Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Revolution Through Evolution

We’ve repeatedly discussed the Navy’s fascination with and, indeed, fixation on, revolutionary advances as opposed to evolutionary advances.  Sadly, but predictably, most of the Navy’s attempts at revolutionary advancement have failed miserably.  While the LCS and JSF are obvious poster children for the pitfalls of revolutionary advancement, there are numerous other examples. 

Does the seeming inevitability of failure associated with revolutionary advancement mean that the Navy (and more generally the military) must content itself with only evolutionary advancements?  The answer is a double “no”.

The First No.  No, revolutionary advances can and should be pursued but not within the context of production.  Revolutionary advances should be pursued as research projects.  We need to attempt revolutionary advances but we need to do so in an environment forgiving of the inevitable failures that will occur along the developmental path.  That’s why the LCS, JSF, and others have failed so badly.  It’s not that their failures are either unexpected or inherently “bad” – heck, failure is the source of knowledge and the impetus for success – it’s that their failures have been institutionalized or “baked in” to production.  Thus, a flawed LCS concept is produced 55 times over and must be corrected 55 times at a cost of 55 times a single event as opposed to a single failure during the course of a revolutionary research program.  Further, the production failures produce secondary negative effects such as bad public relations, loss of confidence among Congress, the public, and even the uniformed ranks, burgeoning cost overruns that impact other programs, and a reluctance to allocate additional monies to fix the problems or to initiate other new programs.

Let the revolution begin but let it be conducted at the research level rather than production. 

The Second No.  No, revolutionary advances can come about from evolutionary or even existing technologies.  Herein lies the main premise of this post.  The Navy can achieve revolutionary advances by utilizing existing technology.  Huh??  How can revolutionary advances occur with existing technology?  Doesn’t “revolutionary” by definition involve technologies that don’t yet exist?  Yep, that’s correct.  Here’s the loophole, though …  If the technologies exist but just not within the Navy, then incorporation of existing technologies can, indeed, produce revolutionary advances. 

Here’s a ridiculous example that will illustrate the concept.  Suppose that we’ve all been “driving” anti-gravity cars for the last decade or two but that the Navy has never adopted the technology.  If they did, they’d instantly have ships that were no longer constrained by hydrodynamic drag forces and would be instantly many times faster.  A revolutionary jump in capability would have been achieved by adopting existing technology!

That’s all well and good as a fictional example but there’s no such real world, non-military technology that would produce revolutionary advances, is there?

Before we go any further, let’s briefly consider what we mean by revolutionary advances.  We tend to associate revolution with technology:  unmanned totally autonomous vehicles, lasers, rail guns, invisibility coatings, dynamic armor, and so forth.  What is it that’s really revolutionary about those technologies, assuming they worked and became suddenly available?  It’s not the technology, per se.  It’s the changes in tactics, doctrine, and operations that they enable that are what’s really revolutionary.  A working laser would allow us to significantly rethink how we conduct AAW, how far we could push into an A2/AD zone, how aggressive we could be in conducting amphibious assaults, how many ships we need to protect a task force, and so on.  Had the LCS worked as originally envisioned, it would have totally revolutionized HOW we conduct ASW, MCM, and land force support, not WHAT we do.  We’d still conduct the same tasks but in a completely different manner.

So, back to our premise …  Are there existing non-military (meaning civilian) technologies that can revolutionize naval operations?  Let’s look at some possibilities.

  • Heave compensated cranes – These cranes have been around for some time in the merchant marine world and their adoption might allow VLS reloads at sea, cargo transfers unlimited by sea state, and revolutionary impacts on amphibious loading/unloading operations.

  • Barges – These have been used in the commercial world for many years to provide mobile, flexible platforms for an endless variety of tasks.  The military could use them to host large Army aviation units and special ops forces for persistent operations.  These could revolutionize our peacetime operations, in particular.

  • Podded Propulsion Units – These propulsion units offer many potential benefits and have been in commercial use for some time.  These could revolutionize ship propulsion design and capabilities.

  • User Interface - Advances like mobile device apps and voice actuated systems from the consumer world could be applicable to command and control and CIC.  The Vincennes incident was due to misinterpreted data that might have been prevented by suitable apps and voice interface.  Data interpretation has always been a weak link and the consumer mobile device world offers many possibilities for revolutionizing our Command and Control process.

  • Earthquake and Sway Tolerant Structures – The Navy is plagued by stress induced cracking of hulls and superstructures.  The civilian world has long since mastered the construction of earthquake and sway (skyscrapers and bridges) tolerant structures.  The Navy ought to look into adapting some of those techniques to ship construction.  For example, poor vibration control design in the LCS has rendered the Mk110 gun useless when the ship is at speed.  Another example is the superstructures of the Ticos, LCS, and, to a lesser extent, the Burkes.  They suffer from stress induced cracks due to the constant motion of the ship on the sea.  Adapting civilian sway design into naval architecture could revolutionize ship design and construction.

  • Armor – Tanks (not a civilian technology but not a naval one, either) utilize an amazing variety of composite armors, reactive armors, spaced armors, spall liners, etc.  Spacecraft utilize ablative armor.  Automobiles utilize impact absorbing “armor”.  Adapting some of those armor schemes to ships could revolutionize ship protection.

Active Heave Compensated Crane
There are also existing technologies within the Navy and the military that are not being utilized to their fullest.  Here’s an example from the Russian navy – the Kashtan.  They took the existing gattling gun CIWS that’s been around since the Cold War and bolted it together with a simple surface to air Stinger-type missile.  The result was a revolutionary close-in weapon system.  We’ve seen small examples of the same type of thing in the military.  The warhead/seeker from one missile is married to a longer range propulsion body and a completely new, far more effective weapon is created – a revolutionary advance achieved by a recombination of existing components.  That’s good and we need to do more of it.

