Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fait Accompli

The Navy exists to deter evildoers, according to one common school of thought.  Failing that, it exists to rectify the evil done.

ComNavOps would disagree with that school of thought but let’s accept it for the moment and for the sake of discussion since it can be used to illustrate a relevant point.

We all understand the concept of deterrence: a force in waiting, a threat so powerful that those contemplating evil doings will hesitate and, ultimately, refrain from executing their plans due to the consequences and cost.

Thus, the world remains a safe and peaceful place because our deterrent force is always present.

That’s the theory, anyway, but what happens when our deterrent force falls below a level sufficient to deter an enemy’s undesirable actions?  Well, before we answer that, let’s understand why our deterrent force might fail.  In other words, how do we lose our deterrent power?  Here’s a few ways.

Loss of credibility.  This one may be the most important.  If the enemy no longer believes we’ll use force then all the ships and aircraft in the world won’t deter them.  An example is President Obama’s infamous red line regarding chemical weapons.  He established it.  It was crossed.  Nothing happened.  Another example is China’s forcedown and seizure of our P-3 aircraft.  Whether you believe the incident was planned or an accident, the end result is that the Chinese seized an American plane and kept it until they had all the information they wanted from it.  Nothing happened.  Just recently, two US boats and their crews were seized by Iran with no consequences.  There are many other examples.

Insufficient numbers.  This is self evident.  If we have insufficient numbers of troops, aircraft, and ships then we aren’t going to deter anyone.  This is analogous to having one policeman patrolling all of New York City – he won’t deter criminal activity.  Similarly, when we have only one deployed carrier operating at any given moment, we aren’t going to deter much.

Lack of power.  We may have credibility and numbers but if those numbers lack combat power they won’t deter anyone.  An example is basing several LCS in the Far East.  No one believes the LCS has the combat power to deter anything.

So far, this is straightforward and obvious.  Now, let’s answer the question about what happens when we lose our deterrent power.

If we fail to deter then the evildoer can act.  An island can be seized.  A country invaded.  Whatever …….  And now we have to act to rectify the evil that was done.  But can we?

Think about it.  If we failed to deter then we probably had a lack of willpower (credibility), numbers, or power.  Lacking one or more of those, does it seem likely that we can quickly turn around and rectify (meaning combat) the evil? 


Lacking one or more of the deterrent factors, we are unlikely to have the means and/or will to take effective action.  In other words, we’ll be faced with a fait accompli.  The enemy will have gotten what they wanted and we will be powerless to stop them.  Sure, we could muster up the willpower, stir the population to garner support, build up adequate forces, and beef up our combat power but that’s unlikely.  The time lapse between act and reaction will become too great and people will come to accept the act.  Don’t believe it?  We’re coming to accept the Chinese artificial islands and, ultimately, their claims of sovereignty.  We’ve come to accept the Russian seizure of Crimea and part of Ukraine.

If we don’t instantly take back that island then we probably won’t ever do it.  If we don’t instantly sever the supply lines of that invasion then we probably never will.

It’s the prospect of a fait accompli that we have to worry about – the sudden action that we can’t quickly reverse and, thus, becomes an accomplished fact.

If we’re serious about a Pacific Pivot (we’re clearly not since we aren’t contesting anything the Chinese are doing) then we need lots more ships, planes, and aircraft in the region and by “in the region” I mean crawling all over those artificial islands and disrupting all of China’s intimidating actions towards its neighbors.

If we want to halt Russia’s expansionist trend then we need lots more military force in a position to act.

Note:  I am not necessarily advocating any particular course of action – just laying out the logic of deterrence and its failure.

Taiwan – No discussion of deterrence would be complete without a mention of the Taiwan situation.  We could wake up tomorrow and find that our deterrence has failed and China has seized Taiwan.  We have one carrier forward based in Japan and a few escort ships.  Not enough force to even begin to contemplate taking Taiwan back.  It would take months (or years) to build up the force necessary for such an operation.  As stated earlier, if our deterrence fails then, almost by definition, our ability to rectify the failure is probably non-existent in any relevant time frame.  Every day that would pass with Taiwan in Chinese hands would make it that much more difficult to retake. 

Now, consider deterrence from the Chinese perspective.  China is applying some pretty effective deterrence against us.  They’re building several artificial island air and naval bases that are going to provide some pretty significant deterrence against us.  When Taiwan is seized, we’ll have to fight through layers of defenses just to reach it.  That’s effective deterrence.  The Chinese have already demonstrated an unflinching willingness to ignore international laws and norms, use military force to intimidate neighbors, and harass and seize US military assets.  Do we have any doubt that they would use their island bases to interdict our response?  No.  Their credibility is intact and believable.  That’s effective deterrence.

Probably the only thing stopping China from a Taiwan fait accompli is the fact that they’re accomplishing pretty much everything they want without having to take more extreme measures!

If the Navy wants to be serious about deterrence then they need more numbers, more combat power, and LOTS more willpower (admittedly as much of a civilian political issue as a Navy one).  Our deterrence capability is currently at about its lowest level in a long, long time.  We need to either get serious about deterrence or abandon the pretense and bring our ships and personnel home.

What is one carrier with a shrunken air wing and no credibility accomplishing in Japan?  Not much.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Fight or Flight - Part 3

The Iranian seizure of the US boats story grows more bizarre with every new Navy informational release.  USNI News website now reports that the Iranian seizure of the two US boats and crews was the result of navigational error rather than a failure of equipment (1). 

