Sunday, December 31, 2017

Tomcat Eyes

Observers are looking with excitement and anticipation at the development and eventual inclusion of an Infrared Search and Track (IRST) sensor into the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.  This will be a significant advance for the Hornet and broaden the aircraft’s capabilities.

The Boeing/Lockheed Block II IRST, under development in an $89M contract, will be housed in the nose section of an external centerline fuel tank.  Development is scheduled to be completed in 2020. (1)

"IRST is yet another addition to the Super Hornet Block II arsenal, and it will truly change the nature of the air-to-air fight," said Capt. Donald "BD" Gaddis, U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F and EA-18G program manager, PMA-265.” (2)

This revolutionary, first of a kind capability will …huh? … what?  …  Hold on a minute.  Someone is interrupting me.  What?  It what?  Back then? 

Uh, I’ve just been informed that this state of the art IR sensor may not be quite as revolutionary as I thought, having been lead to believe, by the Navy, that nothing like this has been achieved before.  Apparently, I’m told, the F-14 Tomcat had this sensor capability, and more, decades ago.  Okay, let’s take a look back and see what the ancient, outdated, hopelessly outclassed Tomcat had in the way of sensors.

The Tomcat’s non-radar sensors were mounted in distinctive chinpods under the nose. 

ALQ-100 E/F/G/H-Band Track-Breaker – The early F-14A had the ALQ-100 mounted under the nose.  While not a sensor, the electronic countermeasure device was a prominent chin-mount and I mention it for clarity.

ALR-23 IR Seeker - The early F-14A had an IR seeker in a chinpod mount.  The seeker could be slaved to the radar or used independently and was gimbal mounted and could be steered.  I’ve been unable to find much additional information about the sensor’s capabilities or how it was used tactically.

AXX-1 Television Camera System (TCS) – The Northrop TCS was an optical sensor consisting of a telescopic television imager and cockpit display and provided telescopic images of targets far beyond unaided visual range.  Identification ranges are stated to be 10 miles for small fighters and out to 85 miles for large bombers and cargo planes. (4)   The TCS had a 30 degree conical field of view and could be slewed at a rate of 30 degrees/second and was gyroscopically stabilized in pitch/yaw at up to 150 degrees/second.  Thus, the TCS was unaffected by the aircraft’s maneuvering within the field of view.  The TCS also had a tracking-lock capability to enable the target to be continuously followed.  Automatic scan-lock was another built in feature which allowed automatic target detection during continuous scanning.  The Tomcat’s AWG-9/71 radar could be slaved to the TCS or vice versa.  The TCS was first fitted to the late model F-14A.  Additional information is available in a summary report (5).

TCS System

AAS-42 IRST – A more advanced IR sensor, the AAS-42 appeared on the F-14D in 1990.  The sensor provided search and track capability as well as IR imagery.  From Deagel website,

“Operating in six discrete modes, the AN/AAS-42 provides the aircraft mission computer track file data on all targets while simultaneously providing infrared imagery to the cockpit display.” (3)

F-14D’s often utilized a potent side by side, dual combination of IRST and TCS which may have had detection ranges as much as 110+ miles, thereby greatly enhancing air-to-air targeting and useful missile launch ranges. (6)


While the Navy is loudly and proudly proclaiming the coming use of IRST on the F-18 Hornet, we see that the reality is that effective IR and optical sensors existed on the F-14 Tomcat long ago.  Why the Navy abandoned these sensors when the Hornet was developed is baffling.  Today, as we look at the F-35 and all its problems and costs, we view the Hornet fondly and think of it as a good, if not great, aircraft.  The reality is that the Hornet was a very compromised and, as regards combat effectiveness and range, a very ineffective aircraft.  The addition of IRST is a welcome development but, good grief, we had that and better in the F-14 many decades ago.  Even with the IRST, the Hornet will still lack the F-14’s highly effective TCS.

The eyes of the Tomcat were highly effective combat enhancers that the Navy is only now, and only partially, matching with the Hornet’s cobbled together IRST/fuel tank conglomeration. 

As the Soviet pilots of the era knew well, the eyes of the Tomcat were always on them.  We need to remember the capabilities we had decades ago and begin designing actual combat aircraft again that can at least match what we once had.  What passes for a combat aircraft today is a sad reflection of what once was.

