Thursday, March 31, 2016

4 v 1

ComNavOps has frequently pointed out the dangerous trend in current military thinking of believing that everything we do will work perfectly and nothing the enemy does will have any effect.  I’ve mentioned our emphasis on networking while ignoring enemy ECM, as one specific example.

I’ve now read several articles promoting the F-35 by describing how the aircraft will operate in groups of 4 thereby enabling a blanket of sensors to cover the targeted enemy aircraft.  Articles describe how, now matter what the enemy aircraft does, it will always be covered by multiple F-35s and, therefore, be unable to escape detection or destruction.

Of course, this is just another example of the utterly one-sided thinking that pervades modern US military thinking.  Apparently, the enemy will obligingly allow us to operate in neat, tidy, co-ordinated groups of four and will only engage our groups of four with a single aircraft at a time of their own.  I guess they won’t come at us with, say a group of four of their own aircraft and instantly disrupt our group cohesiveness and turn the combat into a wild furball of multiple 1 v. 1’s.  And, of course, it’s utterly impossible that they might come at us with more aircraft than we have!  Apparently, they won’t employ any ECM or use any extreme maneuvering.  I guess they won’t launch missiles at us even for purposes of breaking up our neat little groups (enemy aircraft generally carry more missiles than ours so that would be a completely viable tactic!).  Apparently, their stealth, networks, data links, and sensors won’t be of any benefit to them, whatsoever, while ours will ensure our total domination of the skies.

Almost every air to air combat report I’ve ever read that wasn’t just a simple ambush against inept opponents, demonstrates that the preferred wingman tactics instantly breakdown when combat is joined.  The lead and the wingman quickly get separated and become focused on their individual combats.  There is no reason to believe that a flight of four F-35s won’t quickly deteriorate into four flights of one.

We just recently talked about Infrared Search and Tracking (IRST) capabilities.  The US is well behind the curve on that technology with European, Russian, and Chinese (? – not sure the status of their IRST efforts) aircraft all carrying superior IRST systems compared to ours.  Despite this and enemy stealth, we still assume we’ll establish unhindered long range detection while the enemy will never even see us.

Our A2A tactics sound like they’re heavy on fantasy and wishful thinking and light on reality.  This kind of thinking is going to get our pilots killed. 

Hey, here’s a thought.  Let’s put our invincible 4-aircraft tactical unit of F-35s up against four F-22s (simulating Russian PAK-FA and Chinese J-series stealth fighters) and see what happens.  Let’s also do that with full ECM active and see if our vaunted networking and data sharing functions as advertised.

Another interesting experiment would be to put our F-35s up against some European fighters with IRST systems and see how that turns out.  Will our F-35s operate their radars and give away their positions or will they attempt to operate “blind” with simple IR sensors versus more advanced IRST systems?

We need to stop making up these fantasy tactics and start applying some cold, hard reality to out tactical thinking.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Is The Navy's New Tanker Already Doomed?

Upon first hearing that the Navy had opted to forego any real decision about the future of UCAV/UCLASS and carrier aviation in general, in favor of a simplified unmanned tanker (RAQ-25 “CBARS”), ComNavOps applauded that small portion of the decision.  Using front line combat aircraft as tankers was an idiotic decision of monumental proportions.  Thus, a small, cheap, dedicated tanker was a good thing.  If it was to be unmanned and offer the Navy some on the job carrier UAV integration and autonomous programming experience, all the better.  The key, though, to my reaction was the initial description of the tanker as simple – which implied cheap and small.

Now, however, we’re seeing the first hints that the small, cheap, unmanned tanker is morphing into a complex, multi-function, combination strike/ISR/tanking platform. 

“The Fiscal Year 2017 budget request includes an $84 million line item for CBARS but will also build off of $434 million in future unmanned carrier aviation money that was included into the FY 2016 Omnibus bill, Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, told USNI News in a Wednesday interview.

“So UCLASS doesn’t exist but the CBARS will be able to draw that money. That’s why in one reason in ‘17 we didn’t ask for a whole lot more,” Mulloy said.

Mulloy said the Navy was patching together a submission to the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) that amounted to an 80-percent solution for the initial UCLASS design.

“We’re probably going to drop some of the high-end specs and try to grow the class and increase the survivability [later],” Mulloy said.

“It has to be more refueling, a little bit of ISR, weapons later and focus on its ability to be the flying truck.” (1)

Did you catch the little money trail, there?  This program, for an ostensibly simple and cheap tanker, is already budgeted at $84M plus the $435M ($519M total).  That’s over half a billion dollars and we haven’t even gotten to the request for proposal stage, yet!!!!!!

Requirements that amount to 80% of the UCLASS ????  What happened to a simple, dedicated tanker?

