Friday, October 30, 2015

Recent Carrier Costs

Occasionally it’s useful and fun to review some relatively recent history.  Let’s look at carrier construction costs as we’ve transitioned from the last of the Nimitz class to the first of the Ford class.  The primary reference for this trip down memory lane is the CRS report of 2007 (1).

Let’s set the stage by briefly reflecting on the improvements offered by the Ford over the Nimitz.  Claimed improvements include,

  • Increased sortie rate – This claim has been debunked and is not true.
  • Improved EMALS catapult – This may offer a maintenance improvement or ease of use but claims of reduced wear and tear on aircraft are not backed up by any data and logic indicates that the claim is quite likely false.
  • Improved arresting gear – This claim is also not backed by any data.
  • Decreased manning – It remains to be seen whether this reduction is actually workable;  the LCS reduced manning proved false.
  • Dual band radar – While potentially a better radar than what the Nimitz class had, the tactical utility of such an advanced radar for a ship that has only short range, self-defense weapons is lacking and subsequent Fords reportedly will have a greatly reduced capability radar.

We see, then, that claims of improvements over the Nimitz class are marginal, at best.  The question then becomes what price are we willing to pay for marginal improvements?  Well, let’s look at the costs.

The Ford is going to wind up costing around $13B.

According to the CRS report, the last Nimitz cost $6.05B (2006) which translates to $7.14B (2015) when adjusted for inflation.

When we compare the Ford at $13B to the Nimitz at $7.14B, we see an 82% increase (nearly double!) in cost even after adjusting for inflation.  Yikes!  That’s probably worth another – Yikes!

Now for the amusing part.  We’ve seen that the Navy’s acquisition cost estimates are consistently, absurdly low.  Do you remember what the Navy estimated the Ford would cost?  From the CRS report,

“The Navy estimates CVN-78’s [Ford] total acquisition (i.e., research and development plus procurement) cost at about $13.7 billion. This figure includes about $3.2 billion in research and development costs and about $10.5 billion in procurement costs.”

There you have it.  The Navy’s estimate was $10.5B for procurement.  Instead, procurement has ballooned to $13B.  That’s a $2.5 billion dollar overrun.  Bear in mind that Ford is nowhere near done, yet.  The final overrun will be $3B plus.  In fact, the Navy is now engaged in deferring work until after delivery in order to meet the Congressional cost cap.

Oh, for the days when we thought we could build a carrier for only $10.5B …

(1)Congressional Research Service, “Navy CVN-21 Aircraft Carrier Program:

Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronald O’Rourke, Jan 2007

Monday, October 26, 2015

China Naivete

If China’s annexation of the South and East China Seas wasn’t such a serious issue, ComNavOps would have to chuckle at the naiveté of the US political and military leaders.  Not being a political blog, I’m going to address this only to the extent that it impacts the Navy’s actions.  Here’s Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter’s latest comment on the subject (1).

“We also oppose any further militarization of disputed features. We all know there is no military solution to the South China Sea disputes. Right now, at this critical juncture, is the time for renewed diplomacy, focused on a finding a lasting solution that protects the rights and the interests of all.”

That’s hilarious!  No military solution??!  I’ve got news for Sec. Carter, the Chinese are militarily annexing the area and quite successfully!  There certainly is a military solution – China is applying it and we’re watching it.  We can continue to issue statements from now until the annexation is complete but that won’t change what’s happening. 

I’ve said it before, if we don’t want China to claim the South and East China Seas as their own sovereign territory we need to act now and that means the Navy needs to get into the fight.  Among other actions,

  • we need to stop honoring the completely illegal 12 mile territorial claim China is making on the manufactured islands

  • we need to aggressively exercise our rights of passage

  • we need to harass illegal Chinese reclamation efforts

  • we need to start providing combat escorts to our surveillance aircraft and ships

More humor …  We need to find a solution that “protects the rights and interest of all”??!  Again, that’s funny because, you know, China is all about the protecting the rights and interests of all.  China cares about one set of interests, only, and that’s theirs.  They’ve made that as abundantly clear as possible.  They’ve thumbed their nose at international adjudication of territorial disputes and engaged in systematic illegal annexation.  What could possibly make American leaders think that China has any interest in the rights of other parties?

Not absurd enough for you yet?  How about this one reported by USNI website,

“Instead Rear Adm. Jeff Harley, the Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Operations, Plans and Strategy), said that a rapidly modernizing People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) could assist U.S. efforts to bolster maritime security in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.” (2)

So, according to this Navy Admiral, not only is China not a threat but China may help us to bolster Pacific security.  If we really believed that we’d be sending them aid instead of conducting a Pacific Pivot.  This is just idiotic fantasy at its best!

The reality is that China is continuing to build 3km long air and naval bases at Subi and Mischief Reefs to add to the completed base on Woody Island.  And what will the Chinese do with these bases?  According to Michael Green (senior vice-president at CSIS and former senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council under President George W Bush),

“Green said Chinese officials have told him in private they intend to militarize the reefs and islands with planes, anti-aircraft weapons and naval vessels. He said that would allow their air force to have ‘overlapping air control over the South China Sea, not just from one airfield but from three.’ “(3)

What was that at the start of the post about “no military solution”?  Again, China sees a military solution and is well along in applying it.  If there’s no military solution for us, it’s only because we lack the will to apply one.  The entire South and East China Seas now belong to China and it’s only a matter of time until they look to expand beyond those.  In the meantime, though, we’ll continue to pursue peace, goodwill, and respect for all.  Someone let me know how that works out.

(2)USNI News, “DSEI: Chinese Expansionism No Threat to U.S., Says Admiral”, Jon Rosamond, September 15, 2015,

(3)The Guardian, “China’s new reef bases add an edge to Xi Jinping’s forthcoming US visit”, Steven Mufson, 15-Sep-2015,

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Accept the Threat

A couple of decades of fighting incredibly lopsided conflicts has led to the development of skewed priorities for America’s armed forces.  Mission (the big mission) accomplishment has given way to avoidance of casualties and collateral damage.  We would rather lose a battle than lose a man/ship/plane or inflict collateral damage.  This unwillingness to accept losses has, in turn, led to avoidance of threats as our doctrinal (dare I say, strategic?) and operational default imperative. 

