Saturday, December 31, 2016

LCS Assessment Update

Dr. Michael Gilmore, Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E), revealed a great deal of previously unknown (at least to me!) information regarding issues with the LCS in a statement to Congress before the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee (1).  Here’s some highlights with my emphasis added.  This is a long post but worth the read.

Regarding survivability, we see what ComNavOps has been saying all along about the LCS’ lack of shock hardening and failure to meet even Level 1 standards, contrary to the Navy’s explicit lies on this matter.

“With respect to survivability, neither LCS variant is expected to be survivable in high-intensity combat because the Navy’s requirements accept the risk of abandoning the ship under circumstances that would not require such an action on other surface combatants. As designed, the LCS lacks the shock hardening, redundancy, and the vertical and longitudinal separation of equipment found in other combatants. … Thus far, the results of the LCS Live Fire Test and Evaluation (LFT&E) program confirm this assessment.”

“…the LFT&E program has already identified over 100 technical improvements that could be applied to improve LCS’s performance against threat weapons, although, given the ships’ fundamental limitations, none of these improvements will make the ships’ survivability comparable to that of the Navy’s other surface combatants.”

Moving on, Gilmore calls into question the very concept of the LCS - that it will free up larger ships for more important missions.

“… the Navy’s CONOPS require LCS, in some scenarios, to remain stationed near much slower units who are providing the LCS with dedicated air defense support to have any reasonable chance of surviving attacks using ASCMs… Moreover, this CONOPS implies that destroyers and cruisers will be required to provide this protection to LCSs, which is contrary to the concept that independently operated LCSs will free up the Navy’s destroyers and cruiser and “allow [them] to focus on the high-end missions,” which is what the Navy has touted in the past.”

DOT&E’s overall assessment is bleak.

“…DOT&E has sufficient data to conclude that both seaframe variants are not operationally suitable …”

“Not operationally suitable” – ouch!

Here’s some failures that weren’t widely known.

“During this last year, problems with main engines, waterjets, communications, air defense systems, and cooling for the combat system occurred regularly …”

It’s distressing that the listed problems occur regularly given that the ships have been in production and operation for several years.  They’re no longer first of class problems.  At this point, they’re systemic problems.

Gilmore had this to say about reliability,

“… when averaged over time, and accounting for both planned and unplanned maintenance downtimes, LCS 4 was fully mission capable for SUW missions just 24 percent of the 2015 test period.”


“Both variants … have a near-zero chance of completing a 30-day mission (the Navy’s requirement) without a critical failure of one or more seaframe subsystems essential for wartime operations.”

Crew size comes under fire.

“… the small crew size has limited the Independence variant from operating with sufficient watchstanders to maintain an alert posture for extended periods of time.”

The fundamental maintenance concept for the LCS whereby on-board maintenance is deferred is cited as a limiting factor in LCS effectiveness.

“An example of this limitation occurred during LCS 4’s operational testing during 2015 and 2016, where the ship’s primary air defense system, SeaRAM, suffered from seven long periods of downtime (greater than 48 hours).”

The inherent helplessness of the LCS was further highlighted.

“During the LCS 3 operational test period, the crew was unable to repair multiple critical systems, such as the ship’s navigation data distribution system, the air search radar, and Link 16 tactical link, each of which resulted in multiple days of downtime while awaiting assistance from contractors to troubleshoot and repair the systems.”

The LCS air defense capability is also questioned along with previously unreported revelations about SeaRAM problems.

“it is unlikely that LCS will be able to meet the Navy’s requirements for air defens … More recently, limitations in the SeaRAM system (currently installed on Independence variants) revealed some significant classified concerns.”

One of the oft called for “solutions” to acquisition problems is to buy foreign.  DOT&E, however, offers some practical warnings about problems with foreign purchases.

“… the Navy stopped work on the air defense modeling and simulation test bed because it did not have the intellectual property rights and detailed technical information for the ship’s air defense radar (AN/SPS-75). The lack of intellectual property for these foreign radars has been a problem for both variants of LCS, making it difficult for engineers to develop high-fidelity models and understand the capabilities and limitations of these radars or effect changes when problems are found.”

Although the Navy plans to eventually replace the Freedom variant’s RAM with SeaRAM, DOT&E notes an issue with the Navy’s related decision not to test the RAM system.

“… the Navy does not plan to test (at all) the existing Freedom-variant air defense systems installed on LCS 1 through 15. This is a high risk for deploying crews, given that many Freedom-variant ships will deploy between now and 2020 when backfits of the SeaRAM system on those hulls are scheduled to begin.”

Worse, the Navy has cancelled plans to test the Independence variant’s SeaRAM system.

“The Navy had planned to conduct the first of the planned operationally realistic live-fire events on the self-defense test ship in FY16, but postponed the test indefinitely because of anticipated poor performance predicted by pre-test modeling and analysis of the planned test event scenario.”

Setting aside RAM issues, the Freedom variant has additional AAW issues.