Here’s more evidence that the tanker will also be a strike and ISR platform.

“Lescher [Rear Adm. William Lescher, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget] added that CBARS would also retain a limited strike capability in addition to an ISR role for the carrier.” (2)

Strike and ISR????

So, we’re seeing that, far from a simple, dedicated unmanned tanker, the Navy now wants a near-UCLASS aircraft.  You know what happens when requirements grow beyond the immediate function – costs and schedules also grow.  Ask the LCS program what happens when requirements run amok.  We’re going to be looking at a $200M tanker that will require decades to field, if the Navy doesn’t exercise some common sense restraint.  This is a very worrisome development at such an early point in the process – requirements only grow with time and this tanker appears to already be trending towards a vastly overdesigned platform.

This is starting to look as if the Navy is attempting to get the “limited strike” and ISR UCLASS that it wanted all along, but that Congress and others rejected, under the guise of a simple tanker and is using the “tanker” marketing ploy to sell it to Congress.

Given that a carrier only needs around 4 tankers for each carrier air wing, which is only 36 aircraft (and they don’t need that many – they could just cross deck for each deployment), there won’t be any economy of scale.  This could balloon well past $200M. 

Someday we’re going to look back at this program and wonder where and how a simple tanker program went wrong.  Well, it started right here and right now.

The Navy appears to be pathologically incapable of learning lessons.


(1) USNI News, “WEST: NAVAIR’s Unmanned Aerial Tanker Acquisition Will Be Leaner Than Previous UCLASS Effort”, Sam LaGrone, February 19, 2016,

(2) USNI News, “Unmanned CBARS Tanker Air Segment Draft RFP Expected Later This Year”, Sam LaGrone, February 11, 2016,

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Combat Fleet Count Update

Here is the periodic update on the combat fleet size.  The Navy claims the fleet is growing and is well on its way to 300+ but what are the actual numbers?  Well, previous updates have shown that the combat fleet size is steadily decreasing.

To refresh your memory, the combat fleet is composed of carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, submarines, and amphibious ships (CVN, DDG, CG, FFG, SSN, SSBN, SSGN, LHA, LHD, LPD, and LSD).  Vessels like the JHSV, MCM, PC, hospital ships, LCS (we’ll count them if and when they ever get any combat capability), tugs, salvage ships, and ships whose designation starts with “T” or “A” are not counted as part of the combat fleet.

I’ve also deleted the four idled Ticonderoga class cruisers from the count since they represent a permanent decrease (they’ll only return to the fleet on a one for one replacement for a retiring Tico, according to the Navy).

Here are the updated numbers.

1980  392
1985  421
1990  405
1995  283
2000  243
2005  220
2010  225
2012  210
2014  205
2015  197
2016  191

You can check the fleet size for yourself at .

The combat fleet count continues to decrease and it will only get worse.  Two more Ticonderogas will drop out next year.  The early Burkes will begin retiring soon and budget pressures will probably preclude replacing them on a one for one basis.

Despite this evidence, the Navy still claims to be on track for a 300+ ship fleet. 

I’ll close this post with the same statement I closed the previous Combat Fleet Count update posts:

Compare the Navy’s trend to China’s and ponder the implications for yourself.

I’ll continue to update this from time to time.

Idled Cruiser Update

The Navy has been trying for several years, now, to early retire the Ticonderoga class Aegis cruisers.  Presumably, the reason is to eliminate any potential competition with the Flt III Burkes that might threaten their funding.  Ironically, the Spruance class destroyers were retired and sunk to eliminate them as competition with the Ticonderogas!  The wheel turns full circle, I guess.

In any event, here are the specifics on the initial idlings via Defense News website.  Here are the ships that have been idled and the year they were idled or are scheduled to be idled.

Cowpens        2015
Gettysburg      2015
Chosin            2016
Vicksburg        2016

As you recall, the Navy tried to block retire 11 of the 22 cruisers and Congress blocked that plan.  The Navy then came up with the fiction of “modernization”, which was simply an unofficial retirement, and Congress blocked that.  Ultimately, the Navy swore to Congress that they really would modernize the ships and return them to service and Congress responded by implementing a 2-4-6 law which limits the “modernizations” to two ships per year with completion mandated in four years and a maximum of six ships in “modernization” at a time.  So, four of the allowable six are now idled and, presumably, two more will follow suit in 2017.

Here’s the catch that the Navy, intentionally, hasn’t advertised.  When the ships come out of modernization they will replace retiring cruisers.  Thus, the four (next year, six) ships represent a net permanent decrease of four (next year, six) cruisers from the force.

It’s inconceivable to me that in the midst of declining fleet numbers and a stated desire for a 300+ ship navy, that we would early retire the most powerful surface warships in the world.

