Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Littoral CONOPS ... Now?

Here’s some news that is an absolute condemnation of the entire Navy and Marine leadership.  The Navy and Marines have apparently realized that they need a littoral combat concept of operations (CONOPS) and are developing one.

“The Naval Board, …is working with the Naval Development Warfare Center and the Marines’ Combat Development “to write a concept for littoral operations in a contested environment …”

I have only one observation:

Shouldn’t the Navy and Marines have had a littoral CONOPS before they committed to building 55 littoral combat ships?


(1)USNI website, “Navy, Marines Developing New CONOPS For Contested Littoral Operations”, Megan Eckstein, April 8, 2016,


  1. They do have a CONOPS for the LCS, its here
    This seems to have been done back in 2004.
    It does seem to be more 'policy' rather than 'operations'

    1. That is not even remotely a CONOPS. It is a glorified sales brochure which promises that there is nothing the LCS can't do and the only question is whether an entire war can be won by a single LCS or whether a second one might be required.

      Anyone can slap the word CONOPS on any piece of writing but that doesn't make it one.

    2. Well , it is what it is. A Concept is always going to be conceptual.

      Heres the ASW one

      Seems to be just as waffly to me. And it seems to be just a first step
      "This 21st Century ASW Concept of Operations (CONOPs) is intended to guide the development of a comprehensive ASW Master Plan that will be forthcoming shortly. It details operational principles and force attributes that we seek to develop in the years ahead.

      So maybe the Littoral master plan is whats missing, as I think you cant just dismiss a CONOPS because it doesnt say what you want to.
      Theres bound to be rules for writing this sort of top level stuff and it requires sign off by all sorts Admirals and so on.

      To me historical record often shows flawed weapons system with a few tweaks were often exactly what was required during battle.
      eg Stuart/Lee/Sherman tank, the Mustang fighter, B29 Bomber

    3. "To me historical record often shows flawed weapons system with a few tweaks were often exactly what was required during battle.
      eg Stuart/Lee/Sherman tank, the Mustang fighter, B29 Bomber"

      Only because you know the history of the victor.
      The Zero and the Panzer IV were not "exactly what was needed", "after a few tweaks", they were what was available, and they didnt cut the mustard

      The tweaked B29 just happened to be available, and just happened to be operated by the victor.

      Unless China can take Hawaii*, it can not win a protracted war against the US, a polite history could tell of the LCS "holding the line" until new ships were built to win the war, but it would be a polite fiction.

      *Yes, I hold the same about Japan in the second world war, theres nothing in the east pacific, you can island hop from Japan to Haiwaii, but you cant go any further, and you cant, realistically, invade Hawaii from the CONUS either.

    4. Since its the US were are talking about now , its valid to look their historical equipment supply and usage.
      if we want to look at the losing side, it often stands out that Germany made good designs 'too good'.
      The US example of technology that was supposed to change everything was the Norden bombsight, it wasnt, and mass bombing was waste of resources. The B29 ended winning the war, just by being the only plane that could carry the atomic bomb, not something that was thought of when it was being designed.
      You have shown your devotion to the constantly failed strategy that the US follows of trying to 'occupy/invade ' the asian mainland. Lets be clear China has no interest in Hawaii or Conus, that has historical precedent going back 2000 years. In fact the only Asian land power that was interested in Conus was Russia, and the russian name of the place they settled remains to this day. Alaska

    5. Well, looking at the below cut from the document, I can only see that "force dispersal" has been met as the ships are stuck in ports around the globe!

      "Survivability through a host of factors

      The LCS force and individual platforms become less susceptible to detection and less vulnerable to attack through the employment of:

      Agility (high speed in a variety of sea conditions and missions)

      Speed: In ASW, speed would allow LCS to cut off an enemy submarine's avenues of approach, and would help in evading sub-fired torpedoes. Against airborne threats, it would allow LCS to more rapidly skirt an aircraft's search window and improve the effectiveness of antiship cruise missile countermeasures. Tactical speed benefits also would include faster wide-baselining for ESM and quicker combat search and rescue response.

