Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Distributed Targeting

A reader, Benjamin Oliver, recently made a very succinct comment regarding the use of the LCS and every other Navy ship as shooters.  To paraphrase slightly, he said that distributed lethality won’t work without distributed targeting.   This is a brilliant summation of the issue.

The LCS will have 100+ nm anti-ship missiles coupled with 20 nm sensors.  Yes, the ship will have a helo and a UAV but the helo will be reserved for ASW and near-ship ASuW.  The UAV will have a very limited sensor field of view and a single UAV will be woefully inadequate for broad area target searches.  Thus, the ship will have to depend on off-board sensing and targeting.  We’ve discussed this many times.

The Navy’s plan to use P-8s and Triton UAVs is unworkable.  Both are large, slow, non-stealthy aircraft that will serve only as target drones for enemy aircraft and missiles.

Submarines simply don’t have the sensor range or speed to cover the large swaths of ocean needed to find enemy ships.  Plus, our submarines will have more important tasks than acting as search platforms for the LCS.

Satellites are not capable of real time targeting, contrary to what many people believe, and they won’t last long in a peer war.

So, where will the distributed lethality get its distributed targeting?  The short, simple, and painful answer is that there is no viable distributed targeting system.  The kill chain is missing a key link and the Navy’s distributed lethality is just another unworkable Navy fantasy without it.

The concept of distributed targeting is, however, viable with the right sensors.  Unfortunately, the Navy does not have the right sensors and, worse, seems to have no grasp of the problem and no intention of getting the right sensors.  The task falls, then, to us to define the right sensors.

The requirement is simple.  The sensor needs to be able to penetrate many hundreds of miles of enemy territory undetected, find targets, and transmit the data back to the shooters.  For the sake of this discussion, we’ll assume the shooters are ships, the LCS specifically, although the shooters could also be aircraft or land bases.

So, the sensor needs great range, long endurance, stealth of some form, a decent size/power radar and/or good optical sensor, and secure communications.  There are also a couple of implied characteristics.

Unless the sensor is a very large AWACS / E-2 Hawkeye / P-8 Orion size platform, the radar it carries (assuming it uses radar) will, of necessity, be small and low powered which means the field of scan will be limited.  This suggests that large numbers of sensors will be needed to make up for the limited individual coverage.

This, in turn, implies the characteristic of affordability.  Large numbers of sensors can only be produced if the individual sensor is cheap. 

By definition, many of these sensors won’t make it back.  This, again, argues for extreme affordability to be able to absorb the losses and costs.

So, having defined the requirements, what form of platform can meet the requirements?

Unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) are stealthy but too close to the surface to have much sensing range and are too slow to cover much territory.  UUVs, then, would not make good general purpose distributed sensors.  They could, however, be useful for monitoring limited, fixed areas like navigational chokepoints or harbors. 

Unmanned surface vessels (USV), like UUVs, lack the sensor range and speed to cover sufficient territory.  In addition, they lack the inherent stealth of a UUV.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) potentially offer the range, endurance, and speed to cover larger areas.  Combined with the high altitude they operate at, the sensing area is correspondingly greater.  UAVs also offer the potential to be stealthy through a combination of small size (compared to an AWACS or P-8) and airframe shaping.

Blackjack UAV

UAV’s, then, seem to be the best choice for distributed sensors.  The concept of operation would be to flood a region with many dozens of UAVs at any given moment.  Although an individual UAV would provide limited coverage, the large numbers would ensure adequate area coverage and compensate for the inevitable high attrition rate.

The key question is whether the desired characteristics can be made to fit in an affordable package.  Can we build a UAV with great range, small size, stealth, and decent radar/optics for a low enough price to allow us to build thousands of them?  That’s a difficult challenge but that’s the part of the kill chain the Navy needs to be working on.  An LCS with a hundred or thousand mile anti-ship missile is useless if we can’t provide targeting.


Side note:  An upsized Blackjack UAV might make a good design starting point for a distributed targeting sensor.  The Blackjack has an operational radius of 480 miles and is small enough to be operated from any ship.  It has a degree of stealth by virtue of its size and the airframe could probably be shaped to provide a greater degree of stealth.

Alternatively, a downsized MQ-1 Predator might also make a good starting point.  It has an operational radius of around 1000 miles.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

S-3 Viking Gunship

We’ve seen that the Marines are trying to create a poor man’s gunship out of their KC-130J Super Hercules tankers using the Harvest Hawk add-on kit.  The Marines are also toying around with turning the MV-22 into a mini-gunship.  So, can the Navy get in on this?  Maybe an E-2C/D Hawkeye gunship?  That probably wouldn’t be any sillier than what the Marines are doing but, just for fun, let’s take a look at a study that was done many years ago about turning an S-3 Viking into a gunship.  Taylor Emanuel did the study for his Naval Posgraduate School thesis (1).

To begin with, the author notes that organic fire support capability was being steadily reduced. 

“This study provides analysis that shows a huge reduction in expeditionary fire support capability. The Marine Corps has experienced a 45 percent reduction in cannon artillery, the loss of self-propelled artillery capability, and reductions in tactical aircraft. The Navy has decommissioned all battleship NSFS 16-inch gun platforms and mine threats coupled with limited littoral water depths will probably make NSFS 5-inch guns a non-factor.”

