Thursday, April 30, 2015

Not Deterred In The Least

By now, you’re undoubtedly aware that Iran has seized a Marshall Islands flagged merchant ship (1).  The reason is unclear although it seems to ComNavOps that it is in retaliation for the US using a carrier group to turn back the Iranian convoy bound for Yemen.

The rationale for the action doesn’t matter.  What matters is the US’ nearly non-existent response to the seizure of a US protected vessel.  The Navy is doing nothing more than monitoring.

“In response to the taking of the ship on Tuesday by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy patrol boats, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has ordered a Navy guided missile destroyer and three Cyclone-class patrol craft to monitor the situation.

Marshall Islands is an American protectorate and the U.S. is responsible for its defense and the defense of vessels under its flag.”

Navy supporters continually make the argument that forward presence is required to deter potential enemies.  However, time and time again, the Navy (and US military, generally) stands aside as unfriendly countries abuse the boundaries of acceptable behavior right up to, and including, acts of war.  We have allowed the force-down and seizure of electronic surveillance aircraft and ships, harassment of US forces, and many other acts constituting war.

The point of this post is not to debate responses but to point out that if we are completely unwilling to use military force to respond to these incidents then there is no point and no justification for maintaining those forces forward deployed.  They aren’t deterring anyone.

The Navy can’t have it both ways.  If they want to make a case for a given force level based on forward deployment and deterrence then they have to use the forces for that purpose.  If they have no intention of using the forces then they don’t need the forces and certainly don’t need them forward deployed.  A strongly worded letter is just as effective as unused force.

(1)USNI, “Pentagon Unclear Why Iran Seized Maersk Tigris; U.S. Destroyer, 3 Patrol Craft Nearby”, Sam LaGrone, April 29, 2015,

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Short Legs

Reader “Nick” pointed out some interesting data on the LCS operating range that is worth repeating as a post. Thanks “Nick”!

As reported in the DOT&E 2014 Annual Report, the LCS-1 variant failed to meet its endurance/range requirements by a substantial amount.

“During operational testing, LCS 3 did not demonstrate that it could achieve the Navy requirement for fuel endurance (operating range) at the prescribed transit speed or at sprint speed. ... Based on fuel consumption data collected during the test, the ship’s operating range at 14.4 knots is estimated to be approximately 1,961 nautical miles (Navy requirement: 3,500 nautical miles at 14 knots) and the operating range at 43.6 knots is approximately 855 nautical miles (Navy requirement: 1,000 nautical miles at 40 knots). … The shortfall in endurance may limit the flexibility of the ship’s operations in the Pacific and place a heavier than anticipated demand on fleet logistics.”

We’ve previously noted that the speed requirements have been steadily downgraded and now the endurance/range are also being downgraded on top of previous downgrades to range!  This severely limits the usefulness of the class.  

Given that the LCS is planned to make up a third of the Navy’s combat fleet (setting aside the nearly non-existent combat capability of the class), it should be a bit disconcerting that a third of the fleet won’t be able to venture far from their bases.

Honestly, this is an embarrassment for a blue-water, global navy.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

LCS Operating Costs - Follow Up

Here’s a follow up note about the LCS operating costs.  The LCS was sold, in large part, as a lower operating cost vessel whose operating concept would establish the pattern for future ship classes of all types.  The crew would be minimal.  Maintenance would not be performed at sea but would be deferred to, and performed by, shore support groups.  Multiple crews (similar to Blue/Gold of SSBNs but on a 3 crews for every 2 ships ratio) would maximize underway time.  Ships would be forward deployed.  And so on.

All of this was supposed to minimize operating costs.  The main impact in minimizing costs was, presumably, the greatly reduced crew size given that the Navy claims that personnel costs are the biggest contributor to operating costs.  As we saw in the previous post (see, "LCS Operating Costs and Lessons Learned"), that has not turned out to be the case.  The issue we want to address today is not whether the original operating cost estimates turned out to be inaccurate but whether the original estimates were ever even remotely realistic.

Smaller crew size means smaller operating costs.  Seems straightforward, right?  But was it?  Setting aside the issue of core crew size, which everyone but the Navy knew on Day One was ridiculously undersized, there is a bigger issue.  The twin concepts of reduced manning and multiple crews per ship meant that the personnel costs were going to be bigger than simply adding up the core crew size costs.  With the new core crew size of around 50 and the 3:2 crew:ship ratio, that means that the Navy is maintaining 150 crew for each pair of ships or an average of 75 crew per ship.  Throw in a helo detachment and the module specialists and the average crew size increases to around 110-120.

On top of that are the mandatory shore maintenance personnel.  We don’t know exactly how many of those there will be but we’ve seen that the manning has already tripled over the original estimates, to 862 according to the Navy.  Averaged over the initial buy of 32 LCS, that adds an additional 27 crew per ship. 

