Friday, June 30, 2017

Does Every Ship Need A Helicopter?

One of the seeming absolute characteristics of US Navy ship design is the presence of a helo flight deck and hangar.  Further, almost every observer/commenter automatically includes a flight deck and helo(s) for any new ship design discussion.

In recent times, the closest we’ve come to building a warship without a helo was the early Burke Flt I’s which had only a flight deck and no hangar and that was quickly abandoned in favor of the Flight IIa’s which have a flight deck and full hangar.

But, does every ship need a helo?

Well, helos are certainly useful for a variety of tasks but so is an elephant and very few naval ships are equipped with elephants.  The question is not whether a helo is useful but whether its usefulness is sufficient to justify the expenditure of ship’s deck space (the flight deck), internal volume (hangar, machine/repair shops), fuel storage volume, weapons magazine space, spare parts storage, and additional crew accommodations.  This is all square and cubic footage that could go to other weapons, sensors, and ship’s functions.  In other words, there is an opportunity cost associated with ship’s helos.

Let’s look a bit closer.

Let’s look at the percentage of ship’s deck space consumed by the flight deck and hangar.  On a Burke DDG the flight deck makes up around 15% of the ship’s overall length and the hangar accounts for another 18%, by eyeball estimation.  Together, the flight deck and hangar use around 33% of the ship’s overall length.  That’s a lot of length and square footage devoted to the helo especially when it only supports one or two helos – let me say that again … a third of the ship’s length to support one or two helos.

The Perry FFG is similar with the flight deck and hangar accounting for around 38%, by eyeball estimation.

Consider the number of VLS cells, large and small caliber guns, electronic warfare systems, RHIBs, UNREP stations, etc. that could be carried if a ship had no helo.  Is a helo worth the loss of 64-128 VLS cells?  Is a helo worth the loss of two 8”+ major caliber naval guns?

In some cases, possibly so.  For instance, a dedicated ASW vessel would benefit greatly from a couple of helos since helos are our primary shipborne ASW weapon.

On the other hand, a ship that is primarily an AAW escort, such as the Ticonderogas and Burkes, gains little from having a helo.  Ticonderogas will never perform ASW and Burkes, many or most of them, will never perform ASW.  No sane commander is going to want a $2B Burke playing tag with a submarine.  Thus, a Burke’s helo is used for transport duties rather than ASW.  Even those transport duties are more a matter of convenience than necessity.  A ship’s boat could provide the needed transport in most cases – ships transported all the people and supplies they needed via the ship’s boat in WWII.  Again, dedicating a third of the ship’s length to a transport helo is a poor use of ship’s space and, more importantly, contributes nothing to the ship’s combat capability. 

What about surveillance?  Won’t a helo provide extended surveillance for the host ship?  Possibly, in some circumstances, but only poorly.  Helos have limited range, limited sensors, and, being helos, limited availability.  Helos are always down for maintenance!  Besides, Burkes and Ticonderogas are escorts for carriers and big deck amphibious ships, both of which have ample numbers of helos, Hawkeyes, and the vaunted F-35 which sees everything for a thousand miles, or so we’re told.  Thus, there is no need for the Burke or Tico’s single helo.

Now, if the Burke is going to operate alone or as part of a surface group then, yes, a helo may make sense though one still has to wonder if it’s worth the loss of other weapons, sensors, and functions.  Even in this case, UAVs may provide better sustained surveillance coverage than a helo.

The conclusion, then, is that most Burkes and all the Ticonderogas could easily do without helos and would, in fact, be more combat capable without helos thanks to the added weapons, sensors, and functions that could be accommodated in the space/volume now dedicated to helo support.  There is probably a case to be made for equipping a portion, say 25%, of the surface ship fleet with helos for those situations when a surface ship is going to operate independently.  Realistically, the number of times a surface ship will operate independently are likely to be few and far between.

The Navy needs to stop automatically including helos in every ship design and start thinking through the actual combat use of the ship and whether that use requires a helo – hey, that kind of thinking sounds a lot like a Concept of Operations (CONOPS), doesn’t it?  The automatic inclusion of helos indicates a laziness in ship design thinking – we’ll include one because we always have – and a failure to develop a CONOPS prior to design. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Russian Middle East Live Fire Exercise

The US has a recent history of jumping into every little conflict that comes along.  Setting aside the moral or geopolitical strategic considerations, one military benefit of doing so is that the US military has had opportunities to field test many of its weapon systems in what amounts to live fire exercises.  How many Tomahawks has the US launched over the last few decades?  How many F-18 Hornet strikes have occurred?  US submarines have had the opportunity to conduct submerged cruise missile launches.  Out carriers are constantly conducting strikes.  And so on.

