Sunday, July 31, 2016

Carrier Task Force

The most powerful naval force is a carrier task force.  Unfortunately, the Navy has completely forgotten what a carrier task force is, how it’s structured, and, most importantly, how to use it operationally and tactically.

A WWII carrier task force consisted of multiple carriers and lots of escorts.  Wikipedia describes Adm. Marc Mitscher’s vision of the ideal carrier group,

“Said Mitscher: "The ideal composition of a fast-carrier task force is four carriers, six to eight support vessels and not less than 18 destroyers, preferably 24. More than four carriers in a task group cannot be advantageously used due to the amount of air room required. Less than four carriers requires an uneconomical use of support ships and screening vessels." (1)

Compare that to current Navy practice, if not theory, concerning carrier groups.  Today’s carriers seldom combine for operations and never train for multi-carrier operations and tactics.  The rare occasions when multiple carriers operate together are, invariably, in zero-threat scenarios where they conduct simultaneous or alternating strikes against low-threat land targets.  The Navy simply does not train to operate multi-carrier groups.  The Navy has abandoned Mitscher’s combat-proven vision in favor of an operationally and tactically unwise, unproven, and unsound one.

Consider what a WWII carrier group represented.  Each carrier had an air wing of close to 100 aircraft.  A group of four fleet carriers could muster around 400 aircraft!  Today’s carrier “group” of one carrier contains 38-40 Hornets, depending on how many are being used as aerial tankers.  A WWII group could send 300 aircraft on strikes and sweeps and still have 100 aircraft for defense of the group!  Today, if we want to retain a viable defense, we can’t spare any aircraft for strikes or sweeps – there simply aren’t enough aircraft on a single carrier.

Speaking of carrier group defense,

“Mitscher determined that the best defense for a carrier was its own air groups, and that carriers were more easily defended if they operated together in groups …” (1)

Multiple carriers can pool and concentrate their aircraft and their escorts.  This seems obvious, doesn’t it?  Not to today’s Navy. 

Enterprise, early in the war, operated with 2 cruisers and 5 destroyers as escorts.  This was not due to optimal force distribution but to a “make do” with the limited number of ships the Navy initially had.

It’s also interesting to consider the carrier group’s escort composition.  A typical WWII carrier group escort force consisted of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers.  As an example, Global Security website cites the following carrier group composition.

“Ideally each task group would have four carriers (three CVs and one CVL), two fast battleships or battle cruisers, four heavy or light cruisers and sixteen destroyers.” (2)

Today, a Ticonderoga would be a loose (and poor) equivalent to a battleship and Burkes would be a loose equivalent to cruisers.  Today’s Navy doesn’t have anything equivalent to WWII destroyers.  We desperately need a destroyer to perform ASW and add layers to the defense.

Once upon a time we knew how to operate multi-carrier groups.  We knew how to space and arrange the carriers to maximize their mutual support.  We lost that knowledge and are making no attempt to regain it.  It’s quite likely that the spacing, arrangement, and, possibly, even the ideal number of carriers has changed as jets have taken over and as air wings have shrunk.  If we don’t exercise and rediscover these things, we’ll be lost when war comes.

Today’s carrier group sails with a typical escort of one Ticonderoga and two or three Burkes.  That’s a pretty weak escort by historical norms.  We would expect that if war came the escort force would be increased by adding a second Ticonderoga and a couple of Burkes.  Of course, that assumes the Navy hasn’t eliminated the Ticonderogas as they’ve been doggedly trying to do. 

That brings us to the next point.  If today’s carrier group escort would be increased in war, why aren’t we training for that right now?  You train like you fight, right?  Well, we’re training with a very small escort.  No Navy officer today has any idea how to tactically utilize a larger escort because we don’t operate large escorts.  Is this really the way to prepare for war?

Along the same line, no Navy officer today has any idea how to operate a multi-carrier group because we never practice it and yet, when war comes, we’ll attempt to operate multi-carrier groups and we’ll have to learn on the fly.  That’s a surefire recipe for disaster.  Unlike WWII, we won’t be able to build twenty or so new carriers in four years.  Recall that we lost 4 of the 6 carriers we started the Pacific war with.  It takes us five-plus years to build one carrier today.  In a modern war, we won’t be getting replacement carriers.  We can’t afford the losses that will come with relearning carrier tactics on the fly.

Yorktown Sinking - We Can't Afford The Learning Curve

There’s never been a better time to experiment with multi-carrier groups.  We generally have 7 or so carriers tied up in home ports now due to budget constraints.  This is an ideal time to take those carriers out for exercises and start developing some tactics.  Here’s a few tactical questions that need answers.

  • How many carriers should be in a group?  Note: even three carriers can only muster 120 combat aircraft – barely more than a single WWII carrier worth of aircraft!

  • How many escorts are needed?

  • What kind of escort spacing is needed to provide effective defensive coverage?

  • What kind of separation do carriers need to operate their air groups without impacting each other’s air space?

  • How many aircraft are needed for an effective task force defense?  This will also determine how many can be available for strikes.  I suspect we’ll find that all the aircraft are needed for defense and that there won’t be any available for strikes.  If that’s the case, one has to ask why we have carriers if the only task they can perform is self-defense.

  • How do we co-ordinate the engagement ranges of aircraft, Standard missiles, and ESSM, all with significant overlaps, from two dozen ships and many dozens of aircraft without interfering with each other?