  • Existing ICBMs could be paired with conventional warheads to create truly long range tactical ballistic missiles.

  • MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) could be navalized and mounted aboard ships to provide long range, high explosive, high volume naval fire support.

  • Army counterbattery radars (Firefinder and GATOR) could be navalized to provide protection for amphibious assault forces.

Some might quibble and attempt to call these evolutionary developments and, admittedly, there can be a degree of overlap between the two concepts.  Evolutionary merely enhances an existing capability whereas revolutionary creates a new capability.  At this point it becomes a matter of semantics and is not worth further discussion.  The premise remains.

Russian Kashtan CIWS

Finally, there’s also revolution from history.  There are weapon systems that have existed that, if adapted to today’s needs, would provide revolutionary capabilities.  Perhaps the leading example is the Navy’s need for a truly long range anti-ship missile.  Well, guess what?  The Navy had a proven long range anti-ship missile once upon a time – the Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile (TASM) – but gave it up.  Why not bring it back?  It would provide a revolutionary anti-ship capability.

Other historical platforms that could offer revolutionary capabilities today include:

  • The S-3 Viking which could provide long range ASW, higher capacity aerial tanking (KS-3A), and electronic signals intelligence (ES-3A Shadow) could fill dire capability gaps with the Navy’s dream of a common airframe.

  • The A-1 Skyraider, a propeller driven attack aircraft which could relieve the Hornet fleet of its pickup truck plinking duties thereby saving wear and tear on our front line combat aircraft

  • The Spruance class destroyer which was the best ASW ship ever built and would revolutionize today’s ASW operations.

A-1 Skyraider

The point is that revolution is available from sources other than fantasy technology wishlists.  Fantasy is fine as long as it remains in the R&D realm and not production.  There are plenty of existing revolutionary capabilities just waiting to be found.  Look around, Navy!  Stop depending on Peter Pan for your next wonder-weapon and start applying some imagination to history and everyday technology.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

ESSM Distributed Lethality

We’ve talked repeatedly about how the US military is abandoning high end, heavy combat in favor of low end “combat”.  While much of the most obvious examples of this trend are within the ground combat community, the Navy is following the same path.  For example, the Navy retired an entire class of Perry frigates and replaced them with an almost non-combat-capable class of LCS. 

We’ve also discussed the absence of critical and logical operational and tactical thinking that plagues the entire military.  We’ve shown that the military has abandoned strategic thinking and is no longer capable of devising sound strategic plans.

Finally, we’ve discussed the myopic focus on technology at the expense of operations and tactics.

Now, the latest issue of Proceedings shows us another example illustrating these trends (1).  Cdr. Lukacs suggests converting the Navy’s amphibious ships (the LXX vessels) into anti-surface warfare (ASuW) ships using the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) controlled by the Ship Self Defense System (SSDS) combat software program.

For starters, let’s set aside the fact that the SSDS has been plagued by problems and, according to DOT&E’s annual reports, can’t even properly perform its intended defensive purpose.  Problems include poor sensor placement, legacy sensor integration issues, target detection and identification issues, weapon employment and guidance issues, and ESSM performance issues.  Thus, the author wants to begin modifying the SSDS to perform offensive warfare before the system’s primary function is even working – but we’ll set that aside for the purpose of this discussion.

Moving on, the author proposes utilizing the ESSM for offensive warfare.  The proposed list of candidate ESSM offensive warfare ships includes carriers and all amphibious ships.  Certainly, the ESSM can be used to hit a slow moving target (a ship) with the proper software modifications.  The question, though, is whether this is a good idea and a worthwhile use of time and limited funds, given all the other problems the Navy faces.

Let’s start with the missile, itself.  The RIM-162 ESSM is 12 ft long, 10 in. diameter, and weighs 620 lbs.  It has an 86 lb blast fragmentation warhead with a proximity fuze.  Guidance is provided by mid-course datalink and terminal semi-active radar homing.  Speed is Mach 4 and range is 27 nm.  The missile costs around $1.5M.

As best I can interpret it, the 86 lb warhead is not 86 lbs of explosive but, rather, the total weight of the warhead which is mainly the “fragmentation” component.  The actual explosive weight is some fraction of the total.  Note that I may be misinterpreting this and some reader may be able to shed more light on this.

The first thing to look at in assessing an anti-surface weapon is lethality.  A 0.50 cal. machine gun, for example, despite having a high rate of fire, has almost no lethality in the anti-ship role.  The ESSM, being a fragmentation weapon, has limited lethality.  Shrapnel can disable topside electronics but has very little lethality against a ship.

Even the Standard missile, which has an anti-surface mode, is considered a marginal anti-ship weapon and the ESSM is a much smaller, less capable anti-ship weapon than that.  As the author states,

“While possessing only a fraction of the range and carrying one-third the warhead of the SM-6, …”

So, the ESSM is somewhere between ineffective and marginally effective in terms of lethality.  The obvious question, then, is why pursue it?  Well, in continuing the author’s statement, above,

“While possessing only a fraction of the range and carrying one-third the warhead of the SM-6, this missile is nonetheless fast, maneuverable, …”

So, the author views the ESSM’s speed and maneuverability as positive attributes of an anti-ship weapon.  I agree.  However, the missile’s maneuverability is designed to allow it to engage incoming missiles.  It has no maneuverability in an anti-ship mode – it flies straight at the target.  It has no terminal evasive maneuver capability.  Possibly some kind of terminal evasion routine could be programmed into the missile but that would require a new developmental effort and raises questions like whether the missile could maintain communications links and target lock.  The missile was designed to bore straight in at the target (incoming missile) while maneuvering just enough to achieve intercept.  It was not designed for evasive maneuvers.  Thus, the author’s contention that the missile’s speed and maneuverability are positive attributes is only half right.  The speed is a benefit but the maneuverability does not apply in the anti-ship role.

