Thursday, April 27, 2017

North Korean Artillery Exercise

North Korea just carried out a live fire artillery drill involving up to 400 self-propelled artillery vehicles.  The vehicles were lined up, side by side, in neat rows while NKorea’s dictator, Kim Jong-Un observed.  If the US was ever interested in a pre-emptive strike, this had to be the opportunity of a lifetime!  Look at those vehicles line up.  You could kill the dictator and wipe out a huge chunk of military capability in one strike and all on an isolated beach with little chance for collateral damage.

A Target Rich Environment!

It had to be tempting.  Just saying …

Russian Spy Ship Sinks

A Russian Navy signals intelligence spy ship, the Liman, with a crew of 78, sank after colliding with a Togo-flagged freighter in the Black Sea near Istanbul, Turkey (1).  The freighter, carrying 8000 sheep, was only slightly damaged and continued on its way.

Russian Ship Liman
Photo by Yoruk Isik(@yorukisik) (2)

There is no evidence that this was anything other than an accident but it makes you think, doesn’t it?  Wouldn’t it be a shame if a US freighter collided with a Russian spy ship off the east coast of the US?


(1)Washington Post website, “Russian navy intelligence ship sinks after collision with freighter off Turkish coast ”, Kareem Fahim and Andrew Roth, 27-Apr-2017,


Island Bases

The Chinese have constructed, and continue to construct and expand, artificial islands throughout the East and South China Sea regions.  Setting aside the blatant illegality of attempting to make territorial claims on those islands and the Chinese policy of running roughshod over all international norms and laws regarding resolution of territorial disputes, the islands pose a significant military presence that alters the balance and exercise of power in the region.  Disturbingly, the US has ceded the region without a shot being fired.

Sadly, there is a school of thought that the artificial islands the Chinese are building in the South China Sea have no value and the US should simply pull out of the area and not contest the islands – that our protests and contentions are what’s causing tensions in the region.  The proponents of this school are misguided, to put it politely, and seem to have no grasp of geopolitics, human nature, Chinese culture, or military strategy and operations.

If, as Chinese apologists would have us believe, the islands have no real value and are not worth contending over, why, then, are the Chinese pouring so much money and effort into their construction?  Further, the Chinese know that they are expending a huge amount of unrecoverable political and public relations capital.  They know they are creating enemies in the world community and problems that will plague them for decades to come and yet they clearly deem the islands to be worth the cost.

The islands greatly extend the Chinese military reach and solidify their control of the first island chain.  They’ve achieved their objective of seizing control of the first island chain and are now engaged in strengthening their hold.  The islands offer air and naval bases with deepwater ports well away from the mainland.  The anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) zone which, pre-island construction, consisted of little more than a theoretical ballistic missile threat hobbled by targeting difficulties, some long range bombers, a competent but overextended and inexperienced navy, and some submarines that were barely learning to venture out from their ports, now, becomes, in the near future, a very credible threat.

The Chinese artificial islands serve two purposes, one political and one military.

Politically, the islands serve to strengthen China’s claims to the South China Sea.  The US Freedom of Navigation Innocent Passage exercises legally, and bizarrely, reinforce China’s claims of sovereignty.  In time, the surrounding countries will come to accept the islands as Chinese territory and, in more time, will grudgingly concede territorial rights.  Eventually, each island will come to have a 12 mile international territorial limit and a 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).  It is this EEZ that is vital to China’s plans.  The EEZ will overlap other country’s territory, such as the Philippines, and will provide the excuse that China needs to begin annexing those countries under the guise of protecting their EEZ rights.  This may sound far-fetched at the moment but annexing the entire South China Sea would have sounded far-fetched ten years ago and yet it has happened.

Militarily, the islands serve many purposes.  They serve to move any initial combat from China’s mainland out to a thousand miles.  In this respect, the islands serve as a tripwire, forcing any attacking country to first “announce” their intentions by dealing with the islands, thus buying time for China to respond.  The fact that the US would never strike first is lost on the Chinese whose paranoia is boundless.  Thus, from their perspective, a thousand mile barrier of tripwire islands makes perfect sense.

The islands provide the targeting capability that makes the anti-ship ballistic missile threat real through land based radar and air bases from which radar planes can operate.  This is a key point.  The “carrier killer” DF-21 and similar anti-ship ballistic missiles were a hollow threat because the Chinese had no long range targeting capability.  Now they do.  Now the “carrier killer” threat is real.

The islands provide the naval bases that allow the navy to extend their reach by utilizing the bases for support, supply, and refueling.  Further, the island air bases provide the air cover needed to support naval operations.

Without a doubt, the islands are being used to emplace SOSUS-like listening systems to aid in their ASW efforts.

America’s ability to freely enter and roam the East and South China Seas is gone.  Our operations will be closely and precisely monitored.  Every US military unit’s location will be precisely known.  Our submarines will be subjected to greatly intensified surveillance and the islands will be used to greatly expand Chinese ASW coverage.

Also, seizure of the South China Sea seals off easy approach from Diego Garcia and the Indian Ocean.

All of this is bad but the situation is worse than that.  When conflict comes, our military efforts won’t be able to start a thousand miles out from the mainland, at the first island chain, but rather many hundreds of miles past the first island chain.  The artificial islands are now the starting point for US military operations.  They are military fortresses that must be neutralized before we can even begin to address the A2/AD zone as we currently know it.  Before the islands were built, we could have begun operations at the first island chain.  We could have entered the East/South China Seas with relatively little risk and launched long range cruise missile attacks with reasonable safety.  The islands, however, push our starting point back by many hundreds of miles.  We can no longer reach cruise missile launch points without being subjected to island based defenses.

