Monday, February 27, 2017

What War Is

One of ComNavOps’ recurring themes is that we’ve forgotten what war is.  The corollaries to this are that we’ve forgotten how to wage a true war and we’ve forgotten the cost, in lives and utter destruction, of war.  SNAFU blog brings the issue to the forefront with a simple sentence in a new post about Hezbollah acquiring the Yakhont anti-ship cruise missile (P-800 export version).  Here’s the quote,

“A mission to destroy/recover those missiles (assuming you aren't willing to risk massive civilian casualties by simply bombing the grid square they're located in) is gonna be rough.” [emphasis added]

This sums up and focuses the entire “what war is” issue in one sentence.

We’ve fought low end conflicts for so long and gotten so used to being able to pick and choose exquisitely precise attacks that we’ve forgotten what an indiscriminate affair true war is.  We’ve come to believe that we can conduct a war with no civilian casualties or collateral damage.  Arguably, avoidance of civilian casualties and collateral damage has been our main objective in many instances, as opposed to achievement of any actual military objective.

What is war?  For the purpose of this discussion, war is combat to eliminate a threat to national security.  If one’s national security is threatened then one should take any and all action necessary to eliminate the threat.  You don’t address national security threats on a limited, collateral damage avoiding basis.  You decisively, thoroughly, and permanently eliminate it.  If you can do so while avoiding civilian casualties and collateral damage, all the better but avoidance of casualties and damage cannot be the military objective.  If it is, then your national security isn’t really being threatened.

If a missile such as this (or any military asset, for that matter) constitutes a threat to national security then it must be eliminated.  The only question is how best to go about it.  Even here, the question is fairly easy to answer.  The “how” is the method that achieves the asset’s destruction with the least loss of American lives.  Avoidance of civilian casualties and collateral damage are secondary objectives that may serve to moderate the method but not dictate it.  For example, avoidance might suggest conventional bombs as opposed to nuclear weapons if conventional bombs would be equally effective and not unduly risk American lives.

To return to the specific example of a missile located amongst the general population, the option to eliminate it via bombing a grid square is likely the option that would provide the most effective accomplishment of the task while providing the least risk to US lives.  When faced with a national security threat, avoidance of civilian casualties and collateral damage must take a back seat to mission accomplishment.  We’ve forgotten that.

In WWII, when faced with snipers hiding in civilian buildings, we called in artillery, mortars, or bazookas, leveled the building, and moved on.  That was war.

The only “good” in war is ending it quickly, decisively, and victoriously.  Any other approach just prolongs the fighting and results in more casualties on both sides, both civilian and military.  Consider the US’ reluctance to engage ISIS when co-located with civilians.  By passing on engagement opportunities, the US repeatedly allows ISIS fighters to continue to slaughter more civilians.  On the one hand, tens of civilians may die in the engagement.  On the other hand, hundreds or thousands may die, and many more suffer deprivations, over the succeeding months and years at the hands of the ISIS terrorists that are allowed to live out of a desire to avoid civilian deaths or collateral damage.  Which is worse?  The answer is clear, if ugly, but that’s what war is and we’ve forgotten that and forgotten how to make the hard decisions.

This post runs the risk of putting words in the mouth of the SNAFU author that the author did not intend.  Thus, note that SNAFU did not suggest that the Yakhont missile constituted a national security threat requiring immediate action nor did SNAFU state how, exactly, the threat should be dealt with.  ComNavOps has simply taken one of SNAFU’s typically informative and thought provoking posts and extrapolated on one aspect of it.  If you have problems with the conclusions in this post, blame ComNavOps not SNAFU.


(1)SNAFU website, “Hezbollah Terror Group now has P-800 Oniks Anti-Ship Missiles (Brahmos)????”, 23-Feb-2017,

Friday, February 24, 2017

Threat Surrogates

The Navy thinks nothing of spending billions for new ships, aircraft, and weapons – even ones with questionable performance – and yet what does the Navy spend on testing of these systems?  Only a tiny fraction, by comparison.  Worse, what does the Navy spend on threat surrogates to ensure that the testing they do engage in is meaningful?  Almost nothing.  In fact, in many cases, there are no realistic threat surrogates which means there is no realistic testing possible. 

Let’s take a wander through the DOT&E 2016 Annual Report and see how widespread this problem is.

Submarines – The Navy lacks a realistic diesel submarine or surrogate which is necessary for testing the BQQ-10 submarine sonar system.

“Perform an ASW event against a high-end, diesel-electric, hunter-killer submarine …”

Torpedoes – The Navy lacks realistic, threat-representative torpedo surrogates.

“In September 2015, the Navy completed a formal study that identified capability gaps in currently available torpedo surrogates and presented an analysis of alternatives for specific investments to improve threat emulation ability. The Navy has since taken the following actions to address the identified capability gaps:

- The Navy received funding through an FY16 Resource Enhancement Project (REP) proposal and is currently in development of a threat-representative high-speed quiet propulsion system.

- The Navy submitted an FY17 REP proposal to develop a General Threat Torpedo (GTT) that is intended to expand upon the propulsion system under development and provide representation of threat torpedoes in both acoustic performance and tactical logic.”

Lack of a suitable surrogate hinders Zumwalt testing.

“The threat torpedo surrogates currently available for operational assessment of the Zumwalt-class destroyer have significant limitations in their representation of threat torpedoes.”

Cruise Missiles – The Navy lacks representative cruise missile surrogates.

“…although SeaRAM has demonstrated some capability against ASCM threats, the lack of ASCM surrogate targets to adequately represent advanced ASCM threats combined with the paucity of test data does not support a meaningful and quantitative assessment of SeaRAM’s ability to provide the DDG 51 class with an adequate self-defense against threat ASCMs.”

