Thursday, December 31, 2015


Let’s take a closer look at the LX(R), the replacement for the LSD-41/49 class.  To refresh our memories, here are some specs on the LX(R) and LSD-41.

Whidbey Island LSD-41       LX(R) (San Antonio LPD-17)

Length:                       610 ft                                      684 ft
Displacement:           16,360 t                                  24,900 t
Speed:                       22 kts                                      22 kts
Draft:                          21 ft                                         23 ft
Connectors:               4 LCAC or 21 LCM-6            2 LCAC or 1 LCU
Troops:                       400-500                                 700-800
Hangar:                      none                                      1 large helo or 2 smaller helos
Flight Deck:               2 landing spots                      2 landing spots
Well Deck:                 440 ft                                      170 ft
Cost:                          $339M(1981)                         $2.0B (2012)

Navy cost estimates for the LX(R) are on the order of $1.5B per ship.  Of course, we know that Navy cost estimates are uniformly, grossly underestimated so the actual cost will probably be on the order of $2.5B as we previously noted (see, “The Definition of Insanity”).  LX(R) contract issuance is scheduled for 2020 with delivery following in 2026.

The choice of the LPD-17 to be the basis of the LX(R) is odd on multiple levels.  The purpose of the LX(R) is to perform amphibious assault and yet the LX(R) will have a well deck half the size of the LSD-41 that it’s replacing.

The LPD-17 was one of the worst construction programs in the Navy’s history and that’s saying something.  The ships suffered from extensive manufacturing defects and quality control issues, were delivered unfinished, and continue to suffer from construction related problems.  This seems to make the LPD-17 an odd choice to base another class of ship on.

An interesting note is that the LX(R) will abandon the enclosed mast of the LPD-17 in favor of a conventional mast according to artist’s concept drawings.  Presumably, this is an attempt at cost savings although the Navy encountered interference problems with the enclosed mast and considered dropping it during the LPD-17 production run.

For a ship seemingly ill-suited to its purpose, why was the LPD-17 chosen as the basis?

The LSD did not have the ability to effectively operate independent of its ARG.  This is, apparently, the main justification for using the LPD-17 base seaframe.  The LPD’s aviation and command and control capabilities allow it to operate independently, according to the Navy.  One can debate the independence trend but this appears to be the rationale.

Of course, there’s also the ever-present poltics/jobs issues that can dictate directions in acquisition programs that otherwise make no sense.  Is that a major factor in this choice?  You can make your own decision on that.

Thus, the LX(R) has two general uses:  as part of an Amphibious Ready Group and operating independently.  Let’s look a bit closer at both those roles.

As part of an ARG, the LX(R) takes the place of an LSD.  Unfortunately, it costs the MEU/ARG two LCACS.  On the plus side, it potentially brings a couple of extra helos to the ARG, depending on the helo type.  It can also carry a few hundred more Marines although the benefit of that is questionable since aggregate ARG troop carrying capacity was not previously limited.  The major impact, therefore is the loss of two LCACs.

In independent operations, the LX(R) can carry 700 troops.  That’s kind of an odd amount for operations – more than a Company, less than a Battalion.  Presumably, the MEU’s tanks and artillery would be evenly distributed if the ARG’s ships were disbursed.  That would give the LX(R) one or two tanks and one or two artillery pieces.  Again, that’s an odd amount.  It’s not how tanks and artillery are organized or trained.  Alternatively, they might not get any tanks or artillery.  In either case, the embarked Marines would constitute a very lightly armed force.  The danger is that, eventually, they’ll get dropped into a situation they’re not equipped to handle and find themselves in over their heads with no help to call on due to acting independently.  In fact, the entire concept of independent operations is questionable but that’s a topic for another day.

Also noteworthy is the significantly larger cargo capacity of the LX(R) over the LSD-41 which would be beneficial in supplying the sustainment phase of any operation, no matter how small.

The LX(R) also further cements the Marine’s movement away from amphibious assault and towards vertical assault as evidenced by amphibious ships with no or smaller well decks, an emphasis on the MV-22, and the decades long lack of interest in a substantially upgraded replacement for the obsolete and doctrinally ill-suited AAV.

It’s evident, then, both from what the Navy has stated and a logical assessment of the evidence, that the LX(R) is intended to be an independent operator and the LPD-17 base sea frame was chosen for this reason.  Whether that rationale is wise is another topic.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

LX(R) and LCAC

The LCS received intense scrutiny at its inception and that scrutiny continues to this day.  The Zumwalt, by comparison, has received almost none (baffling, huh?).  Somewhere in between is the LX(R).  Let’s take a couple of posts to look a bit closer at the LX(R).  We’ll start with just a quick peak at the LCAC carrying capacity of the LX(R).  This is just setting the stage for a few upcoming LX(R) posts and is not intended to be a deep analysis.  Read this post as a simple factoid, so to speak, that acts as a lead in to more posts.

The Navy intends to replace the LSD-41/49 class ships with a new LX(R) class.  One of the key differences between the old and new ships will be the well deck space and, in particular, the LCAC capacity.  Let’s take a closer look.

