Monday, September 5, 2016

Exploring Distributed Lethality

As regular readers know, ComNavOps has not been a fan of the Navy’s distributed lethality concept.  In its original, articulated form, the Navy wanted to arm every ship that floated including amphibious ships, logistic ships, MLPs, MCM, and so on.  That’s just stupid.  Those ships are far too valuable to risk having them within attack range of enemy ships – if you’re in attack range then you’re also in range to be attacked.  Risking vital support ships just to carry 8 Harpoons is idiotic, but, hey, that’s the Navy for you.

Of late, I’ve heard less about arming support ships and more about focusing on arming the LCS as the distributed lethality platform.  Of course, arming a warship isn’t exactly distributed lethality;  it’s just making a warship what it’s supposed to be – a warship.  The only reason this is even a point of discussion is because the Navy has built a class of warship that has no useful weapons!

Let’s focus on arming the LCS with a credible anti-ship missile.  We’ll assume it’s the Harpoon, for sake of discussion, although the Navy is also looking at the NSM and other options.  Let’s further assume that the LCS will carry 8 Harpoons on two Mk 141 rack launchers which has been the standard Harpoon loadout on every ship that has carried Harpoons since the Perry FFGs.  It’s also possible that the LCS will only carry a single launcher which would mean just 4 Harpoons.  The number of missiles is likely a weight related issue given that the LCS is hard up against its weight margins.  For our discussion, the number of missiles doesn’t matter.

So, conceptually, how does this distributed lethality work?

Well, the LCS will have a 100 nm (the exact range depends on the exact missile but this is a good discussion figure) missile and a 20 nm targeting radar.  This is the first challenge in distributed lethality – how does the distributed shooter find a target?  The Navy’s answer is that targeting will come from off board sensors like a P-8 Poseidon, F-35, or Triton UAV.

What happens when an off board sensor finds a target?  In the case of the manned aircraft, does the pilot instantly radio the LCS and tell them to launch a missile?  Of course not.  The pilot doesn’t know what distributed shooters are available.  Further, the pilot doesn’t know the various missions that are on-going in the area and what priority the target he’s found would have.  He doesn’t know the weapon loadouts on the various distributed shooters.  He doesn’t know what missions the distributed shooters are currently on and whether it’s worthwhile to disrupt their current mission.  He doesn’t know whether it’s better to reveal the distributed shooter’s position by attacking or if it’s better to pass up the shot and stay hidden.  In short, the pilot doesn’t have the necessary situational awareness to make a “shoot” call. 

The pilot will simply transmit the information back to the local task group or regional commander for evaluation and decision.  The commander (presumably an Admiral and his staff) will get the information, weigh it against all of his tasks, and decide what to do about it.  You know how those things go.  We’re probably looking at a many hours long process to arrive at a decision. 

Side Note:  What does the off board sensor platform do while waiting for a decision to be made?  If he moves on or returns to base, contact is lost.  Given that the target is moving, the target co-ordinates are lost and the ability to launch an attack is lost if the delay is an hour or more (a ship moving at 20 kts has now displaced from its original target location by 20 nm).  Of course, we can always launch an attack at a predicted location and hope for the best but that’s a rapidly diminishing likelihood of success that, if it fails, will waste a shooter’s load and reveal its location for no gain.  Alternatively, does the off board sensor platform try to stay in contact for, potentially, many hours while waiting for command to make a decision?  Given the relatively short endurance of aerial platforms, that may not even be possible.  If possible, it may not be wise to stay tied to one location near an enemy.  That’s a good way to get shot down!

Let’s say a decision is made to launch an attack.  If there happens to be a shooter within range then the rest is simple.  The shooter is sent targeting data and the attack occurs.  More likely, there are no shooters in range (or not enough shooters in range – an attack will likely require multiple shooters to have a good chance of success).  More hours will pass while the shooters maneuver into range (refer again to the previous side note).  Once all the shooters are in position, the attack occurs.

So, setting aside the issue of trying to operate a data network in the face of peer level ECM, there is nothing wrong with the concept of distributed lethality.  It can find targets and attack them with any available distributed shooter ship.  The major issues would seem to be the process of simply making a decision whether to shoot and what to do with the off board sensor while that decision making process and shooter assembly plays out.

As I pointed out earlier, this is not really distributed lethality but simply networked warships akin to the Navy’s AAW Co-operative Engagement Capabiity (CEC).  Regardless of the semantics, it can work, though clumsily. 

One other possible scenario is that the LCS’ own helo or UAV is used to provide off-board target detection.  A helo or UAV is relatively short ranged which is not a problem since the Harpoon is relatively short ranged.  The problem is that the helo/UAV is also relatively short endurance – a few to several hours – and that assumes the target was located early in the flight.  More likely, the target is located during the second half of the flight with consequently much shorter target contact endurance.  As previously described, locating a target is only part of the process.  A sufficient number of shooters still need to be moved into position and that can take many hours, depending on the dispersal of the shooters. 