“For the Freedom variant, these tests revealed that because of the limited capabilities of the air defense radar, the crew was unable to detect and track some types of air threats well enough to engage them.”

The Independence variant also had threat detection issues.

“For the Independence variant, although the ships relies on the SeaRAM system, the ship’s air surveillance radar provided LCS crews with only limited warning to defend itself against ASCMs in certain situations.”

And more,

“In the Navy’s developmental test events, we learned that the electro-optical system used to target the seaframe’s gun was unable to provide reliable tracking information against some targets.”


“…the program decided to cancel all subsequent live-fire events, including those scheduled for operational testing, conceding that the Independence variant is unlikely to be consistently successful when engaging some of these threats until future upgrades of the tracking system can be implemented.”

The LCS’ cyber security is also problematic.

“Much of my assessment of the two seaframes’ cybersecurity posture and capabilities is classified and covered in detail in my recent operational test reports. However, I will state that the testing conducted in FY14 on LCS 3, testing conducted in 2015 on LCS 2, and finally the most recent test aboard LCS 4 have revealed significant deficiencies in the ship’s ability to protect the security of information and prevent malicious intrusion. …  the severity of the cybersecurity problems discovered on LCS will degrade the operational effectiveness of either variant until the problems are corrected.”

I have repeatedly discussed the shortcomings of the 57 mm gun and opined that reliance on it to stop swarm attacks was flawed.  Here is DOT&E’s thoughts.

“The inaccuracy of the targeting systems, the difficulty in establishing a track on the target, and the requirement to hit the target directly when using the point-detonation fuze combine to severely impair effective employment of the gun, and limit effective performance to dangerously short ranges.”

The electro-optical fire control has always been a source of puzzlement and DOT&E singled it out for criticism.

“The ship’s electro-optical/infrared camera, SAFIRE, is the primary sensor for targeting the 57 mm gun. The system suffers from a number of shortcomings that contribute to inconsistent tracking performance against surface and air targets, including a cumbersome human-systems interface, poor auto-tracker performance, and long intervals between laser range finder returns.”

The LCS’ single function limitation is noted.

“LCS will have no capability to detect or defend against torpedoes unless the ASW mission package is embarked … The lack of capability implies that a submarine could launch an attack on an LCS, without the crew knowing that they were under attack …”

The LCS’ single function limitation requires that multiple LCS be used to accomplish a given mission and, worse, may require the addition of an Aegis destroyer to provide the AAW capability that the LCS inherently lacks.

“The original vision, therefore, of a nimble, mission-focused ship has been overcome by the realities of the multi-mission nature of naval warfare combined with the multiple threat environments of high-intensity naval conflicts.

Providing additional warships for LCS protection means stretching already limited battle group air defense assets.”

What about ASW performance?  Apparently, the LCS sonar is not optimized for littoral ASW.  Wait, what now?  Doesn’t the “L” in LCS stand for littoral?

“LCS’s sonar system is specifically optimized for deep water and will not be suitable for some very shallow-water environments such as in the littorals.”

If the LCS does find a submarine, there’s not a lot it can do about it.

“LCS has no organic capability to engage submarines and must rely on a single embarked helicopter to deliver torpedoes …”

In summary, Dr. Gilmore’s assessment of the state of the LCS was brutal and paints a picture of a Navy that is blind and zealous in its pursuit of hulls in the water regardless of capability or lack thereof.


(1) “Statement By J. Michael Gilmore, Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Before the  US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Program”, Dec 8, 2016

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Enterprise and Forrestal Conflagrations

There is a school of thought that claims that the aircraft carrier is just a floating target, waiting to be sunk by anti-ship cruise missiles, ballistic missiles like the Chinese “carrier killer” IRBM, or torpedoes.  If those claims are true, we would lose not only the gazillion dollar carrier but the gazillion dollar air wing to no good purpose.  Can history tell us anything about the “sinkability” of carriers?

Well, WWII history tells us that carriers (US carriers, at any rate) were extremely difficult to sink and were able to shrug off bombs, torpedoes, naval gunfire, and kamikaze strikes in amazing quantities.  Of course, a WWII carrier bears only a superficial resemblance to a modern carrier.  The WWII Essex class carrier was around 870 ft long and 30,000 tons displacement.  In comparison, a Nimitz class carrier is 1100 ft long and 100,000 tons. 

Some might also claim that WWII weapons are not as powerful as today’s.  Certainly, there were no Mach+ guided missiles but a kamikaze diving into a carrier (often with a bomb) at three hundred miles an hour or so is still a pretty potent weapon!  WWII aircraft dropped bombs in the 200-1000 lb range.  And so on.

Let’s set aside the WWII history and look for more modern historical data.  There are two modern historical events that stunningly demonstrated the resilience of modern carriers:  the Enterprise and Forrestal conflagrations.