The crews of the ships are being disbanded.

“Once NAVSEA takes control, the ship will slim down from a 325-person crew led by a captain to a 45-person crew led by a lieutenant commander.” (1)

The Aegis cruiser fleet, once 22 ships, is now 18 ships and will drop to 16 next year, never to return.  China must simply be giddy with delight.  A Chinese secret agent inserted into the upper ranks of Navy leadership couldn’t do as much damage to the US fleet as we’re doing to ourselves.

(1)Defense News, “The Navy keeps sidelining its best surface ships. Here's why”, David Larter, Navy Times, March 25, 2016

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Russian Submarine Fleet

It’s always helpful to understand the enemy order of battle.  To that end, let’s look at the Russian submarine fleet.  Here’s a nice summary.

“The Russian Navy currently has 15 ballistic missile submarines — 10 in the North Fleet and 5 in the Pacific Fleet. The North Fleet currently has seven such vessels in service: one submarine of the 955 Borey (“Boreas”) class [Borei], one of the 941 Akula (“Shark”) class, and five of the 667BDRM ‘Dolphin’ class [Delta IV]. 

The strategic forces of the Pacific Fleet consist of two 955 Borey class submarines and three submarines of the 667BDR Kalmar (“Squid”) class [Delta III] that are nearing the end of their life cycle (one of them is undergoing repairs). This means that four submarines are battle-worthy.”

“11 ballistic missile submarines are now ready for combat duty in the Russian Navy.” (1)

According to Wiki, the Russian submarine fleet consists of the following.

13 Ballistic Missile Subs (SSBN)

  • 1 Typhoon (commissioned 1981)
  • 3 Delta III (commissioned late 1970’s)
  • 6 Delta IV (commissioned late 1980’s)
  • 3 Borei (commissioned 2013-4) – replacing the outdated Typhoon and Delta classes; 8 planned

7 Cruise Missile Subs (SSGN)

  • 7 Oscar II (commissioned early 1990’s)

18 Nuclear Attack Subs (SSN)

  • 1 Sierra I  (commissioned 1987)
  • 2 Sierra II (commissioned early 1990’s)
  • 4 Victor III  (commissioned early 1990’s)
  • 10 Akula  (commissioned 1990’s)
  • 1 Yasen  (commissioned early 2014) – replacing the Akula class

21 Conventional Attack Subs (SSK)

  • 16 Kilo  (commissioned late 1980’s)
  • 4 Improved Kilo (commissioned 2014-5)
  • 1 Lada (commissioned 2010)

Other sources list one or two fewer or greater numbers in each category, reflecting the uncertainty and difficulty in obtaining accurate numbers.

Jane’s has noted that some ships remain technically in service but have little operational capability.  In addition to operational questions, the Russian fleet is severely constrained by budget and many subs are poorly maintained and probably not realistically operational.  Budget issues also prevent many subs from operating even if technically capable.

“According to Nenashev [Captain 1st Rank Mikhail Nenashev, Chairman of the All-Russia Fleet Support Movement], Russia can now afford to have at least two ballistic missile submarines out at sea at all times — one each for the North Fleet and the Pacific Fleet. During the period of an active threat, three submarines from each one of these fleets can be deployed at sea, …”

“According to Kurdin [Captain 1st Rank Igor Kurdin, Chairman of the Submarine Sailors' Club], there were periods when not a single submarine was at sea, and only a handful of them were on combat alert duty near piers at their home bases.” (1)*

*Note:  I am not familiar with this source and cannot assign a level of credibility to it.  Take it as informational.

My general impression is that half the listed subs are actually operational, at best, and very, very few actually operate at any given moment.  Several sources suggest even fewer are operational.

Further, the majority of the subs represent dated technology and would not be considered significant threats today.  The Sierras, early Kilos, Deltas, and Oscars, at a minimum, are marginally effective, at best.  The Akulas are competent subs but no longer the threat they once were.


Finally, the Russian capabilities and strategies would probably preclude much in the way of far reaching submarine activities in the event of war.  Russia’s priorities are strategic deterrence and coastal defense.  Neither role will result in Russian submarines flooding the world’s oceans with their presence.  The majority would probably be retained in protected bastions close to home.  Russia simply no longer has the numbers, budget, or resources to conduct extensive world wide submarine operations.  During a major war, only a few submarines would likely operate in open oceans.  These would constitute a nuisance but hardly a significant threat. 


All of this ties in with my previous views on P-3/8 ASW aircraft and their role in war.  We see from this that the Russian submarine fleet does not constitute a world-ranging threat and this leads, in part, to questioning the need for, and role of, the P-3/8 and the numbers of aircraft required.