Added to that are the contractor personnel that are dedicated to the LCS.  The Navy used teams of 30-70 for Freedom’s Singapore trip.  If all 32 LCSs are putting into port every couple weeks for routine, scheduled maintenance, that’s going to require a LOT of contractors.  They, too, have to be accounted for in the operating costs – say, the equivalent of an additional 20 crew per ship.

If you add the total crew and crew equivalents you get an average crew size of somewhere around 165.  That’s around the Perry class crew size.  Is it really that surprising that operating a Perry size vessel requires a Perry size crew?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Rolling In Hot

Breaking Defense website has a report on a Close Air Support (CAS) summit sponsored by the Air Force (1).  There were a few nuggets of information that reveal just how little interest the AF has in CAS.

"Carlisle [ed. Gen. Hawk Carlisle, head of Air Force Air Combat Command] told us “gaps” were spotted in training and to, some degree, in future equipment.

The biggest gap in Close Air Support right now, Carlisle told reporters, is the training CAS pilots currently have to operate in what the Air Force nicely calls “contested environments” — places where the enemy has a decent chance of shooting you down."

"Pilots have operated in uncontested environments over the last 13 years and haven’t had time to train for high-end operations, the general said."

The biggest gap in AF CAS is training for contested environments!?  Isn’t that kind of what CAS is all about – providing direct air support to ground forces at the front edge of the battlefield in what is, almost by definition, a contested environment?  That the AF is not providing that training pretty well indicates their level of commitment, or lack thereof, to CAS.  However, beating up on the AF about their lack of commitment to CAS, which has been a poorly kept secret for many years, is not the point of this post.  We’ll move on.

"... the three versions of the F-35 will, Carlisle noted, be the main CAS weapons operating in hot environments."

The F-35 is not even remotely an optimal platform for CAS.  That’s not even a debatable point and, again, that’s not the point of this post. 

Instead, for the sake of discussion, let’s accept the use of the F-35 in the CAS role.  What I want to look at is the F-35’s ability to provide gun support in CAS. 

What we currently have, in the A-10, is the GAU-8 30 mm Avenger rotary gun which carries and fires up to 1350 rounds of depleted uranium armor piercing shells at a rate of 3900 rounds per minute.  The gun is installed at a slight downward angle to assist in strafing runs.  Contrast that to the F-35’s gun system, the 25 mm, four barrel, 3300 round per minute, rotary GAU-22/A.

The A-10 projectiles weigh 13.3-14.0 oz, depending on type.  The F-35 projectiles weigh 6.5-7.5 oz.

The A-10 carries up to 1350 rounds compared to the F-35A which carries 182 rounds.  The F-35B/C do not have an internal gun.  They carry the gun in an external pod with a capacity of 220 rounds.  Of course, the external pod impacts the aircraft’s stealth.

So, we see that the A-10 has a larger gun with around 5 times the ammo capacity, firing depleted uranium shells that are twice the weight, from a gun that is mounted and optimized for ground attack, compared to the F-35 whose gun is, literally, an afterthought add-on for the Marines and Navy.  Anyone claiming that the F-35 is capable of performing the CAS role is playing loose with the facts.  The F-35 is capable of performing the gun support portion of the CAS role only in the sense that it has a gun that can be pointed at the ground.  In no other way is it capable or effective.  A man shooting a handgun from a glider can be claimed to perform CAS, too, I guess.

Of course, there is much, much more to CAS than just the ability to fire a gun at the ground.  There is also much more to it than just the characteristics of the CAS platform.  Training is paramount.  The understanding of ground force strategy and tactics, the understanding of where, when, and how to best support ground forces, the ability to effectively interface with ground controllers, knowledge of the local terrain, understanding of enemy forces and their movement, and so on are as important or more so than the weapon characteristics of a given platform.  There are also many more CAS weapons than just a gun and we won’t examine those today.

Today’s post simply points out the inadequacy of the F-35 gun system when used for CAS when compared to the A-10.  Combine that with the AF’s acknowledged lack of training and it’s obvious that anyone claiming the F-35 will adequately fill the CAS role is kidding themselves and their audience.

 (1) Breaking Defense, "Close Air Support Summit Sparks Nod To Textron’s Scorpion", Colin Clark,  March 09, 2015,

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Surface Warfare Perfect Storm

USNI website has an interesting article about the size of the future surface warfare fleet.

“Rapid growth in the capability and quality of guided missiles — mostly Chinese in origin — is causing the U.S. Navy to rethink the number of surface ships it needs to effectively fight a high-end war.

“Early estimates based [on] ongoing war games could mean the current number of 88 large surface combatants — the Navy’s fleet of guided missile destroyers and cruisers — needs to grow to more than a hundred into the 2020s just to keep to today’s current level of risk, USNI News has learned.”

From 88 ships to more than a hundred?!  As you digest that, consider that we’ve documented the steady decline in combat fleet size and the coming shortfall in destroyers as retirements outpace new construction.  We’ve also discussed the extremely unwise decision to forego maintenance and upgrades.