The Enterprise was stricken by a series of bomb explosions and torrents of burning fuel during a mishap on 14-Jan-1969.  The event was triggered by a Zuni rocket explosion on a parked F-4 Phantom which was caused by overheating from an aircraft engine starter unit.  This released and ignited the aircraft’s fuel.  In short order, three more rockets exploded, blowing holes in the flight deck and allowing burining fuel to pour into the lower decks.  An aircraft bomb exploded and blew an 8 ft hole in the flight deck.  This was followed by a Mk 82 500 lb bomb, another 500 lb bomb, and then 3 more Mk 82 bombs which ruptured a 6000 gal fuel tank on a tanker aircraft.  According to Wiki, there were a total of 18 explosions resulting in 8 holes in the flight deck with penetrations to multiple lower decks and burning fuel running down to those decks.  Casualties totaled 28 dead and 344 injured.  Aircraft damage totaled 15 destroyed and 17 damaged.

The fires were extinguished in 4 hours.  Given the location of the disaster at the stern of the ship, flight launch operations could have continued using the forward catapults.  Landings may or may not have been possible.  Enterprise was able to sail into Pearl Harbor under her own power and repairs were completed in 51 days, after which she continued on her scheduled deployment.

Enterprise Fire

The Forrestal suffered a similar flight deck accident when a 5” Zuni rocket fired from a parked aircraft due to an electrical surge.  The rocket hit a fuel tank on another aircraft and ignited the fuel.  Additional fuel tanks ruptured and ignited.  In less than a minute, the first 1000 lb bomb exploded.  Nine bombs, mostly 1000 lb, exploded with several exerting an enhanced power 50% greater than a standard 1000 lb bomb due to degraded explosive material.  The explosions tore large holes in the flight deck and allowed burning fuel to flow into the lower decks.  All fires were under control in 3 hours.  Casualties totaled 134 dead and 161 injured.

Forrestal Fire

Wiki has fairly detailed discussions of both incidents.

Both carriers were “hit” by several major bomb explosions and torrents of burning fuel penetrating to lower decks.  In both cases, despite this damage, fires were controlled in just a few hours and, in combat, at least partial flight operations would have been enabled immediately thereafter. 

The “hits” were not deep penetrating hits as might be expected from an anti-ship missile but the explosions and burning fuel did penetrate multiple decks so the net effect was somewhat similar.

As a result of these incidents, many additional safety and firefighting equipment and procedures have been added to carriers.  For example, in the Forrestal case, most of the trained firefighting personnel were killed by the first explosions, leaving the bulk of the firefighting to be conducted by largely untrained personnel.  Now, basic firefighting training is mandatory for all crew members.

Firefighting Training

The takeaway from these incidents is that carriers are a very resilient and tough target to sink.  Despite the massive damage inflicted, both carriers were able to extinguish their fires and resume a degree of operations within a few hours.  Neither lost propulsion.  The other notable aspect is the tremendous firefighting and damage control capability a carrier has due to the huge amount of equipment and large numbers of available crew.  Again, this greatly contributes to the ship’s resilience.

Before we casually write off carriers as floating targets just waiting to be sunk by the first anti-ship missile that happens by, we would do well to consider these incidents and the lessons that can be learned from them.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sensor Attrition

We’ve previously discussed that sensors are more important than weapons (see, “Weapons Don’t Matter”).  It doesn’t matter what kind of around-the-world range your weapon has if you can’t find a target for it.  The challenge, of course, is to get the sensor to a useful location which, almost by definition, means in enemy controlled air/land/water space since that’s where the targets of interest will be.  Actually, that’s not the real challenge, is it?  Getting the sensors to a useful location is doable.  The real challenge is getting them to survive long enough to conduct useful surveillance and transmit the targeting data back to attack units. 

Before we go any further, let’s think about what kinds of sensors we’re talking about.  The US military’s main means of generating long distance targeting data is through the use of aviation platforms, both manned (P-8, E-2, EP-3, AWACS, etc.) and unmanned.  The problem with manned platforms is that they are hideously expensive, defenseless, non-stealthy, and slow.  That combination of characteristics means that they won’t be risked penetrating deeply into enemy territory to find the kind of targets we want to find.  A notable exception might be the F-35.  It has the stealth and range to perform moderately deep penetration targeting.  What it lacks is the kind of wide area sensor coverage that other manned surveillance platforms have.  It’s just not possible to put that kind of sensor on a fighter sized aircraft.  Still, in sufficient numbers, it might prove useful in that role.  None of us know exactly what kind of wide area search capability the F-35 really has, if any.  The down side to using the F-35 as a penetrating sensor platform is that every F-35 dedicated to that role is one less for the crucial air superiority battles that will be going on concurrently. 

Increasingly, therefore, the military’s emphasis is on unmanned platforms (UAVs).  There are two problems with using UAVs for deep penetration surveillance and targeting.

  1. UAVs are quite small in terms of volumetric and weight capacities and just can’t mount the kind of long range, wide area sensors that manned aircraft can.  This can be partially offset by the long endurance of UAVs which allows for greater coverage even if the sensor field of view is somewhat limited.  This leads us to the second problem.