“Several sources confirmed to USNI News that the crews of the two boats, assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron 3, had misjudged their location when they mistakenly strayed into Iranian waters off of Farsi Island in the middle of the Persian Gulf on Jan. 12 while trying to meet a ship for refueling. The sources said the mistake was a result of human error, not a failure in navigation systems.

The crews of the boats were determining their position and repairing a mechanical problem with one of the boats when forces from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) – the units responsible for costal defense in Iran – interdicted the U.S. RCBs and took both the boats and their crews to Farsi Island.”

This is damning in multiple ways.

If there was no failure of navigational systems then how could the crews have possibly not known their position?  All they had to do was to look at the GPS nav system.  To ask us to believe that highly trained boat crews with fully functioning nav systems were lost and none of them thought to merely glance at their GPS display is beyond belief.

This also asks us to believe that high trained, professional boat crews had no knowledge of navigational methods other than GPS?  No knowledge of the myriad navigational methods that have been known to sailors for thousands of years?  This also asks us to believe that none of the crew thought to simply call and ask for a position fix from some other unit?

Alternatively, if the crews were unsure about their position but, presumably, believed they were in international waters since they were not allowed to enter Iranian waters and did not, to the best of their knowledge at the moment of seizure, do so, then they allowed their boats and themselves to be seized in what they believed to be international waters, to the best of their belief.  In their minds, they allowed an act of war to be committed against the US without resisting.

The crews and their entire chain of command need to be court-martialed and discharged.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

P-8 Contract

Boeing has received a $2.5B contract for the production of 20 P-8A Poseidon aircraft. That's $125M per aircraft!  

A couple billion here, a few billion there and pretty soon you're talking real money!

10 Best Warship Designs

The US Navy has produced some great warships but what are the best ship designs – the ones that opened new lines of development or set the standard for ships and navies that would follow?  Just for fun, here’s my list.

1. Constitution – Old Ironsides revolutionized naval construction with a design that was strong enough to beat any ship in its class or even a bit above but retained a frigate’s speed.  It instantly obsoleted every frigate in the English and French navies.

2. Albacore (AGSS-569) – The first teardrop shaped submarine, this sub set the pattern for all subsequent submarines and helped pioneer the use nuclear reactors, the now classic stern rudder forms, propeller shapes, and much more.

3. Ticonderoga (CG-47) – This Aegis cruiser class remains the world’s most powerful AAW vessel and set the standard for effective air defense.  Recent adaptation to ballistic missile defense further enhances an already impressive design.

4. Harris (APA-2) – Built just after WWI, this troop attack transport set the pattern for all subsequent attack transports that would become the backbone of US amphibious assaults in WWII.

5. Enterprise (CV-6) – The first purpose built aircraft carrier, the Yorktown class set a new standard for aircraft carrier development and performance.  Enterprise became the most famous US ship of WWII and carried far more than her share of the combat load in the early years of the war.

6. Los Angeles (SSN-688) – The 688 class dominated the undersea world of the Cold War and remains one of the most powerful submarines in the world even today.

7. Forrestal (CV-59) – First of the supercarriers, this ship set the design pattern for all subsequent carriers.

8. Spruance (DD-963) – The finest ASW surface ship ever built, the Spruance class also demonstrated its versatility and value by providing the basic hull for the Ticonderoga class.  The Spruance ASW capability has not been duplicated since.

9. Fletcher (DD-445) – This ship became the classic American destroyer and was the workhorse and backbone of the fleet in WWII.  The combination of range and firepower remains impressive even today.

10. Enterprise (CVN-65) – The world’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier not only served a long and combat filled life but set the standard for every nuclear carrier since.

What would you change about the list?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Heads Need To Roll

The Navy routinely relieves commanders for all manner of trivial offenses, none of which are related to warfighting, readiness, tactical competence, maintenance state, or combat aptitude.  Most of these offenses are insignificant and do not warrant relief and yet the Navy almost gleefully pounces on them.  Now, the Navy has the opportunity to relieve some people for warfighting incompetence.  The Iranian seizure of two boats and their crews is a textbook example of how not to execute a mission.  Acknowledging that we do not, yet, know the full story, it is still obvious that a host of basic warfighting, readiness, and combat principles were ignored in the execution of this mission.

A mission starts with proper planning.  The mission is planned, likely alternate outcomes are identified and planned for, unlikely outcomes are identified and planned for, and, finally, impossible outcomes are planned for.  This is basic mission planning 101 and is all the more necessary when operating in proximity to unfriendly countries.

At a minimum, the mission planning should have ensured that secondary sources and methods of navigational awareness existed and were exercised, a plan for dealing with mechanical breakdowns was in place, a plan for dealing with entering Iranian waters inadvertently was in place and well understood, and that sufficient backup was immediately available in the event of unfriendly contact.  Clearly, none of this occurred.

This incident demonstrates clear cut evidence of a serious lack of training and planning.  Every person in this unit's chain of command should be relieved.  None did their duty.  All demonstrated clear cut incompetence.  The Navy is eager to fire commanders for the slightest problem.  Well, here's a serious problem.  Now let's see some heads roll, Navy.   To do less is to sanction and institutionalize incompetence.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fight or Flight - Part 2

Information Dissemination recently posted an article supporting the actions taken by the US crews in the recent Iranian seizure of our boats and their crews (1).  Well, actually, the article supported the lack of action taken since the crews offered no resistance and acquiesced to the Iranians surrender demands.