In fact, the US military is, arguably, the most “exercised” military in the world (the Israelis would be another well exercised military), to the point that the military is worn out and desperately in need of an extended period of disengagement to conduct maintenance and restock, repair, retrain, and, generally, reset. 

In contrast, the Russians and Chinese have had little opportunity to exercise many of their weapon systems.  The Russians, and their navy, in particular, has had no opportunity to try out their cruise missiles, carrier aviation, naval anti-air warfare systems, etc.  The Chinese have had even less opportunity.  If the Chinese or Russian have to go to war, they will do so with untried systems and many unknowns.

Now, however, the Russians have expanded into the Middle East.  Again, setting aside morals and geopolitical strategy, the opportunity has allowed the Russians to conduct live fire exercises and relearn naval combat operations.  Their frigates have launched cruise missiles, their carrier has conducted air operations (and lost aircraft), they’ve conducted land and naval strikes with aircraft, and they’ve dropped various types of aircraft munitions.  In short, their Middle East ventures have allowed them the opportunity to try out weapon systems, identify the bugs, map out the limits and constraints of operational weapons use, and see what works and what doesn’t.

This could have the added benefit of enhancing Russia's prospects of foreign arms sales if the various weapons are demonstrated to be successful.

The Russians are realizing a number of benefits from their Middle East actions in addition to their geopolitical goals.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Sequestration Is NOT the Problem

We’ve seen a public relations blitz of late by the Navy and the military in general attempting to blame all its readiness and maintenance problems on sequestration and the resulting lack of money.  The reality is that the Navy’s problems are all self-inflicted and have nothing to do with sequestration.  The Navy has mismanaged itself into a hollow force and is using sequestration as a scapegoat.

Oh come on, now.  Sequestration has caused all kinds of problems, right?  We all know this to be true.  Ships have begun to fail INSURV inspections, manning has been reduced to sub-optimal levels, maintenance has suffered, ships have had to be retired early, we now have submarine and fighter aircraft shortages looming, we’re forced to use F-18’s as tankers, etc.  This more than proves the evils visited on the fleet by sequestration, right?  Well, yes, all those things have occurred and led to the current readiness and “hollowness” failures now plaguing the fleet.  The only problem with that narrative is that all those things occurred before sequestration – a fact seemingly lost on Navy leadership as they talk to reporters and testify before Congress. 

Don’t believe it?  Let’s review the chronology.  As you read through the chronology, note where sequestration begins.  Hint:  it began 1-Mar-2013 and is highlighted in red in the chronology listing.  Obviously, any actions prior to that point could not possibly have been due to sequestration.  Further, any actions in the subsequent year after sequestration began are likely unrelated to sequestration due to the simple fact that the effects hadn’t yet had time to manifest.  Read and learn.

1992 – 2009 – Training

“Significant changes in training affected the surface force from 1992-2009.  Some changes resulted in the misalignment of authority and accountability which negatively affected surface force readiness.” (2, p.4)

1995 – Readiness Squadrons eliminated

“Readiness Squadrons (READRONSs) were disestablished in 1995, eliminating a critical path for the professional development and training of the surface force.  The elimination of the READRONS removed a clear line of accountability for the material readiness of the ships.” (2, p.13)

1995 – Planning and Engineering for Repairs and Alterations (PERA) organization eliminated

“The Planning and Engineering for Repairs and Alterations (PERA) organization that was responsible for executing and maintaining the class maintenance plan (CMP), the plan to ensure each class of ship is maintained to meet or exceed its designed service life, was disestablished in 1995.” (2, p.15)

1996 – All remaining destroyer tenders decommissioned

1998 – Tactical Training Commands Atlantic and Pacific disestablished

“Tactical Training Commands Atlantic and Pacific were disestablished in 1998, closing yet another ship-to-shore professional development path.” (2, p.14)

1999 – Inspections eliminated

“Further exacerbating surface force readiness was the decision in 1999 to eliminate external command inspections and the implementation of self-assessment policies.” (2, p.13)

2001 - Optimal manning cut over 4,000 sailors from surface ships.

“The Optimum Manning (OM) initiative was introduced in 2001.  Shipboard manning requirements were assessed primarily against shipboard watch standing/operational requirement.  This approach did not consider other factors such as maintenance requirements.  As a result, shipboard manning requirements were reduced to levels well below the requirements identified in ship design and, particularly, below the levels required to support material readiness requirements. (2, p.4))

2001 – Preventive maintenance requirements reduced

“Reduced manning prevented ships from performing the minimum required level of preventive maintenance.  To compensate for this misalignment, the Material Maintenance and Management (3M) program was revamped in 2001 to reduce the Preventive Maintenance System (PMS) requirements on board ships to alleviate some of the workload and accommodate reduced crew sizes.” (2, p.15)

2001 – Optimal manning experiments conducted with George Washington battle group and USS Milius, DDG-69

2006 - Two Avenger class MCM unable to get underway for inspections

2006 – Navy POM-08 reduces Perry class manning from 215 to 187 (3)

2007 - A FFG, LPD, and MCM fail INSURV

2007 – Submarine and destroyer shortfalls recognized in testimony to Congress. 

