friday, January 30, 2015

Wither the Well Deck?

WWII saw the development of the attack transport (APA) with landing craft being carried, launched, and loaded over the side of the ship.   More recently, post-war development has seen the development of the well deck, a flooded space in the stern of the ship from which landing craft (the term being used generically to include any type of landing craft or connector) could load and launch. 

The well deck was, perhaps, mechanically simpler than the APA approach and allowed for easier loading but suffers from a significantly reduced number of landing craft.  The reduced number was supposedly compensated for by the individual landing craft being some combination of bigger and faster.  Setting aside the actual capacity and throughput, the weakness in this approach is that there is no allowance for attrition of the landing craft (see, "Amphibious Assault Attrition").  When a ship carries only two or three LCACs, for example, the loss of even one has a near catastrophic impact on the follow-on landings and, more importantly, sustainment phase.

So, given the above weakness, you’d guess that the trend is towards larger well decks that can carry and operate more landing craft, right?  Oddly, you’d be wrong.  Well decks are becoming fewer and smaller.

Here are the well deck dimensions for recent classes of amphibious ships.

From oldest to newest,

Tarawa LHA-1                       268’ x 78’
Wasp LHD-1                         267’ x 50’
America LHA-6                     none

Again, from oldest to newest,

Whidbey Island LSD-41        440’ x 50’
Harpers Ferry LSD-49          220’ x 50’
San Antonio LPD-17            170’ x 50’

What jumps out from a cursory examination is that the recent amphibious ships have fewer and smaller well decks.  Indeed, the first two members of the America class LHA have no well deck.  The LPD-17 has a significantly smaller well deck than its predecessors.  What’s particularly disturbing about the LPD-17 is that it is likely to be the basis for the next generation amphibious ship, the LX(R) which is intended as a replacement for the Whidbey Island and Harpers Ferry classes.  If that happens, that will be a LOT of lost well deck space.

There is only one way to get large quantities of supplies, tanks, and heavy equipment ashore and that is via ship/landing craft.  As the well decks disappear and get smaller, there are fewer and fewer LCACs available to the ARG/MEU.  How do the Marines/Navy think those supplies and heavy equipment will get ashore?  I’m baffled by their thinking.

There is, of course, one reasonable explanation that fits the facts.  The Marines are abandoning the amphibious assault mission in favor of vertical assault.  Consider recent evidence:

  • The new LHA was built with no well deck.
  • The LPD-17 has a significantly smaller well deck than its predecessors.
  • AGR/MEU LCAC numbers are shrinking.
  • The Marines are shedding tanks, artillery, and heavy equipment.
  • The Marines have committed fully to the MV-22.
  • The Marines have indefinitely deferred an AAV replacement.

The simplest explanation that fits the facts is invariably the correct one.

The simplest explanation is that the Marines are getting out of the amphibious assault business and becoming an expeditionary air force and aviation assault force.

What do we hear from the Marines?  Are they talking about becoming more powerful?  Are they talking about beefing up to be able to knock down the Chinese door?  No.  They are talking about becoming lighter and more mobile.  They are talking about being a crisis response force and humanitarian relief organization.

Back to the well deck, itself.  Is it needed?  If we’re going to do amphibious assaults then it, or something functionally equivalent, is needed.  It’s just not possible to conduct and sustain an assault using purely or mainly aviation assets.  We need the ability to transport heavy loads to the landing site and landing craft (in the generic sense) are the only viable option.  Now, we don’t necessarily have to use well decks.  We can use the old WWII APA and landing craft approach, modern LSTs, or something similar.  The point is, we need some means to place heavy loads on landing craft and a well deck is certainly a convenient means to do so. 

This discussion goes back to the need for a broad military strategy.  Do we, as a nation and a military, see the need to be able to conduct large amphibious assaults?  If so, we’re trending in the wrong direction when it comes to amphibious ship design.  If we don’t see a need, then we need to re-examine our entire amphibious force structure.

Well decks are a symptom and a bottleneck when it comes to amphibious assaults and the Navy/Marines need to come to grips with the broader issue and choose a logical path based on an overall strategy.  Failure to do so will see amphibious assault slowly wither away as it falls prey to the short term budgetary consequences of the latest “shiny toy” acquisitions approach currently in vogue. 