(1)Russia and India Report, “More Russian nuclear submarines deployed in the Pacific”, 2 April 2015, Roman KretsulVzglyad

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


The Navy is developing an Infrared Search And Track (IRST) sensor as a means of producing passive, infrared target location and tracking with accuracy sufficient for weapon guidance.  This would be useful for combat while remaining “stealthy” and not broadcasting with one’s own radar and for operating in an electromagnetically challenged environment where normal radar operation is degraded.  The system is initially intended for the F-18 Hornet.

DOT&E has reported its assessment of the IRST in the 2015 Annual Report.

“The system tested in OA 1 [ed., Operational Assessment 1, conducted in 2014] could not detect and track targets well enough to support weapons employment in an environment that reflects realistic fighter employment and tactics.”

Disturbingly, the unit’s basic design criteria is questionable, according to DOT&E.

“The Key Performance Parameter (KPP) and the derived contract specification for detection and tracking describe only a narrow subset of the operational environments where the Navy will employ IRST. Meeting the KPP (with a narrow reading of the KPP requirement) does not ensure a useful combat capability.”

Who came up with the initial spec????

IRST Mounted in Nose of Fuel Tank

Despite this, the Navy granted approval to enter into Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP).  This is a growing trend in the Navy, to accept products that fail to meet specs or fail to demonstrate useful combat capabilities.  Why are we building and buying a product that is not yet useful?

IRST Fuel Tank Mount

All of that aside, an IRST ought to offer a much needed capability for very little impact on aircraft performance (the IRST is mounted in the nose of the centerline fuel tank so fuel/range will be slightly reduced).  This is just one more incremental improvement that will help keep the Hornet viable.  I just wish the Navy would complete development before entering into production.  This is concurrency, again, which will require the initial IRST’s to be remanufactured, eventually.

Update:  This is why the DOT&E is so important and why there is tension between the Navy and DOT&E.  The Navy is entering into LRIP even though DOT&E testing shows the IRST to be of very questionable combat value.  If DOT&E didn't exist, we'd never know about the problems until combat revealed them and the Navy would have already committed to full scale production of a marginally useful system.  Why the Navy insists on putting badly flawed and substandard systems into full production is beyond me.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Sound Familiar?

ComNavOps has been reading the book, Boyd (1), and was struck by a passage that could have been written today.  See if this doesn’t sound overwhelmingly familiar.

“By 1978, both officers and enlisted personnel were leaving the military services in large numbers.  They left not because of pay, as military leaders had said for the past few years, but because they were displeased with what they saw as a lack of integrity among their leaders.  They thought careerism inhibited professionalism in the officer corps.  The military also was having readiness problems;  expensive and highly complex weapons systems were fielded before being fully tested.  These systems were not only expensive to buy but expensive to maintain, and they rarely performed as advertised.  Stories began to appear in the media of America’s “hollow military”.

The military’s answer was to place more emphasis on what it called the “electronic battlefield” by buying even more expensive and more high-tech weapons.  Somewhere in the military there must have been those who sensed the system was headed toward a meltdown.  If so, no stepped forward to change it.”

Lack of integrity in leadership, officers more interested in career than profession, readiness issues, untested weapons, budget problems, hollow forces …   This could be a summary of the posts on this blog!

The military experienced a resurgence in the 1980’s but instead of maintaining and building on that surge, allowed themselves to regress back to the same problems.  This is serious condemnation of leadership, both civilian and uniformed, but it also offers the hope that we can pull out of these problems, as we did before.  Recovery and resurgence starts with recognizing the problems which is what I try to do on these pages.  If recognition can occur, recovery can begin.

(1)Boyd, Robert Coram, Back Bay Books, NY, 2002

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Army Gets It Even More!

Hard on the heels of the previous post comes more good news about Army training (1).  They’re now beginning to exercise in electromagnetically challenged and degraded environments.  This has long been one of ComNavOps’ beliefs, that we need to exercise in seriously electromagnetically challenged environments because that’s what we’ll fight in.  Failure to do so has led to our sailors and soldiers losing basic skills like navigation and map reading and an overdependence on networking and data linking to provide our intelligence and surveillance.  Our individual units have forgotten how to generate their own information.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell,

“After two decades of largely ignoring the danger, the Army is seriously training for a scary scenario: What if GPS, our satellite communications and our wireless networks go down?

It’s hardly a hypothetical threat. Russian electronic warfare units locate Ukrainian troops by their transmissions and jam their radios so they can’t call for help, setting them up for slaughter. American soldiers are much better trained and equipped than Ukrainian ones, but they’re also much more dependent on wireless devices.”

“We depend on networks for everything from communications to guiding precision weapons, to not shooting friendly units by accident, “to not getting lost in the woods …”

Now, the Army is beginning to train for lost electronic aids.  Training for an electromagnetically challenged environment starts with the basics.

