Monday, July 31, 2017

Army Gets It

ComNavOps has stated repeatedly that we’ve forgotten what war is.  It’s not even debatable.  Unfortunately, the only service that has even begun to acknowledge the problem and begin preparing for real war is the Army and, interestingly, they seem to be almost frantic about doing so.  They’re desperately up-gunning vehicles and working on the entire electronic/cyber warfare problem.  In the latest example, the Army is trying to “re-field” the SMART-T satellite terminal that was designed to be resistant to jamming and electromagnetic pulses (EMP) but that was fielded and, literally, parked away and forgotten (1).

The Army is also belatedly recognizing that what they’ve developed in the past was unusable by average soldiers.

“What we’re learning after 17 years of war and multiple years out at NIE (Network Integration Evaluations), is what we have out there is far too complicated for our soldiers.” (1)

The Army is also recognizing that their dependence on highly skilled manufacturer’s representatives won’t work in combat.  The reps simply won’t be there.

“Complexity isn’t just a training problem. It’s an operational problem. Systems that only function in the hands of highly trained contractors — the term of art is Field Service Representatives, or FSRs — were awkward but workable in Afghanistan and Iraq, where US troops rotated in and out of well-established Forward Operating Bases. In a Korean crisis, Eastern European war, or Third World flare-up, US forces would have to rapidly deploy all their equipment and people, set up their networks quickly and keep them running with little or no support.”

I’ve done posts on this.  The Navy is sending ships to sea which are totally dependent on manufacturer’s reps to make systems work.  That’s horribly wrong.  If the average sailor can’t operate and maintain the system then the Navy either needs to drastically enhance its training and create super techs or they need to simplify the systems. 

The former is unlikely given that many manufacturer’s reps have spent years acquiring their knowledge and expertise and have advanced degrees.  The Navy just can’t produce that level of capability starting from an 18 year old with no particularly relevant background.

The later is unpalatable to Navy leadership which uses the promise of technology to coax Congressional funding but the alternative is systems that won’t work in combat.  Would you rather have an Aegis/AMDR that can’t be maintained or an old-fashioned revolving SPS-49 that, while limited, works flawlessly and can be maintained and repaired?

The Army is frantically trying to improve their combat capability.  I think what we’re seeing is the recognition that the Army is a lot closer to facing actual combat than the other services and suddenly they’ve woken up to the fact that they’ve been sleeping on the job for decades.  There’s nothing like the threat of actual combat and death to motivate a person or organization to weed out the unnecessary and ineffective systems!  I only wish the Navy would follow the Army’s lead and wake up.  War with China is inevitable and the Navy is still sleeping.


(1)Breaking Defense website, “Army Struggles To Streamline Its Networks For War”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 24-Jul-2017,

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Shape Of Things To Come

Today we have a guest post from a reader and frequent comment contributor.  Benjamin W. Oliver, B.Eng, is a British engineer with a slant on defense.  He currently works in Research and Development.

We all know about how great drones are and how they will change the face of naval warfare.  Will they? Why? And what is this new face going to look like? In ..

 “The Shape of Things to Come”

By Ben Oliver

Stealth - it’s all we ever hear when it comes to the future shape of nearly everything: planes, helicopters, drones and ships. Even my mobile phone seems increasingly difficult to find with new anti-glare coatings and smooth black on black on black design.
New technology invariably influences design, or it can if it offers a proven overriding military advantage, or a capability force magnifier that offsets all the invariably competing factors in designing a ship.

Now obviously this is just a bit of fun, but do new concepts in naval drones offer this advantage and how will this affect the systems layout and overall hull design of frigates and destroyers in the future?

Let’s look at some different types of UAV; these alone seem to have proliferated to a frightening degree. And we can clearly see a day when a good portion of a warships volume may be given over to their launch recovery and maintenance.

The Copters.

Such a variety here. We have the recon, scouring the seas ahead and around its parent vessel, the fire support finding land targets and assessing the success of an attack. Weaponization is now  ranging from light land attack to the full anti-ship missile equipped asset.

These things can launch and recover from a standard helo flight deck and seem ideal for use on small to medium surface combatants. Some are now pretty large and are beginning to be fitted with quite advance radar, including SAR and GMTI.

Fixed Wing

As we know fixed wing offers some major advantages over rotary - mostly speed, range and endurance.

As a remote asset we now see SAR radar and various sensor packages being deployed and we can see that in the future these will make for excellent spotters \ sensor and communications extenders and perhaps organic on board airborne early warning.

I can certainly see a future where we see UAV’s extending the sensor range of frigates and destroyers, flying a constant 24 hour cycle, 50 – 100 miles out.
Recent tests by the Royal Navy have communications fixed wing drones controlling groups of up to 6 other types of drones, extending over the horizon and far out from the control source but still with the advantages of line of sight technology’s.

BUT these come with the drawback of not being able to land and take off easily although some pretty imaginative solutions have been found to this.

