Monday, November 7, 2016

A Ship With No Ammunition

Regular readers know that ComNavOps is highly critical of Navy leadership and their decision making.  I’d like to give them credit from time to time but, good grief, it’s very difficult to do so.  Every time I think they’ve hit rock bottom, they surprise me with yet another stunningly incompetent effort.  Honestly, if I was writing a fictional book and included all the things that Navy leadership has done wrong before they did them, no one would believe me and the book would be ridiculed as utterly unrealistic.  In other words, you can’t make this stuff up!

  • Would anyone have believed that a professional, competent Navy would build a class of small warship before the vessel’s modular equipment, its main armament, was ready – resulting in a third or more of the ships sailing with no functional capability?

  • Would anyone have believed that a Navy would build a bigger aircraft carrier while the air wing it would carry was shrinking to half the design size?

  • Would anyone have believed that a Navy would commission an aircraft carrier with damaged main turbines and non-functional arresting gear?

  • Would anyone have believed that a Navy would literally sink an entire class of the best ASW destroyer ever made?

  • Would anyone have believed that a Navy would early retire the most powerful AAW ship class ever built?

The list is endless and I won’t bother continuing to list examples.  Suffice it to say that if you made this stuff up before it happened, no one would believe it.

Well, here’s the latest.  Would you believe that a professional, competent Navy would build a class (albeit a small, 3-ship class) of ship that was totally conceptualized and designed around the ship’s gun system, commission the ship, and then announce that they had no ammunition for the gun and were canceling acquisition of the ammunition?  That’s exactly what the Navy has just done! 

The Zumwalt’s AGS (Advanced Gun System) exclusively uses the LRLAP (Long Range Land Attack Projectile).  This is the only ammunition that can be fired from the gun.  The Navy has just announced that it is canceling procurement of the LRLAP due to escalating costs (1).

“Barely two weeks after the US Navy commissioned its newest and most futuristic warship, armed with two huge guns that can hit targets 80 miles away, the service is moving to cancel the projectiles for the guns, citing excessive costs that run up to $800,000 per round or more. “

Even at $800,000 a copy, the LRLAP’s price could go higher. “That’s probably low,” the Navy official said. “That’s what the acquisition community wanted to get it down to.” The official added that there was no sense the contractor was “overcharging or anything.” 

The decision to accept the LRLAP cancellation is part of the Program Objective Memorandum 2018 (POM18) effort, the Pentagon’s annual budget process. “

So, we’re looking at a round that would likely cost around $1M each if the program were continued.

Because the acquisition program is going to be cancelled, we’ve got a commissioned ship, supposedly ready for war, that has no ammunition it can shoot.

The Navy is now scrambling to find some other munition to use.  The problem is that there is no other existing munition that can fit the gun, as is.  Whatever option is chosen, a new developmental effort will have to be initiated to fit the round to a system that was not designed to handle it.

One also has to wonder what this will do to the range of the system.  Recall that the LRLAP is not actually a traditional shell.  It is a rocket propelled warhead.  Where are we going to find another rocket propelled warhead that can fit in the AGS?  We’re not – not without a massive development effort – and what’s that going to do to the cost of whatever we opt for?

We can always take a smaller shell and fire it with a sabot but the range will be nothing more than a standard gun, presumably, in which case, what is the benefit of the Zumwalt?

“…the Navy is evaluating industry projectile solutions (including conventional and hyper-velocity projectiles) that can also meet the DDG 1000 deployment schedule and could potentially be used as an alternative to LRLAP for DDG 1000.” 

“We are looking at multiple different rounds for that gun,” the Navy official said, adding that “three or four different rounds” have been looked at, including the Army’s Excalibur munition from Raytheon, and the Hyper Velocity Projectile (HVP), a project under development by the Office of Naval Research and BAE Systems.

“There are multiple companies that have looked at alternatives to get the cost down and use that delivery system,” the Navy official said.

You’ll note that the mentioned alternatives are, themselves, developmental efforts and are not ready for their own use let alone having to undergo further development to be used in the AGS.