“So the Army is now deliberately disrupting its own units during training. For example, when brigades go to the National Training Center, they naturally bring all their usual GPS navigation systems — but now “we routinely take that capability away from them,” said Perkins [ Gen. David Perkins, head of the Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC)]. “We’re having to teach people at the Basic Course on up on how you operate if that is taken away, in other words introducing people to maps.”

Training then goes on to top end electromagnetic warfare (EW) threats.

“In the past, “we’ve done some training exercises where there’s been GPS jamming; we’ve done exercises where there’s radio-frequency jamming… but it’s very narrow, very limited.” By contrast, he said, under Gen. Milley’s direction, the Army will “bring the full [EW] package to the National Training Center.”

As the article discusses, the Army is having to relearn lessons of old:  maps, compasses, hand drawn battle plans, tactical siting of HQs and communications units, radio discipline to avoid triangulation, etc.

Outstanding Army!  Once again, the Navy needs to learn from the Army.  The Navy is even more dependent on electromagnetic aids then the Army is.  Every weapon the Navy has uses GPS guidance or guidance data links, the heart of the Navy’s defensive plans relies on networks and data sharing for cooperative engagement, UAVs are dependent on highly vulnerable comm. links, etc.  The Navy needs to relearn how to fight in an EW environment.  The Navy needs to find out which weapons simply won’t work in an EW environment.  The Navy needs to break its addiction to and dependence on electronic aids.

In a real war, there’s a lot to said for a high explosive, dumb shell that requires no guidance and can’t be jammed!


(1)Breaking Defense, “Maps & Jammers: Army Intensifies Training Vs. Russian-Style Jamming”, Sydeny J. Freedberg Jr, 18-Mar-2016,

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Army is Getting It

Here’s an Army item that directly pertains to the Navy.  The heads-up on this came from SNAFU blog (1).  A big thanks to SNAFU for this one! 

ComNavOps has long harped on the need for realistic training and it now appears that the Army is beginning to understand that and is conducting much more realistic exercises.  Realistic training is not just about live fire or smoke or simulated explosions.  It’s about making the entire exercise as realistic as possible.  For example, if you’re going to train for an amphibious assault, you don’t send a single ship to a point just offshore and then leisurely unload AAVs to an empty beach.  Instead, you gather an entire MEU/ARG, place them 50 nm offshore (that’s what our doctrine calls for) and send them ashore by all the means you would use in combat.  You throw in air support, naval gun support, combat engineering with real obstacles to clear, add in dummy mines, simulated casualties and medical evac, and an enemy opposing force which has helos and air cover.  Do that all in an electromagnetically contested environment with degraded GPS and networking and then you’ll have a realistic exercise that provides worthwhile training.

When have we ever exercised a multi-carrier offensive group?

When have we worked on fleet level operations?

So, what is the Army doing?  From SNAFU and Defense News websites, the Army is conducting no-notice, come as you are exercises.

“For example, the 82nd Airborne Division’s Global Response Force element conducted a no-notice exercise in February, jumping into Fort Hood, Texas, to conduct a weapons of mass destruction-elimination mission.” (2)

The Army is also taking the exercise all the way to the expected deployment location rather than just simulate movements.

“Three weeks ago, the Army alerted and then deployed an air defense artillery brigade to the Pacific Command theater of operations for a training exercise.” (2)

Here’s another example of conducting a realistic movement of equipment.

“In April, when one of the brigades from the 101st Airborne Division travels to Fort Polk, Louisiana, for its Joint Readiness Training Center rotation, instead of moving its vehicles over land as it normally would, it will have to ship its vehicles by sea, Donahue [Lt. Gen. Patrick Donahue, the deputy commander of US Army Forces Command] said.”
“This means moving 800 vehicles and 200 containers by rail to the port, then loading them onto a ship and sending them off to Port Arthur, Texas, Donahue said. The unit will then meet its equipment at Port Arthur and transport it to Fort Polk.”

“We’re executing the whole process from fort to port and see if we can make it work,” Donahue said.” (2)

“… to see if we can make it work.”  Isn’t that a horrifying statement?  The Army is supposed to be ready to do this kind of thing and we have a General wondering if we can make it work?  What has this guy, and all the rest of the Generals, been doing for the last few decades?  Talk about failing to do your duty!

All right, enough criticizing.  At least, the Army is waking up from its long slumber and starting to do something about its shortcomings.  That’s more than the Navy is doing.

Training also needs to be large scale, when appropriate.  We have high level Army commanders who have never exercised their complete units because our focus for the last couple of decades has been on small unit actions.  Unfortunately, there’s a world of difference between commanding a tank platoon and an entire division.  It’s not enough to run a single tank around a course and then assume that you can command the maneuvering and operations of an armored brigade.