Of course, a squadron of LCS can operate together, in close proximity, so that upon target detection most or all of the shooters will be in range or can achieve firing positions in short order.  The flip side of having a squadron operate in close proximity is that it greatly increases the likelihood of the group being spotted and attacked before they can accomplish their purpose.  Close grouping of the shooters inherently contradicts the concept of “distributed” lethality.  If you’re going to have a squadron of LCS operate in close proximity then you may as well just have a single Burke which could not only carry as many weapons as a squadron (assuming a vertical launch anti-ship missile) but could also defend itself which a squadron of LCS cannot.

Let’s now consider what the distributed shooters are doing when they aren’t actively shooting.  Presumably, the shooters are cruising around in enemy or contested waters looking for targets.  However, given the mismatch between the shooter’s sensing range, even using helo/UAVs, and the enemy’s sensors (land based Over The Horizon radar, submarines, AWACS-ish aircraft, maritime patrol aircraft, UAVs, and larger ship radars, it is more likely that the shooters will be found before the shooters can find the enemy.  Thus, the shooters will be sunk one by one.

In the classic distributed lethality model, especially as espoused by Hughes, being detected doesn’t really matter because the individual shooters are cheap and expendable and individual losses create, hopefully, flaming data points due to the enemy revealing their location(s).  Of course, if the enemy attacks with land based anti-ship missiles or aircraft, they haven’t really revealed anything, have they?  It’s only if they attack with ships that they reveal anything we probably didn’t already know. 

So, the likelihood is that our distributed shooters will be destroyed piecemeal for no gain until a suitable target can be found.  If the shooters were cheap enough this might be acceptable.  However, an LCS currently costs $500M - $750M after including post-delivery construction, Government Furnished Equipment, and modules.  The “frigate” version will be even more expensive – likely $750M - $1B.  I’m not sure that a $500M - $1B ship can be considered expendable and sacrificing several just to obtain a single attack opportunity is unlikely to be a beneficial trade.

This also raises the question of how many LCS’s are available for use as distributed shooters?  Let’s assume we build the full 40 that are currently planned.  Of those, 12 are scheduled to be dedicated MCM vessels.  Would we really want to risk our very rare and very valuable MCM vessels?  Remember, when the LCS-MCM comes on line we’ll retire the Avengers and those 12 LCS-MCM’s will constitute our entire ship-based MCM capability!  So, if we don’t risk those as distributed shooters, that only leaves us with 28 possible distributed LCS shooters.  Another 12 or so are scheduled to be dedicated anti-submarine (ASW) ships.  The same logic applies.  Do we really want to risk them?  In this case, the answer may be yes because we do have other ASW assets throughout the fleet.  But, if we opt not to risk them, that drops the available distributed LCS shooters to 16 or less. 

If half to two thirds of  the LCS’s are in port at any given moment, and that’s being generous given the reliability issues, scheduled in-port maintenance requirements (every two weeks), and extremely limited endurance (8-14 days with the current crew levels), then we’re looking at only a half a dozen LCS being available as distributed shooters at any given moment.  That’s not a lot and won’t cover much area!

The LCS’ very limited endurance (8-14 days) combined with the maintenance model that requires the ship to put into port every two weeks (hence, the designed limited stores endurance) makes the LCS a very poor choice as a distributed shooter – no surprise, it’s a poor choice for anything! 

Worse, the requirement to put into port every two weeks implies that it will have to leave the war zone for two weeks or more every two weeks.  The enemy is not going to allow us to use a port located in the contested region.  Thus, the LCS will have to leave and travel to a protected or safe port well back from the war zone.  The LCS will use up most of its at sea endurance and two week operating window just traveling to and from its maintenance ports!  I don’t think the Navy really thought through the use of LCS’s in combat and has not thought through the use of the LCS as a distributed shooter ship.

Let’s now look at this from the enemy’s perspective.  One of the claimed benefits of distributed lethality is that it hugely complicates the enemy’s job.  He won’t know which ships can shoot and will have to assume they all can.  Supposedly, this somehow complicates his day to day life.

In war, each side will attempt to sink every enemy ship they find, right?  It doesn’t matter if the ship is armed or not.  It doesn’t matter if the ship is a warship or cargo vessel.  In short, the enemy will attempt to sink every ship they find.  So, if the enemy will attempt to sink every ship they find, how or why does it matter if the ship is a distributed shooter?  They’re going to try to sink it anyway.  I’m failing to see how the enemy’s tactical position is more complicated.  If they see an LCS, they’ll sink it (it’s not like the LCS can defend itself) whether it has Harpoon missiles on board or not. 

I’m mentally wargaming this from the enemy’s perspective and I just don’t see how the question of whether an LCS is armed or not affects anything the enemy will do.  The enemy’s task is:  see a ship, sink a ship.  It’s not:  see a ship, decide whether it’s a distributed shooter or not, maybe sink it or maybe not. 