There is one more aspect to this story that is interesting.  ComNavOps is on record as stating that the entire Zumwalt gun support concept is flawed and that the gun cannot provide effective gunfire support.  The LRLAP is a guided round and without active guidance is useless.  The likelihood of being able to provide active guidance deep inland is poor.  Unfortunately, the fallback position of blind area bombardment defeats the stated intent of precision fire and is prohibitively costly at $1M per round.  Add to that the small caliber of the round, the limited explosive power, the limitation of only two guns per ship (compared to 9 guns per ship on a WWII cruiser or battleship) and the entire concept is questionable, at best.

With all that in mind, the article offers this tantalizing tidbit.

“While the Navy is stressing that high costs are directly behind the decision to eliminate LRLAP, it is not clear if there are deeper issues at play. The AGS/LRLAP combination was originally developed to provide Marines with a “persistent, precision fire support” capability, able to strike targets far inland with a high degree of accuracy. 

But as the Zumwalt moved from shipyard to sea and to the fleet, the Navy has notably downplayed that attribute, and while the technical achievement of the cutting-edge DDG 1000 has been widely trumpeted this year, its ability to directly support Marines ashore has not.

What does that mean?  The article offers nothing to substantiate their suspicion but it is exactly in line with ComNavOps thoughts.  Could the Navy be realizing that the entire concept was flawed?

Finally, the article notes the other inherent bit of stupidity about the AGS – it can’t shoot at another ship.  That’s right, the Navy built a ship with a gun that can’t shoot enemy ships!  The LRLAP is a guided round and there is no guidance mechanism for designating enemy ships and linking that guidance to the munition.  The firing software could be modified, as stated, to allow ballistic firing at a ship but that’s a return to WWII salvo accuracy and we can’t afford to be salvo firing $1M projectiles and hoping for a hit.

As I said, if I were to have written this yesterday as fiction, you’d have scoffed at me and, yet, here it is today, as reality.  Navy leadership has added yet another massive screw up to their collective resume.


(1)Defense News website, “New Warship’s Big Guns Have No Bullets”, Christopher P. Cavas, 6-Nov-2016,


  1. So....

    we have several LCS' commissioned with 1 functional mission module, 1 module (ASW) with big issues (weight) and no testing, and 1 module that flat out doesn't work (MIW). It also has some questions as to range.

    We have the new CVN with the issues you described.

    We have Flight III 'Burkes in the ways, but they will be built with radar arrays that the Navy says aren't big enough.

    The F-35 won't hit the fleet till at least 2019.

    And now this.

    Good God Almighty. At what point does someone take a macro view of the Navy and say 'You're spending billions and not providing any capability'.

    I hate to say it but its become so bad, and has so many people stoically defending it, that I'm almost finding this depressingly funny.

    1. If CNO Richardson had an ounce of integrity he would fire every Admiral in the Navy and then resign himself.

    2. A larger, meta level worry for me is we've now had a long time where *this* is the type of leadership the Navy has produced. Look at Richardson. He and Greenert don't seem that different.

      Look at the CMC who basically just implemented the transformation in ratings instead of making some sort of protest (a retirement).

      If we fire everyone, what does the next level, that has come of age in a time where diversity, sensitivity, and 'green thinking' are primary goals of the Nav, have to offer?

    3. One other thing.... 800K/round? Seriously? That's insane. INSANE. I don't care how well we work, they're still realtively small artillery shells. We could *never* afford to fire them in any sort of meaningful number in a situation where the Marines need significant artillery support.

      They'd now get far more use out of the next Zumwalt if they dusted off the Mk. 71 and used it with just basic radar fire control. Or modify the AGS to fire regular shells.

      Or just cancel the next 2 and test the hell out of the things on DDG 1000 that might be useful in a next class of ship. The hybrid electric drive might be really useful in the future. Some of the shaping might. Make it a ridiculously overpriced test ship and test it till it falls apart.

      Finally... and the cynic in me is amused by this.... for the 2-3bn a pop + the cost of the nearly million/round shells that go in the AGS.... we may have been able to reactivate a couple of the Iowa classes, or maybe a DesMoines, and had NGFS. Sure, it doesn't have the magic range, and they are manpower intensive, but it would have had alot of boom.