So, even back in the early 1990’s the trend of steadily shrinking fire support was obvious and this trend provides the foundation and justification for his examination of gunship options.  Interesting, isn’t it, that the author saw the inadequacy of the 5” gun for fire support long before the Navy opted to retreat to 25-50 miles offshore?  Those artillery reductions have only gotten worse and have been joined, now, by tank reductions.  The organic fire support situation has only gotten worse - far worse.

The author’s solution is to increase Close Air Support (CAS).

“To offset reductions in organic fire support, more frequent and sustained application of CAS and CAS/TIC [TIC = Troops in Contact]  will be required by joint expeditionary forces.”

He uses four measures of CAS to determine merit:

  • target detection/recognition
  • lethality
  • survivability;
  • combat persistence.

That’s not a bad group of measures for CAS.  Of course, just as important, or more so, is the direction of the battle – the ability of the pilot (or observer) to see, assess, and direct the battle.  However, that’s a function of training and doctrine and the author is focused on the platform so he can be forgiven this omission. 

Here is the author’s summary of desired characteristics.

“The sensor suite consists of a turret mounted forward looking infrared and low-light-level television to provide 360 degree battlefield coverage and to cover the entire electromagnetic spectrum. The weapons suite consists of one 25-MM Bushmaster chain gun for area suppression of personnel and use against light armor, one 30-MM Bushmaster II gun for destruction of vehicles and armored vehicles, and eight Hellfire missiles for hard-target kill and forward-firing, non-orbit firing capability. In addition, the platform will be survivable. It will have state-of-the-art self-defense capability coupled with armor plating and redundant systems. Finally, combat persistence will be good. The CBG [carrier based gunship] will be carrier-capable and have at least a 1,500 nautical mile range.”

The platforms that the author examines for CAS suitability are the E-2C, S-3, and V-22.  The specific relevant characteristics of the S-3 Viking in the gunship role are:

  • High wing – minimize interference with weaponry
  • Good range/endurance
  • High speed
  • Cabin height over 7 ft – allows full installation and operation of weapons
  • Crew of 4 – would result in task saturation according to the author;  four is the minimum viable CAS crew size, according to the author
  • Comprehensive sensor suite – FLIR and ISAR already part of the airframe
  • High IR signature – means the aircraft would be susceptible to heat seeking weapons
  • Low Radar signature – low on a relative basis, not compared to full stealth aircraft
  • Good munitions load capacity
  • Full weapons load
    • 1x 25mm
    • 2x 30mm
    • 8x Hellfire


As the author points out, the Navy, and carrier groups, lack any real close air support.  As ComNavOps has pointed out, in a peer level assault the carrier's aircraft will be fully occupied trying to establish and maintain air control and protecting the carrier/amphib groups.  They will only sporadically be available for CAS, at best.  

The author’s thesis demonstrated that the S-3 offers the possibility of a dedicated CAS platform though it would not, of course, be as effective as a purpose designed, new aircraft.  Still it’s an interesting concept to think about and once again emphasizes the versatility of the S-3 which has operated in the ASW, ISR, maritime strike, ESM, tanker, and COD roles.  That’s a pretty impressive and versatile aircraft!


(1)Taylor C. Emanuel, “Gunship Diplomacy: Carrier-Based Close Air Support For Joint Expeditionary Forces”, Naval Postgraduate School Thesis, Dec 1994

Friday, May 27, 2016

Just Stop Hitting Yourself

The Navy has long used sequestration as a crutch and blame for the abysmal condition of the fleet.  Sequestration took effect as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011.  News Flash!!!!  The Navy’s maintenance problems were already well entrenched by then.  Sequestration assuredly did not help the situation but the Navy was already committed to irresponsibly reduced and deferred maintenance before then.  Sequestration is just the convenient scapegoat for a Navy that has no idea how to manage its budget or its assets.

Here’s the latest round of insanity as reported by Navy Times.

“US Navy leaders have made no secret the fleet’s maintenance accounts are underfunded. “

The Navy has an $848 million shortfall in its current operations and maintenance accounts …”

If only there were some way to shift money from highly questionable acquisition programs and into maintenance funds.  If only there were some way to ask Congress to fund one less pointless Zumwalt or a bunch less worthless LCS’s and, instead, put the money towards maintenance.  Alas, there appears to be no way for such things to happen – at least, no way the Navy can think of.  I, on the other hand, would simply pick up a phone, call the relevant Congressman, and make the request.  But, hey, I’m not a professional like CNO Richardson so what do I know?

The Navy claims an $848M maintenance shortfall and yet is unwilling to sacrifice one or two LCS which would more than cover the entire shortfall.

Ouch … It hurts.  Every time I hit myself with a hammer, it hurts.  Make it stop.

So, what’s the Navy’s solution for dealing with sequestration?

  • “Deferring overhauls on four surface ships and one submarine from the fourth quarter of fiscal 2016 into fiscal 2017’s first quarter;

  •  “descoping” or deferring continuous maintenance for the assault ships Makin Island and America amphibious ready groups and the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group;

  • Restricting Carrier Air Wing 1 (CVW-1) flying hours, including imposing a four-month no-fly period, and limiting other flying hour program costs; and

  • deferring “various other contracts.”

More deferred maintenance on top of the previous deferred maintenance just makes the situation worse, not better.

