Monday, October 31, 2016

Up Close

ComNavOps has long stated that the US military has forgotten what war is.  Instead, in a frenzy of technological fantasy, we have embarked on a path of precise, guided, long range weapons intended to produce a “clean” war, conducted from afar, and harming no one but the enemy and even then the emphasis is on the enemy’s equipment rather than killing individual soldiers.  For example, the notion that the Zumwalt will stand off an enemy’s shore and pick off individual pieces of equipment with a precision and efficiency previously unheard of is pure cow droppings.  In a real war, we’re not going to even be able to see most of an enemy’s assets and personnel, let alone target them with that kind of precision.  There’s no getting around the need for massive, area explosives.  We’ll rediscover this when a war starts.

In a similar vein, ComNavOps has stated that the naval surface force battles will all too often come down to gun duels, just like WWII.  Our fantasy of stand off missile attacks will be found to be just that – fantasy.  We will rue the absence of large caliber naval guns.

The Army, though, light years ahead of the other services in beginning to prepare for actual war, has confirmed what ComNavOps has been saying.  War will be up close, personal, and violent.

“Our enemies are moving into complex terrain and they are evading our long-range detection capabilities,” McMaster [Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster] said. “The combination of those two things, the difficulty [of] targeting the enemy with long-range precision fires and the enemy’s elusiveness means we are going to fight in close combat.” (1)

There you have it.  The Army is beginning to recognize what ComNavOps and every combat veteran knows – war is not a dainty, precise, stand off affair.  It’s a down and dirty, close combat, fight for survival.  McMaster correctly identified the wishful thinking inherent in our fantasy of omniscient battlefield awareness and precision targeting.  When real war comes and we begin shipping bodies home by the hundreds and thousands, we’ll quickly come to appreciate the value of area effect high explosives.  You don’t deal with a sniper by carefully conducting a search of the building he’s hiding in, you vaporize the building with high explosives and move on without risking your own people.  We’ll relearn that lesson but not without a blood bill for the learning.

Kudos to the Army for at least beginning to remember what war is and starting to prepare for it.  The Navy and Marines need to heed the Army’s example.


(1)Defense News website, “McMaster:  Army Must Prioritize Close-Combat Capability”, Jen Judson, 28-Sep-2016,


  1. And the immediate solution? Put the proven 8-inch gun on the new Burkes we are building.

    And if we are to keep the three Zumwalts, refit them with 8-inchers. Maintaining a stockpile of unique 155mm ammo and training and spare parts for just a total of six 155 guns/rocket launchers is idiotic.

    Yes, those are really guns/rocket launcher, which limits the 155mm (6.1 inch) warhead to less than a 5-inch.

    1. A single Forrest Sherman boat had a prototype 8"/55 caliber gun on it. Said prototype was removed and its program cancelled because it could only get a 5000 meter advantage over the 5"/54 caliber Mark 42 gun it replaced at the cost of a 20% weight increase per gun mount and 1/4th the firing rate. The take-away here is that a larger gun is not necessarily a more effective gun.

      The current 127 mm guns provide a good balance of range and rate-of-fire as well as a good balance of anti-air and anti-surface capabilities. If you switch to a larger gun, you're going to get a reduction in ammo supply and a reduction in rate-of-fire.

      Of course, it is possible to have a more powerful gun system if you're willing to give up enough room inside the ship. The Zumwalt-class proves this. But look what happened to them, reduced to just three units. And despite being the largest destroyers in the world, they only hold 80 cells (less than a burke) because the 155 mm gun system takes up so much room inside the ship.

      My overall point here is that in order to get a more powerful gun, you'll have to give up something else. That could mean a slower rate of fire and a lesser supply of ammo. Or it could mean less room for missiles inside the ship. Or it might mean that the entire ship has to be larger and more expensive. It's not so simple as "bigger gun = better gun!"

    2. The 8" Mk71 project was cancelled as a budget cut not because of any particular performance lack. Check out the site for the most complete description of the gun.