An AAV replacement gets indefinitely deferred ... 
LSTs are retired with no replacement …
Well decks shrink or vanish ... 
Tanks and heavy equipment are cut …
Doctrine moves assault ships further and further offshore ... 

Before you know it, no more amphibious assault capability. 

Well decks are the canary in the amphibious coal mine and right now the well deck canaries are dying.  Well decks are telling us what’s happening but is this what we want to happen?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

LCS MCM Update

One of the key components of the Navy’s MCM mission module for the LCS is the Remote Minehunting System (RMS).  It consists of an unmanned underwater vehicle, the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV), currently v4.2, that tows a minehunting sonar, the AQS-20.  This system has demonstrated severe reliability and performance problems.  As the most recent 2014 Annual Report from Director, Operational Testing and Evaluation summarizes it,

“… the combined results of shore-based and LCS-based testing conducted since the program was recertified following a Nunn-McCurdy in 2010 have not demonstrated that an LCS equipped with an MCM mission package that includes two RMMVs and three AN/AQS-20A sonars will be able to support the sustained area coverage rate that the Navy has established for the Increment 1 MCM mission package.”

The two specific concerns are reliability and performance.  The two must both be achieved to have a viable system.  It does no good to have a reliable system that can’t perform or, conversely, a system that performs but is unreliable.

Here is DOT&E’s assessment of the RMMV reliability.

“The reliability of the v4.2 RMMV during combined developmental and integrated testing completed in FY14 was 31.3 hours MTBOMF [ed., Mean Time Between Operational Mission Failure], which is well below the required reliability of 75 hours MTBOMF.”

Given the extended period of development that the RMMV has undergone, this level of reliability is extremely troubling.

While reliability is problematic, to say the least, DOT&E points out that what’s even worse is that the recovery of the RMS from failures is largely relegated to off-board maintenance.  The LCS crew has very limited on-board ability to recover from failures.  This is a consequence of the LCS operating model of limited on-board maintenance.

It’s not just the RMMV that has problems.  The AQS-20 sonar has consistently failed to meet performance specifications.

“Contact depth (vertical localization) errors and false classification density exceeded Navy limits in all AQS-20A operating modes.”

“The sensor also has trouble meeting the probability of detection and classification requirement in shallow waters and RMS has difficulty guiding the sensor over bottom contacts for identification in deep water.”

Communications are a problem, as well.

“RMS radios have had difficulty establishing reliable communications with the LCS during developmental testing, and once communications are established, the current communications systems do not support RMMV mine identification operations beyond the horizon. Although the RMMV can search autonomously while operating over the horizon from the LCS, it currently only can conduct operations to reacquire and identify bottom mines within the range of Ultra High Frequency communications. This limitation will complicate MCM operations in long shipping channels, and may make it necessary to clear a series of LCS operating areas to allow MCM operations to progress along the channel.  The cleared operating areas will be needed to keep the LCS and its crew out of mined waters. The additional effort required to clear these LCS operating areas would increase the demand for mine clearance and delay attainment of strategic objectives. This issue is not new to RMS; however, it did not become operationally significant until the Navy decertified the MH-60S helicopter for towing MCM devices, including the AN/AQS-20A/B sensor.”

Simply launching and recovering the RMMV is a challenge.

“The Independence class LCS has had difficulty launching and recovering the RMMV because of the vehicle’s erratic motion in the ship’s wake.”

Overall system reliability is poor.  DOT&E noted that in the most recent 3-week period of intensive testing, the system was only able to operate for 50 hours (16 hours per week).

The DOT&E report contains many, many more examples of specific failures and shortcomings in the RMS – too many to document in this limited space.  It’s clear that the Navy’s all-in bet on the LCS as the only MCM vessel in the fleet and the use of unproven (largely non-existent) technology has been an abysmal failure thus far.  Given that mines are, arguably, the biggest threat the Navy faces, this is extremely bad news.  Rather than pausing this problematic development effort long enough to beef up more conventional MCM capabilities throughout the fleet in order to buy time for continued development, the Navy has doubled down on their bet.  While a reduced capability version of the MCM module will, undoubtedly, eventually be fielded, it will surely prove woefully inadequate to the task when ultimately called on.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

China Sabotages US Navy

ComNavOps has highly placed sources within the Chinese military.  One such source has reported the existence of a Chinese plot to undermine the US Navy and has managed to relay a recording of a top level planning group discussing sabotage of the US fleet.  Here is the transcript of that meeting.