  1. UAVs are slow, not particularly stealthy, and not very maneuverable.  In short, they’re not survivable in enemy airspace.  A sensor that can’t survive long enough to accomplish its surveillance is useless.

So, how can we conduct successful deep penetration surveillance and targeting?

In order to answer that, let’s briefly consider what we can’t do. 

  • We can’t use P-8’s.  They’re large, slow, and non-stealthy.  Combine those characteristics with the beacon like nature of their radars and they’re, literally, flying targets waiting to be destroyed long before they can find a target.

  • We can’t use large, expensive UAVs because deep penetration surveillance, by definition, will be dangerous and have a high attrition rate for the surveilling aircraft.  We simply won’t be able to afford to routinely lose $100M+ UAVs.  Heck, we balked at $1M LRLAPs so we certainly aren’t going to buy enough $100M+ UAVs to fill the deep penetration role!

So, what does that leave us?

That leaves smaller, cheap UAVs.

Wait, didn’t we say that small UAVs just can’t carry large enough and powerful enough sensors to effectively conduct wide area surveillance?  Yes, we did say that.  However, if we use enough low effectiveness UAVs we can cover the desired area even if each individual UAV is only marginally effective.   Coverage is provided by numbers rather than individual capability.

Wait, didn’t we also say that UAVs are not survivable?  Yes, we did say that.  However, if we use enough non-survivable UAVs, a sufficient number will survive to do the job.  The enemy has only a limited supply of SAMs, fighter aircraft, and air to air missiles at any given location and point in time.  To make the point with a ridiculous example, if we sent 1000 UAVs into an area, the enemy just wouldn’t have enough weapons and aircraft to respond to all of them and even if they did, they wouldn’t have enough time to hunt them all down individually before the survivors accomplished their mission. 

Of course, the key to both of the preceding points is that the UAVs must be cheap – cheap enough to flood the area and attain coverage and cheap enough to absorb the expected losses. 

Can we build UAVs that are effective enough and cheap enough?  Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?  I believe we can if we ruthlessly focus on what the actual requirements are rather than start loading up the UAV with “wishes” that would turn it into a strike/fighter/ISR/refueler aircraft, all in one.

Currently, we have small, cheap UAVs.  They are many different “brands” in use.  A typical example is the Boeing Insitu Scan Eagle.  Scan Eagle is 4.5 ft long with a 10 ft wingspan and weighs 44 lbs.  It has a max speed of 82 kts and an endurance of 22 hours.  A cruising speed of around 50 kts gives a theoretical range of 1100 nm (radius of 550 nm).  The practical range is currently limited by the communications package which is good for only 62 miles.  The UAV is launched from a miniature catapult and recovered by a shyhook.  Launches can be from vessels as small as a Mk V Special Ops boat.  Payloads include EO/IR or a mini-Synthetic Aperture Radar.

According to Wiki, the Royal Australian Navy tested a Scan Eagle with a Sentient Vision Kestrel Maritime ViDAR high resolution digital video camera that is claimed to be able to cover 13,000 square nautical miles over a 12-hour mission (1).

So, with some improvements in communications range, there is no reason why such a UAV could not fill the need for a small, cheap, effective surveillance UAV.

The cost of the Scan Eagle is listed by Wiki as $3.2 million (2006) for a system consisting of four UAVs, a ground control station, remote video terminal, the SuperWedge launch system and Skyhook recovery system (1).  Of course, once the control station and other equipment is purchased, additional UAVs can be bought for a fraction of the complete system cost.  Aviation Today website lists the cost for the UAV alone as $72,000 (2).  Mass production would lower that further.

Scan Eagle and Catapult

The next question is how to deploy these small, cheap UAVs.  Ideally, they would be carried by a dedicated UAV “carrier”.  Such a ship would carry hundreds of UAVs and would accompany every surface group to provide the long range coverage that is needed to effectively utilize the long range anti-ship missiles that are [hopefully] coming to the fleet.  A UAV carrier would be a commercial cargo ship suitably modified to conduct high tempo UAV operations.  Basically, this just means a small “flight deck” (a row of catapults and some space to move the UAVs) to launch UAVs from and several recovery nets/hooks.  Nothing fancy.  We can build supertankers for $100M so this should be a $200M effort.

Alternatively, small UAVs can be operated by the dozens from any ship or land bases where geography permits.

The biggest challenge to this approach is reversing the military mindset of “bigger and more complex”.  Everything the military builds is bulked up with added gadgets rather than stripped down to minimum essentials.

Our current plan to use a few large and expensive aircraft, both manned and unmanned, for deep penetration surveillance and targeting is unworkable in high end combat.  We need a different approach and small, cheap UAVs offers a viable alternative.


(1)Wikipedia, retrieved 20-Dec-2016,

(2)Aviation Today website, 2004

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Russian Attacks On UAVs

Here’s some confirmation of one of the themes that I continually harp on.  The Russians are disrupting UAVs via electronic countermeasures.  C4ISR Net website reports,

In one of the more startling displays of Russia’s capabilities, they have disrupted the unmanned aerial vehicles tasked by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine to chart the conflict.”