Set aside all the make-work, peacetime, garbage jobs and the Navy’s ultimate reason for existence is to fight a high end war.  The Navy’s steadfast refusal to prepare for high end war is absolutely baffling. 


(1)Wikipedia, “Fast Carrier Task Force”, 18-Jul-2016,

(2)Global Security website, “Carrier Task Force”,

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Firepower and Survivability

By the end of WWII, we pretty thoroughly understood what a successful naval warship needed:  firepower and survivability.  One without the other was pointless other than in extreme cases like a PT boat which was so cheap that survivability was a non-issue.

Survivability without the firepower to inflict significant damage would have been pointless.  Firepower without survivability would have been equally pointless.

Today, however, we’ve forgotten that lesson to the point that modern US warships have neither firepower nor survivability. 

Burkes and Ticonderogas have a meager anti-surface capability and a limited land strike capability in the form of Tomahawk cruise missiles.  Their survivability is similarly limited compared to a typical WWII ship.  They have very little armor, thin steel hulls and superstructures, aluminum superstructures on the Ticos, minimal manning which impacts damage control, and overly complex systems that can’t be readily repaired aboard ship.

Modern ships are extremely susceptible to one-shot kills unlike WWII vessels that took a pounding.  The combination of little armor and very delicate electronics renders ships vulnerable to one-shot mission kills if not outright sinking.  Recall the gentle grounding of the Port Royal and the unrepairable damage that caused to the ship’s Aegis and VLS systems.  After repairs, the Navy tried to retire the ship, the newest Aegis cruiser in the fleet, due to the inability to bring the Aegis and VLS systems back into spec.  Reports indicate that, literally, the Aegis radar arrays were knocked out of alignment and could not be corrected.  Similar damage occurred to the VLS.  All this from a gentle nose-first grounding at a couple of knots.  If an Aegis cruiser can be rendered mission killed from that, imagine what damage an actual cruise missile hit or even a near miss would cause with shock and vibrations violently whiplashing the ship back and forth.

In contrast, recall the incredible damage WWII cruisers and destroyers routinely absorbed while continuing to fight.  The naval battles of Guadalcanal and the Kamikaze picket lines showed the toughness that our ships once had.

Firepower - USS Washington

We cannot allow a single hit to mission kill, or sink, a ship.  It’s even more important today than in WWII that a ship be able to take hits and keep fighting, if for no other reason than we don’t have as many ships.  Our task forces, to use the WWII phrasing, are going to have far fewer ships, therefore, each mission kill or sinking will have a proportionally greater impact on the task force’s overall combat effectiveness.  A ship has got to be able to absorb some hits and keep fighting.

Survivability - USS Aaron Ward

Here are some specific requirements for the Navy to begin meeting the firepower and survivability needs.

  • All Burke size ships need to mount two 8” guns, separated fore and aft.  The 8”/55 caliber Mk 71 would be a good starting point.  This would also move us a small step closer to meeting our naval gunfire support requirements.  We’ve already discussed that modern naval combat will inevitably see gun range encounters due to missile failures.

  • All ships need a minimum of 1.5” side armor and larger ships, of Burke size, need 3.5” side armor, the same as a WWII Atlanta class light cruiser carried.

  • All ships guns of 5” or larger size need armored turrets/mounts.  For comparison purposes, the WWII Fletcher class 5” guns were housed in mounts armored with 1”-2” armor.  Larger guns had proportionally heavier armor on their turrets/mounts.  Guns should not be disabled from mere shrapnel.

  • All ships with guns need optical aiming backup systems.

  • All ships should be equipped with 533 mm torpedo tubes and Mk 48 torpedoes.  The 20-30 mile range of the torpedo opens up all kinds of potential uses.  These, alone, would almost make the LCS a threat.

  • Every ship smaller than a Burke should have an extensive short range Hellfire-ish missile battery.

  • The current 20-30 mm naval guns should be replaced by 40 mm dual and quad mount guns.  Recall that the WWII Bofors 40 mm gun could fire 120 rounds per minute, sustained and the immediate post-war versions could fire 330 rounds per minute. 

  • All electronics need to be shock hardened and tested.  Without exception.  Without Navy procrastination and avoidance.

  • Networks, radars, sensors, and communications equipment needs to be simplified to allow on-board repair.  A greater emphasis needs to be put on training technicians and designing in diagnostics.

This is not intended as an all-inclusive list.  Instead, it’s just a sampling of fairly straightforward things that could, and should, be done to return firepower and survivability to the fleet.  Of course, hand-in-hand with this is the need to develop much harder hitting weapons including ship-launched short and intermediate range ballistic missiles, super/hypersonic cruise missiles, enhanced 5” rounds, etc.

There is absolutely no point building a fleet that has neither the firepower nor survivability to fight a war and win.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Unmanned Tanker - The Hard Part Is Done

As you know, the Navy is developing an unmanned tanker for carrier work.

“After months of deliberation, the name and designation of the Navy’s first carrier unmanned aerial vehicle are now official: MQ-25A Stingray …” (1)

Really?  It takes us “months of deliberation” just to come up with the name and designation?!  No wonder we can’t build an F-35 in under two decades!  Well, at least the hard part of coming up with a cool sounding name is out of the way.  

I wonder how long it will take us to develop an unmanned tanker if it took us months just to come up with a name?  Of course, we’ll be able to develop a simple tanker in a lot less time than the F-35, won’t we?  