      One of those could have performed the mission the Zumwalt no longer can. And the Zumwalt early on left the anti-air role, so its not like its and apples/oranges comparison between the two any longer.

      So, to summarize, we didn't reactivate the Iowa's because it was too expensive (sounded like a good reason at the time. I like the class but I'm not a BB Fanboy); then proceeded to spend the same (or more) money on a 3 ship class whose main mission was whittled down to NGFS due to cost; only to find out its too expensive for that class to do NGFS.


      I'm sorry, I hope I'm not being too sarcastic or cynical. I don't want to damage the tone of the blog. But I'm disgusted.

    4. "If we fire everyone, what does the next level, that has come of age in a time where diversity, sensitivity, and 'green thinking' are primary goals of the Nav, have to offer?"

      Likely, not much. But, one hopes that the lesson of firings would sink in to those below and if you kept firing people, eventually you'd find people with common sense. We achieved this in WWII when we kept firing officers until we found warfighters so, it can work.

    5. "One other thing.... 800K/round? Seriously? That's insane."

      You saw that $800K was the TARGET that acquisition hoped to get down to, right? That means the actual price is well over $800K - hence, my use of $1M in the post.

    6. "Iowa classes, or maybe a DesMoines, and had NGFS. Sure, it doesn't have the magic range"

      Read up on the various projects and studies that looked at using sub-caliber rounds in cruiser and battleship guns. They were looking at ranges of 30-50+ miles. None of the projects were pursued but the ranges were there to be had.

    7. I just did. They had gotten to the point of actually firing some of them. And had plans for submunitions.

      from what I can tell:

      HE-ER Mark 148 (Planned, not tested)
      A sketch of this projectile may be seen below in the Additional Pictures section.
      Data below courtesy of United States Naval Fire Support Association (USNFSA):
      Range: 100 nm
      Payload: 248 M46 Submunitions, total weight of 175.2 lbs. (79.5 kg)

      They also test fired some 11" shells

      "Test shots were fired in 1968 and 1969 at Yuma and at Barbados, with the latter location using two 16"/45 (40.6) cm guns welded end-to-end and achieving ranges out to 83,850 yards (76,670 m) with a 745 lbs. (338 kg) shell fired at a muzzle velocity of 4,550 fps (1,387 mps)."

      So we know its possible.

      (All information from:

      Evolution. Not transformation. And we would be where we want to be now.

      I'm not saying its the best, the battleships are old beasts. But saying we've spent the money anyway and gotten nothing....

    8. The Navy tested LRRP 16 inch submunition 11" rounds that were going 75 miles in the 1980's that were fired and tested in visques.

      As for feasibility that round it was already tested and verified then shelved without anyone knowing about it.

    9. Not quite a quarter century ago, after the Cold War, the Navy made massive cuts to ships and personnel. While this was happening someone stood up and said "Hey, what about cuts to the acquisition force?". The answer was "Noooo, they'll be building "The Navy After Next' ". The Navy After Next has arrived in the form of the LCS, Ford and Zumwalt. God help us.

    10. The Navy is actually doing the job that Congress has prioritised, not perfectly, but it's trying hard.

      Unfortunately, that job is not preparing to fight wars, but spending money with the defence contractors who influence the politicians.

      The US seems to be turning into a kind of palace economy (, where influencing the people who control government spending is far more profitable than actually designing and manufacturing goods.

  2. Glad you posted a thread on this because I was just typing a link on the ATACMs article .

    All alternatives are much shorter ranged and thus will never be used because the Navy would never risk the DDG platform to be used too close to shore.

    ATACMs / HIMARS on board amphibs is now more of a must than ever for amphibious support and antiship capability for amphibs.

  3. I think the worst thing about this is, if you read the justification, you can see all this was obvious from the moment they curtailed the class to 3 ships.

    The entire project was built on the premise of economies of scale, as you might expect for ammunition.

    Once you went to 3 ships the cost per round exceeded $800K which is just stunning !

    Excalibur rounds are rates at approx. 50Km from a long 155mm. Are these not compatable ? They are apparently coming in SAL and IR seaker for anti-ship ? ( one day )

    I would be interested in knowing the range of a sub calibur Excalibur N5 ( 127mm ) round from a 155, it has to exceed the above surley ?