DOT&E’s recommendation: 

“Develop threat surrogate aerial targets that adequately represent advanced ASCM threats.”

Closely related to realistic threat surrogates is the need for realistic test bed platforms for Aegis.  As DOT&E suggested,

“Provide the necessary funding to support the procurement of an advanced air and missile defense radar [AMDR/SPY-6] and Aegis-equipped SDTS [Self Defense Test Ship] that are needed to support Aegis Modernization, advanced AMDR DDG 51 Flight III, and ESSM Block 2 operational testing.”

The lack of a realistic test bed – meaning a representative SDTS – jeopardizes Aegis modernization, AMDR/SPY-6 development and fielding, the Burke Flt III, and ESSM.  What is the Navy spending on those programs?  Billions.  What is the Navy spending on obtaining a realistic SDTS?  Zero.  The Navy is willing to risk ships and crew to save an infinitesimally small amount of money.  Here’s a thought …  The Navy is desperately trying to early retire the Aegis cruisers.   Why not convert one of them into an Aegis/AMDR SDTS?  The ship is there – already paid for.  The equipment is already mounted.  It only needs to have some simple automation added.

As a point of interest, the current SDTS is the former USS Foster, DD-964, a Spruance class destroyer.  Given that the bulk of our surface fleet consists of Aegis vessels – and soon to be AMDR/SPY-6 – the need for a representative SDTS is overwhelming.

The Navy thinks nothing of spending billions on highly questionable platforms like the LCS, Zumwalt, Ford, and LPD-17 but balks at spending the money necessary to actually test new weapons and platforms.  That’s utterly illogical.  That’s the Navy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Right All Along

The Navy has finally and officially acknowledged that ComNavOps was right all along.  Of course, ComNavOps is right about everything, so what, specifically, is the Navy acknowledging that ComNavOps was right about?  - The need for in-house naval engineering to design and oversee ship acquisition programs.

ComNavOps has long preached that the Navy abdicated its responsibilities by abolishing BuShips and turning over design and construction responsibility to the manufacturers.  This began with the Spruance class, which actually turned out quite well, and has culminated the LCS, LPD-17, Ford, and Zumwalt fiascos.

Now, the Navy has recognized that the lack of in-house engineering expertise is at the root of these acquisition disasters (1).  How bad had the engineering loss gotten?

“Vice Adm. Tom Moore, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, said NAVSEA’s engineering directorate (SEA 05) had dropped to a fifth of its size from 1990 to 2005.”

“…in SEA 05, where there had been 1,292 engineers in 1990 and only 251 in 2005 …”

The Navy is now looking to hire engineers with a goal of 750 by 2025.  Of course, that’s still only around half of what they had in 1990 and none of those new hires will have naval warship design and construction experience so there won’t be any quick turnaround in design and construction expertise.  Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, the Navy is only looking to go half way to solving the problem.  The full solution requires reconstituting BuShips and the General Board.  The Navy, however, is only going to add engineers without the BuShips organization that made the warship design process so effective and without the General Board that made warship conceptual designs so linked to operational needs.

Why did the Navy go down the ill fated path that they did?

““In one of our many eras of acquisition reform – and at that time, the vogue in acquisition reform back in the mid-90s was, hey, industry knows best, just throw it over the fence to them and let them build the ships and we’ll be fine …”

I know, it sounds idiotic, doesn’t it?  Unfortunately, the concept went even further off the rails when the Navy not only threw the responsibility over the fence to the manufacturer but they threw it to companies that had never built a warship before.  Neither Lockheed Martin nor Austal had built a warship before they started building the LCS.  What did the Navy think was going to happen?

I’ve never built a nuclear reactor before.  What do you think will happen if you hire me to build one?

You know, there’s some failings that are obvious in hindsight but may not have been obvious at the time and then there’s ideas that are so blindingly stupid that hindsight is not required:  non-warship companies building warships, minimal manning, deferred maintenance, and so on.  It was obvious from the start that abdicating design responsibility would not turn out well. 

While it’s good that the Navy is finally recognizing the error of their ways, that error has cost the Navy an entire generation of flawed ships.  The LCS will never be useful.  The LPD-17 was a quality control disaster whose effects are still being felt (and we’re using it as the basis for future ship classes!!!!).  The Ford is an unaffordable budget disaster that is sounding the death knell of carriers.  The Zumwalt is the poster child for “I don’t really know what I want” and cost the Navy an entire generation of cruisers.

Make no mistake.  This decades long disaster lies squarely with Navy flag leadership.  The extent of their incompetence is/was staggering and will continue to be felt for decades to come.


(1)USNI website, “Navy to Impose More Rigorous Oversight in New Ship Classes; Will Hire More Engineers”, Megan Eckstein, February 20, 2017,

Monday, February 20, 2017

Russian Spy Ship

The media is abuzz with reports of a Russian spy ship off the northeast coast of the US.  Congressmen are demanding action and expressing outrage.  You’d think we were being invaded.  Good grief, this is exactly what we do to countries around the world.  The Russians have every right to be there and I have no problem with that.

Having said that, if I were the Navy/Military I’d give some thought to scheduling our pilots for some low level flying training in that area.  If some pilot happened to make a closer than “safe” pass, well, that happens during training, doesn’t it?

I’d also consider having some Navy ships conduct close quarter maneuvering drills in the area.  If they happened to inadvertently cross paths with the Russian ship and violate some rules of the road, well, again, those things happen during training. 

Finally, I’d send some ships and electronic warfare aircraft to conduct training in the area.  If that training happened to interfere with the Russian ship’s communications and whatnot, well, that happens during training, right?

Seriously, this is a golden opportunity for the US to send a message to Russia in response to all the Russian actions that are aimed at sending messages to us.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Modern Battleship - v.2

Let’s have a little fun today and consider what a modern battleship would be.  In particular, let’s look at how a modern battleship would be different from the iconic Iowa class.