This is all very disturbing but we’ve already covered it and warned about the shortfall.  So, what’s the point of this post?  Well, the article touches on some interesting implications.

For instance, the article states that the existing requirement for 88 surface vessels is based on, among other factors, a requirement to provide 5 major surface combatants as escorts for each carrier group.  However, the new requirement places the escort number at 7 or 8 per carrier group.  OK, again, aside from not having that number available, what’s the point?  The point goes back to one we’ve previously addressed which is tactics and training.  Carrier groups currently deploy with 2 or 3 escorts.  If we intend to fight with 5-8, where and how are our commanders learning to tactically handle a group that is 2-3 times larger than what we routinely deploy with?  We have Admirals who have never commanded or tactically exercised the size group that they would fight with.  This is not the way to prepare for combat!

Another interesting point that the article makes is the impact of the LCS on the major combatant force level.

In addition, decisions to leave the two emerging Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) variants without a significant AAW capability also stresses the cruiser and destroyer fleets, since the LCS could not then help protect non-combatant ships like oilers and logistics ships in an escort role …”

Thus, we see that the decision to continue producing the non-combat LCS and to add only very minimal improvements to the follow on “frigate LCS” have the consequence of requiring more Burkes.  Thus, the LCS, which was supposed to free up major combatants is actually tying down more Burkes conducting low end missions because the LCS is so impotent and ineffective.

Finally, the article documents the Navy’s decision to forego Burke upgrades that would allow the ships to conduct simultaneous BMD and AAW.  Thus, in many cases, it may require two Burkes to fill the role of a single upgraded one. 

“Planned upgrades that would allow destroyers to fight ballistic missiles and aircraft at the same time have been scaled back in some cases, requiring two less capable ships to do the mission of one upgraded destroyer.

The prioritization and decision making of the Navy is mystifying, at best (that’s my polite way of saying incompetent).

Please read the linked article.  It’s well worth it.

The surface warfare perfect storm is coming and the Navy is ignoring it.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Confusion and Training

The Navy is in the process of establishing a TopGun type training program for surface warfare after decades of neglect.  During that time the Navy came to depend on simulation training and highly scripted exercises.  While a dedicated training program is a step in the right direction, it is woefully inadequate.  The simple fact that the training facility is going to be located at NAS Fallon in Nevada, far from any sea, is ample proof that the training will be inadequate.  By reason of its location, the training can’t be anything more than tabletop study and wargaming.  As I said, that’s better than the current situation but completely inadequate.  No amount of simulation can prepare a student for the chaos and confusion of actual battle.  No amount of simulation can replicate the physical sensations of a wildly heeling ship, the confused reports of crew, the inevitable mistakes and failures associated with a real situation, the darkness, the fog, the rain, the waves, and the resulting adrenaline and mental pressure that will be encountered in a real situation.

Let’s consider an historical example from WWII.  The first battle of Savo Island, off Guadalcanal, resulted in one of the worst defeats ever for the US Navy.  I won’t recap the battle.  Summaries are readily available on the Internet and in many books.  One of the main reasons (among many) was the utter confusion that reigned despite all the training that the ships, crews, and command personnel went through.  Here are some quotes from Wiki that illustrate the level of confusion.

Prior to the battle, the approaching Japanese force was sighted by a US sub and a contact report was sent. 

“The warnings, however, were considered vague and the size of the force reported did not suggest an attack was pending.”

The approaching force was also spotted by RAAF Hudson reconnaissance aircraft. 

“The first Hudson misidentified them as "three cruisers, three destroyers, and two seaplane tenders".

Another reconnaissance opportunity was squandered due to confusion.

“Mikawa's run down the Slot was not detected by Allied forces. Turner had requested that U.S. Admiral John S. McCain, Sr., commander of Allied air forces for the South Pacific area, conduct extra reconnaissance missions over the Slot in the afternoon of August 8. But, for unexplained reasons, McCain did not order the missions, nor did he tell Turner that they were not carried out. Thus, Turner mistakenly believed that the Slot was under Allied observation throughout the day.”

Confusion continued as the battle approached.

“[Adm.] Crutchley left the southern group in Australia to attend the conference, leaving Captain Howard D. Bode of Chicago in charge of the southern group. Crutchley did not inform the commanders of the other cruiser groups of his absence, contributing further to the dissolution of command arrangements.”

Sighting reports were incorrectly evaluated.

“Turner, Crutchley, and Vandegrift discussed the reports of the "seaplane tender" force reported by the Australian Hudson crew earlier that day. They decided it would not be a threat that night, because seaplane tenders did not normally engage in a surface action.”

More confusion,

“Crutchley elected not to return with Australia to the southern force but instead stationed his ship just outside the Guadalcanal transport anchorage, without informing the other Allied ship commanders of his intentions or location.”

The Japanese launched floatplanes that offered an opportunity for the Allied forces to react but they failed to do so.