Esteemed Admiral:  Comrades, our decades long plan to infiltrate the American Navy leadership has finally succeeded.  We have placed an agent in a very high position of authority and are ready to begin the sabotage of the cursed US Navy dogs.  It is the job of this group to come up with ways to slowly break their navy from within.  We must come up ideas that will damage their navy but without being so obvious that it would give away the presence of our agent.  So, who has an idea?

Minions:  We could have them idle their Aegis cruiser fleet under the guise of modernizing them?

Adm.:  That’s excellent.  It’s very risky for our agent.  Any US commander would instantly see it as utter foolishness but it’s worth the risk.  Let’s do it.

Admiral’s Aide:  I shame myself to mention this, sir, but the US Navy has already announced plans to do exactly that.

Adm.:  You’re kidding?!  They’re retiring the most powerful warships in the world?  Well, that will save us some effort.  All right, what else can we do?

Minions:  We could have them change their doctrine to move their amphibious assault forces 50 miles off shore?

Adm.:  I like it!  Then they would have no way to get their troops ashore in fighting shape and their round trip times would be too long to sustain an assault.  Again, the risk to our agent is great because of the obvious stupidity of the idea but let’s do it!

Aide:  Many pardons and abject apologies, sir, but the US Navy and Marines have already done that.

Adm.:  Really?  How do think they can conduct an assault from that far away?  Oh well.  I need more ideas.

Minions:  The Americans are going to build a new ballistic missile submarine.  What if we have our agent reduce its effectiveness by cutting the number of missile tubes in each sub by one third, delete the ship’s torpedoes so it can’t defend itself, and we could have them build a couple less new subs instead of replacing them one-for-one!

Adm.:  Yes, although our agent would be at great risk suggesting something so obviously unwise.  Nevertheless, I approve it.

Aide:  Would that I could kill myself rather than speak, sir, but it is my duty to tell you that the Americans have already included all that in their SSBN design.

Adm.:  This is very difficult to believe.  I suppose we must come up with even more damaging and outlandish ideas.

Minions:  The Americans are building a new AMDR radar system.  We could have them build it too small to meet the requirements and have them place it on a ship that has insufficient power and utilities to run it and has no room for future growth?

Adm.:  That may be too far.  They would recognize the idea as the height of foolishness and see our agent for what he is.

Aide:  May I and all my descendents be cursed forever, sir, but the Americans are already planning to do exactly that.

Adm.:  That is not possible!  Not even the Americans would intentionally build their main radar of the future too small to meet its requirements.  Enough of this!  If the Americans are this foolish, we must come up with the most outlandish idea we can.  Give me an idea that is utterly idiotic.

Minions:  We could have them replace a third of their powerful combat fleet with the weakest ship they have?

Adm.:  Now that’s the kind of extreme idea I’m looking for.  There is no possibility that our agent could implement such an idiotic idea but the very thought might cause disruption.  Let it be done!

Aide:  When we are through here I will rocket myself into space, never to return to the shame of having to say this but I must report that the Americans have already started doing this using their LCS patrol boat.

Adm.:  Well, it appears we’re wasting our time.  Tell our agent that he may as well come home.  The US Navy is doing a better job of sabotaging themselves then we could!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

LCS Update

ComNavOps was going to do a summary of the LCS status based on the DOT&E report but what’s the point?  Seriously, you all know the problems.  Sure, there’s some new ones like cracking of support beams after exposure to heavy weather but at this point, what’s a few more problems?

Given that the ship has been in development and under construction for nearly a decade, now, the status of the ship, itself, is horrible.  Worse, is the status of the mission modules.

