Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tomahawk Inventory

We've been discussing cruise missile use in the A2/AD penetration scenario, specifically, and combat in general.  Just a quick reminder that our total Tomahawk inventory is estimated at around 3000 missiles.  That's not a lot in the context of a major peer war.

It's easy to postulate cheap commercial ships loaded with cruise missiles (an arsenal ship, essentially), actual high density Arsenal Ships, or other very large capacity cruise missile launch ships (or even aircraft!) but with a total inventory of only 3000, there quickly comes a point where you wind up with far more launch cells than missiles.

Further, the risk of concentration is real.  Suppose we design a platform that can carry 300 cruise missiles (to pick an arbitrary number).  If it gets destroyed, we've instantaneously lost one tenth of our total inventory.  There's a lot to be said for distribution of inventory (the Hughes small combatant philosophy, to an extent).

Finally, we are quick to assume that we can ramp up production but that isn't really the case.  Cruise missiles are not like simple bombs in WWII.  They require sophisticated electronics among other components.  That can't be instantly and infinitely ramped up.  Even if they could, the cost of $2M per is a consideration.

So, hypothesize away but bear some of the realities of modern weapons in mind!


  1. A cheaper long ranged cruise missile is hardly impossible, the paveway bomb kits costs have come down quite heavily, however, I'm not sure its really necessary to.

    7th and 8th T45 destroyers were offered to the Royal Navy at £650mn each.

    £200mn for a hull with point defences and a £300mn for 300 cruise missiles seems like a nice little package and a reasonable cost.

    Especially if we compare it to the £125mn / £80mn cost of the Eurofighter (inc and exc dev costs) it seems a downright bargain.

    Still expensive to throw around willy-nilly, but for those zero hour saturation strikes a bargain.

  2. What we need is a semi-stealthy UAV with twice the range of a Tomahawk designed to carry a 1000-lb JDAM. The same effect but reusable.

    Randall Rapp

    1. That semi-stealthy UAV is going to cost you 40-60 million minimum and get you maybe 2-4 1000lb bombs. And now you need a launch AND recovery platform for it which is going to cost yet more money.

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    4. Reaper at ~$17 million in 2013 budget.

      Reaper has a cruising speed of 200 MPH.

      Reaper is has no autonomy and is remotely piloted.

      Reaper is not carrier capable.

      To replace THawks it will realistically need around a ~500 MPH cruise speed (higher than the Avenger/Predator C), need to takeoff and land from carriers, and operate with a reasonable level of autonomy.

      Right now for either a Reaper or Avenger, you need an on duty crew of 2 people. That adds up quick, so a reasonable level of autonomy would be required.

      Plus unlike a Reaper, we would want a craft that could operate in a non-permissive environment which means big long wings are probably out. So realistically you are looking at a baby X-47B or Phantom ray type design and that's going to cost real money.

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    6. The reusable cruise missile has to be reusable which means it need to get back to the carrier, which is something that a THawk doesn't. The carrier could be 150-200 miles away from when the thing took off (and upwards of 300 miles with your cruise speed). Its going to at least need the same level of comm gear as a reaper.

      And I certainly don't see it being cheaper than a reaper. And I still think you need to be aiming for 500+ MPH cruise. I do agree that adding the capability to the amphibs would be attractive but think you need to be aiming a bit higher in cost. $40 mil seems like a reasonable ballpark, it certainly would end up more expensive than a Reaper esp since you want it to get there AND back.

    7. ats: "Right now for either a Reaper or Avenger, you need an on duty crew of 2 people. That adds up quick, so a reasonable level of autonomy would be required.

      Plus unlike a Reaper, we would want a craft that could operate in a non-permissive environment which means big long wings are probably out. So realistically you are looking at a baby X-47B or Phantom ray type design and that's going to cost real money."

      The level of Artificial Intelligence capability needed to allow a UCAV of any size to survive within a high-threat A2/AD battlespace if the communication links to it are completely lost is decades away. For the next several decades, if not longer, the loss of the comm links to the UCAV guarantees the UCAV will be lost if it is operating within a highly non-permissive environment.