Scan Eagles, Catapult come Arrestor the “sky hook”

A concept shared by his big brother “Black Jack”

I think we are starting to get dangerously near to my point though now. Let’s take a look at DARPA's new and exciting “SideArm”

Is that a full sized X47B …..?   No. I seriously doubt it.

For those of you who can’t, or don’t want to see the chintzy sales video, side arm is a self-erecting robot arm with long boom catapult launcher, and a kind of reverse catapult arrestor, that deploys itself out of the side of a ship ( once it clamps itself to your helo deck ). It catapults your large UAV into the wind, and then does the same trick in reverse to capture an incoming UAV, at what appears to be quite a speed.

Honestly you have to see it to believe it, if you didn’t watch the video.

Go on… live a little!

Hangers, maintenance facilities, aircraft spares and magazines plus jet fuel storage now make up a serious percentage of any modern destroyer or frigate. They have a large effect on the design of a warship and their omission is unusual in today’s world.

What of tomorrow’s world? How many types of UAV do we require, what will become essential? What kind of facilities do we require to support this increasingly large “air-wing”, launch them and recover them?

How many crew will man their control, how many maintainers, mechanics, computer and communications specialists? How many comms arrays and of what kind?

And although I’m sure one day we will have true drone aircraft carriers, I think what’s more interesting is in the shorter term, what will this do to the everyday surface combatant?


I think we are going to see the percentage of hull dramatically expand in terms of Air Assets. When every frigate or destroyer can effectively have its own airborne and surface early warning, why not?

Sensor range can be compensated for by numbers and with UAV mission duration being so long, we will see a constant steam of fixed wing assets circling 24/7 using SAR and GMTI to identify sea and land based threats as a ship transits.

Possibly we will start to see fixed wing ASW assets with magnetic anomaly detectors in that pattern too?

As a rough calculation Scan Eagle has a speed of roughly 60Kts and 24 hour endurance. With a service ceiling in excess of 19,000 feet, we could easily operate a good coverage @ 100nm with say 6 – 10 in flight UAV’s. Constantly rotating and moving with the ship. A relatively short sensor range by today’s standards would not allow anything through.

Due to the problems of large fixed wing launch and recovery I think rotary wing assets are likely to be used more for some strike, pinpointing targets for land strike, keeping ‘eyes on’ for damage assessment, carrying and launching the anti-ship missiles, the torpedoes and the glide bombs of the future.  They will likely utilise a variety of new weapons specifically sized for UAV's.  We have already seen the trend in lighter weapons with the Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) and the Griffin missile (AGM-176).

To perform this expanded role, we are looking at permanent launch and recovery mechanisms for fixed wing assets. Let’s consider 2 “side arms” in recover mode deployed fast when needed from the top side of future ships and fixed wing launchers internalized in the style of “Battlestar Galactica”.  By this I mean ( if we look at the scan eagle launcher ), 2 or 4 heavy versions of this could be mounted amidships at 45 degrees forward and up, under relatively straight forward armored hatches. Rate of launch is already fine with a scan eagle’s pneumatic launcher being able to deploy and launch in just a handful of minutes, simple redundancy is all that must be considered.

I see a helicopter deck of today’s proportions but a vastly expanded hanger and with automated weapons handling facilities like the Queen Elizabeth Class or Type 26 Frigate. But it will now store not just a wide variety of UAV weapons but also modular sensor packages and parts for the 2 classes of drone:  fixed and rotary wing.

It’s likely the drones themselves will be modular and somewhat expendable to reduce maintenance requirements. “A control surface has done its hours, throw away the whole wing and pull another from stores”.

Let’s just thank F-35’s ALIS system for that idea.

I don’t think a frigate or destroyer will be issued an exact number of drones. I think its stores will carry modular common components designed to allow the construction, “maintenance” and replacement of a required capability for a required mission duration.

64 wing sets, 16 bodies, 24 GMTI Radar modules etc

Let’s not even get started on 3D printing. (A subject for another post maybe)

I don’t think we will see the loss of the manned Helo, there are too many jobs it covers. Too much man in the loop requirement. Its capabilities will change as UAV’s take some of the load but that just frees it up to do other things.

Undoubtedly the ship remains the thing. Heavy weapons will still be deployed from the ship. Even now the limitations of our weapons are bound by finding and targeting, not by range.

With TLAM, SM6 and LRASM we hold the keys to long range engagement through UAV data streaming. On land, in the air and on the surface of the sea huge advantages can be leveraged.

UAV is inevitable. We have laid the stage with our weapons development. Now we just need to fit the final piece to enable our surface combatants to multiply their power many fold, primarily as standalone assets but also as part of a highly extended new shape battle group. 