“Although several of the Allied ships heard and/or observed one or more of these floatplanes, starting at 23:45 on August 8, none of them interpreted the presence of unknown aircraft in the area as an actionable threat, and no one reported the sightings to Crutchley or Turner.”

Once combat started, confusion increased.

“[USS] Patterson increased speed to full, and fired star shells towards the Japanese column. Her captain ordered a torpedo attack, but his order was not heard over the noise from the destroyer's guns.”

“… knocking out power to the entire ship before Canberra could fire any of her guns or communicate a warning to other Allied ships.”

“[Capt.] Bode ordered his 5 in (127.0 mm) guns to fire star shells towards the Japanese column, but the shells did not function.”

“Bode did not try to assert control over any of the other Allied ships in the southern force, of which he was still technically in command.  More significantly, Bode made no attempt to warn any of the other Allied ships or personnel in the Guadalcanal area as his ship headed away from the battle area.”

“[USS] Bagley, whose crew sighted the Japanese shortly after Patterson and Canberra, circled completely around to port before firing torpedoes in the general direction of the rapidly disappearing Japanese column; one or two of which may have hit Canberra.”

Astoria'​s captain, awakened to find his ship in action, rushed to the bridge and ordered a ceasefire, fearful that his ship might be firing on friendly forces. As shells continued to cascade around his ship, the captain ordered firing resumed less than a minute later.”

Quincy'​s captain gave the order to commence firing, but the gun crews were not ready.”

Vincennes hesitated to open fire, believing that the searchlight's source might be friendly ships.”

So it was that a supposedly highly trained US and Allied force encountered total confusion for which they were unprepared.

Well, some of you say, that can’t happen today.  We have radar, IFF, and communications that ensure total situational awareness.  You’ll claim that actions are conducted from CIC so simulated training is all that’s needed.  History, however, begs to differ.

The highly trained CIC and bridge crew of the Aegis cruiser Vincennes made every mistake possible in shooting down an airliner.

The highly trained bridge crew of the Aegis cruiser Port Royal ran aground in broad daylight.

The highly trained crew of the submarine Greenville collided with a 190 ft Japanese fishery training ship causing it to sink.

There’s a reason why naval aviators qualify on the carrier rather than on the simulator.

There’s a reason why RN submarine command candidates qualify at sea rather than at a desk.

There’s a reason why the AF found that as simulator training increased, so too did crashes.

We’ve shot down friendly helicopters flying a clearly communicated flight plan. 

We’ve inflicted countless examples of friendly fire in recent conflicts. 

And so on…

There’s a reason why the TopGun training program was not a tabletop lecture.  The pilots had to fly to learn the lessons because no amount of lecture can replicate the heart pounding stress of pulling G’s, the possibility of air or ground collision, the effect of weather, the garbled radio communications, and the split second decision making that makes up real actions.

Similarly, no amount of lecture and tabletop training will replicate the confusion of real action at sea.  While we can’t engage in live fire, life and death training we can replicate the stresses as much as possible and the only way to do that is to be at sea.  This latest Navy training program is a step in the right direction but, as with so many Navy decisions, stops short of being a truly worthwhile program.

You recall all those Perry class frigates that we’re retiring and giving away?  Those would make excellent training ships.  Crewed for a few days at a time at sea, they would offer the opportunity to greatly enhance the value and realism of tactical training.  Throw in small boat drone target swarms, realistic cruise missile surrogates, and a dedicated opposing force (OPFOR) and you’d have the basis of as realistic training as possible.

I know some of you will moan about the cost but the cost of operating a dozen Perrys on a greatly reduced manning level pales in comparison to the cost of a ship sunk because we skimped on training.

In combat, confusion and chaos reign.  In a simulator, calmness and clarity reign.  We need to train for the former and the only way to do that is at sea.

Imagine …  Trainees are at sea.  The ship is pitching and heeling radically from constant full speed turns.  Just staying seated is a challenge.  Smoke is introduced into CIC.  Trainees are dressed for combat including gas masks.  Visibility is poor.  Voices are muffled.  Multiple threats are bearing down.  The noise level rises.  It’s harder to hear.  Some reports are completely wrong, some are partially correct, few are totally correct.  A swarm of surface drone boats are approaching quickly.  Friendly forces may be in the area.  Inevitably, data and commands are miscommunicated up and down the chain of command.  Enemy ECM compounds the confusion.  Occasional system failures occur.  GPS is blocked.  Higher authority wants to know what’s happening.   ……..  This level of training is badly needed and it can only take place at sea.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Burke Flt III

The Burke Flt III was originally intended to be the Ticonderoga replacement and mainstay of both the AAW command vessel and the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) role.  As such it was intended to receive the new AMDR radar which could handle simultaneous BMD and AAW roles.  Unfortunately, it turned out that the optimum sized AMDR required more space, weight, and resources than the Burke could provide.  A new design ship was briefly considered but coming hot on the heels of the LCS fiasco, the Navy believed that the challenges in getting a new design approved and funded were too great. 