The Chinese have added another layer to their defense-in-depth concept and we allowed it without any resistance.

Well, at least it’s over and done.  The Chinese have the entire South China Sea and first island chain but now they’re done.  They’ve accomplished their goal and will now settle back to being the peaceful and responsible world neighbor that they were before the entire South China Sea / first island chain episode began, right?  Wrong!  It’s just the beginning.  This is like giving the bully your lunch money and assuming that he’ll be satisfied and won’t bother you again.  Unfortunately, like the bully that continually wants more, China is already eyeing further expansions, specifically the second island chain which begins at Japan, includes Palau, Guam, and the Marianas which are US territory, and terminates at New Guinea.  Significantly, the Philippines are encompassed by the chain.

As Chinese naval proponents see it, the first and second island chains complicate their nation’s nautical destiny so long as they remain in potentially hostile hands—as they will in the case of Japan, to take the most obvious example. Japan’s combination of geographic position, multiple seaports suitable for military shipping and resources makes it a permanent factor in Chinese strategy. Forces stationed along the island chains can encumber the Chinese navy’s free access to the Western Pacific while inhibiting north-south movement along the Asian seaboard. ” (2)

“Some Chinese analysts extend the first island chain in a grand arc to Diego Garcia. “  [emphasis added]

The Army, at least, agrees with my assessment regarding the purpose behind the artificial islands.  Gen. McMaster puts it succinctly,

“China is “building land… to project power outward from land into the maritime and aerospace domains,” the Army’s chief futurist, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, argued yesterday at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.” (1)

Just as the US island hopped across the Pacific during WWII, the Chinese have begun island hopping (and building islands where none exist, if needed) in the reverse direction across the Pacific.  Just as the US used each successive island to provide basing for further conquests, so too are the Chinese using each successive island as a base for further expansion and conquest.

Each island that we allow the Chinese to conquer or build represents a bloody battle that will have to be fought sometime down the road.  We need to recognize the purpose behind the islands and halt China’s expansion.

The Trump administration recently made a statement in regards to North Korea that the “era of strategic patience” is over.  Hopefully, that’s a euphemism for the end of appeasement and hopefully it applies to China, as well.


(1) Breaking Defense website, “What Lessons Do China’s Island Bases Offer The US Army?, Sydney Freedberg Jr., 5-May-2016,

(2)The Diplomat website, “Island Chains Everywhere”, James R. Holmes, 16-Feb-2011,

Monday, April 24, 2017

Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile

The Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is being considered for the LCS and, possibly, other US Navy ships.  Let's get to know it a bit better.  It was developed for the Royal Norwegian Navy as an anti-ship missile capable of being launched from Skjold class corvettes and Nansen class frigates as well as coastal defense batteries.  A related variant, the Joint Strike Missile, is being developed as an air launched version intended for use by the F-35.  The missile has been in production since 2007.


The NSM is a sea skimming, completely passive missile with advanced terminal maneuvering and Autonomous Target Recognition (ATR) capability (1).  The missile airframe is somewhat stealthy but not extremely so and incorporates reduced radar cross section and IR signature (5).  The manufacturer claims the missile is resistant to countermeasures.

Naval Strike Missile with Booster 

 Here are some relevant characteristics of the missile:

Length     3.96m / 13′ (2)
Wingspan   27 inches
Weight     407 kg / 900 pound (2)
Range      185+km / 100+nm (2) with a low flight profile;  300+nm with a high flight profile
Speed      high subsonic (4)
Warhead    120 kg / 265 lb titanium blast fragmentation with programmable fuze (2)

Power is provided by a solid propellant rocket booster which is subsequently jettisoned after launch and a Microturbo TRI-40 turbojet engine (2).  The missile uses JP8 or JP10 fuel (4).

“The TRI-40 is a single spool turbojet engine, consisting of a four-stage axial compressor, annular smokeless combustor and a single-stage turbine. It delivers a maximum thrust of 2.5-3.3kN.” (4)

Launchers are clustered packs similar to the US Navy’s Harpoon rack launchers.  They are available in single, 2, 3, 4, or 6 pack arrangements.  The launcher can be angled from 10 – 60 degrees elevation (5).  A 4-pack launcher weighs 8,600 lbs (5).  Individual launch canisters (Launch Missile Module – LMM) are 4.1 m long x 0.85 m wide x 0.90 m high and weight 1951 lbs (5).

4-Pack Launcher

The launcher requires around 4 minutes to power up to full operation and the launch cycle is 2.5 seconds (5).

Guidance is provided by GPS/INS and terrain profile matching (TERPROM). The missile is claimed to use software programming to fly an unpredictable path which enhances survivability (2).  The missile is capable of in-flight retargeting (2).  The missile can also be launched in bearing-only mode (5).

Flight profile control can include no-attack and no-flight zones for safety as well as altitude restrictions (5).

Terminal guidance uses an imaging infrared (IIR) seeker with Automatic Target Recognition (ATR) database and is reportedly capable of targeting specific features of a ship (2).  The manufacturer claims, “Close to zero probability for inadvertently attacking a civilian ship”.