For example, avoidance of the A2/AD threat has led the Navy to abandon any attempt to operate surface ships in contested waters.  Our carriers will remain well outside an A2/AD zone until it becomes “safe” to enter.  Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?  The job of a carrier is to enter the A2/AD zone and make it safe, not wait for it to somehow, magically, become safe.

Consider the Navy’s new doctrine of 25-50 mile standoffs while conducting amphibious assaults.  The standoff is to avoid the threat of land launched anti-ship missiles.  The fact that that kind of standoff distance dooms any assault from the start (meaning we no longer have a viable amphibious assault capability against a peer-defended objective) is now deemed less important than avoidance of the threat and, hence, risk to any ship.

We have built a fleet of mainly defensive ships in an attempt to avoid the anti-ship missile threat.  We have poured huge amounts of money into ever bigger and longer ranged Standard missiles and, now, ballistic missile defense systems.  At the same time, how much money have we put into offensive weapons and systems?  On a relative basis, very little.  We’ve become so frightened of the threat that we’ve forgotten why the Navy exists.  It exists to wage offensive war.  To attack.  To defeat.

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with recognizing and protecting against threats.  We’d be idiots if we didn’t.  But when our focus shifts from dealing with threats so as to enable our offensive actions to strictly avoiding threats because we’re unwilling to risk losing ships and aircraft than we’ve forgotten why the Navy exists.

What does all this mean?  It means that we need to change our thinking from avoidance of threats at all costs to accepting threats and the inevitable losses so that we can accomplish our mission.  We need to accept the threat of the A2/AD zone, sail into the heart of it, attacking the whole way, and fight to carry out our offensive mission.  We need to accept the threat of land based anti-ship missiles and move up to the shore so that an amphibious assault stands a chance of success and we can move one step closer to accomplishing our mission.  We need to accept the threat of the Chinese carrier killer missile so that we can get our carriers in range to conduct offensive operations.

So, am I suggesting that our current fleet should sail right into an A2/AD zone?  Not at all.  Our current fleet is not built to accept the threat.

What does it mean to accept the threat? 

Well, it means that we start by acknowledging that losses will occur.  And with that, we immediately see our first problem.  We have fallen into a spiral pattern of ever-increasing costs of ships and planes which result in ever-decreasing numbers.  In simpler terms, we’re on a path of putting our eggs in fewer and more expensive baskets.  No wonder we don’t want to risk them!  Losing a $14B Ford class carrier along with its $6B air wing would be catastrophic.  If it were up to me, I’d park that carrier in a cornfield in the middle of Nebraska and leave it so nothing could threaten it.  That’s the only sane thing to do with that much treasure tied up in one ship.

We need to reverse the trend of fewer and more expensive ships and planes.  We need to begin building smaller, cheaper, and more numerous assets.  Attrition must become a recognized feature of high end combat and its impact must be factored into our acquisition plans.  Instead of building Fords, we need to be building downsized Nimitzes.  Downsized?!  Yes, downsized.  Something about 2/3 the size of a Nimitz would probably be about right.  It would be big enough to carry a full air wing of 40 combat aircraft plus the various support aircraft and yet cheap enough that its loss wouldn’t cripple us.  Being cheaper (yes, that’s an enormous assumption), we could get carrier numbers back up to 15-18 which greatly reduces the impact of any single loss.

The same reasoning can be applied to aircraft.  We’d be better off with ten Hornets than one F-35.  Sure, we’ll lose aircraft in combat but individual losses won’t be nearly as devastating and sufficient numbers will ensure that we can complete our missions even in the face of losses.

Accepting the threat also means recognizing that we will have to stand and fight rather than run away.  This suggests that we need to re-evaluate how we build ships.  We need to build ships that can stand and fight.  We need ships with armor, great point defenses, more robust passive defenses, greater redundancy, and simpler systems that can be maintained and repaired at sea.

Accept the threat.  Deal with the threat.  Destroy the threat.  That’s what a Navy does.

The threats won’t go away and neither should the Navy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

This Is How We Want To Wage War?

Through the course of many posts, we’ve discussed naval force structure, strategy, combat doctrine, etc.  In other words, we’ve discussed how to wage a war. 

Defense News website has an article about airpower usage in the current anti-ISIS campaign (1).  While this is Air Force centric, the concepts apply equally to the Navy which is why we’ll look at this.  This is how we fight wars today.  This is how we envision fighting wars in the future.

First, just a bit of perspective on the entire anti-ISIS endeavor.  It’s been a year or so since the US began the fight against ISIS.  The president promised to degrade and destroy ISIS, you’ll recall.  How’s that working out?  Marginal, at best, right? 

On a related note, those who argue that the US is militarily stronger than the next X countries combined would do well to note the stunning lack of success against a handful of militarily bereft thugs.  To be fair to the military, the military is probably being tightly handcuffed by the President and his political goals.  Still, I haven’t heard anything worthwhile from the military regarding a viable strategy (assuming it’s even in our national interest to be involved in this).  To be further fair, we have no way of knowing what strategies the military has proposed to the President in private.

Anyway, back to the topic.  How do we want to wage war?  As reported,

“As of Oct. 6, the US and partner nations had conducted 7,323 strikes against ISIS: 4,701 in Iraq and 2,622 in Syria, according to a Pentagon report on OIR.  …  that averages out to about 13 strikes in Iraq and seven strikes in Syria each day.

By comparison, during the 42-day Desert Storm air campaign against Saddam Hussein in 1991, coalition fighters and bombers flew 48,224 strike sorties, or 1,100 a day. Twelve years later, the 31-day Iraqi Freedom air campaign averaged more than 800 offensive sorties a day.

We see, then, a focus on limited, precision attacks.  Unfortunately, the result of limited attacks is limited results – a key lesson that the President and military seem to be ignoring.