Note: This is a significantly different slant on a modern battleship from a previous version that I offered for consideration (see, "Modern Battleship").  You might want to check that one out as a comparison.

Since WWII, missiles have replaced guns as the main naval weapon.  Long range, almost world wide surveillance has obviated the need for speed to a large degree, weapon ranges have increased from 20 miles to hundreds or a thousand miles, armor has been all but abandoned.  How do these trends impact a modern battleship design, if at all?  Let’s look at the modern battleship’s main characteristics, point by point, and see where they take us.

Main Armament.  Battleship discussions rightly start and end with the main armament.  The BB’s 16” guns set the standard for gun based destructive power – both anti-surface and land attack.  To build a modern BB without powerful guns is to build a ship that is not a BB – it might be an arsenal ship or missile barge but it won’t be a BB.  Thus, the modern BB will be armed with three triple 16” gun mounts – any less and what’s the point?

Secondary Armament.  The battleship’s secondary armament had a few functions: anti-aircraft, shore bombardment, and anti-destroyer.  Guns can no longer perform anti-aircraft, 5” guns for shore bombardment are still useful but the likelihood of a major assault requiring massive bombardment is very small, and no destroyer is likely to reach 5” gun range against a battleship.  Thus, the secondary gun requirement is much reduced.  The secondary armament would be the Navy’s standard 5”/62 gun.  I would suggest that two per side, for a total of four, would be adequate.

Strike.  A battleship’s purpose is to hit hard with overwhelming firepower.  Part of that firepower will consist of Tomahawk cruise missiles.  A pair of 32 cell VLS units, for a total of 64 missiles, would provide a significant long range strike capability.  This would be in addition to the AAW VLS requirements discussed below.

AAW.  The battleship of WWII was the Aegis cruiser of today – a mammothly powerful AAW platform bristling with 20 mm, 40 mm, and 5” guns.  Today, however, AAW is conducted with missiles, primarily.  We already have dedicated Aegis AAW ships so duplicating this capability on a battleship would be a waste.  The battleship would always operate with Aegis escorts.  Thus, the BB would be armed only with medium range ESSM and RAM missiles.  Specifically, I’d give the BB two 8-cell Mk41 VLS which could hold 64 quad-packed ESSM.  Additionally, I’d give it 6 SeaRAM launchers, each of which holds 11 RAM missiles for a total of 66 close in AAW missiles.  Finally, I’d give it 4 Phalanx CIWS mounts, two per side, for that last ditch defense.

Armor.  If armament is the first item of battleship discussion, armor is the second.  A modern battleship would have the modern day equivalent of the Iowa plus whatever modern armor improvements could be adapted such as Kevlar, composite armor, reactive armor, spaced armor, and so on.  There’s simply no point to having a powerful, expensive ship that can be easily sunk.

Speed.  The WWII Iowa was operated with the fast carriers and so it had to be fast, itself.  That would not be true with a modern BB.  A modern BB is not a carrier escort – it is a land and sea strike platform.  It would operate as the anchor of a Surface Action Group (SAG).  In that role, speed is nice but not a necessity and very high end speed serves no purpose.  No ship, no matter how fast is going to outrun a missile or aircraft.  A reasonable degree of speed is useful for rapid repositioning but 25 kts is just as effective as 30+ kts. 

Speed in WWII was also used to outpace the enemy’s surveillance cycle.  The only long range surveillance in WWII was the aircraft and they were only effective during daylight hours.  Thus, speed was used to dash in from a couple hundred miles away, during the night, to achieve an attack position before the enemy’s next surveillance cycle could begin.  Today, with radar, satellites, etc,, there is no surveillance cycle.  Surveillance is 24 hours a day and the ability to “dash in” probably no longer exists.

Therefore, the modern BB will have a speed of 25 kts and, thus, a correspondingly smaller engineering plant, smaller uptakes, and smaller exhausts, thereby consuming less internal ship’s volume.  If you want to see the effect that very high end speed has on ship’s volume, look at the LCS and note the size of the intakes and exhausts and imagine the internal volume dedicated to those ducts!

Sensors.  Not being an Aegis/Standard Missile vessel, and operating with Aegis vessels, the modern battleship has no need for Aegis/AMDR or any other high end radar suite.  Something like the TRS-4D radar in flat panel array configuration should be adequate along with EO/IR sensors.

ASW.  This is not a destroyer.  We are not going to have our BB playing tag with submarines.  That is what escorts are for.  The modern BB will have no ASW capability, at all.  The most we’ll concede is a mine-detecting sonar.

Helos.  The modern battleship will always be escorted by Aegis destroyers with helos, hangars, and flight decks.  The battleship needs only a flight deck for resupply and personnel transport purposes.  No hangar and no dedicated helos.

Stealth.  The battleship is going to be big and will be detected.  It is not worth driving up costs in an attempt to provide an unachievable degree of stealth.  The ship should have whatever degree of stealth can be achieved via simple shaping (slanting) of the superstructure.  Exotic coatings should be avoided.

There you have our modern version of a battleship – a powerful, well protected vessel that provides dominant offensive firepower on the modern battlefield.  Its mission would be to anchor surface attack groups (I say “attack” to, again, emphasize the offensive nature of the modern battleship) tasked with shore bombardment support for ground forces, anti-surface sweeps, and strikes against enemy bases, ports, airfields, etc.  A group would consist of a battleship and 5 Burke class destroyers. 

What do you think?  What does your concept of a modern battleship look like and what would its mission be?