      The upshot here is that as long as the security and the reliability of the communication links to a UCAV remain questionable, it does not make sense to acquire a UCAV airframe which is as large and as expensive to procure as the UCLASS will be. (UCLASS is now envisioned by its advocates to be a full-blown unmanned F-35 replacement.)

      However, it certainly does make sense to think seriously about acquiring smaller less-expensive UCAVs whose loss inside a high-threat A2/AD battlespace will be more palatable to us if the communication links to it are lost.

      These kinds of smaller UCAVs will cost real money too, but possibly a lot less real money than would a UCLASS type UCAV configured to be a full-blown unmanned F-35 replacement. So the question must be asked, what is the cost-versus-capability break point below which the loss of a UCAV remains palatable?

      This is a highly subjective question which requires much thought and analysis to answer.

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    10. Smitty, you suggest that a usable degree of autonomy can be easily achieved. We always (hugely!) underestimate the degree of difficulty associated with programming. Consider the F-35 ALIS program. It's a simple maintenance program with no autonomy and yet it's virtually non-functional despite a couple of decades of development.

      Software is hard and autonomy is harder.

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    12. I think we are being unfair here, citing current us procurement costs to justify what the program would cost. For instance inflation adjusted cost of US CVN ~8bn, cost of replacement CVNs 12bn. Cost target of F35 ~40mn, cost of engine now ~40mn, cost of plane ~200+mn based on actual order contracts. Cost target of global hawk, 60mn, actual cost >220mn. Cost of highly decked out inflation adjusted F16 surely much lower...

      Point is US procurement is a sham, consistently over budget, over time, and under-performing. Using such programs as a baseline to compare a suggestion for another program is silly, because that person is surely not proposing something so over-priced....

      Lets look at what is needed for such an aircraf:
      Wingbased airframe
      Low performance, reliable, efficent-cruise powerplant
      Radar Warning recievers for navigating around AA hazzards
      Bomb bay for 2x1000ib rocket assisted glide bombs
      Bomb bay for two small Radiation homing missiles
      Basic computer/avionics/communications suite.
      Potential ground radar/flir

      We are not talking about much here. None of it very high performance. Make it big enough for a decent combat radius. And reliable and basic enough to be a low-operating cost solution.

    13. "Tomahawk can fly a 100% autonomous route to target. What more does a TomaUCAV have to do? Fly home? That's the easy part."

      A UCAV that has no more intelligence than a Tomahawk will have the same survivability as a Tomahawk - not much. Do we really think that we couldn't shoot down the vast majority of missiles that fly at subsonic speeds, aren't stealthy, have no inherent ECM, and have no particularly challenging terminal manuevers? Do we think China will have any more difficult than us?

      A Tomahawk-ish UCAV is just a target drone (though I note that the Chancellorsville failed to shoot one down!). You ask what autonomy a UCAV would need? How about complex, "stacked" maneuvers based on the second by second changing threat environment? How about adaptive route modifications based on threats? How about autonomous retargeting based on the conditions found at the strike location? How about group target allocation based on surviving UCAVs relative to the target list? How about reprioritization of targets/missions as opportunities present themselves? I can go on but you get the idea.

      If all we want is a Tomahawk "follow the waypoints", we already have it - we don't need a UCAV which would cost more, offer little, and suffer horrible attrition.

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    15. At a minimum we would need the level of autonomy planned for LRASM which can react to pop up threats and do independent target discrimination.

      Second we would need a level of survivability that justifies the cost. If the TomaUCAV costs X then it needs to have a reasonable survivability such that it can complete >>X/$2 million missions. AKA if it costs 20 mil, it would need to have a reasonable probability to completely >>10 missions. Else what's really the point?

      In order to complete 10+ missions, it going to have to at least be high subsonic, have decent low observability, likely also be capable of full nap of the earth flying, have inherent counter-measures and jamming capability, etc.

      If it doesn't have all that, we're much better off with saturation attacks with cruise missiles.