We also see a key characteristic of modern warfare as conducted by the US and summed up in the following.

“Since Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, the US has made great strides in precision-guided munitions, Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, deputy chief of staff for ISR, pointed out in an interview with Defense News. Today, the US is deploying primarily precision-guided bombs in the region to avoid collateral damage, he stressed.”

We’ve discussed this before.  Arguably, the US’ main goal in modern conflicts is avoidance of collateral damage even at the cost of increased risk to US personnel and decreased likelihood of operational success.  We have forgotten that war is destruction.  We are trying to conduct clean, surgical wars where equipment gets destroyed but no one on either side gets hurt.  The reality is that this is a recipe for long, drawn out conflicts that ultimately result in many more people getting hurt because the enemy has no qualms at all about hurting innocents.

There are some who recognize this but too few.  For example,

“What is the logic of a policy that limits the application of force to get rid of the evil that is the Islamic State while allowing them to kill innocent men, women and children?” Deptula [Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, Ret., former deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] said. “It’s laudatory that Operation Inherent Resolve has resulted in zero civilian casualties ... but how many innocent men, women and children have been killed in that same time?”

So, by trying to avoid collateral damage we ensure on-going civilian deaths on a much greater scale over a much longer time frame.

What other problems do we see in the anti-ISIS campaign?  Intel and targeting.  As Defense News notes,

“One frustration for the Air Force is a lack of assets and intelligence on the ground, Otto [Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, deputy chief of staff for ISR] noted. US agencies and coalition forces need to do a better job using intelligence, particularly human intelligence, to discern targets the Air Force can then strike from the air, he stressed.”

“I think we need to do a better job at holistically using our intelligence to create the targets. So it’s using signals intelligence, what we hear with geospatial intelligence, what we can discern from pictures with moving target indicators,” Otto said. “That’s hard work, but work that we need to improve.”

We see in these statements both the recognition that targeting is difficult and the failure to recognize that more technology is not the answer.  All the explosive capability in the world is useless unless you have a target to use it against.  Typically, though, the Air Force’s solution to targeting is more technology rather than eyes and boots on the ground.  Another approach to targeting is to accept that less precise targeting is acceptable.  If a sniper is in a building, our approach is to initiate a gazillion dollar program to develop a UAV that can enter the building, find the sniper, and disable his rifle.  The alternative is to drop a mortar shell on the building and move on.  This goes back to the avoidance of collateral damage issue.  If we are more concerned with avoidance of collateral damage than elimination of the threat, we shouldn’t be involved in the first place.  War is hell and the only good aspect to it is ending it quickly and decisively.  Fewer people will die in the long run.

Can the US fight a war with simpe, basic weapons?  No!  Consider this,

“We won’t send airplanes into certain areas if they don’t have F-22s with them because they make everybody better, they provide a capability that allows those fourth-generation airplanes to be even better than they would be on their own.” [Gen. Hawk Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command]

Really?  We’re plinking pickup trucks.  Gen. Carlisle is suggesting that a fourth generation aircraft can’t do that sufficiently well?  How does an F-22 make that better?  Hey, how many F-22’s does it take to change a light bulb?  How many F-22’s does it take to plink a pickup truck?  It doesn’t matter.  We’re going to use technology for its own sake.

“The stealthy F-22 is a game-changing air dominance platform, according to Col. Larry Broadwell, commander of the 1st Operations Group. Broadwell emphasized the Raptor’s enhanced ability to identify and destroy targets on the ground, adding that the plane’s integrated sensors have improved battlefield awareness for both US and coalition aircraft. Raptors from the 1st Wing were the first to deploy with a new air-to-ground capability upgrade, Broadwell noted.”

Well, how can anyone argue with that?  Using our most advanced jet to plink $30,000 pickup trucks doesn’t seem like overkill, does it?  Risking our most advanced jet to plink $30,000 pickup trucks doesn’t seem unwise, does it?

But for all its new technology, the F-22 has some limits. While the Raptor is able to communicate back and forth with other F-22s, the plane does not yet have the ability to send information to fourth-generation aircraft, Broadwell acknowledged. The plane can import information across traditional data links, but can’t export data, he said.”

Wait a minute!  Put the afterburner in reverse.  Didn’t we just read that Gen. Carlisle said the F-22 makes every other aircraft better?  How does it do that if it can’t communicate with them?  Could it be that the F-22 doesn’t really enhance every other aircraft and that the Air Force is just engaged in the same kind of exaggeration that the Navy routinely does?

Moving on, what about all those expensive surveillance toys the Air Force has?

“The Air Force’s ISR platforms are also performing well in the region, Otto said. For high-altitude surveillance missions, commanders are using Lockheed Martin’s U-2 spy plane and Northrop Grumman’s unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk to gather intelligence.

For medium-altitude ISR operations, the Air Force deploys General Atomics’ MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones. These platforms use full motion video to provide a clearer understanding of the battlefield, Otto said.

“The technology is incredible,” Otto said. “We’re able to do the Global Hawk or the MQ-1s and MQ-9s and fly those from back in the United States, which is when you think about that from a technological standpoint, very very advanced.”

Our UAV surveillance capability is incredible, the Air Force tells us, but didn’t we read earlier that targeting is a “frustration” for the Air Force?  So, all that incredible UAV surveillance technology is still not producing actionable targets.  Hmm …

One last aspect of the anti-ISIS effort that is noteworthy is our refusal to use ground combat power.  We want to fight this using only airpower.  This is, undoubtedly, due to our goal of fighting a war without casualties.  It’s a tossup which is our main goal:  avoidance of collateral damage or avoidance of casualties.  Regardless, those are one and two on the objectives list.  Certainly, winning is not in the top two (it may not even be a top ten goal).

Let’s look at the overall picture.  We’re fighting the ideal war, as we conceive it.  We have total domination of the air.  We have unlimited and unimpeded UAV surveillance.  There is no electromagnetic countermeasure interference.  There is almost no air-to-ground threat.  We have the most advanced aircraft in the world working the problem.      ………  And yet, in a year of combat, we’ve made no progress and may have lost ground.  How do we explain that?