Side note:  The one item that I’d be willing to trade off is the third 16” turret.  If an analysis of size, weight, cost, and weapons placement suggested that deletion of the third turret would result in a more affordable, better packaged ship, I’d be willing to consider that.  Specifically, I’m considering the placement of the required VLS cells.  It might be that the third gun would have to be replaced by a VLS cluster.  Hopefully, though, that would not be the case.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

F-18 IRST Status

Infrared Search and Track (IRST) is one of the hot topics in aviation.  Supporters claim it greatly enhances the stealth of a fighter since it allows search and tracking via passive modes as opposed to active radar use.  It also allows detection of enemy aircraft that are radar stealth’ed and, thus, negates an enemy’s stealth advantage. 

The Navy has an IRST development program underway to equip the F-18E/F Hornet fleet with IRST as an effort to keep the non-stealthy F-18s relevant and combat effective in an age of stealth.

Following is a discussion of the F-18 IRST program as reported in the DOT&E 2016 Annual Report.

The F-18 IRST sensor will be mounted on the nose of a centerline fuel tank under the fuselage of the Hornet.  The current IRST21 unit is being developed by Boeing and Lockheed Martin and is descended from the F-14 IRST.  The Navy plans to procure 170 IRST units.  The current Block I will be fielded as test units and eventually upgraded to the future production Block II. 

Block I was originally scheduled to enter full rate production but the Navy decided to forego production in favor of the Block II version after a program review of the Block I test results.  This suggests that the Block I was deemed insufficiently successful to warrant production and, in typical Navy thinking, the unsuccessful Block I is bypassed in the hope that the non-existent Block II will somehow attain the success that the Block I did not.  There is nothing inherent wrong with this approach as long as we don’t commit to the Block II production before its capabilities are proven.  Too often, the Navy, faced with a failure, opts to incorporate undemonstrated “improvements” that exist only on paper and then immediately commit to production without waiting for demonstrated success.

The key development in the program thus far, Operational Assessment 2 (OA 2), took place in November 2015 when the IRST was tested under realistic combat conditions.  Unfortunately, the results were less than successful.

“The system … could not reliably detect and track targets well enough to support weapons employment in an environment that reflects realistic fighter employment and tactics.”

Immediately subsequent to this assessment, a program review was held.

“Assistant Secretary of the Navy (ASN) for Research, Development, and Acquisition (RDA) held an IRST program review on January 27, 2016, and in a September 8, 2016, Acquisition Decision Memorandum (ADM), ASN (RDA) approved a restructured program that foregoes full-rate production of Block I sensors and proceeds directly to development of the Block II system. The Block I system will not be fielded and IOT&E did not begin in 2016 as planned.

The Navy plans to hold the Block II Preliminary Design Review in May 2017 and begin IOT&E in 2020.”

As discussed, it is clear that the results of the assessment test and subsequent review indicated that the Block I IRST was not successful.  Unfortunately, instead of pausing until development could overcome whatever problems were seen, the Navy has opted to leap into Block II and has already scheduled production.

It is noteworthy that the Hornet-IRST-fuel tank combination has been approved for the full flight envelope as long as the fuel tank is empty.  Some restrictions have been placed on both launch and flight conditions with varying loads of fuel in the tank.

With the tank empty, the IRST becomes, in essence, a giant sensor the size, weight, and drag of a fuel tank!  If the tank can’t be used for fuel or only in partial load conditions, one has to wonder at the wisdom of placing the unit in a centerline fuel tank to begin with as opposed to a wing or nose mounted location.  On the other hand, DOT&E points out that the flight restrictions may not be significant.

“Given the rate at which fuel is consumed from the centerline fuel tank, these restrictions are effective for only a short period at the beginning of the mission profile and should not have an operational impact.”

The under-the-fuselage location also restricts the field of view of the sensor.  Obviously, it can’t see anything above the aircraft.  Thus, it’s only 50% effective to begin with, even if it worked perfectly for the lower field of view.

Reliability is also an issue.

“Demonstrated reliability is below what was expected at this point in the flight test program. As of the time of DOT&E’s OA 2 report, the cumulative Mean Time Between Operational Mission Failure (MTBOMF) was 4.1 hours; the reliability after incorporating known fixes was 19.5 hours. The MTBOMF requirement is 40 hours and the system was expected to have a projected reliability of 38 hours when entering IOT&E.”

DOT&E’s report concludes with this criticism of the Navy and admonishment to learn a lesson.

“Many of the Block I system’s difficulties with detection and tracking seen in OA 1 and OA 2 did not require flight testing to uncover them, but could have been discovered earlier via analysis and modeling and simulation. The Navy expects that the Block II configuration (which includes sensor and aircraft hardware and software), will provide improved capability. This assumption should be tested as early as possible, prior to major decisions …,”

Unfortunately, the Navy seems determined to ignore this lesson, having already scheduled Block II production.

Please don’t read this post as being against fielding an IRST.  ComNavOps believes that a fully functional IRST would be a relatively cheap and highly effective combat aid and is well worth pursuing.  Successful and functional IRST units apparently exist around the world and there is no reason to believe that the Navy and its manufacturing partners cannot produce a functional unit.  However, we need to go about this intelligently.

I would recommend that the Navy reconsider the under-the-fuselage location.  Perhaps there is a good reason why the unit can’t be wing or nose mounted but it would be worth some extraordinary effort to do so.  The actual sensor is small and should be able to be mounted in a more advantageous position.

I also recommend that the Navy stop making production plans for an unproven and, thus far, unsuccessful unit.  By all means, continue development but set production plans aside and remove that artificial deadline from consideration.  Take the time needed to field a fully functioning unit.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


Help us.  Help us!  The sky is falling.  Naval ship and aircraft maintenance is failing.  We must have more money …   …   …  oh, and more ships and more planes.  This is the story that has been blasting forth from the Navy for the last few days.  The Navy would have us believe that they’ve done everything they can to keep the Navy in top condition but the evil, external forces of sequestration and national need have conspired to savage Navy maintenance and readiness despite the Navy’s heroic efforts. 