“The Navy itself, Forbes [Rep. Randy Forbes] said, notes that the service is at its “lowest readiness point in many years.”

Readiness is at an all time low so the Navy’s solution is to defer more maintenance and further degrade readiness??? 

Ouch … It hurts.  Every time I hit myself with a hammer, it hurts.  Make it stop.

“Non-deploying aircraft were regularly being robbed of parts to keep deployed planes flying, he [Capt. Randy Stearns, commodore of Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic]  said, with the result that the fleet had little surge capacity should more aircraft be needed in action.”

We have no surge capacity so the Navy’s solution is to defer more maintenance and ground entire air wings???

Ouch … It hurts.  Every time I hit myself with a hammer, it hurts.  Make it stop.

The Navy doesn’t even know where the maintenance problem began – or, at least, they refuse to acknowledge it.

“Asked where the problems began, Stearns [Capt. Randy Stearns, commodore of Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic] replied, “sequestration – we’ve never caught up.””

No sir, that’s not where the problem began.  The problem was well established before sequestration.  Get your facts straight and lay the blame where it belongs:  squarely on the Navy.

As USNI News website reports,

“The Navy has been warning Congress for years that extended deployments since 2001 have led to more severe maintenance problems … “ (2)

There, Capt. Stearns, is where the problem began – not with sequestration but with the Navy’s own ill-advised decisions about deployments and maintenance since the beginning of this century.  How can you fix a problem if you don’t even understand how it started?  Want more proof?  Here’s a statement from Adm. Phil Davidson, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, during a Congressional readiness hearing.

“I will not embark on a path that partially accomplishes all availabilities across the entire fleet. That is a dangerous practice that rapidly builds maintenance and capability backlogs that are difficult to recover. Indeed, we are digging out from that sort of policy more than a decade ago.” (2)

So, Adm. Davidson acknowledges that the problem is at least a decade old, far older than sequestration.

The article also cites maintenance impacts on personnel.  The Captain of a submarine caught in an extended drydocking and unable to put to sea has opted to retire.  The XO and Engineer of the sub, being unable to get to sea and demonstrate their fitness for promotion, have had their careers ruined.

If only there some way to move those people to sea duties on another ship;  you know, sort of like a transfer where their bodies are physically moved somewhere else.  But I guess there’s no way to move a person and even if there were, there’s probably no openings in the entire fleet so …  Ah, hold that thought.  I just got a note that yet another Commanding Officer has been relieved for loss of confidence in his ability to command.  The Navy is holding to their average of around 25-30 CO reliefs per year and an equal number of XO’s and Senior Enlisteds.  Anyway, back to this post.  Where was I?  Oh yes, I was saying that there probably wouldn’t be a single opening anywhere in the Navy where these people could transfer to even if there were some kind of transfer mechanism.  Seems like an unsolvable problem so I’ll just move on.

Ouch … It hurts.  Every time I hit myself with a hammer, it hurts.  Make it stop.

Hey, side story … A man walks into a doctor’s office and says, “Doctor, my head hurts every time I hit myself with my hammer.  What can I do?”  The doctor answers, “Stop hitting yourself.”

The Navy hurts every time it defers maintenance.  What can they do?  Stop deferring maintenance.

One or two less LCS would cover the entire maintenance shortfall and yet the Navy refuses to give up one or two LCS to improve maintenance and readiness across the entire fleet.

Stop hitting yourself.


(1)Navy Times website, “US Navy Faces $848 Million Ops & Maintenance Shortfall”, Christopher Cavas, 26-May-2016,

(2)USNI News website, “As Navy Faces $848M O&M Shortfall, Picking What Maintenance To Skip Is Full Of Risk”, Megan Eckstein, May 26, 2016,

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Marine Harvest Hawk

If a policeman spends all day, day after day, year after year, helping old ladies cross the street, he eventually tends to forget that his main job is preventing crime, not being a crossing guard. 

Similarly, if the military spends all day, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, fighting very low end threats, they eventually tend to forget that their main job is to fight and win high end, high intensity wars.  The problem is that part of forgetting what their main job is, is the inevitable drift away from being high end combat capable.  They begin purchasing low end equipment, abandoning high end combat tactics and developing low end ones, shedding tanks and artillery in favor of light vehicles, researching non-lethal weapons, incorporating females into combat units out of a misguided emphasis on sociology instead of combat, buying patrol vessels for “presence” missions instead of warships, and so on.

The latest example is the Marine Corps’ move to convert their KC-130J Super Hercules cargo/transport/tankers into poor man’s gunships by adding the Harvest Hawk equipment.  As any professional soldier will tell you, there are never enough cargo/transport/tanker aircraft available for what needs to be done.  Converting such precious aircraft to second rate gunships is wasting a valuable platform. 

Risking such aircraft in a combat scenario is even dumber.  And for what?  The accuracy of the Harvest Hawk kit is marginal and the weapon load is small (Capability II is 4 Hellfires and 16 70mm rockets).  This add-on is not going to turn a KC-130J into an AC-130 Spectre gunship.

“… the lack of pinpoint-accurate, extreme-volume gunfire will be one of the principal differences between SOCOM’s AC-130s, and kit gunships like the KC-130Js or MC-130Ws.” (1)

The Marines envision additional capabilities being added over time.  Come on, haven’t we learned our lesson about never ending developmental costs?  If the Marines really want a gunship then buy an AC-130 and be done with it. 