The article suggests that resistance would have resulted in grave consequences, strategically, for the US and would have set a precedent for the Chinese to act in a similar fashion in their on-going territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas.  The article goes further and states that the US lieutenant who apologized actually “forwarded America strategically”.  Ignoring that highly dubious claim, the article misses the key aspect of the affair, however, and that is history.  There is nothing in the history of our dealings with Iran to suggest that the crews, once surrendered, would have been returned as quickly as they were.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Iran has arrested and held people indefinitely for far less. 

The recently released Americans were imprisoned by Iran for an extended period and, reportedly, subjected to torture.

The March 2007 seizure of 15 Royal Navy personnel resulted in their being held for 13 days and, upon release, Iran claimed the right to put the personnel on trial but opted to “pardon” them instead.  It is reported that equipment was not fully returned and the personnel were subjected to harsh physical treatment and psychological pressures during their confinement including threats of long term imprisonment if they failed to admit their guilt.

A 2004 seizure of 8 RN personnel resulted in their being held for 3 days during which they were forced to endure a mock execution among other physical and psychological tortures.  The RN’s boats were never returned.

The Iranian Hostage Crisis which took place from Nov 1979 to Jan 1981 resulted in 60 American diplomats and citizens being held for 444 days.

And, of course, there is always the spectre of the routine chanting of "Death to America" by both the Iranian people and their highest level leaders.  Not exactly encouraging to a boat crew contemplating surrender.

With this historical context, there was absolutely no reason to expect that the US crews, once they surrendered, would be promptly released.  In fact, history suggests that the crews would have been held for an extended period, quite possibly subjected to torture, and used as pawns in international gamesmanship.

The crews could not have had any reasonable expectation of quick release and should have had every expectation of a lengthy and unpleasant period of imprisonment.

The Information Dissemination article suggests that the lack of resistance on the part of the US crews somehow advanced America’s strategic position.  However, had this turned out as history suggested it would, the crew’s surrender and subsequent imprisonment would have caused the US severe political and strategic difficulties.

The US boats were, apparently, in Iranian territorial waters and, therefore, in the wrong, however it came to pass.  Therefore, what the crews should have done is indicated their desire to leave Iranian waters as quickly as possible and complied with Iranian efforts to remove them from their waters but not by surrendering.  Being in the wrong, the crews should not have fired first but should not have surrendered.  They should have refused to allow the Iranians to board them and should have resisted, if necessary.

Anyone who makes the argument that what the crews did was right because nothing happened is using hindsight to justify an historically unsupportable action that, at the moment of surrender, was far more likely to have turned out badly rather than well.

I also have no problem with the US apologizing after the affair was concluded and with the crews having refused to surrender.

There are some who would suggest that if the situation were reversed and Iranian boats wandered into American waters that we would have done the same.  This argument misses the same key aspect and that is history.  The US has no history of seizing and mistreating foreign sailors and holding them for extended periods.  It’s far more likely that we would have offered mechanical assistance, food, comforts, and escorted them out of our waters without ever boarding their boats.  There is a huge difference in the histories of the behaviors of the two countries.

Finally, the passive surrender by the crews simply emboldens the next unfriendly country that wants to embarrass the US and now sees that we won’t resist.  All our weapons and technology is useless and offers no deterrent value if we won’t use it.  The next incident is unlikely to end as well as this one.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Unmanned Aerial ASW

One of the common ideas for future ASW operations is to use unmanned aircraft.  However, I have seen no detailed discussion of such a UAV and there are significant problems associated with the concept.  More generally, there is a tendency, now, to simply say “unmanned” in response to every military problem or function and then consider the discussion finished, as if unmanned is the automatic and complete solution to everything.  Diversity is the same way – you say “diversity” and all further discussion stops.  No one bothers to question whether diversity actually offers any inherent benefits.  But, I digress …

Is unmanned aerial ASW feasible?  Is it effective?  Is it cost effective.  Is it …?

Let’s take a closer look at surface ship unmanned aerial ASW possibilities.

One of the key benefits is that the ASW-UAV is presumed to be significantly smaller than the standard SH-60 type helo and, therefore, more aircraft can be carried by a ship thus expanding ASW coverage.  This would certainly be true if the smaller ASW-UAV carried the same amount of sonobuoys, dipping sonars, torpedoes, comm gear, MAD detectors, radar, etc. that the SH-60 does.  Unfortunately, herein lies the first problem with ASW-UAVs – they’re small.  They can’t carry the same load of gear.

Let’s look at the Navy’s standard UAV, the Fire Scout MQ-8B, which would, presumably, be the UAV of choice for the surface ship ASW-UAV role.  Here are some publicly cited weights of interest.

Payload = 600 lb
Empty Weight = 2073 lb
Max Takeoff Weight = 3150 lb

So, we’ve got a 600 lb payload to work with.  What does ASW gear weigh?  Here’s some weights for the common torpedoes used in ASW.

Mk46 = 508 lb
Mk50 = 800 lb
Mk54 = 608 lb

We see, then, that the Fire Scout’s entire payload is consumed by a single torpedo.  But wait, don’t we need dipping sonars and sonobuoys and radars and other stuff?  Here’s some weights for the sonobuoys.

Sonobuoys = ~20 lb each
Sonobuoy Launcher  = ~8 lb each

So, for a load of, say, 24 sonobuoys, that equates to 672 lbs and that’s without any of the supporting electrical, power, computer, and comm gear needed to actually operate the sonobuoy launch system.