“In particular, relative to the goals for various components of the 313-ship fleet, the Navy would experience shortfalls in attack submarines (40 in 2028 and 2029 versus a stated requirement of 48), … and guided missile destroyers (60 in 2037 versus a stated requirement of 69).” (4)

2008 – Six ships, including USS Stout and USS Chosin fail INSURV

2008 – Navy classifies INSURV reports

2009 – Vadm. Balisle was directed to convene a Fleet Review Panel on 1-Sep

2009 – Average periodicity between INSURV inspections increased from 44 months in 1992 to over 60 months in 2009

2009 – Last S-3 Viking retired forcing tanker duties onto F-18

2009 – Navy reduces Burke manning 23% from 2002 (3)

2009 – Funding for ship maintenance availabilities suspended for FY2009 (6)

“…on February 3, 2009, funding of the remainder of CNO availabilities (9 were scheduled in Hampton Roads) for FY09 was suspended.” (6)

2010 – Aegis cruiser and FFG fail INSURV

2010 - Balisle Report on Fleet Readiness

From the Feb-2010 Balisle Report:

“The panel concluded that Surface Force readiness has degraded over the last ten years.  This degradation has not been due to a single decision or policy change, but the result of many independent actions.  The panel produced a chronology that identified changes across the man, train, equip, and command and control domains since 1992, and identified the impacts of those changes on Surface Force readiness.” (2, p.4)

2011 - Budget Control Act passed

2011 – Aegis cruiser fails INSURV

2012 - USS McCain fails INSURV

“The John S. McCain is the first Aegis-equipped destroyer to flunk INSURV since 2008, when a spate of failures and degraded scores prompted an independent review that found the surface fleet on a downward slide.” (1)

2013 - Sequestration (automatic spending cuts) begins on 1-Mar-2013

2013 – USS Mobile Bay, an Aegis cruiser, fails INSURV in April 2013

This timeline clearly proves that the Navy’s readiness and maintenance issues all began long before sequestration took effect.  The Navy’s problems are entirely self-inflicted as a result of institutional stupidity on a scale that defies belief.  Virtually every major decision the Navy has made has been wrong and has exacerbated the problems. 

The Navy even recognized the readiness problem prior to sequestration as evidenced by the 2010 (three years prior to sequestration!!!) Balisle report, “Fleet Panel Review of Surface Force Readiness” [emphasis added].  The report was initiated as a result of multiple failings of INSURV inspections and other readiness indicators.  Three years prior to sequestration, the Navy knew they had a severe readiness problem and yet, now, they’re attempting to blame it all on sequestration.  Why?  Because if they didn’t they’d have to admit that they brought on, and were solely responsible for, the readiness problems.

That’s worth repeating.

Because if they didn’t they’d have to admit that they brought on, and were solely responsible for, the readiness problems.

It’s really worth repeating because it totally contradicts and disproves the Navy’s claims.

Because if they didn’t they’d have to admit that they brought on, and were solely responsible for, the readiness problems.

Here’s more evidence that the Navy recognized readiness and maintenance issues before sequestration kicked in.  Following is a list of some Navy Maritime Improvement Initiative recommendations from Nov 2012 as presented by OpNav N43 (5) several months before sequestration began.

  • Reverse Optimal Manning
  • Re-establishment of Surface Maintenance Engineering Planning Program (SURMEPP)
  • Reconstitute Surface Intermediate Maintenance
  • Expanded Material Condition Inspections

Well, sure, we can see the problems now but that’s unfair.  It’s all hindsight, right?  Wrong.  All of the decisions were blindingly, obviously, wrong when they were made.  This is not a case of unfair criticism due to 20/20 hindsight. 

  • Could the Navy really not anticipate that reduced manning on ships would lead to reduced maintenance and poorer material condition?  All the rest of us anticipated this incredibly obvious link between insufficient manpower and poor maintenance!

  • Could the Navy really not anticipate that retiring the A-6 and S-3 tankers would lead to using up the only remaining aircraft, the front line F-18 Hornet, doing mundane tanking?  Who/what did they think would wind up doing the tanking.  There was only one candidate, the F-18!

  • Could the Navy really not anticipate that failing to plan to build enough subs and destroyers would lead to critical shortfalls down the road?  Every 30 year shipbuilding plan documented the looming shortfall and the Navy wrote the 30 year plans.  They knew exactly what was coming and reported it!

  • Could the Navy really not anticipate the reducing readiness inspections would not lead to reduced readiness?