    1. Excalibur is not compatible with AGS; nothing other than LRLAP is. That was the greatest folly of the system.

      Excalibur is GPS guided so it is only good for fixed targets. A laser guided version is under development but still would require laser designation at the point of impact - not readily doable in combat.

    2. Do we know why only LRLAP is compatible? IS there something about the breach on the AGS that doesn't allow a large enough powder charge to fling a traditional shell, relying instead maybe on the rocket in the LRLAP?

      Or is it something to do with the barrel?

      The idea of 2 turrets that sit on the superstructure and do NOTHING but eat weight margins and space galls me to no end.

      I wonder if they could at least put VLS in there. They've blown the money already. Take the DB radar from the Ford, add VLS to the hull, and you at least get an air defense destroyer.

      (I know, unlikely, DB doesn't work on the Ford and probably wouldn't fit on the Zumwalt).

      Good thing we spent this money being transformational instead of keeping the Spruances in commission when there are new, super quiet subs out there.

    3. I don't have a link but years ago one of the reasons for going with 155mm was that they could use cheaper conventional Army 155mm for close in targets. However halfway through the program they said that it was not possible since the rifling needed was different between the long range and short range projectiles.

      If the LRLAP works in Army guns it probably won't work in the Navy 155mm.

    4. "instead of keeping the Spruances in commission"

      You know, don't you, that the Spruances were designed to have the 8" Mk71 installed? That should upset you even more!

    5. "the Spruances were designed to have the 8" Mk71 installed?"

      I didn't. And yes, it does.


      I'm just so frustrated. We've spent billions upon billions have are going to have a fleet that's not just hollow due to poor maintenance and being ridden hard, but a fleet that's hollow due to unrealized or flat out non-existent capability!

      We'd do better with modified Knox's (let alone Perry's) over LCS, DesMoines over Zumwalt, Flight II 'Burkes that still had harpoons, and quickstrike Tomcats/ A6F over SuperHornets and likely F-35. Because of the age of some of the ships I listed I'm using some hyperbole, but not much.

      Those ships in a 'newly built' state with modern things like:

      Modern computers and TACTAS for the knox. SeaRAM

      Modern computers, SeaRAM, and Armored Box launchers for the DesMoines.

      Modern missiles for the flight II (at least something like LRASM or NSM)

      and good stand off weaponry for the A6F/ Quickstrike would give us a fleet that could fight on the surface, under the surface, and do shore bombardment.

      Perfect? Nope. Lots of holes I could poke in it. But better than LCS (ASW is how good? Oh, no idea. And it has poor range). Zumwalt (a glorified arsenal ship without sensors for Standards or rounds for its guns). And F-35 (range? Reliability? It'll get into the fleet when???)

      Okay. I'm going to go pet the dog and feel better.

    6. Raytheon had already fielded the 5 inch version of the Excalibur shell. I bet a navy 155 version is just 6 months or if needed

      The Excalibur N5 would hit targets with precision at 20 to 26 nautical miles


    7. Well at $258k/round it is a bargain compared to LRLAP, but that is still ridiculous.

      From Wiki:
      The M982 Excalibur (previously XM982) is a 155 mm extended range guided artillery shell developed by Raytheon Missile Systems and BAE Systems AB. It is a GPS-guided munition capable of being used in close support situations within 150–75 metres (492–246 ft) of friendly troops. The United States plans to procure 7,474 rounds at a FY2015 program cost of $1,934.1m ($258,777 average cost per unit). As of September 2015, nearly 770 Excalibur shells had been fired in combat.[4][5]

    8. > 7,474 rounds at a FY2015 program cost of $1,934.1m ($258,777 average cost per unit)

      This is a total cost of the whole program since its commencement, which includes the R&D, maintenance, and other costs. The current contact price for FY2015 procurement is fluctuating around $80K per unit:

      - $35.6 million for 416 Excalibur

      Total Program Expenditures:
      - Total Acquisition Cost to Date: 1632.2 ($M)
      - Total Quantity Delivered to Date: 6488 (units)
      - Total Cost per Unit: $251K

    9. Not to be argumentative but when you're quoting information about a program don't assume that the money has to be spent twice. The Army has already developed the shell (155mm howitzer version) and Raytheon has further developed it at their own (Navalized N5 version) costs seeing a return on their dollars.