The ASuW module is impotent with 30 mm guns that have on-going reliability problems and a 57 mm gun that is inoperable at speed (well, it operates – it just can’t hit anything due to excessive vibration).

The ASW module has been scaled back to existing technology (none of the promised revolutionary technology), has no ship-mounted ASW weapons, and because of the ship’s self-noise will be ineffective.

The MCM module simply doesn’t work.

If you really want to read all the gory details, check out the 2014 Annual Report from Director, Operational Testing & Evaluation.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ford Update

The 2014 Annual Report from Director, Operational Testing and Evaluation (DOT&E) has been released.  As a reminder, this is the gold standard for what works and what doesn’t as opposed to manufacturer and Navy claims.  This is the straight story when it comes to weapon and system performance.  We’ll be taking a look at several systems in the near future.  Today, we’ll start with the new aircraft carrier, the Ford.

According to the report, the Navy has reneged on its plan to conduct shock testing.  Shock testing (Full Ship Shock Trial – FSST) was to have been performed on CVN-78, however, the Navy has postponed that testing until CVN-79, at the earliest.  As the report states it,

"The original Alternative Live Fire Strategy prepared by the Navy and approved by DOT&E on December 9, 2008, stated the FSST would be conducted on CVN-78. The Navy unilaterally reneged on the approved strategy on June 18, 2012."

You’ll recall that the Navy has opted not to perform shock testing on the LCS, at all.  This is a standard test that has been performed on every ship.  The suspicious among us might suggest that the Navy is trying to avoid shock testing because the construction and acquisition standards have slipped to the point where shock testing would be embarrassing and Navy ships are no longer capable of passing the tests.

The report discusses the new EMALS catapult and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) systems,

"Reliability for the catapult and arresting gear systems have not been reported on in over a year. Before the Navy stopped tracking/reporting on catapult and arresting gear performance, both systems were performing well below their projected target to achieve required reliability."

Now what do we make of that?  The Navy has stopped reporting reliability data??  I guess that’s one way to avoid looking bad.  This kind of action combined with the refusal to perform shock tests sure suggests an attempt to cover up bad news rather than report it and correct it.

Here’s some more EMALS news.

"The testing discovered excessive EMALS holdback release dynamics during F/A-18E/F and EA-18G catapult launches with wing-mounted 480-gallon EFTs. Aircraft dynamics are considered excessive if they exceed stress limits of the airframe, internal, or external stores. This discovery, if uncorrected, would preclude normal employment of the F/A-18E/F and EA-18G from CVN-78. There is no funding at this time to correct this deficiency."

No funding?!  It’s kind of a big deal to leave unfunded.

It’s not just advanced technology that is suffering.  The ship has been found to have insufficient berthing for the crew!

"The ship will not be delivered with sufficient empty berthing for the CVN-78’s Service Life Allowance (SLA)."

Come on, now!  Who messed up with a simple count of the crew and a corresponding count of the berths? 

One of the major selling points for the new carrier was that it would supposedly increase sortie rates significantly.  This was always a dubious claim and of highly questionable value given that carrier ops aren’t sortie rate limited and that shrinking air wings make sortie rates irrelevant.  The report had this to say,

"It is unlikely that CVN-78 will achieve its Sortie Generation Rate (SGR) (number of aircraft sorties per day) requirement.  The target threshold is based on unrealistic assumptions including fair weather and unlimited visibility, and that aircraft emergencies, failures of shipboard equipment, ship maneuvers, and manning shortfalls will not affect flight operations."

Reread that last sentence.  It’s clear that the sortie rate claim was never valid and was a fraudulent attempt to promote the program.  The Navy’s honesty and integrity are taking some serious hits over the last decade or two.

You’ll recall that we’ve repeatedly discussed the pitfalls of concurrent development and production.  Here’s an example regarding the ship’s Dual Band Radar (DBR).

"The Navy planned to begin testing in January 2013; however, the testing has slipped repeatedly, and to date, no live testing with the full production DBR has been completed."

So, we’re going to install a radar system that is untested. 

Here’s an interesting tidbit that is undoubtedly budget driven.  JPALS [the automated landing system] has been deferred until the F-35 or unmanned aircraft require it. 

"The Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) is no longer funded for CVN-78."