The missile uses high-g terminal “bobbing and weaving” maneuvers to defeat point defense weapons.  Here is a target’s-eye view of a typical terminal flight path (5).

NSM Terminal Flight Profile As Viewed From Target

The lack of a conventional radar seeker makes the missile completely passive which decreases the chance of detection and, thereby, increases the missile’s survivability.

In 2016, Raytheon and Kongsberg announced plans to produce the NSM in Raytheon’s US facilities. (3)

USNI News website suggests the missile will cost slightly less than a Tomahawk Block IV which would put the cost in the $800,000 range. (3)

Kongsberg has reportedly consulted with Lockheed regarding Mk41 VLS integration of the NSM.


The manufacturer believes the combination of passivity, low altitude approach, airframe stealth, and terminal maneuverability obviates the need for supersonic speed.  This approach is at odds with much of the rest of the anti-ship missile world which has emphasized supersonic speed and it remains to be seen whether the manufacturer’s assumption is valid.

The lack of radar guidance capability, while it enhances the stealth of the missile, could also prove to be a detriment.  In a GPS-denied environment, the missile will have only inertial guidance and terrain matching (not really applicable over water) and one has to wonder whether this will provide sufficient accuracy.

The manufacturer puts great stock in the Advanced Target Recognition (ATR) capability but the statement, “Close to zero probability for inadvertently attacking a civilian ship”, recognizes that autonomous targeting capability is less than perfect.  To be fair, this is a weakness inherent in any autonomous weapon and represents a possible (likely?) significant limitation in the weapon’s usage analogous to the restrictions imposed on Phoenix BVR (Beyond Visual Range) missiles and any other BVR weapon.  The US historically has declined to take advantage of BVR weapons due to the possibility of inadvertent civilian damage or friendly fire.  Thus, autonomy, while theoretically useful, is not as useful on a practical basis.

Range is decent, at 100 nm for the manufacturer’s suggested low flight profile but not outstanding compared to many of its competitors.  On the other hand, the range is compatible with likely sensing range, especially for use on smaller ships which will have limited sensor range and limited access to high value, long sensor range, theater surveillance assets.  Thus, the NSM seems suited to the LCS but less so for a Burke which could benefit from a longer ranged missile.

A NSM was test fired from the deck of the USS Coronado, LCS-4, in Sep 2014.  However, the test was nothing more than an NSM “parked” on the deck of the LCS.  It was not integrated into the ship’s combat system, sensors, or fire control.  The test could have equally been performed from a dock or parking lot as far as what it demonstrated about the shipboard usefulness or suitability of the missile.  It was simply a public relations stunt.

Kongsberg’s proposal for the LCS shows dual 6-pack launcher arrangements for the LCS-1 variant and three 6-pack launchers for the LCS-2 (5).

Proposed NSM Launcher Arrangements

In summary, the NSM seems like a potentially useful anti-ship missile for smaller combatants although the entire passive/subsonic/non-stealthy approach is questionable until proven in realistic testing.  If the Navy is willing to subject the missile to realistic testing and the manufacturer’s assumptions prove out, the missile could provide a welcome boost to the LCS’ firepower.


(1)Kongsberg website, retrieved 21-Apr-2017,

(2)Defense Industry Daily website, retrieved 21-Apr-2017,

(3)USNI News website, “Raytheon, Kongsberg Ink Deal to Build Naval Strike Missile in U.S.”, Sam LaGrone, 13-Jul-2016,

(4) website,

(5)Kongsberg, “Kongsberg Naval And Joint Missiles Update”, Precision Strike Annual Review, PSAR-14, 13-Mar-2014

Saturday, April 22, 2017

F-35 And Dogfighting

The shilling for the F-35 is absolutely breathtaking in its scope and inaccuracy.  “Experts” of all varieties are regularly trotted out to talk up the aircraft and explain why it is the greatest flying machine ever built or that likely ever will be built.  Careful analysis invariably demonstrates the falsity of the claims.

Recall the Marines declaration of IOC after a stunningly successful operational test?  Of course, after we read the DOT&E report we found out that the mission availability rate was 50%, at best, and the evaluation relied on spare parts and even spare aircraft being flown onto the ship during the test.

We have the Red Flag exercise in which the military claimed the F-35 achieved a 10,000:1 kill ratio or maybe it was only 20:1.  When you’re making up numbers, it doesn’t really matter what they are, does it?  Of course, we have no actual data and conditions upon which to assess the validity of the claim and given the history of lies associated with this aircraft, I flat out don’t believe the claim.

Rather than tediously list all the exaggerated claims that have been made and disproved, let’s just skip ahead and look at the latest.  SNAFU website gets the credit for the heads up on this story about F-35 dogfighting which was posted on Business Insider website (1).

“But according to retired US Marine Corps Maj. Dan Flatley, who helped design the training syllabus for F-35 dogfights, the F-35's lackluster performance against legacy jets had more to do with old habits of the pilots and a weapons system in its infancy rather than anything wrong with the F-35 concept itself.”