      The unit costs for the shell is constantly coming down with each new batch ordered. As it stands the latest batch in 2014 costs 68K a shell. The latest batch is supposed to be below the $50K mark.

      Taking this into account and upscaling the N5 to the AGS system was designed to use both conventional as well as guided munitions. I have a hard time believing that they can't shoehorn the existing round into the AGS its only a matter of will they. If they can't use the existing Excalibur slap another barrel on the AGS and call it even.

      Plus quoting the Navy Captain Kent they are still looking at three to four different rounds for the gun to include the army Excalibur from Raytheon and HVP from BAE.

      Plus according to an article I just read the AGS has not been spec'd to target seagoing targets. Is it me or is this a major problem with the navy. Here quoting the article and navy again "There was no requirement for the AGS to strike seagoing targets, and the system does not have the programming to do so. But the big guns could be adapted to target ships if necessary, the Navy official said." A short WTF is invoked here.

      How can the navy have a sea going 155 gun that can't shoot other ships. Is this a symptom of a dysfunctional navy?

      Source Article

    10. The AGS technology does not work well (at all IMHO) on moving targets. IT shoots the shell way up and it glides/flies down to the location you fired it at. So unless you get the ship target to drop anchor, you better be VERY good at Kentucky windage or else you are gonna have to fire a lot of rounds. Not mention I think it is only a 25 lb warhead so unless you are shooting at an LCS, good luck doing a lot of damage without a lot of hits.

    11. Your'e correct. The Zumwalt/AGS has no anti-surface (ballistic trajectory) capability, presently. It's mainly a software modification that could be added but it would be very inaccurate and we'd be flinging $1M rounds with little accuracy. That's prohibitive.

  4. I've been reading this blog for several months now ... after this latest post I'm really wondering if the Navy's problems aren't so much the result of outright gross negligence as they are the result of outright treason.

    1. I've half-jokingly speculated on this. No other explanation could seemingly account for the decisions Navy leadership is making. You might enjoy this post,
      China Sabotages US Navy

    2. Thanks for the link ... excellent gallows humour ... made me smile and laugh enough to sooth my anger and dismay (if only temporarily).

  5. This is really good news. I'm surprised the Navy is not buy them for $800,000 each anyway.

    Tomahawks cost $1-$2 million each, but have far greater range and deliver 1000lbs of boom. This LRLAP delivers only around 25 lbs, and has other problems, explained here:

    Scrap two Zumwalts and use the other for tests for a decade, or put 8-inch MK-71s on them.

    1. Development of new ammo for LRLAP will take 10-15 years.
      What if we did scrap the DDG and build a cheap commercial hull tat we can actually afford to bring close to the coast and put a whole lot of M-109 Palladin PIM ER howitzer turrets on the deck to shoot high-volume cheap 155mm with 40-50km range because of the long tubes.

    2. I think that the Navy is slightly more committed to NGFS than the Air Force is to CAS.

      I just wish they'd be honest about it. Or more cheaply duplicitous.

    3. "Or more cheaply duplicitous."

      Outstanding! I may have to steal that one.

  6. I think you also missed on the post that the Zumwalts twin guns were supposed to be able to use the existing Excaliber guided shell (50K a pop) with a range of approximately 25 miles. Sure it isn't 100 miles but still its something.

    However the army has fielded a LRRP Excalibur round that still doesn't have 100 mile range. I think that this is a method to ensure that the Navy's pet project that is known as the railgun maintains funding.

    FYI excaliber shells with 25 mile range are dropping in price to 25K a piece. This is bananas that it would costs 750K to increase the range and reduce the burst charge.

    1. "I think you also missed on the post that the Zumwalts twin guns were supposed to be able to use the existing Excaliber guided shell"

      No. Not according to anything I've read. Show me a link stating this.

    2. They are both 155s, but that's about it. The navy round is really a gun launched missile that gives it that extra range. I think the best it did was 60 miles. And $25,000 for 25lbs of HE is still absurd.