“The emphasis on the first airframe in the program is primarily aerial refueling, officials said.  ’We’re probably going to drop some of the high-end specs and try to grow the class and increase the survivability [later],’ Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, told USNI News in February.  ’It has to be more refueling, a little bit of ISR, weapons later and focus on its ability to be the flying truck.’ ” (1)

Well, that should shorten the developmental cycle, right?

“The final RfP [Request for Proposal] for the air segment is set for 2018.” (1)

It’s going to take us a year and half to two years just to generate an RfP?  That doesn’t bode well for how long the actual aircraft will take to be fielded.

“The service hopes to have the first Stingrays operational in the 2020s.” (1)

Let’s be generous and say the MQ-25 will be operational in 2025.  That’s 9 years from now.  Nine years to field a not terribly advanced tanker with a little ISR capability – and, of course, we know that schedule will slip.  So, close to a decade to field a simple unmanned tanker based on existing unmanned technology.  No wonder the F-35 is taking so long!  There is something seriously wrong with our developmental cycles.

If it is truly going to take a decade or more to field a tanker, maybe we should be seriously looking at bringing back the S-3 Viking as an interim tanker.  The Marines are bringing old F-18s back from the boneyard in short order so why not bring the Viking back?  If we don’t, we’re looking at ten more years of wear and tear on our front line tanker-Hornets.  That’s wear and tear we can’t afford.


(1)USNI website, “It’s Official: ‘MQ-25A Stingray’ U.S. Navy’s Name For First Carrier UAV”, Sam LaGrone, July 15, 2016,

Sunday, July 24, 2016

RQ-21 Blackjack

The Navy and Marines have a tendency to latch onto pieces of equipment with little or no data to base such enthusiasm on other than manufacturer’s claims.  They then attempt to rush the equipment into service and do everything they can to either minimize testing or conduct unrealistic, simplistic testing in an effort to produce data supporting their equipment choice.  Unfortunately, all too often, when more rigorous testing is eventually conducted, the equipment is found to be badly flawed.  At this point, the Navy and Marines are faced with the choice of either admitting they chose a flawed piece of equipment or pouring ridiculous sums of money into frantic attempts to fix the equipment.

An example of such a story is the RQ-21 Blackjack small UAV, manufactured by Insitu Inc.  The story is detailed in the 2015 DOT&E Annual Report.

From the DOT&E report, the RQ-21 will be used to provide Marine Corps commanders and units ashore with a dedicated battlefield Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability that will reduce their dependence on higher headquarters for ISR support.

RQ-21 Blackjack

As a reminder, the RQ-21 is a UAV system consisting of five small RQ-21 Blackjack UAVs, ground control stations, launch and recovery equipment, datalinks, and multi-mission payloads

From the DOT&E report, the Marine Corps intends the RQ-21A system to have:

- The reliability to support an operating tempo of 12 hours on station per day at a sustained rate for 30 days and the capability for one surge of 24 hours on-station coverage per day for a 10-day period during any 30-day cycle

- An aircraft with 10 hours endurance, airspeed up to 80 nautical miles per hour, a service ceiling of 15,000 feet density altitude, and an operating radius of 50 nautical miles

- An electro-optical sensor capable of providing the ground control station operator team sufficient visual resolution to support classification of a 1-meter linear sized object from 3,000 feet altitude …

 - An infrared sensor capable of classifying a 3-meter sized linear object from 3,000 feet

OK.  All of that sounds good.  So what’s the problem?  Well, here is DOT&E’s assessment of the RQ-21 performance. 

  • The detachment equipped with RQ-21A is not effective in supporting the ground commander’s mission because of an inability to have an unmanned aircraft arrive on station at the designated time and remain on station for the duration of the tasked period. During the IOT&E, the RQ-21A-equipped unit provided coverage during 68 percent of the tasked on-station hours (83.8 of 122.7 hours).

  • The electro-optical/infrared sensor provides accurate target locations. While the Capabilities Production Document does not specify a threshold value for sensor point of interest accuracy, Marine Corps guidance indicates that 100 meter accuracy is sufficient to support tactical operations. RQ-21A provides a 90-percent circular error probable target location error of 43.8 meters. Such accuracy is sufficient to support targeting in a conventional linear battlefield, but does not support targeting in a dense urban environment that requires more accurate target locations.

  • The RQ-21A sensor does not meet one of the two target classification Key  Performance Parameters (KPPs) established in the Capabilities Production Document. The electro-optical sensor does not provide a 50 percent probability of correct classification for 1-meter linear objects (weapons or tools). The infrared sensor does meet the 50 percent threshold probability for correctly classifying 3-meter objects (vehicle chassis type) by demonstrating 100 percent correct classification.

  • The communications relay payload limits the commanders’ tactical flexibility and mission accomplishment. It is constrained to a single frequency in each of the two radios that are set before launch. Once airborne, operators cannot change frequencies.  …

  • The recessed, nose-mounted electro-optical/infrared payload requires circular orbits over the top of the target to maintain continuous coverage and positive target identification. The use of offset orbits results in the fuselage blocking the payload field of view for significant periods of time. These offset orbits resulted in auto-track break locks and loss of positive identification of high-value targets. There are orbit shapes that would allow RQ-21A operators to maintain continuous coverage of a target, but the current RQ-21A operating system limits operators to circular orbits.