Right off the bat, let’s note and acknowledge that Maj. Flatley is as biased as it is possible to be.  Anyone who helped design the training syllabus for the F-35 has a huge stake in the game and a clear bias.  However, let’s also be fair and recognize that merely having a bias does not mean that what he has to say is wrong.  What it means is that what he has to say has to be taken with a huge grain of salt until proven.  So, moving on …

The problem, according to Flatley, is not the aircraft but the bad habits of the highly trained fighter pilots.  Now that sounds like an excuse for a poor aircraft.  Again, though, to be fair, any weapon system has to be used to its strengths to be effective.  The Major, then, appears to be saying that the F-35 is not a dogfighter, which confirms the well known “secret” that we’ve heard for some time, but that it can be an effective aerial combatant if flown to its strengths.  Okay, let’s accept that for the moment and keep going …

“If you try to fight it like a fighter it isn’t, you’re going to have terrible results,” Flatley said of the F-35.”

“Flatley stressed that dogfighting, where the close range diminishes the F-35's stealth and sensor fusion advantages, is certainly not the purpose of the Joint Strike Fighter … “

Again, confirmation of the well known “secret”.

And now, the key part where Flatley explains how the F-35 can effectively engage in aerial combat.

“Unlike dogfighters from World War II, the F-35 mainly focuses on flying undetected while using its array of fused sensors to paint a clear picture of the threat environment for miles out and to engage with targets before they're ever seen.”

According to Flatley, the F-35’s aerial combat role is to be a sniper around the periphery of a battlefield – unseen but seeing all that is around it and sniping unsuspecting enemy aircraft who will never know what hit them.  I have no problem with that, whatsoever.  In fact, it’s kind of the ideal goal of aerial combat – to achieve that 6 o’clock position and gun down the enemy before they know you’re there.  Of course, with modern missiles, the 6 o’clock position isn’t necessarily required but it conveys the concept.

Do you see the problem – two problems, actually – with this concept?

The first problem is that the concept assumes that the F-35 can remain far enough away from the aerial battlefield to remain undetected and yet still be able to see all enemy aircraft.  If the enemy has nothing but early legacy aircraft, this will work and work wonderfully.  MiG-21/23/25/27’s will be toast, without a doubt, as will early Sukhois.  However, what happens when recent legacy aircraft that are semi-stealthy are in the air?  Modern, updated, late series MiGs and late variant Sukhois are moderately stealth, highly maneuverable, hard to detect, and harder to kill.  What happens when those aircraft don’t stand out like radar beacons and the F-35 doesn’t see all of them or has to move closer to the battlefield to get viable returns and images?  And – you can anticipate this coming – what happens when the F-35 encounters peer stealth fighters like the Russian T-50/PAK FA and Chinese J-20/31 on the near future battlefield?  What happens when the F-35 can’t see the enemy aircraft or, at least, no better then enemy aircraft can see the F-35?  In fact, enemy aircraft seem somewhat more advanced in IRST capability so they may actually possess the detection range advantage over the F-35!  How does the F-35 concept work when the F-35 can’t see the enemy aircraft?  The short answer is, it doesn’t!

“As exciting as dogfights are, it's been decades since a US jet engaged an enemy in a turning dogfight, and the F-35's design reflects that new reality.”

That leads us directly to the second problem which is, how many times, now, has the era of the dogfight been declared dead?  The first few times, it was over due to the advent of missiles.  Of course, that proved to be wrong and we had to scramble to relearn how to dogfight.  Now, dogfighting is over due to stealth.  Is it?  Or, will we wind up having to relearn how to dogfight, yet again?  When two stealth aircraft meet in combat and neither can reliably lock missiles on the other, the combat will, inevitably, devolve into a close range, guns-only, high-g, turning dogfight.  Recent anecdotal evidence from exercises suggest that this is exactly what happens.  Now, you have no choice but to dogfight and, according to Maj. Flatley, the F-35 is extremely ill-equipped to do that.

What happens when you can’t see the stealthy enemy but he, with his superior IRST, can see you and the F-35 is now the hunted?  Again, you’re going to be forced into a dogfight for which the F-35 is not designed and not capable.

Let’s put this in terms we can all understand.  Can an F-35 employ the peripheral sniping concept against another F-35/22, successfully?  If not, then the F-35 is a failure on the future aerial battlefield and is relegated to fighting only older legacy aircraft.  That’s a hideously expensive aircraft to be able to engage only older legacy aircraft.  Heck, we have F-15/16/18s that can already do that!

Had the F-35 made it to squadron service ten or twenty years ago, as intended, it would have been successful as an aerial sniper because there were no enemy stealth fighters.  Now, however, that advantage has been squandered due to the obscenely long development time of the F-35 and the near future battlefield is going to be populated by stealthy and semi-stealthy enemy aircraft.  The F-35’s design combat concept is already obsolete.  Once again, our unwise assumption that technology makes dogfighting a thing of the past will prove disastrous in combat.

Ironically, Major Flatley, in his attempt to praise the F-35, has told us all about the failing of the F-35. 


(1)Business Insider website, “Here's why the F-35 once lost to F-16s, and how it made a stunning comeback”, Alex Lockie, retrieved 19-Apr-2017,

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Misandry Rears Its Ugly Head In The Military

Well, you knew this would happen.  The scared sheep of Navy/Marine leadership have opted to make the male portion of the nude photo sharing incident a criminal act under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and have done nothing about the female portion, the actual posing for nude photos (1).  This kind of man-hating misandry (meaning, strongly predjudiced against men;  the counterpart word to mysogeny) has been demonstrated by shallow minded, timid, PC-cowed Navy/Marine leaders before but this incident has raised the phenomenon to new levels.  The actual posing and generation of nude photos/pornography, no matter how reprehensible, is allowed because it is done by women but the sharing of the photos has been criminalized because it is done by men.