If the reverse were true, that the enemy could not, or did not want to, sink a non-distributed shooter ship then their tactical situation would be greatly more complicated.  They’d have to somehow make a definitive determination of the target ship’s weapon load out which would require additional recon assets and time and add a great deal of uncertainty to the tactical picture.  However, that’s a ridiculous scenario.  In a war, the enemy will, see a ship, sink a ship, and not care what weapons, if any, it was carrying.

So, the claim of distributed lethality being a complication for the enemy seems unfounded.

Considering all of this, the concept of using the LCS as distributed shooters seems like a costly, high attrition exercise for relatively little benefit.  Further, the very LCS maintenance model and associated limited endurance make the LCS ill-suited as a distributed shooter. 


  1. At the gym so a quick first thought

    You bypass the admiral staff.

    The point of synergy/fusion/cec is that there isn't a "local" picture.
    The LCS sees what every (transmitting) sensor sees.
    The F35 sees a target and that targeting information is beamed to everyone in range, who beam to everyone in range.

    My missile battery doesn't care if it gets a target from my radar or yours, the days or using voice radio to call targets are way way in the technological past.

    Thats not to say the USN of today would ever allow a mere captain to make a decision to open fire in war time.

    1. Which all works really well until your transmitting sensor platforms start getting hit with Anti-Radiation missiles and your data links get jammed/hacked.

    2. The blind faith that all our systems will work flawlessly in combat, in an electromagnetically and cyber challenged environment, is recklessly foolish but is, unfortunately, all too prevalent in today's military leaders.

      Networking will work, occasionally, after a fashion, in a degraded level. Data sharing will work, occasionally, after a fashion, in a degraded level. Master digital battlefield "pictures" will work, occasionally, after a fashion, in a degraded level.

      They're all worth pursuing but not as the basis of our military might.

      Your missile battery doesn't care where it gets its targeting data but it will care that it doesn't get any targeting data because of enemy ECM/cyber.

      We've already acknowledged that we're behind the Russians, Chinese, and NKoreans in EW and cyber. Why we would then think that our grand plan for distributed lethality, which is totally dependent on the very communications that we've already seen are vulnerable, will work is beyond me.

      Set your quick first thought aside and think longer and harder. Your fantasy world of flawless communications is just that, a fantasy.

    3. The enemy cant Jam all the time, "Home on Jam" is a thing, and Jammers Jam everyone not just one side.

      Their out sized effect in Ukraine is likely to be a theatre specific effect, Ukraine cant hit them and Russia can afford to degrade its own Comms.

      Dont get me wrong, distributed shooters will be shut down (well, degraded to local) some of the time, but they dont "need" a shared sensor picture, its just a huge advantage when they have it.

      All of your comments regarding the LCS are spot on, its a poor ship for anything, CEC/DL would at least add some limited functionality, but realistically, its a good way to make proper ships better.

      "In war, each side will attempt to sink every enemy ship they find, right? It doesn’t matter if the ship is armed or not. It doesn’t matter if the ship is a warship or cargo vessel. In short, the enemy will attempt to sink every ship they find."

      Not necessarily.
      There are always options.

      Firstly, is it worth killing, its a bad decision to attack an LCS and have not ordnance left to attack an oiler that steams out of the mist 5 minutes later, its a bad decision to throw one of a limited number of "carrier killer" weapons at an LCS, and run out with Carriers still unkilled. Its amazing how many wars end when both sides are reduced to throwing rocks at each other.

      After that, theres the risk that the engagement is lost, or won at disproportionate cost.
      The USNs cold war strategy was to get a BackFire Regiment to go head on against a Ticonderoga.

      Another problem with killing something like an LCS is it doesn't actually advance your cause much, you could sink them all and it wouldnt harm the combat power of the Navy. It would however, either, embolden a "no more deaths" mentality, and end US participation in the war, or, embolden a "victory of death" mentality, and drive the US in to a multi year total war, which they will win eventually.

    4. In general, the quality of comments has dropped drastically of late and I'm attempting to improve it. Honestly, this is an example of the kind of unproductive comment that I'm seeing too much of. You've created a highly unlikely scenario in an attempt to disprove the central thesis. Could China (or Russia or whoever) run so low on munitions that they would have to seriously consider passing up a sure sinking of an LCS? Theoretically, yes. Realistically, no chance at all. Yet, by conjuring this one-in-a-million scenario you're attempting to prove the general premise wrong. This is argumentative and unproductive.

      Would China waste an anti-ship IRBM on an LCS? Of course not. Why would you even suggest that? You're attempting to set up an impossibly unlikely scenario in an attempt to disprove the premise.

      Similarly, the engagement with an LCS could be lost. An LCS??? With a handful of RAM missiles? Again, theoretically, yes, practically, not a chance. Argumentative and unproductive.