It’s a strange new world, but one we could be headed for sooner than we think.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

EMALS Fixed ! - Again

You’ve undoubtedly heard by now that the Navy believes, yet again, that the EMALS catapult system is fixed and ready to go.  Supposedly, it can now launch aircraft with external fuel tanks.  Of course, it was previously ready to go until the issue with drop tanks was discovered and it was ready to go until the issue with the bouncing F-35’s was discovered.  I haven't heard anything about the bouncing F-35 issue being fixed but the Navy says the system is ready to go!

The Navy claims the system is ready because they’ve performed around 70 test launches.  Of course, they didn’t say how many of those tests were successful and how many failed.

Speaking of failure, you’ll recall that the last data we had from DOT&E reported mean time between failures of around 240 cycles – a critical failure every 240 launches – so that’s still a problem, presumably.

You’ll also recall that the Navy has refused to provide subsequent reliability data to DOT&E. 

But it’s ready to go, this time. 

I hope it is ready but history suggests it’s not.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Ballistic Missile Defense - Operator Error

The Navy has concluded that a recent failed anti-ballistic missile test of the Standard SM-3 Block IIa was due to an operator who inadvertently input an identification of the target as a “friendly”, thus causing the SM-3 to self-destruct before hitting the target.

“A U.S. Missile Defense Agency review of a failed ballistic missile intercept test showed that a mistaken input into the combat system by a sailor on the destroyer John Paul Jones caused the missile to self-destruct before reaching the target.

A tactical datalink controller, in charge of maintaining encrypted data exchanges between ships and aircraft, accidentally identified the incoming ballistic missile target as a friendly in the system, causing the SM-3 missile to self-destruct in flight …” (1)

We’re building a vast network of sensors and weapons as the foundation of the Third Offset Strategy – a strategy that will give us an unrivaled edge over our enemies and assure us of maintaining combat superiority.  At least, that’s what we’re being told.

And now, we see that a simple operator input error can entirely negate a ballistic missile intercept.  What if that had been an actual intercept instead of a test and the missile had been a nuclear missile aimed at a US base or city?  Do we really want to base our entire military “advantage” on a system so prone to inadvertent and haphazard failure?

All of us understand that software systems, and their inputs/outputs are subject to bugs and glitches under the best of conditions, let alone in the middle of war when electronic countermeasures will be blitzing the system, cyber/hack attacks will be constant, and the stress of combat will guarantee that input mistakes and output misinterpretations (remember Vincennes?) will happen with regularity.  Do we really want to bet our military future on such a strategy and such systems?

It’s interesting to note that the Russians and Chinese, while investing heavily in electronic and cyber warfare, are also producing massive increases in traditional, raw, brutal, explosive firepower.  They seem to understand that electronic and cyber warfare will be useful but that firepower still rules the battlefield.

Recall the Vietnam war.  Recall the air strikes by US planes.  For all the sophisticated surface to air missiles, radar warning receivers, countermeasures, and high performance aircraft with computer controlled navigation and weapon delivery systems, etc., our aircraft were still shot down, all too often, by old fashioned ZSU-23 barrage gunfire.

There’s a place for electronic and cyber warfare, without a doubt, but it’s as a complement to explosive firepower not a replacement for it and certainly not as the foundation of an entire military strategy.


(1)Navy Times website, “Sailor error led to failed US Navy ballistic missile intercept test”, ”, David B. Larter, 24-Jul-2017,

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Navy Tactical Brilliance ... ... ... Escorts!

The Navy is loudly and proudly trumpeting its “new” up-gunned Expeditionary Strike Group concept which is a standard amphibious ready group (ARG) plus a Burke class destroyer and an Australian Perry class frigate.

“Rear Adm. Marc Dalton, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 7 and amphibious forces in U.S. 7th Fleet (Task Force 76), told USNI News in a July 19 interview that the Upgunned ESG included the ships of the Bonhomme Richard ESG – USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), USS Green Bay (LPD-20), USS Ashland (LSD-48) and guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett(DDG-104).  The American ships added Australian frigates, with Adelaide-class guided-missile frigate HMAS Darwin (FFG-04) leading the air defense mission for Upgunned ESG.” (1)

Correct me if I’m wrong but adding destroyers and frigates to an amphibious group has, historically, been called “escorts” and the concept was developed many, many decades ago.  Hell, sailing ships provided escorts to transports.  This is not a new idea despite the not very clever marketing phrase, “up-gunned expeditionary group”.

Does the Navy really think that they’ve developed a brand new concept in naval warfare?  Are they really that stupid?  That was a rhetorical question because they’ve repeatedly demonstrated that, yes, they are that stupid!

By the way, did you catch that bit about the Perry class frigate leading the air defense mission for the group?  I guess that’s because the Perry has a superior radar system, better command and control facilities, better communications capability, SM-3 and SM-6 missiles, and cooperative engagement capability.  Oh wait, it doesn’t have any of those things so that must be why it was leading the air defense mission.

Is the Navy comfortable with this revolutionary new idea of escorts?  Well, they’re not rushing into it.  After all, it’s just an experiment.