The LSD-41 Whidbey Island class dock landing ship is an 8 ship class with the ability to carry 4 LCACs or 5 LCACs if the cargo ramp is raised.  That’s 32 or 40 LCACs, total.

The LSD-49 Harpers Ferry class dock landing ship is a 4 ship class with the ability to carry 2 LCACs.  That’s 8 LCACs, total.

In total, the LSD-41/49 class has a capacity for 40-48 LCACs.

The Navy is planning to replace the 12 LSDs with 11 LX(R)s.  Each LX(R) will carry 2 LCACs for a total of 22.

So, the amphibious fleet will go from 40-48 LCAC capacity to 22.  That’s quite a drop for an amphibious fleet that is already sorely lacking sufficient ship to shore connectors.  Does that signal that the Navy/Marines are getting out of the amphibious assault business altogether, or that the Marines are betting on shifting from amphibious assault to vertical assault, or that they’re just idiots?  I have no idea what the official line of thinking on this one is.  For the moment, ponder this and we’ll take a closer look in a bit.

LSD-41 Class - 4 LCACs

LX(R) Class - 2 LCACs

Sneak peak:  There is actually another, more likely, explanation (although don’t discount the idiocy explanation!) which we’ll cover shortly.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Show Me The Money!

Show Me The Money!

How often do our discussions result in statements to the effect that “we can’t afford that” – whatever that is.  It might be a new ship or weapon.  It might be reserve fleet maintenance.  It might be upgrades to keep a ship or aircraft in service longer.  It might be simple maintenance to keep ships functioning and combat ready.  It might be realistic training.  It might be whatever.  Inevitably, though, someone attempts to shut the discussion down with a comment about costs.  Those people are both shortsightedly right and overall stunningly wrong.

Statements that we can’t afford something are correct – if nothing changes.  If we keep doing the same stupid things we’ve done then we’ll have no money for the things we should do.  This blog is partly about the things we actually do but also partly about the things we should be doing.

*whine*  We can’t do xxxxxxxx because we don’t have the money.  *whine*

Well, here’s where the money comes from:  don’t engage in stupid programs that contribute nothing to our national security.  What programs and money am I talking about?  For starters, these:

Zumwalt – This program is going to cost around $30B in production and R&D and will give us 3 ships of highly questionable military value.  Two of the ships are already too far along to realize much savings from canceling them but the third ship should be terminated which would save a couple of billion even at this point.  I would even suggest that the second ship be completed and idled to eliminate operating costs.  The first ship can be retained and operated as a test bed.

LCS –This program still has around 40 vessels to go depending on the degree of construction on current builds.  At $500M per, that equates to $20B for construction.  In addition, 40 modules at, say, $50M each equates to another $2B.

F-35 – The Navy plans to buy 820 F-35B/Cs.  At $150M each, that’s $123B.  Yikes!  Kill this steaming pile of a program.

Ford Class – This program has set new standards for profligate spending.  The Ford will cost $15B+ by the time it’s operational.  The follow on ships, CVN-79 (Kennedy) and CVN-80 (Enterprise) will likely cost $12B or so each.  What will these ships gain us?  Very little.  The EMALS is a nice enhancement from a maintenance perspective, if it works, but it offers no performance improvement.  There are vague claims about less stress on the aircraft but that is backed up by no data and every aircraft we have is fully capable of withstanding those stresses so there is no real gain.  On the negative side, the EMALS is a massive electromagnetic beacon broadcasting the carrier's location for all to see.  Claims of increased sortie rates have been debunked and our carriers are not sortie rate limited anyway since the air wings have shrunk to nearly half their size.  Returning to the baseline Nimitz class would have little or no operational impact and would save several billion dollars per ship.

Burke Flt III – This program will provide a very marginal vessel with insufficient growth margins upon commissioning and a radar that does not meet the desired requirements.  Ten or twenty of these ships at $2B each equates to $20B-$40B.

LX(R) – This ill-considered replacement for the LSDs should be immediately terminated.  The LX(R) will have only half the well deck of the LSD-41 class that it’s replacing.  The dozen or so proposed ships will cost around $2.5B each (at best!) and would save $30B.

SSBN(X) – The replacement for the Ohio class SSBN is larger than the Ohios while carrying several less missiles.  This class should be terminated and redesigned to a smaller size resulting in $0.5B savings per ship for a $6B total savings.

Of course, the cited savings cannot be fully realized.  Many of the programs still need a product.  The LX(R), for example, still needs to be built and the money would come from the savings.  However, if the ships were built to commercial standards with significantly reduced combat capabilities, the savings would still be substantial.

Now, merely canceling these programs and then embarking on equally ill-considered and poorly managed replacement programs would accomplish nothing.  We’ve discussed better alternatives to most of these programs and these would have to be implemented in order to realize the savings.  Further, the replacement programs would have to be well run:  no concurrency, completed design plans prior to construction, well thought out CONOPS prior to design, contracts with massive penalties for quality failings, accountability in the Navy ranks with long term program assignments and firings and courts-martial when costs are exceeded, aggressive use of NAVSEA to ensure quality and firings and courts-martial when failures occur, honesty and transparency towards the public and Congress, and not a penny more beyond the cost estimates with firings and courts-martial if the cost estimates are exceeded. 