These UAS [UAVs] were disrupted via surface-to-air missiles and military-grade electronic jamming, …”

Live fire and GPS jamming were the two main factors for the loss of the drones.” (1)

What have we harped on?  -that UAVs are not survivable and subject to jamming.  Here is Russia showing us exactly that action and outcome.

True, these are not US UAVs and there are undoubtedly those who will blindly and naively claim, with no supporting evidence, that US UAVs are superior and will be immune to disruption but the evidence is clear that UAVs are just target practice and those that are not casually destroyed will be rendered ineffective due to electronic countermeasures.

We need to devote some serious effort to hardening the UAV communications (including GPS).  We also need to give some serious thought to rethinking our doctrinal and tactical use of UAVs relative to the threats they’ll face.


(1)C4ISR Net website, “Threat From Russian UAV Jamming Real, Officials Say”, Mark Pomerleau, 20-Dec-2016,

Don't Bring A Knife To A Knife Fight - Part 2

We recently discussed the military’s ill-considered path of bringing a knife to a knife fight and noted that we should be bringing a machine gun to a knife fight (see, "Don't Bring A Knife To A Knife Fight").  Fine, so how do we do that? 

There are three things that are needed to build a “machine gun”.

  • Firepower
  • Survivability
  • Numbers

Firepower.  First and foremost on the battlefield is the need for overwhelming firepower.  Firepower can make up for a lot of tactical and surveillance shortcomings (not to denigrate the immense importance of surveillance!).  With sufficient firepower, we don’t need to know where every enemy soldier is and whether they’re right-handed or left.  We simply blanket the suspect area with firepower and move on.  Sniper in the building? – level it and move on.  Enemy armored brigade in contact? – nothing that massed artillery and overwhelming anti-tank missiles can’t handle.  Human wave attack coming? – call for 16” naval gunfire and sit back and watch the show.

Survivability.  It does no good to show up on the battlefield and be wiped out in short order.  Survivability requires armor and self-defense weapons.  The current fascination with, and trend towards, light “jeeps” for mobility is a surefire recipe for defeat especially if one has to fight under unfriendly skies.  Heavy tanks, heavy Armored Personnel Carriers, Infantry Fighting Vehicles, and active protection systems are needed for battlefield survivability.

Numbers.  It’s war.  War is attrition no matter how much “maneuver” is applied.  Attrition can only be compensated for with numbers.  Further, numbers can overcome a lack of quality, to an extent.  For example, the Sherman tank’s numbers overcame any quality, survivability, or firepower shortcomings it may have had.

We’ve been so focused on the low end of warfare for so long that we’ve forgotten what’s needed on the high end battlefield.  We need to bring overwhelming firepower, survivability, and numbers to the knife fight, not a knife.


For a closely related post, see "How To Win A War" 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

UAV Bounty Hunters

Hey, that appeasement policy towards China is working real well, isn’t it?  In exchange for not seriously contesting any of their illegal actions in the South China Sea they’ve now decided to begin seizing our drones.  USNI News website reports that the Chinese seized a US unmanned underwater glider (Littoral Battlespace Sensing Glider - LBSG) in international waters while it was being recovered by a US ship operating 50 miles northwest of Subic Bay, Philippines (1).  The US has filed protests and requested that the Chinese return the drone but if the Chinese didn’t return our EP-3 until long after they had stripped it of all interesting technology, they’re certainly not going to return a drone.

History teaches us, with unfailing certainty, that appeasement encourages aggression.  Appeasement, however, is not the subject of this post.  I just wanted to throw yet another failure in the face of the Chinese apologists and appeasers among you.

Back to the post …

This incident is the beginning of what will become a trend of unfriendly nations seizing or destroying our unmanned vehicles in international airspace and waters.  Why?  Why not?  We’re not going to respond.  If we wouldn’t respond to the seizure of two manned riverine boats by Iran, we’re certainly not going to respond to the seizure of unmanned vehicles.  Our enemies know this so they won’t hesitate to seize the opportunity to deal the US a black eye, trumpet their success to their people, and garner some free technology.

During the Cold War, aircraft were shot at and down from time to time.  If countries were willing to do that then let’s face it, no one is going to bat an eye at capturing or destroying unmanned vehicles.  We’re going to see an open season on unmanned vehicles.

Russia is watching this incident carefully.  If we don’t respond forcefully, and we won’t, Russia will be sure to seize or destroy a UAV.  In fact, we may see UAV “hunting” become a routine occurrence. 

I’ve stated repeatedly that unmanned vehicles will have only a limited role in combat, being too easy to find and destroy, and it appears that they will have a limited role in peace as well.  The LBSG was a relatively unsophisticated drone.  Will we risk our most sophisticated unmanned vehicles near enemy waters and airspace knowing that they are subject to routine seizure?  I doubt it.  We’d be idiots if we did.

Does anyone think the Chinese will hesitate to sink or seize that nifty new DARPA ACTUV (Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel) that’s supposed to follow enemy subs around?