      The Mk71 was the Navy's unwise attempt to scrimp on ships and try to shoehorn an 8" gun onto a destroyer hull instead of building a proper cruiser which could accommodate up to three triple 8" gun mounts.

      You're correct that the larger the gun, the slower the rate of fire and the more room it requires (hence, the need for cruisers to house 8" guns). What you neglected to note was that the larger the gun, the bigger the boom. An 8" gun shell has a burst charge around three times larger than a 5" shell. That's a significant improvement. The 5" shell has been deemed inadequate for general shore bombardment duty (again, see the navweapons site).

      So, had the Navy done what they should have which is to build a proper cruiser they could have had a ship with 9x 8" guns, each with a 10 rd/min firing rate. That's 90 8" shells per minute landing somewhere. That's a lot of destruction. Yes, if we stick with 0.50 cal machine guns we can get very high rates of fire but that also means very low destruction.

      Everything in warship design is a compromise. The challenge is to pick the best compromise for the intended use. In this post, we're talking about up close combat. A cruiser with 9x 8" guns would be very useful in that scenario. Of course, the drawback is that it requires a larger ship, as you pointed out.

      As you make your points, try to stay as objective as possible. There's good and bad about all weapon systems.

    3. Navy recognition have an article about French studies into firing a MLRS from the deck of Mistral class warship. Not as good as an 8inch gun, but it could be deployed quickly, effective shore bombardment on the cheap?
      I did read somewhere that some of the rockets are being adapted to strike moving targets like ships,they would be guided though and not jam proof like simple 8 inch shells.
      The new heat resistant coatings being applied to ships carrying the F35b may help protect decks from hot rocket exhaust.

    4. "firing a MLRS from the deck"

      That's always been an intriguing option. It would, potentially, be useful for shore bombardment but probably not as an anti-ship weapon.

    5. The range of the 8-in guns of the Des Moine class is about 17 miles, which means you're likely within visual range of shore. Though, I'm sure the Navy coud come up a 5 or 6-inch subcaliber round with much greater range. And, indeed they did for the Mk 71. But, now we're back to operating like a Zumwalt.

      Though having a few gun cruisers in an amphibious group would be a morale booster to the Marines landing ashore.

    6. As for firing MLRS off a ship, the Russian Buyan-class are equipped with a retractable 40-round Grad (122-mm) missile launcher. Displacing around 500 tons, a ship like that could get close to shore or operate in a river and easily ruin someone's day.

      Not to be outdone, the Army is adapting a seeker to their ATACMS missile to give it an antiship capability. HiMARS is extremely mobile and in sufficient numbers would greatly complicate an attackers plans.

    7. "Though, I'm sure the Navy coud come up a 5 or 6-inch subcaliber round with much greater range."

      This is a common mistake/misconception. Too many people think range is everything and they completely ignore explosive effect. Consider an extreme example of a 0.50 cal machine gun bullet that could be fired a thousand miles. Impressive range and zero explosive power so what's the point. Range without explosive power is pointless.

      We need to return the focus to explosive power. If that means operating with ships on the horizon, so be it. And, if we're going to operate that close we might as well make it worthwhile by having a major caliber gun rather than the 5" guns we currently have.

      Consider the Marines in an amphibious assault. They'll have no tanks or artillery, initially. Where will their firepower come from? Aircraft will be busy trying to establish aerial superiority and dodging enemy SAMs and fighters. Tomahawks are not tactical weapons. That only leaves naval guns and the current 5" gun is woefully inadequate in numbers, range, and explosive effect.

    8. "40-round Grad (122-mm) missile launcher. Displacing around 500 tons, a ship like that could get close to shore or operate in a river and easily ruin someone's day."

      To be fair to the LCS, that was the concept behind the original NLOS, though on a much scaled down level.

    9. "HiMARS is extremely mobile and in sufficient numbers would greatly complicate an attackers plans."