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    18. ATS consider, even if the cost is say 20mn as opposed to 1mn for a cruise missile, if it can carry 2 large (1000ib bombs) or numerous ~250ib bombs, and 2 HARM equivalents. Then it needs to survive at most 10 missions to break even (ignoring the operating costs).

      But consider that the alternative of using large, expensive fighterplanes, potentially with air-air refueling to get the strike range we need. What is that going to cost? What do those CSGs that they are launched from cost? How much more survivable is that going to be in a peer-level conflict? What is the replacement cost of one of those planes, or a bomber?

      And what about a non-peer level conflict, say the war in iraq?Where large, expensive fighterplanes are used to drop cheap munitions. What about a simple 'low-altitude' ASM mission?
      I guess what I am trying to say, is even if it doesn't quiet break even in the missile case, it still might be a more effective when you consider the alternative of using fighter planes for some of these missions.

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    20. "infinite magazine"

      I think you overestimate the degree of replenishment that can be sustained. Our supply fleet is steadily shrinking with more such ships being candidates for early retirement according to the Navy. Further, assuming the Chinese military isn't stupid, the resupply ships will be prime targets and we have too few to absorb any kind of attrition at all.

      Assuming we have a few ops going at any given moment, the few resupply ships will be spread very thin!

      I'm not disagreeing with your basic premise about resupply versus shooting the load but I do want to keep us realistic about our resupply sustainment capability.

    21. "A subtype could include a tactical jammer derived from the NGJ pod. It would certainly be more expensive than the base model but could be a handy penetration aid."

      Like it!

    22. "With folding wings, you could fit up to five in the same square spot as a single Harrier."

      Uhh ... I'm not sure about that. The Reaper is around 10 ft shorter than a Harrier but has over twice the wingspan. You did mention folding wings but if you fold the wing to even equal the Harrier footprint, you'd have around 35 ft of folded wing and nowhere for it to fold into within the required footprint. Again, to be fair, you suggested a smaller UCAV than the Reaper but unless you're postulating a UCAV that's half the size or less (which calls into question the payload, fuel, range, etc.), you'll be lucky to get two in the spot of one Harrier.

      Of course, you may have in mind a completely different aircraft shape that may help the spot issue but I think you're still significantly overestimating the spot factor!

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    24. I'll admit, your TomaCAV is an intriguing idea although I think your cost and performance estimates are extremely optimistic. I'm also unsure that we gain enough performance (the RTB aspect) to justify the cost. Even with your optimistic cost estimate, we can build/launch 20 cruise missiles for each T-CAV. Throw in the heavy attrition and I'm just not sure that's worthwhile. Someone would have to game it out. You, for example, might want to consider setting up a simplistic RAND-style combat analysis comparing a Tomahawk strike to a T-CAV. It would make a great post!

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  3. That is why I have repeatedly said in the past, missile inventory is a huge problem in a sustained war. So will PGM ammo reserves.

    Another problem that is ignored is that many of the most advanced electronics are no longer made in the US and the US is rapidly losing leadership in fields such as semiconductors (although Intel holds the lead, the actual silicon comes from Japan) and in many cases, materials sciences.

    The other is whether or not Tomahawks can make it through a peer state (who might be able to shoot down a fair number of the missiles before they reach their targets). That will necessitate even more missiles to be fired to overwhelm the defense system.

    1. Um, the majority of Intel's production is US based. The only Intel fab producing cutting edge chips are their in Haifa Israel location.

      Both missiles and PGM reserves are big issues but not really insurmountable ones. Tomahawks for instance aren't really all that advanced and can be made at much increased rates if there is actual demand. The body/engine can be ramped pretty quickly as there isn't anything to them that many numerous factories can't quickly adapt to producing. Likewise, the actual electronics package isn't that complex and can be produced in great volume if required. AKA if we needed to ramp up to producing 5-10k Tomahawks per year, there is really no reason we can't. Same with much of the PGM. We could produce the PGM kits in vast quantity if need be.

      However, having 10k Tomahawks sitting in reserve doesn't buy us that much.

