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.


  1. Your points are sensible and well reasoned, which is why Big Navy has no desire to implement them. At this point the USN needs a procurement standdown because NAVSEA clearly has no idea how to deliver to the sailor new ships and weapons.

  2. Great post, and one that I think buttonholes one of the key issues with our acquisition problems.

    I think some of this is political. Cheney didn't like the Tomcat upgrades because they were '60's technology'. To me that's a self damning statement, akin to saying 'we aren't going to use propellers anymore because that's a 19th century technology...' Later administrations talked about change needing to be 'transformational' and my favorite debate point about how we didn't need ships because 'we have these things called 'aircraft carriers'.

    The theme seems to be the same. If it isn't new and whizbang then the politicians and the Navy flag ranks aren't interested.

    My personal opinion is that part of the reason they aren't interested is that 'evolutionary' advancement isn't a flashy thing to take to Congress, and then in turn to voters. On top of that you have the defense contractors and their lobbyists pushing for revolutionary as they get paid more.

    Where I have a hard time putting my finger on things is when did this change? The early 90s with the mergers of the defense contractors and the peace dividend? Later? Did the contractors go from being engineering based organizations to ones dominated by MBA's who realized crazy risky stuff is better for the bottom line than decent stuff built en masse?

    I don't know.

  3. You don't ever strap a conventional warhead to an ICBM because the other side has to assume the launch is nuclear.

    1. You're aware, aren't you, that China has, and is continuing to develop, long range ballistic missiles with conventional warheads? For example,

      DF-21 1100 miles
      DF-26 2200 miles

      I guess no one told China that "you don't ever strap a conventional warhead" to a ballistic missile.

      It is this kind of unilateral, fearful thinking that handcuffs our responses and blinds us to the realities of an unfriendly world.

    2. In 1995, a Black Brant sounding rocket was launched from Norway on a northbound trajectory that the Russians interpreted as inbound Trident SLBM. Russia put their forces on high alert and Yeltsin was given his nuclear football. Tracking of the missile proved it wasn't a threat to Russia.

      Russia was notified of the launch, but that notification didn't flow down to their radar technicians. Better notification protocols were developed afterwards.

      Had that missile flown closer to Russia, things might have turned out differently.

      We do need a medium range conventional ballistic missile, but modifying an ICBM is an expensive route and limits the launch site to the continental US. I'd rather the Navy develop a smaller missile, based on existing motors, that could be launched from an SSBN or preferably the Virginia Payload Module.

    3. ComNavOps, while I usually enjoy your posts, I gotta disagree on this comment. Anonymous and Walter are right on the dangers of ICBM flights; the Russians really don't like that. And any ICBM flight from Wyoming is flying dangerously close to Russian Airspace. Furthermore China is not a signatory to the INF treaty that prohibits us from having MRBMs/IRBMs. The Navy isn't included but I don't think the payload cost on a Burke is worth it to have 2-3 IRBMs and lose 8-12 SM-2s or Tomahawks.

      Honestly the best response we are going to have to the DF-21s will boil down to lasers/railguns for defense and having a ton of SM-2s for the fleet. If we really want to play counter-battery on DF-21s we'll need SSGN's firing a depressed shot MRBM payload or the Virginia payloads firing the same.

    4. "the Russians really don't like that."

      The Russians really don't like anything about us or our military. Should we forego everything the Russians don't like? You know, the things your enemy dislikes the most are probably the things that you should build more of.

    5. "I don't think the payload cost on a Burke is worth it to have 2-3 IRBMs and lose 8-12 SM-2s or Tomahawks."

      I don't think so either. Why would you say something you don't believe? That seems odd.

    6. was merely pointing out that the Navy could have IRBMs that the Army/Air Force couldn't have in response to your point about MRBM/IRBM's with conventional warheads. It might be worthwhile on a SSN/SSGN, but I don't think so on a surface ship. Though if we do withdraw from the INF treaty stationing a bunch of IRBMs in Guam would give us some interesting options with China and North Korea.