We explain that by recognizing that our modern concept of warfare is fundamentally flawed. 

  • Our main goal is avoidance of collateral damage. 
  • We have no commitment to ending the conflict quickly and decisively. 
  • Our solution to every military challenge is technology. 
  • Our targeting capability is insufficient relative to our goal of avoidance of collateral damage. 
  • Our cost effectiveness (ratio of resources expended to results produced) is completely out of whack. 
  • We believe that airpower alone can win a war. 

Let me repeat.  Our concept of how we want to wage war is fundamentally flawed and almost guaranteed not to produce a decisive military victory.

I’ve criticized what we’re doing.  Criticism is easy, solutions are hard.  What is ComNavOp’s solution?  Well, there are two alternatives. 

First, we need to ask whether we should even be involved.  I’m not going to get into the politics of this beyond noting that a very strong case can be made that none of the people involved in the fighting are true friends of the US and that allowing them to kill each other off at no cost to us is not a bad scenario.  Of course, there are many other factors that could make involvement worthwhile.  I’ll leave it at that.

Second, assuming we have good reason to be involved, the only rational objective is a quick and decisive end.  Defeating ISIS would be nothing more than a short, trivial live fire exercise for a WWII armored division, if allowed to do the job without being subjected to overly restrictive rules of engagement.  In other words, if a sniper is in a building, blow it up and move on.  If we aren’t that serious, we shouldn’t be there and if we are that serious, it’s a trivial combat exercise.  Yes, there would be collateral damage but far less than if the conflict is allowed to drag out for years.  How many people has ISIS executed because we won’t do what’s needed to quickly and decisively end them?

We need to seriously re-examine our concept of modern war.  Russia and China have a concept and it isn’t even remotely like ours.  When it comes to how to wage a war, I like their concepts far more than ours.

Sidenote:  No, this isn't turning into an Air Force blog.  These concepts apply equally to the Navy/Marines and, thus, are worth consideration.

(1)Defense News, “Fighting ISIS: Is Pentagon Using Air Power's Full Potential?”, Lara Seligman, October 11, 2015,

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

LCS MCM Independent Review Panel?

You’ve probably heard by now that the Navy is setting up an independent panel to review the LCS’ remote minehunting system.  As you know, the LCS MCM module is plagued by performance and reliability failures and the Navy has pushed the next system evaluation back by several months.

Why would the Navy need an independent review panel?  For starters, the independent review organization, the DOT&E, has already told them, in great detail, what the problems with the MCM module are.  Further, does the Navy not have people who can evaluate the MCM module internally?  If not, they shouldn't be in the warfighting business.  

So, why do they need this panel?  Well, they're trying to get approval and funding from Congress to buy more of these modules despite the horrific reliability and performance problems that the independent review organization, the DOT&E, have documented.  You want more, even though it doesn't work??!  Well, that's what an "independent review panel" will do if you can get the panel to say that all is well - the "stamp of approval" will give you the cover to buy more modules that don't work.

So, now we know why the Navy wants an "independent review panel".

But wait, you say, won't an independent review panel find the same problems the Navy has already seen for itself and that the DOT&E has thoroughly documented?  How will the Navy get an independent review panel to go along with their desire to buy more non-functional modules?

You can see what's coming, can't you?

So, what does an “independent” review panel suggest to you?  A panel made up of people outside the direct chain of command?  I mean, it would have to be outside the chain of command or else it wouldn’t be independent, would it? 

Well, the Navy has thus far refused to describe the panel or its specific tasking other than to say it will be headed by Rear Adm. David Johnson, program executive officer - submarines (PEO - Submarines). Navy Times noted that Johnson is nominated for a third star and is slated to be the next deputy to the Navy’s acquisition directorate. 

Does that sound at all independent to you?  The guy is in the chain of command, nominated for a another star, and slated for a cushy new job.  Does that sound like an independent person or does that sound like someone totally beholden to the Navy and dependent on pleasing his Navy superiors?

Seemingly unrelated side note:  Does PEO - Submarines not have enough to do that he needs to be spending time rubber stamping a non-functional LCS MCM module?

With all that said, I am now going to amaze and astound you by fearlessly predicting the result of the panel’s review:  it will find that everything is just fine and the Navy should proceed full speed with further module acquisitions!!!!!

What?  Wait!  No way.  Who could know the future like that?  How can I possibly make that prediction without even knowing the panel’s tasking or remaining members?  Because the head of the panel is in the chain of command that wants the MCM module approved.  Seriously, what do you think this guy will conclude?

Independent panel?  Not even remotely independent!

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Death of Modularity

The Death of Modularity

Modularity was always an impractical fantasy for combat platforms and the LCS in particular.  A cursory thought exercise makes clear that the concept is fundamentally flawed.  The odds that a given LCS would happen to have the correct module for a given tactical situation are poor – 33% to be exact.  Further, requiring the vessel to retire from the combat zone for a couple of weeks to get its module changed not only weakens the overall naval force for that period of time but presupposes that the tactical situation and need will have remained unchanged until the LCS returns.  That’s a degree of situational rigidity that naval warfare has rarely or never exhibited.  Further, the Navy’s concept that modules would be warehoused and available in only three locations around the world was another flaw which could only serve to increase the transit times for ships wanting to change modules.  Worse, these warehouses would have presented lucrative and vulnerable targets.

This blog has also debunked the modularity myth from a combat performance standpoint.  I won’t bother repeating the analysis.

Despite all those easily seen flaws in the concept the Navy was adamant that modularity was the way of the future.  Come hell or high water the LCS would be modular.  So, how has that worked out?