Note:  I’m well aware that other aircraft in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s also had similar sensors – no need to list them in a comment.  Again, it just shows how far we’ve drifted away from actual combat aircraft design.


(1)Defense Systems website, “Navy integrates new F-18 infrared sensor”, Katherine Owens, 20-Jun-2017,

(2)Boeing website,

(4)Air Power Australia website, “Electro Optical Systems”, Carlo Kopp, Mar 1984,

(5)Forecast International,

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Light Or Heavy - Either Could Work

The US military has for some time been pursuing a path of “lightness”.  The Marines have drastically scaled back their tank companies and dropped the 120 mm towed mortar, for example.  The navy has totally abandoned armor for ships and considers the non-survivable LCS to be a warship.  The Army pursued a vision of lightly armed Strykers.  All manner of light “jeeps” have been pursued.and procured.

I guess the theory is that our speed of movement will cancel out and overcome the enemy’s firepower, numbers, and armor – a questionable proposition, at best.

We’re now trying to mount 20-30 mm guns on top of jeeps.  We’re looking seriously at developing light/medium “tanks” that have large guns and only lightly armored bodies.  Hit hard, move fast, I guess.

Is this trend to lightness viable on a modern battlefield?

Well, consider this.  The Russians and Chinese are developing artillery that fires submunitions that are far deadlier than previous conventional artillery shells.  These submunitions include enhanced fragmentation and thermobaric explosives.

“Over the past 20 years the Russians have improved on our steel rain technology by developing a new generation of bomblet munitions that are filled with thermobaric explosives. These munitions generate an intense, blast wave of exploding gasses that are far more lethal than conventional explosives. A volley of Russian thermobaric steel rain delivered by a single heavy-rocket launcher battalion produces a lethal area 10 times greater than an American MLRS battalion firing conventional, single-point detonating warheads.” (1)

Imagine that firepower being applied against a bunch of US soldiers running around the battlefield in essentially unarmored jeeps.

Or, consider the prospects of a bunch of light tanks when confronted by a bunch of heavy main battle tanks like the new Russian and Chinese ones.

So, are we saying that a light, mobile, unprotected force can’t win on the modern battlefield.  This is probably going to surprise you but the answer is that they can win, however, there is a massive caveat.  The caveat is numbers/attrition.  If the light force has sufficient numbers and is willing to accept significant attrition, they can win.  Those light tanks will suffer massive casualties (and their crews with them) but with sufficient numbers can eventually kill the heavy tanks.  Those soldiers running around in JLTV (Joint Light Tactical Vehicle) “jeeps” will suffer massive casualties when exposed to firepower but with enough of them they can achieve their objectives. 

Joint Light Tactical Vehicle

The degree of attrition will be massive but victory can be attained.  The problem is that the US military has neither the requisite numbers of vehicles nor personnel to absorb the kinds of losses that such a force would suffer.  Neither do they have the transportation capacity to get such numbers to the battlefield even if they had the numbers.  Further, the degree of callousness required to plan for and accept that level of attrition is beyond any mentality the US has shown in recent times, if ever.  The closest we’ve come to accepting that kind of horrifying attrition is the Civil War and that’s because we didn’t know any better way of fighting.

The other approach, the heavy approach, will also work and with a lot less casualties.  A thermobaric bomb, or heavy artillery, or cluster munitions, or armored divisions can prevent a lot of friendly casualties and seems the far more sensible way to approach war.

We need to carefully evaluate our approach to war and make sure that we are fully committed to whichever path we choose and we need to thoroughly understand the ramifications if we choose the path of lightness.


(1)Breaking Defense website, “Bring Back Artillery Submunitions; Russian Threat Too Great” Bob Scales, 21-Oct-2016,

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Inmates Are Going To Run The Asylum

We all believe that the Pentagon acquisition system is badly broken and needs to be reformed.  How to do that, however, is highly debatable.  The latest trend sees the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) pushing the milestone decision authority back down to the individual services (1).

“Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, logistics and technology, or AT&L, said her intention is to continue to hand off the day-to-day running of programs to the services, preferring her office serve as a kind of high-level group providing overall guidance.