“Dalton made clear that the Upgunned ESG concept is still in development right now, but he said that Talisman Saber 2017 created a lot of confidence in the idea …” (1)

So, based on one exercise, the Navy now has “a lot of confidence” that escorts can help an amphibious group?  The entire history of WWII up through the Cold War didn’t give the Navy confidence in the idea of escorts but a single tiny exercise with a Burke and an Australian frigate suddenly did?

Just how eye-opening was the idea of escorts to the Navy Admiral?

“The addition of the surface combatants – in this case the destroyer and frigates – and their added air-defense and sea-defense capabilities has “enabled us to operate in a higher-threat environment where there was more risk to the force …”

Apparently, the Admiral was stunned to find that the group could operate in a higher threat environment with escorts than it could without.  Uhhh ……  Isn’t that what escorts do, Admiral?  What an idiot!

I understand the concept of positive spin and marketing but this is just embarrassing.  What are we going to discover next – that bigger engines make ships go faster?

China has to be pooping their pants over our tactical brilliance and innovations.

These are our professional warriors?  Blithering idiots.  Get rid of every Admiral in the Navy and start over.  


(1)USNI News website, “Australian Frigates For ‘Upgunned ESG’ Rehearsal in Talisman Saber 2017”, Megan Eckstein, 24-Jul-2017,

Monday, July 24, 2017

Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar

The Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) is the radar system that is replacing the ill-conceived Dual Band Radar (DBR).  EASR is intended to replace the DBR on the Ford class carriers and the older rotating SPS-48/49 systems on a variety of ships.  It appears that the Navy intends the EASR to become the standard for non-Aegis ships such as amphibious ships, carriers, LX(R), and others.  Aegis SPY-x will remain the primary anti-air radar system for Burke class destroyers. 

Unfortunately, information on the EASR is scarce but website offers a glimpse of the system (1).

Raytheon is developing the EASR and the Navy has conducted a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) of the system.

As with any new system, Raytheon/Navy claims that the new radar will perform better, be easier to maintain, require fewer personnel to operate, be more reliable, and cost less.  Of course, history assures us that most of these claims will turn out to be marginal improvements or totally false but at this stage of development, claims are typically unlimited and bordering on magical so this is nothing new or noteworthy.

The interesting aspect of this radar system is that it will be modular and scalable.

“The new air surveillance radar is designed on Radar Modular Assembly (RMA) technology, which has been matured through development and recent test successes of the US Navy’s AN / SPY-6 air and missile defence 3D radar for the DDG 51 Flight III destroyers.

Each RMA is a self-contained radar housed in a 2ft by 2ft by 2ft box, and the systems can be linked together to form radar chains of various sizes.

The EASR will be offered to the US Navy in two variants: Variant one, which will be a single face, rotating radar, and Variant two, which is a three face, fixed-array unit.” (1)

The concept of a rotating version is fascinating and leads one to wonder how and why it will be a significant improvement over the older rotating SPS-48/49 units?

EASR Variant 1 - Rotating

The system is, apparently, derived from the SPY-6 Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) (2).  In fact, Raytheon claims that the AMDR and EASR are built with the identical AMDR cubical 2 ft. building blocks which leads one to wonder how and why the two systems are different and why we’re spending more money on an AMDR with a different name?

According to Raytheon, the difference between the systems is simply the number of RMAs, with the AMDR having 37 and the EASR having 9 (2).  As Raytheon describes it (2),

AMDR is comprised of 37 RMAs – which is equivalent to SPY-1D(V) +15 dB in terms of sensitivity. To give this perspective, it means that SPY-6 can see a target of half the size at twice the distance of today’s radars.

EASR is a 9 RMA configuration – which is equivalent to the sensitivity of the current SPY-1D(V) radar on today’s destroyers, and at only 20% of the size of the legacy SPS-48. These are considerable enhancements over the radars in service on current (and future) EASR-designated ship classes.

Raytheon stresses the reliability and maintainability of the system, citing the commonality between the AMDR and EASR due to the identical radar modules.

Raytheon also claims that the system will be more affordable due to having only a single radar type across the entire fleet.  They claim that training, logistics, spares, etc. will be streamlined and cheaper.

Of course, what new system in history hasn’t made those exact claims?  Some pan out, to a degree, many don’t.

So, if the AMDR and EASR are identical, differing only in the number of RMAs, why are we paying for an EASR “development” program?  From USNI News website,

“Radar maker Raytheon has been awarded a $92 million contract to develop a new Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar for the U.S. Navy’s new Ford-class carrier fleet and big deck amphibious warships, company officials told USNI News on a Monday conference call.

Based on Raytheon’s SPY-6 S-band Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) planned for the services Arleigh Burke-class (DDG-51) guided missile destroyers, the Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) will be the volume air search radar for most of the Gerald R. Ford-class carrier (CVN-78) — starting with John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) and the planned LHA-8 amphibious warship.