Thanks to our passive, appeasing policies, I see a future of unfriendly state-sponsored UAV bounty hunters!


(1)USNI News website, “Updated: Chinese Seize U.S. Navy Unmanned Vehicle”, Sam LaGrone, 16-Dec-2016,

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Excalibur - LRLAP Replacement

The Navy recently cancelled the Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) that was the sole ammunition for the Zumwalt’s 155 mm Advanced Gun System (AGS).  We’ve previously discussed the utter stupidity of designing an entire gun system that is totally incompatible with any other military munition and is dependent on a single, unique, expensive rocket assisted shell.  That lack of commonality turned around and bit the Navy in the ass when they cancelled the LRLAP program due to runaway costs.  Now they have a gun with no munition. 

There are only two options:

  1. Rip out the AGS and install a conventional gun or missile system.  Interestingly, the Zumwalt, with its cruiser size dimensions, might be able to accommodate the 8” Mk 71 and still fulfill its land attack mission albeit with reduced ranges (around 18 miles with standard rounds – an extended range guided round was proposed but not developed).  Alternatively, the AGS could be replaced with standard VLS cells and Tomahawk missiles, however, this makes the “round” just as expensive as the cancelled LRLAP.

  1. Adapt some other munition to the AGS.

The Navy has selected option 2. and the chosen munition appears to be the Army’s 155 mm Excalibur round.  Excalibur is a GPS guided, gliding projectile.

LRLAP - Too Expensive To Use

On the positive side, this brings the Zumwalt/AGS into line with the rest of the military’s 155 mm weapons and may allow the Zumwalt/AGS to use the Army inventory of 155 mm shells.

On the minus side, a host of problems must be overcome.

  • The AGS will have to be adapted to fire the Excalibur round.  This will likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars and probably take several years to accomplish.
“One defense official told USNI News it might take up to $250 million in engineering costs to modify the three ship class for Excalibur.” (1)

You know those kind of off-the-cuff cost estimates are always ridiculously low.

Additionally, it’s not just the gun barrel that has to be modified but the entire gun and munition handling system.  The Zumwalt was, literally, built around the AGS and its munition handling system which was precisely sized for the LRLAP.  Manual handling is not even an option without extensive modifications because the system was designed from scratch to be fully automated.

  • The AGS’ selling point was the extended range of the rocket munition.  The Excalibur, lacking a rocket assist and dependent only on gliding fins for its range, doesn’t even come close to the LRLAP.

“The GPS-guided round – developed by Raytheon and BAE-Systems Bofors – has about half the range of the 60-mile LRLAP ...” (1)

DOT&E cites a range for the Excalibur 1a-2 of 25 miles (40 km) (2).  Of course, this almost invalidates the Zumwalt’s reason for being!

  • While less expensive than the LRLAP it will replace, the Excalibur is not cheap.
“… The GPS-guided round … costs about a quarter of LRLAP’s estimated $1 million per round price tag.” (1)

Defense Industry Daily website cites contract costs of around $70,000 per round (3).  A Department of Defense Selected Acquisition Report shows Average Procurement Unit Costs (APUC) of around $100,000 per round (4).

  • Excalibur is GPS guided.  If GPS is jammed, the round is rendered ineffective.  To be fair, that’s true of many military weapons.  Further, GPS requires fixed targets so the AGS/Excalibur will have limited utility – the enemy is not going to sit in one spot waiting for us to shoot.  Again, to be fair, this was also true of the LRLAP.  GPS guidance for a deep inland munition was always a bit of a head scratcher.
Excalibur - LRLAP Replacement

So, after spending around $30B for the Zumwalt/AGS program, we’re going to wind up with three ships (maybe only two – the last is being looked at as a rail gun test bed) that can fire a 6” round a few miles further than a WWII era battleship’s 16” shells?  For $30B we could have reactivated and operated the battleships for many years.

The AGS/LRLAP is yet another in the seemingly unending list of programs that the Navy committed to before they were technically proven and determined to be cost effective.  The lesson keeps getting hammered home and the Navy keeps refusing to learn.


(1)USNI News website, “Raytheon Excalibur Round Set to Replace LRLAP on Zumwalts”, Sam LaGrone, 13-Dec-2016,

Monday, December 12, 2016

Mismatch and Transformation

Many of the Navy’s current assets seem to make no sense for the threats we face.  They have insufficient range, limited firepower, no armor, are sub-optimal for their roles, etc.  How did these assets come to be and why are they so mismatched for their intended purpose?  It’s almost as if they were built to fight a different war than the one(s) we’re headed for.  Well, that observation is pretty much true.  Let’s dig into history and see how this all came to be.

The origin of today’s mismatched assets lies in the defense department’s transformation movement of the 1990’s and 2000’s.  As a reminder, here’s one definition of transformation.

