Thursday, March 30, 2017

What Do The Marines Bring To The Table?

The Marine Corps has been renowned for being a tough fighting force with certain skill sets that make it unique.  Individual Marines have traditionally been considered tougher, more formidable fighters than Army soldiers – at least, if you ask a Marine.  The Corps has mastered (and now forgotten) skills such as amphibious assaults that the Army can’t perform.  However, times have changed.  The effects of social experimentation (women in service), technological emphasis (digital and electronic capabilities over close combat), and doctrinal changes (aviation combat emphasis and tactical mobility have trumped brute force combat) have significantly altered the characteristics of the “ideal” individual Marine or, at least, the perceived requirements.  Similarly, the Corps as a whole has changed.

For example, in WWII, women could not have passed the Marine Corps training program and, even if they could, would have been an absolute detriment in the field being unable to perform the basic activities such as climbing over the side of an attack transport in full gear, humping a battlefield load of equipment, carrying injured comrades to safety, etc.  Now, though, with the “gentling” of the Marine training program, gender norming, and the previously mentioned trends, women are deemed capable of serving, including front line combat.  This is not a post about women in service/combat.  I’m merely illustrating one of the ways in which the Corps has changed over time.  The Marines are no longer the Few, the Proud, the Marines.  They are now an equal opportunity, social organization that is the farthest thing from exclusive or unique.

As a whole, the Corps has moved away from the concept of frontal beach assaults in favor of inland, airborne assaults.  That’s fine (well, no it isn’t – a word or two on that, below) except for the fact that we have another group that does that and, at the moment, does it better – the Army.  In fact, the Army is aggressively moving to conduct operations from Navy ships and is aligning their future platform acquisitions with naval requirements.

The Corps is also moving away from the heavy end of the combat spectrum with recent announcements that tanks and artillery will be cut along with personnel. 

The Corps lacks a modern, effective amphibious battle vehicle and has spent many years dithering over the AAV replacement.  They’re no closer to an answer now than they were when they began the ill-fated EFV program.

We’re left with a Marine Corps that is currently only capable of short duration, small, light infantry operations.  The entire aviation assault concept that the Corps seems to be moving towards has some potentially serious weak points such as the survivability of the MV-22 and helos in an inland, opposed scenario and the questionable ability to adequately resupply an inland assault.

Further, the Corps’ apparent movement towards an expeditionary air force role is logistically and tactically suspect, at best.  They seem to want to take part in the high end, aerial combat, distributed lethality type of war that so many of our professional warriors seem to believe, incorrectly, will be the future of combat.  The problem with this, aside from the incorrect nature of the very concept, is that that is not the Corps’ fight.  That is not their job.  That is not their war.  We have a very high tech Air Force whose job it is to do that.  We have a Navy whose job, partially, is to do that.  The Marines have another job, though they seem to have forgotten what it is.

Finally, the Marine’s main unique attribute, their ability to execute an amphibious assault is highly suspect, now, from both a doctrinal and strategic point of view.

Doctrinally, the Marines cannot execute an amphibious assault.  They lack the landing craft to transport troops from 25-50 miles offshore to the beach in fighting condition.   They lack the ability to put heavy firepower ashore with the initial wave, when it is most needed.  In short, the Marines have no ability to execute an opposed landing against a peer.  They have no ability to execute their own doctrine.

Strategically, the need for amphibious assaults against foreseeable enemies over the foreseeable future is highly suspect.  Consider the likely cases:

China – We are not going to invade mainland China (at least, I hope we’re not that stupid).  The first island chain islands and bases are too small to justify an assault.  They are pinpoint, concentrated targets that will be destroyed by cruise missiles.  So, there is no reasonable need for amphibious assaults.

Russia – War with Russia will be a land and air war with minor naval contributions.  The war will be supplied and conducted through Europe and fought around the periphery of Russia.  There will be no need for amphibious assaults.

North Korea – War with NKorea will, as with Russia, be supplied and fought from South Korea in a south to north movement.  This will be the closest thing to a WWII type conflict.  There could be a use for a small, diversionary amphibious assault along the coast of NKorea although, given the threat of mines and the Navy’s almost complete lack of mine countermeasure capability, the likelihood of an amphibious assault is very small.

Iran – This offers the greatest possibility of an amphibious assault although the bulk of supply and fighting would still pass through Iran’s land borders.  An amphibious assault, if it happened, would only be lightly opposed.  Iran simply does not have the capability to offer serious resistance.

The overall strategic likelihood of amphibious assaults is very low for the foreseeable future.  Combined with the inability to actually conduct an assault, I see very little need for such a capability.

So, given the preceding, what is it that the Marines bring to the table that the Army and Air Force don’t already have?  The unfortunate answer is less and less, bordering on nothing.

Having posed the question and acknowledged the disappointing answer, let’s turn our attention to what the answer ought to be.

The Marines have two primary missions: 

  • Conduct short duration, high intensity, inland actions (raids, rescues, diversions, disruptions, first response, etc.).

  • Seize entry points into enemy territory for follow on forces.  This includes port seizure and landing points (beach or near-shore airfields).

It’s that simple.  It’s that simple and yet the Marine’s have lost their focus.  It’s that simple and yet the Marines are floundering.

Everything the Marines do and buy should be run through the filter of “will it support or enhance the primary missions”?  If so, do it.  If not, don’t.  It’s that simple.

Now let’s look a bit closer at the primary missions and what’s needed to accomplish them.

