Friday, March 10, 2017

Navy Alternative Force Structure Study

ComNavOps just read one of scarier documents he’s read in a long time.  The document was an alternative force structure “study” (I’ll explain why the word study is in quotes in a moment) requested by Congress as part of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The NDAA required the Navy to produce three “independent” alternative force structure studies including one from the Navy, itself.  Question:  How can a Navy study about the Navy’s force structure be independent?  But, I digress …

The “study” that the Navy produced (1) is claimed, in the opening paragraph, to not represent any official position of the Navy but is “just another independent approach to the problem” of force structure.

Before we go any further, let’s recall what the Navy’s official position on force structure seems to be.  The Navy’s position has the following main points:

  • Distributed lethality
  • Electromagnetic maneuver warfare
  • Massive networking / unmanned vehicles

Now, rather than work carefully through the “study”, let’s jump right to the study’s main points.

  • Distributed lethality (accomplished via massive networking / unmanned vehicles)
  • Electromagnetic maneuver warfare
  • Distributed agile logistics

Do you see any similarity?  The only thing new or different from the Navy’s current official position is the recognition of the role of logistics and for that I’ll give the study full credit.  Other than that, the “study” is just a duplicate of the Navy’s current official force structure philosophy. 

So, we had a Navy group commissioned by the Navy to study the Navy and their conclusion was a force structure vision identical to the Navy’s.  Shocking!  Who could have seen that coming?  Now you know why I enclosed the word “study” in quotes.  This wasn’t a study, it was a sales brochure for the Navy.  What a waste.

The only other point of interest is that the study calls for   - you’re never going to guess this - more ships!  A Navy study that calls for more ships - bet you didn’t see that coming, did you?

I thought about analyzing the individual points throughout the study but, upon consideration, decided that it would be pointless.  The study is just a collection of the Navy’s talking points and contains all the same inherent flaws that we’ve discussed repeatedly.  If you have an interest in reading the document, the reference is listed below.

I mentioned that this was one of the scarier documents I’ve read.  What’s scary about it is the lockstep mentality exhibited by a supposedly “independent” group of professional naval thinkers and the utter lack of operational and tactical awareness exhibited throughout the document.  I would hope for better from our professional warriors but, sadly, it’s not to be.  When we go to war, we’re going to have to relearn all about how to fight a war and the price for that learning will be steep and bloody.


(1)Report to Congress, “Alternative Future Fleet Platform Architecture Study”,

27-Oct-2016, Navy Project Team,  Generated 2016Jun20, RefID: 9-6D51D88


  1. I'm all for network, distribution, agility,etc,etc BUT where is the LETHALITY part coming from? LCS can't punch itself out of a brown bag, Zumwalt has guns with no ammo, Harpoon is pretty much gone from surface ships,etc,etc....where is all this LETHAL stuff hiding inside today's USN? If there's no carrier around, a scenario more and more likely, where is this lethal Navy they are talking about.......

    1. Excellent comment/question. The US military has all but abandoned lethality in favor of mobility, networking, and unmanned. I guess we'll know with exquisite detail who's kicking our ass!

    2. The Navy's lethality rests in the 84 Ticos/Burkes and 61 SSN/SSGNs that carry the Tomahawk cruise missile. And, the Navy is making up for the lack of antiship missiles by acquiring 245 antiship cruise missiles over the next 5 years.

    3. Distributed Lethality has more to do with winning internal budget battles than actual wars.

      It's a ploy by the surface warfare community to grab resources ($$) that would otherwise go elsewhere. Like more SSNs.

    4. "The Navy's lethality rests in the 84 Ticos/Burkes and 61 SSN/SSGNs that carry the Tomahawk cruise missile. And, the Navy is making up for the lack of antiship missiles by acquiring 245 antiship cruise missiles over the next 5 years."

      The Navy has a decent deep penetration, land attack capability in the form of the Tomahawk missile. Of course, this sets aside the fact that the Tomahawk is slow and non-stealthy and its survivability against a peer defender is unknown and somewhat suspect. Still, it's a decent capability.

      The Navy's anti-surface capability is almost non-existent. The Harpoon is almost gone due to exceeding its shelf life. Acquiring 245 new missiles sounds nice until you look closer at the numbers. A typical 'war load' of anti-ship missiles has been 8 (2x 4 Harpoons on rack launchers). Doing the arithmetic, 245 missiles divided by 8 missiles per ship gives us a total of 30 ships that could be outfitted with an anti-ship 'war load'. If war occurs, within the next five years, only 30 ships (or less if they haven't bought the full 245 yet) will be capable of anti-surface warfare. That's not good!

      The Standard/ESSM missiles have an anti-surface mode but they aren't designed as anti-ship and won't function well in that role. Better than nothing, though. The other problem with using AAW missiles in an ASuW mode is that every missile used in ASuW subtracts from the AAW capability of the ship. That presents the ship Captain with the unpalatable choice of using up his AAW weapons and getting caught short or allowing surface targets to escape.

      The Navy has an ASuW deficiency that 245 anti-ship missiles is only going to slightly mitigate.

      And, the next problem is where to put the anti-ship missiles (ASM)? Every VLS cell that takes a ASM is one less available for and AAW missile. Between ASM, AAW, VL-ASROC, and Tomahawk, the competition for VLS cells is an issue!