  • Could the Navy really not anticipate that eliminating training programs would not lead to reduced tactical proficiency?  Did the Navy really think that not training for tactics would somehow, magically, not adversely affect tactical proficiency?

The evidence is overwhelming that the Navy’s readiness and maintenance problems were entirely self-inflicted due to a steady stream of idiotic decisions and all the problems were already well established prior to sequestration.

Any hint or suggestion by the Navy that sequestration is somehow responsible for readiness or maintenance problems is a flat out lie.  Now you know…

Sequestration is not the problem.


(1)Military Times website, “Destroyer McCain Fails INSURV Inspection”, 20-Mar-2013,

(2)“Fleet Panel Review of Surface Force Readiness”, VAdm. Balisle (Ret.), 26-Feb-2010

(3)CNA, “Impact of Manning and Infrastructure Initiatives on the Surface Navy”, David M. Rodney, Michael D. Bowes, Christopher M. Duquette, Sara M. Russell, Nov 2009, CRM D0021247.A2/Final

(4) CBO TESTIMONY, “Statement of J. Michael Gilmore Assistant Director for National Security and Eric J. Labs Senior Analyst The Navy’s 2008 Shipbuilding Plan and Key Ship Programs before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Committee on Armed Services U.S. House of Representatives” July 24, 2007

(5)Depot Maintenance Requirements Determination slide presentation, Stu Paul OPNAV N43 13 November, 2012,

(6)Virginia Ship Repair Association, “White Paper Navy Ship Repair Shortfalls Virginia Impact”, 13-Feb-2009,

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Armored Ship Misconceptions

It’s obvious from the preceding post (see, "Fitzgerald Collision") that there is a lot of misguided and incorrect thought out there about ship size and the impact of armor on a ship’s performance.  I’m reading consistent statements that modern ships can’t bear the weight of armor without seriously impacting endurance, range, and speed.  That’s just absolute bilgewater and betrays a lack of knowledge about previous ship designs – WWII, in particular.  So, to help put ships and armor into an actual and factual context, let’s look at WWII ship designs versus today.

In the following discussion, I’m going to generically refer to “armor” as the total of hull plating and any add-on armor that may have been present.

Here’s the relevant specifications for the Burke class DDG.

Burke Class Flt IIa

Length  509 ft
Displacement  9200 t
Range  4400 @ 20 kts
Speed  30+ kts
Armor  5/8” – 7/16” hull plating, 7/16” – 1/2” deck (1);  no additional external armor

Now let’s look at some WWII designs.

Portland Class Cruiser (ex. USS Indianapolis)

Length  610 ft
Displacement  10,000 t
Range  13,000 @ 15 kts
Speed  33 kts
Armor  “The ships were completed with belt armor 5 inches thick over the magazines and 3.25 inches elsewhere.  Armored bulkheads were between 2 inches and 5.75 inches, deck armor was 2.5 inches, the barbettes were 1.5 inches, the gunhouses were 2.5 inches, and the conning tower was 1.25 inches  …”  (2)

We see that the Portland class cruiser, armed with 9x 8” guns and 8x 5” guns, carried armor ranging up to 5.75” and still managed to make 33 kts with a range of 13,000 nm.  I guess WWII ship designers didn’t realize this was impossible.

Okay, you say, a large cruiser could carry armor but how about a smaller ship – a ship the size of, or smaller than, a Burke?  How about the Fletcher class destroyers?

Fletcher Class Destroyer (4)

Length  376 ft
Displacement  2500 t
Range  5500 @ 15 kts
Speed  36 kts
Armor  1/2” – 3/4” hull and deck

The Fletcher class, much smaller than a Burke, had its thinnest plating equal to the Burke’s thickest and had heavier, thicker 3/4” plating in many locations, in addition.  So, the Fletcher, despite being significantly smaller than a Burke, carried more armor and had as good range and speed.  I guess WWII ship designers didn’t realize this was impossible.

Let’s take a look at one more, the Atlanta class light cruiser.

Atlanta Class Light Anti-Aircraft Cruiser

Length  541 ft
Displacement  7400 t
Range  8500 @ 15 kts
Speed  33 kts
Armor  1.1” – 3.5” belt, 1.25” deck (3)

Hmm ……..  Yet another example of a ship slightly longer than the Burke, significantly lighter, and yet has larger amounts of armor, greater range, and equal speed.  I guess WWII ship designers didn’t realize this was impossible.

I can go on with example after example but the point is made.  For a properly designed ship, there is no range, endurance, or speed penalty.  Those who believe that modern ships can’t carry armor without significant performance penalties are just ignorant of what was common practice decades ago.  Every US surface combatant of WWII had far more armor than a Burke and yet had equal or superior range and speed.

There is no reason not to armor our ships commensurate with their size and purpose.