      Off board combat systems and on board sensors and weapons
      Area maneuver by the large numbers of both the LCS force and its off board sensors and weapons

      Powerful networking to power projection assets for increased awareness

      Signature management

      Force dispersal (decreases risk averseness in high threat regions"

    6. I'm missing whatever point you're making. Try again?

  2. You'd think systematic procurement using vast sums of taxpayer's money would require some plans about how the equipment would be used and thus what it needed to be able to do.

    However, the USN is responding to the people who supply its money - Congress - by doing what they want, in spending lots of it in the right places in the country. That's not really a problem with the Navy, but with Congress.

    In any case, the idea of what the LCS is actually for is fairly clear: it's for blowing up Iranian speedboats in the Gulf, pirates off Somalia, and so on. It's vastly overpriced for that job, but that's a consequence of the priority Congress places on getting money spent in home districts.

    1. Its also utterly useless at that job
      A single 57mm cannon, even if it could shoot straight, isnt any good for that,
      Its essentially a torpedo boat destroyer, or just a destroyer, before destroyers became huge AAW specialists.
      What does an LCS do that a Fletcher doesnt?

    2. "Its essentially a torpedo boat destroyer, or just a destroyer, before destroyers became huge AAW specialists."

      WW1 Destroyers were better.
      The Clemson-class (flush decker) has everything but Aviation assets on the LCS and even then, their AA gun/s would make short work of the Helo.

      The LCS is an oversized, undergunned, expensive Destroyer Escort (DDE) at best.
      Pitting it against a Fletcher is just brutal.

      Just my opinion.

      - Ray D.

      I think these are more what I'm thinking.

      As many as 16x 20mm cannons.

      It covers the "is it dead yet" problem by simply having enough guns to sustain fire on targets, a single gun has to kill a boat and move to the next target, a few hillbilly armoured speed boats are a difficult proposition for a single gun

    4. I think everyone here agrees, cancel the LCS today. Sell the ones we got to some foreign sucker at a low price, the Saudis are buying some. Then start working on a new design. Meanwhile, our Navy needs something now, and domestically built to be politically acceptable, and the best choice are Ambassador class boats. Buy two dozen with a couple tenders to support them when deployed far from a naval base. When that buy is complete the new frigate should be ready for procurement.

      The Naval board can now thank me for doing their work in two minutes.

    5. "As many as 16x 20mm cannons."

      The problem with that kind of weapon is that if the target is within range of the 20mm guns, the guns (meaning ship) is within range of the swarm craft rockets and guns. In fact, the swarm craft weapons probably outrange the 20mm when considering effective range. See my previous posts about swarms. Even the simple RPG has nearly the same effective range as a 20mm.

      Still, your point that more weapons is better is quite valid and lost on the US Navy.

    6. "the best choice are Ambassador class boats"

      Well, that handles the shooting part. Going to need something with MCM capability, too.

      On the bright side, I just noticed that the US Coast Guard reckons a very fast, lightly armed vessel with helicopter capability would suit their anti-drug needs well. Shame it's so expensive.

    7. Combining MCM with a warship was a stupid idea to begin with. None of the characteristics of an effective MCM vessel match those of a warship. I know the military wants every platform to be able to perform every task in the military but there are simply times when a single function platform is the preferred and most cost effective solution. MCM is such a case.

    8. I've always felt that the LCS is best served having 2 to 4 Phalanx /CIWS, instead of 20mm guns.

      They'll take care of both shoulder launched rockets (they're used at forts in Afghanistan for that reason) and speedboats. Also provide a little protection against anti ship missiles as last layer (bit short ranged though)

    9. That's potentially a decent concept. Note, though, that Phalanx is not really an effective anti-swarm weapon. To be fair, no gun system really is. Some of that ineffectiveness can be mitigated by adding larger numbers of guns. In your concept, 4-6 would be the minimum number, I would think.

      I agree that the 20 mm is a bit out of place. It's too short ranged for engaging the threat at a distance and not effective enough to engage successfully at short range and it doesn't offer any anti-air capability.

      Good comment.