The Navy is now committed to fielding a down-sized AMDR which it acknowledges is too small to meet the desired performance criteria.  This is admission of an odd situation.  The Navy is, essentially, acknowledging that it is going to build a ship that is inadequate for the intended mission.

The other disturbing aspect of the Flt III is the growth margin.  The Navy is going to have to squeeze the AMDR and its attendant resources into an already overloaded hull.  The resultant ship will have no growth margins during a future in which the Navy anticipates lasers and rail guns reaching the fleet.  We’ll set aside whether that anticipation is realistic and simply consider what the Navy believes.  Why would you begin building the future backbone of the fleet with no significant growth margins for the developments you believe are coming in the relatively near term and which you know are going to require substantial weight, volume, and ship’s utilities, especially for the early versions?

Let’s take a quick look at some Flt III options that the Navy could pursue.

New Design – This would undoubtedly be the best approach from a purely technical point of view.  However, the Navy has been burned so badly on recent acquisitions that they are gun shy and devoid of credibility so they’ve opted to pass on this option.

Zumwalt – The Zumwalt has the size and power to fully field the AMDR and would be a good option, on paper.  However, there are significant questions about the seakeeping characteristics of ship and my guess is that the Navy felt that was too much risk.  The Navy did examine this option though how seriously, I’m not sure.

Lengthen – A lengthened Burke is a viable option and would provide at least some additional weight and space for the AMDR.  Whether it would provide the necessary superstructure mounting without raising the center of gravity unacceptably is unsure.  Again, the Navy supposedly examined this option and rejected it though I’ve never heard why.

Pure AAW – Another option would be to reconfigure the Flt III to be a pure AAW vessel - no guns, ASW, hangar, or anything else.  This would fill the AAW and AAW command requirements while freeing up space and weight.  Again, whether that would allow the full AMDR to be fit is unknown.

Distributed AAW – The AMDR doesn’t have to be mounted on the shooting platform.  Various proposals have been made to mount the AMDR on a ship dedicated to that purpose.  Such a ship would have the required space, weight, and power to support the radar and would be relatively cheap in that it would have no other functions or capabilities.

LPD-17 Variant – Proposals have been made to modify the LPD-17 to an AAW vessel.  Again, the ship would have the space, weight, and power to support the full AMDR.

The point is that when all the possibilities are considered, the Navy’s chosen path of shoehorning the AMDR into the existing Burke hull is arguably the worst option.  It’s just another in the seemingly endless string of poor decisions emanating from Navy leadership.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Boots or Bombs?

We’ve frequently lamented the lack of a national geopolitical strategy and the resulting military strategy it would engender.  As we’ve pointed out, without a military strategy how can we determine what force structure we need?  Let’s be a bit more specific about this.

As we contemplate possible conflicts, the obvious enemies are Iran, N. Korea, and China with Russia a rising possibility.  Let’s look at some specifics of conflict in each case, from a naval perspective.

N. Korea – This will be an Army and Air Force effort with access to the battlefield provided from secure bases and ports in S. Korea.  This will be the closest thing to classic frontal warfare with a rollback effort proceeding from south to north and with a fairly defined frontline.  The Navy’s role will be much as it was in Viet Nam with carriers providing strikes from fixed operating stations offshore.  N. Korea has neither the air, surface, or submarine assets to seriously threaten naval operations.

China – The Navy’s role in a conflict with China will depend greatly on what strategy we opt for.  Do we want to conduct a standoff blockade that will eventually starve China of raw materials and induce an eventual negotiated peace?  Do we want to retake Taiwan (presumably an early conquest in any Chinese conflict)?  Do we want to aggressively enter the A2/AD zone and attack the Chinese mainland?  Something else?

Regardless of the actual military strategy in a Chinese conflict, I can’t imagine a scenario in which we would attempt to put boots on the ground of mainland China.  I’m not even going to bother to list the reasons why that would be the height of folly;  it should be self-evident.

Iran – This is a bit of a wild card.  As with China, the Navy’s role will be determined by the strategy we opt for.  Geography dictates a much more up-close conflict.  We might or might not opt for boots on the ground.  If we opt for boots, access to Iran will be problematic.  If we can get permission we can mass in Iraq and enter Iran overland.  Alternatively, we would need to conduct amphibious landings with all the challenges we’ve discussed in previous posts.  If we opt not to commit to land combat, we can conduct strikes in an effort to effect regime change.

What’s obvious from the preceding discussion is that there are two basic strategic approaches:  boots on the ground to seize land or standoff strikes to effect regime change or dictate behavioral modifications.  Boots or bombs?  Boots or bombs? 

Think about this from the Navy’s perspective.  The naval force requirements are radically different for the two options. 