    2. Not talking about the fabs - I'm talking about the actual silicon ingots, which are actually produced by Shin-Etsu Chemical, a Japanese company (they also supply other big players like TSMC). It's just an example - but elsewhere it's going to be harder to get the manufacturing ramped up.

      A lot of technical expertise is abroad. Although the Pentagon has tried to insure that most expertise is in the US, not everything is, and the US has lost economic leadership in many cases.

      Another problem is that with the decline in manufacturing, is that there are now large segments of the population with limited experience in manufacturing and there isn't the massive capacity there was.

      I don't think having 10k of Tomahawks right now buys much - the question I have is wartime surge capacity and the technical expertise in manufacturing.

    3. SE.C does provide the majority of wafers currently but the knowledge needed to do it other places is well known at this point. SE.C basically just did it at lower cost than anywhere else but that doesn't mean one couldn't rather easily create 200-300mm wafers in the US if needed (there are actually labs that create them now in the US for research of both silicon and other compounds). In a war with say China, it highly likely there will be abundant spare capacity, equipment, and materials for the war effort as the major consumer pipeline that uses the results would be effectively gone.

      The only major blockage for *new* fabs would likely be lithography machines which has to primary suppliers in Nikon(japan) and ASML(dutch). Both those companies and countries are highly likely to be sympathetic to the US in a major war.

      And while US manufacturing has declined there is still a lot of it going on.

    4. We all often blithely state that we'll ramp up production if needed. In theory, that ought to be achievable however the reality is that it will be far more challenging than we think. For example, consider our efforts to ramp up F-35 production. Decades and counting. Not exactly the same as producing a known product, granted, but indicative of some of the challenges. Or, consider the failed attempt to ramp up submarine production by one more sub per year. Again, not exactly the same thing but, again, it shows the difficulties in trying to ramp up any production. The point is that ramping up is harder than we think.

      Also, good point about the availability of rare earths and metals. Simple raw material availability may be a limiting factor.

    5. Will it happen in the purity (silicon for modern microprocessors is pretty tight in this regard) and volume needed? For 300mm (and perhaps someday 450mm ingots)? This is a lot harder than it sounds.

      Supply chains these days are global. Granted, this will be an issue facing China as well, but if the retain more manufacturing (and I will note that more and more manufacturing is ending up in China's hands), it will be much harder to maintain expertise. Where the manufacturing goes, the innovation goes as well.

      What's lost is a built up level of expertise. There is one risk with a "10 year moratorium" on ship building - loss of expertise there. Manufacturing, as the Russians and the French have learned in their submarine programs, can be a perishable skill. It's still the lesser evil of course (compared to letting training and maintenance atrophy), but it's not without consequences.

    6. CNO, there is a hell of a lot of difference in ramping up say THawk production than ramping up F-35 production. THawk really aren't that complicated: Tube body with basic turbine, minor control surfaces, and a guidance package. Any piece of an F-35 alone is a much more complex thing: the engine, the wings, the cockpit, the fuselage, etc.

      AM, yes there are multiple labs in the US that can make ingots of the same sizes and quality as SE.C. SE.C is the major supplier simply because of cost and volume.

      Also, China's global contribution is much more in assembly than actual manufacturing (at least in the high tech sphere). As a modern example, China neither designs nor manufactures the iPhone, they simply assemble it as a pretty much disposable low cost black box assembler.

    7. I'd have to disagree with that assessment - Shin Etsu won both on price and on quality. With that comes a certain degree of innovation. The other question is, can they scale up in the quantities needed?

      Plus it's not going to be one area - it's going to be the entire world's supply chain that will get disrupted. The issue is that what comes from East Asia (Taiwan, Japan, South Korea), even though those nations are likely to remain on good terms with the US, they would likely see their exports to the US interrupted simply due to China.

      That will hamper both sides - but the side with the least amount of manufacturing capacity will be hurt the most.

  4. The next big step in anti-ship cruise missiles is simple. If it fails to find or hit a target in the target area (maybe the ships moved a bit or a decoy confused it) the missile automatically doubles back to sweep through a slightly different area, again and again.