      Then, your final argument that killing an LCS doesn't advance the enemy's cause much is another way of saying that the LCS as a distributed shooter is impotent since it wouldn't be worth the enemy's time to kill it - this actually supports my premise though not in any sort logical case that I would make. The enemy will kill any ship they find. Can you, somewhere in history, under some set of contrived and weird circumstances, come up with a scenario in which the enemy would pass on the chance to kill a warship (even a lowly LCS)? Theoretically, yes, practically, not a chance.

      This is a substandard comment. You've offered much better in the past and I expect much better in the future. I also am looking for discussions rather than attempts to disprove a premise by finding or conjuring an incredibly unlikely scenario that doesn't prove or disprove anything, anyway.

      I am going to improve the quality of comments. I hope you'll rise to the challenge and be part of it.

      If you'd like to reply, address the main premise. Can distributed lethality be made to work in the face of peer level ECM? If so, how?

      Given that we seem to have a hard time maintaining secure comms to UAVs right now and given that our current networks are hacked on a daily basis, how will we maintain secure comms in war against a peer?

      How will our distributed shooters survive in enemy waters (and airspace) long enough to accomplish their task?

      How will the LCS manage to stay at sea long enough to be available as a shooter given its two week endurance and likely two week transit times for its required two week periodic in-port maintenance cycles?

      I can go on with questions but you should be able to get the idea. There are many deep issues that can be addressed and debated on this topic. Trivial, argumentative, and unproductive comments do not further the discussion. I invite you to join me in raising the level of discourse!

  2. Would it be possible to have a UAV physically tethered to an LSC? Thats one possible solution to fix jamming and endurance.

  3. Until the last few weeks, when even the Independence class LCS engines failed, I'd held out hope that at least one class could work. Alas, both classes are useless.

    It's possible the US can still produce useful warships. VT Halter Marine, on behalf of the US, built x4 Ambassador Class missile boats in 2013-14. Despite being half the length, and 70% less tonnage, they are far more lethal than the LCS, have similar speeds, and, as far as I can tell from internet naval news, have no significant technical problems.

    Increase the length by 20-30m, which you can use to add fuel and a flight deck perhaps, and you'll get a better ship.

    The USN is building better ships for foreign countries, than it does for itself.

    1. This is the approach I've been advocating: smaller, cheaper, single purpose ships.

  4. What am unable to comprehend about 'Distributed Lethality' concept is that the enemy with a competent RWR will detect radar and radio communications/data link transmissions. Just turning on the a/c radar alerts the enemy rwr in very large area of scanning fighter’s presence and the area is far larger than one covered by the radar, it gives away the fighter’s presence. If the enemy has good listening equipment it is possible to triangulate location and even identify the target through its unique radar signals.
    Navy Aviation knows this and is investing a billion$ in the Raytheon NGJ, rwr and jammer, (and sure the Chinese and Russians doing similar). The slow realisation that active radar, radio comms and data links will in future be problematic if not dangerous to use is driving the Navy Aviation to fit passive surveillance in the form of using the infra red band, the LM IRST21 for the F-18, which is not a beacon broadcasting your position to your enemy.
    So why does the 'Navy' think 'Distributed Lethality' will work when 'Navy Aviation' thinks not.

    1. Well, here's an interesting item to factor into your thinking about naval aviation understanding the comms issue: the entire premise of the F-35, and to a lesser extent the Triton UAV and P-8, is that it will penetrate enemy airspace and then frequently, if not continuously, transmit data back to other platforms, all while somehow remaining magically undetected. So, does naval aviation really get the problem, or not?

      I don't know enough about the various communications to know whether this belief that we can freely transmit and not be located is warranted or not. Nothing I've read leads me to believe we can do this successfully but the Navy sure seems to think so. Of course, the Navy seemed to think so many ideas were good that have now been proven disasters so I don't put any stock in what the Navy thinks. Until someone proves that they can transmit freely and not be found, I'm not going to believe it.

      So, does this change your thinking on the idea that naval aviation "gets it" when it comes to active transmissions?

  5. You seem to be having a very deep conceptual problem with your thinking about the LCS. They only need to be armed for self-defense as their primary duties will involve sub-hunting, minesweeping, patrol duties, and supporting land operations. The LCS is not a destroyer and it does not need to be armed as a destroyer would be. I know it really bothers you that they're retiring a frigate with a less heavily armed vessel but you have to remember that they are building more heavily armed destroyers at the same time so it all balances out. And the other ships being replaced by the LCS, the Cyclone and Avenger, where both significantly less well armed (and slower as well) so overall it is a net gain to the overall survivability of the fleet.

    1. Do you have anything to say pertinent to the post?

  6. Anon:

    There may, in fact, be a place for a very lightly armed vessel in the Navy.

    One of the strongest arguments I've heard for such things is that such a ship would allow the Navy to use cheap ships for anti-piracy/drug operations while allowing the 'real' surface combatants time to train, and keeping hours off of them.

    However, the LCS is the worst of all worlds. Its too expensive to be considered truly cheap, and too weak to be considered a true surface combatant.