First response, almost by definition, will be a crisis that was unanticipated to some extent and likely be a situation where we are overmatched locally.  Responding to such a situation will require the Marines to fight above their weight.  They’ll have to hit hard and be able to survive on a battlefield that is not ideal and probably under unfriendly skies.  What will a Marine force need to accomplish this?  They’ll need as much transportable heavy firepower as possible (an M! Abrams provides firepower and survivability but currently presents a transport challenge).  A medium weight, heavy gun vehicle may be needed.  Possibly something along the lines of the M551 Sheridan or M50 Ontos.  Of course, the preferred solution would be to figure out how to transport M1 Abrams tanks!  In addition to tanks of whatever sort, they’ll need artillery and as much of it as they can get along with mortars of all sizes, including, ideally, vehicle mounted, heavy mortars (there’s that transport issue again).

Hand in hand with firepower is survivability.  It does no good to show up on the battlefield and be wiped out in short order.  Survivability requires armor and self-defense weapons.  The current fascination with, and trend towards, light “jeeps” for mobility is a surefire recipe for defeat especially if one has to fight under unfriendly skies.   

Fighting under unfriendly skies requires a robust anti-air (AAW) capability which the Marines (and Army, to be fair) have all but abandoned under the decades long belief that the US would always rule the skies.  We desperately need mobile AAW platforms, both missile and gun (along the lines of the ubiquitous Soviet ZSU).

Entry point seizure is the other key Marine mission.  The Marines have one unique feature that mobile Army units lack and that is ships – large, amphibious ships loaded with many tons of heavy equipment, munitions, and general supplies.  The amphibious ships represent the kind of equipment supply and reserves that Army airborne units just can’t match.  The ships are also mobile and are capable of bringing those supplies to the point of action.  The ships allow the Marines to operate aviation assets in close proximity to the point of battle unlike Air Force assets that must return to distant bases between missions thus drastically reducing sortie rates.

Thus, the distinguishing feature of the Marines is the ability to bring large amounts of heavy equipment to bear on far distant battlefields via ship based transport. 

The ability to bring large amounts of tanks, combat engineer vehicles, artillery, and other heavy equipment to a battle from nearby ships gives the Marines a decisive, hard-hitting capability that the Army-Air Force combination can’t match.  Unfortunately, that advantage is being squandered by ill-advised changes in direction and doctrine (expeditionary air force, for example, or divestiture of tanks and artillery) and failure to develop and procure the requisite supporting equipment (armored, heavy transport connectors, for example, or LSTs, or armored combat/amphibious vehicles).

Port seizure is a special skill set that will be urgently required and has been utterly neglected.  It is quite likely impossible to sustain an invasion without access to a port facility for unloading, especially given our lack of large connectors and the elimination of LSTs.  Port seizure will be critical.  However, the doctrine, operations, and tactics required for port seizure and defense are radically different from a beach assault.  Port seizure will require heavy C-RAM defenses, in-port AAW defenses, new means to actually get ashore (an AAV can't climb a pier, for example), new tactics for port defense since most ports are integrated with large urban cities (urban warfare raises its ugly head), among other unique challenges and needs.  Only the Marines can do this.

The Corps needs to take a step back, refocus on its core missions, re-acknowledge its strengths, and redirect its development, training, doctrine, and procurement efforts towards those strengths. 

Unfortunately, the Marines have all but officially abandoned one of their core missons, entry point seizure, and have seriously jeopardized their other core mission, first response, by downgrading their hitting power from their traditional middle weight status to light weight.  This is not just my opinion.   Here’s what Lt. Gen. Gary Thomas, deputy commandant for programs and resources, had to say to a Congressional panel.

“We are a light general purpose force. One of the things that gives the Marine Corps an advantage on the battlefield is its mobility and its fires. Much of that comes from aviation.” 

Well, there it is.  I’ve been saying for years that the Marines have abandoned their core and now top Marine leadership is confirming that, on the record, to Congress.

A light general purpose force is fine for peacekeeping and low end skirmishes but utterly useless for executing the Marine’s core missions.  A light general purpose force, by definition, is not specialized for anything and, therefore, not highly capable at any given task.  This is utterly wrong.  They are supposed to be medium weight, striving to be as heavy as they can be given transport constraints, specialists in first response and entry point seizure.  They should not be flitting around the battlefield in ultra lightweight jeeps (what is an airburst munition going to do to the troops packed on an open jeep?) or soaring over the battlefield in $150M aircraft that have a 50% readiness rate on a good day and require exquisite maintenance and care from highly trained factory technicians dressed in surgical garb.

In summary, what do the Marines bring to the table that we don’t already have?  Little or nothing.

I know the Corps has a strong Congressional lobby but if they don’t wake up soon, the Army is going to push them right out of a job.

The Marines need to get back to being the toughest, nastiest fighting force on the planet (yes, that means completely dumping women from the Corps and getting rid of the guys who don’t even outweigh their packs).  A Marine carries his rifle in one hand and fires a mortar in the other without bothering to set it on the ground like some Army puke. 

The Marines need to focus on their two core missions.  The days of Hollywood practice landings for the sake of public relations photo ops need to disappear.  The Marines need to focus on brutal raids, desperate defenses, and entry point seizure.  If Marines aren’t getting hurt during exercises then they aren’t training the right way.

The Marines need to bring something unique and valuable to the table or fold up and go away.  There is no middle ground.  Hey, Marine Corps, that sound you hear behind you is the Army sniffing at your butt.  Time to wake up!