(1)Unpublished cross sectional construction drawing for Burke class

(2)Wikipedia, retrieved 21-Jun-2017,

(3) Wikipedia, retrieved 21-Jun-2017,

(4)United States Navy Destroyers of World War II, John C Reilly, Jr., Blandford Press, 1985

The Sacred Cow

If there’s a sacred cow in the Navy, it’s got to be the LCS.  Come hell or high water, the LCS will continue.  The latest example of the sacred nature of the LCS comes courtesy of reader Delmar Lewis who put me onto this article from Bloomberg.

It appears that the Navy is going to procure a second LCS in FY18 even though it was not originally budgeted.  The Navy “found” the funds by delaying the nuclear refueling of the aircraft carrier Stennis for about a year and shifting funding from the Infrared Search and Track (IRST) program for the F-18 Hornet.

“About $325 million will be freed up because the Navy has delayed the overhaul of an aircraft carrier that involves refueling its two nuclear power cores …  An additional $100 million will be shifted from the Navy’s Infrared Search and Track program for installation on its F/A-18E/F fighters, and the rest from smaller programs.” (1)

I truly am baffled by the gushing stupidity of the Navy when it comes to the LCS.  That they would value the useless, toothless, short-legged LCS over developing an IRST or refueling a nuclear carrier just boggles the mind.


(1)Bloomberg website, “Navy Finds $500 Million for a Second Littoral Combat Ship in '18”, Tony Capaccio, 19-Jun-2017,

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fitzgerald Collision

You’ve all read about the recent collision between the 505 ft long, 9000 t, Burke class destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, and the 730 ft long, 40,000 dwt, Philippine-flagged container ship ACX Crystal.  I’ve had no comment, thus far, because there has been insufficient factual information to comment about.  There was no information on the circumstances of the collision, the exact extent of damage, or even the specific damage control measures beyond general statements about some flooding. 

Now, however, some snippets of information are becoming available.

“USS Fitzgerald suffered damage on her starboard side above and below the waterline. The collision resulted in some flooding.” (1)

Fitzgerald is under her own power, although her propulsion is limited.” (1)

Navy Times reported , “that Auxiliary Machine Room 1 and two crew berthings were completely flooded.” (1)

“A top Navy admiral acknowledged Sunday that the destroyer Fitzgerald was in danger of sinking …” (2)

“… Fitzgerald suffered an enormous gash in its hull under the waterline, causing both berthing compartments and the auxiliary machine room to flood rapidly …” (2)

However, one of the pieces of information that I’ve been waiting for has become available and I’ll offer an analysis.  That information is pictures of the damage to the ACX Crystal.

Look at the Fitzgerald and note the degree of visible damage.  From the comments and visible damage, it is clear that the ship was very badly damaged and was in danger of sinking.

Now, look at the ACX Crystal.  The only visible damage is the bent bulwarks above the deck line and a possible small tear in the ship’s plating at the bow.

How do you reconcile the extremes of the visible damage?  That the larger ACX Crystal would inflict more damage on the smaller ship is to be expected but that the Crystal would show almost no hull plating damage at the point of impact speaks volumes about the relative thickness and strength of the two ships construction, framing, and hull plating.  The Fitzgerald’s hull plating crumbled like tissue paper while the Crystal’s was barely dented other than the thin bulwarks above the main deck.  In other words, the container ship was, apparently, built like you’d expect a warship to be built and the warship was built …  well …  weakly.

Let’s be fair and acknowledge that we have no description of the Crystal’s damage other than what can be seen in the photos.  It could be that the ship suffered serious damage and flooding below the waterline but there is absolutely no indication that that is the case.

The Navy needs to seriously rethink its warship design philosophy and construction practices and standards.  From a construction perspective, this is embarrassing and ominous.  What will happen when missiles and torpedoes start impacting our ships in combat?  All historical evidence suggests that our ships will prove to be extremely fragile.


(1)USNI News website, “7 Sailors Missing, CO Injured After Destroyer USS Fitzgerald Collided with Philippine Merchant Ship”, Sam LaGrone, 16-Jun-2017,

(2)Navy Times website, “Fitzgerald Crew’s ‘Heroic Efforts’ Saved Their Ship From Sinking, Admiral Says”, David B. Larter, 18-Jun-2017,

Monday, June 19, 2017

Spin The LCS

You know what “spin” is, right?  In case you’re not familiar with the word, it means to present a piece of information in the best possible light.  In today’s usage, it generally connotes a distortion of the facts that borders on lying. 

Here’s a simple, classic example from the Cold War era.  A Soviet and a US runner race and the US runner wins.  The Soviets report that the Soviet runner came in second while the US runner placed next to last.  That’s spin!  It’s technically true but so distorts the truth as to border on lying.

Bear in mind the definition of spin as you consider this article posted by Defense News website about the Coronado conducting periodic maintenance in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. (1) 

Let’s look at the Navy’s proud claim about the LCS.