Of course, this ignores the fact that a month ago the Navy was voicing no such outcry.  A year ago, the Navy didn’t really care about maintenance and readiness as they knowingly deferred desperately needed maintenance.  A decade or two ago, as the Navy was making conscious decisions about deferring maintenance in favor of new construction, they didn’t care at all about maintenance or readiness.

This blog has thoroughly and repetitively documented the Navy’s unceasing and fanatical devotion to new construction at the expense of maintenance and readiness and yet, now, the Navy has suddenly seen the light.  Does that sound right?  Does that sound remotely believable?  Or, does it sound like the Navy has suddenly realized that the new Administration might be amenable to providing larger budgets and is making a play to grab their share of the potential largesse?

Here’s a statement by Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Bill Moran, to a Senate panel, just the other day:

“It starts by strengthening the foundation of the Navy by ensuring the aircraft, ships and submarines we do have are maintained and modernized to ensure they meet the full measure of their combat power,” he said. (1)

How Adm. Moran can utter this statement with a straight face is beyond me.  Is this the same Navy that recently and repeatedly tried to get Congress to let them early retire the Aegis cruiser class rather than perform maintenance and upgrades?  Where was Adm. Moran when the Navy was trying to eliminate the Ticonderogas?  Where was Moran when the Navy routinely and repeatedly decided to defer maintenance on aircraft carriers?  His statement is the height of hypocrisy. 

Moving on, though, let’s look at other aspects of this recent outcry.

The Navy has just documented the state of the aviation fleet.

“Currently, 53 percent of Navy and Marine Corps aircraft are unfit to fly. That rises to 62 percent of strike fighters and, as we reported yesterday, 74 percent of Marine F-18 Hornets.” (2)

Adm. Moran offers further dire warnings should budgets not be increased.

“Adm. Bill Moran, vice chief of naval operations, said the impact for the Navy would be immediate: Two carrier air wings would cease operations entirely, and two would operate at that “tactical hard deck” of 11 flight hours per pilot per month, the minimum allowable for safety.” (3)

Oh my gosh, that’s terrible!  Why is the situation so bad?  According to the Navy, the problem is lack of new aircraft.

“Overused, under-maintained, and not replaced, the aircraft are simply wearing out.  …consumption is outpacing procurement: Since 2000, we have struck 748 strike fighters and procured 573 for a delta (net loss) of 175 aircraft.”

The Navy’s solution?  Buy more aircraft!

“We need to continue producing JSFs … and reopen the Super Hornet line with Boeing to take pressure off the current force now.”

So, the Navy’s solution isn’t better maintenance of existing aircraft, bigger budgets for depots and spare parts, or better stewardship of the taxpayer’s dollars.  No, the Navy’s solution is to buy new aircraft. 

Hey, Mom and Dad, I didn’t change the oil in the car you gave me, I never cleaned it, I didn’t perform any tune ups, and I didn’t do any preventive maintenance and, as a result, the car isn’t running anymore.  Can I have a new car?  Most of us would see the absurdity in that and yet the Navy is having exactly that conversation with Congress!

This is nothing more than out and out extortion of Congress by the Navy.  The Navy is attempting to blame Congress for decades of conscious Navy neglect and threaten Congress with dire consequences if Congress does not meekly acquiesce and provide significant budget increases.  All the while, the Navy glosses over and ignores the fact that it was 100% the Navy that made the endless series of irresponsible decisions that led to the current hollow force.


Side Note:  We’ve seen the Navy sink the entire Spruance class rather than allow the possibility of the Spruance/NTU combination to threaten Aegis funding.  We’ve seen the Navy neuter, retire, and sell off the entire Perry class rather than allow it to threaten LCS funding.  Does anyone else think that allowing hundreds of aircraft to sink into disrepair sounds a lot like more of the same?  Be honest, given their history, could you see the Navy allowing older aircraft to prematurely fall into disrepair and languish in depots in order to avoid threatening new aircraft funding?  Just saying – there’s a lot of parallels.


(1)USNI News website, “VCNO Moran: Navy is Less Ready Because ‘We’re Too Small’”, Sam LaGrone, February 8, 2017,

(2)Breaking Defense website, “Navy, Marine F-18s In ‘Death Spiral’ As Readiness Plummets”, Sydney J. Freedberg, February 08, 2017,

(3)DoD Buzz website, “Budget Woes May Force Navy to Shutter Two Carrier Air Wings”, Hope Hodge Seck, 9-Feb-2017,

Saturday, February 11, 2017


What has ComNavOps harped on repeatedly?  - that the concept of operations (CONOPS) must come before production or even conceptual design.  Without a CONOPS, how can you possible know what you want the proposed asset to do?  And if you don’t know what you want it to do, how can you design and build it?

Check this out from the DOT&E 2016 Annual Report on the DDG-1000 Zumwalt program.

“The roles and missions of DDG 1000 are under review. The Navy expects to complete a study to determine the concept of operations for DDG 1000 by 2QFY17.”

The Zumwalt is already built and now the Navy hopes to have a CONOPS sometime later this year????  Stupid, stupid, stupid.


The Navy is incapable of learning lessons.


What is the CONOPS study going to show?  It’s going to show that there is no mission for the Zumwalt.  The entire concept of a “long range”, guided, ship launched, relatively small rocket is flawed.  The Navy has already found that they can’t afford the only munition the Zumwalt can shoot, the LRLAP! 

They’re about to find that a short range, small, replacement munition is of even less use. 

They’re about to find that the very idea of risking a $4B ship in close to shore (and with the much shorter range replacement munition, the ship will have to beach itself to get any useful range!) is insane. 

They’re about to find that giving a $4B ship a sonar, towed array, and V-ASROC so that it can play tag with diesel submarines is an insane risk. 

