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,


  1. Sounds to me like they are hearing the message from the pointy end but are not in any way understanding it. Instead they are providing the same flawed answers after just parrot repeating the complaints like somehow it will be correct this time. Sad

  2. Lessons learned:
    1. Warships require the ability to sink another ship to earn the title "warship."
    2. Warships, see point 1, are meant for fighting and sinking other ships.
    3. Navies have warships, see point 2, and thus Navies will actually sink other ships and kill people.

    With all the above now accepted as a fact it is good to see my fellow Naval Officers decide that means they need weapons to make warships.

    Has the LRASM been accepted by the Navy as a program of record yet or is still a DARPA project?

    Because until it becomes a program of record it is not turned over to Dr. Gilmore so we can find out if it actually works.

  3. It’s good that they are at least providing numerous forward operating ASW assets.
    NOT revolutionary. Not really evolutionary.
    But without being designed from the ground up ( Hull, Props ( pump jet :S ), machinery etc etc ) as an ASW asset. Its short help.
    Better than no help. But I would be really really worried as an LCS sailor doing shallow water ASW actions in a hot peer to near peer war.
    The best defence for the ship in ASW is that in blue water battle group duty the LCS will simply be passed by for more juicy targets :S

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