LCS Coronado conducted a required maintenance period while forward deployed and in Cam Rahn Bay.  As the Navy proudly states,

“…a demonstration of its ability to conduct maintenance while deployed.”

What the Navy didn’t say was that dozens of Burkes, and gators, and carriers simultaneously demonstrated their ability to not need a scheduled maintenance period in the middle of a forward deployment.  So, a ship that requires many times more scheduled maintenance stops than any other ship in the fleet can either be seen as a maintenance headache and having significantly reduced availability during deployments or it can be spun as a major accomplishment.

The Navy also didn’t mention the enormous amount of money it must have cost to fly Navy technicians, contractors, tools, parts, etc. to Cam Rahn Bay to conduct maintenance that no other ship in the fleet requires.

The Navy also didn’t mention that the LCS maintenance model only works during peacetime.  During war, the LCS isn’t going to be able to pull into Cam Rahn Bay or any other forward base for maintenance.  Even if the ship could, the maintainers, tools, and parts certainly couldn’t.

So, there was a lot of useful and relevant information the Navy could have presented about this maintenance PR stunt which demonstrated one of the many weaknesses inherent in the LCS design and maintenance model but they chose to spin it as an accomplishment, instead.


(1)Defense News website, “US Navy Littoral Combat Ship Shows Off Maintenance Capabilities Overseas”, Mike Yeo, 15-Jun-2017,

Friday, June 16, 2017

Chinese Fire Support Frigate

The Chinese Type 053H frigate, Jiujiang, is an absolutely fascinating vessel for multiple reasons but the main reason is that the vessel was converted to a multiple launch rocket (MLR) fire support ship.

As a bit of background, the class was built in the 1970’s-1990’s and traces its lineage back to the Russian Riga class frigates. The vessels are around 330 ft long with a displacement of around 2000 tons.  Jiujiang was launched and joined the Chinese fleet in 1975 as a surface warfare frigate before being converted into a fire support ship in 2002.

The fire support modification consisted of 5x50-tube 122 mm (~5”) rocket launchers for a total of 250 rockets.  The rockets had a range of 20-30 km.  In addition, the ship retained its two dual 100 mm (~4”) guns.

That’s right, while the US Navy has abandoned fire support or offered an ill-conceived and now impotent Zumwalt and dithered about the possibility of mounting MLRS launchers on ships, the Chinese went ahead and did it.  This illustrates a few things:

  • The Chinese recognize the need for ship based fire support.

  • The Chinese are willing to construct/modify one-off prototypes to test and evaluate concepts.  While the US Navy has floundered around and largely ignored the issue of fire support, the Chinese built a fire support frigate, evaluated it, and are now retiring it.

  • The Chinese are willing to put older ships to use as test platforms.  Contrast this use of older vessels with the US Navy’s tendency to EARLY retire completely usable ships.

  • The Chinese were able to mount a LOT of firepower on a small, cheap vessel.  Contrast this with the US insistence on making every vessel big, expensive, and do-everything.  Also, contrast this vessel and its firepower density with the LCS’ near total lack of combat firepower.

  • The Chinese are far more open and nimble than the US Navy in terms of willingness to embrace change and the speed with which they build and experiment.

One cannot help but acknowledge that the Chinese are putting us to shame when it comes to prototyping, variety of designs, firepower density, speed of construction, and rate of technological advancement of their navy.  At this rate, we’re going to have to start hacking them to get their technology and designs!

We should also note that mounting rocket launchers on ships is hardly new.  The US Navy did it extensively in WWII, for example, but seems to have completely forgotten that capability just as they’ve abandoned fire support altogether.  If you’re interested, do an Internet search for LSM(R) to see what kind of rocket fire support vessels the US used in WWII.

Check out these photos from China Defense Blog (1)

Fire Support Frigate Jiujiang - Note The Five Launchers On A Frigate Sized Ship

Rocket Launcher

Rocket Launcher

Launcher Close Up


The US Navy needs to look to the past while developing for the future and be more willing to construct one-off prototypes.  Older ships can be used for development purposes instead of being retired and sunk, scrapped, or sold.  The Navy and Marines need to continue to address naval fire support especially since the Zumwalt turned out to be a hideously expensive total failure.  We can learn a lot from the Chinese about how to develop a Navy!


(1)China Defense Blog, “PLAN decommission of the day: FFG516 "Jiujiang" China's only MLR fire-support frigate”16-May-2017,

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Comment Policy

I continue to get questions regarding comments so I've added a page that explains in detail my comment policy.  The page can be accessed through the new navigation bar above.  I encourage you to review it especially if you have any questions about deleted comments.