  • The RQ-21A is not operationally suitable. The RQ-21A demonstrated a Mean Flight Hour Between Abort for the System of 15.2 hours versus the 50-hour requirement. Because of aircraft reliability, overall system availability did not meet the 80 percent KPP threshold (demonstrated value equals 66.9 percent).  [Emphasis added]

  • The average time between overhaul of the propulsion modules was 48.9 hours, which does not meet the manufacturer’s stated 100-hour capability.

  • The RQ-21A Naval Air Training and Operations Standardization manual is missing important information regarding mission computer logic. This lack of information is especially critical during emergencies where operators are unaware of which conditions enable/disable various aspects of aircraft functionality. This lack of system operations information contributed to the loss of an aircraft during the first IOT&E flight.

  • Extended logistics delay times and production quality control issues contributed to the system’s poor reliability and availability. In six instances, aircraft spent time in a non-mission capable status while awaiting spare parts. Incorrectly assembled/configured components received from the manufacturer increase the maintenance time to repair or replace components, resulting in reduced mission availability.

  • The system has exploitable cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

You caught the part about the RQ-21 being not operationally suitable?  Overall, that’s a pretty poor assessment for a piece of equipment that has reached the Initial Operational Test & Evaluation (IOT&E) stage.

IOT&E should be the final, almost rubber stamp, demonstration for a system that has gone through extensive development and had all the bugs worked out of it.  Instead, the RQ-21 doesn’t even come remotely close to being what was desired.  How does this happen?

The military latched onto this without demanding proof of performance.  That’s bad but they made it worse by programming it into the force structure, untested.  Essentially, the military is buying equipment sight unseen, based on nothing more than sales brochures.  We’ve witnessed this phenomenon play out with the LCS.  The Navy committed to 55 LCS before the first was even designed, let alone tested in the form of a prototype and we’ve seen the results.

The RQ-21 might, someday, with enough work, become the system that it’s advertised to be.  At that point, it might make sense to acquire it – but not before.  Worse, the military is pouring money into testing and fixing the system.  Here’s a shocker – that’s the manufacturer’s job!!!  If the manufacturer wants to sell a small UAV then the onus is on them to build a working prototype and thoroughly test it so as to be able to provide actual performance data to the military, not made up sales brochure numbers.  There is no need for the military to fund the manufacturer’s development effort.  Do you have any idea how many small UAV companies and products are available?  If the manufacturer can’t or won’t offer a proven, tested, fully developed prototype then the Navy can simply move on to the next manufacturer.  This idea that the military has to pay for manufacturer’s development programs is insane.  None of us would pay for a manufacturer to develop a toaster.  We’d simply buy one that already works from some other company.

This is yet another example of a procurement system that is badly broken.  It’s one thing (though still unacceptable) when you’re talking about a carrier and there is no alternative source but for a small UAV that is offered by dozens of manufacturers, why are we jumping on the first thing we see, with no proof of performance, and paying the manufacturer to do their own job?

Come on, Navy/Marines, show us just a little bit of common sense.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Cracking the Line

Today we are honored to have a guest post from regular reader and contributor, Mr. Bustamante, who discusses the role of guided missile submarines in A2/AD scenarios.  You may recall his previous post, "Myth of the Unopposed Landing".  Read and enjoy!

Cracking the Line

The Case for Guided Missile Submarines in Anti-Access and Area Denial (A2/AD) Scenarios

“But things have changed… the resurgence of Russia and the ascendance of China, both of which are producing numerous submarines, and in particular in Russia’s part, extremely capable submarines… we’re facing challenges of both quantity and quality from our competitors (1).

- Rear Admiral Michael Jabaley

War is a numbers game, even the peacetime deployments obey the rules of math; the challenge is that our submarine force numbers are inadequate and will further decline to approximately 41 boats by 2029 (2).  Projected wartime demands of submarine force call for approximately 35 operationally ready SSNs, in turn requiring 48 boats simply to ensure that 35 will be available (3).  Exacerbating the numerical shortfall is the proliferation of sophisticated anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) defenses, which present a lethal zone of land based maritime strike (aircraft, cruise, and ballistic missiles), sophisticated air defenses, and mines.  These A2/AD defenses can extend from 1,000 to 1,500nm offshore and the most viable naval counter is the submarine launched cruise missile.  However, our navy also faces loss of submarine cruise missile delivery capacity due to the retirement of the four Ohio-class guided missile submarines (SSGNs) without replacement (4).  It is worth noting that our submarines are expected to shoulder the high priority ASW mission, and also enable USAF bomber and naval strikes with cruise and missile strikes to defeat sophisticated anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) defenses.  Nor does this represent the full scope of submarine missions (5). 

There are several potential solutions if we desire a larger submarine force:

1.  Build more submarines.  Current shipyard capacity appears to be limited to at most three nuclear-powered submarines a year.  Even if budgets permit; there are only two shipyards in the country capable of building nuclear-powered ships and it is unlikely that construction rates can be increased without significant capitol infrastructure investment (6).  Nuclear submarine production capacity is also constrained by the requirement to build replacement SSBNs for our strategic forces to replace the aging Ohio class, as well as nuclear powered aircraft carriers.  Finally, a new construction SSGN, while highly desirable, is likely to be secondary in priority to the replacement SSBNs, 12 of which will be built before any new construction could start.

2.  Service Life Extension (SLEP) existing SSNs, if possible.  This alternative is a huge unknown and will require analysis of each SSN to determine the engineering and economic feasibility.