  5. Lets be realistic here, alternative strike platforms (carriers, submarines) are far more expensive than arsenal ships full of missiles, particularly when you consider the cost of the launch platforms (carriers) and their escorts.

    A typical F18 would cost say 75mn (cost few years ago), a TACM 1mn (1.6mn FY2014 low-rate production cost for Tomahawks, I believe SK was producing much cheaper, 1mn probably reasonable in Full rate production). An F18 carrying two stand-off glidebombs would need to conduct 37.5 sorties ignoring all other costs, before it breaks even with the cost of those TACMs.

    But you have the cost of the launch platforms, the supporting aircraft, the escorts and the general operating costs ontop of this! Not to mention the CVs have poor availability! We are going to need to fly many times more than 37.5 sorties before suffering combat losses to break even with the equivelant strike capacity a CTFs worth of money could buy you in arsenal ships and supporting frigates!!!

    And this is without considering the range of the F18 on such a mission! And CV sortie rates 100/day.

    1. A lot of sorties were flown in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    2. Your not getting it, it costs about 20bn (if your being genorous) for a US CSG, and 95Bn over the lifetime of the CSG to operate. At a total cost of over 115Bn you are going to need to fly an enormous amount of sorties too break even with the strike capacity you would get from arsenal ships for the same amount of money!

      In a peer level conflict, where the adversary is defended by a modern navy, airforce and IADS, we can be honest, and say that the F18s are not going to make the ~100 sorties required to break even with the cost of expending the munitions on the arsenal ships (when we include the cost of operating such planes over their lifetimes).

      This is equivelant to the CSG operating 75 days at 100% capacity, without a single airplane lose, neither of those scenarios are likely. And if you aren't even breaking even on the planes you are using, you will never break even when you include the cost of the launch platform and escorts....

      The maths just doesn't work here. CSGs are an inefficient way of providing strike capacity. And FYI CSGs need to operate well within the engagement envelope of mainland based air cover. Arsenal ships, not necessarily.

    3. Anon, combat is rarely compatible with cost efficiency. As you well know, other factors trump, or should trump, cost efficiency. These factors can be lumped together under the heading combat efficiency as opposed to cost efficiency. That said, your premise does offer the basis for further examination.

    4. It is one of the reasons why I think having a battleship might be worth it. For the strike capability, it is not as bad as it looks. Battleships will never play the role of sea superiority they did (that role is firmly in the hands of the submarine I think), but for shore bombardment, it can be worth it.

      For the arsenal ship, one issue is the concept of opportunity cost. Let's say you could be several arsenal ships for the cost of one carrier. It would still need escorts, but the question becomes strikes and capabilities versus say, a Nimitz or Ford amd aircraft.

    5. Thanks, comnavops,

      Altand, You could probably have and operate ~50 Arsenal Ships (with 300 missiles each and local area defence) for the cost of one US CSG. That is 15,000 TACMs.

      Furthermore you could probably build multiple CSGs, with smaller fighters, comprising smaller carriers, escorted by smaller frigates, for the price of a single US CSG. Akin to the SCS (sea control ship) or the medium carrier proposal.

      Combining these, and using some of those arsenal ships, you could form several powerful Task-Forces, with enormous Strike power, and decent sea-control, and anti-air capabilities, at the expense of a few CSGs.

      Furthermore the loss of any such force would be much smaller, and in a peer-level war they could be set to operate on the edge of the enemies airborne engagement zone. And the more limited sea-strike capabilities of the lighter carrier and fighers could be offset with the Arsenal ship munitions. A very nice synergy/compliment.

    6. ...I must be getting old. I still remember when CSG meant Guided Missile Strike Cruiser.
      Anyway, I digress.


      "You could probably have and operate ~50 Arsenal Ships (with 300 missiles each and local area defence) for the cost of one US CSG. That is 15,000 TACMs."

      You probably shouldn't have gone there.