It’s possible that there may be some utility for a poor copy of a gunship in the low end conflicts we seem mired in but I have to ask, “Why are we wasting valuable time, money, and resources developing questionable low end capabilities when the rest of the world is gearing up for high end combat?”  If we had no imminent high end threats (like Russia, China, NKorea, and Iran) flexing their muscles and gearing up for war then, sure, why not waste some time with yet another low end gimmick?  However, that’s not the case.  We’re in an arms race and possible countdown to war whether we want to acknowledge it or not.  We desperately need to develop supersonic cruise missiles, high end anti-ship missiles, intermediate range ballistic missiles, a naval air superiority fighter, a Bradley replacement, a new AAV-ish armored landing vehicle, and the list goes on.  What we don’t need is a Harvest Hawk gimmick that is going to tax already scarce aircraft and risk them in unnecessary low end combat.

Harvest Hawk - Poor Man's Gunship

Yeah, but, you say, we still have to deal with low end threats year after year and this Harvest Hawk can help us do that.  My answer to that is send an armored division to wherever the low end threat is and crush it.  Turn the division loose, exercise some serious explosive power, accept some collateral damage, and be done with it.  ISIS, for example, would be a one month live fire exercise for a WWII Gen. Patton and an armored division and there would be no threat left after a month.  Any collateral damage or civilian deaths would be far less in the long run than allowing ISIS to continue killing people day after day on a never ending basis.

You deal with low end threats by crushing them, not by allowing the threat to linger and developing gimmicks like Harvest Hawk that just perpetuate the threat.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Navy Admits AAG Failure

The Navy may be forced to abandon the Advanced Arresting Gear system for the Ford class carriers after huge cost increases, schedule delays, and continuing technical challenges.  As reported by USNI News website (1),

“…SASC [Senate Armed Services Committee] laid out a pattern of cost increases from about a $476 million in costs for research development and acquisition in 2009 for four systems to a 2016 cost estimate of $1.4 billion – about a 130 percent increase when adjusted for inflation.”

A 130% increase – sounds about right for a Navy project!

USNI suggests that the Navy will replace the AAG in subsequent Ford carriers with a traditional arresting system.

“Ultimately, USNI News understands, the goal is to have the planned AAG systems on the ships that follow carrier Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) – John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) and Enterprise(CVN-80) – replaced with a more traditional but enhanced version of the current Mk-7 MOD 3 arresting gear.”

At least the Navy recognizes the problem as evidenced by the following statement.

“Last year Program Executive Officer for the Navy’s carrier program told reporters that the service and General Atomics discovered the water twister – a complex paddlewheel designed to absorb 70 percent of the force of a landing – was under engineered and would be unable to withstand prolonged use without failing.”

“ ‘The Advanced Arresting Gear has become a model for how not to do acquisition of needed technology,’ a senior Navy official told USNI News on Tuesday.”

The issue is not the AAG, per se, but the concurrency of attempting to develop a non-existent technology while also initiating production.

Aside from the excess costs and schedule delays, a larger issue is what to do with the Ford.  We can put conventional arresting systems in the subsequent carriers but what do we do with Ford?  If the AAG is installed, it becomes a one-of-a-kind system that will prove difficult or impossible to maintain and eliminates any commonality between Ford and any other carrier in the fleet.  If we retrofit a conventional system to Ford, the costs to remove the AAG system, re-engineer a conventional system into place, and actually procure and install it will cause further cost overruns and schedule delays. 

This is a classic no-win situation.  The Navy’s foolish insistence on concurrent development and production has bit them in the ass once again.  You’d think the Navy would learn but they remain incapable of learning lessons.

This is why you don’t begin production that depends on non-existent technology.

The lesson can’t be any simpler or clearer.  Even the Navy’s mentally challenged leadership should be able to grasp it by now.  But, of course, they won’t.


(1) USNI News website, “Navy May Back Away From Advanced Arresting Gear for Ford Carriers”, Sam LaGrone, May 24, 2016,

Monday, May 23, 2016

LCS Anti-Ship Missile

The Navy is going to “install” long range anti-ship missiles on two LCS over the next year or so for demonstration purposes (1). 

Harpoon will be installed on Coronado for demonstration during this summer’s RIMPAC 2016 exercise.

The Naval Strike Missile (NSM) will be installed on Freedom prior to its next deployment.

Certainly, long range anti-ship missiles (ASM) can only help the toothless LCS but we’re still a long way from having an actual functioning ASM.  For example, the Freedom’s NSM will not be integrated into the ship’s combat system and will only receive navigational data from the ship.

Still, it’s a step in the right direction and there is no doubt that an anti-ship missile can be integrated into the LCS.  Money, of course, is an issue but not the technology.

The real issue is targeting.  It does no good to have a ten thousand mile ASM if the ship’s sensors are limited to 20 miles.  The question, then, is where and how does the LCS receive targeting data?  That’s the part of the kill chain that the Navy has not yet worked out or tested.  Can a non-stealthy, slow P-8 penetrate enemy air/water space and survive long enough to find targets and send the data back to an LCS?  Can the F-35 find naval targets and get data back to the LCS?  Would someone actually dedicate a rare and powerful F-35 to acting like a UAV for an LCS?  Can a UAV survive in enemy air space long enough to find targets and transmit data?  Or, more likely, will the LCS find itself without off-board targeting data and have to fend for itself?