The Ford is a clear cut case study for how not to run a new construction program.  Of course, so was the LCS and the LPD-17 and he Navy failed to learn any lessons from those so I doubt they’ll learn anything from this one, either.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Major AirSea Battle Development Announced

Let me clearly state up front that this is not another of ComNavOps’ famous and much beloved humor pieces.  As I’ve said repeatedly, I can’t make up stuff as funny and ludicrous as what the Pentagon routinely comes up with in their “reality”.  That said, you’re going to love this one.

After years of debating what the AirSea Battle concept is and how it might be implemented, the Pentagon has finally made a major advance.  They’ve announced that they’re changing the name from,

AirSea Battle


Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC).

As I said, this is real and is being widely reported across the Internet.  Check it for yourself.

Seriously, this is what passes for military thought today – changing the name.  I wonder how many man-hours went into this major development?  Based on the increase in the number of letters in the title, this new version is just over four times better than the previous one.  I guess I have to grudgingly acknowledge that a 4x improvement is pretty significant by anyone’s standard.  I, therefore, salute the Pentagon and say, “Well done!”.

No word, yet, on Chinese reaction to this development but they are undoubtedly already at work developing a new wave of ships, aircraft, and tanks to counter this major advance by the Pentagon.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Carrier Shortage

There is a future carrier shortage looming that has, thus far, escaped notice.  Well, ComNavOps has noticed it and will now explain it.  First, it’s necessary to absorb a little background.  For starters, here are commissioning and decommissioning dates along with the number of service years for all the modern carriers that have served and been retired.

                                    Comm.           Decomm.       Years
Forrestal                       1955               1993                38
Saratoga                      1956               1994                38
Ranger                         1957               1993                36
Independence               1959               1998                39
Kitty Hawk                   1961               2009                48
Constellation                1961               2003                42
Enterprise                    1961               2012                51
America                       1965               1996                31
Kennedy                      1968               2007                39

                                                            Average =      40

So, we see that the average service life of a carrier is 40 years.

Next, we note that the Navy’s carrier force level goal is 11 carriers.  We’ll ignore that the Navy has made an effort to early retire one of the current carriers.  Thus, in order to sustain an 11 carrier force with an average service life of 40 years, we need to build a new carrier every 3.6 years.  Are we doing that?  Well, here’s the data for all the carriers from the Nimitz, on.  We see the commissioning date, the service life thus far, and, the important piece of data, the build frequency in years since the previous carrier’s commissioning.

                                    Comm.           Years              Frequency
Nimitz                           1975               40                      7
Eisenhower                   1977               38                      2
Vinson                          1982               33                      5
Roosevelt                      1986               29                      4
Lincoln                          1989               26                      3
Washington                   1992               23                      3
Stennis                         1995               20                      3
Truman                         1998               17                      3
Reagan                         2003               12                      5
Bush                             2009               6                        6
Ford                              2016*              0                        7
CVN-79                         2023*              0                        7
CVN-80                         2027*              0                        4

*anticipated delivery dates rather than commissioning dates – commissioning dates will be longer

What we see is that from the Nimitz through the Truman, the frequency was 3.75 years – just about the 3.6 years that is required.  However, and this is the big however, from the Reagan on, the frequency is 5.8 years which translates to a carrier force of 6.9 – well, call it 7 carriers. 

There it is.  A build frequency of 5.8 years can only sustain a carrier force of 7 carriers.

You’ll also note that the Ford class dates were delivery dates and that the commissioning dates, to keep the data comparable, will be longer than that by a year or two each.  Thus, the build frequency will be longer than calculated, here, and will probably produce a calculated carrier force level of 6.  But hey, there’s no need to quibble.  The point is valid regardless so we’ll use the higher number just to please the Navy.  ComNavOps bends over backward to be fair!

We see, then, that we’re retiring carriers faster than we’re building them.  There’s a carrier shortfall coming and a rather significant one.  I’ve been saying for some time that the carrier force is going to decrease to 9 (8 active) in the relatively near future and this simply demonstrates why it’s inevitable. 