Boots – This option requires that the Navy (and Marine Corps) maintain a highly capable amphibious assault capability with the recognition that sustained, heavy combat will be required.  Unfortunately, this is almost the opposite of what the Marines/Navy are aiming for, as we’ve recently discussed.  This would also require a strong inshore protective presence by the Navy while initial forces are landing and for an extended period thereafter while follow-on supplies come ashore.  The Navy will be expected to provide initial counterbattery fire, gunfire support, anti-missile protection, etc. and then extended anti-missile protection for the follow-on period.  Note that this can’t be done from hundreds of miles offshore as the Navy seems to think.  This has to be performed near the beach.  Again, this is opposite of current trends in Navy thinking.  Further, most of the protective capability does not exist.

Bombs – This option entails inland strikes by Air Force and Navy assets.  The Navy’s role would be to provide Tomahawk and, to a much lesser extent due to range limitations, carrier air strikes.  While the Navy certainly has some Tomahawk strike capability, it lacks the numbers of missiles needed for a sustained campaign and is planning to retire the most effective Tomahawk platform, the SSGN, with no direct replacement. 

Secondarily, the Navy would provide strike protection for Air Force assets to the extent possible.  This option calls for a long range air superiority fighter which, again, is not what the Navy is pursuing.

It is obvious that the two general options call for radically different force structures.  Until now, the answer to the differing requirements has been to build both because budget was a relatively minor issue.  Now, though, budget has become a limiting factor and the answer can no longer be “both”.  This underscores the importance of a coherent geopolitical strategy from which to determine a logical force structure.

Having laid out the issue and posed the question, I’ll now provide a partial if unsatisfying answer.  As a general statement, boots are just not an option for two main reasons.

First, boots requires the political resolve to seize a land or country and occupy it for a long period of time.  The lessons of post-WWII occupied Japan and Germany are relevant, here.  Realistically, the US just doesn’t have political will for such an endeavor, at the present time.

Second, boots requires a large commitment of ground troops and we no longer have those types of numbers.  The days of WWII troop levels are long gone and our ground forces are trending smaller, not larger.  Admittedly, we could free up significant numbers of troops by pulling out of Europe and, to an extent, Korea, however, we would still lack the numbers for a successful extended occupation.

The American way of warfare has, for better or worse, become one of attempting to effect regime change followed by nation building and, finally, abandonment.  Thus, the bombs option is the only viable path for future conflicts.

Please don’t misinterpret what I’m writing.  I’m describing the reality of our current approach to “war”, not the approach I advocate.  Regardless, it is the current reality.  Accepting this, it becomes apparent that our naval forces are not optimized for the bombs option.  We need a high speed Tomahawk replacement, an SSGN replacement, a long range air superiority fighter, and greatly reduced amphibious capability among other needs.  Again, though, it all flows from a coherent geopolitical strategy which we currently lack.

Monday, April 13, 2015

LCS - It's Phenomenal

There has been a spate of good news regarding the LCS program recently or so the Navy would have us believe.  Consider this tidbit, reported by USNI website, in which PEO LCS describes the ASW module performance as "phenomenal" (1),

“ ‘… the results are classified, but what I can tell you is that the performance of the system was phenomenal,’ Antonio [PEO Rear Adm. Brian Antonio] said.”

USNI describes the ASW module components thusly,

“The anti-submarine warfare mission package consists of the same Multi-Function Towed Array submarine-detection sonar already used in the fleet, a variable-depth sonar and a towed lightweight torpedo decoy. If an enemy submarine were detected and needed to be attacked, the mission package also includes the MH-60S helicopter with Mk-54 airdropped lightweight torpedoes.”

Note that the towed array and decoy systems are fleet standard so the only new component is the variable depth sonar and that’s only new to the US Navy.  It’s been in routine use in other navies for some time.  So, it would seem that the combination of two standard systems and a well established foreign system constitute the definition of “phenomenal”.  Hmmmm ……

RAdm. Antonio also noted that the ASW module was too heavy for production and deployment but I guess that doesn’t stop it from being “phenomenal”.

Moving on …

In another USNI website article, the same RAdm. Antonio had this to say about the USS Fort Worth’s deployment (2),

“as challenging as Freedom was, Fort Worth has just been phenomenal”

There’s that word again, “phenomenal”.  Did someone get a word-of-the-day calendar for a gift?

Apparently, Fort Worth has experienced an improvement in maintenance issues over those experienced by Freedom during her Singapore PR cruise.

“… in the order of hundreds of hours of corrective maintenance compared to thousands of hours of corrective maintenance…”

The numbers are a bit vague and I don’t know whether hundreds of hours of corrective maintenance constitute an actual success or just a relative success compared to the phenomenally (hey, if PEO LCS can toss the word around, so can I) disastrous Freedom cruise.

I find it phenomenal that the LCS is suddenly so phenomenal after so many problems.  Still, it’s phenomenally good news – if you believe the Navy.  And therein lies the point of this post.  Do you believe what the Navy has to say about the LCS?  Remember, they’ve lied about every aspect of this program from day one until now so do you really believe the phenomenal news?  I don’t and that’s really sad.  It doesn’t matter whether PEO LCS’ news is accurate or not.  The real issue is that the Navy’s credibility is so badly damaged that it leads me to automatically and utterly discount anything they say.  Credibility was the real casualty of the botched LCS program.