      Argggh!!!! This isn't even remotely a reasonable statement. I've got a post coming in the next several days that explains why. Be patient and stay tuned! Or, think about it and see if you can come up with what's wrong with the statement. Don't feel bad, you're not alone. The Army agrees with you! They, too, are wrong.

    10. NLOS missiles for tbe LCS were basically long range Hellfire missiles. Whereas, the Grad missiles are an area bombardment weapon, just the type of weapon you have a suggested we field.

      I look forward to your post on HIMARS. Keep in mind these are being actively used in Iraq today. And, putting a 500-lb warhead 300 kilometers downrange would make for a nice coastal defense weapon.

    11. NLOS, as the Navy envisioned it, was an area weapon though on a much scaled down version compared to the Russian systems. NLOS was to be a volley of smart munitions that would loiter over the battlefield, identify targets over the entire battlefield area, assign targets among themselves, and attack. Of course, it never happened.

    12. Remember most navy guns are not operated in manner of indirect fire such as fire support. Navy guns shoot more like tank rounds. Flat and level.

      The artillery used in fire support is more of the parabolic arc function where they use height and weight to overcome line of sight issues. Remember a 155MM gun has twice the burst charge that a 127MM gun has. This makes all the difference in indirect fire and effects on target regardless of what the policy wonks state.

      Having seen and played with both calibers and types of guns used today the navy needs a bigger cannon than the 127mm 5 inch round if they are serious about fire support on shore for the marines.

  2. Who in the Army is leading this "new" doctrine that is emphasizing a turn away from reliance on technology and back to the basics? The US Armed Forces has a ton of Generals/Leaders, but its the strategic thinkers that will make or break us in the long game. We Americans have a hard time looking past the next years budget or the quadrennial review while our near peer adversaries are looking 20-50-100 years out.

    1. Great question. Unfortunately, I don't follow Army matters so I don't know.

      The entire back-to-basics Army movement has coincided with the Russian expansions. I suspect the Army began seriously looking at the possibility of having to face the Russians in Europe and saw the new Russian tanks, artillery, missiles, electronic warfare, etc. that was being used in Ukraine and began to panic as they began to realize that they were quite possibly outclassed on the battlefield. Nothing like staring at your own death to prompt a back-to-basics movement!

      Just speculation on my part but the coincidental timing is highly suggestive.

    2. An even better question is when will Marine leadership begin a back-to-basics movement and why aren't the Marines learning any lessons from the Russians?

  3. More Army vision on "dystopian warfare":

    1. What's your point to go along with the link?

    2. ComNav-
      I posted the link but someone else responded and I like his/her point below re the US Navy- all true..

      My point was that the US Army is thinking about "urban warfare to the 10th degree" (proof- this video) but they won't be able to do much in this environment of "make the Army small path forward" that this nation always takes when times are tough.

      Read "Once an Eagle". Ask Sam Damon. ;-)


    3. Before we discuss urban warfare, someone needs to tell me which major city we're going to want to seize. If there's nothing worth seizing in any major city then there's no urban warfare need.

      So, which city has something we want to send troops to get?

    4. Well I was pointing out the US Army video presented "the problem" and tried to define the task. They didn't offer much specificity on how to solve. In effect they are postulating an unconventional future premised on our present humanistic (not Genghis Khan like) ROE. In the video, cities of ~10 million were discussed. In my minds eye, I can see nation states themselves in rogue countries that have beenbalkanized. That appears to be ongoing process, especially in the ME. Maybe even in the USA, perhaps that is what the US Army sees/hints in the video...dark thoughts, eh?

      Re recent actions: Bagdhad is(was) about 8 million when we took it down, Fallujah/Mosul etc don't meet the 10 mil but have valuable lessons learned.

      Pending actions: who knows?

    5. By not answering, you've kind of answered the question. There is no city that has anything we're likely to want to seize. Thus, no urban warfare.

      Of course, there's always stupidity like the Iraq nation building follies but that's not really warfare, either - it's more like police action.