    10. I'm not married to 20mm, its more they are readily available with ship mounts, 40mm would be fine by me.

      Although an RPG can hit a target at 1000 yards, its chances of hitting a moving target, when fired from a moving platform, at even 200 yards seems pretty much blind luck.
      A decent optical sight will have a 20mm cannon hitting speed boats at 1000yards without great difficulty.

      The problem with Phalanx ect is radar will struggle to see a small boat on the water, waves, spray, movement, missiles fly 10m above the water to hide in it, a fast boat is in contact with that same water.
      Not sure to what extent a fusion sensor combining Radar, IR, VL, Accoustic, could solve that problem and allow an unmanned gun work reliably.

      I am slightly curious about the gun/20mm distrust though.
      The Bradley 25mm gun was sufficient to kill Iraqi T55/72s with side and rear hits, hillbilly armour on a speed boat might protect against small arms, but I dont see it standing up to sustained fire from a 20mm gun, it might need a fair few hits to variously disable the engines, crew, steering, or most likely predetonate the bomb.

    11. You're correct that firing an RPG at a moving target, from a moving target, must be difficult and reduces the effective range. On the other hand, a target the size of a ship is huge compared to, say, a tank, and that increases the effective range. The 20mm gun has to hit a tiny boat. The RPG has to hit an immensely bigger ship.

      Also, people keep wanting to discuss RPGs and, as I showed in the post on swarm boats, the main weapon of the swarm boat is rockets. Those outrange a 20 mm in effective range.

      Finally, I've watched videos of 20 mm and machine guns of various calibers try to hit targets and the accuracy is atrocious even at a couple hundred yards. People discussing this tend to vastly overestimate the accuracy and, hence, effectiveness of guns.

  3. To be fair, the LCS is such a useless, unarmed disaster that the Navy has to rework any prior littoral conops that assumed our ships would be combat capable.

  4. CNO, first a reminder that minewarfare craft were once expected to serve as ASW and light escort ships as well as minesweepers.

    Also while the LCS may not the best mine warfare vessel they are close enough to providing a better starting point than any previous class of mine warfare ship to develop new ones. The problems with the LCS is the high top speed that cause the designer to sacrifice much of the payload/ range requirements a good modern mine warfare ships will require. Such ships must have as ability to operate large helicopters, good size Unmanned surface vessels, and effective self defenses, something no previous US mine warfare ships had, but the LCS did attempt to cover.

    1. GLof, first a reminder that ships were once expected to board other ships as well as repel boarders. I'm guessing that we're trading interesting but irrelevant facts?

      I assume you're reacting to my statement that combining MCM with a warship was a stupid idea? I know you desperately want the LCS to be deemed a success but don't embrace a bad idea as a result of that desire.

      The basic concept of combining the two functions can be demonstrated to be bad by taking it to the extreme and seeing if the logic holds up. Suppose we made our aircraft carriers our MCM vessels as well. Thirty seconds of thought would show us that that is just a waste of a powerful warship on a task that could be performed by a hugely smaller, dedicated ship. Thus, combining MCM with a littoral COMBAT vessel just wastes the combat characteristics of one of our few (and dwindling) warships. Of course, I'm ignoring that the LCS is not really an effective warship but that's another discussion. If it was an effective warship, tying it up doing MCM is a foolish use of resources.

      "... while the LCS may not be the best mine warfare vessel ..."

      ???? Shouldn't we be building the best MCM vessel we can given the enormity of the mine threat?

      The Navy is still conflicted and unsure about their basic MCM approach. Will it be unmanned surface/subsurface vehicles or will it be helos? If the former, a much smaller, much cheaper, much more effective dedicated MCM vessel is required. If the latter, a much larger helo-aviation ship like an AFSB is required. In either case, the LCS is a very poor choice.

  5. If you try to write a plan to use something and get agreement that it makes sense FIRST, that just interrupts the flow of money to the Defense Industry. MUCH better to have some smart Admiral come up with the concept of the day, hype it like The Donald and get the money flowing.

    Remember just like fire, aim, then adjust, it is spend, spend more, figure out what we need to spend more on.