“It’s using identical hardware, identical signal processing software, data processing software.  It’s as near identical as possible. The goal of the program to drive affordability and commonality,” Tad Dickenson [Raytheon company spokesman] told reporters.”

Again, if it’s identical, why are we paying for a new developmental program?  It seems like $92M is a lot of money to simply change the number of RMAs.  But wait, there’s more money coming!

“Following the EMD phase, there are up to $723 million in contract options to support 16 ship sets of the radar – 6 fixed face for the Fords and 10 for amphibious ships.” (3)

And, of course, there’s always the actual construction/purchase funds still to be had! 

Interestingly, the EASR does not completely meet the Navy’s radar requirements.

“The service also plans to procure a separate X-band radar to compliment the EASR for both the future carriers and the amphibs.” (3)

I believe the separate X-band radar is intended to cover the low level, short range (horizon) region, meaning sea-skimming anti-ship missiles.  Currently, the SPQ-9B performs this function.

Raytheon has a nice little gig going for itself.  They’ve managed to direct the Navy into a single radar, sole supplier situation in which they can dictate unlimited prices and exorbitant “developmental” costs.  That’s nice work if you can get it!  The Navy now has no choice but to keep shipping barges of money to Raytheon.

There’s always the more mundane aspects of this arrangement to consider, as well.  If Raytheon’s facilities should suffer a major catastrophe like a fire or sabotage, the Navy will have no source for radars for, potentially, years while Raytheon rebuilds.  A prime target for sabotage at the start of a war with China, huh?  But, I digress …

In summary, the EASR seems to be just a renaming and repackaging of the already developed AMDR.  That leads to questioning the need for additional developmental funding.  Raytheon can’t have it both ways.  They claim the EASR is identical to the AMDR and, therefore, offers all kinds of commonality benefits and yet they want barge loads of money to “develop” the EASR.  Which is it?  Are the two systems identical or not?  I think the Navy is being gouged and has, through mismanagement, backed themselves into a no-choice corner.


(1) website, retrieved 8-May-2017,

(2)Raytheon website, retrieved 8-May-2017,

(3)USNI News website, “Raytheon Awarded $92M Navy Contract for Future Carrier, Big Deck AESA Radars”, Sam LaGrone, 22-Aug-2016,

Friday, July 21, 2017

Navy Issues Tanker RFP

The Navy has issued a draft Request For Proposals (RFP) to industry for the planned carrier based unmanned aerial tanker, the MQ-25A Stingray, and the RFP has some interesting points and aspects to it.

First, the RFP has only two key performance parameters (KPP) and both are generic to the point of useless.  They are:

  1. Carrier compatibility – the aircraft must be able to operate from a carrier and use existing catapult and recovery systems.  Duh.
  2. Mission tanking – the aircraft must be capable of aerial tanking.  Again, duh.

The Navy believes this will provide greater flexibility to industry and, ultimately, to the Navy when it comes to the design of the aircraft.  Personally, I think this approach is wrong.  I think performance parameters need to be specified – speed, range, endurance, reliability, fuel capacity, etc.  Without those specs, there’s no guarantee that you’ll wind up with an aircraft that can do the job.  Frankly, this is just the Navy passing design responsibility off to industry in an attempt to avoid accountability if the program tanks (no pun intended).

On the plus side, the Navy is indicating that development should be minimized by using nothing but existing technology.

“…the new airframe effort is less about developing new tech and more about mixing and matching existing systems to make unmanned tanking a reality on the carrier.” (1)

If the Navy can actually hold to this intent, this is a monumental leap forward in common sense acquisition practice.  There is nothing about aerial refueling that requires the development of new technology.  If the Navy can hold to this intent, the resulting costs and timeline should be quite reasonable.  Unfortunately, the Navy has a very hard time resisting gold plating programs after they’ve started.  It will be interesting to see whether they can restrain themselves.

On a related note, if the Navy can actually hold to this intent, it will make an interesting contrast to the Air Force’s tanker program (admittedly, the two programs are vastly different in scope and mission) which has been a dismal failure and this program could actually become an example for how to do acquisition.  As I said, we’ll take a wait and see approach.

I’m extremely ambivalent about an unmanned tanker.  Most of the claims for it are suspect or false. 

  • It won’t reduce manning much, if at all.  For every pilot removed from the cockpit, one has to take their place at a controller of some sort.

  • It offers no greater endurance because its endurance will be limited by the size of the fuel tanks it will carry.  Once the tanks are empty, the aircraft will have to return to the carrier just like a manned tanker would.

  • It offers no cost savings.  An aircraft is an aircraft.  If you want a plane that can travel x miles, at y speed it’s going to cost the same whether there’s a seat in it or not.  In fact, when the additional shipboard control stations are factored into the cost, it will probably be more expensive.

  • There will be inevitable in-flight aircraft failures, as with any aircraft, and without a crew to deal with it and attempt to remedy it, many aircraft may be forced to abort their missions.