They’re about to find that giving a $4B ship a minimal AAW capability and then asking it stand close in to an enemy’s shore is an insane risk.

Had the Navy studied the CONOPS before designing the ship, they would have seen all this and could have saved $24B of construction and R&D.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ship Warranties

Apparently, Congress is just as sick of brand new ships breaking down and having no warranty to show for a billion-plus dollar investment as the rest of us are.  Congress has now inserted language in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act requiring ship warranties.  Here’s the language.

Chapter 633 of title 10, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new section:
Sec. 7318. 
Warranty requirements for shipbuilding contracts
(a) Requirement
A contracting officer for a contract for new construction for which funds are expended from the Shipbuilding and Conversion, Navy account shall require, as a condition of the contract, that the work performed under the contract is covered by a warranty for a period of at least one year.



Reader Eric's comment below has prompted me to add the following.

No amount of warranty can compensate for the failure of responsibility by the Navy in accepting incomplete ships.  In fact, if the Navy (NAVSEA) were doing their job correctly and actually insisting that the ships be delivered in a complete and tested condition, a warranty wouldn't even be all that necessary!  

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

McCain Has Forgotten

ComNavOps has repeatedly pointed out that America and our military have forgotten what war is really like.  We’ve gotten so used to uncontested, precision guided bomb strikes that we’ve forgotten that there is even an enemy capable of fighting back.  We’ve gotten so used to leisurely, uncontested strikes that we’ve come to believe that's what war is.  We’ve become more concerned with the tiniest degree of collateral damage than with mission accomplishment.

We’ve forgotten what war is.  We've forgotten the cost of war.

Now, we have this statement from Senator McCain regarding the Yemen raid in which a Navy SEAL was killed,

“Every military operation has objectives. And while many of the objectives of the recent raid in Yemen were met, I would not describe any operation that results in the loss of American life as a success.” (1)

He would not describe any operation that results in the loss of American life as a success????  So, I guess he views WWII as a failure?

There could not be a clearer indication that he, personally, has forgotten what war is along with the nation and the military.  This is especially disappointing coming from a combat veteran.

With all that said, I have no idea what the objectives of the mission were, to what degree they were achieved, and whether the benefits were worth the cost.  I do, however, know that war is death and destruction and if we commit to combat we have to expect losses.  We just need to be very careful that the mission is worth the loss.

The loss of an American life, as tragic as it is, is not the criteria upon which to judge the success or failure of a mission or a war.


Monday, February 6, 2017

Promoting Warriors

A reader’s comment in a previous post dealt with the challenge of identifying and promoting warriors.  It’s no secret that our current leadership is chosen for qualities other than combat skills and a warrior’s mentality.  Just as happened at the outset of WWII, when today’s combat comes we’ll be saddled with a leadership group that is completely inept at combat.  Ideally, we should be finding and promoting warriors rather than the politicians that currently make up Navy leadership.  That got me thinking about how we can institutionally achieve the goal of finding warriors to lead the Navy.

In order to proceed in this line of thought, we first need to understand how our current situation arose and why it persists.  It’s not all that difficult to grasp, really.  The “job” of the Navy should be to prepare to fight major wars.  Instead, in the absence of war, the “job” of the Navy has become the pursuit of budget.  Thus, our leaders are selected for their ability to ensure the uninterrupted flow of budget dollars and, if possible, increase the Navy’s budget share relative to the other services.  Thus, in the Navy’s view, the enemy is not China or Russia but the other services and Congress.  These are the “enemies” the Navy does battle with.  What kind of person can best lead the Navy in this budget battle?  Obviously, it’s the person who is a smooth talker, understands politics, enjoys trading favors, would never besmirch the Navy’s reputation with the slightest mistake, is focused on accounting, business practices, and organizational efficiency, has no desire to rock the boat, believes in enthusiastically lining up behind his superiors and their policies regardless of his own views, has a track record of supporting diversity or whatever the cause-of-the-day is, and so on.  Nowhere on the list is there any reference to an aggressive personality, a casual indifference to authority, a willingness to take a controversial stand, a mastery of tactics, a willingness to calculatedly risk equipment and personnel in order to accomplish missions, a willingness to engage in fights, a lack of fear of making mistakes, an occasional bar fight, and so on.

Given the natural characteristics that today’s Navy needs, is it even possible to identify and promote warriors since they are the antithesis of current leadership and current needs?  In a word – no - not under today’s organizational structure.  Okay, is there an alternate organizational structure that could identify and promote warriors?  Possibly.  I’ll now describe such a structure.

The root cause of today’s politicized leadership is money – specifically the pursuit of budget.  Logically, the removal of budget would eliminate the selection pressure that results in political admirals and allow warriors to rise.  Well, we can’t eliminate the budget.  It’s a requirement to purchase equipment, pay sailors, and maintain ships.  What we can do, however, is remove the people who pursue budget from the main line of naval command. 

Just as there are many points of decision along a person’s life where a choice must be made to commit to one path or another, so too, we can create a split in the officer career path where an officer chooses to continue in the combat command path or chooses to continue in an administrative path.

The command path would have absolutely no interaction with, or responsibility for, the acquisition of equipment, the manipulation of monetary accounts, or any other aspect of budget.  The command path would deal only with combat command.  A combat command admiral’s entire focus would be combat, tactics, and readiness.  Command admirals would serve only at sea or, to a limited extent, in a naval war gaming/college type group dedicated to strategic, operational, and tactical planning.  I would guess that there would be a need for around 20 admirals.

The administration path would have absolutely no combat command authority and would serve only in administration, accounting, budgeting, logistical support, and physical support (administering bases, running repair facilities, and the like).  These people would fight the budget battles, crunch numbers, manipulate accounts, and balance the books.  Let me be clear, this would not be a punishment or second-class citizen job.  Supporting the combat fleet is a necessary and vital job.  I would guess there would be a need for around 30 admirals, the majority employed running large naval facilities or coordinating the budget battles.