Well, due to cost overruns in the LCS program and general budget concerns, the Navy quickly dropped the idea of purchasing extra modules and limited the module buy to just about a 1:1 module to ship ratio.  There would be no extra modules to swap out.  Of course, there were other problems like the instability of the Freedom variant that was unable to move module weights around without very careful and time consuming weight compensation efforts so as to avoid exceeding the vessel’s incline limits.  The swap which was envisioned to occur in hours was found to require several days.  So much for quick swaps!

Regardless, even though the Navy eventually acknowledged that LCS would rarely, if ever, change their modules, modularity was still touted as proper approach.  The fact that budgets and a few unlucky physical characteristics of the ship precluded implementing modularity didn’t sway the Navy’s opinion about the benefits of modularity.

That brings us to the present day.  The new LCS’s will be built with no modularity whatsoever.  As USNI website reports (1), the new LCS will be a conventional, non-modular, multi-mission ship capable of performing surface and anti-submarine warfare simultaneously.

The Navy must be disappointed, huh?  Their vaunted vision of future combat platforms has been completely abandoned.  I’ll bet they still believe modularity is the right approach, don’t you think?  I mean, they were so adamant that it was the only way to design a ship, they must still wish they could implement it.

Or, maybe not  ………….


According to the USNI report the Navy now claims that multi-mission is superior.

“Instead, he [Capt. Dan Brintzinghoffer, frigate program manager] said the frigate will be more lethal, more survivable, and will be able to conduct surface warfare and ant-submarine warfare simultaneously, whereas the LCS had to choose only one mission package to work with at any given time.”

So now the multi-mission capability of the frigate version of the LCS is a benefit?  Ah, wasn’t that what the LCS critics said years ago?  It’s certainly what ComNavOps has always said.

The Navy’s ability to positively spin either side of an issue is awe-inspiring to behold.  Really, though, what’s the alternative – to admit that modularity was an abject failure?  That would lead to some rather awkward questions about the continuing construction of modular LCS’s.  Say, now that I mention it, why are we continuing to build modular LCS’s when we’ve abandoned the modular swap concept and are now claiming that multi-mission is superior?  Only the Navy knows the answer to that.  Well, the Navy and ComNavOps.  The answer is that the Navy’s goal is not to build ships that are operationally and tactically useful.  No, the Navy’s goal is simply to get as many hulls in the water as possible in order to preserve their slice of the budget pie.  The fact that we’re continuing to build a ship whose operational premise has been abandoned and discredited does not matter to the Navy.  The only thing that matters is that the budget monies continue to flow.

You know, we should look at saving some money by seeing whether the LCS manufacturers would be willing to scrap the vessels as soon as they’re built.  That would be way more efficient and cost effective than having to wait 15 years or so and then find a company to scrap them.  It’s not like the LCS’s will do anything worthwhile while we wait.  But, I digress …

The Navy now officially recognizes what the rest of us have known all along – modularity in combat platforms is a bad idea.  Modularity is dead.

(1)USNI, “Navy’s Future Frigate Will Be Optimized For Lethality, Survivability; Will Not Retain LCS’s Speed”, Megan Eckstein, October 15, 2015,

Friday, October 16, 2015

LCS as FF - What Does That Do To Crew Size?

You all know that the Navy is going to build the next batch of LCS’s as “frigates”.  They aren’t even remotely capable of performing as a frigate but that’s not the point of this post.  Instead, consider what the changes mean.

It means that the ships will now carry all the equipment needed to conduct ASuW and ASW simultaneously.  OK.  So, …?

So, that means a significantly larger crew.  Think about it.  The ship will carry the equivalent of two modules instead of one.  Each module would have had a module specialist crew of 15-30 depending on what the final modules consisted of.  Now, they’ll have to carry 30-60 module specialists.  There will be more consoles to man, more weapon and electronics maintenance to perform (I haven’t heard whether the Navy will attempt to stick with the no-maintenance concept or not), a larger CIC watchstanding requirement, and so on.  Of course, there’s also the more mundane needs.  A larger crew will require more cooks and personnel to handle the ship’s hotel services.

So what are we looking at in terms of crew size?  Well, assuming a “core” crew of 50 (remember the Navy has already increased the core crew size and added 20 extra berths), plus 30-60 specialists, plus a helo detachment of around 24 and we’re looking at a crew of 104-134.  Now, bear in mind, this is just speculation and analysis on my part.  The Navy hasn’t shared their idea of crew size with me, yet.  Also, remember that if the Navy abandons the no-shipboard-maintenance concept, the crew size will have to increase greatly in order to perform all the maintenance on board the ship.  At that point, we’ll be right back to the Perry crew size.

The problem is that the LCS was not sized and designed to accommodate that much crew.  The ship does not have the berthing, galley space, food storage, refrigerated storage, water storage, heads, and all the other hotel services required to support that size crew.  Given the weight issues the class already faces, trying to add more of all those things will be a challenge.  It’s a zero sum game regarding weight.  If we add more hotel services, we need to remove something else to compensate.  What will be removed?  We’ll have to wait and see.  We already know that the modules are under weight constraints to the detriment of performance.  Calling the LCS a frigate does not suddenly make the LCS a good ship.

The original LCS concept has been pretty much abandoned, hasn’t it?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Simple Upgrade?

Here’s a contract item for software upgrades to the F-35 that just stuns me.

Lockheed has been given a $17.6M contract to upgrade TWO F-35s to software Block 3F.  Work is to be completed by Sep 2021.

Are you kidding me??!  Almost $18M to upgrade software?  For two aircraft?  You plug in a jump drive and click on Copy or whatever the equivalent is in a military computer.  Ten minutes and you’re done.  The programming costs are already covered by the main F-35 contracts.  This is just the upgrade when the new block is ready.  Maybe they need a new hard drive or chip or something but those cost hundreds of dollars not millions.

Here’s the actual quote from the government website.

“Lockheed Martin Corp. …is being awarded a $17,599,996 not-to-exceed delivery order (550302) against a previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00019-14-G-0020).  This order provides for the procurement of retrofit modification kits and associated engineering installation services in support of the Block 3F upgrade of two F-35A aircraft for non-Department of Defense (DoD) participants.  Work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas (90 percent); and Baltimore, Maryland (10 percent), and is expected to be completed in September 2021.”