    As a 'cheap' craft, its not. A great deal of money was spent on its (seemingly faulty) engineering plant so that it can go fast. A great deal of money continues to be spent on its (non working) mission modules. Even if we look at just the 'seaframe' (no weapons) this is a ship that's, optimistically, well over $300 million (Breaking Defense, 1/16). Compare that to a new build very large crude carrier at around $100 million (Market Realist 6/26/15).Both ships will have limited markets and build numbers, but the VLCC's use ALOT more steel and nearly as much automation, yet come in at 1/3 of the price.

    Take an LCS with mission modules and we're looking at nearly $700 million.

    Again, these are all optimistic prices. So that's nearly 1/2 the price of a 'Burke for 1/4 the capability, if that.

    A cheap craft that could do simple patrol and MCM duty might look more like a modern day flower class. Cheap, able to be built in multiple yards (CHEAP!) to civilian standards, and having good range. Further, its very design would keep it from the 'front lines' in a surface naval action.

    You say they'll be doing 'sub hunting, mine sweeping, and patrol' duties.

    I don't see that. The Navy has been all over the board with what the LCS will do, partially I think due to its very long development period.

    The Navy has already said they'd like to have it set up in squadrons with ASCM's as part of their distributed lethality model. The Navy has already said they'll be doing 'presence' missions, which as we've seen in the South China sea have the potential to escalate (who wants to be on an LCS if things escalate with a Chinese frigate?). I believe the Navy has already tried them doing blue water escort; an area where they may well encounter real surface and subsurface threats for which they are ill prepared. Further, in the original plan, the LCS was going to 'dominate the littoral battlespace'. A battlespace that, when you consider the PG has multiple small and large ships carrying ASCM's.

    The LCS is going to take, as a class, a significant amount of Navy resources in construction and remote basing. For those resources, its not going to return much when compared to a 'real' frigate, or have the return on investment of a truly cheap vessel designed to do low level missoins.

    1. All, there's no need to rehash LCS issues unless you have a specific point to make relative to the post or a closely related subject. I'll delete any further general LCS discussion.

      There are so many great avenues for discussion with this topic but the general "goodness" of the LCS is not one of those.

      Here's one possibility for those who may not think of any on their own: given the lack of sea-availability of the LCS due to its limited endurance, stores, and maintenance model, can an LCS-tender support a squadron of distributed LCS shooters? Why or why not?

      I want more from my readers than a generic rehash of the LCS, which won't change anyone's mind one way or the other, especially when I've posted such a timely, important, and relevant topic that's just jammed with potential discussion points. Up your commenting game, everyone!

  7. ComNavOps,

    You addressed the difficult tactical and technical challenges in the kill chain. The use of active sensors to detect and enemy can reveal the location of the searching unit. However, active sensors should in general outrange passive sensors. In addition, communications can reveal the location of the transmitting units. Finally, shooting could reveal the location of the shooters. Complicating this situation is the use of EW to temporarily disable radar and communications.

    I have never been a fan of carriers, but thinking through these challenges shows the value of naval aviation as a means of reconnaissance. Instead of using radars on ships, we could use the sensors on highly mobile jet aircraft to detect enemy units. Active sensors on aircraft can be used for short periods of time and then the aircraft can quickly relocate. Moreover, we could can use EW to "screen" or prevent successful counterattacks against our active sensors.

    Instead of using "distributed lethality", perhaps we should use the following tactics.

    [1] Mass a group of ships capable of launching a successful attack and defending itself against likely counterattacks (perhaps 2 ASW frigates, 1 Burke, 1 Tico)

    [2] Use ISR platforms to screen the areas within range of the group for targets. These ISR platforms could be UAV's or helos from the task force or they could be long range from a carrier.

    [3] If a target is located, communicate information to the task force which launches an attack.

    [4] EW assets disrupt coordination of a counterattack and the task force relocates.

    [5] Repeat until you the defeat the enemy's surface fleet.

    1. That's a good comment. You're beginning to think through the problem.

      You didn't say it but you implied it, that this group (the Navy's term is Surface Action Group or SAG - an older term would be hunter-killer group) would be operating largely without air cover. The group would, as you noted, need to depend on its helos/UAVs. Of course, these aircraft are defenseless if enemy aircraft or ships find them. If the helo/UAVs are transmitting, they're broadcasting their location and, presumably, would be shot down by the first available enemy aircraft. So, assuming that helo/UAVs will casually roam around finding any and all targets in their area is wishful thinking in the extreme. This highlights the need for a better (stealthier?) and cheaper (expendable) aviation sensor platform.

      You're also falling prey to the prevailing military thought pattern that everything we do will work perfectly and nothing the enemy does will have any effect. You state that our EW capabilities will disrupt any counterattack - the implication being that our forces are invulnerable. Won't the enemy have EW capabilities? Won't their EW work at least as well as ours? Won't the use of EW by us give away our positions? We need, have, and will use EW but to assume it will provide some kind of magic force field effect is naive, at best.