MQ-8B Fire Scout

 All right, we can see where this is going.  I won’t even bother to cite weights for MAD gear, radars, etc.  The MQ-8B Fire Scout clearly isn’t going to be able to carry an entire ASW equipment fit.  The MQ-8B’s successor, the MQ-8C, however, is much larger so maybe it can carry the necessary equipment.  Here’s a few pertinent spec’s for the “C” model.  The “C” is based on the Bell 407 model, by the way.

Length = 41 ft  (24 ft for MQ-8B)
Rotor Diameter = 35 ft  (27 ft for MQ-8B)
Max Weight = 6000 lb
Payload = 500 lb

Despite being larger, the payload is actually a bit smaller than the “B” model.  On the plus side, the base “C” model, in its commercial Bell 407 version, is capable of carrying a 2,560 lb external sling load.  Although that doesn’t help as far as mounting ASW equipment it might offer the possibility of carrying torpedoes.

Regardless of the exact payload, the problem with the “C” model is that it isn’t all that much smaller than a full size SH-60 helo.  Here’s some dimensions of the SH-60 for comparison with MQ-8B/C values in parentheses.

Length = 64 ft  (41 ft for the “C”, 24 ft for “B”)
Rotor Diameter = 53 ft  (35 ft for the “C”, 27 ft for the “B”)

Clearly, the “C” isn’t going to gain us multiple airframes in the same space as the SH-60 as UAV proponents like to claim.

MQ-8C Fire Scout

 Another claimed benefit is endurance and, like all unmanned vehicles, can potentially offer greater endurance by eliminating the crew fatigue issue.  However, also like all unmanned vehicles, endurance does not eliminate mechanical issues.  Aircraft, whether manned or unmanned, suffer from mechanical issues and it is often these problems that wind up limiting an aircraft’s endurance especially for helos and especially for aircraft operating in a more stressful environment such as rapidly changing speed, direction, and altitude, as an ASW helo would, and operating close to the water surface and subject to wind, spray, fog, rain, etc.  Extremely high endurance UAVs, in contrast, operate at high altitudes, above the effects of weather, at constant speeds, and with little maneuvering – a much less mechanically stressful environment.

Endurance is also limited by equipment quantities.  For instance, if we want to use an ASW-UAV for 8-12 hours of continuous ASW coverage we would need to include a sizable quantity of sonobuoys – far more than an SH-60 typically carries.  That increases the weight and requires more space which means the UAV must be larger, thereby negating the UAV small size benefit.  Conversely, if we want to keep the UAV small then it will have to return to the ship for reloading of sonobuoys on a more frequent basis, thereby negating the endurance benefit.

So, where does this leave us?  We can design an unmanned helo to carry all the requisite ASW equipment but the resulting size will push us back near the manned SH-60 helo and won’t gain us the several UAVs per ship that would offer the potential for greatly expanding our ASW coverage.

Alternatively, we could design small UAVs that would each carry a single “function” of the ASW fit.  For example, one UAV could carry sonobuoys, another could carry MAD and a dipping sonar, and one could carry the anti-submarine torpedoes.  This should sound familiar, by the way.  You’ll recall that the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH) of the early 1960’s carried a single torpedo or depth charge and was used as a weapons transport platform to attack a target located by the host ship.

The problem with splitting the ASW equipment among multiple UAVs is that now multiple UAVs are required to perform the complete ASW operation on a single target.  Again, this won’t result in a net increase in ASW aircraft or coverage.

Finally, communications are a persistent problem for UAVs.  They have a disturbing tendency to wander off, never to be seen again.  The problem will be exacerbated operating just off the surface of the water.  At those altitudes it is unknown how far effective control comms can be maintained.  It may not be possible to control an ASW-UAV at useful distances from the host vessel.  Of course, operating in an electromagnetically challenged environment may also preclude effective ASW-UAV operations.

In summary, ASW-UAVs are a potentially beneficial concept.  Eliminating crew fatigue as a limiting factor on endurance is a tremendous potential benefit.  Smaller UAVs offer the possibility of expanding ASW coverage.  The practical problems, however, do not seem readily solvable at this time.  This is a concept well worth pursuing as a developmental effort but I do not see a practical use in the near future.

Friday, January 22, 2016

LCS Lube Oil

You've probably read that the USS Fort Worth, LCS-3, has broken down in Singapore and is idled indefinitely pending repairs.  The breakdown was due to operating the combining gear assembly without lube oil.  Does this sound familiar?

You may say it sounds familiar because that's exactly what happened to the Milwaukee, LCS-5, during construction which caused delays and repairs.

You may say it sounds familiar because that's what happened to the Milwaukee, LCS-5, when it finally sailed after delivery and broke down due to metallic debris in the combining gear and lube oil systems.  The ship has been idled and will remain so for weeks to come, yet, as repairs continue.

You may say it sounds familiar because that's what happened to the USS Freedom, LCS-1, on multiple occasions during its workups and Singapore PR tour when lube oil system problems (among many other problems) occurred.

You may think you see a pattern.  

The Navy assures us that there is no systemic problem with the combining gear/lube oil systems.  

You may think that the LCS-1, LSC-3, and LCS-5 all suffering combining gear/lube oil system failures constitutes a pattern and a systemic problem.

The Navy assures us that there is no systemic problem with the combining gear/lube oil systems.  

You may think that the fact that every Freedom variant LCS that has put to sea has suffered a crippling combining gear/lube oil system failure very, very early in their service life constitutes a systemic problem.

The Navy assures us that there is no systemic problem with the combining gear/lube oil systems.  