I’ve shown you the money.  Now, let’s rebuild the Navy!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through HQ
Not a ship was stirring, not even the crews;
The watch stations were manned though few seemed to fear,
That a blip on the screens would ever show there;
The Admirals were nestled all snug in their racks;
While visions of railguns danced in their heads;
The Chiefs in the goat locker, and I in my Whites,
Had just settled down with no enemy in sight,
When o’er the 1MC there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the head to see what was the matter.
Away to CIC I flew like a flash,
Tore through the passage and threw open the hatch.
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But an incoming bogey, already too near,
With an evasive maneuver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment we might take a hit.
More rapid than Hornets the bogey still came,
So I called for a scramble and called them by name:
"Now, Hornets! now, Turkeys! now Rhinos I call!
Launch the alert fighters, now launch them all!
The intercept geometry didn’t look right,
I knew then and there we were in for a fight;
The sensors were locking, the missiles spun up,
We might be beaten but we’d never give up;
And then, in a twinkling, we made our ID
It was just Santa;  I should have known it was he.
His sleigh was more stealthy than a Raptor could be;
And unlike a Lightning, it could pull lots of g’s.
As we secured from GQ and began to stand down,
I started to smile and loosen my frown.
A wink of my eye and a shake of my head
Soon let the crew know they had nothing to dread;
And then we received a general broadcast,
A hearty Ho, Ho! As his blip faded fast.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Radar Costs What???!

Northrop Grumman has received an $84M contract to deliver 12 AN/SPQ-9B radar systems, combat interface kits and a technical data package.  That's $7M per radar!

As radars go, this is about as small and simple as it gets.  It's an old style rotating antenna, for goodness sake and it's been in production since 2002 so this is just routine production.  We're talking just electronics, motors, and circuit boards.

This is seriously messed up.  You could get Tibetan monks to lovingly handcraft these radars and carry them across the Himalayas on the backs of Leprechauns for less money than this.  Are these things made out of Mithril and Adamantium?

The Navy needs to do some serious investigation into alternate supply sources.

That Little Suitcase On The Mast Is $7M

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Old Wives Tales

ComNavOps hates unsubstantiated truisms.  They’re generally nothing but old wives tales.  Unfortunately, a few of the popular ones have surfaced in our last post discussion.

  1. Older ships are too expensive to operate.  The corollary is that it’s cheaper to buy a new ship than operate an old one.
  2. The (fill in the blank ship class – we’re talking about Ticos, in this case) class is nearing the end of its life and has been used up and can’t continue to serve.

Let’s look a bit closer at the “old ships are too expensive to operate” belief. 

This is slightly true but not to any appreciable extent.  Yes, an older ship may have more expensive spare parts but those kinds of cost differentials are non-existent on a relative basis.  Yes, an older class may have an older technology that has been totally bypassed by something newer and hugely cheaper to operate but, realistically, how many times in history has that happened?  The component pieces of equipment on the Ticos cost the same to operate as those on the latest Burkes.

What about maintenance?  People make the claim that maintenance is much greater on an older ship than a newer one.  Bilgewater!  In a properly maintained fleet, the maintenance requirements of all ships are essentially the same.  Maintaining a LM2500 turbine is the same regardless of the age of the ship/turbine.  Yes, equipment may require an overhaul periodically but that applies to all ships, regardless of age, unless the ship is in the first months of its life.  Even then, that’s not a guarantee of low maintenance – ask the LCS Milwaukee!

Now, there is one maintenance scenario that supports the claim of being more expensive on an older ship and that’s for the case of a ship that’s been badly neglected for many years and then the maintenance bill can be quite high.  That, however, is not normal or should not be normal.  In fact, that’s a case that calls for firing or courts martial of those in charge.

Manning is the one area that has a somewhat valid claim to lower operating costs.  Automation has reduced crew size on newer ships, true, but that’s a false savings as we’ll find out when we engage in combat and realize we don’t have enough crew for extended stints at battle stations or for conducting damage control.  Also, there’s nothing that prevents an older ship from being automated during an upgrade.

What about upgrades?  Older ships need periodic upgrades which are expensive, right?  Again, bilgewater!  You do realize that the first thing a brand new ship fresh off of trials does is enter drydock for a maintenance and upgrade period?  It’s a fact of ship life that ships undergo periodic upgrades but that begins in the ship’s first year of life and continues periodically throughout its life.  The frequency and cost don’t change as the ship gets older.  Yes, we sometimes opt to do a very extensive mid-life upgrade but it is not a requirement and it’s quite cheap compared to new construction.  We’ve tracked some Burke/Tico upgrades and seen that they run around $30M-$60M.  Heck, even the mid-life refueling and upgrade of a nuclear carrier is cheap at around $3B compared to the cost of a new carrier and that’s the ultimate worst case.  A major, major Tico upgrade would be $50M-$100M.  That’s nothing!