ESSM - Offensive Weapon?

The lack of terminal evasion capability renders the missile susceptible to the target ship’s defenses.

So, the ESSM is marginally effective in terms of speed and maneuverability.  The obvious question, then, is why pursue it? 

The next question to look at in assessing an anti-ship weapon is range.  The reported range of the ESSM is 27 nm.  Of course, that’s the range against an aerial target and it assumes a viable means of target detection and designation.  Remember that the author proposes installing the ESSM on carriers and amphibious ships, neither of which possess any particularly useful long range surface radar.  Thus, the effective anti-ship range is probably around the radar horizon, perhaps 15-20 miles.  Is this useful, tactically?  As the author puts it,

“If, however, an SSDS-equipped HVU [High Value Unit] had its own ASUW capability, when an enemy combatant appeared on the horizon, the HVU could counter that ship herself, instead of retreating to safer waters or diverting her aircraft from their critical missions.  The ship would simply take care of the enemy and continue with the critical mission at hand, reducing the demand for escorts.”

The lack of tactical thought in this statement is stunning.  If an enemy ship “appears” on the horizon, our ship is probably already sinking.  Even if not, and a completely surprise encounter has occurred, the tactical reality is that a carrier or amphibious ship will be facing an enemy warship.  To believe that an amphibious ship with a handful of non-lethal ESSM missiles is going to “simply take care of the enemy” is ludicrous.  Our amphibious ship is going to simply sink. 

Hey, if we had the ESSM on our amphibious ship and could inflict some minor damage on the enemy before we sink, why not do it?  The reality is that the time, effort, money, and ship’s deck and internal volume that would be consumed by mounting an ESSM launcher is not justified by the remote possibility of inflicting some minor damage in an incredibly unlikely scenario.

Let’s not let the aircraft carrier part of this go unnoticed.  The author proposes mounting ESSM on carriers.  If a carrier is surprised by an enemy ship appearing on the horizon, one has to ask where the carrier’s aircraft have been.  The likelihood that none of the dozens and dozens of daily aircraft sorties (not to mention the E-2 Hawkeye) would have noticed an enemy ship slowly approaching the carrier during the previous day or two is vanishingly small.  This is just an absolutely illogical proposition.  This demonstrates a total absence of tactical and logical thinking.

The author proposes not just using the anti-ship ESSM in a self-defense role but using the ESSM equipped ship in an active offensive role.

“If every LSD, LPD, or LX(R) were armed with an NSSM or ESSM launcher, those ships would instantly be more relevant and could be employed offensively before and after they delivered Marines ashore.”

The author is proposing to use amphibious ships in an active offensive role before they deliver their Marines.  So, he would have us risk a multi-billion dollar ship and the entire Marine complement to go ship-hunting with a near sensor-less, short ranged, non-lethal ship and missile????  The best case scenario for this is that the amphibious ship finds a target, inflicts some minor damage, and then is sunk with the entire Marine complement.  The likely case scenario is that the amphibious ship is sunk before it can accomplish anything.

Even using a multi-billion dollar ship to go ship-hunting with a near sensor-less, short ranged, non-lethal missile after delivering its Marines is stupid and near suicidal. 

Finally, let’s consider the overall scenario.  The author proposes arming the carriers and amphibious ships with anti-surface ESSM against the possibility that enemy ships “appear” on the horizon.  How likely is that?  During war, carriers and amphibious ships will always be in groups escorted by rings of Aegis destroyers and cruisers and patrolling aircraft.  No enemy ship is going to “appear” on the horizon.  If they do, it means they’ve shot their way through all the escorts and aircraft.  An enemy ship or force powerful enough to do that isn’t going to be even momentarily bothered by a handful of ESSM missiles and will have already sunk the carrier and amphibious ships from well beyond the horizon.  There is no realistic scenario in which a single carrier or amphibious ship will be surprised by an enemy ship appearing on the horizon.  Again, this is a complete absence of tactical thought.

The author states,

“This is the exciting implication of distributed lethality taken to its logical conclusion.”

No, this is the complete absence of intelligence, logic, and tactical thought taken to its logical conclusion.

Honestly, I can’t believe the author is even in the Navy.  Sadly, he’s not alone in this kind of total absence of operational and tactical thought and blind pursuit of the next “gee-whiz, look what we can do” technology.  For instance, one or more commanders in the Navy had to have approved the author’s article and, at the very least, found it reasonable.  The Navy is raising officer-idiots with no fundamental understanding of operations and tactics. 


(1)USNI Proceedings, “Setting the Defense on the Offensive”, Cdr. John A. Lukacs IV, Nov 2016, p.38

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

GPS Jamming

We’ve discussed the military’s overdependence on GPS guidance (see, "GPS - The Navy's Addiction") and briefly noted the adverse effects if the GPS signal could be jammed.  US guided weapons are heavily dependent on GPS as their primary guidance mode.  While other modes are available, they are far less accurate.  This is disturbing because accuracy, or precision guidance, was the cornerstone of the Second Offset Strategy, and the loss of that capability would be devastating.  We’ve justified our reduced numbers of ships and aircraft in large measure by the claim that our weapons are so much more accurate than they were that we no longer need as many.  This is foolish to the nth degree but is, nevertheless, the basis of the rationale for reduced numbers.  If our weapons could be rendered significantly less accurate and we have lesser numbers compared to our enemies, we would be in serious military trouble!

Can a GPS signal be jammed?  Apparently, it’s quite easy.  GPS signals operate at very low power and over a very narrow frequency range – the ideal combination for jamming or disruption.