      Hull (100ft x 1000ft, basically a barge built to Navy Code): ~$151.2M or more (assuming you can get shipyards to crank them out at blinding speeds, which will not happen)
      Mk41 VLS: ~$163.4M
      Tactom: ~$477M
      SSDS: ~$87.5M including munitions (this is not enough to defend a ship this size)
      Powerplant/Engineering: ~$118.6M
      Sensor Suite (mostly for navigational purposes): ~$42M
      Electronics: $39.9M
      Misc: ~$20M
      Cost of Operations: ~$23M/yr
      Expected service life of ship: ~15 yrs.

      Now realize that the CSG will last ~50 years and you need 3.3 arsenal ships to 1:1 the Carrier over that amount of time... and you wanted 50 of these, you said?
      Total cost of your argument: $238.3 billion USD.

      I don't know about you, but to me that CSG is looking mighty cheap right about now.

      "Furthermore you could probably build multiple CSGs, with smaller fighters, comprising smaller carriers, escorted by smaller frigates, for the price of a single US CSG. Akin to the SCS (sea control ship) or the medium carrier proposal."

      The Sea Control Ship was a piece of junk and would have been a maintenance nightmare. Just bring back the Fleet Carrier if that's what you're wanting.
      That being said, US Supercarriers are designed the way they are for a reason. They're built to survive anything that can be thrown at them within a certain amount of reason and their great bulk is part of that design.
      CNO has made the argument time and time again about smaller carriers, and I agree with him, but this is silly.
      Assuming a cost of $12B for a new carrier (Midway-class [late era] sized), after all the government games get played.
      $8B+ (more likely ~$12B, since we haven't built one in forever) for a Cruiser, you only need 1. (33.3 year lifespan, so $16B)
      $2.3B+ for a Destroyer, you need 2. (25 Year lifespan, so $9.2B)
      ~$700M for a Frigate, you need 2. (15 Year lifespan, so $4.62B)
      We're already at $41.82B and I haven't even gotten into the aircraft, the munitions, yearly costs, or the Supply Ship yet!
      I could go on, but I won't.

      Next, in any war scenario where the seas are actively contested and the US is involved, you'd see the return of the CVBG VERY FAST. Every carrier would be escorted by at least 2 cruisers, 6 destroyers, and 6 frigates (potentially of more than one navy) in a massive Anti-Air circular formation Fleet-in-Being of a scale not seen since World War II. There's a very good possibility that 3 or 4 carriers could be working in unison with each other too and sharing escorts.
      No ship that doesn't contribute in a meaningful way would be allowed in the fleet ring - that's what auxiliary fleets are for (which are also guarded by numerous ships). If you wanted your Arsenal Ship to contribute... well, you'd need to turn the thing into a Guided Missile Battlecruiser, which would basically defeat the purpose.
      Of course, this means the US wouldn't be able to support its entire CV fleet in two oceans, but that's to be expected (with their failure to maintain reserve fleet levels).
      Your Arsenal ship wouldn't even be paid any attention to until the seas were secure. THEN it may be given a little bit of attention and be allowed to leave California/Washington (perhaps Pearl Harbor). By the time to got to China, the war would be over.
      ...No, I have no idea where they'd be getting the aircraft for those carriers when losses kicked in.

      - Ray D.

    7. Anon, the formation of arsenal ship-based strike groups is interesting. Of course, they would be prime targets (sinking an arsenal ship would be a major blow to our total missile inventory) and subject to vigorous attack. Carrier air support would be mandatory to ensure their survival. That being the case, we're back to the carrier filling the role of escort rather than attack - something I've suggested in previous posts. That does, however, caution against trading off arsenal ships for carriers. Fewer carriers may mean insufficient protection for the arsenal ship.

      I'm not saying I agree with the arsenal ship concept but your idea is certainly worth serious consideration so I just want to explore the ramifications.

      Good comment.

  6. I get where you are going here and the assumption is that in a peer war there would be some attrition.

    Tomahawk is best used as a day 1 instrument, causing a breach in air defence, command and control. You might commonly want to hit air bases or bunkers too. In Iraq it was also then used to destroy critical power and communications infrastructure, to enable the next phase.

    You can’t win a war with Tomahawk, it’s just a door opener.

    I think if you have gone through 3000 of these and you have not achieved enough of the goal to allow the other system to take over, then we are saying well over 2000 have been shot down or are ineffective in some other way.