      Similarly, you assume that our ISR will find every target. Won't the enemy have ISR? Won't they have as good a chance of finding us first as we do of finding them first? On average, then, wouldn't half our SAGs be attacked before they can find a target?

      "Repeat until you defeat the enemy's surface fleet."

      I doubt you meant this the way it reads (I hope you didn't, at any rate). It reads as if you mean that a single SAG, composed of the four ships you mention, will win the entire naval war all by themselves. According to your suggestion, our 280 ship fleet is 276 ships too big!

      You've made a nice start at analyzing the issue. Now, turn your thought process around and look at this from the enemy's perspective. Are they going to allow us to do this unhindered? Of course not! So, what will they do? They have ISR assets, more aircraft than we do, closer land bases, etc. How will that impact our distributed lethality effort? Is that effort still viable in the face of enemy capabilities? And, for goodness sake, stop assuming everything we do will work and nothing the enemy does will have any effect.

      Take another pass at this and let me know what you come up with.

    2. "However, active sensors should in general outrange passive sensors."

      The opposite is true. You may have simply mistyped this. If not, and you think this is true, you need to do some research on active passive sensors. It's the old flashlight analogy. You can see 20 ft with a flashlight (active) but someone can see your flashlight (passive) a mile away.

    3. The role of the EW is to weaken or prevent the counterattack by disrupting the enemy's kill chain. The EW adds value even if it prevents some of the enemy units from participating in the counterattack. The AAW capabilities of the Burke and Tico should allow the group to defend against most counterattacks. The ASW frigates should be able to suppress a sub long enough for the group to escape.

      The goal is to repeat this tactic with multiple groups until the enemy is defeated. I am not suggesting the USN should have a four ship navy.

      I think I see where this is going. The ISR platforms are likely to end up spotting each other before they find enemy surface units. The ISR platforms should probably be either lightly armed to kill enemy platforms or should be stealthy enough to avoid detection. Detecting a short range ship based drone is a red flag that a ship is in the area.

      --- From the enemy's perspective ---

      The best counter to the USN's SAG tactic is to find the SAG first and attack first. We have bases on our mainland and outlying islands from which we can operate ISR assets and planes. We can use these land bases to achieve a numerical advantage in combat aircraft and ISR platforms. In contrast, the USN will have limited space on its ships and the presence of their drones/helos will indicate that a ship is relatively nearby.

      We will use a deep network of ground based sensors, drones, SOSUS, and planes to spot enemy units as they approach our waters. Our scouts are under orders to immediately report any USN ships they spot.

      Upon receiving targeting information, we will either interdict the USN ship with ground based ASM or we will scramble groups of jets to attempt to reacquire the target.

      Eventually we will kill enough Americans that they will lose their will to fight, and their decrepit industrial base will struggle to replace the decadent ships that we sink.

    4. Much better!

      Remember that the enemy is applying EW to disrupt our kill chains, too, and there is no reason to believe that they will be any less effective than us.

      Your recognition of the enemy's land based resources and superior numbers should suggest to you (and I think it did) that they will have far more ISR assets in theatre than us and far more aircraft available for attack.

      So, having looked at both sides of the issue, do you still think a SAG will be able to roam about, unmolested and undetected and perform with impunity as you initially suggested or do you think the distributed lethality or SAG ideas are flawed and more likely to fail than to succeed?

  8. Here is some common sense. What is wrong with the 12 MCM Avengers, except they are getting old? They are better at MCM than the LCS as they are reliable, in service, with a low magnetic signature and even a electric engine if needed. They have a wood/plastic hull so metal fatigue and rust is not an issue, and those materials are more shock resistant (flexible) should a mine blow up nearby. That was part to their design.

    So let's do a serious rebuild to add another 30 years of service. Give them new engines and electronics ect, and this will cost one-quarter of an LCS, whose numbers were cut back on anyway.

    Am I missing something? Other than this idea will be far less profitable for the powerful shipbuilding industry and their retired Admiral salesmen.

    1. You're not missing anything and I completely agree. Why isn't the Navy doing this? Well, who knows? It's the Navy, after all, and they do dumb stuff for a living.

      That aside, the Navy bet that the future of MCM was via helo, hence the LCS-MCM which was mainly to be helo based. Unfortunately, most of the helo based MCM components have failed leaving them with ship based MCM which has also largely failed.

      Now, the interesting part is that their bet on helo based MCM may not be a bad one. USVs and UUVs are just too slow to conduct useful MCM. Helos probably are the answer or at least a major part of it. The problem is that they tried to instantly come up with supercavitating, magic laser, telepathy based helo components instead of just basic, functional equipment and they failed badly. If they would return to basics they might well be able to make helos work and work well.

    2. I haven't followed these issues closely, but I recall reading that the MH-60S that were supposed to perform helo mine support proved to small to replace the MH-53Es. They lack the needed long endurance and the power, because dragging and recovering big objects in the water is difficult due to the water drag and ocean currents pulling at objects.