      As for the Russian response we really should care if they think we are launching an ICBM or even an IRBM at them or over their territory. I could care less what China or Iran thinks, but with Putin in power I don’t think it is worth the risk. I don’t know what the Russian Ballistic Missile Early Warning system looks like other than it isn’t great and the lack of good fidelity to see just what we are launching and where it is headed on a possible strike, even if at someone else, could make them think we were trying for a decapitation strike and make the Russians retaliate. It almost happened in 1995 after all.

      If you are looking for revolutionary, turn the LCS-even class into Cobra/Apache motherships to fight FACs in the Arabian Gulf and to protect the Burkes on BMD duty. Push them out towards the Iranian Coastline and they could use the Burke’s ESSM’s for cruise missile defense and use the Apache’s radar system to designate targets for the Cobras or its own weapons. Or stick a Multi-Mission Launcher, I realize it is a few years away from IOC, on the back on an LCS for close in defense and give it minimal VLS capability for the NSM or a Hellfire with a booster to engage what the Apache spots. At least it’d give us some use out of the LCS and protect the Burkes to help swat down Shahab 2s and 3s.

    7. One problem that has not been raised about conventional ICBMs is that given the cost of an ICBM versus the size of warhead, it is going to be hard to justify the cost versus the destructive ability. The payload just isn't there and the cost is very high.

      The end result would be like German V2, which was a huge waste, unless they can get the CEP to be really, really small. Even then it could only hit a few high value targets.

      Oh, and the Obama administration actually did consider conventional ICBMs:

      Another interesting read:

      Does the US already have this ability?

    8. You're aware, aren't you, that China has, and is continuing to develop, long range ballistic missiles with conventional warheads?

      Yes i am. And the fact that Chinese are supposedly doing it doesn't make it sound idea. Indeed, i am almost convinced that all this DF-21 hype is just smoke and mirrors. Also i think that US military isn't falling for it either. It only lives in blogosphere.
      Also, please excuse my poor english.

    9. The point is that if the Chinese would be frightened by seeing our ballistic missiles coming at them because they don't know whether they are nuclear or conventional, then they need to stop producing their own ballistic missiles that we won't know whether they're nuclear or conventional. Same with Russia who is widely reported to be continually violating the INF and START treaties.

      Your english is just fine!

    10. I'll try to be more clear. About Chinese, they use MRBMs with conventional/nuclear tipped heads as a theater weapons system, which i think is bad idea, but what do i know. However they use ICBMs exclusively with nuclear warheads. You cand find more here
      on page 25.
      Now, you stated that US Navy should innovate by using conventional warheads on ICBMs, not MRBMs. The difference is that ICBMs have bigger engine, which creates more IR bloom, and prompts strategic missile launch warning via chinese/russian satellites. Now my point is this: What sane military commander orders a conventional strike using ICBMs, when retaliatory response in a matter of minutes can be all out nuclear launch against continental US? Remeber that these US missiles would have be launched from SSBN ships, which by definition are first strike weapons system, because there is no time for enemy to analyze missile flight profile.

    11. "What sane military commander orders a conventional strike using ICBMs"

      Why don't you ask the Chinese, who are planning to exactly that, and let me know what they say?

    12. CNO, it's far more likely they would produce more of their own ballistic missiles.

      Either that or they would find a way to reverse engineer American ones.

      Another serious risk is that if either side thinks they are being nuked when they are not, they might launch their nuclear ICBMs.

      In 1983, there was a close call:

      This was during a Cold War. During a "hot war", the risk would be even higher.

    13. ""What sane military commander orders a conventional strike using ICBMs"

      Why don't you ask the Chinese, who are planning to exactly that, and let me know what they say?"

      I think that you may be confusing MRBMs with ICBMs. Again, Chinese are planing to use conventional warhead on MRBMs, and you are proposing to use conventional warhead on ICBMs. They definitely aren't, as you put it, "planning to [do] exactly that".