(1)USNI News website, “Lawmaker Worries Marine Corps Investing Too Heavily In Aviation Over Ground Vehicles”, Megan Eckstein, 10-Mar-2017,

Monday, March 27, 2017

Counter Assault

We talk at great length about amphibious assaults.  We discuss doctrine, our inability to execute our own doctrine, the lack of naval gunfire support, the very limited range of our ship-to-shore connectors, the complete absence of heavy weapons in the initial waves, and many other issues.  We occasionally discuss new and “new” (old but relearned) Marine Corps assault concepts.   We never discuss amphibious assault defense concepts – counter assault (CA).

The Marines are getting ready to conduct some exercises intended to test out several dozen new assault technologies.  As a side note, you see the traditional US emphasis on technology over tactics and training?  Why aren’t we testing out over a hundred new tactics?  But, I digress …    These technologies will include drones, mini-drones, unmanned amtracs and unmanned vehicles of all types, communications gear, networking, cyber, electronic warfare, etc. (1)(2)

Setting aside the myopic focus on technology over tactics, all of this is good.  Explore technology.  Find out what works and what doesn’t.  But – and this is the big but – do it under realistic conditions.  There’s no point “testing” technologies that have a pre-determined successful outcome because the exercise is designed to ensure success.  That’s just going to generate a false confidence that China, Russia, Iran, and NKorea will quickly shatter when war comes.

There’s another, even bigger “but” here.  Why not try out counter assault (CA) technologies and tactics, as well?  Let’s try to imagine what the enemy will do and see if they can stop us.  Maybe that technology that succeeds against a non-existent enemy in set piece testing will fail utterly due to the enemy’s CA?  Let’s find out.

Why don’t we turn this around and try to think like a peer enemy faced with the prospect of future US amphibious assaults.  How would we stop them?  What can we do to counter their assault?

For example, similar to the maxim that it’s easier to kill archers than arrows, it’s also easier to kill troops when they’re in the water, bunched up in slow moving, easily detected, almost defenseless Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV).  Why not employ a swarm of small, cheap, suicide UAVs that would spread out over the incoming assault wave and throw themselves at the lumbering AAVs in the water.  If simple explosives are insufficient to achieve kills, then shaped charge warheads similar to RPG’s can be employed.  Would any AAVs even make it ashore?

Do you think this concept is unrealistic?  Well, the Marines are banking on exactly this technology in reverse.  Doug King, director of the Ellis Group, a Marine Corps think tank, describes friendly UAV swarms opening gaps in the enemy defenses.

““Think about it this way: I’m maneuvering ashore, potentially in a boat,” he said. “What’s flying overhead is an unmanned swarm, that as soon as somebody radiates, gives off a signature, that swarm is just going right after them.” (1)

If we can imagine using UAV swarms, so can the enemy.  Let’s test the UAV CA concept and see if we can defend against it.

Let’s think up other CA measures and test them, too.  The US military has a decided tendency to only examine our own technology (under unrealistically contrived conditions) and fail to credit the enemy with any technology or tactics.  This is a perfect example – we’re going to possibly test UAV swarms and congratulate ourselves on developing yet another way to beat our enemies without ever considering that they may use the same technology to beat us.

Here’s a few other thoughts about new technology, counter assault measures that we might want to investigate.

  • Mine laying artillery – long range and no need for precision targeting makes this an appealing technology.  An entire assault fleet can be paralyzed by the mere threat of mines and the US has no viable volume MCM capability.

  • SSK’s - directed against the very few Mobile Landing Platforms (MLP) that the Navy/Marines possess would bring an assault to a rapid halt.  Amphibious assault ships would be another attractive target.  The US lacks any effective littoral ASW capability and has little experience against SSKs since it does not operate any and only rarely exercises against allied SSKs.

  • Lingering FOD bursts – similar to chaff and delivered by artillery, cluster bombs, sub-munitions, or any other convenient means, these long lasting, drifting foreign objects (FOD) would foul LCAC turbine engines and fans.

  • Bunkered, unmanned gun mounts – would provide a hard-to-kill, devastating, anti-personnel fire that would be particularly effective against the unarmored, light infantry that the initial assault wave comprises.

  • Surf zone unmanned mobile mines – would utterly negate the standard tactic of attempting to clear a path immediately in front of the landing craft.  The mobility of a swarm of smart, subsurface (undetectable), unmanned, mobile mines that intelligently move to intersect the path of an approaching landing craft would thwart any existing tactics or equipment for clearing a path to the beach.  Slow moving AAVs would be wiped out.

I could probably think of ideas all night but you get the idea.  It’s not enough just to think up our own ideas and then pat ourselves on the back.  We need to think up the enemy’s ideas and figure out how to counter his counters.  We’re just barely and simplistically testing our own stuff.  To the best of my knowledge, we aren’t even pretending to imagine and test out possible enemy technologies.


(1)Marine Times, “New Amphibious Landing Tactics And Technology”, Jeff Schogol, 23-Mar-2017,

(2)Breaking Defense website, “Marines Rush 50 Technologies To Field Test In 9 Months”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 23-Mar-2017,

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Russian Shipyard Fires

One of the biggest challenges facing Russian shipyards seems to be keeping the ships from burning.  I was reminded of the fire that effectively destroyed the USS Miami in Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in May 2012 and decided to see what the Russian experience had been with shipyard fires.  An Internet search turned up the following catastrophic fires over the last several years.  I’m sure there were many additional, smaller fires that are not reported and this does not include fires at sea – this is only shipyard fires.