You may think that four or more catastrophic combining gear/lube oil system failures among three ships constitutes a pattern and a systemic problem.

The Navy assures us that there is no systemic problem with the combining gear/lube oil systems.  

No need for concern.  All is well.  The Navy assures us.  You're mistaken if you think you see a pattern.

Anyway, you'll have to excuse me, now.  I'm going to start a lube oil system repair company and cash in on what is clearly not a pattern.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Perry vs. LCS

From the start of the LCS program, there has always been the spectre of the Perry FFG lurking over it.  Many have suggested that the Perrys should have been upgraded instead of building LCSs.  Others have suggested building new Perrys.  In any event, the Navy decided to get rid of the Perry class in a move highly reminiscent of the sinking of the Spruances to eliminate their potential competition with the Navy’s desired Aegis cruisers - remove the Perrys and there could be no potential alternative to the LCS.

Once in a while it’s fun to ponder what might have been.  Just for fun, let’s look at what a Perry path could have given us compared to what we got with the LCS.

For starters, here are a few physical characteristics.

                                    Perry                           LCS

Length                        450 ft                          378 ft
Displacement            4200 t                         3500 t
Speed                        30 kts                          35 kts
Range                        4500 nm @ 20 kts     1200 nm @ 20 kts *
Draft                           22 ft                            13 ft

* Estimated from DOT&E reported data

The key physical characteristics are the speed, range, and draft. 

An LCS would be somewhat faster.  Recall that the LCS speed has been steadily downgraded such that a practical max speed is now only a few to several kts faster than a Perry.  More importantly, neither the Navy nor any LCS supporter has yet come up with a tactical use for the LCS’ speed so in comparing the two vessels speed, this is essentially a non-issue.

The range advantage for the Perry is enormous.  Again, recall that the LCS range has been steadily downgraded from the design goal of 3500 nm @ 14 kts.  Add to this the conceptual requirement for the LCS to put into port every two weeks for maintenance as opposed to the Perry’s ability to stay at sea indefinitely and the range/endurance characteristic hugely favors the Perry.

Draft is another of those ambiguous characteristics that the Navy has been unable to come up with an actual use for.  Is there really any operational benefit to a 13 ft draft versus a 22 ft draft?  Is there something useful that an LCS can do in 13 ft of water that a Perry can’t do in 22 ft?  This is another non-issue.

Now, for purposes of this comparison, we’re going to assume that the Navy continued building Perrys.  Thus, we’re not going to compare the LCS with the old, defanged Perrys that the Navy neutered.  Instead, we’re going to compare the LCS with a modern version of the Perry.  By “modern”, I mean a Perry that had been reasonably upgraded with new technology as it became available but not with non-existent technology promises like the LCS.

Seaframe.  The vessel would have the same hull but with a modern, slanted superstructure for a degree of stealth.  That’s a reasonable construction modification.  The vessel would not be a super-stealth ship but would have an easily achievable and reasonable degree of stealth.  In essence, it would have an LCS-ish superstructure.

The entire hull and machinery spaces would be built with quieting in mind (much of it was!)  Acoustic isolation, vibration dampening, and materials selection would make the ship as quiet as possible.  Prairie/Masker technology was, and will be, applied.

The stern would be modified in some fashion to accommodate waterline (or nearly so) stern launched RHIBs along the lines of the LCS’ dry well deck.  This would provide a great deal of flexibility and ease of operation for boarding and inspection (VBSS) ops and the like.

Sensors.  The main radar would be the TRS-4D supplemented by optical sensors (EO/IR).  Sonars would include a hull mounted multi-frequency sonar, a dedicated mine finding sonar, multi-function towed array, and dipping sonar (VDS or aircraft type).  Laser sensors and target designators would round out the fit.

Armament.  The bow would accommodate a 76mm gun and an 8-cell VLS along the lines of the Australian upgrade.  Free standing Harpoon box launchers would hold 8 Harpoons.  A RAM launcher would provide short range AAW.  A pair of Mk38 Mod 2 25mm remote gun systems would provide close-in protection against surface craft.  A Hellfire launcher would provide short range anti-surface, anti-swarm capability.  Two sets of triple torpedo tubes would provide anti-submarine weaponry.  Odds are that an additional one or two 8-cell VLS could be accommodated but that would remain to be seen.

Aviation.  As now, the ship would have a hangar and flight deck capable of operating two Seahawk type helos versus the LCS which can only operate one.

In summary, the Perry would be a highly proficient ASW vessel with a long range surface strike capability and a reasonable AAW self-defense and near area defense along with anti-swarm defense.  This would have been a reasonable frigate with good endurance, range, and both blue water and littoral capability.  Had we built these, they would have nicely bridged the gap between the old Perrys and a new, clean sheet frigate design.  Best of all, it would be serving as we speak compared to the current LCS with no modules and barely a Coast Guard level of combat capability.

Ah, what might have been.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Fight or Flight

I am hugely disappointed by the recent boat seizure affair in which Iran seized two of our boats and their crews.  I can't comment on the specifics because we haven't heard the real story, yet.  The various cover stories that have been put forth are obviously false.  However, this affair highlights several things that I've been harping on.

1. What were these boats doing operating without immediately available backup?  We've seen this in the loss of our EP-3 to the Chinese, the loss of the Pueblo to the NKs, and numerous instances of harassment.  We're sending our troops into harm's way without backup.  This is a leadership failing, pure and simple, and demonstrates a compete lack of attention to detail, planning, and preparation.  It also demonstrates a fantasy view of the world to think that unfriendly countries won't engage in unfriendly acts.  Our leaders are violating the trust of the troops, ignoring the lessons of history, and failing to execute basic operational planning.