      One other thing i forgot to say is that i really enjoy your blog. Please continue if you find satisfaction in doing it.
      Milos from Serbia

  4. The HMS Dreadnaught is an example of a revolutionary ship which used used existing technology

    It was larger and faster then previous Battleships

    It used turbines for propulsion rather then reciprocating engines

    It had ten 12 inch guns compared to the four on previous Battleships

    Yet all of this was existing tech. The British had experience building large passenger liners. Turbines had been used on previous Destroyers, and Passenger Liners. The 12 inch gun turrets came from the last class of Pre-Dreadnaughts being built, they just had more of them on Dreadnaught

    And then after it was built and a lot of experimenting and testing on other ships occurred it was equipped with centralized fire control which greatly increased it long range accuracy.

    So they built a revolutionary ship using existing tech and then they did a lot of experimenting and test ships to develop better fire control which when proven was fitted to the fleet.

    No great leaps of transformational tech jumping whole generations was used

    1. The other part that was revolutionary was the "all big gun" design. Previous ships used to have a mix of 8, 10, and 12 inch guns. That made identifying the splashes from the guns difficult as well.

      HMS Dreadnought featured all big gun, with just 3" secondary armament and torpedoes.

  5. 1. Mount Tomahawks on Hornets - this would be simple and great extend carrier strike range.

    2. Put AMRAAMs on Hawkeyes so they can used their superior radar to fight too.

    3. Develop a SM-2/HARM type missile to attack radar sites ashore and even ships radar.

    Simple evolutionary steps with revolutionary results.

    1. Tomahawk missiles may be too big/heavy for an individual aircraft pylon. I'm not sure.

      Absolutely not on AMRAAMs for E-2. If they're close enough to launch a missile, they're close enough to be hit by a missile and an E-2 is far too valuable to risk.

      The AGM-78 was an anti-radiation variant of the SM-1 that was adapted for aerial launch. There was also an RGM-66D ship-launched anti-radiation land attack missile, if I recall correctly. I'm unaware of any current ship-launched anti-radiation missile but there's no reason why one couldn't be easily developed.

    2. They are not too big/heavy. The B-52s carry cruise missiles on aircraft pylons.

      The E-2 has twice the radar range of most fighter aircraft. They can launch and control AMRAAMs from outside enemy range. And they cost no more than an F-35.

      So why don't we have a ship launched anti-radiation missile?

      These are simple evolutionary steps with revolutionary results.

    3. "They are not too big/heavy. The B-52s carry cruise missiles on aircraft pylons."

      So, just because one of the largest aircraft in the world can carry cruise missiles (not Tomahawks), every aircraft can? Is that what you're saying? A Fokker triplane can carry a Tomahawk? A Cessna? Presumably you don't think that.

      Some aircraft are simply too small to carry a Tomahawk missile. Can a Hornet carry one just because a hugely larger B-52 can? I don't know (and neither do you) but I suspect not. The point loading on the wing and weapon pylon/launcher likely exceeds limits.

      The fact that a B-52 can carry a cruise missile does not mean that the relatively tiny Hornet can. Maybe it can but there's no evidence that it can. The largest weapon that has been certified for the Hornet, that I'm aware of, is the Harpoon which is 6 ft longer and 1400 lb heavier.

    4. "The E-2 has twice the radar range of most fighter aircraft. They can launch and control AMRAAMs from outside enemy range."

      Radar range does not determine weapon range. If an E-2 is in range to launch an AMRAAM, it is in range to be hit by an enemy missile. For example, the Russian K-100 missile was designed expressly for the purpose of killing AWACS aircraft from very long range. The K-100 has a reported range of up to 200 miles. It far outranges an E-2 with AMRAAMs.

      I'll say it again, it would be idiocy to risk on of our few and valuable E-2's trying to attack enemy aircraft.

      There are some things that are debatable. This is not one of them.

    5. But when was the test done that showed Hornets cannot carry Tomahawks? What wasn't this done? It would cost very little, and increase the shore and now ship strike radius by 1000 miles. The Super Hornet can land "bring back" over 9000lbs of weapons, so why can't it carry two Tomahawks that weigh a total of 7000lbs? It may need a minor mod to allow two pylons to be used for each, and this will limit its maneuverability. What about C-2s with Tomahawks on their wings? They could even launch from land bases. A Navy P-8 or C-40 (ie 737) could carry several! Who knows? Lots of debate about aircraft strike range, but a suggestion to add 1000-mile Tomahawks is somehow never considered.