To that end,

“The Army also is directing units to conduct brigade-level Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercises, or EDREs, he [Lt. Gen. Gustave Perna, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for logistics] said.

“We were skirting around the capability by conducting some company and battalion EDREs, but we’re going to up to ante with brigade EDREs,” Perna said.” (2)

Good for you, Army!  If you plan to fight with brigades then you need to exercise as brigades.

Yes, this kind of training costs more money but it’s a lot cheaper than arriving to a peer-level war unprepared and having your ass handed to you. 

The Navy needs to follow the Army’s example and begin realistic training starting with some of these:

  • When was the last time the Navy/Marines actually landed an entire MEU/MEB?
  • When was the last time the Navy exercised a multi-carrier force?
  • The Navy needs to exercise an entire landing through the MLP sea base (I bet it can’t be done!).
  • The Navy needs to conduct a live fire swarm test against the LCS.
  • The Navy needs to conduct a live fire saturation cruise missile attack against an Aegis cruiser.
  • When was the last time the Navy conducted fleet level anti-surface exercises?
  • When was the last time the Marines/Navy conducted a full scale port seizure exercise?
  • When was the last time the Navy conducted a surge exercise?

It’s pathetic what our training has devolved to but I salute the Army for starting to wake up to the possibility of full scale war and training for it. 


Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Navy and the Arctic

A recent comment to a post prompted me to contemplate the ArcticRussia is reportedly developing Arctic capabilities and the US has lamented an icebreaker gap.  Here’s a quote reporting on President Obama’s call for more icebreakers.

“The US needs to build heavy icebreakers if it is to catch up with Russia in the Arctic, the White House said. President Barack Obama called for funding the construction of the specialized ships on the second day of his visit to Alaska.” (1)

What’s missing is a rationale for the icebreakers other than the fact that Russia has more than we do – a worthless rationale by itself.

What strategic benefit do we gain by being able to operate in the Arctic?  I genuinely pose the question.  I do not immediately see any benefit but I have not studied the issue enough to have a well formed opinion.

Arctic Region

Our submarines are already under-ice capable so there’s nothing to be gained there.  There are no strategic mineral resources in the Arctic that we cannot get easier and cheaper from somewhere else.  Russian Arctic military bases would not threaten us any more than they are already capable of doing. 

In short, I see no compelling reason to want to operate in the Arctic.  Maybe a reader can offer a strategic interest in the Arctic?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Ship Warranties - What's That?

ComNavOps has frequently documented the all too common occurrence of incomplete ships being delivered to, and accepted by, the Navy.  In addition, we’ve seen far too many examples of simply horrific levels of quality defects in the delivered ships.  The LPD-17 class was, probably, the poster child for manufacturing defects.

All of this is bad but even worse is that the Navy is paying to complete the ships and correct the defects.  If you buy a car you get a five year bumper to bumper warranty.  Shouldn’t we expect at least a minimal warranty on a ship?

The GAO looked at the cost of “warranty” work on Navy ships and had this to say (1),

“For five of the six Navy and Coast Guard ships GAO reviewed, guarantees did not help improve cost or quality outcomes. While the type and terms of each contract determine financial responsibility for correcting defects, the government, in most of the cases GAO examined, paid shipbuilders to repair defects. For the four ships with fixed-price incentive type contracts and guarantee clauses, the government paid the shipbuilder 89 percent of the cost—including profit—to correct these problems. This means the Navy and Coast Guard paid the shipbuilder to build the ship as part of the construction contract, and then paid the same shipbuilder again to repair the ship when defects were discovered after delivery—essentially rewarding the shipbuilder for delivering a ship that needed additional work.” [emphasis added]

We’re paying the shipbuilder twice!!!

Did you catch this part?  “…essentially rewarding the shipbuilder for delivering a ship that needed additional work …”  The shipbuilder has absolutely no incentive to deliver a complete and functioning ship – just the opposite, in fact.  Every defect or incompletion is an opportunity to get paid again!  This is beyond insane!

Aren’t warranties a standard part of shipbuilding contracts?  No, apparently not.

“Department of Defense guidance instruct[s] programs to, respectively, consider and document the use of a warranty, the use of warranties is not mandatory, and the Navy does not consider using them for ship contracts.”

You’re buying a multi-billion dollar product and you don’t want a warranty?  That seems insane especially given the recent slipshod performance history of shipbuilders.

The issue is even more basic than warranties.  The Navy is accepting incomplete and defective ships.  The shipbuilding contracts call for delivery of a complete ship and the various acceptance trials are supposed to ensure that happens.  But it’s not.  As GAO states,

“We found that some ship classes are routinely delivered with thousands of outstanding defects with the hull, mechanical, and electrical systems …”

A large part of the warranty issue can be bypassed by simply refusing to accept a ship until it’s actually completely built and trials prove that all the components work.  That has nothing to do with warranty – it’s just refusal to accept an incomplete product.  Failure to do so is gross negligence, incompetence, and a violation of the trust of the taxpayer. 