So, what are we left with?  We’re left with an unsubstantiated claim, oft repeated, that older ships are more expensive to operate.  Unless someone can provide some data to the contrary, this claim is untrue.

Now let’s look at the claim that older ships have been used up and have no more life in them.  I think you know the summary judgment on this one – bilgewater!  A 28-30 year old ship is not used up unless the Navy has criminally allowed the ship to deteriorate beyond repair.  Even then, a ship can be repaired.  People seem to think that there is some sort of magical process whereby a ship becomes less seaworthy when it reaches a certain age.  Completely untrue.  Let’s look at some examples.

The Enterprise served 50 years and, at the end of that time, was still completely seaworthy and could have continued to serve for another 50 if we so chose.  Unless there are holes in the hull (and even hull sheet metal can be replaced), every piece of equipment can be replaced.  Yes, the nuclear reactor makes a carrier a special case due to nuclear fatigue but I’m illustrating the seaworthiness of the hull.  Turbines, berthing, catapults, arresting gear, or anything else can be replaced.

Well, OK, you say but that only applies to large ships.  Smaller ships wear out faster, right?  Wrong.  The LCUs are in the vicinity of 50 years old and still going strong.  Perry’s are continuing to serve around the world and will do so for many years to come.

The point is that end of life is a purely arbitrary concept.  We can replace anything.  Consider the example of the B-52 which is still serving and expected to continue for many years to come.   

Again, the cost of doing the upgrades necessary to keep a ship operating is very cheap compared to the cost of new construction.

Unconvinced?  Let me give you a concrete example.  Suppose we consider the case for a new Tico versus maintaining the ones we have via upgrades.  A new Tico would cost around $2.5B (or more!).  A major upgrade for a Tico would cost around $100M and let’s say it buys us 10 more years of service per ship.  Those are all pretty reasonable numbers.  So, at $2.5B, we can fund 25 Tico upgrades and gain 250 ship-years of service (25 ships x 10 years).  Compare that to the single new Tico that we could buy for $2.5B which would give us 30 ship-years.  That’s 30 ship-years for one new ship versus 250 ship-years for 25 upgrades.  The choice seems clear.

If you’re going to cite a truism, back it up with data.  Otherwise, it’s simply not valid.  These two truisms are proffered by the Navy as a means to justify their obsession with new construction and, like so much the Navy spouts, are untrue.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Alternate Ticonderoga Roles

The Navy has tried repeatedly to early retire the Ticonderoga class Aegis cruisers, the most capable warships on the planet.  Setting aside the lunacy of that intent, let’s assume that the Navy succeeds in its quest – ultimately, they always do.  Is there a secondary role that “retired” Ticos could serve in?

Well, here’s a few fun speculations about secondary roles.  Note that for most or all of these roles, the non-specified functions and capabilities would be removed and the crew size proportionally reduced.  Thus, the Aegis system, sonar, helos, etc. would likely be removed.  If desired, some simple sheet metal structural work could slant some of the superstructure that remains to add a degree of stealth.  The degree obtainable might or might not justify the effort and cost.

AAW Barge – The Ticos could simply be filled with AAW missiles, have all other functions stripped out, be minimally manned, and provide an AAW missile inventory for other shooters.

Amphibious Assault Gun Ship – Removing the VLS cells would allow room for additional guns and magazines.  It ought to be possible to raise the ship’s gun total to around five 5” guns.  That would represent a vast improvement over what we have now in the way of gun support.  Helos would be replaced by a sizable short range UAV complement for gunfire spotting and surveillance.

Surveillance UAV Carrier – If the flight deck were expanded and the helos deleted, the ship could make an excellent UAV carrier for conducting surveillance.  The ship already has fairly extensive command, control, intel, and surveillance capabilities.  It would be easy to blend in UAV operations.

Arsenal Ship – The VLS cells could be dedicated to cruise missiles.  In fact, the guns could be removed and additional cells added. 

Whether any of these options would make the perfect platform for the described role is not the issue.  The issue is that the Navy is trying desperately to early retire the ships and these concepts represent possible ways to extract more useful life from the class.  Do you have any ideas of your own?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

LCS and Navy Spanked !

The Navy got spanked!  You recall the Navy being handed a cease and desist memo from then SecDef Hagel regarding the LCS program and being told to come up with a frigate.  You also know that the Navy promptly ignored the directive and came up with a “frigate” that was the LCS plus a few odds and ends.  They thumbed their nose at SecDef and continued merrily on with the LCS program.

Well, now the Navy has been spanked and slapped down.  As reported by USNI News, SecDef Carter has issued the Navy a directive (1) to,

  • Terminate the LCS buy at 40 hulls
  • Select a single ship type and single supplier
  • Redirect the budget funds towards F-35C, Super Hornet, and weapons upgrades
This is to take effect in the 2017 budget.

The memo takes some heavy shots at the Navy.  Consider this passage,

“This plan reduces, somewhat, the number of LCS available for presence operations, but that need will be met by higher-end ships, and it will ensure that the warfighting forces in our submarine, surface, and aviation fleets have the necessary capabilities and posture to defeat even our most advanced potential adversaries.” [emphasis added]

This is saying that SedDef realizes the LCS will contribute little to combat and that the money will be better spent in other areas.  This directly contradicts the Navy PR that the LCS is an amazing vessel that will dominate the battlefield.