I’ve also been saying that carriers are pricing themselves out of existence and this, again, is the proof.  The Fords are being stretched out because of cost - no other reason.  They’ve become so expensive that we’re attempting to deal with the yearly budget hit by stretching out the acquisition period.  Yes, that does lessen the yearly hit but it increases the total cost and, eventually, impacts the total force level.

Of course, there are a couple of things we can do to mitigate this problem.  One obvious solution is to take better care of our carriers and keep them around longer.  If we increased the service life to 50 years, we’d only need a new carrier every 4.5 years.

Another fairly obvious solution is to stop making each carrier bigger – hence, more expensive - than the one before it.  I’ve pointed this out before.  The Ford is significantly larger than the Nimitz despite the fact that the air wing will be half the size of the Nimitz’s original wing.  The air wings are getting smaller but the carriers are getting bigger.  Anyone see a disconnect there?  We’ve noted that a carrier the size of an old Midway could operate a modern air wing and yet we’re supersizing our carriers.  Until the air wings show signs of growing, why not build smaller carriers, proportionally sized, and save some money so that we don’t have to stretch out the acquisition period?  Pay attention – I’m not advocating “escort” or “light” carriers as replacements for full size ones.  I’m advocating making the full size no bigger than what’s needed and that’s a Midway size.  If the air wings ever grow (does anyone realistically believe that’s going to happen?) then we can grow the carriers, again.

Not only is the Navy trying to pass off the fantasy of a 300 ship fleet but they’re hiding the fact that there are shortfalls coming in submarines, destroyers, cruisers, and, now, carriers.  On the plus side, we’re firmly committed to 52 LCS’s!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

War and Isolation

ComNavOps has seen a spate of comments in the last few months, both on this blog and others, that have highlighted a major problem that both the military and commenters suffer from: we've forgotten what war is. In a war, people die and planes and ships get destroyed. We've been conducting police actions and limited actions against third rate opponents for so long that we've forgotten what real war is.  

A consequence of forgetting what real war is, is that along the way we've adopted a zero-loss mentality about war.  If the mere theoretical possibility of one of our planes being shot down is enough to push us to standoff roles only, then we're not very serious about the conflict.  If the mere theoretical possibility of a ship being hit by a missile is enough to push our amphibious assaults out to 50 nm or more than we aren’t very serious about the objective.  If the mere theoretical possibility of a carrier being hit by an anti-ship ballistic missile is enough to push us back beyond a 1000 nm A2/AD zone then we don’t have a compelling reason to enter the zone. 

War is about attrition and war is about the balance between risk and reward.  If the objective is worthwhile then it’s worth some losses.  Too many of our recent military interventions have not been worth the losses which tells us that the reward wasn’t very compelling and we should have seriously questioned our involvement.  In these kinds of scenarios, prevention of losses is often the main objective rather than any military goal.

Because we’ve forgotten what war is, too many people have taken to evaluating weapons and systems in isolation.  We’ve forgotten that weapons rarely (never) operate in isolation against an opposing weapon.  For example, the A-10 doesn’t fly alone against an isolated SAM system as if it were a target drone.  The A-10 operates with supporting ECM, supporting ground forces, AWACS and spotters, helos, anti-radar missiles, etc.  It also operates as part of a squadron whose other aircraft provide mutual support, spotting, and suppression.  The A-10 also doesn’t operate in a clearly unfavorable situation.  The A-10 is not tasked with penetrating the heart of an enemy’s capital city.  That’s someone else’s job.

An LST (if we had one) doesn’t attempt to land all by itself against the entire arrayed enemy force.  Of course, it wouldn’t survive that!  It lands as part of an overall effort that attempts to support and maximize the LST’s chance of survival and mission accomplishment.

And so on …

Unfortunately, as we argue for and against various weapons and systems we tend to pick and choose individual matchups which support our contention instead of making realistic assessments of how a weapon or system would actually be used in combat.  That’s tactics, people!  Arguing without an understanding of the tactics relevant to the weapon under discussion is just arguing for the sake of arguing.  We don't fight in isolation (one A-10 versus one AAW system) yet we persist in discussing these things in isolation to prove our points.