In the linked article, CNO Richardson wonders why men continue to disrespect women.  He is oblivious to the fact that, as we recently posted, you disrespect those for whom you have no respect and you have no respect for those who are not held accountable to the same standards.  Shame on you, women!  Where are the female voices rising in protest over the questionable judgment of their sisters?  Where are the female voices demanding equal treatment in the form of criminalizing the posing for nude photos?  The women appear to want respect without the effort of earning the respect.  That’s the definition of hypocrisy. 

Once again, men have been prejudicially singled out for one-sided punishment and ill-treatment.  We must eliminate this kind of misandry from the military.

Women, I have no respect for you.  Get out of my military until you’re willing to earn your way in and accept accountability for your own behavior.  Take your vile misandristic prejudices and go back to your unenlightened caves.


(1)Navy Times, “Sailors, Marines Have New Regulations on Sharing ‘Intimate’ Images Without Consent; Violators Could Face 2 Years in Prison”, Sam LaGrone, 19-Apr-2017,

Monday, April 17, 2017

Contractor Support

The military has been relying more and more on contractor support as systems have become more technologically advanced and complex.  On the plus side, contractor support provides the technical expertise that the military doesn’t have and doesn’t seem to want to train for.  Contractors also represent a limited investment for the military.  They can be used as needed and then terminated to save money.  On the minus side, contractor support breeds a dependency that weakens the military’s ability to sustain their own equipment.  Most importantly, the contractors will not be present during combat.

A Defense News website article touches on this issue as it affects the Army. 

“Because of the rapid fielding of an enormous amount of equipment during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army’s ability to sustain equipment without the help of contractors [has] weakened, service leaders have long noted.”

Of course, the issue affects the Navy, as well.

“In a decisive action,” like early operations in Iraq, he said, “there was no place for contractors or civilians to be on the battlefield. It was the soldiers’ responsibility.”

This statement recognizes the reality that contractors won’t be available, at least not near the front lines, to provide support.  If we don’t learn how to provide our own support, we’re going to wind up fighting with degraded and unrepairable weapons and systems.

Well, fine, you say, when war comes we’ll train our own people to take over the support.  Unfortunately, the level of technical expertise required to support modern systems is far beyond the ability to quickly generate competent technicians by running them through a quick training course.  It now requires years of study to learn the complex electronics, physics, engineering, and software that go into a typical modern system.  Worse, today’s systems require a combination of many skills.  For example, an AESA radar system requires knowledge of particle and wave physics, advanced electronics, software programming, materials engineering, etc. to be able to diagnose and support the system.  You’re not going to send a kid out of high school to a six week training course and expect him to be a master of the system.  The contractors that support the various systems are often PhD level scientists and even the low level contractor technicians are dedicated system specialists who have spent years working with the system and spend the entire time doing nothing but working with the system.  The military simply can’t match that kind of expertise and dedication with average soldiers.

An interesting case study is the Navy’s Aegis radar system.  When the system was first introduced to the fleet the systems received top level contractor support and the systems functioned at peak performance.  As time went on and the system became well established, the Navy reduced the level of contractor support and slowly, over time, Aegis became degraded across the fleet.  The situation got to the point where the Navy had to commission one of their infamous Admiral-chaired oversight panels in an attempt to correct the systemic degradation.  For those interested, Aegis degradation is described in the 2010 Fleet Review Panel of Surface Force Readiness (the famous Balisle Report), p.43.

This raises an interesting question that I’ve brought up repeatedly.  Is it better to have an immensely complex but theoretically highly capable system that can’t be maintained or repaired easily, usually operates degraded, and is overly sensitive to blast effects or is it better to have a lesser system that is easily maintained, easily repaired in the field, and operates at max performance?  In other words, is it better to sacrifice some performance for the sake of reliability and maintainability? 

Consider the F-22/F-35 availability.  The fleets seem to run around 50% availability.  Is it better to have exquisite aircraft that are only 50% available – and in war that figure will sharply decrease – or to have previous generation aircraft that are 90% available?  Highly capable but stuck on the ground or less capable but in the air and fighting?

I think a pretty good case can be made for less capable equipment that is more reliable.  That doesn’t mean you abandon all technological advances but it does mean that you should maintain a healthy proportion of “lesser” capabilities that can be maintained without contractor support.  For example, don’t throw those A-10’s away.  The F-35 that you think is going to do your close air support just isn’t going to be available when you need it.

The other obvious lesson, here, is that if the military is going to buy technologically advanced systems, they must also “buy” the in-house technical support that is required, meaning, they must commit to providing sufficiently trained military technician, spare parts, manuals, logistics support, etc. rather than rely on contractor support.  Of course, this means that the true cost of fielding and operating a new system extends well beyond the purchase price.  If that overall support cost is too great for the budget to bear, perhaps we need to rethink the degree of technology that we want?


(1)Defense News website, “Ditching Pre-Positioned Activity Sets, Army Now Deploying Equipment From CONUS”, Jen Judson, 13-Mar-2017,

Saturday, April 15, 2017

New 57 mm Anti-Swarm Munition

ComNavOps has noted that the Navy’s LCS gun defense against small craft in the swarm scenario is ineffective.  It appears that the Navy has also recognized this because they deleted the LCS’ Mk110 57 mm gun from the Zumwalt class in favor of a smaller 30 mm gun which they claimed was more effective and more lethal.  Further proof of the gun’s ineffectiveness can be seen in early gun test videos intended to promote the gun but which actually show its ineffectiveness.