  7. I knew when I read this earlier you would have a post on it. Spot on- all accounts!

    re "Navy leadership has added yet another massive screw up to their collective resume."

    The key word really is "collective". They get away with it without being held accountable because everything is done by committee. No one ever has real ownership and P&L responsibility for these big 50 state, global ACAT 1+ programs. As a result there is no one to blme. Meanwhile the next CNO comes in and says the "buck stops here". Like a shell game.

    To this linked photo below I would title, "Pigs-in-a-Poke", could also be added an LCS and the USS Ford, among several others...:

    Beyond shameful, IMO, the US Navy's failures are possibly criminal neglect. Congress should have hearings on Navy acquisition re these persistent failures.

    1. Sen. John McCain has tried but he gets no support from the rest of Congress or the Navy.

  8. It's kind of hard to justify developing new ammunition for a class of ship that only includes 3 vessels.

    1. That is a key point! Would the Navy simply abandon the Zumwalts, do you think? What do you think they'll do?

    2. I believe they are going to turn it into a rail gun/laser testbed. Probably what they had in mind all along. Why else put all of that electrical power generation on-board for a radar that was descoped?

      Probably the best we can salvage from this fiasco - Where is John Young now anyway?

      Also does the Navy really care (I should be polite here) about the fire support mission? This sounds like the CAS Air Force love hate relationship. The Navy uses the Fire Support Mission to fund development of a ship to test new technologies and says opps bullets are too expensive let us have a new program to cover that mission that we really don't care about.

    3. My guess is they will become like the small number of ships we had to field that never were delivered to the Iranians. Forgot the class.

      Too expensive to operate and maintain otherwise.

    4. "My guess is they will become like the small number of ships we had to field that never were delivered to the Iranians."

      Are you thinking of the Kidd class variants of the Spruance class? They were ordered for the Iranian navy and cancelled in 1979 due to the Iranian revolution. The Navy would up using them extensively and they were reputed to be a bit better than the Spruances. They were decommissioned in the late 1990's and eventually sold to Taiwan in the early 2000's. They were one of my favorite class of ship.

    5. ComNav,

      Aye that is the class. Four of them of the "Ayotollah" class. Always sort of Zebras w/horiz stripes vice vertical from the rest of the USN surface fleet.

      IE- my point was DDG-1000 will find a role based on their supposed unique capabilities, or be de-commed early unlike how the Kidd class persevered until the late 1990's as you educated us.

    6. What was the total price tag of this boondoggle? 23bn?

      And we have the 14Bn for the Ford (and counting) which can't land aircraft. And whose DB radar doesn't work.

      Anyone want to bet that the Flt III Burkes have major development issues even beyond their size and power limitations?

      At what point do we declare that Navy acquisition is in an existential crisis for the Navy?

      I'd *really* like to know how good the Virginia's are now.

  9. As a humorous aside (on a tragedy) can you imagine this Captain Kirk calling for fires and the Scottish Weapons Officer saying:

    "Cap'n I dinna get any bullets!"

    Back to the Tragedy - Capt Kirk has been touting the advantages of this ship all up and down the East Coast, including the long range guns. He must have know his magazines were empty and there is no gun range test scheduled for when he gets to San Diego.

    Someone give that man a towel so he can wipe the egg off of his face.

  10. BTW no one has ever explained to me what good Radar Stealth on a ship is when it generates 78 Megawatts of power?

    That looks like it is NET power NOT gross power. so Gas turbines have about a 30% thermal efficiency so just how big is that heat bloom?

    1. Very good point and it's not just the heat signature. The electromagnetic radiation has to be quite high and visible. CNO Greenert stated publicly that the EMALS catapult on the Ford was unshielded and the numerous, large electric motors were an electromagnetic beacon. He opined that the Navy needed to begin getting back to EMCON as a way of life. Of course, he didn't say what he was doing while the EMALS electromagnetic beacon was in development and he was ignoring it. Nice job, Greenert.

    2. Please, EMCON, much like ASW was one of those mission areas that was done to simply check it off when I served. It just isn't a concern because its not really a priority.


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.