The other baffling aspect of this is the completion date.  Sep 2021?  Why is a contract being issued six years prior to the need?  Couldn’t the government hold onto the money and earn some interest?

We’re just spraying Lockheed with the money hose!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Cold War ASW Lessons

The Cold War saw the apex of ASW as practiced by the US Navy against the Soviet Union’s submarine fleet.  Although much (most?) of the tactics are secret even today, we can draw some lessons from what is publicly available.

The first lesson involves one of ComNavOps pet peeves – the tendency to discuss platforms and weapons in isolation despite the fact that they are used in a broad context of overlapping capabilities.  In other words, one surface ship does not engage one sub and yet that’s exactly how we persist in discussing such things.  The lesson is that Cold War ASW was an all hands, all platforms, all capabilities exercise.  Thus, a surface ship might be badly outclassed in a purely one-on-one battle against a sub but as part of an overall ASW effort it can be very effective.

Here are additional lessons, in no particular order.

ASW began the moment a Soviet sub left port.  In combat, ASW would begin before this by attacking subs in port but that’s not relevant to this discussion.  Soviet subs were picked up by US subs and continuously tailed, in some or many cases.  US subs picketed Soviet harbors and monitored the comings and goings of subs.  Thus, the ASW effort began with a good knowledge of how many subs were at sea, when the set out and returned, where they might be heading, and, for some, a continuous tail.  We see, then, that the ASW contest began long before a sub could present a threat to US naval forces.

Most initial detections were via land based sonar installations.  Everyone is familiar with the GIUK gap and SOSUS underwater listening arrays.  By all accounts, the arrays and their land based analytical stations were extremely effective at spotting and tracking Soviet subs even at immense distances from the arrays.  Naval forces often had the benefit of ballpark (or better!) locations of subs in their areas and could concentrate their local ASW activities accordingly. 

Most initial surface ship detections of subs occurred at convergence zone distances.  This is an important concept.  ASW does not begin when the sub moves into torpedo range;  it begins as far away as possible.  This ties directly into the next lesson.

Fixed wing aircraft, S-3 Vikings, provided wide area, distant coverage.  Again, the idea was not to wait until the sub reached firing range but to detect and engage at the greatest distance possible.  Vikings allowed the task forces to keep subs at an arm’s length.  The ability to quickly cover large distances and reposition between search areas was invaluable.

ASW proficiency comes from practice.  This was absolutely critical.  Cold War naval forces practiced ASW, for real, every day.  Soviet subs were, seemingly, everywhere and US naval forces were constantly engaged.  Proficiency was mandatory and almost unavoidable due to the constant practice.

ASW assets were specialized.  As opposed to today’s “do everything” platforms, Cold War assets were fairly focused on ASW.  S-3 Vikings were sub-hunters first and foremost.  The Spruance class destroyers were purpose designed ASW vessels with extraordinary quieting measures built in.  The Perry class frigates were primarily ASW vessels.  The helicopters had ASW as their first responsibility.

Carrier groups were able to provide their own ASW.  Carrier groups had sufficient numbers of ASW ships and aircraft to provide their own ASW protection.  Further, the carrier could provide protection for its ASW assets.  S-3 Vikings could range far knowing that F-14 Tomcats were always in the air to provide protection.

OK, so now we see how Cold War ASW was performed and the lessons it offers today.  How does this compare with today’s performance?  Let’s take the lessons one at a time and examine them.

Chinese Type 093 SSN

ASW began the moment a Soviet sub left port.  I would assume/hope that we’re doing this today by picking up Chinese (and now Russian) subs the moment they leave port.  Of course, this is an aspect that will never be confirmed until many years from now.  The worrisome part of this is that we have fewer subs than we did and are heading for an even worse submarine shortfall.  We may simply not have sufficient numbers of subs to do this to the extent that it was done in the Cold War.  We had 80-100 subs during the Cold War and have 70 now with numbers projected to further decrease.  On the other hand, our satellite surveillance capabilities have improved so we can at least have some idea of comings, goings, and numbers at sea.

Most initial detections were via land based sonar installations.  Arrays were deployed around the world at one time.  How many are still operational is unknown.  The ship mounted version, SURTASS, is operational in the Pacific.  Again, hopefully, we’re getting initial detections over very long distances via the SOSUS/SURTASS systems.  If we don’t have them, we should be deploying arrays throughout the first island chain around the South/East China Seas.

Most initial surface ship detections of subs occurred at convergence zone distances.  This is an important capability to have and I just don’t know whether we are still capable of this.  It requires a great deal of training and practice which we don’t appear to be doing.  I’m afraid that this has become a lost art.

Fixed wing aircraft, S-3 Vikings, provided wide area, distant coverage.  The Viking is gone and carrier groups have no fixed wing ASW capability.  By definition, our ASW will be much closer and less flexible.  This is a capability gap that the Navy needs to rectify.  P-3/8’s can supplement this capability to some extent but are not intended to provide the kind of continuous, dedicated carrier protection that embarked Vikings provided.

ASW proficiency comes from practice.  This is our greatest shortcoming.  We simply don’t practice ASW enough to be effective.  All the new equipment in the world won’t compensate for a lack of training.  Until we begin to take ASW seriously, again, we’ll remain a third rate ASW force.  There’s no reason why we can’t practice out in the real world.  There are enough Chinese and Russian subs at sea to gain practical experience.  Of course, that would require possibly offending sensibilities which we seem to want to avoid.  It would also require that we take Aegis destroyers away from their vital pirate chasing, humanitarian assistance, flag showing, and cross training with navies that will never work with us in combat.