Of course, the memo still doesn’t fully recognize the limits of the LCS.  Consider this statement.

“Forty LCS/FF will exceed recent historical presence levels and will provide a far more modern and capable ship than the patrol coastals, minesweepers, and frigates that they will replace.”

The LCS will provide presence and will be more modern but it will come nowhere near being as capable as the Perrys and Avengers it replaces.  Someone has forgotten that the Perrys had two helos, a larger gun, and a 40 round missile magazine capable of launching Harpoons and Standard missiles.  Unless a miracle pops up out of the current wreck of an MCM module, the Avengers were/are far more capable.

Well, this is interesting, and certainly an implied rebuke of the Navy’s policy but is that really a spanking?  Well, if you don’t consider that a spanking then read this,

“For the last several years, the Department of the Navy has overemphasized resources used to incrementally increase total ship numbers at the expense of critically-needed investments in areas where our adversaries are not standing still, such as strike, ship survivability, electronic warfare, and other capabilities.”

“This has resulted in unacceptable reductions to the weapons, aircraft, and other advanced capabilities that are necessary to defeat and deter advanced adversaries. Earlier this year the Department of Defense gave guidance to correct and reverse this trend of prioritizing quantity over lethality; however, counter to that guidance, the Department of the Navy’s latest program submission fails to do so. It is accordingly unbalanced, creates too much warfighting and technical risk, and would exceed the numerical requirement of 308 ships… This requirement should be met, but not irresponsibly exceeded.”

Ouch!  For those of you who have seen the movie Animal House, this line seems appropriate,

“Thank you, sir.  May I have another?”

The Navy was gently prodded to terminate the LCS program, they ignored it, and now they’ve been taken to the woodshed.  I’m not a fan of SecDef but I’ll give him full credit on this one!

It appears that people in Washington are getting tired of the Navy’s games.  You’ll recall that the Director of DOT&E has written a couple of backdoor memos to SecDef and Congress about Navy failings and now this.  This SecDef seems to have aligned himself with DOT&E against the Navy.  I’ve got to believe that some Navy careers will quietly end soon.

Update:  Upon reading the full text of the memo, I have to say that the tone is even more severe and critical than I suggested in this post.  It explicitly states that the Navy has been heading down the wrong path for the last several years and has ignored DoD's wishes and directives.  This is as strong a rebuke as I can ever remember seeing in Washington, the land of political correctness and sensitivity.  Someone has got to lose their job as a result of this.  Look for SecNav Mabus to "voluntarily" resign in the near future.  This also confirms and validates my exceedingly low opinion of CNO Greenert.  I know it's not the Washington way but this would be a great time to clean house in the Navy leadership ranks.

(1)USNI, “SECDEF Carter Directs Navy to Cut Littoral Combat Ship Program to 40 Hulls, Single Shipbuilder”, Sam LaGrone, December 16, 2015,

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

LCS Milwaukee Breakdown Originated During Construction?

I’m sure by now everyone has heard that the Navy’s newest LCS, the Milwaukee, suffered a breakdown just 20 days after being commissioned and had to be towed back to port.  The cause appears to be fine metal filings in the lube oil system for the combining/splitter gear assemblies.  Repairs will, reportedly, require several weeks or more.

What has not been reported is that the recent breakdown of the LCS Milwaukee due to metal filings in the lube oil system may have had its origins in an earlier incident during construction and the current breakdown may have been avoidable.  Here’s a description of the May 2015 construction incident as provided by Defense News website (1).

“The Milwaukee had been aiming for a delivery date in August, but that's been delayed at least a month by a shipyard accident that took place in late May in the midst of builder's sea trials — a series of underway periods where the shipyard checks out the ship before the Navy runs acceptance trials.  …

The accident took place late one evening as the ship was pierside in Marinette, trying to get ready to head back out in the morning.

‘We were basically looking at cleaning up a lube oil system,’ North [Joe North, Lockheed's vice president of Littoral Ships and Systems] explained. ‘We had an inadvertent start of the turbine that went to the gear that spun the starboard shaft in the machinery plant between the splitter gear and the forward gear.’ The shaft should have been decoupled so the turbine wouldn't turn it. ‘So with no lube oil there, that is not the way you want to run it. It was a very, very short time frame, less than a minute.’

But it was long enough to damage the splitter gear, shaft bearings and other parts.

‘We were actually pretty fortunate there wasn't a whole lot of damage in there,’ North said. ‘There were a lot of parts that might have been scored or something or marked. We had them remachined, brought back in, put the gear back together.’

Repairs have been completed, he said, and crews were putting all the pieces back together to resume sea trials.

While the investigation is still being completed, North acknowledged the accident was the shipyard's fault.

‘It was a procedural error, human error,’ he said.

The Navy is right in the middle of overseeing the repair work.