The main problem with the gun is the lightweight, airburst munition for the gun.  The round generates a lot of shrapnel which can kill unprotected crew but has little actual stopping power on a boat.  If a small craft is not stopped, the ship/gun cannot shift fire to the next target and while the ship/gun try to pound the target into stopping, all the remaining swarm boats continue their approach.  To be fair, guns, in general, are ineffective in such a scenario.  What is needed is a one-shot, one-kill weapon like a small, guided, fire-and-forget missile.

BAE Systems seems to have recognized the shortcoming of the Mk110 57 mm gun and has developed a new munition intended, specifically, for the small boat, anti-swarm scenario.  The new munition is the ORKA (Ordnance for Rapid Kill of Attack Craft) Mk295 Mod 1 57 mm guided projectile.

The projectile has a semi-active imaging seeker that can be laser guided or can seek its target autonomously by downloading an image of the target prior to firing (1).  The data sheet suggests that the target image is cued from a designating laser (2).  Guidance motive capability is accomplished via a system of four folding canards.

The round contains a bit over 200 g of PBX high explosive that delivers 1.4 kg of steel fragments (2).  Fuzing modes are timed, proximity, or point detonation (1, 2).

Maximum range is cited as 10 km (2) versus the claimed 17 km range using the current Mk295 Mod 0 projectile.

BAE Systems claims that the projectile will accomplish a one-shot, one-kill efficiency.  Note, however, that the burst mode is still the original weakness.  Presumably, the claimed increase in lethality is attributed to the guided nature of the round with the hope being that the round will burst in closer proximity to the target and thus prove more lethal.  Alternatively, the point detonation fuze mode might provide disabling hits but I don’t think the odds of hitting a small, high speed, maneuvering target are very great, even with a degree of guidance/seeking.

Without seeing a demonstration or some other proof, I conclude that the new, guided projectile will have only a marginally better performance and will still be totally ineffective in the anti-swarm scenario.  Still it’s small step in the right direction, I suppose.


(1)Navy Recognition website,

(2)BAE Systems website, data sheet,

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Syrian Tomahawk Strike - Politics

This is not a political blog but I do occasionally touch on politics as they directly impact naval matters.  Such is the case for today’s post.  I’m going to examine a limited political aspect of the recent Syrian strike and how it relates to the Navy.

The obvious question is, why was the strike conducted?  What was the purpose of the strike?

The strike apparently did a significant amount of damage to the airfield but did not completely destroy it nor did it attempt to.  Hangars, some aircraft, and peripheral buildings were damaged or destroyed.  The runways, the chemical weapons storage (I’m accepting the chemical weapons claims by the President at face value for the purpose of this discussion), and other vital facilities were left untouched.  In other words, the strike was a half-hearted effort at attacking the airfield.  It could just as easily have been a full fledged destruction with no more effort than the launch of some more missiles. 

It seems clear, then, that the attack was meant as a message rather than serious retaliation or, more reasonably, an attack to eliminate the threat of chemical weapons.  The message, presumably, was a warning not to use chemical weapons again and the strike itself was intended to prove that the US would take military action if it happens again.  The significant aspect of the strike was that the chemical weapons were left untouched and intact, ready to be used again.

Given that the strike was a message, what was the point?  We’ve delivered many messages over the last few years, we’ve warned Syria about chemical weapons repeatedly.  We’ve drawn red lines in the sand and then watched while they were ignored.  Is one more warning going to somehow make a difference?  It seems to me that we’re long past the point of warnings.  It’s time to either shut up or take effective action.

The disturbing aspect of this entire incident is that the US clearly knew about the existence and location of the chemical weapons long before they were used.  In the Pentagon’s description of the Tomahawk strike, they specifically mention that the chemical storage facility was not targeted.  That means that they knew of its existence and location.  This raises an ugly question:  if we knew that chemical weapons existed and were in the hands of a madman who had used them [reportedly] multiple times in the past, why didn’t we take action to destroy the weapons before they could be used?

  • The US could have exposed the weapon’s existence on the international stage and put immense pressure on Russia to explain why they didn’t remove and destroy the chemicals as they promised to do and claimed they did.  This would have been a major embarrassment for Russia.

  • The US could have conducted a Tomahawk strike at any time to destroy the weapons.  The airfield is in an isolated location and release of the chemicals would have had little or no effect other than, perhaps, on some Syrian troops which we not shed any tears over.  In fact, it is quite likely that a fuel-air explosive or some similar weapon could have destroyed the chemicals with no release.  I’m not an explosives/chemistry expert so I’ll leave that one to those who are but I note that the disposal method for the chemicals is incineration which is exactly what certain bomb types do.

  • The US could have conducted a raid to seize and secure the chemical weapons.  The airfield was isolated and minimally manned according to the Pentagon with reports of 12-100 personnel on site.  This is exactly the kind of action that the vaunted Marine MEU/MAGTF/SPMAGTF/whatever should be able to execute.

  • The US could have conducted covert destruction of the chemical weapons by SEAL forces.  Again, the airfield was an ideal target for this type of action, being isolated and lightly manned.