“GPS signals, transmitted at low power from distant satellites, are uniquely susceptible to jamming.” (1)

“A 1-kilowatt jammer can block a military GPS receiver from as far away as 80 kilometers (50 miles). A Russian company recently marketed a 4-[kilo]watt jammer that can deny a standard GPS signal within up to 200 kilometers (125 miles).” (1)

North Korea has reportedly jammed GPS signals over South Korea on over 100 occasions.  The jamming reportedly affected aircraft, ships, cell phones, and cars.

North Korea reportedly purchased truck-mounted GPS jammers from Russia with a range of thirty to sixty miles, and in 2011 was reportedly at work on even longer-range jammers.” (2)

Some weapons offer alternative navigation modes such as Terrain Contour Matching (TERCOM), Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation (DSMAC), and Inertial Navigation (INS), however, these have significant drawbacks and limitations.  Two of those options require the weapon route to have been pre-mapped which is not always possible.  INS is inherently inaccurate.

Supposedly, military GPS signals are more resistant to jamming and disruption but I’ve been unable to find any authoritative information on that.

As we ponder GPS issues, here is an example from personal experience.  Not too long ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of touring a Cyclone class PC that was docked at a large US city.  I noticed that the ship’s GPS navigation system showed the vessel to be about 30 miles inland, in the middle of a park.  Screwed into the bulkhead next to the ship’s system was a commercial GPS navigation display from a well known outdoor camping gear store.  I asked the crew about it and was told that they had used their own money to purchase the commercial unit because the ship’s system was never right.  They simply used the commercial unit which was always dead on.

I don’t know how widespread accuracy and reliability issues are with military GPS units but I’ve got to believe this was not an isolated incident.  If we have significant numbers of ships using commercial units then we’ve made ourselves extremely vulnerable to GPS jamming and disruption.  This also suggests that we need to relearn how to navigate without GPS.


(1)MIT Technology Review website, “How Cruise Missiles Would Beat GPS Jammers in Libya”, Christopher Mims, 20-Mar-2011,

(2)Popular Mechanics website, “North Korea Is Jamming GPS Signals”,  Kyle Mizokami, Apr 5, 2016,

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Another Breakdown - Zumwalt This Time

This is starting to get ridiculous.  The Navy seems unable to build ships that don’t suffer frequent propulsion system breakdowns.  The latest breakdown is the Zumwalt which suffered apparent seawater intrusion into parts of the system (1).  Details are still sketchy. 

“Both of the shafts locked during the passage and the transit had to be completed with tugs. The ship made minor contact with lock walls in the canal resulting in minor cosmetic damage.”

This was not the first incident for the ship.

“The latest casualty follows an incident in September following the ship’s transit from shipbuilder General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, Maine to Naval Station Norfolk, Va. in which the crew discovered “a seawater leak in the propulsion motor drive lube oil auxiliary system for one of the ship’s shafts,” the Navy told USNI News at the time.”


“Following its Oct. 15 commissioning, Zumwalt suffered additional unspecified engineering trouble around the time arrived at Naval Station Mayport, Fla. and spent extra time repairing and testing the propulsion system, USNI News understands.

Recall that seawater in lube oil systems is a problem that has plagued the LCS, as well.  The Navy seems unable to keep seawater out the engineering systems.

While I have no problem with occasional engineering breakdowns, the frequency and repetitiveness of the problems across multiple ship types suggests a systemic design/quality problem.  I bet that warranty that the Navy steadfastly refuses to demand from the shipbuilders is starting to look pretty appealing of late, huh?  How many hundreds of millions of dollars have we spent repairing engineering casualties on brand new ships?

Maybe the Navy will issue orders for yet another safety and engineering stand down, cause, you know, those are so effective.

The Navy is so focused on building shiny new ships that they’re totally ignoring the fact that the ones they have can’t seem to stay at sea for more than a week or two without breaking down.  Could the Navy’s priorities be wrong, he asked incredulously?


(1)USNI News website, “Updated: USS Zumwalt Sidelined in Panama Following New Engineering Casualty”, Sam LaGrone, 22-Nov-2016,

Monday, November 21, 2016

Assault Support Ship

The most vulnerable phase of an amphibious assault is the landing of the initial waves and the subsequent initial defense until follow on troops and equipment can land.  This vulnerability is due to the initial waves being mainly infantry with little or no armor or heavy weapons support. 

During this initial beachhead and buildup period, the assault force will be trying to get more troops, heavy weapons and equipment, and supplies ashore.  This will, inevitably, result in the proverbial mountain of supplies, much as everyone wants to avoid it.  Conversely, the enemy defending force will be raining artillery, mortars, rockets, and cruise/ballistic missiles on the beach area.  Enemy helos and fixed wing aircraft will be attempting to hit the area, as well.  The stacked up supplies will be a prime target as will the LCACs and whatever other logistics landing craft we use –take out the logistics landing craft and the assault withers.  The enemy knows this.  Really, the presence of Marines on the ground is almost irrelevant to the enemy.  I would expect most enemy defensive efforts to be focused on the amphibious fleet (the MLP is an exceptionally critical target) and the supply shuttle to the beach.

Naval gunfire support is lacking, to put it mildly and, against a peer, aerial support will be lacking or non-existent as the available aircraft are tied up trying to defend the fleet and establish local air superiority.  

So, who’s going to defend the ground forces from aircraft, helos, mortars, artillery, and cruise/ballistic missiles since they won’t have any significant weapons of their own?

Specific support needs for the ground forces during the initial phase includes:

  • Cruise missile defense
  • Ballistic missile defense
  • AAW against enemy strike aircraft
  • Counterbattery
  • C-RAM (Counter Rocket, Artillery, Mortar)
  • Heavy gun support

None of these capabilities will be available initially and most are simply not Marine capabilities at all.