You might wonder what the magnitude of the warranty type issues is?  Obviously, the larger the ship, the more numerous and costly the warranty issues might be.  GAO offers this data point on the LCS warranty costs.

“For LCS 3 and LCS 4, the Navy spent $46 million and $77 million, respectively, under these post-delivery agreements to correct defects, complete ship construction, and assist with tests and trials, among other tasks.”

For a supposed $400M LCS shipbuilding contract (that figure is absolute garbage but we’ll use it for sake of this discussion) the warranty costs represent around 10%-20% of the original contract – that’s money being paid to do what was contracted to be done originally. 

None of us would do this in our personal lives.  We would consider it recklessly irresponsible and just plain stupid.  We’d find another supplier. 

The Navy doesn’t own the Navy, I the taxpayer do and I expect basic business principles, to say nothing of common sense, to be used in ship acquisition.  Every single Navy Admiral should be fired along with the entire NavSea leadership (NavSea is the organization responsible for the acceptance of incomplete and non-functional ships).


(1)Government Accounting Office, “Navy and Coast Guard Shipbuilding”, March 2016, GAO-16-71

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Myth Of The Unopposed Landing

We have a treat today in the form of a guest post from a long time reader with a career's worth of experience.  Please check out his bio at the end of the post.

The Myth of the Unopposed Amphibious Landing
Implications of Anti-access/Area-denial Weapons
G. Bustamante

In 1943 Major General Alexander A. Vandergrift, United States Marine Corps stated: “… that landings should not be attempted in the face of organized resistance if, by any combination of march or maneuver, it is possible to land unopposed within striking distance of the objective.”

- Joint Publication 3-18 Joint Forcible Entry Operations

Current military thinking and doctrine assumes that opposed forcible entry operations (amphibious landings and vertical envelopment) can be avoided; yet the laudable intent to minimize casualties flies in the face of historical record, and the inability to conduct forcible entry operations not only simplifies enemy’s planning, it may lead to a protracted campaign with even greater friendly force casualties. Historians will confirm that with the exception of the landings at Inchon, commanders have done precisely as General Vandergrift suggested: major amphibious operations since Gallipoli were directed against the weakest sections of enemy defenses, although even “weak sectors” could prove to be very challenging. Note that allied losses in the WWII landings at the five Normandy invasion beaches were insignificant compared to the casualties incurred in subsequent combat operations (1).

Perfection of Anti-access/Area-denial technologies (submarines, mines, long range strike aircraft, ballistic and anti-ship cruise missiles) are the principal threat to forcible entry operations; but what is seldom appreciated is that these defenses can be applied not only to the enemy’s territory, but projected across border to the harbors and airports in neighboring nations, calling into question the idea that these defenses can be bypassed.

Consider a friendly defensive scenario from the point of view of India. Using its Agni I ballistic missiles (2), India can strike potential invaders not only along its coastline, but also any forces attempting to use airfields or harbors in neighboring Pakistan or Bangladesh. India also has the ability to deliver sea or land mines by aircraft or rocket, as well as a submarine force. Any potential invader must consider the implications of Anti-access/Area-denial, as demonstrated in the following graphic.

Map of India: Defensive Implications of the Medium Range Agni I Missile

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA):, annotations by author

This should serve as a reminder that a competent enemy will not oblige us by fighting according to our theorems, timetables, and wishes, but will seek to prevent us to build up substantial forces ashore. It is na├»ve to assume that there will always be a neighboring friendly ally willing to allow the use of their ports, and airports. Even if sympathetic, an ally may be unwilling to risk the political, economic, and military consequences of allowing the use of its harbors and airspace. The “so what” implication of this is that mines, long range strike aircraft, ballistic and anti-ship cruise missiles and supporting ISR networks will have to be destroyed, neutralized, or suppressed prior to the introduction, or reinforcement of forces into theater.


(1) The Normandy landings cost the allies an estimated 10,000 casualties; the Normandy campaign, 5 June 1944 through 1 September 1944, cost the allies approximately 225,000 casualties. German casualty estimates range from 400,000 to 530,000 men, most lost in the breakout and encirclement of the German Army Group B in the Falaise Pocket leading the collapse of German defenses in France.

(2) The Agni-I is capable of delivering a conventional payload of one (1) metric ton to a distance of approximately 600 nautical miles. India has further developed its ballistic missile forces.