Well, you say, there may have been some spin applied to the LCS in the past but they’re making real progress now and we should accept the phenomenal news at face value rather than automatically doubt it.  I might be inclined to do that if it weren’t for the DOT&E annual reports that paint a completely different picture of the state of the LCS program in general and the ASW module in particular.  DOT&E reports not only don’t use the word phenomenal, they describe in great detail the myriad failings of the program.  So, I combine the utter lack of credibility with the DOT&E reports and conclude that the Navy is, yet again, lying aggressively applying wishful thinking.

It’s phenomenal how difficult it is to regain one’s credibility after it’s been lost.  A good start, though, would be to speak truthfully.

(1) USNI, "PEO LCS Looking at 2016 Deployment of Anti-Sub Package Ahead of Reaching IOC", Megan Eckstein, 13-Apr 2015,

(2) USNI, "USS Fort Worth Successfully Tested Overseas Maintenance Outside of Singapore Hub", Megan Eckstein, 13-Apr-2015,

HQ Relocation

As you’re all well aware, the US government considers ComNavOps to be the most valuable military asset the country has.  As such, ComNavOps is personally guarded by a team of Navy WHALEs.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the group, WHALEs are the guys who went through SEAL training and complained that it was too easy.  ComNavOps HQ base security is provided by an A-10 ground attack squadron on constant patrol and roving Abrams tanks.  ComNavOps was offered an F-35 squadron but a sustained bout of debilitating laughter on his part put an end to that proposal. 

In any event, as part of routine security measures, ComNavOps occasionally relocates his HQ and such a move is scheduled to take place over the next 2-4 weeks.  Therefore, blog interaction will be somewhat sporadic during that time until the new HQ comm. facility is up and running.  I do, however, have regular posts scheduled to appear during that period so you will continue to have access to the thoughts of the finest military analytical mind Earth has ever produced. 

Yeah, I, too, was surprised to find out that the blog could schedule posts via a software timer but, hey, if we can build an operational F-35 in only 20+ years, I guess software timers aren’t that unbelievable!

Feel free to leave comments but recognize that replies may be somewhat haphazard and delayed for the next few weeks.

Friday, April 10, 2015

What's The Biggest Problem With The F-35? It's Not What You Think!

What’s the biggest problem with the F-35?  Well, it’s not what you think!

The F-35, like the LCS, has garnered a large amount of criticism for many reasons.  Range, speed, weapons payload, all aspect stealth, maneuverability, pure dogfighting capability, maintenance, and, of course, cost, have all been faulted. 

To be fair, there are good arguments to be made that each characteristic is flawed to a greater or lesser degree. 

To be even more fair, any aircraft is a compromise of capabilities.  An aircraft’s strengths or weaknesses depends on what it is being tasked to do.  Looking at each characteristic in isolation and comparing it to the achievable state of the art is unfair and unrealistic.

That said, the F-35 is a poor compromise for most of the missions it will be tasked with.  I’m not going to belabor the missions and aircraft characteristics.  That’s been done ad nauseam.   Instead, I’ll point out the biggest failing of the F-35.

The biggest failing of the F-35 is not any of its physical characteristics or even its cost.  No, the biggest failing is its time to operation. 

It has taken almost 20 years to get this far and we still don’t have operational aircraft.  With respect to the Marine’s delusional and fanatical obsession with IOC, which is just a PR spin event, the F-35 still won’t be operational when they finally declare IOC victory.  True operational status won’t be achieved for another 2-5 years, if that.  So, we’re looking at an aircraft that will be 20+ years old before its first operational use.  Most aircraft are at their prime and beginning to look at their downslope and replacement by that point.

Consider all the perceived shortcomings of the F-35.  Almost all of them can be attributed to the extreme amount of time it has taken to develop the aircraft.  Had the F-35 reached operational status 15 years ago, it would have been top of the line in stealth.  It’s range would have been adequate for the missions of that time.  Its weapons load would have been adequate for the time.  And so on.  In short, 15 years ago, it would have been a pretty good aircraft.  Remember, the Super Hornet only entered service in 1999 and the early 2000’s.  Had the F-35 been operational in the year 2000, the Super Hornet, and its subsequent comparisons to the F-35, probably wouldn’t have happened.

Fifteen years ago, the F-35 would have been well designed to meet the threats of that time.  With normal upgrades and improvements, it would still be relevant today, if starting to show its age and some limitations as the Chinese threat has evolved.