… Lord said she intended to shift the “bulk” of major defense programs from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, or OSD, down to the services …”

For the Navy,

“The same [transfer of milestone authority to the services] is happening with the Navy. James Geurts, the newly confirmed service acquisition head, testified that the Navy currently has milestone decision authority for 40 ACAT 1 [Acquisition Category 1] programs, including the future Guided Missile Frigate and the MQ-25 unmanned system, a change from before the 2016 NDAA. More importantly, the service is in charge of five of its 10 ACAT 1D programs, the biggest efforts that require the most oversight.”

What could possibly go wrong?

The concept is to allow program managers in the services manage their programs with less oversight.  The hope is that this will streamline and speed up the overall acquisition process – and it will!

Now let’s look at why it will.

The Navy is famous for battling DOT&E, the military’s testing organization.  The Navy consistently makes claims of progress and performance that are proven to be largely false when subjected to DOT&E testing.  The DOT&E test results are currently factored into the milestone decision process and the Navy is not very happy about that because the program failures are brought to light and the programs are delayed, modified, or cancelled as a result. 

With milestone decision authority now resting with the Navy, it’s a pretty safe bet that almost nothing is going to be negatively evaluated or delayed.  This will essentially relegate DOT&E to irrelevance since the Navy can freely ignore the test results.  We are going to see a slew of bad weapon systems getting approved with nothing but glowing statements about how they will revolutionize warfare.

How did this change start?

“The drive to push milestone authorities out to the services originated with the office of Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the SASC. He included such a demand as part of a wide-ranging package of reform efforts in the 2016 NDAA.

Not everyone agreed with the changes.

Such a move was opposed by Frank Kendall, who led AT&L [Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics ] from May 2012 until President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January of this year. Part of Kendall’s opposition was about oversight, with concerns that the services would run wild without AT&L keeping a close look at what they were doing.” [emphasis added]

What was Sen. McCain’s response to these concerns?

“While we have empowered the services, that doesn’t mean you can go and do whatever you like,” the chairman admonished his witnesses. “The services must let OSD set strategy and policy and do real oversight. That means being transparent — providing data to, and following the guidance set by, OSD.”

Yes, that should work because the Navy is all about transparency – you know, other than refusing to provide data to DOT&E and refusing to allow an accounting audit!

I’m all in favor of acquisition reform but this isn’t the way.  Giving the services, who have consistently botched every program and lied about performance, more acquisition decision authority is not the way to do it.

The inmates are going to run the asylum.  I can’t see anything going wrong with this.


(1)Defense News website, “Policy shift: DoD is pushing major program management back to the military”, Aaron Mehta, 11-Dec-2017,

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

National Security Strategy

As long time readers know, one of ComNavOps overarching themes is that all things military flow from a national geopolitical strategy.  Military actions and acquisitions should follow this simplified chain of actions:

1)      Geopolitical Strategy – sets the nation’s goals and defines our desired relationship with the rest of the world
2)      Military Strategy – defines how to achieve our geopolitical goals via military means
3)      CONOPS – defines the role and use of specific, individual military assets and lays out the tactics that the asset will employ within the context of the military strategy
4)      Acquisition – having defined the needs and characteristics of specific, individual assets, we can now acquire them with assurance that they will prove useful

Sadly, the U.S. has not had a valid national geopolitical strategy for many years.  Because of this, the U.S. military has been adrift, having no guidance as to what it should do.  The lack of guidance has resulted in haphazard acquisitions where the military has been focused on acquiring technology rather than assets that would actually be useful in a specific region and against a specific enemy.  Thus, we get the LCS which has no useful purpose, the Zumwalt which has no mission, the Marine’s expansion into aviation which duplicates and conflicts with existing national aviation forces, the F-35 which is an international jobs program with dubious combat value, etc.

The lack of a geopolitical strategy has also paralyzed the military’s actions regarding potential enemies.  Having no guidance, the military has defaulted to appeasement.  This has given us the Iranian seizure of our boats and crews with no repercussions, the uncontested seizure of the entire South and East China Seas by China using largely illegal measures, our passive acceptance of the unremitting and unsafe harassment of our military units by Russia, and an unhindered build up of NKorea’s nuclear ballistic missile program.

In short, due to the lack of a geopolitical strategy, the U.S. has been drifting aimlessly on the world stage for many years and has accomplished little and, likely, worsened many situations.