      We're not going to invade Russian or Chinese mainlands (I hope we're not that stupid!) so that really limits the number of candidate cities and the remaining ones don't really have anything of a worthwhile military value. I just don't see urban warfare as likely unless we're complete idiots which, sadly, there's a great deal of evidence piling up that suggests exactly that.

      The military loves to postulate generic, non-specific threats that allow them to call for bigger budgets. Those vague, non-specific threats don't actually exist but they sound good until you examine them from a specific military perspective.

    6. Gee your- "there is no city, therefore there is no urban warfare". That's a pretty linear approach wouldn't you say? Would that pass Logic 101 do you think? ;-)

      Urban warfare is in our doctrine. It has been executed during GWOT, pre-OCO. We did it well in Fallujah. That video portends a dystopian urban oriented world many years in the future as cities get bigger as people leave the rural areas of the world (and they are). The US military has to consider all contingencies. Maybe even here in the USA as we balkanize perhaps... I took that hint away from the video. Perhaps the scope of what the Army was considering was just operating special missions in those areas and not holding/occupying the entire megalopolis- that is left unsaid.

      Re Iraq: a lot of USA warriors died for those "follies" and when they had finished in 2008-09 after the surge they had it contained. Politicians (Obama) screwed it away without obtaining a status of forces and maintaining presence. IMO that franchised ISIS and made it grow exponentially. In good conscious after 40 years in the business I can't let common perceptions of who screwed this away be tainted like Vietnam was.

      It all comes home to roost when you have a persistent enemy like these radicalized Muslims you can't ignore, you haven't got the ROE or the stomach (guts) to annihilate them once and for all. Maybe your just touchy like me when it ain't yours or someone else's kid who is going to have to do it that Sam Damon character who survived and rose in a constantly changing US Army from WW1 to Vietnam.

    7. Your point, if you had one, did not come across. I have no idea what you're arguing for or against, if anything. Try again?

  4. Unfortunately, Navy's push for unproven "game changer" technologies, like lasers and railguns, is starting to hurt the further development and improvement of proven technologies, including high explosives, by diverting funds and talents from them.
    It may soon become a real problem for the Navy, as discussed here:

    1. Excellent point. So what can we do about it?

  5. One of the root causes of the Navy's current ideas about clean and distant war (which the USAF shares, although their solutions are, of course, different) comes from having spent 2002 to date trying to do police work with military aircraft and drones, and finding that did too much collateral damage. So they're trying to solve a political problem with different weapons, and neglecting the military problems.

    1. This is one of my consistent, overarching themes on the blog, that we've forgotten what war is. We've come to believe that war is the tiny "police" actions, as you phrase it, punctuated by the occasional firefight.

      Russia and China seem to be remembering what war is and are gearing up for it while we pursue lightness, mobility, non-lethality, and social engineering.

      So, what do you think we can do about it?

    2. I don't know how to change the fashionable ideas in the Pentagon. I'm British, not American, and the inner details of US politics are obscure to me. The outer symptoms of the problems may be more obvious because I'm missing some of the cultural assumptions, but that doesn't tell me how to solve the problem in US politics. Other than by having an enemy demonstrate the problem in action, of course.

    3. "the inner details of US politics are obscure to me."

      They're obscure to me, too!

      "Other than by having an enemy demonstrate the problem in action"

      Well done! That, I'm afraid, is the only solution to the problem.

  6. Hi CNO,

    I'm a bit confused by what you mean by close up fighting. What sort of distance are you picturing? 1km apart? radar detection range at the horizon at about 40km? If it's 40km, why would the ships not be using their Harpoons? Are you picturing a larger fleet action so ships would run out of missiles and they'd be slogging it out with guns?

    That's not to say I favour missiles. I often feel that, if nothing else, a few more phalanx units per ship would be very useful.

    I notice people talk about 8 inch guns vs 5 inch. 8 inch guns haven't been used for a while. Aren't advances in shell and explosive technology enough to offset advantages the 8 inch shell might have had back 30 years ago?