However, because of the extreme development time, the F-35 will be bordering on obsolete when it enters service.  Note, that when I say obsolete, I mean obsolete relative to what it was intended to be.  It was intended to be the world’s foremost strike fighter – an aircraft unmatched by any other in the world.  Now, in another 2-5 years when the F-35 enters service (we hope! – no guarantees with this aircraft) it will not be the world’s foremost strike fighter.  It will not be unmatched in the world.  Instead, it will, at best, be a competent aircraft, able to contribute to operations but hardly the dominant aircraft in the world.  And, it will be hugely expensive for just being competent!

You see?  Even the cost is a function of the extended development time.  The same cost, 15 years ago, might have been considered acceptable because it would have bought the best aircraft in the world.  Now, however, that cost is going to buy an aircraft that is only competent and that’s poor value for the money.

As we begin discussing the next generation aircraft, designers should take careful note of the F-35’s main failing and the lesson to be learned that a short development time is paramount.  It doesn’t matter how magnificent an aircraft’s design is on day one if you can’t field it before it becomes obsolete.

One last lesson for future designers – the main, indeed only, way to ensure a quick and achievable fielding time is to scale back the degree of magical, fantasy wish list, leap-ahead technology.  Designers should incorporate nothing into a design that can’t be guaranteed 100% achievable in five years time.  That would also greatly decrease cost. 

Development time should be pegged at five years – not a day beyond – from the first pencil on paper sketch to the delivery of a fully functional aircraft.  Any more than five years and the aircraft’s improvements are being squandered.

What was the F-35’s biggest failing?  Now you know.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Air to Air Weapons Load

During WWII, if an aircraft could achieve a single kill on a mission, it was considered a success.  Similarly, if an aircraft could destroy a single ground target, it was considered a hugely successful mission.  Now, however, we expect our strike aircraft to destroy multiple ground targets per mission.  It makes no sense to send out (risk) an expensive aircraft loaded with the latest technology and merely hope for a single target to be destroyed.  That’s too much risk for too little return.  In addition, we simply don’t have sufficient numbers of aircraft to accept single target missions.  The wisdom of that trend is debatable but the fact of the matter is not.

Though it hasn’t really been doctrinally stated yet, presumably, we’re going to expect our fighters to do the same.  We have to, given the ever decreasing numbers of aircraft and their corresponding increase in cost and complexity.  An F-22 that goes out and achieves a single kill is going to represent a lot of cost, effort, and risk for a meager return.  From the enemy’s perspective, tying up an F-22 trying to achieve a single kill, especially if it’s against a lesser aircraft, is almost a win for the enemy.

In order to achieve multiple kills, a fighter will need multiple missiles, of course.  Further, given the increasingly sophisticated stealth, countermeasures, and electronic warfare support that potential enemies can muster, our kill probabilities for a single missile shot are going to be poor, especially as our stealth fighters encounter more and more enemy stealth fighters.  One could envision future aerial stealth fights where several missiles are required to achieve a single kill.

Note:  I said it before, if two stealth fighters meet, it will almost become a WWI eyeballs fight !  It kind of makes you wonder about the wisdom of not providing the F-35C with a gun.  But, I digress …

So, there you have it.  Stealth fighters, operating in a sophisticated countermeasures and ECM environment, will be forced to expend many missiles to achieve a kill.  What does that mean for aircraft design?  It means that we need to design aircraft that can carry many more missiles than our current fighters.  For their internal loadouts, which is the condition that counts because we’re not going to be fighting peer aircraft in a non-stealthy configuration, our frontline aircraft carry these loadouts:

F-22    6 AMRAAM / 2 Sidewinder
F-35    4 AMRAAM

For the F-22, 8 missiles is not a lot for the conditions and scenario described above.  Worse, the F-35 has only 4 missiles.  This is going to come to be recognized as a severe design flaw.  The F-35 may be adequately equipped to go up against earlier generations of aircraft but will come up short against peers.

Manufacturer’s claims aside, air-to-air missile performance is, historically, pretty poor even before factoring in stealth, modern countermeasures, ECM, etc.  An F-35, with 4 missiles, will be lucky to get a single kill and may well run out of missiles before the fight is over!

We need to design in a much greater missile capacity especially if we’re going to continue to shrink our air wings.

We’ve often discussed how the military has fallen into the bad habit of designing weapons and systems for peacetime applications and low intensity, low threat scenarios.  We need to begin realizing that the rest of the world is gearing up for serious, high end combat and start adjusting our thinking.  Yes, there are many low end tasks to be accomplished but the measure of a military force is the ability to conduct high end combat.  Developmentally, we’ve been idling for the last couple of decades.  We need to get back in the fight.

Note that I am not an aerial combat expert (and neither are you!).  The scenario and conclusion I’ve presented seems logical but may be entirely wrong.  I would hope the military has tested peer aerial combat in an ECM and countermeasures environment.  In other words, I hope they’ve tested F-22s against F-22s and drawn some valid conclusions about missile effectiveness and usage rates.  Sadly, I doubt that they have.  While the results would, undoubtedly, be classified, nothing I’ve ever read even hints at such testing having taken place.

I offer this post as food for thought.