Now, for the first time in many years, the government, in the form of President Trump, has put forth a National Security Strategy (1).  Let’s examine it. 

Note:  I don’t care whether you support President Trump or not.  We’re going to examine the National Security Strategy (NSS) document as it relates to the military.  We’re going to determine whether or not it provides the guidance necessary for the military to regain a sense of purpose and direction.

The NSS begins on a positive note by laying out an underlying foundation:

“Putting America first is the duty of our government and the foundation
for U.S. leadership in the world.”

Aside from being one of President Trump’s campaign slogans, this also provides a clear basis for all subsequent strategic considerations.  Agree or disagree but it’s quite clear.

The document then goes on to list four “pillars” of the strategy:

               I.      Protect the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life

              II.      Promote American prosperity

             III.      Preserve peace through strength

            IV.      Advance American influence

Clearly, these pillars are based on the “America First” principle as stated in the introduction to the strategy.  This is a geopolitical strategy that approaches international relations and events from a very specific perspective – an American perspective.  This provides ample guidance to the government and the military as to what path to follow, what shape our international relations should take, and what rationale our actions should be based on.

If the document contained only those few words and no others, this would almost be sufficient.  However, the strategy also enumerates specific enemies, threats, and actions that further define the pillars.  Here are some of the noteworthy items:

            1.      Protect the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life
a.      Deploy a layered missile defense aimed at Iran and NKorea
b.      Control weapons of mass destruction
c.      Strengthen border control and immigration policy
d.      Eliminate terrorist safe havens
e.      Dismantle transnational criminal organizations
f.       Defend against cyber attacks

          2.      Promote American prosperity
a.      Put an end to unequal and unfair international trading practices
b.      Promote domestic economic prosperity via regulatory and tax relief
c.      Pursue energy dominance

          3.      Preserve peace through strength
a.      Recognizes that war is a spectrum of actions, most of which are non-violent but still threatening
b.      Reestablish military overmatch
c.      Improve readiness
d.      Reverse the decline in size of our military forces
e.      Protect and promote the domestic manufacturing and defense industrial base
f.       Use diplomacy to advance American interests
g.      Maintain our position as the preeminent economic force in the world
h.      Modernize the military

          4.      Advance American influence
a.      Encourage partnerships that advance American interests
b.      Exercise leadership
c.      Champion American values

The strategy concludes by addressing specific regional concerns.

“The United States must tailor our approaches to different regions of the world to protect U.S. national interests. We require integrated regional strategies that appreciate the nature and magnitude of threats, the intensity of competitions, and the promise of available opportunities, all in the context of local political, economic, social, and historical realities.”

This very wisely recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to geopolitics and it recognizes that individual regions and enemies have specific characteristics that the government and military need to be aware of and account for.

The regions addressed are:

  • Indo-Pacific
    • enumerates the threat posed by China and NKorea
    • stresses the need for regional partnerships
    • espouses military forward presence and regional missile defense
    • maintain strong ties with Taiwan while recognizing the “One China” policy and the “Taiwan Relations Act”
  • Europe
    • recognizes Russia’s subversive activities and intimidation
    • calls on European countries to increase defense spending
  • Middle East
    • recognizes the threats posed by Iran and terrorists
    • deny Iranian nuclear progress
  • South and Central Asia
    • strengthen ties with India
    • pressure Pakistan to increase its counter-terrorism activities
  • Western Hemisphere
    • combat international crime
    • strengthen economic ties and trade
  • Africa
    • encourage governmental reform and sanction repressive governments
    • strengthen trade partnerships
    • counter terrorist encroachments

There you have it – the gist of the National Security Strategy.

Unlike “strategies” put forth by previous administrations, this one is has a central theme (America first), names enemies and details their threats, and offers a surprising amount of specific actions to be taken.  In short, this explicitly defines our view of other countries and the nature and basis for our relationships with them.

Here are few specific thoughts on the strategy.

  • The willingness to name enemies and specifically describe their threats and negative actions is realistic and refreshing.  For example, no longer will we be forced to try describe a “Pacific Pivot” but deny that it is aimed at China.  You can’t fight an enemy if you won’t even speak their name (Obama’s refusal to say “radical Islamic terrorism”).  The level of detail about the illegal, immoral, unethical, and unfair actions of unfriendly countries is stunning in comparison to all previous Administrations and strategies.