How do we defend the beach, initially, until sufficient heavy weapons can be brought ashore?

A few of you will, undoubtedly, suggest that surprise will compensate for the lack of these capabilities – the enemy will be unable to muster a significant response before we get sufficient follow on forces ashore.  This is just wishful thinking against a peer.  Today’s plethora of cyber surveillance, satellites, UAVs, submarines, and all manner of land, sea, and airborne radars preclude the element of surprise.

So, who will provide these initial capabilities and how will they do it?  The “who” is easy.  There is, of course, only one conceivable answer and that is the Navy.  The “how” is the challenge. 

For example, the Navy has no useful gunfire support.  A handful of 5” guns are woefully insufficient and the Navy has stated that they will not risk major ships such as Burkes and Ticos within 50+ miles of an enemy beach.  Thus, the 5” guns with a range of 15 miles or so are useless as they can’t even reach the shoreline.

The Navy has no counterbattery capability.  Aegis is theoretically capable of performing the function but it is not a currently supported capability.  Major Hammond discusses the subject, poorly, in a Proceedings article (1).

Aerial support against a peer will be severely lacking and is only marginally useful as a protective, defensive capability anyway.  Assault force fixed wing aircraft will be fully occupied attempting to establish and maintain local air superiority and will not be available for close air support or local air defense.  Even if available, aircraft are not effective at anti-cruise or anti-ballistic missile defense and have no C-RAM capability.

What’s needed is a two-tier capability consisting of longer range anti-missile defense and a very short range AAW, counterbattery, and C-RAM defense.

We need the ability to reach out and intercept incoming cruise/ballistic missiles, preferably far from the beach.  Fortunately, we have that capability.  Aegis ships can stand off 50+ miles from the beach and still provide cruise/ballistic missile protection although the closer they are to the target area, the easier the geometry of the intercept and, thus, the higher the kill probability.

With long range missile protection available, that leaves the need for short range defensive fires (C-RAM, counterbattery, AAW) and offensive firepower.  As stated, none of this is available in the initial assault.  What’s needed is a specialized Assault Support Ship (ASS – an unfortunate acronym but I’m sure the Navy can come up with something better) that encompasses all these capabilities on an inexpensive hull. 

An LCS sized ship with two dual 8” gun mounts, two dual 5” gun mounts, 64 quad packed ESSM in two 8-cell VLS modules, and two SeaRAM mounts would provide the needed capability along with a yet-to-be-developed C-RAM gun or missile mount.  In addition, a counterbattery radar and a medium range AAW radar would provide the needed sensors.  Helos, flight decks, and hangars are specifically not needed for this ship type.  The Ship would have only a minimal superstructure (think WWII style/size superstructures) in order to reduce costs and radar signature.

  • The 8”/5” guns would provide both the offensive firepower support for the ground forces and the counterbattery fire.  A navalized version of the Army’s TPQ-37 Firefinder radar ought to suffice to provide the counterbattery fire control.

  • The ESSM would provide ship self-defense, beach cruise missile defense, and beach/inland AAW coverage.

  • SeaRAM would provide ship self-defense.

  • C-RAM is the missing capability.  Existing C-RAM weapons, like the Phalanx (2), are too short ranged to be based off the beach and still provide effective inland coverage.  The Phalanx C-RAM, for example, is reported to be able to defend a 0.5 sq. mile area which is nowhere near enough range.  What’s needed is a C-RAM with around a 10 mile range.  If an assault force has managed to establish a 10 mile deep beachhead, then we can probably safely bring land based C-RAM units ashore.

CONOPS.  The concept of operations for this vessel is simple.  It would accompany the initial assault wave and take station as close to the beach as feasible so as to extend its C-RAM coverage as far inshore as possible.  An assault would require one to two dozen or so vessels, depending on the size of the assault, to allow for the expected attrition and to be able to mass enough firepower to have a significant impact on the ground combat.

An Assault Support Ship is needed to provide the initial firepower and defense that an amphibious assault lacks due to equipment gaps and doctrinal limitations.  All the components for such a ship already exist except the extended range C-RAM so developmental costs should be minimal.  Due to expected attrition rates, the ship must be as cheap as possible which means no functions beyond those stated.  If we’re serious about amphibious assaults – and I have severe doubts that we are – we need to provide the assets to enable and support them.


(1)USNI Proceedings, “Counterbattery From The Sea”, Maj. James W. Hammond, III, Apr, 1998,

Thursday, November 17, 2016

UAV Swarm Attack

Technology marches on.  Is the small boat swarm attack still the best type of swarm attack for an enemy to use against the Navy (see, "Swarm Attack")?  As an alternative or complement, what about a suicidal UAV swarm attack?  Small UAVs are very inexpensive, much harder to hit due to their small size (though more susceptible to burst munitions), harder to detect and target, require no exposure of personnel (not necessarily a concern for Iran), are easier to apply from multiple angles, and can be massed in larger numbers.

On a related note, the Navy’s ONR (Office of Naval Research) is triumphantly demonstrating its LOCUST (Low Cost Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Swarming Technology) UAV swarm technology.  Currently, the swarm consists of many 12-14 lb Raytheon Coyote mini-UAVs, each costing around $15,000.  The Navy sees this as the future of warfare.  The swarms are envisioned to be able to penetrate any defense due to sheer numbers.  The Navy is looking to conduct the same kind of swarm attacks that Iran is planning on!  The problem with this approach is that it’s too easy to counter and the Navy is not conducting realistic tests that would demonstrate this.

How will these swarms work?

"We'll launch large numbers of them, doing swarm operations, flying around, doing a number of different flight profiles, then doing a land recovery," Mastroianni [Lee Mastroianni, ONR's program manager for LOCUST]said. "We're flying them in different flight configurations where they're in very tight, and then they're going to change the relationship they all are to one another."