‘We are pleased on the Navy side with the work we are seeing and the progress that is being made,’ Rear Adm. Brian Antonio, program executive officer for the LCS, said July 17 at the shipyard. ‘I actually went down into the space and things are being put back together again. The shipyard is doing the welding and the testing required to put the ship back to where it was prior to the casualty.’ “

So, we have a construction incident in which the splitter gear and other equipment was damaged by being run without lube oil.  The operation of the gears (metal on metal) undoubtedly produced metal filings in the splitter/combining gear assemblies.  It seems quite likely that the current breakdown due to metal filings in the splitter/combining gear assemblies originated from the earlier construction incident.  It appears that the earlier construction incident produced metal filings that were not cleaned out from the splitter/combining gear system and those filings eventually accumulated in the splitter/combining gear lube oil system, clogging the filters, and shutting the system down.

LCS Splitter/Combining Gear System

If true, this raises a lot of questions.  Why wasn’t the earlier incident properly repaired?  Any engineer would have known there would be metal filings present in the system after the incident.  Why weren’t they cleaned out?

Knowing that there had been an earlier incident, why didn’t the Navy insist on much closer inspection of the lube oil systems?  The filings were there the whole time and would have been readily evident on closer inspection.

Rear Adm. Antonio went into the engine space.  Perhaps he should have sent an engineer into the space instead of conducting a public relations exercise that accomplished nothing.  What was he going to see?  Nothing.

The Freedom class has a history of engineering/propulsion system breakdowns including lube oil system issues.  Why wasn’t particular attention paid to the Milwaukee’s system in light of the general class history of problems and the specific construction incident?

Let me be quite clear about this report.  This is my speculation and the link between the construction incident and the recent breakdown is not confirmed.  It is based only on a logical assessment of the public information.  However, if the two incidents are not related, the co-incidence is astounding.

Further, if the two incidents are related the manufacturer should be responsible for the entire cost of this breakdown. 

Finally, if related, this yet again demonstrates the Navy’s utter lack of in-house engineering competency and oversight of ship construction.

(1)Defense News, “LCS Hits Its Stride in Marinette”, Christopher P. Cavas, July 26, 2015,

Monday, December 14, 2015

Millennium Challenge 2002

Everyone has probably heard of the Millennium Challenge 2002 wargame.  Heck, it’s almost become a legend.  The exercise offered some outstanding lessons all around though not necessarily those that are routinely claimed.  Let’s take a closer look.  For those who may not be familiar with it, here is a brief summary. 

Among various other aspects, both physical and simulated, the US conducted a simulated wargame involving the overthrow of a Middle East dictator of a country on the Persian Gulf.  The enemy, or Red force, was commanded by Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, USMC(Ret.).  The exercise was two years in the making and reportedly cost $250M.

The game was, apparently, intended as a free play exercise in which both sides would try their best to win and, at least in the beginning, was conducted as such.  The short version is that Van Riper, leading the Red force, used a combination of civilian aircraft and small boats for surveillance to pinpoint the US forces and then proceeded to launch swarm attacks, suicide attacks, and cruise missiles to annihilate the US fleet in short order.

Faced with an additional couple of weeks of scheduled exercise time, game officials opted to restore all the “killed” units and continue on.  At this point, the game ran off the tracks with the imposition of highly scripted actions designed to validate US concepts and ensure a US “victory”.  Van Riper eventually resigned from active participation in disgust.

The game concluded with pronouncements of a US “victory”.

ComNavOps has no problem with reconstituting the US forces in the context of a wargame.  After all, if you have the personnel assembled for a couple week long game and it ends in the first day or two, why not start over and gain some more benefit?  The problem is that the subsequent restart and scripted operations appear to have been a blatant attempt to force a pre-determined outcome.

If you want to ensure a desired outcome by using unrealistic scenarios and conditions, why go to the trouble of conducting a wargame, at all?  It would be cheaper and easier to just skip the exercise, announce that your concepts are unbeatable, and save some money.

ComNavOps also has no problem with scripted exercises intended to test a narrow, specific capability.  For example, suppose you want to look at the use of a particular decoy in the context of an aerial strike against a land target.  You could play an open-ended, free form game but the opportunity to conduct the strike might never arise.  If that were the case, you would have wasted your time.  Better to initiate a specific scenario with scripted actions and conditions as long as the actions and conditions don’t predetermine the outcome of the decoy’s performance.

There are two types of wargames: 

  1. Games in which the enemy is allowed freedom of action and concepts are put to a realistic (though simulated) test.
  2. Games in which pet weapons and concepts are exercised in scenarios with pre-determined outcomes in order to “validate” their procurement or adoption.

The Guardian offers a write up and comments from Gen. Van Riper (1).

Gen. Van Riper
Contrary to what many believe, the game did not demonstrate that swarms and suicides and whatnot are unstoppable and that ships stand no chance.  Instead, it demonstrated that conventional Navy commanders are totally unprepared to deal with the unconventional and unexpected.  It also demonstrated that unless the US is prepared to accept significant collateral damage, we’ll be fighting with our hands tied (our ROEs are ill-suited to major combat operations).