"Mr. Bustamante is a retired naval officer who served the majority of his career as a Naval Special Warfare Officer and also is held Surface Warfare Officer and Foreign Area Officer designators.  He is a graduate of the  U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in Systems Engineering.  He also holds a Master of Science degree in Defense Analysis (Operations Research) from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California and numerous service schools. After retiring from the Navy, Mr. Bustamante worked for the legislative branch, as a civil servant with the United States Depart of State, and in the private sector as an analyst in information technology project management."

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Credibility - Not All Reports Are Created Equal

ComNavOps happened to read a comment posted on another blog in which the reader accused critics of the F-35 of only giving credence to other critics and ignoring positive reports even from presumably knowledgeable sources like pilots who had actually flown the aircraft.  It made me reflect that, yes, there is a natural human tendency to do that.  We form an opinion and then tend to cherry pick the data and reports that support that opinion.

The thought made me reflect on my own tendencies and, to be honest, I do that the same as anyone else, to a degree, although I try very hard to stay objective and give equal weight to the good and bad reports about any particular subject.  Anyway, that would have been the end of the matter – a mental reminder to myself to stay objective – except that I then happened to read two articles in the most recent issue of Proceedings which illustrated and reminded me why I don’t always give equal weight to both good and bad reports.  It’s because not all reports are created equal.  Not all reports are objective.  Not all reports are fact and logic based.  All reports have an agenda.  Recognizing that, I weight the reports according to the degree of objectivity evidenced in the report, the degree of bias revealed, the agenda of the author, etc.  Based on that assessment, I may accept the report at face value, I may reject the report utterly, or, more likely, I may weight the various points and factor them into my own opinion accordingly.

Here’s a simple example.  Early on, when criticism of the LCS was mounting and the Navy was desperate for some good PR to rebut the critics, they ran the ship’s Captains out and had them do interviews, articles, and reports.  Unsurprisingly, those interviews and reports were over-the-top positive, providing the impression that the LCS was exactly the miracle war machine the Navy claimed it was.  Well, by that point it was obvious to all that the LCS had serious problems and lots of them.  Thus, the Captain’s interviews and reports were clearly not objective – there was no hint of even the slightest negative - , they were clearly heavily biased, and the Captains and the Navy had an obvious agenda which precluded objectivity.  Therefore, I read the reports but largely dismissed them – not because I refused to listen to opinions that ran counter to my own but because the reports were not credible even though the source, the ship’s Captain, should have been nearly the ultimate authority on the subject.

Here’s another example near and dear to us.  The current Proceedings has an article by Col. Matthew Kelly, USMC, who claims to have flown “hundreds of hours” in the F-35.  There should be no more authoritative expert on the subject, right?  Well, the article spends several pages extolling the virtures (almost magical, according to his descriptions) of the aircraft and offers a single, vague sentence about unspecified hardware and software updates that are coming.  That’s the extent of the negatives in the article.  Given the litany of problems with this aircraft, that alone suggests a severe lack of objectivity by the author.  The author’s affiliation, the USMC, suggests an agenda and bias – the USMC declared IOC in what was clearly a public relations stunt after a hugely unsuccessful trial.  Thus, the author’s credibility and objectivity are seriously questionable.

The author describes how the F-35 will operate in teams of four to sweep the skies clear of enemy planes.  No credit is given to enemy capabilities, whatsoever.  The F-35 has stealth, data linking, off-boresight targeting, etc. which will utterly overwhelm the enemy.  Absolutely no attempt is made to explain how the enemy’s stealth, data links, and (superior?) off-boresight targeting will factor into this. 

In short, the article reads like a sales brochure. 

So, what did I take away from this article?  Not a thing.  The Marines trotted out a pilot to do a PR sales piece.  I rejected the article not because it differed from my own opinion but because it wasn’t credible. 

The second Proceedings article was about the Zumwalt and was written by the ship’s current Captain, James Kirk.  Again, the article reads like a sales brochure.  The ship apparently has no flaws except for an almost insignificant restriction in the heavy seas operating envelope.  Other than that, it’s clear from the article that a single Zumwalt can win any war by itself (so why did we build three, I wonder?).  The only question is whether the ship will need to leave dock to do it or if it can win the war from its home port.

While the article offers a few interesting factoids, it is clearly a PR piece and, again, I reject it as a basis for influencing my opinion.

Now, recognize that this works both ways.  I’ve read reports on the F-35 and LCS that were nothing but criticism and those are no more credible than the reverse.  A report that would have me believe that those platforms have not a single positive, redeeming characteristic is just as clearly biased and unbelievable as the reverse.

So, to respond to the original complaint by that far removed, unknown commenter, the reason why positive reports are often summarily dismissed is because they lack credibility.  I would also remind the commenter that supporters cherry pick their data as much or more than critics!