30-Dec-2011  K-84 Yekaterinburg (Delta IV SSBN)
16-Sep-2013  K-150 Tomsk (Oscar II SSGN)
17-Mar-2014  K-148 Krasnodar (Oscar II SSGN – decommissioning)
4-Nov-2014    Kerch (Kara class missile cruiser)
7-Apr-2015    K-266 Orel (Oscar II SSGN)
7-Dec-2015   RaisKorfou (Koni II frigate for Algerian Navy)
7-Jun-2016    Project 12700 Georgiy Kurbatov (Alexandrit-class minsweeper)
17-Jan-2017  Ossora (Trawler)

Yikes!  That’s a lot of lost or seriously damaged shipping, there.

Orel, Oscar II SSGN Burning

No point to this post, just a bit of interesting information.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Pick A Number, Any Number

The Navy’s latest fleet size target is now 355 ships.

“The Navy needs potentially as much as $150 billion over current budget plans to “jump-start” shipbuilding and get on a trajectory for a 355-ship fleet, the vice chief of naval operations [Adm. Bill Moran] said on Wednesday.” (1)

355????  Wasn’t our goal 305 or thereabouts a month or so ago?  Has our strategy and, therefore, our operational requirements changed in the last month?

As you know (because ComNavOps preaches it relentlessly), force structure and size is intimately tied to strategy which, in turn, determines operational needs which set fleet size.  Without a coherent strategy, you’re just making up arbitrary numbers for fleet size and composition and hoping for the best.  “Hope” is not a strategy or, at least, not a winning one.

So, I guess our strategic and operational needs now dictate 355 ships? … or maybe not.  Apparently, 355 isn’t an exact number.

“I’m not here to argue that 355 or 350 is the right number. I’m here to argue that we need to get on that trajectory as fast as we can. And as time goes on you start to figure out whether that number is still valid – 10 years from now, 20 years from now 355 may not be the number,” Moran said today at the annual McAleese/Credit Suisse “Defense Programs” event.” (1)

“As time goes on”??????  As time goes on you’ll figure out whether your fleet size number is valid?  This is the best our professional naval warriors can come up with?

So, apparently 350 is an okay number, too.  Presumably 360 would be okay.  Or, maybe 345 or 365.  I’m getting a sense that the latest fleet size target might not be tied to a strategy and operational requirements.  In fact, I’m getting the sense that the Navy has no strategy and doesn’t care what size the fleet is.  I’m getting the sense that all the Navy cares about is more budget.

The exact size of the future fleet doesn’t matter right now, but rather the Navy just needs to start boosting its investment in shipbuilding quickly – which means buying many more Virginia-class attack submarines, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and Ford-class aircraft carriers in the next few years, he said.

“Our number, give or take, to get to 355, or just to get started in the first seven years, is $150 billion. That’s a lot of money.” [emphasis added] (1)

So, the Navy’s position is that the actual fleet size number doesn’t matter as long as they can get more money.

Let’s take a pause and look back at the various fleet sizes that have been targeted in recent years.

President Reagan targeted a 600 ship fleet in the 1980’s against the backdrop of countering the Soviet Union.  That, at least, was tied to a Cold War strategy, however tenuously.

Remember the 1000 ship fleet?

"The 1,000-ship navy is a fleet-in-being of nations willing to participate in global maritime partnerships. “ (2)

To be fair, the 1000 ships were not all US Navy ships.

More recent fleet size targets have been in the 303/305/308 range.

“The Navy’s new 30-year shipbuilding plan projects a fleet of 292 ships in 2046 — a fleet that is short of the service’s 308-ship goal …” (3)

Recent Navy 30 year shipbuilding plans have targeted fleet sizes anywhere in the low to mid 300’s, depending on what plan and what year.

For the last few years, our fleet size target has been around 280 because that’s what we’ve been at and no Navy leader has objected.  Therefore, with no objections, that fleet size must be meeting our needs.  In fact, Navy leadership has stressed that our fleet is fully capable of meeting requirements.

Now, we see a sudden change to a fleet size of 355 ships.

“Tossing overboard the budget constraints that have weighed down the US Navy’s attempts to grow its fleet, the world’s most powerful sea service is embarking on the biggest proposed expansion since the early 1980s, upping its goals from today’s 308 ships to a whopping 355 ships – beyond even the incoming Trump administration’s stated 350-ship goal.“ (4)

Has there been a sudden change in strategy that would dictate a change in fleet size?  No.  Our strategy (we don’t actually have one) hasn’t changed.  What, then, has changed?  The only thing that has changed is that the Navy sees an opportunity, with the new Administration, to grab more money.

This is a pure and simple money grab by the Navy.  There is no tie between fleet size and any coherent strategy.  There is no operational need that is tied to any particular fleet size.  This is pure money grubbing.  Forgive me, I’m going to have to pause a moment.  I’m starting to get choked up with pride in my professional Navy.

Okay, I’m back.  Sometimes I just feel so proud of my Navy and the leadership, in particular, that I just have to take a moment to stand up, offer a silent and unseen salute, and recover my emotional equilibrium.  It’s okay, I’m good now. 

Where were we?  Oh yes, we were talking about the link between fleet size and strategy.  Of course, not only are fleet size numbers tied directly to strategy/ops but so is force structure.  The relative numbers of types of ships are a direct function of what the strategy/ops call for.  Do you need more carriers or less?  More subs or less?  And so on.  Well, it depends on what the strategy/ops call for.  So, what does the Navy think about the careful force structure balance?

“We definitely wanted to go after SSNs, DDGs and carriers … So the numbers I will give to you are reflective of those three priorities, because those are the big impacters in any competition at sea,” he told USNI News.