    5. "Distributed Lethality has more to do with winning internal budget battles than actual wars."

      'Follow the money' is normally the answer to everything the Navy does. Pursuit of budget is their main organizational function. In this case, however, I'm somewhat puzzled. While I completely agree that 'distributed lethality' is a marketing ploy rather than a viable operational concept, I'm far less clear about what the Navy gets out of it, budget-wise. Distributed lethality (DL) is not being used to justify new ships, which are normally the Navy's goal in any marketing campaign. Yes, the Navy can use the DL concept to ask for more missiles but those are a drop in the bucket, budget-wise, and aren't what the Navy really wants, which is more ships.

      So, what do you think the Navy gets out of DL? I'm a bit puzzled. What's your take on this?

    6. For starters one should not think about 'The Navy' as a unitary construct. At the staff level, it is really a three competing baronies: aviation, submarines and surface warfare.

      Distributed Lethality is really more of an 'internal' rather than 'external' budget play. It is an attempt by the surface warfare community to take dollars that might otherwise go to naval aviation or submarines.

      I don't think the Navy writ large will get much out of DL. It's not a very well thought out concept.

    7. Interesting. I still don't see how the surface community gains anything, budget wise, compared to the others. The dollars in play for a few extra missiles are peanuts. I'm still not getting it?

    8. I actually think that’s a very interesting comment. I have heard very little about DL in terms of SSN or aviation, which is strange I think ?

      In term of budget as I have mentioned before DL will be big cost, not for the missiles although obviously they will be a huge cost for long range data linked high performance with multiple on EVERY ship, we are talking 2000+ easily.

      But for the system to work we are talking about huge sensor upgrades on everything as distributed lethality is nothing without distributed weapons grade sensors \ ESM ( cant have us shooting civilians can we ), distributed computing ( as a modern long range ASM and communications net isn’t that mechanical ) and HUGE satellite comms upgrade, because a global distributed command and control system linked down to individual weapons grade ( 10m CEP ) data in real time is a mother of an amount of data to send \ receive and process.

      As you know, all this must be LO and non hackable, and resistant to EW.

      Get your pen ready, cos this will be a big cheque !

    9. CNO, "And, the next problem is where to put the anti-ship missiles (ASM)? Every VLS cell that takes a ASM is one less available for and AAW missile. Between ASM, AAW, VL-ASROC, and Tomahawk, the competition for VLS cells is an issue!"

      You're certainly right about this one! It's a zero-sum game when it comes to the number of VLS cells in the fleet. But, given that NSM can strike land targets too, one option could be fewer Tomahawks deployed. We weren't that far out to sea when we fired missiles into Libya in 2011 or more recently into Yemen. Granted that might not work against a near peer, but it's an option.

      Another option is introducing a magazine ship as one fleet architecture proposal suggested. Maybe that's a role for the early built Burkes before they are retired.

  2. What's really needed is a maverick that comes up with some unconventional ideas that challenge the status quo.

    The USN is a very inwardly focused organization. It seems more interested in winning budget battles than preparing for real war.

    1. We are headed for a very large, very brutal war that will require massive explosives and survivability. We need hard, heavy hitting assets, not light jeeps and LCS.

      This is why, on this blog, I propose ideas like ballistic missile firing battleships, long range air superiority fighter aircraft, large supersonic cruise missiles, dedicated small ASW vessels, etc. I left the box a long time ago!

  3. Interestingly, Tom Christie, who once headed DOT&E once noted that there needs to be an organization that is responsible for reviewing the risks of a project before the funds happen.

    That would involve an independent committee that discussed the evaluation:

    1. Threats the US faces
    2. Assessment of what the US needs

    Then for weapons systems:

    1. Technical risks that a system faces
    2. Realistic cost estimates

    This is to prevent a costlier, and frankly disappointing system based on some new technology.

    Only if the costs are realistic and technical barriers considered not too risky would the system go into production. This would involve having enough upfront funding and a competent prototype.

    Basically no low rate production until the problems have been satisfactorily resolved.

    It may be the only way. I suppose DOT&E itself could be expanded to solve this.

    1. We had such a group - the General Board. In our 'wisdom', we abandoned it.

    2. "needs to be an organization that is responsible for reviewing the risks of a project before the funds happen."

      There are many organizations that, as their history has demonstrated, reliably assess risks. GAO and CRS, for example, have published report after report about the risks associated with the LCS, F-35, Ford, Zumwalt, etc. and have for many years. All of their predictions have come true. On a less formal basis, but no less accurate, there are many bloggers who have a track record of accurately predicting risks and shortcomings of weapon systems.

      In summary, there is no absence or, indeed, even a shortage of organizations that have proven capable of assessing risks well in advance of a program's formal initiation. What is absent is any willingness, whatsoever, on the part of the Navy/military to heed those warnings.

  4. This study group is another example of the self licking ice cream cone invented and re-invented in all large bureaucracies.

    And like all small children the members involved in the exercise of licking the ice cream cone are VERY protective of their invention.

  5. I agree that there is little to be learned from the Navy's force study, but do you have any info on the other two? Who did them?

    Randall Rapp

    1. The other two studies were performed by CSBA and the think tank, MITRE. Summaries of both are available on the web at Breaking Defense website.


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