2. What kind of Rules of Engagement (ROE) were these people operating under?  Is there any ROE that justifies surrendering two boats and their crews without firing a shot?

3. I hope that these crew members are not treated as heroes and given medals as we've done with so many other people who have done nothing but become prisoners.  The Jessica Lynch incident is a good example of this.  These people did nothing right.  At best, they followed a bad set of ROEs by not fighting back.  At worst, they allowed an unfriendly foreign country to seize two of our assets without firing a shot.  As a military, we've begun rewarding victimhood instead of heroism.  The crews should be dismissed from the military and their leaders should be court-martialed and terminated.  Somewhere, Bull Halsey is crying.

4.  Why are we there?  If we won't fight even for ourselves, what are we doing in the Mid East?  You can't protect anything if you're not willing to fight for it.  This simply encourages and paves the way for the next incident.

5. I've long pointed out that the Navy has lost its combat mentality.  Clearly, these crew and their leadership did not have a combat mentality.  They were mentally unprepared for a warfighting situation.

Unprepared for Combat

We don't need more ships or planes or weapons.  Those won't make our military stronger.  We need an attitude adjustment.  We need to remember what a military is for.  We need to re-instill a healthy respect (fear) for our military among potential enemies.  We need to abandon the social engineering that so dominates our military and return to warfighting focus.  CNO Richardson, you have your main task clearly laid out for you.  Nothing is more important than returning the Navy to a combat force.

This incident was an embarrassment, yes, but it was also a microcosm of so much that is wrong with the military.

This is the age old instinct of fight or flight being played out in the Navy.  If we won't fight then we should leave.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

CNO's Design

The old CNO, Adm. Greenert, has left and the new CNO, Adm. John Richardson, has taken over.  Regular readers know that ComNavOps has been highly critical of Greenert, considering him to be one of the worst CNOs ever.  Will Adm. Richardson be an improvement?  Time will tell.  Let’s take a look at his first formal effort, his vision for the Navy as laid out in his “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” document (1).

The document begins by identifying three global forces that he claims are impacting the environment in which the Navy must operate.  They are,

  • Maritime traffic
  • The global information system
  • Technology

There’s nothing wrong with that list and certainly they do impact the global security environment but the list omits a couple of key forces that have a greater impact.

Competition for Resources – the competition for resources is increasing and since the world’s land masses are essentially 100% claimed, new resources can only be obtained by taking them from someone else.  China, for example, is seizing the South and East China Seas and working to subjugate surrounding countries in large measure to obtain more resources.  Russia is working to secure more resources from surrounding countries and the Middle East.

Evil – Evil is a palpable human force and is on the rise as evidenced by ISIS, Russia, China, Iran, and NKorea.  Evil does not behave as we do, does not honor agreements, does not respect boundaries, and does not hesitate to engage in barbaric acts.  Left unchecked, evil expands – always.  To paraphrase, all that is needed for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.

So, the document stumbles right out of the gate by failing to recognize a couple of the major forces at play which are shaping the global environment and should be shaping our response.

Moving on, the document then proceeds to explicitly name our potential enemies:  Russia, China, Iran, and NKorea.  Interestingly, Islamic Jihadism is not named.  Well, this is a vast improvement over CNO Greenert who refused to name China as even a competitor let alone an enemy and refused to discuss incidents out of fear of escalating tensions.  At least now we’ve mustered the courage to speak our enemy’s names (excepting Islamic Jihad). 

Next, CNO discusses “Lines of Effort” through which the Navy will meet its requirements.

  • Strengthen naval power
  • High velocity learning
  • Teamwork and leadership
  • Partnerships

Strengthening naval power comes close to the mark but the discussion gets bogged down in information warfare rather than recognizing that, ultimately, it’s about explosive power and numbers.  Warfare has not fundamentally changed throughout history and failing to recognize that cannot lead anywhere good.

The other three “Lines” are just buzzword bingo.  High velocity learning - seriously?  All in all, a very poor effort at “Lines of Effort”.

In summary, this is a better effort than his predecessor’s but still weak.  CNO Richardson is not off to a strong start.  We’ll keep watching and hope for better.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Well, What Do You Know?!

USNI News website has an article reporting on comments made by Adm. Phillip Davidson, Commander Fleet Forces Command.  Here’s a sampling.

“The Navy should prepare its forces for specific geographies and threat environments they may face, rather than for a generic “anti-access/area-denial environment.”

“Adm. Phil Davidson said at the annual Surface Navy Association national symposium that the fleet faces several potential adversaries, each with their own tactics to limit U.S. Navy sea control, and that fleet training and preparation ought to address each specifically.”

Well, I guess that kind of craps all over the generic AirSea Battle concept.  It also, indirectly, faults the generic approach to countering our enemies by countering their technology alone.  That trend was the basis for so much, done so poorly, for so long, by Navy leadership and which has resulted in generic platforms that aren’t anywhere near as useful as they could be (I’m looking at you, F-35 and LCS).