  • The strategy specifically recognizes the return of great power competition and the impact that has on America, our military, and the world.  This recognition provides the basis for addressing our own military issues of force sizing, readiness, procurement, budget, and modernization. 

  • Refreshingly, after several years of retreat from the world stage, the strategy emphasizes the need for American leadership and the value and benefit of that leadership for the world.

  • The strategy recognizes that America is the standard for the world and the hope for the future of the world.  This is a complete reversal from the previous Administration’s policy of constant apologies for American existence.

  • In one of the notably ambiguous issues, the strategy is still trying to walk the tightrope on the Taiwan-China issue by expressing strong support for Taiwan while acknowledging the One China Policy.  This ambiguity will not assist the military in formulating actions and operations.

  • The strategy is notably weak on African specifics and defaults to generic statements about trade, economics, and politics.  Given that Africa is a rapidly growing host for terrorism and is one of China’s focal points for expansion, this region should have been addressed in much more detail and specifics.

  • The strategy stops short of defining exactly how far we are willing to allow China, Russia, and, to a lesser extent, Iran and NKorea to go in their endeavors.  For example, it does not say whether we will allow China to expand globally, try to contain them regionally, contest their existing expansion, or something else.  Similarly, it does not describe how far we are willing to allow Russia to go.  Will we allow Russia to complete a takeover of Ukraine and expand into other countries?  The strategy’s consistent theme is “America first”.  Does that mean we’ll allow Russia to continue invading countries as long as American interests are not adversely impacted?

While not perfect, this strategy is a vast improvement over anything that has come before it and even considered in isolation is quite adequate.  It defines our enemies and their threats and details specific actions we need to take.  Just as importantly, it provides a consistent basis and rationale for our relationships and actions.  This is exactly what the military needs to formulate military strategies.  Given this document, the military should be able to develop clear and specific strategies for each region and each enemy that we face. 

The Administration has set a viable geopolitical strategy and it is now up to the military to support that with specific and effective military strategies.  There is no longer any excuse for the aimless drifting that has characterized American military behavior for the last few decades.

You can agree or disagree with this National Security Strategy but it must be acknowledged that this is a clear, consistent, and fairly specific strategy.  This is the geopolitical strategy that ComNavOps has been calling for.  The ball is in the Pentagon’s court now.  The President has provided the military with the guidance it needs.  The challenge for the military is to now pick from the range of potential capabilities and actions those that will best support the NSS and assemble coherent strategies for each region and country.  This is exactly what a professional warrior should be able to do.  Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that we do not have professional warriors leading our military.  If the military does not quickly provide the President with the required military strategies then he should initiate wholesale firings of military leadership.

One last time:  the point of this post is not to agree or disagree with the geopolitical strategy presented but to evaluate whether it is a viable, effective guidance for the military.  In that respect, it absolutely is.


Monday, December 18, 2017

The Interoperability Myth

Lately, the Navy and Marines have been making a point of conducting cross-training operations with other navies in order to demonstrate and develop interoperability.  This begs the question, to what purpose?  Does anyone really believe that the US will cross-operate with another country’s military in a real war?

It’s never happened to any significant degree and it never will.  Interoperability cross-training is a pointless, useless, waste of time.

The first problem is that, short of a world war, it is highly unlikely that another country is going to join us in a conflict.  Is Spain really going to militarily join us in a strike?  They rarely have and I see no reason why they will in the future.  Is France going to commit their military to a joint military conflict?  France has denied us simple overflight permissions in anti-terrorism strikes.  There’s no way they’ll join us in actual combat operations.  Turkey, a NATO ally, has denied us basing and operations (3).  They’re not going to join us in combat operations.  Japan is slowly ejecting us from their land and is constrained by legal limits on military action.  The UK has joined us but their military is dwindling fast.

The next problem is practical and involves logistics.  Are we really going to send MV-22’s to fly from a Royal Navy carrier – a carrier that lacks the spare parts, trained maintenance techs, maintenance manuals, and diagnostic equipment required to actually operate the aircraft?  I would hope not.