  • The airfield and weapons could have been seized by the Army which has units dedicated to airfield seizure.

So, there were a number of options to have dealt with the existence of the chemical weapons prior to their use.  Instead, we waited until they were actually used.  If we were that horrified by their use why didn’t we take proactive action?  Seriously and cynically, how outraged are we, really, if we didn’t bother to take any action prior to the weapon’s usage? 

At this point, we also have to note that the bulk of responsibility for all of this lies with former President Obama.  President Trump has simply not been in office long enough to have had much chance to deal with this.

In summary, we could have acted preemptively but opted, instead, to wait until the weapons were actually used and then we sent a message via Tomahawk.  If we are so horrified by chemical weapons use, why didn’t our message include the destruction of the chemicals?  Instead, the chemicals still exist and can be used yet again.  What will we do then?  Send another message?  This is hypocritical on our part.  By all accounts, the worst that could have happened if we had destroyed the chemical weapons would have been exposure of a small number of Syrian and Russian troops – the very troops responsible for using the chemicals.  Do we really care if the troops using chemical weapons are exposed to the chemicals?  Sounds kind of fitting to me.

Clearly, we were okay with the existence of chemical weapons in the hands of a madman.  We didn’t care enough about the people who were attacked by chemicals to take any preemptive action.  I’m not going to express an opinion about whether we should or should not have taken action but to claim to be horrified by something we knew was eventually going to happen, and could have prevented, is completely hypocritical. 

The selection of Navy Tomahawks as the strike weapon was, no doubt, from a desire to avoid the possibility of downed and captured pilots.  However, I suspect that it was also due to a lack of options.  While the various Marine and Army units/capabilities that I cited as options theoretically exist, I strongly suspect that we have allowed our forces to degrade and become hollow to the point that their use is not really a viable option.  I'm pretty sure that none of the optional forces have been aggressively training and equipping for their assigned roles.  Note, this is just reasonably informed speculation on my part but, if true, leads to the obvious question, what's the point of maintaining the units if they aren't fully mission capable?

The Navy has been put in the position of delivering the hypocritical message and possibly suffering the backlash, if any materializes.  This is an ill use of the Navy in pursuit of a hypocritical and only marginally effective policy.

Monday, April 10, 2017


To say that the Navy is integrity-challenged is to put it mildly.  Let’s refresh our memories.  Here’s the history of relieved CO’s over the last several years with the number of firings shown for each year.  The numbers in parentheses are just the reference citations as listed at the end of the post.

2016 – 18 (1)
2015 – 20 (2)
2014 - ?
2013 – 17 (3)
2012 – 25 (3)
2011 – 22 (3)

That’s an average of 20 commanding officers fired each year.  To add some perspective, the Navy only has around 280 ships.  To be fair, not all of the relieved commanders were ship captains.  Many were but some were base or organizational commanders.

Well, perhaps you think those numbers, while not pleasant, are not really indicative of a systemic problem.  Let’s look at more evidence. 

The “Fat Leonard” scandal that has rocked the Navy and the 7th Fleet, in particular, has, thus far, seen several current and former Navy commanders, including admirals, convicted of various charges with several others “censured or disciplined” for ethics violations.  Currently, 30 admirals are still under investigation (5).  Charges and violations cover the gamut from “simple” ethics violations to bribery, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal investigators.  So, that’s somewhere around 40 people involved in just one scandal and the investigation is still ongoing.  More people will, undoubtedly be charged.  The 7th Fleet command structure was, apparently, riddled with criminals.

Even more disturbing than the violations and the number of people fired or charged with crimes is that none of these people were called out by their peers.  Do you really think that all these hundreds of people were able to conduct their misdeeds in utter secrecy from those who worked closely with them on a day to day basis with some of the misdeeds covering years?  Of course not!  Other people knew that wrongs were being committed and those who knew but said nothing are just as guilty of a failure of integrity (if not actual crimes!) as the principals.

For the period 2011-2016, we see that there were around 120 firings and another 30+ firings, charges, and convictions in the Fat Leonard scandal.  Those, alone, give us a total of around 150 people who demonstrated a direct lack of integrity.  If we assume, conservatively, that five other people knew about each individual’s failures but said nothing, we have an additional 750 command level people who also demonstrated ethical cowardice and a lack of integrity by not speaking up and reporting.  That has us approaching a thousand integrity-challenged command level people who failed themselves, the Navy, and the nation.

Note that we’re not even considering executive officer and below levels – just command levels.

There’s yet another level of integrity failings that we’ve documented in this blog and that is the commonplace practice of retired admirals taking jobs with the very defense industry companies that they were supposed to be dealing with during service.  At the very least, this represents an egregious conflict of interest and may well constitute actual bribery, extortion, and payback.  Thus, add dozens and dozens of retired admirals to the list of demonstrably integrity-challenged command level people.  While taking such jobs may not be against the law, it’s certainly a clear case of a lack of integrity and judgment unworthy of flag officers.  Admirals have a pretty nice retirement package so it’s not like they desperately need the money.

Thus far, this post is depressing but the real point has not yet been made.  The real point is that the Navy is clearly systemically integrity-challenged and yet, if we go to war tomorrow, these are the very people who will be leading us in combat.  Do we really want these kinds of people to be our combat leaders?  Do we really think people with no integrity will lead us to victory?