  • UAVs have a solid historical record of crashing with some regularity.  The data on this is quite clear.  While losing a UAV is no big deal, losing a tanker affects many aircraft and missions.

Honestly, I don’t really see any concrete advantage to an unmanned tanker.  The only “advantage” is that the Navy gains experience in operating unmanned aircraft in preparation for the time when they try to operate unmanned combat aircraft and, to be honest, this alone may be sufficient justification for the unmanned tanker.

Overall, I like the start to this program.  I’m quite pleased that the Navy is going to at least attempt to produce an aircraft using nothing but existing technology for a routine mission.  If they can hold to the intent, it will be a major accomplishment and could set a pattern for future acquisitions.


(1)USNI News website, “Navy Issues New MQ-25A Stingray Draft RFP to Industry Ahead of Final RFP in the Fall”, Sam LaGrone, 20-Jul-2017,

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ship Superstructures

I’ve noted, over the years, the Navy’s trend toward larger and larger superstructures.  Much of this is due to stealth considerations but not all.  Let’s take a look at the trend and then we'll discuss the implications.

WWII early war Gato submarines had fairly large superstructures.  As the war progressed, these were steadily cut down until only the barest structure remained.  This was done to reduce silhouettes and the concomitant chance of visual detection.  Look at the Gato profiles below and note that the superstructure was reduced by around 50% which significantly lowered the profile and reduced the total visible superstructure bulk.

Gato - Early War

Gato - Late War

WWII ships in general and the Fletcher class destroyer, specifically, had narrow, small superstructures.  In the drawings below, note the relatively wide deck areas on both sides of the superstructure, stretching the length of the ship.  The superstructure was around 50% of the hull width for much of the length of the superstructure, widening out to around 80% at the forward end.  Also note that the height of the superstructure was fairly short.  Combined with a low lying hull, the overall profile was quite short.

Fletcher DD

Note the very small superstructure on the Baltimore class cruiser shown below.   On a relative basis, there is more deck space than on the Fletchers.  Note that the available horizontal deck space allows the placement of large numbers of weapons.  There is also a large section amidships that has no superstructure!

Baltimore Class CA

Now, let's take a look at a modern destroyer, the Burke class DDG.  In contrast to the WWII designs, note that the superstructure is massively large and in most areas spans the width of the ship.  Excluding the flight deck which is not usable space, the only available large deck space is the bow area or top of the hangar which is only usable for equipment if there is no deck penetration.

Burke Class DDG

Look at the LCS.  Note that the stealthy, slanted superstructure spans the entire width of the hull and covers the deck from just behind the forward gun, all the way aft to the hangar.  There is no horizontal deck space in the area of the superstructure.  Also, note the relative height of the superstructure compared to the overall height of the ship from the bottom of the hull to the top of the superstructure.  Finally, note the width of the superstruture even at the very top.  It's still quite wide at around 80% of the width of the hull.  That's a lot of weight to carry quite high on the ship.  The bulky superstructure also makes the ship quite visible.

Freedom Class LCS

Even with stealth shaping, size still equates to radar signature.  The smaller the superstructure, the smaller the radar signature for a given shape.  Just as WWII sailors understood that a smaller superstructure translated to a smaller visual signature, so too does a smaller superstructure, today, translate to a smaller radar signature.

Another issue with large superstructures is top weight and stability.  A large superstructure means a higher proportion of weight higher up which negatively impacts stability margins.(distance the vertical center of gravity can shift in response to weight growth before stability is compromised).  Typical stability margins range from 0.3 m for amphibious ships to 0.8 m for carriers.  The LCS, for example, with its overly large superstructure, has a stability margin of 0.15 m - a very low value compared to other classes (1).

Another aspect of superstructure size is its impact on deck space and deck working space.  If the superstructure gets too large, the available horizontal deck space for mounting guns, boat cranes and storage, underway replenishment equipment, etc. becomes very limited.  Similarly, limited deck space impacts the working space for the crew, be it line handling, weapons operation, resupply, boat handling, etc.  Take a close look at the Freedom LCS.  It has very little usable deck space relative to its size.

WWII ships had plenty of horizontal deck space and mounted large numbers of weapons and equipment.  With modern slanted superstructures, deck space is at a premium and negatively impacts the number of weapons a ship can carry.  Often, it is necessary to carve out platforms higher up or on top of the superstructure which, again, impacts stability.  

Take a look at the LCS, for example.  The weapon pits, 30 mm gun mounts, etc. are at the top of the superstructure.  The problem with this is that it places the weight high up which makes the ship top heavy.  People talk about adding weapons to the LCS to make it more useful but such discussions overlook the fact that adding such weapons would be difficult due to the lack of deck space.  Mounting the weapons on top of the superstructure worsens the already marginal stability.

The Burke has a VLS cluster mounted on top of the hangar due to the lack of main deck space and that elevated mounting negatively impacts the stability.  