3.  Augment our SSN force with advanced Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) submarines (SSKs) converted into SSGs by installing a hull section with at least 12 (or more) vertically launched missile cells (VLS) to address the land attack mission (7).  This could be done by purchasing the building rights (or outright buy) submarines from our allies.  

To be clear, the SSG is not a replacement for the SSN.  Furthermore, the U.S. should build SSNs at maximum shipyard capacity for the foreseeable future.  SSNs retain vital endurance and high submerged speed operational capabilities vital for open ocean operations.  These advantages allowed, diesel electric SSKs have always been the stealthiest of submarines within the constraints of battery power, making them highly survivable.  Modern SSKs have maximum submerged speeds exceeding 20 knots, and the ability to travel very long distances using fuel efficient diesels.  With the advent of Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP), SSKs now possess optimal survivability, submerged endurance, and speed to penetrate sophisticated anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) defenses owing to the research going into AIP technologies including: fuel cells, Stirling cycle engines, and Module d'Energie Sous-Marine Autonome (MESMA) (8).  Table 1. Follows and includes pertinent open source information comparing a modern SSN with competing SSKs:

Table 1. Submarine Characteristics Compared

Source: survey of current defense literature.

Further points in favor of the SSG are a comparatively low procurement cost of ~$600 million per boat (before installation of a Vertical Launch System), and reduced manning roughly 33% to 50% of the SSN crew requirements. Critically, AIP submarines can be massed produced: ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems GmbH (Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft GmbH) claimed to have nine submarines under construction or being upgraded at its Kiel facility, a vital capability in war (9).

Penetrating an A2/AD defense to launch strikes will require that our SSG get to a firing position within 750 nautical miles or so of an enemy coast.  We must assume that AIP propulsion must be used within the A2/AD zone, as a snorkeling SSK is vulnerable to detection and destruction by Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA); this will reduce submerged transit speeds to 6-8 knots.  At 6.5 knots, a modern AIP submarine can travel about 156 nautical miles submerged each day, so it will take five days for an SSG to travel from a position outside a 1,500 nautical mile A2/AD zone to a cruise missile launch point within 750 nautical miles of the coast (10). 

In the end, the argument in favor of the SSG is not about optimum capability, but instead on procuring sufficient numbers of viable boats to round out the submarine force in the strike warfare mission.  Further improvements in batteries and AIP seem likely to improve the capability of submarines.  The AIP equipped submarine, operated by many potential adversaries, also makes an incredibly useful training asset for our navy to train against. Configured with VLS, the SSG is now an absolutely credible solution for strike warfare (land attack), commerce raiding, offensive mining, and ASW. 


(1)Congressional Research Service report RL32418, Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, April 14, 2016, by Ronald O'Rourke, pg. 14.

(2)“The Navy’s FY2017 30-year SSN procurement plan, if implemented, would not be sufficient to maintain a force of 48 SSNs consistently over the long run.  The Navy projects under that plan the SSN force would fall below 48 boats starting in FY2025, reach a minimum of 41 boats in FY2029, and remain below 48 boats through FY2036.” Congressional Research Service report RL32418, Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, April 14, 2016, by Ronald O'Rourke, summary page. 

(3)“The peak projected wartime demand of about 35 SSNs deployed within a certain amount of time … is an internal Navy figure that reflects several studies of potential wartime requirements for SSNs.”  Congressional Research Service report RL32418, Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, April 14, 2016, by Ronald O'Rourke, pg. 11.

(4)“From FY2026 through FY2028 the Navy will retire its four Ohio-class guided missile submarines (SSGNs).  Each SSGN can carry a maximum of 154 vertically launched BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles per boat, seven (7) Tomahawk cruise missiles in 22 large-diameter vertical launch tubes (two (2) of the 24 tubes cannot carry the missiles).  The four SSGNs can carry a combined total of 616 vertically launched Tomahawks.  The navy plan is to build Twenty-two Virginia-class boats built with Virginia Payload Modules (VPM) to carry a combined total of 616 Tomahawk missiles.  This plan better distributes the cruise missile across the submarine force, but these same submarines will have many competing tasking’s and the impact of VPM on operational characteristics of SSNs cannot be stated due to classification.”

(5)Additional missions include: Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); offensive and defensive mine warfare; anti-submarine warfare (ASW); and anti-surface ship warfare.

(6)Virginia-class boats are built jointly by General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division of Groton, CT, and Quonset Point, RI, and Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding, of Newport News, VA.

(7)For comparison, the SSN 688 and 774 class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) employ a 12-cell VLS for Tomahawk missiles.  Additionally, the Navy is planning to add Virginia Payload Modules (VPM) to the SSN 774 block 5 SSNs - the additional launch tubes in the VPM could carry a total of 28 additional Tomahawk cruise missiles (7 per VPM), which would increase the total number of torpedo-sized weapons (such as Tomahawks) from 37 to about 65.

(8)Manufacturer claims must be taken with great skepticism, but German, Japanese, and Swedish firms are now claiming submerged endurances exceeding 10 days at sustained submerged speeds in excess of 6.5 knots using Air-Independent Propulsion!

(9)‘Why German company ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems wants Australia’s Future Submarines contract’, by Ian McPhedran May 21, 2015.

(10)This figure is somewhat arbitrary and it is based upon a cruise missile with approximately 1,000 nm range (e.g. the UGM-109 Tomahawk variants).  The 750 nm, allows for deep inland strikes.  Wayne Hughes, Capitan USN (RET) presents additional tactical scenarios in his book: “Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat.”  Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr. of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has also written numerous papers with useful scenarios.