The two separate paths allow for the selection of completely different sets of personal characteristics, each optimized for the appropriate role. 

A command admiral doesn’t have to understand overhead costs, contract law, or future value of money.  He doesn’t have to kowtow to Congressmen so he can get funding.  He doesn’t have to sell his soul to get a new ship.  A Combat admiral would be selected based only on his demonstrated combat capability.  Absent actual combat, selection would be based on demonstrated strategic, operational, and tactical prowess during exercises. 

As an aside, the Navy’s day to day operations would shift from presence to readiness and training.  Operational and tactical exercises would become the norm as opposed to deployments.  Yes, there would be some presence deployments in sensitive areas but even those should be done as combat exercises rather than passive presence.

An administration admiral doesn’t have to understand damage control, salvo equations, or multi-spectral stealth although having served in the fleet up until the career split point, he certainly ought to have a solid understanding of the fundamentals which, one can only hope, would help him better execute his administrative responsibilities.

The only real point of meeting or interaction between the two branches would be the definition and specification of fleet needs:  ship and aircraft design, maintenance needs, readiness needs, desired manning levels, etc.  This would be a mostly one-way interaction.  Combat would tell Administration what it needs and Administration would attempt to fund and procure it.  Of course, there would be some feedback such as when Combat requests 49 carriers and Administration points out that there is only enough budget for one carrier with the requisite characteristics every five years.  It would then be up to Combat to decide whether they would rather have that one carrier every five years or whether they would rather change the specs and requirements in some way.  In the end, though, Combat would have ultimate decision making authority regarding force structure and design.

Of course, in order for this to work, Combat admirals would have to be absolutely free of influence from the defense industry.  This would require a law prohibiting retired admirals from ever working with or being in any way connected with the defense industry.

Additional changes and a host of details would need to be implemented and worked out but this is the basic concept.  What do you think?  Could it work?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Incomplete Delivery of Zumwalt

Here’s a stunning development in the Zumwalt saga that I wasn’t aware of.  From Breaking Defense website,

“It’ll be two more years before combat systems delivery occurs …”

Two more years!!!!!  Why did the Navy accept delivery of a ship that was that incomplete????

We’ve previously documented that the ship was delivered to, and accepted by, the Navy in a significantly incomplete state, however, the magnitude of that “incompleteness” is well beyond anything I imagined.

Congress is no happier with this situation than ComNavOps is.

“After the Navy commissioned theZumwalt in October and formally accepted delivery of the ship from Bath, Congress enacted language in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (Section 7301) defining delivery to occur only when “all systems contained” are ready and ordering the Navy to amend the Zumwalt class’s delivery dates accordingly. That statute should help prevent concurrency from rearing its troublesome head on future shipbuilding programs.”

Congress has resorted to explicitly telling the Navy what every person in the country, other than the Navy, understands:  a delivery is made when the product is complete and not before.  Only the Navy could be so stupid as to need to have that basic, common sense concept spelled out to them.  When you’re being lectured to by Congress over basic, common sense concepts, you’ve really hit rock bottom.  That’s embarrassing.

What’s the point of running builder’s trials and acceptance trials if the ship isn’t complete and you’re going to accept it regardless?  It kind of makes trials a moot point, doesn’t it?


Here is the Congressional language from S2943, National Defense Authorization Act, 2017.

Sec. 121. Determination of vessel delivery dates

(a) Determination of vessel delivery dates. –

(1) In general –

Chapter 633 of title 10, United States Code, is amended by inserting aftersection 7300 the following new section:
Sec. 7301. Determination of vessel delivery dates
(a) In general -
The delivery of a covered vessel shall be deemed to occur on the date on which—
(1) the Secretary of the Navy determines that the vessel is assembled and complete; and
(2) custody of the vessel and all systems contained in the vessel transfers to the Navy.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


China’s policy of militaristic expansion has caused the US to refocus on the Pacific theater and led to “strategies” such as the Pacific Pivot.  The main problem with the Pacific Pivot is the lack of basing.  The closest main US base to the Chinese theater is Guam which is home to Anderson AFB and Apra Naval Base.  The problem with Guam is that it is too close to China to be safe from ballistic missiles or submarine launched cruise missiles and too far away to provide a convenient base of daily operations.  The inability to support daily operations due to distance is the same basic problem that the US faced in WWII while prosecuting the war against Japan.  We solved that problem by sequentially occupying a series of island bases between Pearl Harbor and Japan, each a bit closer to the ultimate target.  Along with that, we built and operated a vast fleet of cargo and replenishment ships so that the warships could remain at sea for extended periods and at great distances from their bases.  We also built an immense fleet of aircraft carriers to provide a forward based, mobile “air force”.

Today, it is highly debatable that we would have access to any non-US bases in the event of war with China.  The Philippines certainly cannot be counted on for basing and leased Japanese bases are problematic.  In fact, we’re slowly pulling back and reducing our presence in Japanese territories.  For example, the US has agreed to remove 9000 III MEF marines from Okinawa and relocate them to Guam, Australia, and Hawaii (2).

Even if we could use Japanese bases in a war with China – and it’s quite likely that Japan would actively side with the US – those bases will be under constant attack due to their proximity to China.  Thus, they would not be the kind of useful base where ships, aircraft, and troops can retire, rearm, and marshal in relative safety.

Despite all that, Guam figures prominently in the US’ stated desire to rebalance towards the Pacific and China.  Currently Guam is home to around 6000 military personnel (1).  Various reports have indicated the added presence in recent years of B-1/2/52 bombers, stocks of air launched cruise missiles, stocks of Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Joint Stand-Off Weapons, F-15/16 fighters, tanker aircraft, long range UAVs, and four nuclear attack submarines (3).  In addition, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) ballistic missile defense systems have been deployed.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the issues affecting the use of Guam as a base.