I also note that such a free play wargame has not been conducted since, to the best of my knowledge.  You can draw your own conclusion as to why not.

On an ominous and related note, Navy and DoD leadership is committing the US to an “offset strategy” of networks and unmanned vehicles intended to ensure US military supremacy.  All well and good except that ComNavOps has expressed severe doubts about the wisdom and effectiveness of such an approach.  Perhaps a free form wargame is needed to validate the concept before we gut the military and wander off in an unproven direction?

(1)The Guardian, “Wake-up Call”, Julian Borger, 5 September 2002,

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Fighting Ethos

ComNavOps has repeatedly stated that the Navy has become a purely defensive force rather than offensive, has become risk averse, promotes the wrong type of commanders, and has abandoned any semblance of tactical or realistic training.  Well, here’s the Navy finally beginning to recognize those facts.  The following is part of a written summary of the Distributed Lethality workshops and is authored by  Captain Joe Cahill, USN, Director, DL Task Force Commander, Naval Surface Forces (1).

“Finally, to realize a more offensive culture within the surface forces, the warfighter ethos must shift to a more proactive and ferocious fighting spirit. Offensive tactics and the requisite training need to be hand-and-glove in order to leverage lethality. Engraining within the surface forces such a fighting ethos with the training to back it up must be a top priority for the commander.”

There you have it.  Now, even the Navy is admitting that they no longer are a fighting force.  They’ve become a peacetime business organization that exists to build ships and promote careers.

Consider the type of command element the Navy is selecting for.  The main focus of command selection is on finding people who will not make waves, who get along – go along, who won’t appear in any headlines, who won’t reflect negatively on the Navy, who have a fine appreciation for gender equality and diversity (again, to avoid headlines), who have made no mistakes in previous assignments, and who won’t respond aggressively to provocations at sea.

Note that we’re selecting for negative qualities – things that the candidate won’t do, rather than things that they will do.

Despite this, we still wind up firing 20-30 commanders each year.

Look what we’ve created.  Our commanders cower on the bridge hoping against hope that no one will make a mistake during their command tour and micro-managing everything to try to reduce the chances of a mistake.  We fire commanders for some pretty innocuous things.  We’ve created a zero-tolerance for headlines.  If one sailor complains about something, real or imagined, it can destroy a commander’s career.

I have nothing against firing commanders if it happens for the right reasons.  By all means, fire commanders for tactical incompetence or lack of warrior spirit.  Unfortunately, none of the 20-30 commanders fired each year has been fired for those reasons.

We have ruthlessly eliminated the warrior spirit.  We have weeded out any commander with a contentious, aggressive, abrasive, fighting personality.

The Navy is no longer a fighting force.  It’s a gender sensitive, diversity focused, environmentally responsible, social experiment of a business organization.

Somewhere, Bull Halsey is weeping for his Navy right now, as am I.

(1)USNI, “Essay: Taking Distributed Lethality to the Next Level”, Scott C. Truver, December 10, 2015

Friday, December 11, 2015

Fight Like You Train - Part 2

Regarding the previous post, reader GAB made a comment that is too astute to let go without amplification.  The point of the post was that we are not following our own doctrine as we train for amphibious assaults.  In addition, it has long been ComNavOps’ contention that the Navy/Marines (and military, in general) are not conducting realistic, and therefore useful, training.  GAB took the opportunity to expand on the post’s theme and pointed out, item by item, the utter lack of any semblance of realistic training.  His points just scratched the surface of the issue.  There are many other items that should have been included in any worthwhile training but were clearly absent.

Here is the text of his comment.

I can forgive the stand-off distance, but the things that are really missing and telling in the photos:

1) Man-made obstacles (AT ditches, hedge hogs, razor wire, PMN mines, AT mines...).
2) Engineering vehicles to counter any residual mines (the enemy is also sure to have air and artillery delivered scatterable mine systems).
3) Mine sweepers.
4) Smoke - seriously, I would hope that we plan to lay down massive amounts of multi-spectral smoke to blind everything from the naked eye to image intensifiers and infrared optical systems. This is particularly true if you land in daylight…
5) Chaff - the enemy will employ radar to include synthetic and active aperture radars –we need deal with them.
6) Surface screen – seriously, we have no FAC or patrol craft to protect the landing force on the way into the beach, or to suppress immediate threats on the beach with mortars and rockets – really…?
7) And what about that fire support – I favor short neutralization fires, not the 7-day pre-landing bombardments of the Pacific - even so, you need the ability to really hammer at least two linear nautical miles of beach with DPICM (the sub 1% dud rate), HE-frag, and fuel-air/thermobaric munitions.

So, given that all that was lacking, what is this level of training accomplishing?  These Marines are being led to believe that a major assault will be nothing more than a couple of minute transport ride to a clean, harmless, obstacle free beach with guides directing them where to go.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Setting aside the distance issue, the Marines who actually make it ashore alive will encounter smoke, mines, obstacles, craters, confusion, gunfire, aerial attacks, explosions, and death – and that’s if things go well. 

How are we helping these Marines to prepare for combat?  We’re not.