Mr. Bustamante is a retired naval officer who served the majority of his career as a Naval Special Warfare Officer and also served as a Surface Warfare Officer and Foreign Area Officer.  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. After retiring from the Navy, Mr. Bustamante worked for the legislative branch as an auditor and analyst, as a civil servant with the United States Department of State, and also in the private sector as an analyst in information technology project management.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Green Bay Packers

The old Green Bay Packers of Vince Lombardi’s day supposedly used to tell the opposing players what play they were going to run and dare them to stop it.  For those readers from around the world who may not be familiar with the reference, we’re talking about football (real football, not soccer) and, arguably, the greatest team to ever play the game.  You have to admire a team that is so good, so strong, so talented, and so determined that they’re willing to tell you the upcoming play because they don’t believe you can stop them even if you know what’s coming.  That’s power!

The Chinese just told us in no uncertain terms what’s coming.

As USNI website reports (1),

“The head of the People’s Liberation Army Navy told his U.S. counterpart that China has no intention of stopping its island building campaign in the South China Sea Spratly Islands …”

Well, that seems crystal clear.  The Chinese have claimed the entire South China Sea and all islands and features in it and are daring us to stop them. 

Yeah, but the Chinese are such friendly, reasonable, and peace-loving people the Chinese apologists assure us, maybe we misunderstood what was said.  Well, here it is stated another way.

““We will never stop our construction on the Nansha Islands [Spratly] halfway… the Nansha Islands are China’s inherent territory, and our necessary construction on the islands is reasonable, justified and lawful,” PLAN’s Wu Shengli told Richardson …”

Sure sounds like they're serious, right?  Still, they’re just harmless bases, aren't they?

“Wu also said that Beijing would reserve the right to increase defenses in the location”

OK, I guess they’re going to be major defense installations.

So, what will happen if the US doesn’t vacate the Sea and, instead, continues its sporadic and worse than useless Freedom of Navigation exercises?

““This kind of military freedom of navigation is damaging to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and it could even play out in a disastrous way,” Adm. Sun Jianguo …”

China is telling us that they’re going to create an incident if we don’t capitulate.

This could not be any clearer.  China is telling us exactly what they’re going to do in the South China Sea because they don’t believe we can stop them.  It’s as simple as that.  They’ve slapped us in the face with a glove, told us their play, and are daring us to do anything about it.

America, your move.  What are you going to do?


(1)USNI News website, “PLAN’s Wu to CNO Richardson: Beijing Won’t Stop South China Sea Island Building”, Sam LaGrone, July 18, 2016,

Monday, July 18, 2016

Mk57 VLS

The Navy’s vertical launch system (VLS) has long been the backbone of the Navy’s offensive and defensive missile systems.

The basic VLS module is currently available in two lengths: Strike and Tactical. The smaller Self-Defense module is no longer available since it can’t accommodate the ESSM Block 2.  The Strike module is 25 ft (7.6 m) tall and can house all variants of the Standard missile, Tomahawk, and ESSM.  The Tactical module is 22 ft (6.7 m) tall and can house ESSM and non-BMD Standard missiles.

The Mk57 VLS is 26 ft tall and can accommodate an 18 in longer missile and about 3 in greater diameter. 

Here’s a quick comparison.

Mk41 Strike Mk57
Height, ft 25 26
Weight, lb 32,000 33,600
Max Canister Length, ft 21.4 23.6

We can see then, that the Mk57 is slightly bigger than the Mk41-Strike but not by much.

I really don’t understand the benefit of the Mk57.  Consider,

  • There is no missile in the naval inventory or in development, that I’m aware of, that can’t fit in the Mk41 but could fit in the Mk57

  • The Mk57 is non-standard and creates a new parts, maintenance, and training requirement.

  • The Mk57 takes up more deck space and ship’s internal volume – not by a lot but it adds up when we look at a hundred modules or so.  In other words we can’t fit as many Mk57 cells as we can Mk41.

I could understand if the Mk57 were significantly bigger and could house, say, short/intermediate range ballistic missiles but, as I said, there is no such naval missile in inventory or development.

One of the rationales put forth to explain the benefit of the Mk57 is the distributed nature of the cells around the periphery of the ship.  This is claimed to offer survivability benefits.  However, to the best of my knowledge, the Navy has not claimed this benefit and logical analysis does not support the claim.  While a hit on a Mk57 equipped ship would not hit a centralized cluster of cells, as could happen with the Mk41, a missile would have a much higher probability of hitting some cells, as opposed to the less likely chance of hitting a Mk41 cluster.  The Mk57 is claimed to disperse the explosive impact of an exploding cell outward, away from the ship.  Again, this is not a claim the Navy has made, to the best of my knowledge, and seems unlikely to be significantly true.  An incoming missile hit would penetrate the Mk57 peripheral cell and continue inward, creating an opening into the ship’s hull for the exploding contents of the cell (its missile and subsequent blast wave) to follow.  Yes, some amount of the energy would be directed outward, as with any explosion, but large amounts would be directed inward.  The degree of armor protection, if any, between the cell and interior hull is unknown.  I have seen no Navy claim that the cells are individually armored.

The Mk41 cell clusters are, supposedly, encased in an armored “box” within the hull to contain explosive effects.  Again, the degree of armoring and its effectiveness is unknown.