ASW assets were specialized.  This is the second greatest shortcoming.  We no longer have focused ASW platforms.  ASW has been relegated to an add-on function.  This means that the platforms are not optimized for ASW and won’t be training for it.  What do you suppose a Burke CO is going to emphasize, AAW or ASW?  Our helos spend all their time performing logistics, transportation, and humanitarian assistance.  When they get enthused about combat it’s all special ops related.  We’ve lost our helo ASW capability by making every helo a do-everything aircraft.  We’ve completely lost our low end frigate ASW vessels.  We have no ship that we can send ranging out from a carrier group or dedicate to patrolling submarine transit routes.  What carrier group commander is going to send one of his three surface escorts off on a sub hunt?  We just don’t have the numbers to allow it.

Carrier groups were able to provide their own ASW.  As we’ve discussed, carrier groups lack sufficient numbers of ASW ships and aircraft to provide their own ASW protection and those that we do have are multi-function where ASW doesn’t make the top ten list of activities.  Lacking fixed wing ASW assets, carrier groups are limited to close range ASW only.  That’s not where you want to engage submarines!

In summary, we once knew how to conduct ASW.  It was a multi-faceted exercise beginning at extremely long range and continuing all the way to close range much like the concept of layered AAW defense.  We had dedicated assets that practiced in the real world on a continuous basis.  Now, we have no dedicated assets, we lack some of the ASW layers (like carrier fixed wing Vikings), other layers have been minimized our de-emphasized, our training has been almost abandoned, and there seems to be little recognition of, or enthusiasm for, ASW.  The Navy has become so focused on AAW and BMD that there is little attention paid to ASW and even less budget.  Unfortunately, the Chinese submarine threat is going rapidly in both numbers and quality and the Russian threat is being revitalized.  We need to begin responding immediately.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Next Enterprise Is The Wrong Ship

While our military must be sized and designed to fight a high end war, the fact is that most of the time our military is involved in very low end conflicts against third rate opponents, if even that.  We have Super Hornets wasting flight hours plinking pickup trucks that are replaced before the aircraft can even return to the carrier.  We have Aegis ships chasing down pirates in skiffs.  We have B-2 bombers flying all the way from the US to Iraq or Afghanistan to drop a bomb on a suspected sniper or mortar position.  And so on. 

Our naval aircraft have only a limited number of flight hours in their lifespan and we’re using them up conducting the simplest, lowest tech missions imaginable.  Our air wings are shrinking because we’re using up Hornets faster than we can buy new ones and the problem is only going to get worse as we buy the F-35 or some horrifically expensive, do-everything UCLASS.

There’s also the operating cost to consider.  An F-35 is going to cost around $35,000 per flight hour.  Even lower tech aircraft like the A-10 cost around $10,000 per flight hour.  I don’t know what the operating cost of a Nimitz class carrier is but it’s almost unimaginable.

What’s needed is a low end, low cost combat capability for dealing with low end threats.  What’s needed is a small, basic propeller driven aircraft with reasonable speed, range, and combat payload.  What’s needed is something very much like the Embraer EMB-314 (A-29) Super Tucano.  For those of you unfamiliar with the plane, let’s take a quick peek at some of its specs.

  • Cruise Speed:  320 mph;  that’s just fine since no low tech opponent has an air force and nothing will be chasing it.

  • Combat Radius:  340 miles;  outstanding when compared to the Super Hornet with a radius of 400 miles.

  • Endurance:  8.5 hrs;  fine – we’re not talking about flying from the US to Iraq to drop a bomb.

  • Guns:  2x 12.7mm;  adequate given the absence of an aerial threat – a Hornet, by comparison, has 1x 20mm

  • Hardpoints:  5 - 3300 lbs;  adequate for the types of low end missions that are needed

  • Operating Cost:  $1000/hr;  outstanding compared to the $15,000 - $30,000/hr costs of jets.

  • Cost:  $12M;  outstanding especially compared to the $60M - $150M for modern jet aircraft

We see, then, that we have a cheap aircraft capable of carrying out the plinking and low end close air support that makes up low end warfare.

Super Tucano - The New Air Wing?

 Now, where do we operate these aircraft from?  Well, we’ve consistently seen the difficulties in getting our “allies” to grant us basing and overflight rights.  Thus, the answer, as it’s always been, is the aircraft carrier.  No, we’re not talking about Nimitz or Ford class supercarriers.  Instead, in keeping with the low tech requirements, we simply need a WWII Essex carrier – a simple, basic platform for operating propeller driven aircraft.  The Essex, as you’ll recall, was tiny by modern carrier standards at only 880 ft long and yet it could operate an air wing of 100+ propeller aircraft.  That kind of asset is more than enough to deal with the low end threats we generally face.

Yes, I know the Super Tucano is not currently available in a navalized version, however, the conversion has been studied and would be routine.  We figured out how to make carrier prop planes decades ago.  It’s not magic.

Essex Class Carrier

 This is part of the peace/war mix that ComNavOps has advocated.  This is strictly a low end, “peacetime” asset.  When a high end war comes, this vessel gets parked and the big, shiny, well rested F-18/35s and Nimitz/Fords come out and do their work.

What does this gain us aside from immense cost savings when running a peacetime “war”?  It gains us the ability to save flight hours on our precious and expensive high end aircraft thereby extending their service lives.  It gains us the ability to keep our supercarriers well maintained instead of floating off the coast of some third rate nation/threat on 11 month deployments that pile wear and tear on the ship for no good return.  It gains us the ability to keep our carriers home and working on developing high end tactics and operating doctrine without having to worry about covering a low end threat.  It allows us to train our ships and aircraft to maximum potential.  It keeps our high end carriers in surge-ready condition rather than worn out and poorly maintained.

Given the infrequency of major wars and our propensity to jump into low end conflicts, this might be the best value for the dollar in the Navy.

Maybe the next USS Enterprise should be 880 ft long and 30,000 tons instead of 1100 ft and 100,000 tons.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Coyote Supersonic Drone

The use of supersonic target drones came up in a recent post so I thought it would be worthwhile to briefly review what the Navy has to work with.  On a related note, the annual DOT&E (Director, Operational Test and Evaluation) reports consistently fault the Navy for failing to provide representative threat surrogates so, again, let’s see what the Navy’s doing in this area.