Well, maybe these photos are just from a few exercises that were not intended to be high end, major assault training.  The problem with that thought is that the exercises span several years and represent the highest, most intense training we’ve conducted.  The Bold Alligator series, for example, is the premier amphibious assault exercise that the Marines conduct.

As an aside, has anyone ever thought to intentionally conduct an assault exercise in bad weather?  High sea states?  In the real world, we don’t always get to pick ideal landing locations during periods of calm weather – ask Eisenhower.  We'd learn a lot by being forced to cope.  But, I digress …

It’s not cheap to conduct a major training exercise but it would cost little to seed some dummy mines in the surf and on the beach, use some smoke, fly small UAVs overhead (has anyone figured out how we’ll defend against small spotter or strike UAVs during an assault?), place some obstacles, induce a little forced confusion (intentionally reroute some landing craft to the wrong locations and see if the troops can sort it out), maybe use some pyrotechnics to add a bit of an explosive feel (yes, there’s a tiny element of risk but that’s better than having troops that are totally unprepared – the air forces all accept a degree of risk when they train), and have an enemy force with tanks and artillery greet the landing force.  How about having half the supplies and equipment that land be placed off limits to represent combat losses?

The point is that our training time is precious and there is so much more value we could get out of it for a relatively very small cost.  Why aren’t we?

Let me close with yet another comment from GAB.  Paraphrasing, he noted that we have two options:  we can play at preparing for war or we can prepare for war.  Right now, we’re playing.

Note:  My apologies to GAB if I've embarassed him by spotlighting his comments but this is the kind of intelligence that must be recognized.  Salute!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Fight Like You Train

What’s wrong with these pictures?  Take a look at these pictures of amphibious assault training exercises.  They all have one thing in common and it’s a problem.  See it?  Look them over and then I’ll tell you what the problem is if you haven’t spotted it.

CARAT 2015

Australia Training Exercise

Philippines Exercise Balikatan

Bold Alligator 2012

Bold Alligator 2012

Bold Alligator 2012

The common characteristic is that in the backgrounds you can see the amphibious assault ships several hundred yards offshore.  Wait, what now?!  I thought Navy/Marine assault doctrine was to stand 25-50+ miles off out of fear of land based anti-ship missiles?  So why are we training with the ships several hundred yards offshore?  Don’t we train the way we intend to fight?

Well, if you’ve followed this blog for any period of time you know that the current assault doctrine is complete fiction and can’t be executed.  The Navy/Marines have no connectors capable of transporting the assault element to shore from 25-50+ miles in fighting condition.  That’s why you see the training being conducted from several hundred yards offshore – we flat out can’t do what our doctrine says we need to.

Train like you fight, fight like you train.   …..  Uh, oh.  Houston, we have a problem.

The AAV is only good for a couple of miles of swimming, according to the Marines.  Beyond that, the AAVs will be delivering seasick Marines who only want to lay down and puke until they die.

The LCAC is very limited in numbers and considered non-survivable in a contested environment.  It is envisioned as part of the follow on and sustainment effort, not as part of the initial assault.

The LCU is quite effective but considered non-survivable in the initial wave of an opposed landing.

Helos are very limited in transport capacity and a transport helo is probably the least survivable platform on the battlefield.

So, how do we get the initial assault element ashore from 25-50+ miles?  The short and brutal answer is we can’t, today.  The sad follow up to that is the fact that we’re not even seriously trying to solve this problem.  Instead, the Marines are obsessed with buying the F-35B to the exclusion of their main reason for existing – assaults.  The Navy doesn’t really care about assaults.  They do the minimum they have to in order to keep the Marines from complaining too much but their focus is carriers, submarines, and AAW/BMD.

Now, there’s a huge caveat here.  Given the likely enemies and likely combat scenarios, I just don’t see much of a need for opposed assaults.  That being the case, there’s no real need for 25-50+ mile standoffs.  Of course, that also means there’s no real need for a large amphibious assault fleet or a large Marine Corps.

Setting aside my opinion, the Marines seem to think assaults are still part of their job.  Fine.  So, why aren’t they pursuing the means to conduct an assault instead of trying to become a third air force?  Why have they screwed around for the last couple of decades trying to come up with an AAV replacement?

But wait, you say, the Marines have just announced that a new replacement AAV has finally been selected.  That will solve the problem, wont’ it?  No!  The new AAV/ACV will still be limited to a couple of miles swimming.  It can’t do the 25-50+ mile assault.

The Marines have talked about using JHSVs, LCACs, or whatever to transport AAVs to within a few miles of the beach and then letting the vehicles swim ashore the last couple of miles.  Of course, the same survivability issues exist for the JHSV/LCAC/whatever.  Guided missiles and artillery will not be kind to those vessels and won’t care about a couple of mile standoff.  Let’s assume, though, that this approach is what we’re going with.  That brings us right back around to training.  Why aren’t we training this way?  It’s because, currently, those vessels can’t discharge vehicles at sea.

No matter how you slice it, our amphibious assault doctrine is total fantasy and our training proves it.

Train like you fight, fight like you train.    ….   We’re in trouble!