F-22 And Attrition

A passing remark by a commenter on the SNAFU website prompted the realilzation that we have a potentially serious problem regarding our air superiority capability during war.  What’s the defining characteristic of war?  It’s attrition.  Men, ships, and aircraft will be destroyed.  The key is being able to replace them.

What aircraft is the key to our future air superiority?  It’s the F-22.  The military has repeatedly admitted that the F-35 is not an air superiority fighter.  Various Air Force generals have stated that the F-22 is needed for the F-35 to succeed in war.  Further, those same generals have stated that a single F-22 is equivalent to several F-35s.  I apologize, I don’t have the exact quotes at hand.

The F-22 is out of production.  In a war, where do we get new F-22s to replace those that are lost?  The only combat aircraft that the military wants to produce is the F-35 which the Air Force acknowledges is not an air superiority fighter.  As the F-22s are lost in combat, where do we get replacement air superiority fighters?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Surface Ship Torpedoes

In a previous post, we touched on the subject of anti-surface torpedo tubes in surface ships.  Yes, many ships today have torpedo tubes but the majority are intended for anti-submarine use and utilize lightweight torpedoes.  The US Navy’s standard surface ship torpedo armament is the Mk32 triple tube launcher with Mk46/50/54 lightweight anti-submarine torpedoes.  These torpedoes may or may not have an anti-surface ship mode but they are not ship killers.  The ship killing torpedo in the US Navy is the Mk48 ADCAP (Advanced CAPability) heavy torpedo and even this is intended primarily as an anti-submarine weapon.

                 Mk 48        Mk54         Mk50         Mk46

Range, yds       35000        ?            16000        12000
Speed, kts       55 (63?)     40+          50+          45
Diameter, in/mm  21/533       12.75/324    12.75/324    12.75/324
Length           29’2”        8’11”        9’6”         8’6”
Weight, lbs      3450         608          800          508
Warhead, lbs     650          95           100          95
Cost             $2.4M(FY88)  $0.8M(FY14)  $1M(FY02)

For comparison, here are a couple of the main Russian Torpedoes.

                 Type 65      Type 53 UGST (2)

Range, miles     62@35mph     25
Speed, kts       50           26-45
Diameter, in/mm  25.6/650     21/533 
Length           30           24’  
Weight, lbs      10450        3800   
Warhead, lbs     990-1225     801                 

The Mk46 was designed for open ocean, deep water anti-submarine use and had problems in shallow water.  The Mk50 was developed as the replacement for the Mk46 but encountered problems.  The Mk54 was developed to rectify the problems identified in the Mk50 but does, itself, suffer from shortcomings against shallow water non-nuclear submarines.  A Mk54 Block Upgrade (BUG) program was initiated to address the problems but DOT&E still assessed the torpedo as not operationally effective in its intended role in a 2014 Annual Report and reiterated that assessment in the 2016 Annual Report despite additional upgrade efforts.

According to Polmar (1), US surface ships had anti-ship torpedo tubes until the late 1950’s.  During the 1960’s the Mk48 was intended to be fitted to surface ships for long range, wire guided ASW use but that never occurred.

Polmar also notes that a dedicated anti-surface torpedo was proposed by the Navy in the mid-1980’s (1).  The torpedo was envisioned as a low cost ($200K in then year dollars vs. $2.43M per Mk48 in FY88), no frills alternative to the Mk48.  The program was cancelled in the late 1980’s.

As a brief historical reminder of the use of anti-surface torpedoes on surface ships, here’s a list of the post-WWII ships that have had large, anti-surface-capable torpedo tubes installed.

  • Garcia/Brooke Class FFG 2x 21” fixed, stern tubes, Mk37 Torpedo
  • Sherman Class DD 4x 21” tubes
  • Mitscher Class DL 4x 21” tubes
  • Gearing Class DD 10x 21” tubes, twin trainable quintuple mounts, Mk15 Torpedo

That brings us to today.  The US Navy has no surface anti-ship torpedo capability and only a marginally effective submarine launched anti-ship torpedo, the Mk48.

The next question, and the main point of this post, is, does the US Navy need a surface anti-ship torpedo launch capability?

To better frame the question, consider that currently the Burke class DDG probably cannot sink a large ship such as a tanker or large cargo vessel.  If the US attempted a blockade and wanted to sink enemy merchant shipping, the Navy’s surface ships would be hard pressed to accomplish the task.  Small 5” guns are incapable of sinking a ship bigger than a patrol boat and Harpoon or Standard missiles in anti-ship mode will only damage superstructure, not sink a sizable ship.  Smaller ships such as the LCS which would be expected to perform most of the blockade and merchant shipping attacks have zero ability to sink a large ship.  A heavy weight anti-ship torpedo would go a long way toward providing a credible anti-ship capability.