The Navy has not thought out the targeting portion of the kill chain when it talks about placing missiles on every ship in the fleet.


(1)USNI News, “Navy to Demo Harpoon Missile on LCS at RIMPAC; NSM on USS Freedom by Next Deployment”, Megan Eckstein, May 4, 2016,

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Chinese Land Reclamation

As has been widely reported, the Navy sent a Burke class destroyer on another freedom of navigation operation, this time near Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands, near the Philippines.  Indications suggest it was another of the worse-than-nothing Innocent Passages which actually wind up acknowledging Chinese sovereignty rather than disputing it.  Setting that legalistic technicality aside, what are these operations accomplishing?  They certainly haven’t slowed the pace of China’s land reclamation efforts.  They haven’t slowed the rate of expansion of Chinese claimed territories.  They haven’t eased any tensions.  In short, they’re accomplishing nothing.

At some point, we have to either abandon the South and East China Seas and leave the neighboring countries to their inevitable Chinese annexation fates or we have to physically stop Chinese expansion activities.  What we’re doing now with an occasional passage that actually solidifies Chinese claims is just ramping up tensions for no good result.

Don't Own An Island?  Make One!

So, what can we do short of declaring war?  Well, here’s a list of suggestions.

Physically herd Chinese supply ships out of the area.  Bump their ships, sail into their path, and make it impossible for them to get to the disputed location.  There is precedence for this since the Chinese have herded our ships and other foreign country’s ships with these tactics on numerous occasions.  The Soviets also did it routinely during the Cold War.

Swamp any supplies that make it ashore.  Make high speed passes as close as possible to create large wakes (a use for the LCS?!) that will wash away supplies and equipment.  After all, we claim that these are international waters so we’re free to sail where and how we want.  Russia has certainly firmly established the precedent of high speed, very close range passes!

Form a physical blockade with ships.  It would only take a few ships.  These are tiny points of reefs, not large land masses.  Form a barrier and don’t let Chinese ships through.

Blow stuff up.  We have drones, subs with torpedoes, and special forces whose job is to covertly blow things up.  If a pile of supplies exploded, it’s probably because the Chinese had explosives or unstable chemicals in the supplies, right?

Conduct land recycling operations on the same location that China is trying to reclaim land.  As fast as they reclaim it, we’ll recycle it back to the ocean!  These are not Chinese lands according to us, so we have as much right to recycle as they have to reclaim – probably more right since we can claim we’re protecting reef ecosystems.

Ultimately, we have to be prepared and willing to escalate in order to stop the Chinese.  If we are not prepared to do so then we should leave.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

MLP Update

Here’s an interesting data point for the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) in its role as a transfer point for pre-positioned cargo.  A DOT&E test verified the design transfer spec, stating,

“When the MLP was positioned 25 nautical miles from the LCAC shore landing site, it met its timed transfer requirement, enabling Marine Corps equipment for a reinforced rifle company to be moved to shore in less than 12 hours.” [from DOT&E 2015 Annual Report]

So, the MLP is capable of transferring the equipment for a single reinforced rifle company over a distance of 25 miles in 12 hours.

The Navy has two MLPs and will have three MLP-AFSBs.  I assume the MLP-AFSB would be capable of functioning as the MLP but I don’t know that for sure.  On the other hand, it’s likely that the MLP-AFSB would not be available for the MLP cargo transfer role because it would be occupied performing its designated MCM role.

The question, then, is whether two MLPs (possibly five) have sufficient throughput capacity to support a major assault in a relevant time frame?  Of course, this also assumes that the MLP can maintain that transfer rate indefinitely.  My guess is that the 12 hour test was something of a max effort and could not be indefinitely sustained by either the crew or the equipment.  Regardless, is this sufficient transfer capability?  I don’t know the answer.  If there’s an amphibious logistics expert among the readers, please chime in!


Transfer capability and capacity aside, the MLP seems to have met its design specs according to the DOT&E assessment.  Notably, the ship’s tested range significantly exceeded the spec (12,000 nm vs. a spec of 9500 nm).

I’m on record as stating that the MLP seems to be a vulnerable weak point in the amphibious assault scheme in the sense that there are very few of them and they represent such a vital capability.  A semi-intelligent enemy would make them a priority target and the loss of even one would seriously cripple an assault.

All that said, it’s nice to see a vessel at least meet its design specs!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Who Runs The Military?

For decades the Executive branch of the government has been usurping the powers and responsibilities of the Legislative branch.  Without getting bogged down in legalities, Congress is charged with the power to declare war, set funding, and exercise oversight of the military.  Congress has shamefully abdicated those powers for many decades and the results have been illegal Executive actions (by Presidents of both parties but on a scale previously unimaginable by the current President), runaway debt, out of control military expenditures, highly questionable military acquisition programs, and a politicized military leadership that is doing more harm to the country than good.

Very recently, Congress has begun to take minor steps to restore some of their Constitutional powers.  They have started to issue directives to the military (slapping down the Navy’s Aegis cruiser retirement plans, for example), demand reports on questionable programs, reapportion funds among various acquisition programs, and, in general, exercise some oversight. 

Predictably, the Executive branch has not taken kindly to this.  From the Defense News website comes this example.