Another problem is public relations.  Is the Navy going to allow Marines to conduct an assault from a Royal Navy ship when we have a fleet of 30+ big deck amphibious ships sitting around that need all the justifications they can get?  Of course not.  How bad would that make the Navy look in front of Congress?

Combat effectiveness is also an issue.  A recent example is the deployment of US Marines onto a Royal Navy amphibious ship.

“A total of 150 US and British Marines and up to three Osprey aircraft will be deployed on HMS Ocean.” (4)

What purpose does that serve?  Three MV-22s and 150 troops are not an effective combat force.

How many combat operations have we screwed up on our own?  Remember President Carter’s ill-fated hostage rescue attempt in 1980?  And we want to layer on the added confusion of trying to operate from, and with, a foreign navy?  That’s insane. 

Common sense also rears its ugly head.  An occasional cross-training of a very few units/troops is not going to provide across the board competence by either the US or whatever foreign country, in operating with the other.  If the time were to come to cross-operate for real, the very, very few units/troops who had actually trained for it would have been long since dispersed, retired, or unavailable.  Why would we possibly try to operate aircraft, under combat conditions, on someone else’s carrier when we have all the deck space we need to operate the aircraft from our own ships?

Consider a recent cross-training exercise,

“The Corps will test capabilities for the first time in November during the large NATO exercise Trident Juncture, Cooling [Brig. Gen. Norm Cooling, deputy commander of Marine Forces Europe-Africa] said, putting Marines aboard the Ocean for two weeks and working on the Spanish amphibious ship Juan Carlos I for several days and then the Ocean for two weeks.” (5)

How does a week or two of cross-training build any permanent and useful capability or skills?  We can’t even build competence in basic ship handling when we sail our ships full time!

Cross-training makes for good public relations opportunities and photo ops, I guess.  Consider this example - MV-22’s operated from the HMS Illustrious in 2007 and 2013.

“Lieutenant Commander Nigel Terry, deputy head of HMS Illustrious’ Flight Department was also on board when the Osprey visited in 2007.

He said: "Opportunities like this present an invaluable opportunity to continue to grow our ability to work together with other nations. This is absolutely essential in modern naval operations.

"It allows us to grow our understanding of our different procedures as well as providing valuable training for our deck crews.” (1)

This Royal Navy spokesman is either delusional or just engaged in public relations spinning.  How does the Royal Navy briefly operating an aircraft they’ll never have help the RN?  For the reasons I’ve already enumerated, the US is never going to operate MV-22’s from an RN vessel.  This is absolutely pointless.

I suppose there’s some small benefit on a person-to-person level in getting to know foreign sailors but that doesn’t begin to justify the effort and expenditure of the exercise.  If we want people to conduct group hugs we can schedule port visits when a ship happens to be in the area.

Here’s an example of how/why our goals so seldom mesh with another country’s.  Consider the criteria of use for some of Italy’s new ships.

“Previously, the Italian Defense Ministry said that the new warships [frigates] would be used only for humanitarian operations.

In 2015, the Defense Ministry and Fincantieri shipyard signed a contract to build an amphibious assault ship equipped with a helicopter deck.

According to the ministry, the ship would be used for humanitarian operations, including to aid in the evacuation of refugees. This is why the ship was dubbed a "humanitarian aircraft carrier." In addition, recently laid down patrol ships were also planned for humanitarian missions.” (2)

A country building “humanitarian aircraft carriers” isn’t going to conduct military operations with us.

There may well be countries that fight beside us in future conflicts.  The Royal Navy, for example, will always stand with us but they will fight beside us, separately, not mixed in with us.  With that in mind, there is value in exercising communications and command/control procedures but that’s not the kind of cross-training this post is talking about.

Why are we cross-training when we haven’t mastered our own procedures, operations, and tactics?  If we get to a point where we have totally mastered all of our own “stuff” and we’re sitting around bored, looking for something to pass time, then sure, let’s go cross-train.  Until then, let’s stop wasting time.