Distance is the main limitation.  For example,

  • Distance from Guam to Taiwan is 1711 miles
  • Distance from Guam to center of the South China Sea is 2047 miles
  • Distance from Guam to center of the East China Sea 1687 miles

Guam (far right edge of map) and the Pacific Pivot

The flight time from Guam to the South China Sea is on the order of 4.5 hours at a cruising speed of 450 mph (around 400 kts).  Of course, that doesn’t take into account time spent flying at a much slower speed while refueling and waiting for other aircraft to refuel and assemble.  Actual transit time is likely to be closer to 7 hours (300 mph average speed when factoring in refueling and other delays).

Wiki lists a combat radius of 500 miles or so for the F-22, depending on configuration and flight profile.  Obviously, this is nowhere near enough range to reach Taiwan or the East/South China Seas without multilple aerial refuelings.  Of course, aerial tankers represent a vulnerability, themselves.  Tankers flying near combat zones are defenseless and if they can be eliminated or forced away from the zone, the offensive ability of our aircraft would be seriously restricted.

Setting aside the long transit time and lack of responsiveness that imposes, consider the physical and mental state of a pilot after several hours strapped into a cockpit, unable to move.  At that point, a pilot is no longer in peak condition to engage in combat.

The surface ship cruise time from Guam to the South China Sea is on the order of 3.7 days at a cruising speed of 20 kts.  From a naval operations perspective, this is quite acceptable which is fortunate since the Navy lacks a robust at-sea replenishment capability.  Of course, this all but rules out the use of the LCS for operations given its mandated requirement to return to port every two weeks for maintenance, its limited 10-14 day supply capacity, and its very limited range at sustained higher speeds.

Another serious consideration is Guam’s susceptibility to ballistic missiles such as the DF-26 and other intermediate to long range missiles.  The DF-26, with a range of up to 3400 miles (1), is capable of reaching Guam from the Chinese mainland and has been referred to as the “Guam Killer”.  Guam’s bases and facilities are all known, fixed targets and, therefore, targeting is not an issue.  To be fair, given the range of ballistic missiles, not many places are secure from such missiles. 

A related concern is the island’s susceptibility to submarine launched cruise missiles such as the YJ-18 which is credited with a range of 330 miles and is believed to be carried on 052D and the coming 055 destroyers as well as the Type 093 Shang II nuclear attack subs.

The cruise missile threat highlights the need for an anti-submarine screen around Guam at ranges out to 500 miles or so.

Another threat to Guam is the possibility of a Chinese “blockade” which would prevent resupply.  It is simply not possible to provide sufficient resupply by air to be viable in war.  A blockade could take any form:  submarine, surface ship, air, or, likely, a combination.  Such a blockade would be all the more effective given the very limited naval and merchant cargo fleet the US possesses.  Any losses would be crippling.

The Guam buildup also contains the risk of creating the next “Pearl Harbor” by concentrating so much of the US’ Pacific military might in one location.  Today, instead of an attack by carrier based air, the GuamPearl Harbor” would come in the form of submarine, air, and land launched ballistic and cruise missiles.  We do not have anything approaching the degree of defensive systems needed to protect Guam.  If Guam is eliminated, our next forward most base is Pearl Harbor which puts us in the exact same situation we faced at the beginning of WWII.

China has begun to focus on the military destruction of Guam.  CRS reports,

“China is believed to have deployed missiles that could target forces on or near Guam, considered by China as part of the “Second Island Chain” from which it needs to break out of perceived U.S.-led “encirclement.” China’s missiles that could target Guam include the DF-3A (CSS-2) medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) and land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs) launched from upgraded, longer-range H-6K bombers. China also has deployed DH-10 LACMs and DF- 21D anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) to target aircraft carriers and other ships. While the DF- 21D’s initial range could be 1,500-2,000 km (930-1,240 mi), a more advanced variant could extend the range to about 3,000 km (1,860 mi) and reach Guam. The PLA reportedly has the world’s largest force of ground-launched LACMs, with about 100 LACMs entering the operational force each year and up to 500 LACMs by 2014. Moreover, the PRC reportedly has developed DF-25 and DF-26C intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) with a range of 3,200-4,000 km. In 2012, the PLA Navy started to conduct military activities, perhaps suspected surveillance, in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around Guam.” (4)

North Korea is also working to develop ballistic missiles with the range to reach Guam although their technical prowess is far from demonstrated.

It is clear that the US will have to devote a significant amount of combat power to the protection of Guam in order to ensure its viability and usefulness in war.  It is questionable whether the US currently has enough combat power to simultaneously protect Guam and conduct offensive operations.  It would likely require dozens of submarines, many surface ships, dedicated anti-ballistic missile Aegis cruisers/destroyers, dozens of maritime patrol aircraft, and dozens of aircraft just to patrol and defend Guam.  This is in addition to whatever land based ballistic missile defenses are needed.

In short, Guam offers significant benefits but only if it can be defended.  We need to be gaming out how to conduct a war with China, decide what role Guam will play, figure out how to defend it, and begin acquiring the necessary assets and resources.


(1)CNN website, “U.S. must beware China's 'Guam killer' missile”, Brad Lenden, 15-May-2016,

(2)Congressional Research Service, “The U.S. Military Presence in Okinawa and the Futenma Base Controversy, Emma Chanlett-Avery, Ian E. Rinehart, January 20, 2016, R42645, summary page

(3)Congressional Research Service, “Guam: U.S. Defense Deployments”, Shirley A. Kan, November 26, 2014, RS22570, p.2

(4)Ibid., p.9