The swarming technology allows the drones to relate to each other spatially and fly their swarm formations with minimal human direction or intervention, which Mastroianni noted is key for practical and efficient unmanned technology that decreases the warfighter's burden.

"We have an operator that's monitoring it, keeping eyes on what's going on, and can reach in and change things if they want to," he said. "But the reality is, [the drones are] flying themselves, they're performing their mission and the operator's supervisory. So it tremendously reduces the workload to be able to control large numbers of UAVs." (1)

So, the swarm will consist of large numbers of relatively tightly packed UAVs maintaining their spatial separations from each other.  They’ll behave like a flock of birds.  The operator only needs to control one “leader” to control the movement of the flock/swarm.

What are the characteristics of an individual drone?

“The one meter long UAV was designed to be launched from a standard A-size sonobuoy tube of a helicopter or maritime patrol aircraft. After ejection, a parachute deploys and the UAV unfolds its X-wings to begin its electrically-powered flight.

Coyote can transfer full motion video up to 37 km (20 nm) using a 2 watt S-band transmitter. The vehicle has a 90 minute endurance at a 60 knot cruise speed and can operate at altitudes up to 20,000 feet. “ (2)

What is the impact of such a swarm?

“ONR wrapped up a series of land tests this week with an experiment atYuma Proving Ground, Arizona, where 31 of the 12-14 pound Coyotes were tube-launched in approximately 40 seconds and proceeded to conduct a series of swarm formations and maneuvers, Vice Adm. Rick Breckenridge, deputy commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, told an audience at the Pentagon on Friday.

"It's going to change some of the calculus of how we operate," Breckenridge said of the technology.” (1)

The idea is that sheer numbers will overwhelm any enemy’s defenses and if an individual drone is shot down the remainder will adjust to compensate.

Wow!!!!  A swarm that can’t be stopped!  What could be better?  Just for fun, though, before we change our calculus, shouldn’t we at least conduct some realistic tests?  Shouldn’t we fly these swarms against an enemy that fights back?  Shouldn’t we explore the kinds of defenses that might evolve to counter these swarms before we totally commit to them only to find out that the counters were so effective that the completely and cheaply negated our technology?  Shouldn’t we take a second look before leaping, lemming-like, off the technology cliff?

Coyote Swarm?

This is what is so dangerous about having people running the Navy who blindly lunge after the latest shiny toy.  I’m not an expert in this field, by any means, but the counters look all too obvious, cheap, and easy.  For example,

  • Fragmentation shells are tailor made for a tight packed swarm.  A single bursting shell would decimate a swarm.  These 12-14 pound UAVs certainly have no armor or resistance to shrapnel bursts.  If we spread the swarm out to counter fragmentation shells then the single point of control is lost and each individual drone has to be controlled.  Even then, the individual drones are highly susceptible to burst munitions.  Remember, these 12-14 pound UAVs aren’t exactly going to be flying at Mach + speeds.  They’ll be very slow, target drones.  The slow rate of approach of the swarm allows the defender to target the drones in a leisurely manner.

  • Electronic countermeasures can “cut” the communications and control cord to the swarm.  The problem with a swarm of this type is that if you lose the single point of control, you lose the entire swarm.  We’ve apparently seen lowly Iran disrupt (and take control?) our UAV comms to large, much more sophisticated UAVs. 

  • Obscurants can blind the swarm.  The small drones can’t carry a radar and depend on simple optics that are susceptible to smoke and broad spectrum obscurants.

In addition to trying to anticipate countermeasures, has anyone asked about the effectiveness of these drones even if they make it to their target?  A 12-14 pound UAV would have, what, a 1 pound warhead?  That’s not exactly going to sink a ship or destroy an airbase.

Has anyone thought about the range of the drones?  A practical range looks to be around 60 miles.  A launching ship that is within 60 miles of the enemy has probably been under attack for quite a while.  Further, with a cruise speed of 60 knots, the swarm attack will take an hour or so to reach its target.  The launching ship will have long since been destroyed or will have destroyed the enemy through other means like an anti-ship cruise missile.

Now understand me clearly – there is nothing inherently wrong with drones or swarm attacks if we properly and realistically test them and develop realistic operational concepts (CONOPS) to employ them.  If we can do that and the results still look encouraging then, by all means, let’s pursue them.  However, the counters look obvious and easy.  Our refusal to develop viable CONOPS and conduct realistic tests sounds all too much like our failure to develop a CONOPS for the LCS and look how that turned out.  The Navy is so obsessed with the pursuit of technology for its own sake that they don’t even bother to examine whether it is actually useful. 

We simply must begin injecting reality into our planning and it starts with CONOPS and testing.


(1) website, “Navy to Demo Swarming Drones at Sea in July”, Hope Hodge Seck, 24-Jun-2016,

(2)Naval Drones website,

Monday, November 14, 2016

Shipbuilding Buying Power

I’ve long had the sense that carriers and ships, in general, are becoming more expensive on a relative basis and, if true, I can’t explain why.  The basic modern carrier hasn’t changed much since the Nimitz was built.  Yes, the design is continually being tweaked with rearrangements of gear and whatnot but that would have no major impact on the cost of a ship.  So, is the carrier more expensive today, on an inflation adjusted basis, than it used to be?  Here’s some data.

Carrier             Cost    Year          Inflation Adj.