      Think outside the box. An E-2 circles overhead with four Hornets aloft, because we can't keep them in the air all the time. It detects a squadron of enemy fighters inbound at near supersonic. The alert fighters are launched, so we have just six Hornets out to fight them off. So does the Hawkeye just watch and later get shot down like a lame duck? Or does it watch and engage too?

      Or returning from a bombing run the a strike package is intercepted by a large number of enemy aircraft. The Hornets do battle while the Hawkeye tries to manage things. Should the Hawkeye shoot at a fighter if it gets a chance? Yes, but only if it has that option.

    6. "The Super Hornet can land "bring back" over 9000lbs "

      You seem to have no grasp of point loading limits. Let me try to give you a very simple analogy. You can lift, say, 100 lbs but if try to lift 100 lbs with just one finger you couldn't do it. Similarly, an aircraft might be able to carry 100 lbs spread across all its attachment points but be unable to carry 100 lbs on a single point.

      I'll repeat, I don't know whether a Hornet could carry a Tomahawk but I suspect it can't due to point load limits at the pylon.

      You can't use two pylons to carry one object. You need to research how weapons are attached to aircraft.

      I'll leave you to your E-2 idea.

  6. Versus the Dreadnought, here is a case of a truly revolutionary technology.

    You could argue that the USS Nautilus was a revolutionary design, using at the time a revolutionary technology, the nuclear reactor, which had be miniaturized effectively enough to fit onto a submarine.

    It allowed for far longer endurance than conventional powered submarines.

    Most technology however, does not live up to the hype, despite the USN's claims otherwise and most experiments have been dismal failures.

    I think that it is because the Dreadnought was based on proven technology. The USS Nautilus too had proven technology.

    I'm not saying one off models shouldn't exist (they should), but pushing an entire class on an experimental technology (witness the Ford class) is a very deep folly.

    1. The Nautilus was an one off experimental sub to test nuclear power

      Its interesting that near that same time the Navy built another one off experimental conventional sub to test tear drop hull, the USS Albacore.

      It was only after testing both ideas in separate subs that the Navy built a class of ships the Skipjack which put both ideas together. This way they could concentrate on nuclear power and not worry about a new type hull with the Nautilus and concentrate on the tear drop hull on the Albacore without worrying about the new nuclear power plant

      Today’s Navy would put both ideas and probably more in a whole class of ships without doing the preliminary tests on individual test ships

    2. Yes, that is a serious problem.

      It's a controlled variable experiment that the USN needs to work with.

      I said the Nautilus was proven because nuclear reactors up until that point had been proven to work.

      Another example might be the USS Seawolf (SSN 575; not the one launch after the Cold War's end). It tested liquid metal reactors and was later retrofitted with a conventional reactor after an accident.

      Again though, the variable was liquid metal reactors and they didn't try both at the same time.

      In the case of Nautilus and Albacore, the bets paid off and every ship after that led to the Skipjack, but as you note, today, there isn't much experimentation with just 1 variable, it's trying to invent everything ground up.

  7. Excellent post. For a broader view of the impact of "older" technologies and the detrimental effect of "neophilia," try David Edgerton's The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900.
    Bill the Shoe

  8. Here is photo of an SuperHornet with a standard three 480 gallon fuel tanks, each with 4000 lbs of fuel, plus the empty weight of the tank.

    So can an FA-18E carry three 3500 lbs Tomahawks? Probably. And using stand-off Tomahawks, you don't have to worry about stealth so much, so goodbye F-35.

    1. I'll say it yet again, I have no idea whether a Hornet can carry a Tomahawk but I suspect not.

      A 480 gal tank holds around 3200 lbs of fuel, not 4000.

      My understanding is that carrier aircraft do not launch with loaded external fuel tanks. They fill up after launch. I could be wrong about that.

      The EMALS catapult system is currently unable to safely launch a Hornet with 480 gal fuel tanks. This was discovered during testing.

      I doubt that a Hornet could launch with a Tomahawk even if it could carry one in flight.