“Defense transformation has been defined in several ways. For this report, it can be defined as large-scale, discontinuous, and possibly disruptive changes in military weapons, organization, and concepts of operations (i.e., approaches to warfighting), that are prompted by significant changes in technology or the emergence of new and different international security challenges. In contrast to incremental or evolutionary military change brought about by normal modernization efforts, defense transformation is more likely to feature discontinuous or disruptive forms of change.” (1)

This definition is worrisome in that it ignores thousands of years of technological development history – a history that assures us with almost absolute certainty that transformational leaps in technology never succeed.  Thus, the leaders of the time should have paused and reassessed their approach – but they didn’t.

Worse, the desire for transformation led to a filter on development that actively discouraged and eliminated any development that was not transformational.

“The Bush Administration has identified transformation as a major goal for the Department of Defense, and has stated that defense programs will be assessed in terms of their potential for contributing to defense transformation.” (1)

Thus, worthy developments were actively ignored and projects were assessed for their ability to contribute to the transformation movement rather than their ability to contribute to combat power.  In other words, transformation became its own goal – transformation for the sake of transformation.

For a time, the Navy’s guiding document was “SeaPower 21” which envisioned combat power built around the elements of Sea Strike, Sea Shield, and Sea Basing, all tied together through the overarching ForceNet network computer system.  We see, in this, the hints of the failure to come – the belief that we would have an inherently secure, unchallenged environment from which to launch leisurely strikes, conduct basing operations as we pleased, and operate a massive, almost magical network unhindered by any enemy electronic countermeasures or cyber warfare.

CRS summarizes the features of transformation in the following table (1).

This table makes clear all that we need to know to understand the origins of today’s mismatched assets.  Compare the two columns and note the underpinning assumptions of each.  In particular, the “transformed” column has a clear, base assumption.  Let’s look, briefy, at each transformation feature from the table and see what the underlying assumption is and see if we can identify a common theme.

Joint Ops in Littoral Waters, Regional Adversaries – This assumes that we will not a fight an enemy that can reach out and touch us at long range or deny us the freedom to operate near shore, as we wish.

Network-centric Ops – This assumes that we will not fight an enemy with any ability to conduct effective electromagnetic spectrum disruptuion or cyber battle – that we will have an unchallenged electromagnetic spectrum to work with.

Unmanned Vehicles – Unmanned vehicles are a significant step down on the lethality and survivability scales so this feature assumes that we will not fight an enemy with any ability to attack our unmanned vehicles.  That’s a really low level of conflict!

Smaller Crews – This assumes that we will not have to man battle stations, suffer attrition of crew in battle, conduct damage control, or man battle stations for an extended period.  In short, this assumes that we will not fight a battle at sea and that no enemy will be able to challenge us at sea.  In essence, this assumes that our ships will be non-combatants and will merely be deliverers of ordnance – a key point.

Multiple Targets Per Sortie – This assumes that we will have the freedom to conduct leisurely recon and target location, unhindered by any enemy interference.  This also assumes that our aircraft will be able to loiter in enemy airspace and make multiple attack runs or casually move from one target location to another.  In short, this assumes the total absence of enemy aerial resistance or even ground based AAW.

Expeditionary Operations – This assumes that we will be able to move supplies via air without hindrance.

Stealth – Nothing wrong with this!

New Naval Formations – This assumes that we no longer need concentrated combat power and that we can disaggregate our ships.  This assumes the complete absence of any effective naval engagement by the enemy.

Ship Deployment Cycles – This is the beginning of the self-destructive fantasy of minimal manning, deferred maintenance, and systemic neglect.

Business Practices – This assumes the absence of a peer or near-peer enemy with the corresponding assumption that we can run the Navy like a business instead of a like a combat organization.

Do you see the common theme – the underlying assumption?  Of course you do.  It’s painfully obvious.  The people who came up with “transformation” assumed that we would not have to fight an enemy capable of fighting back.

Consider that assumption carefully.  It meant that we would now design a military that was not intended to fight – only to deliver ordnance in an uncontested environment.

Consider the policies, ships, aircraft, and tactics that arose from transformation.  At their heart, each reflects the design assumption that they will not have to fight – only deliver ordnance in a leisurely manner in an uncontested environment.

The F-18 doesn’t need range because we can get as close to the target as we want before we launch aircraft.

The F-18 doesn’t need to be a great fighter because there won’t be anyone to fight.

The Burke doesn’t need armor because no one will shoot at it.

We don’t need mine countermeasure ships because no one will contest our mastery of the sea.

We don’t need a long range, supersonic, anti-ship missile because there is no enemy with ships capable of defending themselves.

We don’t need a 90+ aircraft air wing because there is no enemy that can challenge even our smaller 60+ air wings.

The F-35 doesn’t need range for the same reason the F-18 didn’t need range.

The LCS doesn’t need AAW capability because no one can challenge our mastery of the air.

The giant electric motors of the EMALS catapult don’t need to be electromagnetically shielded because no one will come looking for it.

And so on.

We’re left with a force that was never designed for combat and now, faced with peer or near-peer combat, we’re realizing that our ships, aircraft, weapons, and tactics are mismatched for what we need them to do.  It’s not their fault.  They were never intended for combat.