“Amphibs come later, but I’m talking about initial, what are we building that we can stamp out that are good. We know how to build Virginia-class, we know how to build DDGs.” (1)

Rather than design and build ships that match the strategic and operational requirements, the Navy just wants to “stamp out” ships.  How’s that for professional evaluation of strategic and operational needs and resulting force structure planning?  That’s the mark of a professionally led and professionally competent naval leadership, huh?  I’m starting to get choked up with pride again.  No wait, it’s okay.  I’m alright.   ….  ……..  but the Navy isn’t. 

“Stamping out” ships rather than professionally designing a coherent naval force is how we got to the current state where we have no anti-ship missile, no mine countermeasures capability, almost no offensive mining capability, no viable amphibious assault capability, no naval gun support, etc.  Despite these shortcomings, the Navy is happy because we’ve been able to “stamp out” lots and lots of Burkes.

Aside from the money grubbing aspect of this, the Navy is just floundering around with no strategy, no operational plan, and no vision beyond trying to grab more money.  When war comes, we’ll have a Navy whose ship types and numbers are not matched to the strategic and operational needs.  That’s a recipe for defeat. 

While it’s impossible to know for sure what China’s strategic and operational needs are (although they’re making them pretty clear, as documented repeatedly on this blog), China sure seems to have a pretty clearly defined force structure plan that they’re working towards.  They’re planning to take on the US and are assembling the force to do it.  The US, in contrast, is just building whatever they can and hoping it may prove useful down the road.

Our lack of professional leadership is paving the path to defeat.  We’re making China’s job easier.

What fleet size do we need?  Who knows?  Pick a number, any number.  Your guess is as good as, and quite likely better than, the Navy’s.


(1)USNI News website, “Moran: Navy Needs As Much As $150B Extra to ‘Jump-Start’ Path to 355 Ships; Would Buy Mostly DDGs, SSNs, Carriers”, Megan Eckstein, 22-Mar-2017,

(3)Politico website, “New 30-year shipbuilding plan falls short of Navy goal”, Austin Wright, 05/09/16,

(4)Defense News website, “US Navy’s New Fleet Goal: 355 Ships”, Christopher Cavas, 16-Dec-2016,

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

That's An Expensive Gun You've Got There

Here’s another stunning contract.

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Bethpage, New York, is being awarded a $68,786,952 firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee, and cost-only contract for the production of Littoral Combat Ship gun mission modules, including support for basic outfitting assembly installation, interim deport level maintenance, engineering support and sustainment.  This contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $812,000,000.”

I have no idea what, exactly, this includes or, indeed, what it is even referring to.  The LCS only has two guns.  If it refers to the main gun, the Mk 110 57 mm gun, that’s supposed to be included in the construction contract cost.  If it refers to the 30 mm guns, we’re only purchasing around 24 or so for the ASuW modules.  That works out to $34M per gun for a glorified machine gun.  That’s absurd raised to the power of absurd (for you math geeks!). 

I’m truly baffled about this one.  Anyone got any ideas what this is about? 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lockheed Strikes Back

Here’s the latest stunning contract award for highly questionable work.
Lockheed Martin Mission Systems Sensors … is being awarded an $80,556,000 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification to a previously-awarded contract (N00024-16-C-5103) for additional Aegis implementation studies for future foreign military sales … expected to be completed by November 2019. 

This one is wrong on multiple levels.

We’re paying the company that produces the Aegis system to sell their product????  Isn’t that what the company is supposed to do on their own?  Would you pay Ford Motor Company to study how to sell cars?

How much study does the producer of Aegis really need to do to be able to answer questions about possible future sales?

How about that dollar amount?  That’s $80M over 20 months.  That’s $4M per month.  If there were 100 people dedicated to nothing but this (a ridiculous number of people but what the heck) and their time was charged at $100/hr, the cost would be $1.7M for a month’s work.  That leaves us short $2.3M per month!!!!!

You know Lockheed doesn’t have 100 people working full time on this.  I’d be surprised if they have 10.

Lockheed is raping the government which means they’re taking my tax dollars.  How is the Navy being a good steward of my tax dollars on this?

Is this Lockheed’s response to the unilateral contract imposition on the F-35 program?

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Day To Day Navy

Hand in hand with the previous post on promoting warriors (see, "Promoting Warriors"), the Navy needs to shift from its current “presence” deployment mindset to a readiness mindset.  “Presence” is a very questionable concept and long deployments that accomplish nothing but sailing in circles and hosting dignitaries from small countries are nearly pointless and produce far more wear and tear on equipment and personnel than can be justified.  Yes, there is a degree of training but it’s a repetitive, routine type of training that does little to foster operational and tactical expertise.

The Navy needs to be mainly “at home” training and maintaining – ensuring readiness.

Let’s briefly look at the concept of presence.  The theory is that because we have ships in a region, the local bad actors will behave.  The problem is that there is very little evidence to support this and a lot of evidence to the contrary.  Our presence in the South China Sea certainly hasn’t deterred China’s behavior.  They’ve built illegal islands, made illegal territorial claims, used their “Coast Guard” to bully other nations, trespassed into Philippine waters, flagrantly harassed the US Navy, and made ridiculous claims about ownership of other nation’s land.  Our presence in Europe hasn’t stopped Russia from annexing Crimea and invading Urkraine.  Our presence in the Middle East hasn’t stopped terrorism, Iranian nuclear ambitions, Iranian seizures of RN and USN naval craft and personnel, or general Iranian harassment of commercial and military ships.  And so on.