    In either case you are not looking to ramp up production?


    1. Tomahawk missiles do not have a radiation homing mode, i.e. they can not detect and home in on and therefore target mobile anti-air emitting radars. That is the role of HARM/ALARM, and stand-off munitions that can be skewed to target by EW planes and whatnot capable of identifying such targets.

      Missile strikes, IMO correct military application is to take down critical infrustructure, particularly CNC facilities and enablers like HQ buildings and telco sites. But also TACMs can be used very effectively to pull modern civilization out from underneath the feet of a nation. I.e. removing their IT infrastructure (and disabling their finance sector), and taking out their power and water, their oil pump stations, refineries, distribution centers (for food) and other such utilities, and watching as their country crumbles around them.

      Particularly if they live in a highly urbanized society that depends heavily on modern technology which is highly centralized with many single points of failure.

      This is ofc 'illegal' under the UN charter against 'genocide', but all is fair in war and love. Besides last time I checked, the UN doesn't have that many brigades.

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    3. Good, then you can target A/D radars. I also like the modular payload system of JASM, a modern cruise missile a modern sensor suite could then target runways and release cluster munitions over parked aircraft.

      Clearing the way for ground bombers to drop incendiaries, and other nasties. You don't need to destroy all the enemy interceptors, just operationally defeat them. I.e. taking out the necessary supporting infrastructure/munitions depots.

  7. I’m not a fan of the Arsenal Ship, for the reasons mentioned in your article, but I’m not supporting Hughes in this respect either.

    If we accept that for every second of travel a Tomahawk (or its mission) is at risk, this being the highest risk dependent upon - if that launch was anticipated, if the flight path takes it to within range on an enemy unit and the ability to protect and or move the target from its location.

    Let’s also accept that we need suitable target intelligence.

    It does not seem likely that given 300 confirmed targets (a nominal amount for your arsenal ship). That your ship is the very best asset in terms of position and capability to hit all 300 targets simultaneously in the very very best way.
    Using multiple other assets will allow lower risk firing solutions either by virtue of stealth, range, angle \ flightpath or simply because of the distributed nature of their positioning.

    [ Each target will naturally have a different optimal firing solution \ mission plan. ]

    The likely hood of PREDICTING, monitoring and THEN countering the same 300 missiles in a distributed platform attack drops massively.
    And the number of successful tomahawk missions goes up.

    This is even before we discuss launch platform survivability.

    I think if you plan is to sit off the enemy coast in a very big ship EXACTLY 1,499 miles from 300 targets and lob your load at them all day long, YES your going to need more than 3000 missles. I would expect better from the USN though. ;)


    1. The idea IMO would be to have a very large number of such ships, as each such ship with missiles would not be that expensive. Modern cruise missiles (particularly when you need not adhere to current VLS station standards) designed from scratch, could also have a much larger range.

      If we had TACMs with a range of 3,000km (20% more than current tomahawks), you could sit 2,000KM of the coast, protected by CSGs, and attack targets 1,000KM inland. It would be very difficult to strike back, involving many tanker-tanker refuelings to reach the task-force.

      Detecting such attacks would require constant good AEW support (because missiles fly very low, and between terrain features), and skewing very large amounts of fighters on intercept missions. Then expending expensive AA munitions to defeat the missiles. You can buy, deploy, and operate many more missiles than a fighter plane is capable of intercepting each sortie, for the cost of that fighter plane.

      So even if all fighter planes respond and destroy many missiles, enormous quantities will get through and cause much destruction to civil and military infrastructure. For the same cost of the fighter planes, we can have well over 50 missiles penetrate per fighter on the first wave, and these missiles will destroy the military infrastructure required for OPFOR operations.

  8. CNO,

    One factor left out of this discussion is the lack of critical raw materials cobalt, tungsten, magnesium, rare earth magnets, etc. - you cannot build PGMs (missiles and torpedoes) and many other advanced systems without these raw materials.