CVN-69 (Eisenhower) $679M (FY1970) (4) /  $4.2B (FY2016)
CVN-72 (Lincoln)    $4.7B (FY2010) (5) /  $5.2B (FY2016)
CVN-76 (Reagan)     $4.4B (FY1995) (2) /  $7.0B (FY2016)
CVN-77 (Bush)       $6.0B (FY2006) (2) /  $7.2B (FY2016)
CVN-78 (Ford)      $12.9B (FY2016) (3) / $12.9B (FY2016)

Note: Costs adjusted to FY2016 dollars using CPI Inflation Calculator

Note:  Solid data is hard to come by for individual carriers.  Many sources cite a single, averaged price for the entire Nimitz class which is obviously not true for any individual member of the class.  My references for each cost cited are listed so you can check for yourself.

We see that the inflation adjusted cost of a carrier has risen steadily since 1970.  Given that the basic carrier hasn’t changed, the cost ought to have remained steady or even dropped due to the oft claimed, but almost never realized, serial production savings.  In reality, however, the costs have increased.  Why?  I have no good answer for that.

Here’s another way to look at it.  Below is the Navy’s annual shipbuilding budget (SCN) for 1986 and 2015 and their inflation adjusted 2016 equivalents along with the quantity of ships built under that budget.  You’ll instantly note the huge difference in quantity between the 23 ships that were built under the 1986 budget and the meager 9 ships built under the 2015 budget. 

On an average cost basis in 1986, we built 23 ships for $21.8B (infl. adj.) which is an average of $0.95B per ship.  Compare that to the 9 ships built under the 2015 $16.2B (infl. adj.) budget which is an average of $1.8B per ship.

Year  Qty            SCN             Inflation Adj. SCN

1986   23    $ 9.9B (FY1986) (1)  /  $21.8B  (FY2016)
2015    9    $15.9B (FY2015) (6)  /  $16.2B  (FY2016)

So, our shipbuilding buying power has decreased markedly.  The average ship used to cost $0.95B but now costs $1.8B.  That’s a doubling in inflation adjusted costs!!!!  Our buying power is vanishing!

Here’s yet another way of looking at it.  Interpolating the data, a single carrier in 1986 would have cost around $6B from an annual shipbuilding budget of $9.9B in 1986 dollars.  Thus, the carrier consumed 61% of a single year’s shipbuilding budget back then.  Today, a carrier costs $12.9B from an annual shipbuilding budget of $16.2B, consuming 80% of the budget.  Our aircraft carrier buying power has decreased.  It takes more of the budget to buy a carrier – 80% now, versus 61% then. 

Yes, the Ford is a departure, to an extent from the Nimitz and, therefore, costs more, you say.  While that’s true, we haven’t actually gained anything from the greater expense.  The Ford offers no improvements.  We’ve debunked the increased sortie myth.  The Dual Band Radar has been abandoned and offered no tactically useful benefit, anyway.  The EMALS catapult, if it works, offers no actual advantage and is an unshielded electromagnetic beacon which is a significant liability.  The AAG arresting gear also offers no advantage.  In terms of buying power, we’ve spent enormously greater money on the Ford for little or no gain.  That’s a huge loss in buying power.

This post is not just about the Ford.  The trend in decreasing buying power for both ships, in general, and carriers, in particular, was evident before the Ford.  This general loss of buying power is the point of the post. 


(1)CBO, Future Budget Requirements For The 600-Ship Navy: Preliminary Analysis, Staff Working Paper, April 1985

(2)Congressional Research Service, “Navy CVN-21 Aircraft Carrier Program:
Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronald O’Rourke, 17-Jan-2007

(3)Congressional Research Service, “Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronald O'Rourke, May 27, 2016

(4)Wikipedia, retrieved 25-Oct-2016,

(5)Wikipedia, retrieved 25-Oct-2016,

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Battleship Lesson

Well, that was interesting.  Starting with the Zumwalt and the AGS, we managed to meander into the battleship issue!  So, with that background, here's a timely post about battleships but not the way you think.

After the LCS, one of the most contentious naval questions is the fate of the battleships.  Critics call them outdated dinosaurs that are too expensive to operate.  Proponents see them as mammothly powerful vessels, unmatched in today’s world.  Well, we’re not going to debate that.  The issue has been decided, for better or worse.  Instead, we’re going to look at what lessons can be gleaned from the battleship question and actions that were taken.

Once WWII began, it was fairly quickly realized that the heyday of the battleship was over.  Initial, fairly easy, sinkings of various battleships, both Axis and Allied, made clear that the battleship no longer ruled the waves.  Aircraft and the aircraft carrier were the new masters of naval combat with a strong nod to submarines.  Despite this early realization, the US continued to build battleships through the end of the war and had plans to evolve the type even further with the Montana class.  Why?  If the battleship was seen to be no longer supreme, why would we continue to build new ones and plan for even more powerful versions?  Why didn’t we simply stop building battleships when the ones that were already started were completed?  Wouldn’t that have been the logical thing to do?  This brings us to the first lesson.

The first lesson is that even if the battleship was no longer ruler of the waves, it still had immense combat capability.  In WWII, its guns absolutely pulverized enemy shore positions.  Just as impressively, its 20x 5” guns, 80x 40 mm Bofors guns, and 49x 20 mm Oerlikon guns constituted the Aegis AAW system of the time.  The battleship also possessed an anti-ship capability that could sink any opposing vessel.  All this capability was housed in a ship that was the most heavily protected and armored ever built.  To this day, battleships possess more destructive capability and better protection than anything now afloat.  The generalized lesson is that just because a platform or system may no longer be the foremost weapon system in one’s inventory, that is not a reason to discard it.  A secondary system can still provide immensely valuable service.  The Navy in WWII recognized this and not only continued to build battleships but had embarked on even newer designs when the war ended.

Contrast the Navy’s treatment of battleships in WWII with their treatment of the Spruance class.  Because the Spruance/NTU (New Threat Upgrade) was seen as an inferior technology (even though, arguably, it was superior to Aegis when the latter was first introduced), the Navy not only retired the Spruance class but, literally, sank them all.  Of course, the real reason they sank the Spruance class was because it represented a threat to the Navy’s desired funding of the Aegis program.  This leads us to the second lesson.