So, if presence isn’t gaining us anything, why do it?  Why send ships, aircraft, and sailors on endless deployments that accomplish next to nothing?  Why accumulate wear and tear on equipment for no gain?  Why separate sailors from their families for months on end to no good purpose?  Why prematurely age our ships if they can’t accomplish anything?  Does conducting naval exercises with some tiny country whose biggest “warship” is a patrol boat really enhance our national security?

Okay, if our current deployments aren’t accomplishing much, what should the Navy be doing?  The answer is obvious.  The Navy should be maintaining and training … full time.  The fleet needs to be “home based” – more on that in a bit.  Instead of deploying for months at a time, ships need to conduct relatively short combat training exercises and then return to port for maintenance.  While in port, crews need to be conducting simulator training, classroom training, attending the various schools, and conducting tactical wargame exercises.

Having the bulk of the fleet in concentrated locations will also allow us to conduct larger, more realistic exercises.  It’s way past time to conduct actual multi-carrier exercises.  We need to conduct realistic exercises and learn how to execute the Navy’s vaunted “distributed lethality” concept (or find out that it’s a garbage concept and drop it).  We need to see what a surface action group can do.  And so on.

If you’re not training, you’re maintaining.  Those are the only two options for a peacetime Navy.

Now, let’s discuss that “home basing” concept.  There’s no problem with having several “home bases” with concentrations of ships and aircraft.  In addition to the obvious east and west coasts, places like Pearl Harbor, Guam, and the like offer possibilities for home basing as well as enhanced realism training.  For example, ships based in Guam can take advantage of the South China Sea to conduct realistic training in the actual geography that they would fight in.  If Guam’s facilities are inadequate for the maintenance needs then ships can rotate through Guam for exercises and return to a maintenance facility when exercises are finished.  As an added bonus, some of the locations offer the side benefit of a degree of “presence” though those types of missions should never be done for their own sake.

Caveat:  Here’s the exception to what I’ve just said.  If we’re willing to conduct presence missions that include a willingness to use force, then presence can have an effect.  For example, if we had sunk the Iranian boats that seized our craft and sailors, that would have sent an actual message.  If we had shot down the Russian aircraft that buzzed our ships at a distance of 30 ft, that would have sent a message.  If we prevented the Chinese from building illegal artificial islands, that would be a worthwhile use of presence.  If we would have shot down the Iranian ballistic missiles that were recently tested, that would have sent a message.  If we used our ship-based BMD (ballistic missile defense) capability to shoot down NKorea’s ballistic test missiles when they enter international airspace and become, thereby, a general threat, that would send a message.  Lacking the willingness to exercise a forceful presence, we’re just wasting time and need to adopt the training and maintenance regimen I’ve just described.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

It Has To Work Both Ways

You’ve all heard about the Marine Corps uproar over nude photos of female personnel.  That’s not the kind of subject I cover and that’s not the point of this post, at least not directly.  CNO Richardson recently issued a message to Navy commanders that the Navy shares the same root problems with regards to its treatment of women.  Here’s some of what he had to say (1).

"But we get reminders of it every day, when we disrespect women by crude jokes, wisecracks, sexual harassment, and in its worst manifestation, sexual assault -- a serious violent crime," he wrote in the message. "Despite a steady effort to get after this, we're not making progress."

He gets it.  Well, part of it.  We’ll get to the part he doesn’t get in just a bit.  He’s describing the tip-of-the-iceberg phenomenon.  The faulty behavior that we see – the photos – is just the tip of the iceberg.  As he notes, there are hundreds of other behaviors, less “serious”, that support and build towards the identified problem which is the photos.  These lesser problems are what grow the larger ones.

Now, here’s where CNO Richardson begins to reveal that he has no idea what the real root cause of the problem is.

“He called on rank-and-file sailors to "become intolerant" and openly denounce sexist and degrading behavior, and do what they could to put a stop to it when they observed it. Commanding officers and other leaders, he wrote, should challenge their command leaders at the small team level to discuss what respect for fellow troops means in every setting, including online.”

Did you pick up on the key phrase in the passage?  Here it is:

“…discuss what respect for fellow troops means in every setting …”

I’ll analyze that in a moment but let’s look a bit deeper.  Here’s additional statements from Richardson that show that he has absolutely no idea what the problem is.  He is totally ignorant and he’s a hypocrite.

"Make it clear that individuals who can't live up to our professional standards in competence and character are not welcome in our Navy," he wrote. "Make it clear that our standards call us to a higher commitment than the law -- we are better than that."

Did you pick up on the key phrase?  Here it is:

“… individuals who can't live up to our professional standards in competence … are not welcome in our Navy.”

Now, let’s pull this all together.

Women are being disparaged on a daily basis, according to Richardson.  No doubt there is an element of oversensitivity (feminization) at play, here, as well.  Good natured ribbing is a normal aspect of human interaction but when directed at a female is used as an example of disrespect.  On the other hand, there is, without doubt, genuine disrespect directed towards women on a daily basis.  I’m not here to debate the frequency.  I’m here to analyze the “why”. 

Why are women being disrespected?  The answer is blindingly obvious to all but Navy leadership and here is the answer:

You disrespect people you have no respect for.

Take a moment and absorb the utter simplicity and truth in that.  In fact, say it again.  You disrespect people you have no respect for.