Probably the best known supersonic target drone is the GQM-163 Coyote.  Coyote can operate from sea-skimming to 60,000 ft and at speeds of Mach 2.5-4.0.  The drone is around 18 ft long and a bit over a foot in diameter.  The drone is launched from land bases and has a range of around 60 miles.

An Oct 2014 purchase of 7 units showed a price of $4M per.  Public procurement contract announcements suggest a production rate of around 6 drones per year.

The FY 2013 DOT&E annual report discusses some limitations with the Coyote.  Apparently, the drone lacks threat representative anti-ship cruise missile seekers and can only realistically simulate two threats and is only actually simulating one.  From the DOT&E report,

“The Navy’s GQM-163A Coyote Validation Report of May 2006 identified two threats that the Coyote could fundamentally represent. Thus far, attention has focused mostly on a Coyote representation of one of the two threats. DOT&E recommends an engineering analysis to determine what alterations to the Coyote vehicle should be made to use it as a surrogate for the second threat discussed in the GQM-163A Coyote Validation Report.”

The report does not identify which threats the drone can simulate.

An interesting sidenote demonstrates the absolutely minimal testing that constitutes acceptance of weapon systems.

“Four targets (two primary plus two backups) would be for the Aegis Modernization IOT&E, and eight targets (four primary plus four backups) would be for the Aegis DDG Flight III IOT&E.”

The extent of weapon testing has been brought up before and some have suggested that there is far more testing than I’ve documented.  This DOT&E statement provides additional evidence of the meager testing that is considered satisfactory.

Think about what that level of testing means.  Given a fleet of many dozens of ships that have AAW capability, only a half dozen or less actually get to conduct a live fire exercise against a supersonic threat in any given year.  That’s hardly sufficient to provide the level of training required for combat readiness.

There are other supersonic target drones.  For example, the AQM-37C is a 60’s era drone that has been updated and appears to mainly be used for very high altitude and ballistic missile targeting.  The drone is 14 ft long and has a max speed of Mach 4.

So, is Coyote sufficient for realistic training?  No, or at least not enough.  A realistic threat surrogate should emit the same signals as the threat meaning that whatever radar or other signals the threat uses should be emitted by the surrogate.  The drone should also be programmed to follow the threat’s expected flight profile including terminal maneuvers.  Lastly, the drone should be capable of the same on-board ECM, if any, that the threat has.  Given all the supersonic threats out there, the Coyote apparently only realistically simulates one.  That’s not providing the fleet with the level of realistic training that’s needed.  That’s also not providing the weapon system analysts with sufficient data to determine whether the various weapon systems can handle the myriad threats in the real world.  In other words, we’re testing for one threat and making the highly suspect assumption that we can handle the others despite their having significantly different speeds, flight profiles, maneuvering capabilities, seekers, signals, and ECM.

Coyote appears to be an adequate platform for further development.  DOT&E actually presents some costs for modifications that would enhance the realism and usefulness of the Coyote and the costs are almost negligible on a relative basis.  There is no reason for the Navy not to provide realistic threat surrogates.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Filling the Gaps

We spend a great deal of time arguing over the LCS and F-35 and other pieces of highly advanced military hardware.  However, can we win a future major war with just military equipment?  Presumably, a major war will not be over in 90 days.  Presumably, it will last years since both the US and China/Russia/Iran/NKorea all possess large inventories of military assets and sufficient resources (to greater or lesser degrees) to build new ones as losses occur.

Consider, now, the rate at which we can replace combat losses.  It’s not fast!  A single ship takes years to construct.  We won’t be replacing many combat losses.  Even modern aircraft take quite awhile to build.

ComNavOps has previously suggested that the winner of a major war will be the side which has the greatest number of second tier assets.  Think about it.  The initial period of a major war will see both sides throwing their best units at each other and attrition will ensure that after that initial period both sides will be left with many lesser units.  The side with the most, wins!  Also, building lesser (meaning less complex and, thus, easier and quicker to build) assets as replacements for top level units may be a way to achieve a relatively quick and cheap advantage.

This ties directly into one of our previous posts in which we stated that numbers are the most important factor in winning a war.

How else can we sustain an effective military force in the face of attrition and insufficient replacements?  Well, one way is by conscripting civilian equipment and painting it green.  Our fathers made extensive use of civilian ships, small craft, and equipment during WWII.  Consider the many amphibious ships of WWII.  They were either purely or essentially civilian ships.  The landing craft, while built exclusively for military use, derived from civilian small craft and were built to civilian standards using common materials.

This leads to several thoughts about civilian equipment usage.  For example, once we run out of giant amphibious ships and turn to civilian transports, how will we get troops and equipment on and off the ships?  Perhaps, amid our fixation on LCACs, we should pause momentarily and think about a landing craft that can operate from and with civilian ships.

The flip side of the civilian usage issue is that perhaps we should be requiring that all civilian ships be built with certain military interface capabilities such as RO/RO or helo flight decks.  The Chinese do this – their entire civilian merchant fleet is military compatible.

We’ve already seen that the military made an extensive effort to maintain the tooling and expertise required to reconstitute the F-22 production line.  Perhaps we should also be maintaining the ability to reconstitute the A-4, A-6, F-14, F-15, F-16, and similar lines, assuming that they can be produced faster than an F-22/35.  Again, if we devolve to second tier assets, the side with the most, wins.

And, of course, it goes without saying that we should be maintaining an extensive reserve fleet of ships.  Consider what we could have in a reserve fleet right now:  the entire Spruance class, the Kidd class, the entire Perry FFG class, Forrestal, Saratoga, Independence, Ranger, Constellation, Enterprise, America, Kennedy, Kitty Hawk, the Tarawa class, and so many others.  The nine supercarriers that have been retired would be completely capable of being reactivated for emergency war duty and would totally outmatch any enemy capability.

It may not be our best, frontline assets that win a major war;  it may be our second line and civilian assets.  Maybe we should begin planning accordingly and preparing for war with secondary, civilian, and retired assets.