    1. In my usage, close means tank and rifle range for land forces (Marines) and naval gun range for ships. Ships will, of course, use their missiles as they approach (or stumble upon) each other. I've documented why I believe missiles will not effectively conclude an engagement and when the missiles run out, the only weapon left is guns.

      The 8" has been deemed the smallest gun that can provide effective naval gun support for infantry. The 8" shell has three times the burst charge that a 5" shell has. I'm not aware of any improvement in explosive technology that can offset that. If you find anything, let me know.

      Also, 8" is the MINIMUM, not the desired. Ideally, a ship would have 12"-16" but we seem unable to even contemplate that. For instance, the 12" guns on the Alaska class cruisers had a range of 22 miles and a burst charge of 17-80 lbs.

    2. Who says that 8" is the minimum gun? If 8" is the minimum gun, then does every navy worldwide, from America to Britain to Russia to Japan....gravitate towards 5" guns for major surface combatants? The Zumwalt is the only exception this rule, and there are only three unless Congress has a change of heart.

    3. "Who says that 8" is the minimum gun?"

      I expect you to do your homework before commenting. Various military studies have validated the need for a minimum level of firepower and the 5" gun does not meet that level. This has all been extensively studied and reported repeatedly as the battleship demise slowly took place.

      As far as other countries, just because everyone else does something doesn't make it right. Other countries have budget limits that preclude large guns and large ships to mount them on and budgets probably preclude sufficient numbers of ships to begin to contemplate specialized, high firepower ships. For those countries, the 5" gun is not an unreasonable general purpose gun.

      More to the point, large guns are primarily for naval bombardment and naval gunfire support for troops ashore. Anti-ship is a secondary role. Few (no?) other countries have the capability or mission to conduct large scale amphibious assaults like the US so they have no need for large caliber naval guns.

      Put some more effort into your comments.

    4. I'm not asking you to write a novel. A simple name of a relevant study supporting 8" guns would be enough. Furthermore, if 5" guns are not sufficient, then that doesn't automatically mean that 8" guns are the ideal answer. The 6.1" guns on the Zumwalt can hit targets over 100 km away from the ship and the two guns together have a collective ROF of 20 rounds per minute and they are water-cooled. An 8" gun system would not be able to hold the same amount of ammunition or achieve the same rate of fire.

      The Zumwalt itself is stealthier than the average ship to allow it to come closer to shore and it has enough vertical launch cells to stop any missiles that do get sent its way. With that in mind, I don't see how an 8" gun system would be necessarily superior to the 155mm advanced gun system that has already been developed for the Zumwalt destroyer. The only real issue is the small number of Zumwalts planned for.

      If a larger number of Zumwalt destroyers cannot be acquired, then the solution might be to upgrade current Arleigh Burke destroyers to carry similar 155mm guns, which BAE has suggested as a possibility. And of course, more Burkes are planned that could have the AGS (155mm Advanced Gun System) from the beginning of their lives.;jsessionid=458652B6EB368C98AF0975CF68198171?sequence=2

    5. You've opted not to do your own research before commenting and you don't accept my statements which are based on research and data so you're on your own.

      If you don't want to do your own research and you don't want to believe mine, I have to ask, why are you here?

    6. Because it seemed like an interesting enough place. If you want people to cite sources, then fine, no problem. I included three separate sources in my last post.

  7. so quick question.
    The Chinese type 52, and reportedly the type 55, are both going to be armed with a 130mm gun, vs the 127mm on a Burke or Ticonderoga.
    Is there an appreciable difference between the two systems in a close in gun battle?

    1. I know nothing about the gun. Presumably, it is a reverse engineered (or license build?) single barrel version of the dual barrel Soviet gun. The Soviet gun is old but considered to be a decent gun. Sorry, I don't know any more.

  8. I do not believe that barring a serious incident, the USN will make necessary reforms. Perhaps not the USMC either.

    That is the cruel reality, I don't see any evidence to suggest otherwise.

  9. Com here is a new interesting article on Chinese Hacking efforts. Your vision that our networks are nowhere near secure is succinct and accurate


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