“Davidson said that two-thirds to three-quarters of the platforms in today’s Navy will still be in the fleet 10 years from now. Since new planes and ships won’t be the solution to combating the varying tactics of potential adversaries, Davidson said training would be important. He emphasized the need to boost the complexity of pre-deployment training events …”

Well, what do you know?  What has ComNavOps harped on repeatedly for the last few years?  Training, more training, realistic training, and training – plus training.  And also tactics.  The simplistic, set-piece exercises that have passed for tactical training for years are worse than useless because they instill a sense of competence that combat will show is completely unfounded.  Now, apparently, the Navy has finally woken up to the pathetic state of training and readiness that permeates the fleet.

Welcome aboard Adm. Davidson.  I guess you haven’t been reading this blog, huh?  If you had, you’d have come to this stunning realization that complex, realistic training is vital a long time ago.  Still, better late than never, I guess, to have your “Come to ComNavOps” moment.

Is this movement due to CNO Richardson’s influence?  I’ve been markedly unimpressed with him so far but if this is his doing then I’ll give him full marks.  We’ll have to wait and see.


(1)USNI News, “Fleet Forces: Navy Should Train to Specific Threat Sets, Environments”, Megan Eckstein, January 14, 2016,

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Modern Battleship

Let’s face it, battleships are a combination of beauty and power that appeals to all of us.  Many still want to return the battleships to duty and, honestly, there’s a lot of reasons why that would be a good thing.  However, that’s not what this post is about.  Along with lamenting the absence of the battleship, people often wonder if we could build a modern battleship.  Let’s take a look at that – a modern battleship.

The first question is what would a modern battleship (BB) be?  Would it be a simple rebuild of the last BB built?  It could be and that’s certainly a worthwhile thought but there is another answer.  A modern BB would encompass the qualities and characteristics of the old BBs but in a modern form.  Thus, a modern BB would not incorporate 16” guns, for example. 

OK, so what would a modern BB look like?  To answer that, we have to understand what an old BB was intended to be.  Here’s a reasonable list of the characteristics of an old BB.

  • Striking Power – a BB was built to apply offensive firepower in overwhelming amounts.  The 16” gun was the hardest hitting, longest ranged weapon of its day (carrier aircraft not withstanding).

  • Stand and Fight – a BB was intended to stay in the fight, not run.  It was built to slug it out, to take damage, to give damage, and to be able to fight damaged.  It was not a ship that was susceptible to mission kill from a single hit like today’s vessels.

  • Defense – a BB was an awesome anti-aircraft platform with huge numbers of 5”, 40 mm, and 20 mm AA guns.  A BB was the area AAW platform of the time.

  • Command – BBs were often used as flagships and contained facilities for embarked Admirals and staff.

  • Independence – BBs were envisioned to be capable of independent operations as the center of a surface action group and, indeed, did so.  The Washington and South Dakota’s action at Guadalcanal is a notable example.

  • Endurance and Speed – a BB was fast at 30+ kts and long ranged at 15,000 nm.

Those are the characteristics of a BB.  Now, how do those characteristics translate to a modern ship.  In other words, what kind of ship would we build, today, that embodies those qualities?

  • Striking Power – Missiles have taken the place of guns but a modern BB should have the heaviest, fastest, most powerful missiles.  The modern BB should have large, supersonic anti-ship/land missiles along the lines of the Soviet/Russian P-270 Moskit (also reported as SS-N-22 Sunburn) or Indian Brahmos.  Further, a BB might well carry intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM) for deep strike.  Secondary armament would include a long range, high subsonic anti-ship missile like the Naval Ship Missile or Swedish RB-15.  Finally, a gun fit of two 6” triple mounts would provide inshore or close range gun power and four 25-30 mm guns would round out a self-defense fit.

  • Stand and Fight – there’s no getting around it, a modern BB needs armor that incorporates traditional armor, meaning thick steel, and modern advances in armor along the lines of tank composite and layered armor.  Double layer void and crush spaces would be included below the waterline and along the keel along with reinforced keel and bulkhead structures.  Weapons and sensors need to be enclosed within armor to the extent possible consistent with their function (there’s a limit to how much armor you can place over a radar and have it work!).  This might take the form of retractable weapons and sensors to some extent.  Stealth shaping of the hull and superstructure would contribute to the ability to stand and fight.  Stealth would include extensive IR suppression.  Redundancy is key to fighting damaged and would be an important characteristic.  The AMDR would be backed up by a multiple, lesser radars, for example.

  • Defense – a BB would incorporate a Ticonderoga’s AAW capabilities including AMDR and VLS fits with 120 or so VLS cells, not counting any IRBM cell requirements.  Passive defenses like ECM and decoys would be far more emphasized than those on current ships. 

  • Command – a modern BB would have extensive communications facilities for flag staffs.

  • Independence – a modern BB would be able to act as the centerpiece of surface action groups in concert with Burke escorts.

  • Endurance and Speed – as with the old BBs, a modern version would have a range of 15,000 nm and be capable of 30+ kts.

Notable among missing characteristics is any ASW fit.  Just as the old BBs did not have an ASW role, neither would a modern BB.  We have plenty of Burkes to conduct ASW.

Also absent is a helo hangar.  A small flight deck for a single helo would be incorporated but there is no need for a hangar, one of the huge consumers of volume and deck space on modern ships.  With Burkes always around and no role in ASW, there is simply no need for hangars or permanently embarked helos.

Clearly, this would not be a cheap ship.  For those concerned with budgets, go build frigates and wait to be destroyed.  This is somewhat akin to the Zumwalt but with added guns and VLS cells plus a conventional hull.  Thus, the cost would probably be comparable or a bit more, say $4B-$5B per ship.