The fact that an A-10 might be shot down doesn't render it obsolete. If we're not willing to face the possibility of losses then we should be looking very closely at our rationale for being there (wherever and whatever there is). Jumping into zero-loss police actions at the drop of a hat may not be the wisest policy. But, I digress...

This post is not about the A-10 or any particular weapon system.  It’s about the reality of war and the flawed basis of isolated arguments.  It applies equally to any weapon or system.  By all means, let’s continue our discussions and continue weighing the pros and cons of systems and weapons but let’s do so with the totality of the item’s usage kept firmly in mind.  Yes, that makes the discussions more complex and may require more thought and research but that is, after all, the point of this blog – to raise the level of discourse.  Have at it!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

LCS PR Ramps Up!

I’ve pointed out that the Navy will engage in a PR blitz to cover the fact that the “improved” LCS is a very minor tweak, indeed.  We’ve seen some of the PR examples and they’re impressive in their unreality.  Well, here’s the latest.

As reported by Breaking Defense website (1), Navy Secretary Ray Mabus claims that the LCS will now be “worthy of the frigate designation” and added this bit of fantasy.

“ ’If you list the attributes of a frigate and then list the attributes of [an improved LCS], we’re actually more capable than a normal frigate is,’ Mabus told reporters after his remarks to the Surface Navy Association conference.”

I’m not even going to bother listing all the ways this vessel falls woefully short of being a “normal frigate”.  This statement has one of three possible interpretations:

  1. He believes his statement in which case he’s an idiot.
  2. He knows his statement is false in which case he’s a liar.
  3. He has no idea whether the statement is true and he’s just repeating what he’s being told in which case he’s simply incompetent.

There it is.  Mabus is either an idiot, a liar, or incompetent. 

Using his naval expertise and analytical mindset, Mabus goes on to identify the main problem with the LCS.

“They don’t look like traditional Navy ships sometimes, and I think that’s one of the issues that traditionalists have …”

Well, I feel foolish.  I thought I didn’t like the ship because it was underarmed, underarmored, structurally weak, too loud, short legged, and suffered from a host of other shortcomings.  Instead, I now realize that all of my negative feelings stemmed from the ship’s appearance.  You know, I think he’s right.  Now that I realize the true source of my negative feelings, I suddenly see that everything that I thought was bad about the ship is actually good.

The PR is really ramping up!

LCS:  “Don’t be about it, talk about it.”

(1) "What’s In A Name? Making The LCS ‘Frigate’ Reality", Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 16-Jan-2015,

Friday, January 16, 2015

Surface Action Groups

There is some seriously stupid strategic and doctrinal “thought” coming out of the military and the Navy these days.  I’m not talking about your garden variety dumb stuff that seems to emanate from any bureaucracy.  I’m talking about some seriously flawed thinking that someone actually put some time into coming up with.  Any group of idiots can toss out stupidity without even thinking about it but it gets appallingly impressive when the group puts some effort into it and still comes up with unadulterated stupidity!

Consider a few examples of what we’ve heard lately:

  • An offset strategy that would see us abandon traditional power for unmanned assets and asymmetric punishment philosophies
  • A fractionally improved LCS that will make up 1/3 of the combat fleet
  • Idling (retirement, for all practical purposes) of the most powerful Aegis/BMD cruisers in the fleet
  • Counting hospital ships and patrol craft as fleet ships so as to disguise the shrinking fleet

The latest example was reported by USNI website (1).  The Navy is apparently looking to place missiles on more ships and form small surface action groups.  RAdm. Fanta and Adm. Rowden described it thusly,

“Distributed lethality is taking the budget that we have and making everything out there that floats more lethal.  I want to make every cruiser, destroyer, amphibious warship, Littoral Combat Ship, logistics ship a thorn in somebody else’s side."

As a sales brochure for Congress or an unknowing public, those kind of statements are fine – stupid, but fine.  As actual strategic or doctrinal thoughts they are stupid beyond belief.  There’s a reason why amphibious ships and logistic ships aren’t offensively armed.  It’s because those ships are too valuable to risk putting them in range of an enemy.  Remember, if you’re in range to launch at the enemy, they’re in range to launch at you.

They go on to discuss surface action groups (SAG).