Thus, the main argument for a surface anti-ship torpedo capability is lethality.  Compare the warhead weight of the Mk48 (650 lbs) versus the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (276 lbs) which is, apparently, going to be the Navy’s standard anti-ship weapon for smaller ships.  The difference is significant and, while simply comparing warhead weights is fraught with irrelevance, it nonetheless gives some idea of explosive power and concomitant lethality.  Clearly, a heavy torpedo packs a much more potent explosive punch.  Add to that the fact that torpedoes explode on or under the hull and let water in while missiles let air in, and the lethality of torpedoes is accentuated.  Smaller ships such as the LCS would gain a huge increase in lethality by mounting heavy anti-ship torpedoes.

The Mk48 warhead is lighter than the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) (1000 lbs) which may become a standard anti- ship missile for larger ships.  Again, though, the underwater location and nature of a torpedo explosion magnifies its explosive effectiveness.  Thus, even a Burke equipped with the LRASM could benefit from a heavy anti-ship torpedo.  We should also note that the vertical launch version of the LRASM may or may not ever happen and, if it does happen, takes away VLS cells from the ship’s main purpose which is anti-air warfare.

Another argument for torpedoes is their inherent survivability.  Currently, there are no effective active countermeasures to destroy attacking torpedoes and it is debatable how effective acoustic decoys, such as the US Nixie, will be given the Russian development of wake-homing torpedoes.  Unlike anti-ship missiles which are susceptible to electronic countermeasures (ECM), decoys, anti-air missiles, and close-in weapon systems and, therefore, need to be launched in large numbers to ensure sufficient hits, torpedoes can be used in relatively smaller numbers since they are largely immune to countermeasures.

On the other hand, one of the drawbacks to anti-ship torpedoes in the past has been the limited range, at least compared to anti-ship missiles.  The standard WWII Mk15 torpedo, for example, had a maximum range of around 8 miles.  That kind of range is unsuitable for today’s long range, over the horizon type of warfare where anti-ship strike ranges need to be 20-100+ miles.  However, modern torpedoes have greatly increased ranges that bring them in to the low end of anti-ship missile ranges.  For example, while the actual range of the Mk48 is unknown, the often cited range is around 20 miles.  The Mk48 upgrades have increased the fuel load and improved the propulsion so it is reasonable to assume that the range has significantly increased.  30 miles?  60 miles?  Who knows?  The point is that the torpedoes’ range is beginning to approach, for example, the Harpoon range of 60 miles. 

Certainly, modern torpedoes outrange the ship’s onboard sensors which makes them effective to the limit of the ship’s sensors.

Speed is another drawback.  Torpedoes are very slow compared to anti-ship missiles.  A fast torpedo has a speed of 50-60 kts versus even slow anti-ship missiles which have high subsonic speeds.  Thus, the travel time from the launching ship to the target allows for a great deal of movement by the target which complicates the targeting probability of success.  Further, the long travel time allows the enemy the opportunity to strike the launch platform before the torpedoes arrive.  Even if the torpedoes arrive and sink their targets, the launching ships may be destroyed in the interim!

Some of the arguments against torpedoes are valid due to the limitations of US torpedoes whose design and development has languished for decades compared to the advances in Russian torpedoes.  If the US were to develop a completely new anti-ship torpedo, many of the limitations would be eliminated or reduced.

Consider these improvements to torpedo performance.

Range.  Range could be 60-90 miles, matching the low to mid range for anti-ship missiles.  The old Russian Type 65-76 had a range of 60+ miles at 35 mph (2).  The German Navy’s current DM2A4 Seehecht (export designation "SeaHake mod 4") has a reported range of 87 miles (2) with GPS waypoint capability and carries a warhead of 572 lbs.

Speed.  Speed could be 60+ kts.  Russia’s VA-111 Shkval is the extreme example of high speed, reportedly capable of 200+ kts via supercavitation although the high speed comes at the cost of a reduced range of about 9 miles.  The US Mk48 is capable of around 60 kts.

Guidance.  Currently, the US has no wake homing torpedo but there is no technical reason why we could easily develop one.  Thus, a new torpedo could use multiple modes of guidance including passive and active acoustic, wake homing, and GPS/Inertial.  Wire guidance is probably not feasible for a surface ship due to the ship’s maneuvering and near surface turbulence but it’s worth looking at.

WWII Destroyer Torpedo Tubes - Time To Return To The Past?

A modern, new design, anti-ship torpedo could offer a lethality option for surface ships that is currently lacking.  Heavy torpedoes would not negatively impact VLS inventories although deck space and/or internal volume would have to be allocated.  Such a weapon would offer a relatively low cost increase in tactical options to the ship commander and ought to be part of every surface ship’s standard armament.


(1)“The Naval Institute Guide To The Ships And Aircraft Of The U.S. Fleet”, 16th ed., Norman Polmar, Naval Institute Press, 1997, p.465-469

(2)Submarine Matters blog, 1-July-2015,