    Not only does the USA lack the manufacturing base, it also lacks the raw materials to rapidly ramp up production of weapons; and in some cases it will be impossible to even maintain current production given that China possesses outright, or about 86% controls the mining operations of "the 14 critical strategic materials."

    Your long standing complaint about the lack of weapons procurement being a key point.


    1. There is that too. Some things like the rare earth magnets would be extremely difficult to come by.

    2. Actually the rare earth issue is largely blown out of proportion. The reality is that the US actually has significant deposits of rare earth materials. In fact the US was actually a major exporter of rare earth materials. China cornered the market in rare earths not because they have the only mines or the only deposits, but because they undercut the pricing of everyone else. They did this by basically subsidizing their pricing of the materials.

      In a war situation, we can resume production at numerous mines and our allies can as well. There is some lag time with restarting production, but luckily the Chinese actions on these mineral markets has already cause investment to restart production along with increased global demand.

    3. True the world does have many rare earths and other minerals - the problem is that any disruptions would take some time to resume though.

  9. There is one other matter to discuss not entirely related to cruise missiles, but to strike aircraft.

    The F-35, it is agreed leaves much to be desired for all 3 services. It has been plagued by cost overruns, and is under-performing below expectations.

    One very serious danger I note that some comments have made is that the F/A-XX is somehow supposed to solve these problems. I do not think this will happen.

    What will happen:
    - The Navy will insist that this aircraft will cost $200 million
    - Optimists will insist that it will cost as little as $100 million
    - In reality, it will probably cost north of $400-$800 million
    - Because of this immense cost, there simply won't be enough F/A-XX purchased
    - Also, there will be problems that will likely mean that the aircraft will in some ways not meet expectations

    Unless major changes occur at the USN, that is the trend that has been occurring for the past couple of decades.

    The end result will be only a handful of F/A-XX (like the F-22, which was originally to replace the F-15 on a 1:1 basis), some F-35s, and a fleet of badly aging aircraft needing to be replaced.

    1. Alt, those are some astute observations!

    2. It is just an extrapolation of the direction the US Navy has been going. It's also dangerously likely to happen - not just idle speculation, but a highly educated guess. Most programs in the past couple of decades have gone overbudget and below the manufacturer's claims.

      Indeed, it seems to be happening with the USAF right now - rapidly aging planes and the new planes are not going to be able to replace them on a 1 to 1 basis.

      More dangerously, they will have to cut back somewhere to fund the new aircraft - training I fear will be one of those areas, as will be maintenance (worsening an already serious problem of aging airframes).

      I live in Canada, but talking to a few people in the US, I have heard that quite a few USAF fighters have restrictions on high "G" maneuvers in training because of the airframe age.

      So far the only saving grace has been the same thing has happened to Russia's fleet - aging too, due to the fall of the USSR.

  10. I think you guys are overlooking the satellites' vulnerabilities. Don't Tomahawks and UAV's rely heavily on satellites for guidance? Lose use of the satellites and then what is there left to guide the missiles from a ship launch?

    1. Anon, over dependence on satellite GPSm guidance has been noted and discussed repeatedly throughout this blog. You may be a newcomer to this site. If so, welcome! I encourage you to read through the archives. You'll find a wealth of information. In fact, most regular readers wind up printing the posts and having them bound into a book for easy reference!

  11. One thing I keep wondering about is why everybody wants such big arsenal ships. Instead of 1 ship with 300 VLS, why not 6 small ships with 50 each? This reduces your risk by redundancy, and allows you to rotate them to be reloaded. These are actually a good ship choice to reduce crew size. They should be very basic other than their VLS.

    Randall Rapp

    1. Randall, yours is an excellent question. The lessons of WWII clearly demonstrated that we should not concentrate capability in a single platform. Dispersed capability was much less risky. Between then and now, we've forgotten the lessons of war and drifted towards a business model for operating a military and conducting a war. We'll relearn the lessons at great cost in the next major conflict.

      The trend of today's military is towards ever larger and more concentrated capability in the name of cost efficiency. The logical extreme of this path is a fleet consisting of a single ship (or plane) of mammoth size and capability. Of course, if the enemy sinks it the war is over!

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