Ultimately, it wasn’t the attempt at transformation itself that produced today’s failures – it was the strategic mindset that went along with transformation that led to today’s mismatched assets.  The belief that we would fight ill-equipped, weak, third world militaries rather than peers or near-peers led to the creation of assets that were not optimized, not powerful, not long ranged, etc.  Indeed, why would they need to be if you believe that no enemy can challenge your mastery of the sea and air?  Unchallenged, you can get that short ranged aircraft as close to the enemy as needed.  Unchallenged, you can get that sea base up to the enemy’s shore.  Now, however, that misguided thinking has come home to roost.

Let’s take one final look at the mindset of the people who birthed transformation.  From their perspective, at that time, there were no peer/near-peer competitors so they acted in a completely understandable and logical manner and formulated a completely understandable and logical transformational strategy, didn’t they?  That circumstances changed is hardly their fault. is it?  They could not have foreseen the rebirth of an aggressive and militantly/militarily expansionist Russia and China coupled with a nuclear armed North Korea and terrorist-supporting Iran, could they?  At that time, no one could have anticipated any of that, right?


While I might forgive the lack of specific prescient predictions, history guarantees with 100% certainty that a new and hostile peer will always arise.  The failure to heed history’s lesson is what is truly unforgivable. 


(1)Congressional Research Service, “Naval Transformation: Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronald O’Rourke, 2-Jun-2003, RS-20851

Friday, December 9, 2016

Don't Bring A Knife To A Knife Fight

To paraphrase the old saying, don’t bring a knife to a knife fight. 

This means don’t enter into a fight on equal terms.  Enter the fight with an overwhelming advantage.  Bring a 0.50 cal. machine gun to a knife fight.

Unfortunately, bringing a knife to a knife fight is exactly the path the Navy and Marines have embarked on (and the entire military in general).  Let’s take a closer look.

The Navy is currently building a class of 40-52 LCS that have no useful combat capability and, at best, in the future, may have a few anti-ship missiles.  That is the low end of the naval combat capability spectrum for that size vessel.  The Navy is giving its opponents a more than equal chance.

The Navy is steadily shrinking the carrier air wing.  From a Nimitz high of 90+ aircraft, the air wing has shrunk to around 65 and plans call for further reductions in squadron size as the F-35 enters service.  That’s giving the enemy a sporting chance.

The Marine Corps is shedding tanks, artillery, and heavy equipment.  At the time of Desert Storm, the Corps had three tank battalions, each with 70 M60A1 tanks and 72 armored M1045A2 Humvees mounting TOW anti-armor missiles (1).  Since Desert Storm, tank platoons have been reduced in size from five tanks to four and entire tank companies have been eliminated.  For example,

“Outlining the progression of decline in USMC tank inventories, Bodisch [Lieutenant Colonel Robert J. Bodisch, 2nd Tank Battalion] remarked “overall since Desert Storm we had a 54% reduction in tanks and 88% for TOW anti-tank missile systems …” (1)

The situation is continuing to worsen.

“Next February, 2nd Tanks will likely deactivate another of its line companies, “this time Charlie Company, and it will happen about four months before I relinquish command of 2nd Tanks,” he added.

With the deactivation of half of 2nd Tank Battalion’s M1A1 inventory, the Marine Corps [will] be left with only one fully equipped active duty tank battalion, based at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California. “Only 1st Tanks will have the full complement of 58 M1A1 tanks and 26 HMWWV mounted TOW systems, 2nd Tank Battalion will have 30 M1A1 tanks and zero TOW systems,” Bodisch lamented.” (1)

The Marines are moving to a light infantry, low firepower force.  That’s bringing a knife to a knife fight.  You’re giving the other side a sporting chance.  That’s not how to fight a war.  The whole aim of our military is to make a fight so one-sided that no one wants to fight us.  That’s deterrence!

By moving towards a light infantry force, we’re only encouraging our enemies to gear up in the belief that they can match us or exceed our capabilities.  Not that long ago, no enemy believed they had a chance of matching us.  Now, Russia, China, and, increasingly, Iran and NKorea believe they can match us.  China believes they can pass us.  Our willingness to merely bring a knife to the knife fight is emboldening our enemies.

Future wars against peer enemies will involve high end combat with heavy tanks, heavy armored vehicles, lots of artillery, etc. because that is what our potential enemies are developing on a daily basis.  They are not developing motor scooters to flit around the battlefield, like we are.

After WWII, we knew how to wage high end combat.  Since then, we’ve been bringing smaller and smaller weapons to the knife fight.  We had a temporary resurgence in Desert Storm where we brought a machine gun to the knife fight but we’ve since forgotten that lesson.  Now, we’ll be lucky to bring a Boy Scout pocket knife to the knife fight.  We need to stop making the future fight an equal one and start making it a lopsided, forgone conclusion.


(1)Tactical Defense Media website, “Delta Company’s Deactivation: What Does the Future Hold for USMC Tank Battalions?”, Josh Cohen, date unknown,