Even more immediately relevant is the fact that these people are making today’s decisions about tomorrow’s weapons, systems, and platforms.  We’ve repeatedly noted the highly questionable (baffling?) decisions being made about various acquisition programs that seem to have no other explanation than graft, corruption, and payback in the form of retirement jobs with defense companies.  Are these the people we want shaping our future Navy?

CNO Richardson recently described what he called the four core attributes of the Navy:  integrity, accountability, initiative, and toughness (4).  Note the first – integrity.  Does CNO Richardson really believe that the Navy is exhibiting widespread integrity at the command level?  The evidence would overwhelmingly suggest that the Navy is failing and, thus, CNO Richardson is failing by failing to recognize that.  I had cautious hopes for CNO Richardson but he has become as big a disappointment and failure as his predecessor, CNO Greenert.

Integrity?  Sadly, it’s not common in the Navy command ranks.


(4)Navy website, “CNO Identifies 4 Core Attributes to Guide Navy Leaders”, Story Number: NNS151206-02, Release Date: 12/6/2015,

(5)The Washington Post, “Admiral, seven others charged with corruption in new ‘Fat Leonard’ indictment”, Craig Whitlock, 14-Mar-2017,

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Syrian Tomahawk Strike

By now, you all know that the US launched a cruise missile attack against a Syrian airfield in retaliation for a chemical weapon attack by Syrian forces.  I’m not going to address the quality of the evidence for the chemical weapon usage or the geopolitical aspects of the retaliation.  What I’m going to address is the military lessons that can be gleaned from the open source information about the cruise missile attack itself.

Defense News website has the best writeup that I’ve found so far (1).  USNI News website has some additional information and some bomb damage assessment photos (2).

The Navy's Tomahawk missile strike from two Burke class destroyers, Ross (Flt I) and Porter (Flt II), offers some insights into modern naval strike warfare.

VLS Mix.  The destroyers did not have time to return to a home port and load missiles.  Therefore, the missiles were part of the standard VLS missile mix.  Assuming the missiles were split equally among the two destroyers, that means each had at least 30 missiles in their mix.  Ross has 90 VLS cells while Porter has 96.  Thus, the 30 Tomahawk missiles represent 33% and 31% of the VLS load, respectively.  This gives us some insight as to the “standard” VLS missile mix.  Of course, there is nothing that says the destroyers used all their Tomahawk missiles.  The may have had more and the mix may be greater.  In fact, one extra missile was fired so clearly at least one of the ships did not use all its missiles.

Reliability.  The initial missile launch involved 60 attempted launches.  One launch failed and a replacement missile launched.  Thus, 61 launches were attempted with 60 being successful.  One missile plunged into the sea during flight so only 59 missiles reached the target area.  Thus, of 61 launches, 59 successfully reached the target area which is 96.7%.  It is unknown how many actually hit their intended targets.

SAM Defense.  There were surface-to-air (SAM) missile defenses around the airfield but none, apparently, engaged the Tomahawk missiles.  Reports suggest that the Russians were operating the SAMs, were pre-warned by the US about the attack, and opted not to engage.  Thus, we cannot learn anything about the viability of Tomahawks versus a modern, peer SAM defensive system. 

Airfield Weapon Density.  The US launched 60 Tomahawks at a single, relatively small airfield.  That seems like a lot of missiles especially when the runways were deliberately not targeted and other structures were deliberately avoided that would likely have been targeted in an all out attack.  Still, this gives us some idea of the weapon density the US believes necessary to destroy a single, small base.  Of course, the US may not have known whether the SAM defenses would engage and the seemingly large number of Tomahawks may have been what planners felt was needed in order to overcome a defense.  Either way, it offers some insight into the number of Tomahawks needed to attack an airbase.  It’s a bit more than I would have thought.

BDA.  The bomb damage photos that have been released do not seem to show 59 hits.  Note, however, that I am the farthest thing from a bomb damage assessment (BDA) photo analyst!  It may be that several missiles were targeted on a single hardened hangar and there appear to have been several of those so that may account for a significant chunk of missiles.  If so, that also suggests what planners think of the resilience of a hardened hangar versus the destructive power of a Tomahawk.

Had this been an all out attack to totally destroy the airfield, presumably many more missiles would have been used.  This gives us some insight into the Tomahawk weapon density needed to take out a facility.  It’s higher than I would have thought.  Given that our total Tomahawk inventory is somewhere around 4000 missiles, that should tell us something about our ability to wage an all out war and how long our inventory would last.  This has to be worrisome given that Tomahawks cannot be quickly replaced from the manufacturer.

This should also tell us how useful (or useless, as the case may be) our Virginia class submarines that carry only 12 Tomahawks will be – not very.  It would have required five subs to carry out this attack and this was only a partial attack against a small airfield.  Those who believe that our subs will constitute a significant land strike capability are mistaken.  The subs are more likely to be used as snipers, taking out smaller, undefended targets.  The retirement without replacement of our four SSGNs which each carried 154 Tomahawks may come to be viewed as a mistake.

Setting aside the geopolitics, this incident has proven to be instructive as regards modern naval strike warfare.


(1)Defense News website, “The Pentagon’s Play-By-Play of the Syria Strikes”, Aaron Mehta, 7-Apr-2017,

(2)USNI News website, “How the U.S. Planned and Executed the Tomahawk Strike Against Syria”, Megan Eckstein, 7-Apr-2017,