“Speaking at the annual Sea-Air-Space conference outside of Washington, Carter [Defense Secretary Aston Carter] focused on what he called “unhelpful micromanagement” from the Hill, whether it be over the Senate’s plan to eliminate the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics (AT&L), the House’s plan to end wartime contingency funding in April, or the refusal to allow the Pentagon to shut down installations round the country.”

“I would respectfully suggest that the informed expert judgment of the civilian and military leadership at the Department of Defense which is embodied in our budget proposal should receive greater support and be subject to less micromanagement,” Carter said.”

Unhelpful micromanagement??? 

First, let’s be very clear that Congress has not only the right but the responsibility to exercise the oversight that Carter views as “micromanagement”. 

Second, as I pointed out, Congress has been remiss in exercising those responsibilities for some time and it’s long overdue for them to begin managing the budget and the military whether at a “micro”, macro, or whatever level they so choose.

Third, I would remind Carter that the military and Executive’s record of performance without Congress’ management has been abysmal, to put it mildly.  I won’t even bother to list the litany of debacles that the military has engaged in with Congress rubber stamping the military’s “informed expert judgment”.

Finally, I would remind Carter that the military is owned, funded, and operated by the people through their Congress.  The military doesn’t own the military, the taxpayer does.

This kind of attitude demonstrates the blatant disrespect that the Executive branch has for the Constitution and Congress.  To be fair, Congress has brought this on themselves by abdicating their responsibilities for decades.  Still, America does not consist of the President and His Army.  America is still the people and their army. 

Congress may well make mistakes (he said in a classic example of understatement) but the responsibility for oversight is theirs and the Executive branch and their appointed military leaders need to recognize that or step aside.  For their part, Congress needs to vigorously exercise their powers and re-establish the balance of power that our government was founded on.

This is not a political blog and I post this only because it is directly linked to military procurement which is in the realm of this blog.


(1) Defense News website, “Carter Hits Hill for ‘Unhelpful Micromanagement’, Aaron Mehta, 17-May-2016,

Monday, May 16, 2016


The LCS program continues to rack up failures at an almost unbelievable pace.  The latest is the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV) that was supposed to be the core of the Mine Counter Measures (MCM) module.  The RMMV, you’ll recall, was the remote, unmanned, autonomous, high endurance vehicle that was intended to tow the AQS-20A sonar which would detect and classify mines from seabed to surface for subsequent neutralization. 

Despite a long history of unreliability, the Navy was about to purchase many more RMMVs and was preparing to declare Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for the system.  DOT&E stepped in and documented the magnitude of the failure of the RMMV.

“… Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) assessed the current Remote Minehunting System and RMMV reliability as being 18.8 hours and 25.0 hours between mission failures, on average, respectively, which is well below the Navy’s requirement of 75 hours. Moreover, DOT&E noted that, ‘Recent developmental testing provides no statistical evidence that the [Remote Minehunting System] is demonstrating improved reliability, and instead indicates that reliability plateaued nearly a decade ago.” (2)

The Navy then commissioned another of its infamous panels to look at the problem and make a recommendation.  At the time, ComNavOps expressed a large degree of skepticism about the panel’s objectivity and usefulness.  Much to my surprise, the panel has, apparently, recommended that the Navy drop the RMMV – or has it? 

“The Navy will halt procurement of the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle included in the Littoral Combat Ship’s mine countermeasures (MCM) mission package and will instead compete several unmanned vehicles over the next three fiscal years, officials decided this week.”

Dropped?  Not quite,

“According to a Friday evening statement from Navy spokeswoman Capt. Thurraya Kent, the Navy will halt production of the Lockheed Martin-built RMMV, 10 of which the Navy owns but have long struggled to meet reliability requirements. The Navy will upgrade the vehicles it already owns and then compete the upgraded RMMVs against the Textron Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV), which is already slated to join the LCS mine countermeasures package as a minesweeping vehicle, and the General Dynamics Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle, which will join the mission package for buried and high-clutter minehunting.

In the short term, the Navy will continue to operate the MCM mission package from two Independence-variant LCSs – both locally and in deployments abroad in Fiscal Year 2018 – to gain operational experience and lessons learned …” (1)

While it seemed as if the RMMV was dead, a careful reading of the above shows that the RMMV is not terminated.  Note that development will continue, the RMMV will continue to operate, and the RMMV will “compete” for production at a later date.  So, is the RMMV dead or is this merely cover for the Navy to continue pursuit of yet another immature and unreliable component of the MCM module?  I guess my skepticism of the review panel was not without merit.

The larger point, here, is that the MCM module has been in active development for a decade or so and has yet to come even remotely close to meeting specs.  While the Navy has consistently trumpeted the amazing success of the MCM module, DOT&E has consistently panned the module and proven that both the individual components and overall module suffer from poor performance and unreliability.

RMMV - Not Quite Gone

We’ve got around 24 LCS built or on order and no MCM module for them.  The earliest LCS ships are already burning through their service life of 20-25 years (does anyone really think these extremely thin skinned and poorly maintained vessels will last 20 years?).  The earliest ships are already a quarter of the way through their service and we see that the MCM module is still years away from operation.  We may see LCS’s retiring without ever having shipped a module!