Thus, the claims of enhanced survivability seem like an after-the-fact justification conjured by observers rather than an actual characteristic claimed by the Navy.  Logic suggests that a peripheral VLS system would offer little, if any, survivability benefit.  Further, if every peripheral cell is armored, the total weight of armor would, likely, be much greater than the armor surrounding the Mk41 box.  A ship would pay a penalty for such a system.  Of course, if the armoring were sufficient to greatly mitigate damage, the penalty might well be worth it.

The peripheral nature of the Mk57 is unique to the Zumwalt class due to the tumblehome shape of the hull.  Conventional hulls cannot accommodate peripheral cells.  They would have to be located some distance inboard due to the length of the cells relative to the outward cant of the hull.  So, the peripheral feature is not a general characteristic of the Mk57.

Finally, if the Mk57 offers significant benefits, whatever those may be, why aren’t they being incorporated into the latest Burkes?

I’m at a loss to understand why this VLS module has been put into service.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Inside Our Loop

John Boyd introduced the military to modern air combat theories and resultant aircraft design theories.  His most famous contribution was the OODA loop which can be summed up, very simplistically, as consisting of the following circular steps:

  • Observe
  • Analyze
  • Act
 Note: I present this with abject apologies to Boyd for this gross simplification and, he would undoubtedly claim, misrepresentation of his theory.  He actually had a fourth step and multiple side steps in his presentations.  As I said, this is a gross simplification to illustrate a point.

Thus, he suggested, the pilot that could more quickly (and correctly!) execute this repetitive loop would “get inside” the opponent’s loop and be able to anticipate better and act faster and, ultimately, win.  For example, in air to air combat if I can see that my opponent is beginning a maneuver (observe), analyze his maneuver so as to predict the outcome (analyze), and place myself in a position to take advantage of his final position (act), I’ll be in position to defeat him as a result of having operated inside his OODA loop.

Unfortunately, ISIS, and terrorists in general, are inside our OODA loop.  Consider this, from a Navy Times website article,

“The Navy is moving to place armed watch-standers at recruiting stations nationwide, a move that comes a year after shootings at a recruiting station and a reserve center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, claimed the lives of four Marines and a sailor.”

It’s taken us a year to decide to have armed personnel at recruiting stations.  A year!!!  How’s that for a snail-slow OODA loop?  No wonder we’re not making more progress in the war on terror.

“We are in the final stages of preparations for implementation” of the policy, said Cmdr. Dave Aliberti, policy branch head for Fleet Forces Command’s anti-terrorism, force protection directorate. 

A year, and we’re still not actually implementing it.  We’re just in the “final stages”.  That means we’ve got a ways to go, yet.

Now, what would you or I - logical, reasonable people - decide in about the first 2 minutes after the original incident?  We’d say, “Arm the recruiters.  After all, they’re highly trained in weapons handling and they could always be given additional training for using weapons in civilian settings, if need be.”  Of course, the military sees it differently.

“Some lawmakers called for service members, especially recruiters, to be allowed to carry their personal firearms to work so they could respond to an attack in progress. Aliberti said that was looked at in detail but it is not being considered.

“Because of the nature of their mission it’s something less than ideal to have every recruiter armed when their mission is engagement with the public,” he said. “While that would be one extreme, it’s not something that is being considered seriously at this time.”

Seriously????  We won’t consider allowing recruiters to be armed?  What does engagement with the public have to do with whether professional military personnel are armed.  Actually, isn’t that their job – to be armed and defend citizens against terrorists?  Is the military afraid that the public will find out that war involves guns?

Here’s a further extension of the stupidity.

“Navy leaders have also been less than enthusiastic about allowing sailors to bring their guns on bases. In an April interview with Navy Times and Defense News, the Navy’s top officer said the idea was on the table but that he was concerned about a situation where more guns are present during a shooting creating confusion for law enforcement.”

Think this one through …  If sailors were armed on base, there would be nothing for law enforcement to do after an incident except bag the terrorist’s body for removal.  More guns aren’t going to create confusion, they’re going to end the incident before it becomes a base-wide massacre. 

So, what’s the military’s approach, since they don’t seem to want to use simple, common sense?

“Militarywide, the Army Corps of Engineers is upgrading recruiting stations' security with visual identification features, as well as better access control mechanisms and ballistic shields, he said. The Army Corps is also making alterations to buildings that make them more secure, he said.”

There it is – the pervasive and misguided belief that technology is the preferred solution to any problem.  Armed sailors are the simple answer but the military would prefer to spend enormous sums of money on some idiotic technological solution that keeps budget money flowing.

Well, I’ve wandered off track, here.  The point of the post is that terrorists are inside our OODA loop.  If it takes us this long to implement simple, common sense solutions, how can we possibly fight a war and hope to win?  We have completely forgotten the lessons that Boyd taught us.  We need to be mentally nimble, quick and decisive in our decision making, and bold and timely in our actions.  We need to operate inside the terrorist’s loop instead of the other way around.


(1)Navy Times website, “Navy to put armed sailors at recruiting stations”, David Larter, July 14, 2016,

Friday, July 15, 2016

New and Improved?

Why do we build new classes of ships or aircraft?  The answer is to incorporate new capabilities that can’t be achieved simply by adding upgrades to existing classes.  Further, the presumption is that the new class will have several new capabilities that render the previous class hopelessly obsolete.

The WWII Essex class carriers were a vast improvement over the Yorktown class.

The F-86 Sabre was a vast improvement over any previous propeller driven aircraft.

The Forrestal was an immense improvement over the Midway class.