The modern trend of larger superstructures also results in more functions being placed above the main deck, in less armored (to the extent that anything is armored on modern ships) and less protected spaces.  Remember, unlike torpedoes, anti-ship missiles tend to hit the superstructure.  We are going to lose combat functionality by having more of it "exposed" in the superstructure rather than buried in the hull where armor, tanks, and void spaces help provide a measure of protection.

The odd part about the entire trend towards slanted, stealthy superstructures that span the width of the ship is that I've seen no evidence that narrower superstructures with more exposed deck space are any less stealthy.  I've read that vertical sides and bulkheads generate a significant radar return but I've never read a word suggesting that horizontal deck space generates a significant return.  If the sending/receiving radar were positioned directly overhead then the deck would constitute a perpendicular surface and would generate a large return but any other angle will just scatter the radar wave away from the sending/receiving unit and if the unit is directly overhead then the ship has already been spotted!

Admittedly, my understanding of ship radar stealth is rudimentary, at best.  However, until someone can demonstrate why a horizontal deck surface is bad, I've got believe that the benefits of additional deck space far outweight any supposed gain in stealth and the additional drawbacks to a slanted superstructure, such as top heaviness and lack of weapons mounting space, further reinforce that belief.  We need to re-examine the entire ship stealth concept as it relates to equipment, weapons, and sensor mounting.


(1) Government Accountability Office, "LITTORAL COMBAT SHIP - Additional Testing and Improved Weight Management Needed Prior to Further Investments", GAO-14-749, July 2014

Monday, July 17, 2017

Famous Naval Movie Remakes

Remakes of famous movies are a staple of Hollywood moviemaking entertainment.  I’ve just learned that a series of famous naval movies are scheduled for remakes with a modern take on them.  Here’s a list of the movies along with a brief synopsis of the plots. 

In Harm’s Way – The inspiring story of courage against all odds.  Fighting off green energy task forces, a courageous Captain risks all to continue using incandescent light bulbs on his ship even in the face of overwhelming bureaucratic odds.

Run Silent, Run Deep – Rig for silent running as the creators of the LCS slip silently away, ducking responsibility depth charges and gaining promotions in the process!

They Were Expendable – The true story of the Spruance class destroyers that were sunk by the US Navy in a desperate attempt to stave off criticisms of the new Aegis system and eliminate any possible alternative.

Mister Roberts – A plucky lieutenant tries to look out for his crew while waging a tireless campaign to get the ship’s Captain to approve his transfer to a naval hospital for a gender change operation.

Crimson Tide – Suspense abounds as a submarine Captain and his Executive Officer clash over the wording of the PowerPoint slides they’ll use to summarize the sub’s patrol.  Mutiny ensues and the crew must choose sides:  the Captain wants Arial font and the XO wants Times New Roman.

The Enemy Below – An American destroyer Captain engages in a battle of wits with an Iranian submarine commander.  Watch as the American destroyer fires off volley after volley of strongly worded protests until the Iranian simply orders the American destroyer to stand down and be boarded, at which point the heroic American crew comply and are eventually released to return home to a hero’s welcome and medals for all the female crew members for just being there.

The Caine Mutiny  – A ship Captain is relieved for “loss of confidence in his ability to command” after an anonymous complaint from a crew member to the Navy’s 1-800-SQUEAL phone line accuses the Captain of miscounting the ship’s strawberry inventory.  The subsequent court martial reveals that, indeed, one can of strawberries was short a berry and Navy leadership congratulates itself on weeding out yet another unfit Captain.

Top Gun – A maverick pilot breaks all the rules as he battles the Navy and a caricature enemy before passing out in his F-18 due to oxygen deprivation in the climactic scene.

The Final Countdown – A freak storm sends a Navy carrier back to WWII where they learn that warships used to have armor and heavy weapons.  Stunned, they return to their own time and vow never to speak of what they have learned.

G.I. Jane – In an absurd bit of movie making, a woman breezes through SEAL training.  Oh wait, that’s not a ridiculous remake – that was the original movie!

An Officer and a Gentleman – A young man attends Officer Candidate School where he learns what it really means to be a Navy officer.  Watch as he learns to smile and salute while extolling the virtues of a non-functional weapons program, thwarts Congressional cost caps, masters the art of micromanagement, rises through the ranks by taking no chances, and ultimately retires to a well earned position on the board of a major defense industry company.

Operation Petticoat – This lighthearted WWII movie sees a pink submarine with an all female crew rescue a party of helpless men from the Japanese advance.  The ensuing hijinks show why men don’t belong in a modern Navy!

The Cruel Sea – A taut psychological thriller of life at sea.  Witness the cruelty of life at sea as the ship crosses the equator and the Pollywogs in the crew are forced to endure unimaginable hazing cruelties when the Shellbacks in the crew make funny faces at them.  Warning!  Some scenes may be too graphic for younger viewers as Pollywogs are politely requested to eat Jello blindfolded while being told that it is dragon’s blood.