"Part of the concept would codify in training and tactics three to four ship “hunter killer surface action groups,” [Adm.] Rowden told reporters on Wednesday."

Now this contains a possible nugget of worth.  I’ve previously stated that the Navy is going to be faced with the reality of having to fight with little or no air cover and needs to develop the equipment, doctrine, and tactics to do so.  However, the impression I get from the article is that the Navy’s version of a SAG is vastly different from mine.  I fear the Navy sees a Burke and two or three LCSs as a viable SAG.  I’m sorry, but that’s just a live fire exercise for the enemy.  A viable SAG would need a purpose-designed heavy cruiser or two to have any hope of success – and no LCSs.

Fanta made an interesting statement,

"If someone around the world is already flying it, I go buy it. If someone else in the world has a PowerPoint description of it and says ‘I can get that for you,’ I ignore it,” Fanta said. 'PowerPoint doesn’t win wars.'"

On the face of it, that sounds like a summation of a lesson learned about the risk inherent in trying to incorporate non-existent technology into a production asset.  If the Navy truly has learned that lesson then I give them credit.  Unfortunately, at the same time, I see them betting heavily on lasers and rail guns.  I see a potential UCLASS fantasy aircraft under consideration.  So, we’ll have to wait and see whether the Navy really has shaken off its addiction to non-existent technology.

Moving on, they discuss the issue of ASW as it relates to the LCS.  ComNavOps has long favored a small, dedicated ASW platform and noted that with suitable, significant modifications the LCS hull could be adapted to that role.  Unfortunately, we have this,

"An ASW focus will be part of the 20 planned modified LCS concept the Navy introduced in December.

'You add [in] a variable depth sonar and when you add that in conjunction with a multi-function towed array, you have the most effective ASW sensor platform in the Navy,' Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition (RDA) said in December. 'You add to that a helicopter with its torpedo capability, now you have a detect and kill capability unlike any other platform in the Navy. Fanta, who was involved in the selection process for the follow-on to the Flight 0 LCS said there was significant demand from the fleet for more ASW capability.

'They said we want a small surface combatant that does a lot of ASW work,' he said."

The problem with the preceding statement is that it simply isn’t true.  A VDS and towed array constitute the most effective ASW sensor platform in the Navy???!  More effective than a Virginia class sub?  More effective than a Burke with built in quieting, hull mounted sonar, towed array, and the latest ASW software suite? 

The LCS is so noisy (self-noise) that hull mounted sonars aren’t even feasible.  The ship has no ASW machinery quieting built into the hull which makes the ship an acoustic beacon for the enemy and interferes with the ship’s own sensors.  I could go on with a long list of the LCS’s failings in the ASW role but you get the idea.

So, what else did they say?  A helo with a torpedo provides a “kill capability unlike any other platform in the Navy”.  Really?  A helo with a torpedo is some kind of revolutionary ASW killer unlike any other in the Navy?  If only someone had thought to put a torpedo on a helo before.  Oh wait …  We did that decades ago!  The Navy would have us believe that an LCS with no organic anti-submarine weapons and only a single ASW helo (the last I heard was that the LCS-2 would not conduct ASW) has a kill capability unlike anything in the Navy? 

I note the part about the ASW demand from the fleet.  That’s good and restores a bit of my faith in the front line sailors.  Unfortunately for them, the response is a badly flawed LCS.

Finally, here’s a statement that just might be a drop of wisdom in a sea of stupidity.

"The more aggressive language toward potential adversaries is a shift in a rhetorical emphasis from building partner capacity, which led to polices like retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen’s 1000 ship navy concept."

If we interpret that to mean that the Navy has wised up and decided to move away from a focus on partnering with a bunch of tiny navies that have no significant capability and, instead, refocus on providing our own punch, then maybe there’s some hope for the Navy.  Of course, that’s reading a lot into a vague statement.

As I stated in the previous post, the LCS PR onslaught is just beginning and will only intensify. 

LCS:  “Don’t be about it, talk about it.”

(1) "SNA: Navy Surface Leaders Pitch More Lethal Ships, Surface Action Groups", Sam LaGrone, 14-Jan-2015,