Do you see the corner that the Navy is painting themselves into?  Because of the decision to terminate the modular LCS at 32, the maximum theoretical number of MCM vessels in the Navy will be 32 (the Navy has stated that the “frigate” versions of the LCS will not be MCM capable) and the actual number will be around 12 due to module quantity limitations, depending on how many are ultimately procured. 

The Navy has only grudgingly and sparingly been maintaining the Avenger MCM vessels due to the LCS’ on-going failure and once the LCS-MCM is operational the Avengers will be rapidly retired.

The Navy is still struggling with the larger question of how best to conduct MCM:  via helos or ships.  A decade ago, the Navy bet all in on ships (the LCS) and unmanned vehicles and the wisdom of that bet is increasingly suspect.  Even if the LCS MCM module works as intended, the clearance rate is very slow, probably too slow to be operationally useful.  Only helos have the speed and potential numbers required for rapid mine clearing operations.  I say “potential numbers” because the actual numbers are pitifully inadequate with NavAir listing only 28 MH-53E Sea Dragons in the inventory.  Those that survive are beyond their planned service life, having entered service in the late 1980’s, and have suffered badly from neglected and deferred maintenance.  To the best of my knowledge, the Navy has no plan to replace the MCM MH-53’s.  The Navy has badly ignored MCM for decades and we are now paying the price.

This is what happens when you commit to production of a ship class based on non-existent technology.


(1)USNI News, “UPDATED: Navy Will Not Buy More RMMVs, Will Compete 3 Unmanned Vehicles For Future Use”, Megan Eckstein, February 26, 2016,

(2)USNI News, “UPDATED: Navy Launches Independent Review of Littoral Combat Ship Remote Minehunting System”, Megan Eckstein, October 13, 2015,

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Boeing's Arrogance

The arrogance of the defense industry is staggering and is matched only by the incompetence of the Navy.  Together, the two produce the kind of abysmal acquisition programs and naval strategies we’ve come to think of as normal.  Here’s the latest example as reported by DOD Buzz website (1).

“Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson in March told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the service requires two to three more squadrons of the Boeing Co. [Super Hornet].

That translates into roughly 24 to 36 planes to meet projected operational needs … “

OK, there’s the Navy’s officially stated need.  That should be the end of the story.  Now, Boeing decides to chime in.

“Boeing … says the Navy requires even more of the aircraft — closer to 100 planes — to satisfy operational demands.

That was the figure cited by Dan Gillian, vice president and program manager of F/A-18 programs at the aerospace giant, during a briefing with reporters Wednesday at the company’s offices in Arlington, Virginia …”

So, Boeing thinks the Navy needs 100 aircraft.  Who asked them?  Who cares what they think? 

That’s not the end of it, though.

“He [Gillian] said the quantity is based on the Navy’s stated requirements for its carrier air wings, increasingly advanced air-defense systems developed by adversaries, the high operational rate of both Hornet and Super Hornets for U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and other operations, among other factors.”

So now Boeing is assessing our military needs, operations, and strategies and determining what the Navy needs?  Isn’t it the Navy’s job to determine what they need?  The arrogance in this is stunning.  Boeing is telling the Navy what they need.

You don’t think Boeing’s larger assessment of aircraft needs has anything to do with the fact that Boeing makes the aircraft in question, do you? 

If I were CNO Richardson, I’d quietly call Gillian and tell him that if he wants to continue to do business with the Navy that he should shut up and leave the naval assessments to the Navy.

Far too often, the defense industry tells the military what to do, what equipment they need, and what they’ll have to pay to get it.  That’s just backwards and wrong.  Sadly, though, the military not only acquiesces, they actually depend on it because they lack the professionalism and expertise to form their own opinions.  Remember former CNO Greenert’s statement that he can’t wait to see what the defense industry produces next?  That couldn’t be any more backward.  The Navy needs to tell the defense industry what is needed, not the other way around.

Let me be clear.  I'm not saying that Boeing is doing something illegal by telling the Navy what they need.  They're not.  It's simply arrogant, uncalled for, embarrassing and demeaning to the Navy, a conflict of interest, and a clear lead-in to future fraud.

Some of you are thinking, hey, doesn’t ComNavOps routinely tell the Navy what they need?  Yes, I do!  The difference is that I don’t sell anything to the Navy, I have no conflict of interest when I give advice and, most importantly, my advice is always right.

Once upon a time I though Eisenhower was off base with his warning about the military-industrial-Congressional complex but now I wholeheartedly believe he was correct.  This is a broken, corrupt system that doesn’t even bother to try to hide the incestuous relationship any more.


(1)DoD Buzz website, “Boeing Says US Navy Needs About 100 More Super Hornets”, Brendan McGarry, 11-May-2016,

Friday, May 13, 2016

An LCS Without Requirements

What requirements do you design a warship to?  That’s seems like a simple question.  You design a warship to its mission requirements, of course.  Mission requirements will set design parameters like speed, range, firepower, armor, survivability, and so forth. 

Unfortunately, the Navy has been designing warships to non-mission requirements like

  • Likelihood of funding
  • Ability to obtain Congressional approval
  • Politics
  • Preservation of the industrial base
  • Cost
  • Public perception
  • Industrial support relative to future jobs after retirement
  • Ability to bypass oversight and reviews

Actual mission requirements have been relegated almost to an afterthought.