      So the Navy has retained MH-53Es well passed their service life and they are falling apart. The Navy has no desire or funds for new H-53Ks in development with the Marines, which are far too big to operate from an LCS anyway.

      My solution is a naval one. If the Navy is clearing mines the amphibs and Marines will be waiting far away, so use new Marine CH-53Ks to support the Navy HM squadrons. Require the Marines to provide eight new CH-53Ks and crew to support Navy mine warfare at Norfolk and another eight at North Island. As Marines rotate thru, this populates the fleet with mine warfare experienced Marine crews worldwide. So when needed, Marine CH-53Ks are always on the scene with some trained crew who did their Navy tour. (Deploying MH-53Es from Norfolk is not easy since they are not really air transportable)

      Then the Navy saves a lot by retiring the old MH-53Es and uses that for better mine stuff.

    3. Interesting idea. I'm not sure but I think the CH-53K's are not structurally or mechanically equipped for the MCM mission. Maybe someone out there knows more about this. Also, the mission training is not something that's learned in a weekend.

      There may be something that can be done along these lines but I don't think it's anywhere near as simple as you suggest.

      That also doesn't help in situations where there is no amphibious group, for example, clearing navigational chokepoints.

      Still, interesting comment!

  9. Singapore's Victory-class is fitted with 8 Harpoon missiles and the same Sea Giraffe radar as the Independence-class LCS. And, Germany's K130 corvette is fitted with 8 RBS-15 MKIII antiship missiles and the same TRS-3D radar as the Freedom-class LCS.

    Neither navy is known for their off-board targeting ability. While radar range is dependent on many variables, is it possible that we're underestimating the radar capability of the LCS?

    1. Is it possible that we're overestimating the radar capability of the Victory or K130? Do you have any actual radar range data for surface contacts?

    2. I've looked but I don't know what range data is for surface contacts. But, it seems odd that 2 other navies would make the same mistake as we did with the LCS. And, add the Danish Navy's Flyvefisken-class to the list as they are fitted with the TRS-3D radar and Harpoon missiles.

    3. Reason this one out for yourself. Radar surface contact ranges are generally horizon limited which is generally around 20 miles. Targeting over the horizon is just plain a difficult challenge! No one has solved it. The US is simply ignoring those difficulties and basing a significant effort on a fantasy capabiity. I'm not aware that the other countries you mention are doing that. There's the difference.

    4. The Perry-class frigates were equipped with the SPS-55 surface search radar and Harpoon missiles too. According to Wikipedia, the SPS-55 radar has an effective range beyond 50 miles.

      Certainly, the range of the radar is affected by the distance to the horizon, but radio waves can propagate beyond the horizon. Plus, there have been advances is power generation, signal processing, and beam control. I'm not implying the LCS can spot a ship a 100 nmi out, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was 50 to 60 nmi.

    5. Walter you really need to up your game and use some analytical skills when you read something. Think real hard about the manufacturer's claim about the range. Do you think the radar could spot a leaf floating on the water at 50 miles? Of course not. Could it spot a small boat at 50 miles? Highly unlikely. So what can it spot? A mountain? Probably. A supertanker? Maybe.

      So, what is the manufacturer really claiming? I have no idea but they've certainly made up a best possible case scenario for their claim. Any reasonable scenario would have us back down around 20 miles and the horizon.

      For the sake of discussion, let's assume that this radar can spot a leaf on the water at 50 miles. How does that have any bearing on the points in the post? The weapons still far outrange the sensors which is the crux of the problem.

    6. We've put Harpoon missiles on dozens of other surface ships, including the Ticonderoga, Burke,and Knox-classes. Are you saying they too are limited 20 miles? If that's that case, it doesn't make much sense to put any antiship missiles on our ships. Granted, you can target further out with a helicopter, but they are not always available.

      My point is these ships might not be as nearsighted as suggested. And, as you well know, the problem with the LCS has more to do with its limited endurance and poor reliability. Fix that and give them better weapons and the Navy might have something to work with.

    7. This is basic naval tactics. Yes, the ships are that short ranged. The Navy depends on off-board sensing. Since WWII, there has been no naval threat and the Navy has grown used to the luxury of having uncontested off-board sensors, primarily aircraft, readily available. When a peer war comes and our off-board sensors are shot down or greatly restricted in their operating areas (not forward deployed) we'll be back to not much beyond the horizon sensing. Enemy ECM will further degrade the sensing ranges.

      There's nothing wrong with having weapons that outrange your sensors as long as you have off-board sensing. The point of this, and other, posts is that we won't have readily available, unhindered sensors as we seem to think. Our ships will be left with weapons that have more range than we can effectively use.

      Your suggestion that ships somehow, magically, have more sensor range is unfounded. Study the physics of radar, the effects of wave clutter, the effects of weather and nearby land formations, curvature of the earth as it impacts range, what's required to achieve OTH radar (can't practically be done to any great extent from a ship), and so on. You need to get your basics down.