(1)Royal Navy website, 20-Sep-2013, retrieved 19-May-2017,

(2)Sputnik website, “Italy to Respond to Russia’s Presence in the Mediterranean With Naval Reform”, 29-Nov-2016,

(3)Los Angeles Times website, “US Seeks Overflights in Turkey”, Esther Schrader and Richard Boudreaux, 12-Mar-2003

(4)Sunday Express website, “Hundreds of US Marines to be deployed on British warship amid Russia threat”, Nick Gutteridge, 16-Jun-2015,

(5)Stars and Stripes website, “With fewer ships at their disposal, Marines turn to allies”, Steven Beardsley, 16-Jul-2015,

Friday, December 15, 2017

LCS Service Without A Module

The LCS program has many problems.  One of the major ones is that there are no combat-useful modules available despite years of development effort.  Without a module, the LCS is just a large patrol boat.

Here’s a table showing the commissioned LCS vessels and the number of years that they have, thus far, served without a module.  Recalling that the target service life span of the LCS is 25 years and noting that almost no Navy vessel has made it to their full life span in recent decades, we’re seeing LCS’s that are expending significant portions of their service lives without any useful capability whatsoever.

Ship      Commissioned   Years Without a Module

LCS-1         2008               9
LCS-2         2010               7
LCS-3         2012               5
LCS-4         2014               3
LCS-5         2015               2
LCS-6         2015               2
LCS-7         2016               1
LCS-8         2016               1
LCS-10        2017               0

The troubling aspect to this is that there is no readily discernible end to the module development in sight.  The Navy claims that each module is just a few years from operation but they’ve been claiming that for the last decade.

This is the equivalent of a battleship being built, commissioned, and serving for years without its main battery.

If a war starts tonight, what can the commissioned LCS’s contribute?  Nothing.

That’s what 9 of our commissioned warships bring to the combat table.  Nothing.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Marine Corps in Desert Storm - The Great Diversion

In the 1991 Desert Storm campaign, the Marines threatened, but did not conduct, an amphibious assault.  Their efforts created a diversion that tied up large numbers of Iraqi troops (60,000 – 80,000 depending on the source) defending against an assault that never materialized.  This reduced the numbers that the Coalition faced during the actual ground assault.  Most people believe that the diversion was a brilliant example of the value of amphibious forces.  To some extent, that’s true, however, in this case, the diversion was never a serious, viable threat due to the presence of mines.

“At the inception of Operation Desert Storm, it was unlikely that amphibious operations would take place, because of the minefields that lay along the Kuwaiti and Iraqi coast, and the threat posed by Iraqi antiship-missile capabilities.” (1)

Coalition planners did, indeed, consider the possibility of an amphibious assault with the goal of seizing the port at Ash Shuaybah, on the Kuwaiti coast.  However, when the Tripoli (LPH-10) and the Princeton (CG-59) struck mines on 18 February 1991, any thought of an actual assault was abandoned.  The U.S. and Coalition lacked the capacity to clear mines in a combat assault scenario.

“The force planners estimated any assault would need ten days of concentrated mine clearance to clear a path and three to five days of naval gunfire support to clear Iraqi beach defences. Air strikes and naval gunfire would also have to be used while the mines that were within range of Iraqi artillery were cleared. Before then, the amphibious force would have to stay over 70 miles from the coast.” (2)

Ten days to clear a path for an amphibious assault – and this did not include clearance of the more widespread minefields that prevented the amphibious ships from even reaching the area – as Tripoli and Princeton found out.

Had Saddam Hussein realized this, and he should have, he could have dismissed the amphibious possibility as the non-existent threat that it was.  However, no one ever accused Hussein of being a strategic or operational genius and he treated the non-existent threat as real.  Of course, in the end, it made no difference either way.

The salient point from this is that the presence of mines completely removed the realistic possibility of amphibious assault from the operational table.  Not only has nothing changed today but our mine countermeasures (MCM) capability has atrophied even further.  We have no realistic possibility of conducting amphibious assaults or port seizures when mines are present.  Given the vast inventories of mines possessed by all our likely enemies, those enemies are effectively immune from amphibious assault. 

The Marines and Navy can talk all they want about amphibious assault but until they begin to acquire the basic, non-glamorous capabilities like MCM, naval fire support, C-RAM, functional first wave connectors, etc., amphibious assault will remain just talk.


(1)United States Naval Institute Proceedings magazine, “Marine Amphibious Force Operations in the Persian Gulf War”, 2nd Lt. Michael Russ, USMC, July 1997, Vol 123/7

(2)History of War website,