Let’s consider the LCS.  The ship was designed to a largely arbitrary set of requirements that were, by the Navy’s own admission, not linked to a concept of operations (CONOPS), since the Navy did not develop a valid CONOPS prior to committing to a full production run.  Further, the LCS failed to achieve many of its key performance requirements such as speed, endurance, range, weight margins, stability margins, etc.

How can the failure to achieve performance requirements be avoided in the future? 

Well, one could make sure that requirements are tightly linked to actual operational needs rather than being arbitrary and unachievable.  One could also make sure that the technology inherent in the desired requirement actually exists.  One could clearly state the requirements in the purchase contract and then absolutely insist that the requirements be met prior to acceptance.  And so on …

Of course, there is one other way to meet requirements and that is to make the requirements not-requirements.  One could write a contract in which the requirements aren’t really requirements so that when they aren’t met, it doesn’t matter.  This seemingly worst possible approach is, naturally, the route the Navy has chosen for the “frigate” version of the LCS.  From the 2015 DOT&E Annual Report comes this stunning paragraph.  Please read it slowly and carefully and then reread it and think very carefully about the implications.

“In August and October 2015, the Navy delivered two drafts of the Capability Design Documents (CDD) that relegate all mission performance measures, other than the two measures for force protection against surface and air threats, to Key System Attributes rather than Key Performance Parameters (KPPs), which permits the combat capabilities desired in these follow-on ships to be traded away as needed to remain within the cost constraints. As a result, the new SSC could, in the extreme, be delivered with less mission capability than desired and with limited improvements to the survivability of the ship in a combat environment. In fact, the SSC could meet all its KPPs without having any mission capability.” [emphasis added]

Realizing that they’ve failed repeatedly to obtain the contracted performance requirements (LCS class, LPD-17 class, and Ford being notable recent examples), the Navy has opted to make the requirements tradable, if desired.

The “frigate” LCS will, apparently, have only two KPPs and could meet those “without having any mission capability”, whatsoever.  Is that stunningly unbelievable?

From the above, we see that the Navy’s main design criteria are not-mission related but cost and public relations related.  The Navy is willing to trade performance requirements for cost and resulting good PR!  They’ll trade away combat effectiveness just to be able to say that the ship came in on time and at cost.  Rather than run an efficient acquisition program, exercise competent oversight, and make the hard call to reject a ship that does not meet requirements, the Navy would rather trade away requirements.

Do you see why I have such a hard time finding things to praise the Navy about?  Do you see why I’m so critical of Navy leadership?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

SEWIP Update

ComNavOps is often critical of Navy leadership and programs and rightly so.  Navy decision making is so poor as to almost defy belief.  The wrong equipment is pursued.  The wrong policies are implemented.  And so on.  Frankly, it gets tiring and discouraging.  I’d love to present more good news and I do so when I can but the Navy gives me little opportunity.  So, I’m happy to present this bit of good news about the Navy’s Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP).

To refresh your memory, SEWIP is the evolutionary successor to the venerable, and now badly outdated and nearly obsolete SLQ-32 (Slick-32) electronic warfare system mounted on nearly every surface warship.  The old SLQ-32 is an electronic detection and warning system but has little or no ability to defeat threats.  It can see a threat (or could once upon a time) but can’t do anything about it, at least not directly. 

The Navy instituted a series of block upgrades to the system to bring it into the modern age and provide an electronic anti-missile capability.

  • SEWIP Block 1 upgrade addresses obsolescence issues by replacing obsolete parts and installing improved control stations and displays.  It also adds additional threat signal receivers.  The system is in full rate production.

  • SEWIP Block 2 upgrades antennas and receivers and improves the signal processing.  The system is in low rate initial production.  A second IOT&E test is pending after a failed initial test.

  • SEWIP Block 3 provides active signal emissions to defeat incoming missiles.  The system is in development.

  • SEWIP Block 4 is a future upgrade that will provide EO and IR capabilities.

This attention to electronic warfare is long overdue.  Setting aside the tardiness, I fully commend the Navy for implementing this program.  As we’ve documented in other posts, electronic countermeasures have proven far more effective than active missile defenses so this is a case of placing money, effort, time, and resources in a program that will assuredly pay off.


Of course, being a Navy program, there are problems.  DOT&E’s 2015 Annual Report notes that the SEWIP Block 2 upgrade has severe problems detecting and holding target tracks.

“Analysis of the available IOT&E data showed that, while the AN/SLQ-32 EWS equipped with the SEWIP Block 2 upgrade provides more capability in detecting and classifying threat emitters than the legacy AN/SLQ-32 EWS, the system generates multiple tracks from a single emitter source in addition to incorrectly categorizing emitter tracks and an inability to hold them after initial detection. … Until these deficiencies are corrected, the AN/SLQ-32 EWS equipped with the SEWIP Block 2 upgrade will not have operational utility.”

“… will not have operational utility.”  Ouch!  That’s a pretty poor evaluation.  Still, that just means there is more work to do.  At least this work is for a system that meets a need and there is every reason to believe that it will eventually be quite effective.

I’ve said before that I can accept developmental problems (that’s what “development” means!) and growing pains.  What I can’t accept is throwing developmental systems into production or developing systems that have no utility even if they work.  SEWIP is a rare example of a very good, if overdue, decision by Navy leadership combined with a proven need that is historically beneficial and should offer outstanding protection to the fleet.  The only reservation I have is that the Navy is somewhat pushing the production of the units before the development is completed.