Why don’t service personnel - Marine, Navy, or whoever - respect women?  Again, the answer is blindingly obvious.  It’s because they aren’t held to the same standard of performance.  No one respects another who is accorded preferential treatment.  No one respects another who is given benefits without earning them.  I’m not even going to bother to recite the entire litany of reduced standards that women are accorded but the men see it on a daily basis.  Whether it’s reduced physical training standards, preferential selection for assignments or promotions, retries at training that are not generally accorded men (Kara Hultgreen, for example, or ranger training), unofficial quotas that allow women preferential assignments, benefits that men can’t enjoy (pregnancy reduced duties and leave), or any of the hundreds of other daily biases that favor women, the net result of all that preferential treatment is what grows the resentment that leads to the disrespect the men display towards the women.

Every sensitivity training session just breeds more resentment.  Every time a male soldier is forced to carry a female’s pack it just breeds more resentment.  When a general stares at the instructors and announces that a woman WILL pass Ranger school, it just breeds resentment.  When the Marines conduct experiments proving that women, either as a group or in mixed groups, cannot perform as well as men and the results of the experiment are ignored, it just breeds resentment.  Every time a male Marine is doing pull ups while watching a female simply hang from the bar, it breeds resentment.  And the list goes on.

Now, let’s reexamine CNO Richardson’s comments.

“…discuss what respect for fellow troops means in every setting …”

He said, “respect for fellow troops IN EVERY SETTING”.  Those settings have to include training, physical performance testing, etc. or it’s just hypocritical and the men will see right through it.  You can’t demand respect for women unless you treat them exactly the same and hold them to the exact same standards.

“… individuals who can't live up to our professional standards in competence … are not welcome in our Navy.”

He said, “individuals who can't live up to our professional standards … are not welcome in our Navy”, and yet the women, who demonstrably cannot meet the same standards as men are not only still welcome in “our Navy” but are accorded preferential treatment!  That’s the height of hypocrisy.  No wonder the men have no respect for women.

It has to work both ways.  You can’t force respect for a group that is not earning respect.  If you want respect, earn it.  You also have to respect the men who have had to earn their way and meet higher standards.  You respect them by not disrespecting them by according women special privileges and benefits that the men don't get.  It has to work both ways.

Update:  Reader "DJF" made an absolutely astute observation that leads me to this addition. This is yet another example of the differing standards for men and women.  The military is fired up about the lack of respect and judgement shown by the men who post and view nude photos of women and will do everything they can to prosecute/persecute the guilty but no Marine/Navy leader has mentioned the incredible lack of judgement and self-respect demonstrated by the women involved.  If the women don't want nude photos spread around, they shouldn't take, or have taken, nude photos.  Who is holding the women to account for their part in this?  If the women want respect they have to earn it.  This does not earn it.

CNO Richardson is demonstrating utter ignorance on the subject and is merely parroting the political correctness line of propaganda.  He is demonstrating his complete absence of intelligence, integrity, and moral courage.

CNO Richardson, you are not living up to our professional standards and you are not welcome in our Navy.


(1)“ website, “Navy's Top Officer to Commanders: 'We Have a Problem'”, Hope Hodge Seck, 14-Mar-2017,

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Aegis Test Ship

This idea has come up repeatedly.  The Navy’s main AAW weapon system, Aegis, is completely untested under any realistic conditions.  Further, the system’s combat resiliency is unknown.

Regarding function, the Aegis system has never been tested against the very threat it was designed to handle, saturation missile attacks.  We have no idea what its capabilities are and yet we’re betting the protection of our fleet on it.  We need to know how the system will actually function in combat.

Regarding resiliency, you’ll recall that when the Port Royal gently nosed aground at one or two knots, and rocked gently for a day or so until it could be freed, it left the system out of alignment and possibly inoperative, depending on what report you care to believe.  I think the fact that the Port Royal was the Navy’s first choice for early retirement of the Aegis cruisers is quite telling – this despite the Port Royal being the newest Aegis cruiser and fitted with the much valued ballistic missile defense modifications (BMD).

This does not bode well for the Aegis system’s combat resiliency.  If an entire Aegis system could be incapacitated by gently rocking for a while, what will happen when an anti-ship missile hits and whipsaws the entire ship?  We need to know.  Are Aegis ships one-hit mission kills or can they stay in the fight?

So what can we do about this?  How can we get answers?

As we’ve documented, the Navy has tried multiple times and in multiple ways to early retire the Aegis cruiser class.  Congress has rebuffed the Navy.  Even so, the Navy has managed to de facto retire six cruisers under the so-called modernization plan.  Be that as it may, if the Navy is so eager to retire a cruiser, why not let them?  Let’s retire a cruiser, automate it for remote control, put it out in the middle of the ocean, launch a saturation attack against it while it defends in full auto mode, and see what happens.  That will tell us how it functions in combat and whether it can take damage and keep fighting.

USS Paul F Foster - Self Defense Test Ship

It would cost next to nothing to automate the ship.  We’re not talking about artificial intelligence – just basic helm controls to position the ship.  Remember, the Aegis system, itself, already has a full auto mode – set it, leave the ship, and watch what happens.  We’d want to add in some extensive recording equipment to monitior the results.  We’re talking, what, a few million dollars?  That’s round off error in the Navy’s accounting ledgers. 

Aegis Cruiser - Aegis Test Ship Needed

Lest anyone believe the idea is not feasible, recall that the Navy maintains exactly such a remote controlled weapons test ship, the USS Paul F. Foster, a Spruance class destroyer converted to act as the Navy’s Self Defense Test Ship.  Given that the bulk of the Navy’s surface fleet carries the Aegis AAW system, it is long past time for a dedicated Aegis self defense test ship.