      Your point about standoff weapons related to the F-35 is valid, at least for the strike role.

    2. Even if it were possible, range would not be too good on the F-18. Also, if it gets intercepted with 3 large cruise missiles, it is a sitting duck. It would not be able to engage in evasive maneuvers to try to dodge an incoming missile. Never mind a dogfight.

      It would have to drop the payload immediately and retreat.

    3. Another issue is whether an F-18 would be able to land with a Tomahawk. Aircraft loaded with certain munitions (IIRC APAM was one) couldn't land aboard, so an aircraft launched with it had to use it or jettison it.
      Bill the Shoe

  9. "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."
    The trouble with that is that ship construction is seen as stiffened plates and doesnt use the common building design solution of steel or concrete frames. As well the sea applies more variable loadings than wind or earthquakes

    1. "doesnt use the common building design solution of steel or concrete frames."

      ???? A ship is a steel frame (they're even called frames!) covered by a steel or aluminum skin.

    2. "As well the sea applies more variable loadings than wind or earthquakes"

      First, I don't know that that's true. An earthquake has got to apply some pretty variable stresses and wind stress is applied from any angle, 360 deg, at any velocity, and can shift from second to second.

      Beyond that, the point was not build a skyscraper and lay it on its side in the water and call it a ship - the point was to adapt some of the techniques. Some may adapt and prove useful, some may not.

  10. The only revolutionary program I can think of is DARPA's ASW Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV). It would be a revolutionary use of automation to actively locate and track sumbarines. It's probably the perfect partner for the ASW-oriented Small Surace Combatant and maybe the P-8 too. And, I imagine it would be useful for port defense as well.

    1. Use some basic logic. Do you really believe that a small unmanned vessel with limited power, limited sonar, and limited sensor range can continuously track a submarine when exercise after exercise proves conclusively that our best ASW helos and ships can't reliably detect and track submarines?

      If this thing really can do that, then we can remove all those big powerful sonar domes from all the Burkes and replace them with whatever small, short range sonar the DARPA vessel has and we can eliminate all the ASW helos by simply mounting some ASW torpedoes on the DARPA vessel.

      Does this really seem logical and believable to you? Don't buy "manufacturer's" claims without applying some basic logic and common sense.

    2. "The only revolutionary program I can think of "

      I'm guessing you didn't mean that the way it's written because the Navy, and military, is filled with revolutionary programs, most of them failures. The F-35 is/was totally revolutionary. The LCS was totally revolutionary. The Zumwalt is totally revolutionary. The Ford is significantly revolutionary. The laser and rail gun programs are revolutionary. I can go on but I think you get the idea. I suspect you meant to say something else.

    3. The prototype is small and probably has a limited sonar, but the Navy is following the "build a little, testing a little" philosophy. And, a full size ship, maybe 600 to 800 tons, could have Phalanx or SeaRam for self-defense, maybe even torpedoes too. If drone aircraft can fire missiles, a drone ship can fire torpedoes.

      I'm not suggesting, and I don't think anyone else is either, that we the remove the sonars from the Burkes and eliminate helicopters too. I see ships like this as a supplement to current surface forces, providing mores eyes and ears to locate submarines. And, if ships like this can locate subs, they might be able to locate mines too.

      I'd like to see this one work out, as you well know the Navy could use all the ASW capability they can get.

    4. I'll repeat my question. Does it seem logical to you?

    5. Yes it does. We use drones in air to monitor the land and oceans and I don't see why we can't do something similar with drone ships. True, that they will likely be unarmed, but I think their size and shape will offer some protection. The Zumwalt-class is said to have the radar cross-section of a fishing boat. I'm sure some of those features are applicable to an unmanned sub hunter.

      If automation works out, it could be applied to the CLF fleet. Rolls-Royce is studying unmanned cargo ships to move freight around the world. This would free up sailors for other tasks.

      It's a technology that is worth examining.

    6. I'll repeat my question, which had nothing to do with survivability.

      "Use some basic logic. Do you really believe that a small unmanned vessel with limited power, limited sonar, and limited sensor range can continuously track a submarine when exercise after exercise proves conclusively that our best ASW helos and ships can't reliably detect and track submarines?"