Down Periscope – A misfit Captain and his crew take a submarine into a wargame, sink all the blue ships, and the results are ignored.  Oh wait, that was Millenium Challenge 2002, not a movie.

How about it?  Seen any good movie remakes lately that didn’t make the list?

Friday, July 14, 2017

Does Every Sub Need Tomahawks?

Here is a companion piece to the recent post, “Does Every Ship Need A Helicopter?” which examined US Navy design assumptions.  This time, we’ll take a look at submarine design.

One of the seeming absolute characteristics of a US Navy submarine design is the capability to shoot Tomahawk cruise missiles.  Here are the recent submarine classes and their possible Tomahawk loads.

Los Angeles  12
Ohio SSGN    154
Seawolf      50
Virginia     12-40

Without a doubt, having the capability to covertly shoot Tomahawks from submarines is a useful capability.  But, does every sub need to be able to shoot Tomahawks?

The question is not whether Tomahawk cruise missiles are useful but whether their usefulness is sufficient to justify the expenditure of ship’s volume, the concomitant increase in cost and the resulting decrease in number of submarines built?  The volume and money dedicated to a submarine cruise missile capability could go to other ship’s functions and to building more subs.  In other words, there is an opportunity cost associated with submarine launched cruise missiles.

Let’s look a bit closer.

Tomahawk missiles add size and cost to submarines.  The size increase is 20% or so, depending on the specific sub class and version.  The cost increase is harder to determine but one solid data point is the Virginia Payload Module (VPM) scheduled to be installed on the newest Virginias.  The cost increase is estimated to be around $500M which is a 20% increase over the base cost of around $2.5B.

By leaving out the VPM, we could build one extra Virginia class sub for every five subs built.  Are the added Tomahawks worth losing one extra sub for every five built?  To answer that, we need to recall the submarine’s mission(s).

The problem with “missions” is that people tend to assemble a laundry list and then, in discussions, assign by implication equal value to every mission.  For instance, here’s a partial list of submarine missions in no particular order.

  • Anti-submarine warfare
  • Anti-surface warfare
  • Long range strike warfare
  • Intelligence gathering
  • Special operations forces support
  • Presence
  • Cross training with foreign navies
  • Mine laying
  • Carrier group escort
  • Area denial
  • Blockade

As we examine the list of missions, we see that long range strike warfare is on the list.  Ergo, we must have Tomahawks on every submarine!  See what I’ve done, there?  I’ve equated every mission.  They are all equally important.  Therefore, they must all be incorporated into the design of any sub.  This is what we do today but it is wrong.

What we should be doing is prioritizing the list of missions.  We should be asking ourselves, what is the most important mission?  We might also ask ourselves what the most likely mission is – it’s often not the same as the most important!  If we do that then we can begin to intelligently design a submarine and make informed tradeoffs between cost and capability.

In war, a submarine’s most important mission is anti-submarine warfare according to US Navy doctrine since the Cold War – I’m talking about attack subs, SSN’s, not ballistic missile submarines.  The main job of our submarines is to eliminate the enemy’s submarines.  A close second mission, but still second, is anti-surface warfare.  Every mission after that is extraneous, in a sense.  If, by eliminating all the other missions – Tomahawk capability, in this case – we could build an extra submarine for every five we now build, would this be worth the loss of 12-40 Tomahawks (we’re talking about Virginia class subs, now)?  I suggest it would be and would be well worth it. 

Consider, of the 50 or so attack subs we’d like to have, we could have 10 extra subs if we dropped the Tomahawk capability!  60 subs vs. 50.  That’s a trade I’ll take!

But wait!  What about the loss of Tomahawk strike capability?  Well, that’s a significant loss, no doubt.  However, we have plenty of alternate Tomahawk strike capability in the form of Burkes and we could have much more if we took the retiring Ohio class subs and converted them into additional SSGNs with 154 Tomahawks each.  The subs are already built so it would just require the incremental cost to modify them to launch cruise missiles.  Wiki reports the conversion cost at around $700M per sub in mid-2000’s dollars.  Relative to ship building costs, that’s quite reasonable.

Submarine Launched Tomahawk - Is It Needed?

You’re asking yourself, how does an SSGN square with my previous mission list and stated priorities of ASW and ASuW?  Well, an SSGN has a different mission priority – pure cruise missile strike warfare – so the SSGN falls in line with the concept of recognizing what the priority mission is.

We see, then, that we could have more subs for the same cost and maintain or increase our fleet wide Tomahawk strike capability if we choose to spend a little bit more. 

Note, the cost of one LCS would just about cover the cost of converting one SSBN to SSGN.  Would you rather have one LCS or one Ohio SSGN with 154 Tomahawk missiles?

So, does every submarine need to have Tomahawk launch capability?  My answer is no.  The Navy needs to look at submarine CONOPS and rethink submarine design and numbers.  We need to abandon the every-ship-must-be-capable-of-every-mission thinking that now dominates our design philosophy.