Size would be comparable to the old Virgina class CGN or the Long Beach which would put it in the range of 600-700 ft, probably leaning to 700 ft and a displacement of around 20-25,000 tons.  Hey, I’m not a naval architect so don’t bother telling my why those numbers may not be feasible.  This is just moderately informed speculation.  We have engineers to generate the actual numbers.

Automation would be a part of this ship but would not significantly affect crew size.  This ship is expected to fight and would need plenty of crew to man combat stations, replace casualties, and conduct damage control.  What automation would do is make the crew more efficient.  I would guess a crew of around 500 might work.

This would be a ship built to go in harm’s way.  No, this is not a ship intended to take on the entire Chinese military single-handed.  It is a ship intended to fight, hit hard, take damage, and keep fighting.  Consider a surface group of three modern BBs and several Burke escorts – today’s fantasy/idiocy of individual ships will quickly give way to large groups as in WWII when combat starts.  Such a group would present a formidable defense against any aircraft and missile attack while simultaneously carrying out heavy strikes against land or surface targets.  With strike ranges of 1000 – 1500 nm, such a group could strike key Chinese naval and air bases without need of carrier air protection.  The number of anti-ship weapons that could reach such a group ought to be well within the capability of the group to handle.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Added Cost for Final Zumwalt

The website reports that the Navy has issued a contract to Raytheon for $255M (options to $349M) for “mission system equipment” engineering for the third and final Zumwalt ship, DDG-1002 (1).  Aside from being another quarter of a billion dollars added to the cost, I’m wondering what this is for?  This is the third and final ship of the run.  The engineering has already been worked out.  Further, the program was based on a fixed price contract.  There can’t be any price increases unless the Navy issues a change order.  Is this what’s happening here?  Is this a change order in support of a rail gun that was rumored to be under consideration for installation on the third and final Zumwalt?  That would certainly be a major change that might justify this kind of cost addition. 

These are limited mission ships which are already hugely expensive at several billion dollars per vessel, including construction and R&D.  Adding another quarter billion dollars or more is eye opening at this stage.  Let me know if anyone has any insight on this.  In the meantime, I’ll see if I can find out anything more about this.

The "Real" Goals for the Navy

I reviewed and strongly criticized the Navy's goals and objectives in the last post.  OK, so what should the goals be?  Well, here's my list.  Anything you'd add or modify?

  • Terminate the LCS
  • Initiate a true frigate design
  • Initiate a dedicated MCM vessel design
  • Intiate a dedicated, small ASW vessel design
  • Develop a long range, supersonic anti-ship missile
  • Reinvigorate offensive mine warfare
  • Terminate the F-35 and initiate a new fighter design
  • Reactivate the S-3 Viking for use as ASW and tanking

  • Increase maintenance
  • Publicize INSURV results
  • Make training exercises more realistic
  • Reduce deployments to 6 months max

Leadership, Integrity, and Accountability
  • Overhaul the broken command selection process
  • Institute long term program acquisition assignments to foster accountability
  • Re-establish the General Board and BuShips
  • Reduce Admiral count to 30

  • Establish a standing surface and subsurface OpFor
  • Establish a Top Gun-like training program for surface and subsurface warfare
  • Establish unbiased, free form wargaming

Project Management
  • Generate realistic cost estimates and link directly to career penalties
  • Assign program-long managers with career penalties for poor performance
  • Re-establish Congressional trust and transparency
  • Establish routine audits of acquisition programs

Compare this list to the Navy's.  Remember I asked how the Navy would be improved if, somehow, the entire list could be magically accomplished and the answer was it wouldn't?  Now, look at my list.  If all those could be magically accomplished, what would the Navy look like?  It would be a much improved, combat ready fleet.  'Nuff said.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Navy Goals for 2016

Let’s look at the just released memo, “Department of the Navy Goals and Objectives for FY16”.  The memo is authored by CMC Neller, CNO Richardson, and SecNav Mabus.  It lists 4 main categories and several specifics under each.  Here are the categories and a brief summary of the specifics.

People – contains 10 specifics with the usual mix of sexual assault, gender neutral standards, etc.

Platforms – contains 10 specifics, one of which states “buy more ships” and the remainder deal with cyber, information, unmanned systems

Power – contains 5 specifics, dealing with green or alternative energy

Partnerships – contains 5 specifics, dealing with innovation, transformation, diversity, cost effectiveness, and strategic sourcing (huh?).  Lot’s of buzzwords, no substance.

Want to know what’s wrong with the Navy?  Read this memo.  There’s virtually nothing in it about combat other than “buy more ships” which is nice but not even necessarily wise.  A much better specific would have been “buy more useful ships”.

The rest of the Navy’s goals are largely non-combat political issues.

One of the four most important categories for the Navy is green/alternative energy???  Seriously?

Is this really what our top leadership considers to be our most important goals?  Apparently so.

Think about this.  If the Navy were to somehow, magically, achieve all of its stated goals how much more combat capable and ready would the Navy be?  The answer is slightly larger (buy more ships) and that’s it.  None of the other specifics actually contribute to the Navy’s core mission. 

CMC Neller, way to contribute and promote the Corps.  There’s not a single item in this memo pertaining to the Marines.  Pathetic. 

CNO Richardson, I'm watching to see whether you will be an improvement over your predecessor.  This was a giant swing and a miss.  You need to up your game.  Show me you have what it takes to lead my Navy.

Sad.  Very sad.  Very disappointing.

Update:  I was unable to generate a link to the memo in the original post but I think this one may work.  Give it a try:  Goals and Objectives