Monday, March 13, 2017

F-35 Lot 9/10 Prices

There are all kinds of wild claims being made about the affordability of the F-35 based on the Lot 9/10 LRIP (Low Rate Initial Production) contracts.  Let’s attempt to sort out the fact from fiction.

Lot 9

As you undoubtedly know, the government forced Lockheed to accept a unilateral contract price for the F-35 Lot 9 LRIP.

“After 14 months of intense negotiations, the Pentagon moved forward on its own with the LRIP 9 contract. Under the $6.1 billion award, Lockheed will deliver 57 F-35 airframes. Including engines, the mandated pricing per aircraft amounted to $102.1 million for each F-35A, $131.6 for each F-35B and $132.2 million for each F-35C.” (3)

I still don’t understand how a company can be forced to accept a unilateral contract but that’s not the main point of this post.

Here are the imposed prices of the individual aircraft types which includes the engine, according to Business Insider website (4).

  • 42 F-35A - $102.1M per
  • 13 F-35B - $131.6M per
  •   2 F-35C - $132.2M per

Lot 10

Lot 10 price negotiations were overshadowed by the threat of an additional unilateral price imposition by the government.

“During a speech in Washington earlier that day, US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James also hinted at the possibility of a unilateral contract for LRIP 10.” (3)

Here’s some Lot 10 cost figures.

“The Department of Defense awarded Lockheed Martin a contract for Lot 10 of F-35 production, not including engines, on Nov. 23. The “undefinitized contract” is for a total of 90 aircraft and has a ceiling of $7.2 billion.” (5)

Alternatively, another announcement cites a somewhat different price.

“The Department of Defense and Lockheed Martin announced on Friday an agreement worth about $8.5 billion for 90 F-35 jets …” (7)

In any event, note that the Lot 10 contract does not include engines.

“… Pentagon estimates the contract — which includes 90 F-35 airframes but no engines …” (2)

With the engine cost included, here are the prices for the individual aircraft types (1).

  • F-35A - $  94.6M per
  • F-35B - $122.8M per
  • F-35C - $121.8M per

Overall, these prices reflect around a 7% decrease from Lot 9 prices (1).


Here is some cost data on the F-35 engines. 

For Lot 9 F-35s,

In April, Pratt & Whitney signed a contract with the Pentagon to produce the ninth lot of F-135 engines that will power the F-35. The contract, worth $1.4 billion, will cover 66 engines.” (6)

That’s $21.2M per engine.

For Lot 10 F-35s,

“…$1.5 billion contract for the 10th lot of F-135s, a total of 99 engines.” (6)

That’s $15.2M per engine.

So, what does any of this tell us about the F-35 cost?  Nothing.  If the government can unilaterally dictate a price to the manufacturer, what’s to stop them from dictating a price of $50M per aircraft or $1M or any other number they want to use?  The fact that the contract was unilateral means that Lockheed clearly believes that the actual price was higher. 

So, what is the actual price of the F-35?  Well, Lockheed knows but they aren’t saying and the government knows but they don’t care.  The actual price is higher than the imposed contract price but we have no idea how much higher.

Imposing a unilateral price is the worst way to do business.  While it may make the General in charge of the F-35 program look good in the very short term, it will have far reaching negative consequences.  Manufacturers may opt not to bid on future projects out of fear of losing money due to imposed prices that are unrealistic.  Alternatively, they may bid but bid enormously higher than normal in an attempt to compensate for the threat of unilateral cost impositions.  Do you really think any aircraft manufacturer will ever again bid realistic prices (to the extent that they were doing so before which is a dubious proposition, to be sure)?  Of course not.  They now know that the government can impose a price so they will compensate and compensate enormously.  Do you think any aircraft manufacturer will ever share true cost data with government again, knowing that it can be used against them?  The only data the government will ever see from now on is hugely padded figures.  This can only hurt the country in the long run – yet another debacle brought to you courtesy of the F-35 program.

Do you think there are some ship builders who are scared to death that the government is going to impose below cost prices on them, too?  Those follow on Ford carriers are awfully expensive.  Maybe the government will unilaterally lower the price?  Ship builders are going to significantly pad up their numbers from now on to compensate for the possibility of imposed prices.  We’re going to see ridiculously large claims for added work, change orders, concurrency fixes, repairs (since there are no warranties), etc.  Builders are going to grab for as much money as they can as a hedge against unilateral price fixing by the government.

The ripple effect of the unilateral contract imposition is going to be felt throughout the military industry for decades to come.


(1)Defense News website, “Pentagon, Lockheed Reach Agreement on F-35 Contract For 90 Jets”, Aaron Mehta, 3-Feb-2017,

(2)Defense News website, “Lockheed Martin Gets $1B F-35 Sustainment Contract”, Valerie Insinna, 1-Mar-2017,

(3)Flight Global website, “Unilateral negotiations still in play for F-35 contract”, Leigh Giangreco, 19-Dec-2016,

(4)Business Insider website, “Here’s the price tag for the latest batch of F35s”, Amanda Macias, 20-Dec-2016,

(5)Air Force Magazine website, “Lockheed Martin Receives $7.2 Billion Contract for F-35 Lot 10”, Wilson Brissett, 29-Nov-2016,

(6)The Ct Mirror website, “Pentagon-Lockheed fight over F-35 price doesn’t extend to Pratt”, Ana Radelat, 4-Nov-2016,

(7)CNBC website, “Lockheed, Pentagon announce $8.5 billion F-35 order”, 3 Feb 2017,