    7. The prototype might have limited power, limited sonar, and limited sensor range. But, ideally, a full-size production version would have a better sonar and the speed and range to spend a few weeks to a few months trailing a sub. I say give the technology a chance to prove itself.

    8. You're not getting it. Our best, full sized units have great difficulty finding and tracking a known submarine in limited, defined practice areas during exercises but we think this thing will be able to casually track subs for weeks on end? That's fantasy to the nth degree!

      Give the technology a chance? What technology? There is no hint of any new technology other than the unmanned aspect of the vessel. The sensors are just smaller, more limited version of what we already have. The technology has already proven itself to be only marginally capable of tracking a modern sub.

      There's also no indication that this isn't the full size product. If it becomes much bigger, it becomes an attractive (and defenseless) target.

      Use some logic!

    9. The topic of ACTUV came up in another thread...the notional CONOPS for the technology demonstration and prototype assumes that the target submarine has already been detected and ACTUAV is cued to the target to plant itself on top.

      Frankly, I'm not sure if I believe in the CONOPS at this point but as a technology demonstration, it has some merits. The long-term autonomy function is nothing to sneeze at...I'm not sure that there is another unmanned vessel out there that has demonstrated the ability to meet COLREG. If proven, the autonomy function could be applied to other platforms and other applications...mine hunting in logistics straits/chokepoints, portions of the T-AGOS role, decoy, etc.

    10. "the notional CONOPS for the technology demonstration and prototype assumes that the target submarine has already been detected and ACTUAV is cued to the target to plant itself on top."

      That's an illogical CONOPS. If we've already found a sub, we'll already be attacking it. Why on earth would be find an enemy sub and decide to just follow it? We wouldn't. So what's the point of having an ACTUV?

      It would make a useful peacetime vessel, perhaps, although to what end, I'm not sure.

      The most useful potential role is probably patrolling atop shallows and chokepoints although I have doubts that a tiny vessel with undersized sensors can find subs that our full size helos and surface ships routinely fail to find in exercise after exercise.

      Still, it's just a small, relatively inexpensive prototype so I have no objection to experimenting with it.

    11. That's an illogical CONOPS. If we've already found a sub, we'll already be attacking it. Why on earth would be find an enemy sub and decide to just follow it? We wouldn't. So what's the point of having an ACTUV?

      It really only makes sense in the context of Phase 0 operations, when the shooting hasn't started. Similar to how USN SSNs are used to shadow foreign SSNs/SSKs to gather intel and ensure the enemy is within arm's length just in case, the ACTUV could be used in that role with SSKs.

      Frankly, I think the CONOPS was generated to justify interest by the ASW community to help sell the prototype demonstrator.

    12. I understand that DARPA's job is to develop technology, almost regardless of whether it has any practical use. That's fine. You never what seemingly useless technology may become useful in the future. However, we tend to jump on these things without thinking through their actual combat use - a CONOPS. So many things, like LCS, F-35, ACTUV, etc. either have no useful CONOPS or a very limited one relative to their cost. For technology demonstrators, it doesn't matter but when we start actual production of items that have no/questionable CONOPS then we have a severe problem.

      The LCS is the poster child for this. We committed to 55 units at $500M per and no useful purpose. That's $27.5 BILLION for a ship with no purpose or capability - and we're spending at least that much more on shore side support. And, none of that counts the R&D that went into this project. We're probably looking at a $100 BILLION investment in a ship that provides very little return.

      On the battlefield it's recon, recon, recon. In the development-field it's CONOPS, CONOPS, CONOPS.

  11. Carrying an air launched cruise missile on a superhornet would be a stunt and gain several hundred miles but the time that would expire getting there would make its targeting erroneous. A stunt.
    Recovering and recapitalizing a fleet of 60-70 Vikings for use, manned or unmanned, for aerial refueling, AsuW, ASW or ELINT would take eating a lot of crow...It would not be that radical to do from a technical standpoint but the resistance would be fierce. Rice bowls upset everywhere!


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