You get the idea.  Each major new class (for you nitpickers, I’m not talking about tweaks that produce sub-classes like the Sumner/Gearing) was an inarguably vast improvement over the preceding class.  Unfortunately, that trend may be coming to an end.  Let’s look at some recent new classes.

LCS.  OK, this is everyone’s poster boy for a messed up program but, seriously, even if the modules ever pan out, they’ll not represent a vast improvement over existing ships and technology.  The Avenger MCM vessels are arguably more capable than the LCS.  The Perrys were better ASW vessels than the LCS will be – not surprising given that the LCS ASW module will consist purely of existing technology and the seaframe is not optimized for ASW (meaning quieting).  Almost by definition it won’t be an improvement.  The Perrys, before the Navy neutered them, were worlds better at ASuW than the LCS.

Could we not have kept building the Perrys and simply slanted the superstructure to add a bit of stealth?  Add to that some new build Avengers and you’ve got the LCS (actually, a far more capable “LCS”) without all the added developmental costs.

Ford.  Where is the huge leap in capability?  The claimed increase in sortie rate has been debunked.  The EMALS catapult is of dubious value.  It’s claimed to be easier on aircraft but there has never been any data supporting that.  Aircraft were built to take the steam catapult stresses so that claim is highly suspect.  Same for the Advanced Arresting Gear which the Navy has just recently hinted may be a complete failure and have to be replaced by a conventional arresting system.  The ship has some increased automation which is nice (until damage control is required and we find out the price we’ll pay for reduced crew size) but that’s something that could have been easily incorporated into the next Nimitz.  The vaunted dual band radar has already been downsized and replaced for subsequent ships of the class.  There is simply no need for a massively capable radar on a ship that carries only short range AAW missiles and is always accompanied for Aegis ships and Hawkeyes.

Could we not have added the EMALS to the next Nimitz and achieved the same capability as the Ford without the billions of dollars of developmental costs?

F-35.  The F-35 is nowhere near as capable as the F-22.  It’s aerodynamically on par with the F-16/18.  It’s steadily losing any capability gains it might have as each year of development continues, decade after decade.  The only real improvement might be the 360 degree sensor fusion if it ever works and sensor fusion is already being incorporated into upgrades of other aircraft.  The F-35’s sensors are already technologically behind those of many other aircraft.  Advances in IRST and anti-stealth detection technology are quickly negating the aircraft’s stealth advantage.

Could we not have added some stealth to the Hornet (oh, wait, we already have – the Advanced Super Hornet) and incorporated the 360 degree sensor technology if it ever matures?  Or, could we not have simply continued building the F-22 with whatever bits of technology we wanted to add from the F-35?  After all, we’ve already looked at the possibility of restarting the F-22 production line and found it to be feasible and cheap relative to continuing the F-35 debacle.

America.  This one is the most baffling.  This is just a rebuild of the Wasp class with a few minor tweaks and the loss of the well deck.  Did we really need to spend billions designing a new class?

Could we not have simply continued the Wasp class with whatever tweaks were incorporated into the America?  Heck, we didn’t even improve the flight deck to the point that it could handle the F-35B.  We’re having to go back and rebuild the flight deck and the compartments immediately under it.  Surely, we could have done that with new Wasps?

Virginia.  Is this sub significantly better than the Los Angeles class?  No one, including the Navy knows because of the extreme security measures surrounding the sub.  The Navy won’t even let the Virginias take part in ASW exercises.  My suspicion is that the Virginia is better but not significantly so.  The technologies that are in the Virginia could have been incorporated into new 688s.

Could we not have continued building 688s with some of the new sonar arrays?  We certainly could have added the proposed missile modules to the 688.

LX(R).  The replacement for the LSD-41 class has only half the well deck which makes it a poor substitute let alone a successor.  Even more baffling is that we’re retiring the LSDs before we need to.  Could we not simply keep the LSDs and toss in a few modest upgrades?  What leap in technology or capability does the LX(R) offer? 

There’s nothing wrong with new ships.  There is something wrong with spending billions of dollars designing new classes when we could simply add capabilities to existing classes.  Yes, there would be some money spent to figure out how to incorporate new technologies but nothing even remotely approaching the cost of a new class. 

Where are the leaps in capabilities that are typically associated with new classes?  The problem is that the Navy has opted to forego conventional leaps in favor of generational leaps – none of which have panned out.

Conventional leaps would include the latest sensors, missiles, and systems that actually exist.  The leap in capability would come from incorporating the cutting edge, but existent, technology with new, better platform designs.  Instead, the Navy seems stubbornly fixed on repeating existing designs under the misguided notion that this will save money.  ComNavOps is all for upgrades but there comes a point where upgrades simply won’t get you where you need to be.  At that point, a new design incorporating the latest, existent, technology is the preferred approach.

Consider all the development programs that are just expensive repeats that don’t really offer the needed improvements.

The Burke-AMDR may be the poster boy for failed repeats.  The AMDR requires a bigger, or at least differently designed, ship than the Burke.  Because the Navy has opted to repeat the Burke design, the ship will have only a fraction of the desired performance.

There are two ways to approach “new” ships.  We need to either do simple upgrades to existing ships or design new classes that offer significantly improved capabilities.  The former option saves the bulk of the design money and the latter, while costing more, gives us new capabilities.  The Navy is combining the worst of the two options by pouring lots of money into redesigns of existing ships that offer little improvement in performance – the worst of both options!