The second lesson is that no system is a threat to another’s funding if that other system is worthwhile.  The battleship was not a threat to carrier funding in WWII.  Quite the opposite.  We built as many as we could of both.  The battleship and the carrier complemented each other.  A carrier group with battleship support was a truly powerful group.  Today, with China and Russia building new submarine forces and lesser countries investing in SSK’s, we could sure use the Spruance class, couldn’t we, especially given the failings of the LCS which was supposed to provide ASW but is woefully inadequate for the role.

Let’s move on to the post-WWII treatment of the battleships.  Unlike so many ships that were summarily disposed of at the end of the war, the battleships were retained.  The Navy, remembering the value and combat power of the battleship made sure to keep the battleships in reserve.  What do we do today?  We’ve retired supercarriers, LHA’s, Perrys, Spruances, etc. with none of them kept in reserve.  As documented in a previous post, our reserve warship fleet is about a half dozen vessels.

What ultimately happened to the battleships?  They were brought back multiple times when war occurred, as it inevitably does.  This brings us to the third lesson. 

Lots To Teach Us

The third lesson is that war always comes and one can never have enough combat power when it does.  Ships (and aircraft) that can no longer serve on an active basis but still possess credible combat power need to be kept in reserve.  They will be needed.  It’s just a matter of when.  When both side’s first line assets are mutually destroyed, that second line asset will look awfully good.

How did the battleships perform when they were brought back from retirement and thrown into combat?  In a word, stunningly.  The battleship’s 16” guns provided devastating firepower wherever they were used.  This brings us to the fourth lesson.

The fourth lesson is that devastating firepower has a tactical and strategic value all its own.  Mammoth area explosives have a way of solving many tactical problems that would otherwise cost US lives.  This kind of firepower also has a strategic impact.  As the story goes, removal of the battleships from the firing line was a pre-condition from the North Vietnamese for peace talks during the Vietnam war.  Similarly, the Soviets were said to have feared our battleships more than our carriers.

We have forgotten this lesson in our quest for zero-casualty combat and the subsequent movement towards smaller, more precise firepower.  There’s certainly a place for small, precision weapons but, equally, or more, there’s a place for massive, devastating firepower.  Once high end war comes and US soldiers begin dying in large numbers, we’re going to quickly stop worrying about chipping the paint off someone’s shrine that a sniper is hiding behind and we’re going to frantically start looking for area-wide, high explosive firepower.  We’ll relearn how to wage war and then we’ll remember why the battleship existed.

Did the battleship’s contributions go beyond war?  Yes.  Throughout their service lives, our allies constantly requested the presence of a US battleship to help settle unstable regions.  There is no better deterrence than a battleship sitting off some potential hotspot.  This brings us to the fifth lesson.

The fifth lesson is that deterrence does not work because of good wishes, peaceful gestures, or appeasement.  It works because there is an implied threat of force – the greater the potential force, the greater the degree of deterrence.  Further, the threat has to be visible and present.  The theoretical threat of a strike by a bomber based in the continental US is not effective.  The threat has to be up close and personal and there is nothing more intimidating than a battleship.  History has shown that.  Let’s face it, the LCS is not going to deter anyone from anything.  A battleship, however, offers a huge degree of deterrence due to the huge degree of force and visibility it represents.

The battleship, though gone, still has much to teach us and, in that respect, is still a valuable asset.  Now, we just need to be open to the lessons.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Long Range Naval Guns

Just as a point of interest to supplement the Zumwalt ammunition post, had the Navy not opted to go down the path of the Zumwalt and AGS, we might well have attained our goal of long range bombardment capability with conventional naval guns by using sub-caliber rounds.  Here’s some examples listed on the NavWeaps site (1).

Improved HC Mark 147? (Planned)
During the battleship reactivations during the 1980s, the Navy developed a new HC [High Capacity] design that was the same length as the AP [Armor Piercing] Mark 8 (4.5 calibers) and weighed 2,240 lbs. (1,015 kg). Several of these were test-fired from USS Iowa and at Dahlgren, achieving ranges over 51,000 yards (46,600 m) with a new gun muzzle velocity of 2,825 fps (861 mps). 

Range = 51,000 yds = 29 miles

HE-ER Mark 148 (Planned)
13.65 in (34.7 cm) diameter, extended-range (ER), sub-caliber projectile with sabot. Length was approximately 72 in (183 cm). Projectile was to be ET-fuzed with a payload of about 300 M48 grenade submunitions. Experiments with this projectile were conducted during the 1980s, but development was cancelled in FY91 when the battleships were decommissioned. Projectile weight without the sabot was about 1,300 lbs. (590 kg) and range was to be in excess of 70,000 yards (64,000 m) at a muzzle velocity of 3,600 fps (1,097 mps).

Range = 70,000+ yds = 40+ miles

HE-ER Mark ? (Planned)
Advanced Gun Weapon Systems Technology Program 16/11-Inch Long Range GPS Concept with Sabot.  Another sub-caliber projectile with sabot, this one 11 inches (28 cm) in diameter. This project was also cancelled about FY91.

    Range: 100 nm
    Launch Weight: 650 lbs. (295 kg)
    Fly Away Weight: 525 lbs. (238 kg)
    Launch Length: 69 in (175 cm)
    Payload: 248 M46 Submunitions, total weight of 175.2 lbs. (79.5 kg)
    Guidance Modes: GPS and INS

Range = 100 nm

On a relative basis, these would have been very cheap to develop and yet the Navy refuses to look to conventional weapons, instead always preferring to go down the path of new, highly risky technology and astronomical costs.