  10. Regarding targeting in a peer contested environment, I think that operating under EMCOM is a must.

    As much as I know, the Royal Navy took this very seriously in the 70s. On the Type 22 frigates they installed the Classic Outboard ESM system, with sensor all over the length of the ship for a passive triangulation purpose.

    To the problem CNO proposed (Distribuited Lethality in an ECM contested environment) I think you have to view it not from the point of view of the shooter, but from the Officer in Tactical Command. And I think the biggest problem is communication to and within the different assets under his command. Without communication within a naval formation it is difficult to accomplish anything.

    Some months ago someone wrote in this blog about a line of sight laser communication system. I think that's the way ahead, by having - within the formation - always a ship in line of sight of another one. So you can deploy the formation even beyond the horizon if necessary.

    How would you fight for the South China Sea? It depends on the political aim, but I will assume that it is opening the SCS to free navigation. That means expelling the chinese forces located there (that's why it's a war). That means occupying the islands where there chinese troops are, and that means an amphibious campaign.

    Just for our example, I assume that the US Navy will form a multi-carrier task force and a "multi-ARG" task force, and she will attempt establishing her own AD/AA system on the chinese AD/AA, so that the SCS became a "no man's sea". The US Navy will also establish a long distance blockade. I wonder how long chinese economy survives without raw materials and without exporting its production (I wonder also how long our economies can resist without China).

    1. Just a small note regarding comms under EMCON. A ship can still receive communications, it just can't transmit. So, in theory, a ship could still receive targeting information. Of course, the data sending source would be broadcasting its location but if that location is a ship or land base well out of range that would be okay. That degree of range would also present data collection challanges - there's no free ride!


  11. Regarding Distribuited Lethality and LCS: What are you distributing? An 40-ship LCS class?

    No. Just 20 ship: With the 3-2-1 concept, you will have only 20 ships deployed as much.

    But 6 of them will be MCMs. The only 6 deployed MCM vessels of the Navy: to important to go playing around with the Chinese.

    So you have only 14 LCS.

    But the US Navy deploys globally. As the LCS are replacing the PCs, I assume that at least 4 of them are going to the Persian Gulf.

    As you need to send a Burke wherever you don't send an LCS and as we are in war with China, we want to have as many as possible Burkes in the SCS.

    So for chasing drug smugglers in the Caribbean, I would prefer to have a couple of LCS rather than 1 or 2 Burkes there. Same thing regarding the Horn on Africa.

    From the 14 LCS, 4 will be deployed to the Persian Gulf, 2 to the Caribbean and 2 to the Horn of Africa.

    If the USN doesn't need to deploy any other ship (certainly she needs to), there are only 6 LCS remaining.

    What could you do with them?

    Well, at least 4 things:

    a) Forming 2 x 3-ships SAG, because being speed the only advantage of the LCS, you can't build mixed formation with other classes, other than the T-EPF.

    What can you make with those SAGs? Supporting the multi-carrier force, supporting the multi-ARG force or operating independently.

    But with 15 days endurance and operating with far away support bases, you can't do much. You can only hope for applying missile boats tactics employees, i.e., hit and run tactics.

    Of course, with such an high speed SAG, the coordination problems with other formation remains, because the proposed optical communication system won't work.

    b) Using the LCS independently for enforcing the long distance blockade, but with a 57 mm gun they are not a great threat for a blockade runner, specially if she is a large merchant vessel.

    c) Teaming with T-EPF in high speed transport formation, providing some kind of escort. Maybe they can perform a renewed version of the Tokio Express, but under american flag. Or the T-EPF becames a high speed tender for the LCS.

    d) Using the LCS independently as "post ships" for carrying the mail to an from the families, because under full EMCOM and in an ECM contested environment, e-mails won't work.

    1. Two things:

      1. I basically covered this in the post with a breakdown of available numbers. You've expanded a bit on it so that's fine but make sure you read the post.

      2. You're number crunching seems to be based on a peacetime availability. For example, in a high end war with China, we're not going to leave ships broadly distributed around the world if they're needed for the war. If the LCS were deemed useful as a distributed shooter, we would pull every one of them into theatre so the theoretical available number is however many we have (40 or 52, depending on how many we wind up building and are in service). Further, in a war, ships do not follow the peacetime rotations at sea. Instead, ships are marshaled as needed for particular operations. Thus, we might surge 30 or 40 LCS for a given mission, followed by almost none at sea when the mission is completed. Thus, availability is less along the lines you've outlined and more along the lines suggested in the post where availability is dependent on risk rather than peacetime rotations or deployments.

      A few minor points:

      -As far as I know, the Navy plans for around 12 of the LCS to be permanent MCM, not 6.

      -As I hear it, the Navy is going to drop the 3:2:1 manning and move to a blue/gold as is done with SSBNs.


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