  6. You are not contemplating what threats future mine warfare ships will have to deal with. There are anti-ship missiles launched from air, land, sea, and under sea. There are various type of fast attack craft, that will need destroying, aircraft of all types and speeds, and finally all those classical threats and vessels they will faces. We no longer have the "warships" to protect you single mission support ships without great expense. We therefore must provide new mine warfare ships with the means for self protection.

    1. But the LCS can neither hunt mines nor defend itself from even the most mundane of missile threats.

    2. You are not contemplating what scenarios future mine warfare ships will have to deal with. If there are mines to be removed under combat conditions, there will be Burkes present. The Navy has already stated that the LCS cannot survive a hostile environment without the umbrella of a Burke. Thus, the few, minor weapons that an LCS would have are redundant.

      In order to provide those few, minor weapons, we've taken a small, dedicated, $20M-$50M MCM vessel and turned it into a 400 ft, 3700 ton ship that costs around three quarters of a billion dollars. That's insane.

      I suppose in a world of unlimited budgets and unlimited manning, we could build every barge, tugboat, cargo ship, oiler, LCS, and amphib to battleship standards along with whatever its primary mission is but we don't have that luxury. Thus, a redundant, expensive, overbuilt MCM vessel is a luxury we can't afford.

    3. "In order to provide those few, minor weapons, we've taken a small, dedicated, $20M-$50M MCM vessel and turned it into a 400 ft, 3700 ton ship that costs around three quarters of a billion dollars. That's insane."

      No, it's merely clumsy and obvious. The objective the Navy is trying to fulfil isn't to provide warships economically, but to funnel as much money as possible to their suppliers. And it's their paymasters in Congress who set that objective. This isn't a metaphor. It's the game that's being played.

  7. Firstly returning to your original post, yes what on God's green earth is command thinking? You don't build anything without a plan except maybe Lego where the end result can be changed and not effect the cost.

    Littoral is a dud concept from the get go. To access littoral regions it takes a capable combatant or fleet thereof to reach such contested waters to begin with. It's time to scrap littoral thinking and revert to traditional thinking.

    I have to ask is the LCS a product of Lego thinking? This modularity might work for the small Scandinavian fleets operating around the Baltic but it doesn't cut it for me for Atlantic or Pacific operations.

    What happened to low acoustic signatures in MW? What happened to nonferrous ship construction? I know there is all this hype about unmanned systems but I'm old school and not sold on unmanned meeting the needs of every requirement.

    I for one am glad the RAN didn't sign up to the lemon that is the LCS but that said we are yet to dodge Austal's pending bid at our future frigate project. The LCS child is a product of the same sort of flawed thinking that saw the one size fits all mistakes so evident in the F35 program.

    The only use I see for the existing LCS fleet is a few retained for high speed SOCOM support ops, the rest should be donated to the USCG if they cannot be sold to foreign navies.

    As for a suitable blue water MCM, I like the potential the Visby class offer in that regard.

    I live in hope that both the USN & RAN select a decent sized highly capable ASW frigate but too few designs seem to be coming from the US to meet the RAN future frigate timetable. Even the Type 26 in an advanced design phase may miss the boat.

    Looking at an older design, the Gibbs & Cox scaled down Arleigh Burke design for the Sea4000 bid looks on the money for a large capable frigate, could this be the savor of our fleets?

    Deep six littoral specific ships and let's get back to blue ocean warfare.

    1. Disregard my Gibbs and Cox idea, just rechecked the specs and is too close to the AB's to be a contender.

    2. Dave W, all in all, a nice comment.

      Regarding MCM, the main question for the US Navy is whether we will conduct MCM via unmanned surface/subsurface vehicles or via helos or, perhaps, some combination. That will determine what type of ship(s) is needed. At the moment, unmanned vehicles do not seem to offer the performance needed. That leaves helos. That would suggest that the ideal MCM vessel is a small carrier-ish vessel that can operate around a dozen helos - quite a bit different from either the LCS approach or the old Avenger class.

      In the interim, I'd opt for small helo carriers and a dozen new build, upgraded Avengers to fill the gaps.

    3. Dave W, you're one of the few people who aren't asking for a generic and overarmed frigate. Good for you! You're correct that what the USN needs is a good, small, dedicated ASW ship. What the RAN needs, I have no idea.


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